Our Life in Burgundy

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The Blog: Our life in Burgundy

December 25, 2011

Christmas at Taizé

Filed under: Events,Places,Weather — Tags: , , — Mary @ 19:48

We went to Taizé last week as we wanted to see the tableau. We had been told that the scene would feature only Mary and Joseph; the kings and shepherds would arrive after the baby is born. Right enough, a pregnant Mary was  awaiting the birth and the kings on their camels were on their way. For a bit of realism there was a donkey and some sheep, live ones I mean.

So when we went to Taizé for the Christmas Eve mass the first thing we looked for was the crib and lo and behold the infant Christ had appeared.

The baby Jesus had arrived
The baby Jesus had arrived

However the wise men  were still on their way, umbrellas up even though it was a beautiful starlit night.

The wise men expecting rain

The wise men expecting rain

 And the shepherds were still keeping their sheep with the angel Gabriel suspended above them.

The Angel Gabriel hovers over the shepherds

The Angel Gabriel hovers over the shepherds

The clear cold night gave way to a beautiful day today with sunshine and blue skies. We’ll go back soon and see if the kings have managed to get as far as the stable.

 

December 23, 2011

Where’s Rudolph?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Mary @ 23:01

Burgundy is the place to be if you want to be able to buy varied and high quality food. The best food is produced locally like goats’ cheese, Bresse hens and Burgundy snails sold in their shells with garlic butter.

Burgundy snails

Burgundy snails

However when going round the supermarket this week I was amused to find boxes of reindeer steaks. That seems to me to be quite Christmassy! If that is not exotic enough you can choose a bit of camel or a piece of llama.

Burgundy camel

Burgundy camel

Turkey is not so popular here but there is a wide variety of  birds to choose from. We fancied a pintard (guinea fowl) for our Christmas meal, but there’s   pigeon, duck, goose, quail and various small birds…

Pigeon

Pigeon

Even after three years or so of wandering round French supermarkets I still find there are many things I don’t recognise and many more that I wouldn’t have a clue how to cook. Manioc? Igname? Chayotte?

Exotic vegetables

Exotic vegetables

The fish counter is wonderful, piled high with every fresh fish you can think of from salmon to sardines, and all sorts of exotic fish I have never eaten. Yet we are hundreds of kilometers away from the sea. There are crabs and lobsters trying to escape from their baskets. Live oysters are sold by the crate.

fresh fish

fresh fish

The French usually eat their big Christmas meal late on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. It may consist of many courses with oysters, fish, poultry, red meat, cheese and Yule log. Bon appetit!

December 18, 2011

The willow farm at Saint Albain

Filed under: People,Places — Tags: , — Mary @ 20:17

Our vannerie group enjoyed a Saturday afternoon outing with a difference. We went to see Jean-Luc Guichard at his farm at Saint Albain where he produces willow for basketry. Jean-Luc proved very enthusiastic and over a cup of coffee around his kitchen table he talked to us about his work before taking us on a tour of the workshops and the willow fields.

Examining willow with Jean-Luc

Examining willow with Jean-Luc

Jean-Luc and his wife Fabienne started production in 1986 on 4.5 hectares of land that once belonged to his grandfather. They started by chance as his blind neighbour could not find a source of willow for his basket-making. At that time Jean-Luc wanted to find an alternative to cattle rearing so he planted 50 acres of willow. It was very labour intensive until Jean-Luc managed to acquire his specialist machinery. He is now one of only 200 willow producers left in France.

The harvested willow

The harvested willow

 Some willow grows in fields where he kept his cows, and some down on the alluvial plain of the river which is land unsuitable for building but ideal for willow. It is very easy to grow from cuttings and we admired a living trellis hedge made from criss-crossing willow withies which were simply stuck into the ground.

 Willow comes in all sorts of different colours. It is planted close together, 14cm apart, so it grows long and straight to reach the light. After three years growth it can be harvested each winter for fifteen to thirty years depending on the variety. It is cut close to the ground using a tractor mounted harvester, graded according to length and tied in bundles. The shorter willow is more expensive per kilo than the longer stems. Production is thirty to forty tons per year.

Willow standing in water to be stripped in the spring

Willow standing in water to be stripped in the spring

Jean-Luc grows varieties that do not have many sideshoots which is an advantage because cutting the sideshoots off leaves the stem with weak places that tend to break when the willow is bent.

Some of it is peeled to sell as white willow. In order to peel it bundles of willow are stood in shallow water over the winter and in the spring the green bark is easy to strip off using a brake.

If the willow is used straight away it tends to shrink which doesn’t matter if a close weave is not required. It’s better to be left to dry for a few weeks until the bark becomes a bit wrinkly. If it has dried out completely it needs to be soaked for at least a week before using.

There are other things to make besides baskets!

There are other things to make besides baskets!

Fabienne showed us her vannerie workshop where she makes her baskets and runs courses for beginners. You can see her work at La Filaterie, the old textile mill by the river in Cormatin which is now a craft centre.

December 15, 2011

Le bonheur de cuisiner…le plaisir de créer….le goût de partager….l’envie de s’affirmer…..

Filed under: Village Life — Tags: , , — Mary @ 20:55

I spent a very pleasant afternoon with friends at Marie Antoinette’s doing some baking. At this point you will think there is an imposter writing this blog as I am not known for my culinary skills.  I go into the kitchen only to make tea and fill the dishwasher.

Our group was introduced to all kinds of baking trays which were made of silform, a sort of thick black latex. Silform was invented in France in 1965 by Guy Demarle.  In 1996 the ‘at home’ workshops began, a bit like Tupperware parties but based on a cookery demonstration.

Rolling up the gâteau roulé

Rolling up the gâteau roulé

We learned to make mignardises salées which are little savoury tartlets with smoked salmon or goats’ cheese. Also a gateau roulé, a Swiss roll made with maize flour, sugar and eggs, the whites and yolks whisked separately and folded in. This is the basis of the Yule log which the French make instead of Christmas cake. It’s usually filled with chestnut purée and covered with buttercream icing.

Cutting out the pastry cases for the mignardises salées

Cutting out the pastry cases for the mignardises salées

Silform is wonderful stuff. The moulds come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You can make cakes with patterns on the top.There are special baguette trays. There is no need to grease as silform is non-stick. All you need to do afterwards is rinse the trays under warm water. Magic!

There are all sort of useful kitchen implements too. Top of the range is a Cook’in Demarle which will boil, steam, simmer, fry, grind, crush, mix, chop, knead, blend, whip and weigh. I have one of those in the kitchen already, called Chris!

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