Friday, December 22, 2017

Blending Traditions - Celebrating Christmas in France

 Christmas in France
For us Christmas is France is about blending traditions.  For me, it's passing down my American traditions and adding the French ones.  Now, honestly many of these Christmas traditions are very similar but other traditions in France are definitely unique to this country.

If you follow this blog - earlier this month - I shared about the French Christmas Market in Bordeaux and the Holiday Lights of the Season.

Trimming the tree is still a family event in my house.  In France, many families have small trees, either real or artificial.  I think this is more common due to the smaller apartments and houses.  My girls have always wanted a larger tree, I think due to their American roots and childhood.  Our first couple of years here, it was very hard to find a nice size tree, so we had one that was only about 4.5 feet tall.  The girls were a bit miffed and often wanted to refer to it as a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

This year, we have an artificial one that stands more than 6 feet tall.  Due to the high ceilings in the house, this works really nicely.  Since it's artificial, we will enjoy it for many years to come.  Happy to have finally found a solution where everyone is happy.

Pere Noel:
In France the young children believe in Pere Noel, just like Santa Claus. Like in the US, children will even write and send letters with their requests and desires.  Interestingly enough, France's "North Pole" is the town of Libourne (30 minutes East of Bordeaux) where letters from all over France arrive and are personally answered by Postal employees each season.
  Although, I have found it interesting that in France the average age for a child to stop believing in Pere Noel is around 6 years old. It seems that once they stop believing then all their gifts are just from family. For me this is a bit sad, as Pere Noel is part of the magic of the holiday season.
 I enjoy celebrating the magic of Christmas and even my older girls get gifts from Pere Noel.  It's the time of year to be generous and full of surprises, so it's always fun to mark a few highly desired gifts from Pere Noel in my house.

France is not short on decorating for the holidays or even similar to the States places where children can have their photos taken with Pere Noel.  In fact, there are often special celebrations the weekends in December up until Christmas where Pere Noel will arrive in a town to bring special wishes and of course candy and chocolate for the children.  This just depends on the town where one lives.  I remember once years ago, watching Pere Noel arrive into the village celebration via a construction crane.  He wished everyone a Joyeux Noel and gave candy to the children.
Towns are often highly decorated and will often have Winter activities happening the weekends before Christmas.  These often include music with musicians dressed in Santa costumes, Winter activities, Children's activities and often sampling of holiday treats and chocolate.  My town, Pessac often has this, including a chocolate fountain where people can sample bananas or marshmallows dipped in the chocolate.  Yum!!
Holiday meal on December 24
This is one of the biggest traditions in France that we have more than willingly adopted.  The French eat their holiday meal on the evening of the 24th instead of the 25th and it's often accompanied by some very traditional foods.  Each family and each region vary a bit but in general its a multi course meal.  Here are some of the traditional foods enjoyed on this evening:

Fois Gras served with Sauternes wine

Oysters - served fresh open on the half-shell with lemon:
Smoked salmon can be also served

For the main dish it's often - Chicken - A nice Chapron (Castrated chicken so it's bigger and plump) often served with chestnuts on the side.  or could also be more seafood this depends on the family.
Cheese platter with a blend of cheeses -

and of course a Christmas log - Buche du Noel for dessert - served with Champagne!
Christmas and gifts
Gifts can either be opened on the night of the 24th after the large meal - this could be into the early hours of the 25th.  Some families will still go to midnight mass and then return home to open gifts. 

Other families, especially with young children will wait to open gifts on the 25th after Pere Noel has arrived....Either way it's a joyous time and full of holiday spirit!

Joyeux Noel to all 
May it be full of family, friends and loved ones.
This post is part of the Christmas in Different Lands series in conjunction with - Multi-cultural Kids Blog.  You can enjoy other cultural holiday traditions by visiting Multi-cultural Kids Blogs or by the list at the end of this post.  Enjoy reading - there are so many fun traditions - world wide for this season!!
Christmas in Different Lands 2015 | Multicultural Kid Blogs
Welcome to our fifth annual Christmas in Different Lands series! This year each participating blogger will focus on a different country, sharing a traditional dish and more about Christmas in that country. For even more glimpses of global Christmas celebrations, see our series from previous years (201320142015, and 2016) plus follow our Christmas board on Pinterest!
Multicultural Kid BlogsChristmas Around the WorldFollow On
Celebrate Christmas Around the World Printable Pack from Multicultural Kid Blogs

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Cognac & Pineau - A visit to JLP Cognac Pasquet - Organic Producer

A family-run production - Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet
On a cold but sunny day in November a group of us from my women's club headed 2 hours North to the Cognac region.  We were all interested in learning more about Cognac and our local drink pineau.  We arrived at Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet in the late morning and we were immediately mesmerized by this beautiful location in Eraville about 30 minutes Southeast of the village of Cognac.
We were warmly greeted by Jean and his wife, Amy and they proceeded to tell us the passionate story of how they evolved into being an organic producer of Cognac.

This property traces its family ties back to 1730 having been transmitted directly or indirectly within the same family.  In 1971 Jean-Luc Pasquet (Jean's father) inherited the estate from his uncle and created the brand.  Their property sits in the highly desirable terrior of the Grand Champagne growth area of Cognac.  (Most of the big Cognac houses use grapes only from the growth areas of Grand and Petit Champagne.)  These days, it's Jean who has taken over the production from his father.

JLP- Domaine Pasquet continued to produce cognac in the traditional way, up until 1994 when some of their grapes on one of their plots started showing poor health leading them to discover the practice of organic farming.  After a year of experimentation, in 1995 they converted the entire vineyard in order to receive the Organic Agricultural Label in 1998. 

Their cognacs are blended mainly from the Ugni Blanc grape variety but in recent years they have began adding another grape variety of Folle Blanche.  This particular variety was devastated in the late 1800's by the phylloxera crisis but is slowly making a comeback as it adds finesse and richness to the eau de vie.

As we wandered through the property, Jean expained to us how Cognac is made and why it's so special, in addition to being a passion of his family.  So what makes Cognac different than other brandies?
Making Cognac is a multi-step process.  The process begins similar to making wine.  Grapes are harvested each fall and the bunches are pressed and then placed in the vat for fermentation.  By using natural yeasts and with absence of sulphates, a true local product is started.

Once fermentation is completed, next comes the distillation or the burning of the wine.  In the Cognac region, they follow a traditional Charentais method of double distillation.  This double distillation or adding the second heater or "bonne chauffe"  is specific to this region and is one of the reasons Cognac is different than other brandies.

This practice allows Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet to obtain a fine and fragrant eaux de vie (the general name of the product after it's been distilled). 
However, it's the aging process that really allows cognacs in general to have their finesse and elegance.  For JLP-Domaine Pasquet, their eau de vie is aged in oak barrels, exclusively from the forests of the Limousin region.  It's the merging of the eau de vie and the wood that transforms the white eau de vie into a subtle, rich and elegant cognac.
The unique blends of Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet are achieved by blending different vintages and different ages of the eau of vie allowing each product to have a unique aromatic richness.  Their cognacs range in age from 4 to 45 years old.  This age is the number of years it has been aged in the oak barrels.  For their organic labels - they have 4,  7 and 10 year old cognacs as they can only use the grapes from after their Organic approval.

They also sell older cognac blends that are not organic, these blend eau de vie that came from prior to being certified organic. 
Of course, we got to taste their cognacs and  honestly, they were delicious!  What I loved about their blends is that being a small producer they can be creative with their blends - they are not just striving for one particular taste - they look for what can be expressed from blending different vintages and now even blending different grapes also.
In addition to producing cognac - Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet also makes pineau.  What is pineau?  Pineau is a blend of fresh pressed grape juice (from the Ugni Blanc and Montils grapes varieties)  mixed with eau de vie.  This mixture is then aged for 18 months in oak barrels.  Pineau is known more locally as a specialty and each producers creates their own.  I found their Pineau to be fresh and light with aromas of pears, spices and raisins.  The taste complex and fruity with a hint of oak.  I have to say, I really enjoyed their blend.  Pineau by the nature of its blend, is lighter than cognac, but I have found many to be stronger in oak flavor than theirs.
This passionate family has also introduced some other unique products which are only produced by them:

The first:  Raisignac - a sparkling blend of grape juice and eau de vie.  This sparkling drink is a great appertif or can be drank with dessert.  One could call it a bubbly pineau full of fruit yet light in flavor.
Finally: my new favorite:
Marie-Framboise:  This delicate blend of freshly pressed grape juice, macerated raspberries and cognac is pure genius.  This fruity blend is enchanting and can be drank alone or blended with sparkling water.  It's great as an aperitif or served with dessert.  If you love raspberries, you will enjoy this unique creation. 
We all fully enjoyed our tour that day of Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet.  What a discovery!  The passion that this family has is beautifully demonstrated by their dedication to their organic production and by their innovative products.  A unique treasure to be discovered by all accounts. 

If you see their brand, give it a try and if are ever in the Cognac region - they are definitely worth a visit!!

You can find out more about them on their website : 
follow them on Facebook - JLP - Cognac Pasquet

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Love this Festive season - The lights of Bordeaux - and a little French too!

Christmas in Bordeaux - Lighting up the night
 One of my favorite activities of this season is to walk around the city in the evening - enjoying all the lights.  For me, it puts me in the spirit of the holidays - slows things down a bit - This season always has so much hustle/bustle - shopping, running around, making lists, buying gifts - all fun, but it's nice to slow down a bit, just enjoy and take it all in.
 It's for this reason that I love taking the girls into the city, spending the evening all together - enjoying some quality family time.  Yes, there is hustle and bustle all around us, but my point is not necessarily to go shopping or pick out gifts - it's to look around us, and enjoy the festivities and the lights of the moment.
 We are all on our phones, connected virtually but here, for one evening - I wanted to slow it down and just enjoy our city and that's exactly what we did.  We arrived at the Place de la Comedie and just looked around us - of course took photos - but admired the lights as they glistened around us.  For me it's relaxing and very special.
 We went on to the Christmas market - I had promised my girls some hot chocolate and of course, for me, vin chaud (mullied wine)  It's a totally different experience from during the day - and since it was a Friday night, plenty of people...honestly pretty crowded. 
 Even though our evening was not for shopping - there were a few artisans that we found hard to resist....
 and others that were a child's dream.....
 After our tour around the market, we headed back through the Place de la Comedie and down Rue Saint Catherine - Such a fun ambiance.
 Galleries Lafayette, one of France's great department stores was beautifully lit up.
 We wandered into Promenade Saint Catherine, the newest shopping corner, off of Rue Saint Catherine and was greeted by a giant reindeer - about 2 stories tall. 
 I have to say the only thing I miss is the snow.  However, this particular evening was very cold and humid - still not cold enough for snow - but wet enough that it gave the lights beautiful reflections off the sidewalks.  My daughters had so much fun this year - that they want to return again in the evening.  As my 13 year old says - and take more's just so cool!
 So if you arrived to this post via twitter and a special offer or even if you are just reading this post for the fun lights.   I have a special deal running now - perhaps a little incentive to come visit France, perhaps something that you have always wanted to do, perhaps an opportunity to brush up on a language, or in the spirit of the season, perhaps a gift for a loved one or a friend. 

I have partnered with this wonderful company that offered French lessons on-line.  This program is customized to your level from a pre-assessment to moving your through as far as you wish with achievement levels along the way.  It's customized to fit it around your ability and schedule.

Check out Frantastique today and try is out for one month FREE (normally it's one week free trial period)- or give it as a gift.  Either way - check it out here:

Look for more holiday traditions coming up later this month - but here's wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season!  May it be festive, fun and Merry!

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