Last year, because I can’t help myself, I made a huge batch of mincemeat, extra boozy, from which I made dozens of mince pies. I gave them out to the people and businesses who had helped us to settle in and feel at home. I experienced the same puzzlement that Vic did with her cards – they seemed glad to receive them, but what for? In January, our estate agent greeted me with a cheerful, “Thank you for the mincey pies!” but I’m not sure I will repeat the experiment this year.
What I’ve learnt from this year and a bit of living in France, particularly from our Christmases here, is that we can set the perfectionism bar very high for ourselves, and if we fail, usually we are the only people to notice. What if we just decided not to do the “perfect” Christmas? What if we cut down on the cards and the gifts and the overwhelming amount of food and drink, and just focused on the aspects of the festivities we really enjoy, such as spending time with our families and friends, watching movies, taking walks, sleeping late, whatever the fun part of the Christmas holiday looks like for you?
There are no rewards in heaven for being the one awake at 3am peeling 10lb of spuds. “From scratch” does not guarantee Santa Claus will drop down the chimney with that coat you’ve had your eye on; nor does buying everything in, or ditching the parsnips or sprouts because you can’t be bothered, mean your stocking will be full of coal. What I am left wondering – a profoundly subversive thought – is that a good-enough Christmas might just be the very best Christmas of all.
How the French do festive food differently
First, last, and with everything, champagne.
Like us, the French are partial to smoked salmon at Christmas, and Scottish smoked salmon or artisanal smoked salmon made by small producers has particular cachet as the starter. The French go big on all kinds of seafood, especially generous platters of oysters served simply with wedges of lemon or a few splashes of mignonette, a condiment made with finely chopped shallot macerated in red wine vinegar. I live by the Étang de Thau, a salt-water lagoon rich in shellfish. Our Christmas platter of fruits de mer might include oysters, raw mussels, prawns and prickly sea urchins.
Here in the south-west, foie gras remains a very popular part of any celebratory meal, possibly served with some pain d’epice (gingerbread). Our butcher advertises seven different types of foie gras in his Christmas menu, plus numerous other dishes that contain it.
Truffles add an extra touch of luxe to many Christmas dishes, such as our butcher’s boudin blanc truffé (truffled white sausage).