We were determined to stay here for our first Christmas and New Year, rather than join the seasonal exodus of Brits over the Channel. In fact it was partly to avoid the throng of fellow travellers that we decided to stay here and ‘stick it out’. It was worth doing, as we have enjoyed some good times and made new friends.
We had a wonderful Christmas Day meal with our friends Etienne and Lucie who run Le Donjon in Bourdeilles, a village not too far from here along the Dronne river. We stayed overnight in a room that was specially warmed for the occasion, which was a luxury as our bedroom in The Barn is icy cold (putting the electric blanket on for half an hour saves me from having a heart attack when I get into bed).
Etienne and Lucie are French and English respectively, so we enjoyed a feast that drew on both traditions. I made a heap of smoked salmon blinis to have with our champagne aperitif, which is a French tradition. Next we had dozens of oysters, also traditional fare for French Christmas and New Year celebrations. Etienne is a very good cook (he chefs for his restaurant in the hotel and does a sublime crème brûlée). He produced the most melt-in-the-mouth roast lamb I have ever tasted – cooked for over five hours. The pièce de résistance was, fittingly, a Christmas pud with brass knobs on from Marks and Sparks, laced with half a bottle of brandy and topped with rich glazed fruits. All washed down with copious quantities of delicious wine from Etienne’s cellar.
We were happy to be invited as it was bit strange being here for the festive season in our first year. It is not just that we are in a foreign country but that we have moved into a rural area too, with far fewer people. It is a time of year when distances seem that bit further and close family and good friends are greatly missed.
With that in mind we wanted to avoid spending New Year’s Eve hunkered down at The Barn with chocolates and a film. It feels really important to get out there and see people – and be seen – in order to become part of the local fabric of life.
We struck lucky, as we found out about a party that was happening in Goûts Rossignol, a nearby village. It was only because we went to a communal meal that turned out to be very dull that we found out about it. So although we regretted a ‘wasted’ afternoon, it led to something better, which just shows that you have to keep on trying in order to build a social life here.
It was the spirit of this New Year’s Eve party that we liked so much. It was free, with donations for the hire of the village hall. Everyone brought food to share and their own plates and glasses. Musicians brought their instruments and everyone else their dancing feet. Some people even brought oysters and champagne. All of which meant that you were likely to get to know other people, which was perfect for us.
We shared a table with our friend Mireille and a charming French couple, Isabelle and Chantal. They had brought a box of delicious and unusual fruit called ‘kaki’ (which are a type of persimmon). Apparently there are kaki trees everywhere that people do not harvest, so next year we will keep our eyes peeled. We shared our ‘perfect carrot cake’ (from a recipe courtesy of Leith’s Vegetable Bible), which is very different to French cakes and always goes down a treat.
Then we danced the night away to lively folk music, doing the ‘cercle Circassien’ (Scottish in origin) and the ‘Bourrée’, a traditional French folk dance. It was half past three by the time we left and the party was still in full swing.
Rather than spend New Year’s Day lounging about, we dragged ourselves out of bed at half past ten to prepare a ‘coq au vin’ for our neighbours. Daniel killed a chicken for us last week, which involved my first attempt at plucking a bird. It is surprisingly easy, provided you dunk it in very hot water first. The ‘coq au vin’ simmered away in a ‘cocotte’ (casserole pot) for a couple of hours and came out tasting delicious. Our 80-year-old neighbour Alida brought a delicious bottle of 1985 Médoc from her cellar, Mireille brought a ‘galette des rois’ and all in all our meal was a big hit and a fitting end to a happy festive season en France.
Bonne Année 2012 à tous!
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250633 Responseshttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.bristol247.com%2F2012%2F01%2F03%2Ftales-from-the-barn-a-french-christmas-far-from-home-33731%2FTales+from+the+Barn%3A+A+French+Christmas+far+from+home2012-01-03+10%3A13%3A09Hannah+Durranthttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.bristol247.com%2F%3Fp%3D25063 to Tales from the Barn: A French Christmas far from home