Réveillon 2013

My German Christmas treasures.
My German Christmas treasures.

Joyeux Noel!  In France, the main holiday event is the Réveillon, “un grand festin,” the big feast on Christmas Eve.

I invited British friends Mollie and David with their daughter Jenny and her partner Chris who had arrived from England at 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve after a long and harrowing drive.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The house is appropriately festive, decorated with some of my favorite treasures.  David and Chris took these outstanding photos.  I had to concentrate on cooking.

Food – a bit of a challenge as David and Jenny are vegetarians and Mollie, recovering from recent surgery, has certain dietary restrictions.  I scoured the Web for some new recipes, and also relied on some old favorites.

Our meal, with a few exceptions, was more like an American Thanksgiving, BB’s favorite. Since I was in the hospital this Thanksgiving (nothing serious), he missed out.  So, turkey it was with plenty of trimmings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In France oysters and shell fish are the standard first course of this repast.  Instead, we had smoked salmon and smoked eel, both ordered from a fishery in Denmark.  The eel (cute fellow) had to be skinned and sliced.  I delegated that task to BB.  According to the instructions that came with the Scandinavian delicacy it is best  consumed with a shot of icy akavavit.  None in our liquor supply, so we drank champagne supplied by our guests.   The vegetarians had baked camembert with pears.  All were happy.???????????????????????????????

The next course would most likely be foie gras in France.  I love it and usually prepare my own rather than buying the ready- to- eat version.  It can be a culinary challenge.  I took the easy road and served Harvest Bisque, a Christmassy butternut squash soup served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It is usually a hit.  The recipe is listed under recipes in column on right.

Harvest Bisque and family heirloom:  Great grandmother's Haviland (Limoges) china.
Harvest Bisque and family heirloom: Great grandmother’s Haviland (Limoges) china.

Next the bird.  No Butterballs in France. My friend Lynne, cook extraordinaire, xmas2013.8turned me on to brining the turkey several years ago.   The result: a moist turkey.

We had numerous (perhaps too many) side dishes:

Creamed  Spinach and Parsnips (recipe from Food & Wine web site)

Broccoli and Cheddar Casserole with Leeks (another Food & Wine recipe)

Red Cabbage with Ginger (combination of a German recipe and the recipe of my friend food writer Sharon Hudgins, www.sharonhudgins.com).  Germans serve this with Christmas goose.  David  tells me the British also serve it with goose. ???????????????????????????????It’s not found on the French table, but  I like it and it goes well with turkey, too.

Mashed Potatoes with Horseradish (an old Bon Appetit recipe – but his time the potatoes came out too runny)

Helen’s Brandied Sweet Potatoes (my mother’s recipe – a family tradition).  This is also listed under Recipes in the column on right.

Classic Sage and Onion Stuffing (Web recipe from The Kitchen).  I usually make stuffing with dried fruit and/or sausage. Those would not do this year.  This concoction did not send me.xmas2013.9


Preiselbeeren (German/Austrian berry, like a tiny cranberry). Austrians Klaus and Eva who rent our guest apartment for a month every summer, always bring us a jar of this treat.  They gather the berries in the forest and then preserve them.

David and Mollie brought a magnum of an excellent red wine, Gigondas 2011, La Font Boissière, and a white, Laure, Côtes du Rhône 2012, Domaine Rabasse Charavin.   BB added an American vintage, Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel 2006.bb_wine-001

Desserts:  Tiramisu au Pain D’Epices (spice bread).  I frequently watch a French morning show, Télé Matin.  The recipe was given during a food segment last week.  Tiramisu is always a winner. With the spice bread, I thought it would be perfect for Noel.   A disaster.  It was tiramisu soup. The taste was not bad, but texture, a miserable failure.   I should have relied on Sharon Hudgins’ excellent recipe, my tiramisu favorite.

Pumpkin Pie. I know.  It’s usually a Thanksgiving dessert, but BB craves it.  It was interesting to see the British reaction to this all American favorite.  Irish friend Martine once said she “just did not get it.’  Chris said it was not sweet enough.  David liked it. Jenny – not sure.

Cookies – Five different kinds I baked the week before Christmas.

The finale:  Christmas crackers and hats
The finale: Christmas crackers and hats

Not only did they bring the champagne and wine, but our guests came with Christmas crackers (not edible).  For the British, a Christmas meal is not Christmas without the crackers, paper gizmos with two ends.  You pull one end and the person next to you pulls the other.  Pop!  It explodes and a small Christmas present falls out.???????????????????????????????

For those of you who still have a holiday meal to savor, Bon Appetit. And, Happy New Year to all.  Tales and Travel will take a break until February.  We’re off on an exciting adventure to Myanmar soon, followed by a return to the paradise we discovered in Bali two years ago.  See previous post, A Dentist and his Jungle

My childhood Christmas stocking and  a prized gift from my mother, a Santa trimmed with mink.
My childhood Christmas stocking and a prized gift from my mother, a Santa trimmed with mink.

Haven, Feb. 14, 2012.

Comments are always welcome.  Tell us about your holiday meal. See “Leave a Reply” below under Comments. Subscribers also welcome. Don’t miss future posts. Click on Email Subscription at top right.

12 thoughts on “Réveillon 2013”

  1. The Leah-with-eel pic was a classic, ranking with “BB in the dental chair.”
    Our Christmas Eve meal featured Phyllis’ roast leg of goose, topped off by aquavit.
    Leah, your dinner for 5 was mind-boggling, or I should say stomach-boggling. And all that with 3 vegetarian guests, VERY IMPRESSIVE.
    All the best on your Far East trip, and throughout 2014.
    Klint and Phyllis


    1. I bet that goose was fantastic. When we lived in Germany I tried goose a few times. Very good, but tricky to roast so it does not dry out. I am sure Phyllis did it perfectly. After our meal (too heavy – my mistake) we definitley needed a shot or two of aquavit. Happy New Year to you and Phyllis.


  2. Ah, Leah, what a treat to read your Reveillon blog! You are truly number 1 hostess extraordinaire-and Bob does a wonderful job as sommelier and first lieutenant. Seeing David’s pictures and reading your description was a great upper, for you really made the holiday season feel like a celebration of life, food, wine, friendship. I’m not complaining about my Christmas eve hotel restaurant dinner in Erice, Sicily, but it was far, far from you standard of warmth, joy, and elegance. Oh, and I love your decorations and table, but it’s the food that really got my attention.
    Love and Happy New Year, Lynne


  3. A special thank you to David and Chris for enhancing this blog with fabulous photos. Many of my “fans” have told me how much they like the pictures. One friend said the photo of me with the eel is the second best picture that’s ever been on the blog. And the best? Forgot to ask.


  4. Hello Leah & Merry Christmas from Los Angeles!
    We served our 33rd annual Christmas dinner for the family – “only” 16 people this year, our lowest total in several years. Menu was Sausage-stuffed mushrooms, fresh berries (Black, Blue, Rasp & Straw!) from Costcoeux (as the French might write it), Creamy Toast Corn & Pepper Soup, Chicken Marsala (a riff on the Giada de Laurentis recipe), Sauteed Brocolini & Cherry Tomatoes (nice for color), and we also did Tiramisu for dessert (again, a riff on Giada’s recipe – i like to add whipping cream to the mascarpone & egg mixture….) The signed menu is in our menu book – our equivalent of a photo album with menus going back for more years than I care to admit!
    Have a Happy New Year (Bonne Annee) and a good time in Myanmar….
    George Ronay


    1. And Happy New Year to you and family. Your dinner must have been superb. I like the touch of all those fresh berries. My mother always had some type of fruit, usually a fruit salad, with turkey dinner. My menu was too heavy. Fruit should have replaced one of those heavy veggie dishes. And, I am sure your tiramisu was much better than mine. Wishing you lots of fabulous meals in 2014.


  5. Leah,

    First, it was wonderful to talk to you the other evening. That was a wonderful surprise! Thank you, thank you.

    Next, your Christmas Eve dinner sounds fantastic. I know what a great cook you are and a stickler to entertaining. There was no doubt that the evening was a spectacular success, but the photos – those two should be professionals! – confirm it. I’m not jealous, though because…

    Our Christmas Eve was a little less spectacular, but about as much fun as could be expected, considering Carol’s current condition. Fabio, Victoria and their daughter, Ilaria came over for a few hours. I have to say, I may not quite have your and Caro’s panache when it comes to entertaining, but I can set a mean table, myself. Let’s see… I had Triscut, and not just any Triscut, but Triscut with Rosemary. Some of them were even in one piece! I also cubed some cheddar, and Norwegian Jalapeno (figure that one out!) cheese and topped it off with some left over herbed soft cheese, all served with a ridiculously sweet Alsatian Gewurztraminer. It will be a long time before they come back…!

    As for Carol, it seems to be a mixed bag. One the one hand, she says that her right side is much better, but just this morning she said that she has concluded that she just stay in bed. She had been getting up a few times during the day, but I guess she realizes that even that is too much for her.

    And that is all the news from Bella Italia. Here’s wishing you and Bob the greatest health and happiness in 2014. Carol’s health permitting, we will definitely come see you. I can’t make any promises, but a friend just canceled her trip in May, so we may come calling around the 12th or so, of May. Will you be free then?

    Hugs – and hoist the champagne (prosecco in these parts) high!



    1. Hi Noel, Thanks for the remarks. David is a professional photographer. Lucky for me! No Triscut here — my favorite cracker. With rosemary no less. The Norwegian Jalapeno cheese is intriguing. Yum. We hope to see you in May. I’ll send an email with more. All the best to Carol for a speedy recovery.

      sage d’origine—–


  6. Hi Leah, ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  You made a FANTASTIC FEAST FIVE (though would fill up FIFTY)  and then had time to pen the blog before hitting the pillow?  HOW DO YOU DO IT????? More later! Hugs, Gayle



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