Sunday, 26 December 2010

It was Christmas Eve 2010.........

How very French...
I took a small inexpensive gift to my French friends wishing them festive greetings and we were  unexpectedly invited to an evening meal.
By the time I did what I had to do, there was no time to change into evening wear and anyway I knew that where I was going they had not much more heat than I have at Angles so it would be careless to discard the layers of clothing.  I exchanged the trousers for a skirt and the upper garment for another, wrapped a cream scarf around my neck to brighten up the shades of black and burgundy, changed my shoes, splashed some perfume  on the wrists (better than slashing them) grabbed the flowers and the wine and set off, arriving later than requested.  Parking presented a problem trying not to park in front of garages.
When I arrived the 7 persons seated applauded and called out my name as if I were a football team which made me quite embarrassed!  Cries of "Je suis desolée" were drowned as I removed my hat, coat, gloves, gave my gifts and was seated at the head of the table! A table of 8. More embarrassment as I realised that it was a shared meal… people had contributed!  I did not foresee how much there would be to eat nor when I would get home! The next time we are invited by French people to a meal I MUST establish what I am expected to do: what should I bring?  What are the expectations for the guests?  I have made so many cultural faux pas that I don't want to make any more.
Let the Feast begin
I had missed the aperitif toasts (unlike an English toast) and the guests were eating escargots but I was presented with foie gras on toast (which they also had)  and a cockle shell containing 4 Coquille St Jacques in Beurre Nantaise. These days I eat the foie gras as I do not have the energy or language to remonstrate. "Hypocrite" I say to myself but it’s often such a nice creamy taste and THAT IS MY DILEMMA after 23 years of having been a vegetarian!
Then the 3rd course of  home-smoked salmon was heavenly.  A friend of G. obtains the salmon atlantique from his friend a poissonière, smokes it and slices it very finely.  It was oh so sweet and melted in the mouth. I had to have a second helping when it was offered to me.
Following that were the oysters. I don’t like imbibing salt water! I tried one… and remarkably, unlike previous experiences, there was no salty ocean, just a wonderful, slippery, weird experience which suggested I should have another, but I refused, as one was plenty!
The main course was a very large of Poitevin gigot of lamb with white creamy beans, (perhaps mogettes) with green haricots verts.  The lamb was deliciously sweet and melted in the mouth. The plate was full then empty!
Aumoniere de fromage du chevre avec miel et pignons was interesting but E. was disappointed because the cheese hadn’t melted and the pastry was like burnt paper. She is not yet used to the woodburner oven which was instlalled for their emergency moving in just a few weeks ago. I thought  the pastry needed to be more soaked with butter.
The mixed lettuces that the French call 'salade' was passed around the table.
Course 8 was dessert. A very fat slice of pear and chocolate roulade in bicoloured, marbled sponge was set before me!  OH MY… would I make it home and WHEN would I lose the weight I was adding to my figure!
 Course 9 consisted of Les Mendiants. Fortunately we could choose to have anything in between 0 and 13 of these ingredients from the platter of fruit and nuts. I chose prunes.
Coffee and chocolates came then tilleul (lime flower) tisane, then more coffee or more tea as stories and jokes abounded. I had intended not to be late home BUT I couldn't just get up and leave!  At midnight the Baby Jesus was put in his creche and Pere Noel had been hinted at with stories of childhood memories!
At 13h30 it was Christmas gift time.  More embarrassment but I noticed that not all guests exchanged gifts so I relaxed only to discover that I was receiving a wonderful, beautiful gift from a family whom I have only met once before! He is a medieval metalsmith and stone carver and I don't know what else. Except he's very funny!
Melusine et Chevan also received one of his wonderful sculptures.

At 14h30 everyone was still nattering and enjoying the morning. However, after 6 and half hours I had to get up from my seat for reasons of health and safety so decided I must reluctantly take my leave. Then more surprise as I was invited to eat again that day, Christmas Day, at another house but I felt quite rude when I declined giving the excuse that I would eat very little the next day, I mean Christmas Day. 
I am lucky to have such wonderful French friends who look after me.  I try to look after them and have supported them with their business events. At the moment their Ouessant mouton is mowing my lawn.

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