Monday, December 03, 2007

December

Sissy and I sit together by lamplight in the wee hours and I sift through my address book. Is this the good address? What are the new children's names? Little paper packets of holiday cheer will be sent around the world to loved ones. With a steaming cup of coffee, sitting in my nightgown, I write out details one by one. The envelopes are covered with stamps in small denominations that I have finally gathered from various drawers in the secretary. I choose and turn the cards over in my hand, think about the people I love. We are preparing for new beginnings, a new year. Thinking of everyone like this bolsters the spirits.

While our window of sunlight is getting smaller and smaller, the city of Lyon has begun to ramp up the glow at night. Preparations for the light festival this weekend are all in full swing. Crews of light specialists and designers are busy on every square, preparing for the show that will light up the whole city with a series of over 90 installations starting this coming weekend. The whole centre-ville will be converted into a pedestrian park within which we will wander in and out of the light exhibits for the weekend. Friends who also live on the presqu'ile will open their homes and we'll enjoy mulled wine and snacks along the way.

It is time to break out the heavy cook pots and begin to look with new interest at roots. They have come to compliment the mix of early winter greens that will carry us through. In the kitchen, I'm working on the perfect quenelle recipe, and unravelling their stories.

Getting closer.

At the market, we can choose between cultivated pale endives or their colorful and fast growing wild chickory cousins. Spinach and lamb's lettuce peek though their windows of opportunity. Scallops and oysters brought in from the coast provide fresh and a vibrant additional flavor to the table. A predominant color now at the market is orange, with big thick wedges of local pumpkin and courge sold by the slice. Thin mild leeks are now sold in small bunches for soups and savory tartes. Herbs like basil and sage are scarce, while suddenly I'm taking a whole new interest in rosemary.

While we get farm raised poultry like duck and rabbit all year, right now is the moment for wild game. My big find in England last month was a colorful game cookbook, brimming with history and lore. I have been taking in recipes and methods, both English and French. Vendors selling wild game enjoy a brisk business, and I happily buy my share. The hunted wild game birds aren't as pretty as their smooth skinned farm fattened counterparts, but they have certainly lived more fully. They deserve special treatment. You can feel the vigor as you work with them, and taste their zest for life when they are served at the table. I give them a place of honor in terrines and stews, and plump out my kitchen notebook with other ways to prepare them. This is eating from the land. This is as close to the real thing as it gets.

The best of last Summer's bounty is now coming out in the cheeses. Wheels of summer mountain cheeses like Beaufort, Abondance, and Comte are just now rolling down from the Alps. A wedge is drenched with the sunshine we're missing now. Perfectly ripened summer Époisses from Burgundy is at its peak. The best of the harvest macerated local cheeses from the Mâcon like the Arome de Lyon, are just now coming plump from their barrels. The cheese plate glows with flavorful perfection at this time of year.

While we prepare for the winter holidays, making gift syrups and cookies for our French friends and family, planning for Lyon's ever spectacular Fete des Lumieres, and bringing out the decorations, December's light is a flame of promise for upcoming gatherings, fanned with Autumn's last golden glow.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Mimi said...

Ah, Lucy, what a web you weave today! You make me think of amber lights at dusk, of rich tapestries in golden colors and streets redolent of spice and chocolate, of cold noses and hands in warm mittens, of tangy cheese paired with a layered wine.

Speaking of rosemary, I finally moved my plants inside so we can enjoy them all winter long. Winter is upon us here, too, with a furry.

1:59 PM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger janie said...

I am now motivated to go to our local cheese shop and buy something French!

5:36 PM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger Bea said...

Just the name of these cheese is enough to make me homesick..I just bought a girolle for my mum, so that she can use tete de Moine.

5:37 PM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger Lori in PA said...

"Wheels of summer mountain cheeses... are just now rolling down from the Alps."

I love that image! Thank you, and wouldn't it be lovely if you could just open your door and a cheese would come rolling in to bump gently against the table leg? :-)

7:07 PM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger Susan said...

I am so envious of your seasonal produce; here in the land of the supermarket I am presented with the same selection year 'round, and it has a stultifying effect on my creativity and desire. And of course it goes without saying that the out-of-season produce is not even worth eating. Instead we have to make a concerted effort to find out and seek out what actually *is* in season, and it isn't easy.

Gritch, gritch, gritch . . .

12:00 AM, December 05, 2007  
Blogger Joy said...

Hello Lucy,

I just stumbled across your lovely blog - what a find!

I love your idea of putting low denomination stamps on your Christmas cards - there's something exciting about receiving an envelope covered in stamps. I have been writing my cards tucked up in bed; nothing signals the start of the Christmas season more than taking out my silver pen and holiday glitter. Email cards just aren't the same.

10:02 PM, December 05, 2007  
Anonymous Valerie said...

I love to hear of the seasonal foods that grace your markets. It mirrors our own here in SE Ohio where it is considered 'the country' and have farmers' markets year-round. We now have the wild turkey, squirrel and deer but, alas, we live in the Appalachians but no cheese rolling down for us. Please tell us more....

6:24 AM, December 06, 2007  
Blogger winedeb said...

You are very lucky to live in such a magical place! Such lovely images you have presented to us!
Looking forward to photos and your writing of the "Fete des Lumieres"!

4:29 PM, December 06, 2007  
Blogger Pink said...

Oh Lucy, I'm so grateful for your stories and the picture you paint of you in your nightgown thinking of the people you love. I've never been much for Christmas cards, but this might have changed me! I really love that cozy top picture.

5:49 PM, December 07, 2007  
Blogger Mercedes said...

My mom and I were just bemoaning that no one sends their own Christmas cards anymore, especially in the northeast U.S. I'm so glad you're keeping up the tradition.
And though I'm not a big cheese eater, this is the time of year when I find that beautiful round of camembert or epoisses just calls my name. I had some today alongside a little leftover cranberry chutney and it was wonderful.

4:28 AM, December 08, 2007  
Blogger Africantapestry and Myfrenchkitchen said...

A lovely post, perfect to get us into the spirit of December with its "planning for new beginnings", shopping for earthy root vegetables and browsing the wonderful cheeses to accompany evenings in front of the fire with a glass of red wine...
ronell

8:41 AM, December 09, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Mimi, Janie, Bea, Lori, Susan, Joy, Valerie, Deb, Pink, Mercedes, and Ronell...

Thanks for coming by and thanks for your wonderful comments. It's really nice to see you here.

12:54 PM, December 09, 2007  

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