Entertaining and Simple Festive Food

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A few days ago I was waxing lyrical about the cold nights and chilly days but that’s all changed. We’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. The frosts are no more and the daytime temperatures are positively balmy, however we’ve kept the blue skies and we’ve even eaten lunch outside. It’s a time of glorious sunsets and equally impressive sunrises.

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Christmas is literally just around the corner, we’re still not in full blown festive mode here, but the seasonal hints are getting stronger, several houses in the village are now adorned with twinkling lights but during the day there is a sense of peaceful serenity.

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We have bought our tree – never an easy task. We have the choice of two species; the Épicéa Spruce, the most common variety that has a wonderful shape but loses it’s needles at an alarming rate once brought into the warmth or the Nordmann Spruce that doesn’t have quite such a perfect figure but will at least remain green and intact until Twelfth night. Alas, we had made the decision several nights previously around the supper table, where all the best family conversations take place. We were going for the perfect figure that required lots of maintenance.

With the decision already made I assumed we would be in and out of the garden centre in a matter of minutes. How wrong I was. Once we eyed up the trees, doubt started to creep in, the Nordmanns looked better this year, the Épicéas were less than striking. We ummed and erred, we were split down the middle. I left them to it and went off to look at the selection of vines wines – yes this is a garden centre, but remember we are in France!

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Nearly an hour later we were still there; the merits of the trees were being tossed around. It was getting cold and I wasn’t dressed for this, I hadn’t even brought a coat. I learnt a vital lesson, never underestimate the ability of children to change their minds! In the end the Nordmann won, perfectly dressed had outshone the perfect figure!

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So now we have a tree, sitting in the barn. We won’t be decorating it or bringing it into the house for another week, a fact that Gigi finds quite bizarrely stupid! Another task ticked off the list.

Something else I have been giving plenty of thought to is food. We all want to make extra special meals during the holidays, but it is also the season when budgets have already been stretched to the absolute maximum and our free-time is in short supply. Few of us have hours to spare slaving over a hot stove at the best of times and at Christmas with all the extra demands it is almost impossible and yet we always want to produce the perfect meal.

Quite by chance I came across a delicious recipe a couple of weeks ago. As is normal, I was in a rush as we were dining at a friend’s house and I had offered to take the dessert; having been out all day I needed to pull something together in less than 20 minutes, I found the answer and kept my fingers crossed. The result a couple of  hours later was met with silence around the table; a perfect silence punctuated solely by the scrape of spoon and ‘mmmmm’ of lips. A rip-roaring success, I decided later, one to keep tucked away and one to share.

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So now I needed a super simple main course that was equally impressive too. I decided that little could look more appropriate at this time of year than Nigella Lawson’s Festive Couscous. We gave the entire meal a trial run yesterday – it’s quick, uncomplicated and easy on the purse strings, too. So, if anyone needs a little inspiration or a few tried and tested ideas, here is our simple festive approach to dining with friends and family during the holidays.

Entertaining at this time of year necessitates a jubilant atmosphere and so I start with fresh flowers. We still have roses in the garden, tucked against a west facing stone wall.

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Accept any offers of help – laying the table is always a family affair here

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and add lots of candles.

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Roasted Chicken Pieces with Festive Couscous. Serves 6

For the Chicken

6 boned thighs and three halved breasts of chicken; preferably free-range or organic
2 small lemons, halved
salt
ground pepper
olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp tagine spices
2 sliced cloves of garlic
2 tbsp white wine
3 dates, fresh or dried, stoned and halved length-ways

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well, leaving to rest for approx. 30 mins in a cool place. Pre-heat your oven to 180C / 350F. Place the chicken pieces in a roasting tray, inserting a halved date inside each boned thigh, squeeze the lemon juice onto the pieces and then add them to the tray. Place the garlic in amongst the chicken pieces, but out of sight of heat so it does not burn. The three halves of breast are ‘dateless’ for those who do not like dates.

Cook for approx. 20 mins at 180C / 350F , and then raise the temperature to 220C / 425F for 5-10 mins before serving to crisp and brown the outside of the chicken. The juices make a fine sauce served separately in a small jug.

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For the Couscous

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1 box / 7ozs / 200g  plain couscous
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup golden raisins
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Boil the water in a saucepan and add the couscous. Then add 1 tablespoon of the oil, the salt, raisins and spices. Mix well. Take off the heat, cover with a lid and leave for about five minutes. Remove lid, fluff the couscous with a fork, add remaining oil and stir in the pomegranate seeds and cilantro, reserving a little to sprinkle over the top.

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We served this with a tray of roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic and some lightly steamed French beans, but you don’t have to add anything else or you could choose a simple salad.

Melt in the Mouth Chocolate Pots

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100g / 3.5oz 70% cocoa dark chocolate
100g / 3.5oz butter
150g / 5.5oz light soft brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
50g / 1.75oz plain flour and 1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Grease 6 ramekins with a little butter and place on a baking tray.
Melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of hot water or in a microwave and stir until smooth.
Mix together the sugar, eggs, vanilla essence, flour and baking powder and then pour in the melted butter and chocolate and mix well.
Pour the mixture into the ramekins.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are firm to touch but the middles still feel squidgy. Alternatively, you can put them in a fridge for a few hours until they are ready to be eaten. Whilst you are enjoying the main course, take them out and pop them in the oven.
Serve hot with either fresh cream or vanilla ice cream.

They are so easy even the children can make them!

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My motto for the holidays – Graceful, stylish and classic entertaining is totally feasible if we keep things simple.img_3143

122 thoughts on “Entertaining and Simple Festive Food

    • It would make a fabulous Christmas Eve dessert Sydney, you can make it in the morning and then forget about it. It is really gooey inside and delicious, I hope you enjoy it! Have a lovely end to the week xx

  • Susan, thanks for including the recipes. The results look as delicious as the recipes sound. The table is lovely, but every time you show shots of your kitchen, my poor heart goes crazy! 🙂 I bought a tree yesterday and it’s sitting in the garage for now, probably for another week, too. Last year I bought a tree with the beautiful long needles. It looked great, but each needles was like a, well, needle, so I decided to go back to one that’s easier to decorate. I have the decorations almost completely up, with only a few little things to hang in the windows. Planning meals and wrapping gifts is the next big item.

    janet

    • Oh I am so sorry Janet! I never give the kitchen too much thought it is just our family kitchen that is very much the hub of the home and the woodburner in the corner keeps it lovely and cosy and warm! I agree about the tree, ours last year was perfect in shape but the needles were so sharp and painful and by Twelth Night it was almost bare! Like you this year we have one that is much less dangerous!!! You sound as if you are at about the same stage as us, gift wrapping is next on my agenda and it takes forever, but I do rather enjoy it! Xx

      • What you said about your kitchen is why I so love it. It’s so open, spacious, and warm-looking. I enjoy gift-wrapping, too, for the most part. Some years ago, I bought Christmas material and my mom made me a stack of gift bags. I love using them because not only are they festive and re-usable, they’re easy. Slip the gift in, tie yarn around the end, and add the label. Makes a nice change from paper, although I use that as well. I love Christmas, but the challenge is always to allow myself enough time to relax a bit and enjoy it, rather than rushing around, consumed by consumerism and work.

      • Thanks Janet, it is warm and that is so important to me! What a fabulous idea, Hetty, our 12 year old is so crafty and creative and always looking for things to do, I am going to suggest to her that she makes some gift bags, I have a whole cupboard full of fabric remnants, she will adore it, a great project, I cannot thank you enough, can’t wait to tell her, that will keep her out of mischief for a few hours!! Xx

  • You always get it so right. Amidst all the craziness and the articles telling us how to create the perfect Christmas, you come along and tell us to keep it simple and you show us how so effortlessly – I feel I have just heaved a huge sigh of relief reading this – a heartfelt thank you!

    • Thank you Trish, and yes, it is just as simple as it looks. The dessert I made in about 6 minutes the first time I made it and the girls made it in about the same time this week. It is easy and delicious. The chicken and couscous are also equally simple and yummy, I promise! Xx

      • Your girls are probably more accomplished cooks than I am! But I am taking your word on this, I very rarely cook an entire meal from start to finish, but this has convinced me to try, wish me luck!

      • The very best of luck Trish, but I promise you, you won’t need it. It is so terribly simple and remember if your timing is a little out and the chicken stays in the over for five or ten minutes longer it really won’t come to any harm, the juices will keep it moist and so most of all relax and enjoy it. Xx

  • How fabulous ! And Yummy ! When our children were young we always stepped up a few dinners, some were family, some included guests . ..behavior needs to be reinforced . Besides, I love dressing myself and the table. Happiest of Holidays ,

    • I totally agree Joyce, our children always eat with us and with our guests too, it’s a great way for them to learn all about eating with friends. I too l ove to dress up a little, it always puts me in a great frame of mind and makes everything feel just a little special! The very Happiest of Holidays to you too xx

  • Yummmy I can’t Waite to try your recipes, you did it again…. The chocolate dessert I am going to make for my Mah Jongg group Monday night I run out dessert idea’s perfect because all ladies love chocolate Thank You

    • Thanks so much Carolyn, I am sure all of your ladies will love the chocolate dessert, just keep them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them, so so simple and so delicious! Hope you have a lovely end to the week and weekend xx

  • As always your pictures are so beautiful. Wish I was there right now.
    Your two dishes look wonderful. I just happened to pick up chicken thighs yesterday. Have the rest of the ingredients. Maybe tonight or Saturday’s dinner.
    The dishes for your dessert are lovely
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thank you Susan, I hope you really enjoy the chicken and the couscous, it is so simple and so delicious. Actually I reheated the remainder of the couscous in a frying pan and added some mushrooms for lunch today for Roddy and I, perfect and took seconds! Xx

  • The sunset photo was spectacular. If only we had wine at our garden stores, it would make for one stop shopping. I will try the chicken recipe, as I am always looking for something new make with chicken.

    • I know it’s crazy but as I said this is France! They also have wine in the petrol stations!!! We eat a lot of chicken and we too are always looking for new ideas and this one is a winner, simple and tasty! Xx

    • Hi Jacqueline, I would imagine the only way is to copy and paste the text into a word document, or if you are unable to do this, let me know and I will happily send you an email (I have your address with the comment) with the recipes attached and you can then just print them off. I am more than happy to do this if it helps, just let me know. Xx

  • Beautiful photos… (of course I have come to expect that from this blog). I love (by look at least) these recipes and will be trying all of them… Especially the couscous and chicken.

    • Thank you so much, I absolutely promise the recipes are delicious, they got the thumbs up from our entire family and there are some quite fussy eaters amongst us! I especially love the couscous because it looks so festive and the raisins and pomegranate seeds give the occasional unexpected sweet taste. Xx

  • I am definitely trying these recipes. Thank you. I have not seen the Emma ramekins offered on her website before but love them. Curious about the chocolate recipe as it is similar to my pots de creme one which is baked in a bain marie.

    • Do try them they are delicious. We bought the ramekins many years ago, probably at least ten, so perhaps they are not made any more, we have 8 of them and I do love them. I can see why these could be cooked in a Bain Marie, but I think this is easier and it seemed to work just perfectly. They have very quickly become a family favourite!! Xx

  • I love the simplicity of the roses from the garden, perfectly imperfect. You certainly have achieved elegance through simplicity in every sense.

    • Thank you so much Jane. I am afraid I am far from an expert flower arranger, I love the simplicity of a vase of anything I can find in the garden, spilling over the sides! We are lucky here in that I can usually find something in flower in the garden for at least 11 months of the year and I make the most of it. xx

    • Thanks so much Lily, the couscous was truly delicious. The unexpected zing of the pomegranate seeds and the sweetness of the raisins made it quite yummy. I had it again for lunch today, fried gently through with some added mushrooms, perfection! xx

  • As usual perfect. We will be using these receipes for a company dinner coming up.
    We have a bit of snow…more to come. For us it’s very cold. I wish it were rain like normal.
    If we had returned this week…I think we would have got back on the plane even with the 18hr duration…flight/layover.

    Ali xx

    • Thanks so much Ali, I feel extremely flattered that you would use this for a company dinner, but I don’t think you will be disappointed. You can make the chocolate pots in the morning and the chicken looks after itself in the oven, so it’s literally just the super easy couscous at the last minute, perfect for entertaining! I cannot believe you have snow, it is so warm here this week, between 14 and 15C every day and gorgeous blue skies!!! However, I am sure it looks really festive and pretty, but you know I love snow! xxx

    • Hi Julia, I love the term squidgy! This is exactly as they should be in the centre, all gooey and oozing chocolate, quite delicious. Really hope you enjoy cooking the whole thing. Have a wonderful end to the week xx

    • Thanks so much Amanda, obviously I cannot compete with you on the recipe front and I don’t want to either, but this is a good simple meal and I just love how the couscous looks so pretty, of course thanks to Nigella not me!!! Stunning warm weather here with clear blue skies and temps around 14 – 16C all week, hope it has been the same with you. xx

      • We love couscous too and I love how your children all help out. I love cooking with William and I try and drag my eldest into the kitchen when he visits, (Boxing Day and I can’t wait!) Yes, lovely weather here too. Love it when the dogs don’t keep bringing in mud! Our first Christmas here is was nearly 20; we felt a bit cheated it wasn’t log burning weather! I think it’s best when it’s cold and bright and the steam mop can have a break! xx

      • How exciting that he is coming home on Boxing Day, I am sure you will have a wonderful time with everyone together. The weather is just fantastic and I so agree, the steam mop is indeed having a break, ( don’t know what I would do without one, I love them!) and no wet dogs, this is indeed the perfect weather and it’s warm here too, 14 to 15C in the shade, in the sun one could sunbathe! Hope it lasts for the holidays, it just makes everything so much more fun for the children! Xx

  • Oh, my, you do set a pretty table, ma’am. And those recipes sound delish. I’ll bet the couscous could be made using quinoa instead — going to try it that way.

    • Thanks so much Emm, the recipes are delish and if you are a chocolate lover then the dessert is a must! I am quite sure the couscous could be made with quinoa, I will try it too as we eat quite a lot of quinoa and love it. It is the unexpected taste of the pomegranate seeds that really make it. Hope the run up to Christmas is going well and not too crazy! xx

  • yum, yum and yum! and of course always beautifully served. Can’t wait to see pictures of the house decorated. Hope all is well!

    • Thanks so much Debra, it was such a fun meal to make and the chocolate pots have become a household firm favourite, wish I had known about them when you were here. Decorating next week. Hope you tree is up and looking as fantastic as always. xxx

  • Once again your Christmas is inspirational, you make it all look so easy, I shall be making this meal in its entirety for my in laws visiting next week. Now I cannot wait to see your house decorated with the same simple style. Lisa x

    • Thanks so much Lisa, I hope you really enjoy the meal and I am sure your family will too. It is so easy, you can make the chocolate pots in the morning and just leave them in the fridge and the rest is so easy, you will have plenty of time for chatting and enjoying their company. We shall be decorating next week, I am rather looking forward to it and I promise I will post some photos! xx

  • Susan, this looks delicious, and beautiful! I laughed reading your tales of Christmas Tree Choosing Woe…we used to have those long, cold times choosing the perfect tree when our girls were young. {At least you were somewhere where you could shop for wine, we were generally on a cold, isolated tree lot in the cold afternoon!} Everything looks beautiful, I would love to sit at your table in your cozy kitchen with your family. Trying those chocolate pots soon! xo

    • Hi Lidy, I am so glad someone else knows what I am talking about with the Christmas tree choices, the more people involved it seems the longer it takes, and ours always takes a long time, but I really thought, naively, that this year we would be quick, I thought we had already had the debate and we would be in and out super quickly! They didn’t even notice the cold, they were all so intent on voicing their opinions! Thanks goodness they had wine!!! Next time you are in Europe I very much hope you will be able to come and enjoy a kitchen meal with us. Enjoy the chocolate pots, they are decadent and delicious! xx

  • The couscous I’ve had has been all about the vegetables: carrots, turnips, celery, leeks–one reason I love it so much. We made a batch last weekend and ate it for three days. With semoule and grilled lamb chops and grilled merguez sausages. I don’t have the traditional pot for steaming the semoule over the vegetables so I improvise with a metal strainer in a large pot of water. In Morocco, I learned that they work olive oil and butter into the semoule by hand, but mine aren’t tough enough; I use a wooden spoon.

    • We quite often have couscous or quinoa or brown rice with a mixture of vegetables, the children love it, especially with a poached egg on top and like you we then eat it for a couple of days! Today we pan fried the remainder of the festive couscous and added some yummy mushrooms from the local market, delicious! Xx

    • Ha ha thank you Helen, I love to keep them relatively simple and I love combining antique silver candlesticks with very casually arranged flowers from the garden. That’s really all I need for a lovely table! Xx

  • I am in love with your kitchen, have you only recently finished it because i am wondering why we have never seen it before? Can’t wait to cook this meal, it will be perfect over Christmas

    • Thanks so much Penny, I truly hope you enjoy the meal. The kitchen has remained totally unchanged since before I started the blog, I have no idea why I haven’t featured it more, probably because it just never occurred to me to, it is just our kitchen, I never really give it a second thought! Xx

  • Your children are just so adorable and what a good looking bunch they are. I am glad you finally solved the Christmas tree saga and got your tree, now I cannot wait to see it decorated. We always spend a long while choosing ours too, it is a matter of great importance and so it deserves plenty of careful consideration!

    • Thank you so much Sarah, I am not sure I should show them this comment, they might get big headed!! I promise I will post some photos of the tree when it is finally in the house and decorated! I agree totally, the right tree can make all the difference, it’s a great tradition that we all go and choose this together, we have done this ever since the children were tiny. Hope you have found a lovely tree this year too. Xx

  • Wow – One of your readers, Shari, really said it – thank you so much for giving us the gift of simplifying, which is always so much more enjoyable, and usually more beautiful as well.
    THANK YOU for the recipes. Only you could come up with that chocolate desert in 20 minutes! Cannot wait to make all of your recipes. But most importantly, my take away is the ease, love, enjoyment, charm, and smiles being the theme.
    Most grateful!

    • Thank you so much, I really do think that simplicity can be quite stunning. I promise you the chocolate pots really do take no time at all, I was really in quite a panic trying to think of something I could cook or prepare in no time at all! As I think you know, we always try and do everything with a smile, it’s such a simple thing that can change everything completely and nothing makes me happier than doing everything together with the family, despite the mess the cooking tends to make when the children take over!!! Xx

  • Sorry to have been away for a while, Susan. But I have been keeping an eye on everything. This is a wonderful way forward to Christmas. Love it! We’re fond of chicken done in small pieces too, will have to try this one for sure. Is there a cookery book on the way? I do hope so…..

    • Hi Phil, hope you have been catching fish despite the cold weather and staying warm in your fishing hut! I can absolutely promise you there is no cookery book on the way! There are far too many experts on the subject and Roddy and I are just keen amateurs who love fresh ingredients. We just love cooking! Hope the build up to Christmas is not too crazy. Do you or your wife decorate the fishing hut? Xx

      • Fishing has been finished for a while for me, Susan. I just potter during fine weather really and take the gear out when it gets cold. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be doing it, to be honest. The missus and I put some mistletoe up in the shed every winter, it’s a tradition with a long story to it. If you ever want some crab recipes we’ll help you out – half a lifetime of dealing with them has led to the creation of a few fine ideas. Must go to bed, my Horlicks is calling!

      • So happy you have put some mistletoe in your shed, I would certainly love to hear the story some day! Millie absolutely loves crab, she would love some recipes, her favourite food. Haven’t had a mug of horlicks for decades, but I can still remember the taste, delicious. Good night and sweet dreams! xx

  • We never EVER decorate until Christmas Eve – it drove me mad as a child, my mother before me and my children since but they all say they wouldn’t have it any other way. I found it a very savvy way to occupy them when the excitement was beginning to boil over into excruciating when they were young – my clever Granny with her brood of 6 and a husband away being Naval for years on end!

    • We always had a rule that we decorated once we had broken up from school, likewise it drove me mad because we seemed to always be later than everyone else. We also never opened presents until after lunch on Christmas Day, another thing that drove me crazy but I loved at the same time. With our children we kept the same tradition, only presents after lunch, likewise it drove them mad, now they are a little older and they love that tradition, of course they have stockings in the morning which keeps them more than occupied! The trick I always find is to make sure Santa gives them at least one thing that needs making or doing so that they are absorbed all morning!!! Xx

      • Pareil! our year’s in the US and NZ notwithstanding have you noticed that the British are now calling Father Christmas ‘Santa’ …. I am resolute in my belief that he is Father Christmas and I am going to campaign for his rightful reinstatement. I know the history, of course and I understand but it was such a singularly English thing and it grates on me when I hear even my mother (85 next year) referring to SC 🎅 xx

      • Yes yes and yes, after all the French always say Le Pere Noel and the British say Father Christmas, where and how did this change? I think between us we could start a revolt in many things, I jokingly got called a rebel today, I was rather proud of it! So perhaps we should be rebels together!!! Hope you are having a great w/e, Izzi says it never stops raining in the UK!!! Endless sunshine and gorgeous days here!!! Xx

  • Bowsers! That chocolate dessert is happening at Christmas. And that Chicken dish is going to be the main at my next dinner party. Yum. Thanks for these. I hope your weather stays pleasant…

    • Thanks so much! I am sure you won’t be disappointed and the chocolate dessert is just pure decadence and delicious, it literally runs out of the middle when you cut into it and the smell is divine! The weather is continuing to be warm and lovely, sun pouring in through the window as I write this. We are off ice skating tomorrow so I hope it lasts! Have a lovely end to the week xx

  • A garden and wine center, can’t get much better than that. Thanks for the recipes, will gladly add to my “soon to be made”.

    • Totally agree, it is France after all! Hope you enjoy the recipes, if you are a chocolate lover the dessert is not to be missed, it has become number one around here! Starting to feel just a little festive here, last night the lights were turned on in the village and it was so pretty. Hope you have a lovely end to the week and weekend xx

  • This meal looks yummy, Susan and thanks for sharing the recipes. I love couscous and my husband likes saying it. I love seeing your kitchen and look at your stove!

    • Thanks so much Kim, it’s such a funny word isn’t it! It’s a lovely homely cosy and warm kitchen that suits us well, we do after all have to share it with a tribe of children and two dogs, the kitchen table is definitely the hub of the room, that and the woodburner in the corner! Hope yours is finished now in time for Christmas. Xx

    • That sounds like a plan!!! It’s not even cold here this year so you would suffer too much. In fact it’s a balmy 15C every day this week, all a little strange! Plus you are an expert chef so I could hand the cooking over to your capable hands and we would all eat like Italian Counts and Countesses! Xx

      • The weather is a worry. 15c in December is rather warm. Very nice and balmy but a worry.
        Yes we can eat like Italians mixed in with some English and Australian traditions, with lovely French produce. Perfetto.

      • The weather is a huge worry, global warming. It is so mild and has been all week, after our brief cold snap! But I remember it was really mild last year because we were ice skating and it was literally turning to slush everywhere, it actually made skating quite difficult, they just couldn’t keep it cold enough. Tomorrow we are ice skating for the first time and it will be the same story I am sure, we shall go in the morning hoping it will be a little chillier and better. An Italian/English/Australian/French Christmas – now that really sounds interesting! We always do French/English and we’ve spent several Christmases in New Zealand, where pavlova rules for dessert, and I have my favourite story about Santa arriving in his shorts and boots at the bach! Do you call casual holiday homes a bach in Australia or is that sole a Kiwi term? So tell me what are Australian traditions? xx

      • The bach is strictly a New Zealand concept. There aren’t too many casual beach holiday houses left in Australia due to the soaring property values anywhere along the coast. Your memories of New Zealand Christmas sound wonderful.
        It is invariably hot on Christmas Day. Last year when it was my turn, temperatures were close to 40c, making the whole show quite difficult, especially since I live in the thick of the bush, and the threat of bushfire is very real, especially on windy days.
        Our family has created it’s own wonderful traditions: some are based on Irish/English traditions – for example, the old pudding with silver coins lit with brandy features at the end of the meal. Over the years, we have all grown fond of seafood- a great start to the meal ( after all the nibbles!), prawns, lobster, oysters, smoked salmon, calamari salad- these are served as a starter, along with cold meats and salads for those who don’t eat seafood. Then we move onto the main course, cold turkey and hams, various hot dishes brought along by my siblings, veg lasagne… quiche and so on. Then the pudding, then the pavlova, but wait there’s more…

        Now that the extended family has reached 30, I feel it has become too large. I would like to have Christmas with my children, (this has not yet happened) their partners and my grandchildren. ( we are 14 ) or simply run away to France or Italy.xx

      • Wow those numbers are just huge! Your Christmas meal sounds so like the ones we had in NZ. Everything was cold because it was always so hot, we were up north in the Bay of Islands. Talking of Christmas in the sun, I remember our first ever one in a hot climate, we were in the Caribbean with just one daughter who was still a baby then. Family came to stay as well and we ate lobster on the beach and decorated a small tree which was the most unsightly specimen with home made ribbons. In the evening we sat outside drinking champagne under the stars, chatting into the small hours, I still remember it like it was yesterday, totally uncomplicated and terribly simple but oh such fun! Our lights in the village were finally turned on last night, the Christmas markets open this weekend, it’s all very relaxed here too which is a good thing. I even did a little Christmas shopping today! xx

  • Ah, those chocolate pots are very similar to something my girlfriend does, Susan – all gooey and unctuous (is that the right word?) in the middle. They’re also extremely good with banana ice-cream, and – I hesitate to say this in case it is sacrilege – rum butter. She has no idea where she got her recipe. “A long time ago in a galaxy far away”, is a standard reply to questions like that. And although I wouldn’t buy a complete set of it, I do admire your china. Where is it from? It’s extremely classical and elegant. Looking forward to the next part of the Hays Christmas Installation Artwork.

    • Thanks Simon, so you know just how perfect these little chocolate pots are, utterly decadently delicious! The China was made by Heinrich of Bavaria specially for a shop in Venice. My Mother in Law saw it there and bought it in 1969, so it has quite a bit of history! It all sits on a shelf in our pantry and comes out on special occasions! The Christmas decorations will most likely happen sometime next week, watch this space!! Have a great weekend xx

  • Oh, Gigi is so right…why should we wait to decorate the tree till Xmas eve? The time before is the best (and longest
    too) though let’s do it kids…now. I also love your decision “keep it simple” and I have seen you have the same or
    similar stove as I have. Are you also happy with it as I am? For the two of us (unfortunately our son isn’t able to come this year) we will roast a duck, red cabbage and we skip the dessert in place of red wine. Isn’t it a good idea? I consider to buy the modern style of xmas tree …you know (a small nacked tree with candle strings) …Should I?

    • I know I know but it is hard to break the traditions of a lifetime, when I was growing up it was always around the 20th – 21st, I have relented a little, it’s around the 16th with us, which this year happens to coincide with the last day of school, so it will be a big evening celebration decorating, playing music and generally making a great big mess and having lots of fun! Yes go for the modern style, with just lights, I always think it looks so pretty. In fact just this evening, Jack, our son, and I went out together, a rare mother and son occasion and we bought three small conifers to place in the kitchen, we shall leave them totally au naturel and then in the New Year plant them in the garden, but I love the simple look (in moderation!) Your meal sounds delicious and red wine sounds much better than any dessert in my book, perhaps because I don’t eat desserts, despite the fact that I cook them for everyone else!! We are really happy with the stove, a Falcon, both my husband and I, he is the real chef, cannot fault it. Have a truly lovely weekend, we are off ice skating in the morning, in blame 15C weather, it will be a bit slushy I’m sure!! xx

    • Enjoy! They most certainly are very decadent and utterly delicious, almost quite sinful but who cares! and the aroma as you open them up is divine too, chocolate oozes out! Have a wonderful weekend xxx

  • I loved reading about your French tree hunt, special meal and dessert – which you make sound effortless! Such a treat to get a peek into your sweet family’s life in France. Joyeux Noel!

    • Thanks so much Julie, when there are five children involved I have to try and make everything as simple as possible otherwise nothing would be achieved at all! Off ice skating tomorrow morning in crazily warm December weather, it has been 60F all week, most odd! Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • You make it all look so effortless, I love these peeks into your wonderful lifestyle, quite how you manage such a large family with such grace is incredible and better still you share it with us all around the world with such style – yours is my new number one blog. Happy holidays to you all. Pamela

    • Thank you so much Pamela, I am quite speechless, so thank you again! and I have to give most of the thanks to my children and husband who make all of this possible, because they are really the story, all together, they inspire me to share this lifestyle. Talking of children and lifestyle we are off ice skating tomorrow morning, always a family favourite at this time of year. Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • Yum! I will definitely try this meal, I like to use boned chicken thighs, they are good value and delicious. Can I ask Susan, what is Cilantro? Never heard of it! Have a lovely weekend.

    • Hi Marian, do enjoy the meal, boned chicken thighs are perfect, I love them too and the chocolate pots are pure decadence, the aroma is divine and the chocolate will literally run out of the middle when you break into them! Cilantro is Coriander, I a sorry, I should have put that, I call everything by it’s English name, aubergines, courgettes etc, but I always call coriander Cilantro! I first remember hearing this decades ago and I thought it was such a great word that I always used it, now it rolls off the tongue automatically! Finally the lights are on in the village here, it looks so so pretty, we have Christmas markets opening this weekend and ice skating tomorrow morning, it’s getting festive! Hope you have a lovely weekend too. Xx

  • Easy and elegant dishes like these make holiday get togethers much easier. The chocolate pots look really delicious. Oh, the agony of choosing just the right tree! These days, with the children gone, it’s a 10 minute job for the two of us. Enjoy these days.

    • Hi Lorrie, I totally agree, it is the time of year when we are all so busy and sometimes it’s nice to have something simple but still delicious to fall back on and the little chocolate pots are so decadent, the aroma alone when cut open is fantastic! The tree choosing is always something of an adventure, but it’s all part of
      Christmas and a part I always look forward to so much! Hope you have a lovely weekend xx

  • Oh my gosh I’m so excited you included recipes for the entire meal! I am just going to copy that for an upcoming small gathering of friends, a gathering that now has a meal planned thanks to you. I am also enjoying your repeated posts of the simplicity of the holiday season. Didn’t go all out with decorations this year with many still untouched in boxes packed away. I was worried I was being Grinchy but I think I just long for a more simple Christmas where I can enjoy the spirit of the season instead of the stress. Truly enjoy reading your posts! Merci!

    • Thanks so much Amelia and so happy you are going to make the meal, I hope you have a lovely time your friends. I agree so much about Christmas, it really is all about having a wonderful happy family time, I have been slowly decorating a little here and there, the excitement amongst our children is building daily, just as it should be! Have a wonderful holidays, I am sure you will, stress free and relaxed and peaceful xx

  • How lovely you have made everything look. I tend to close my eyes and wait for Christmas to pass but you have inspired me (yet again) to try harder. Thanks for the choccy recipe – I’ve been looking for something like this for a couple of days. I’m dreadfully behind hand with all my emails and blog reads so apologies…I@m not ignoring you really! 🙂 Have a lovely Christmas and keep vacuuming those needles!

    • I think we all try so hard to make Christmas perfect that sometimes it can all just get too much and I really wanted to stress that I think that simplicity is extremely elegant and maybe we all deserve to just enjoy everything a little more and worry a little less. Fortunately haven’t had to start vacuuming the needles yet, the tree is still outside, Friday, the last day of school, it will come in and we will decorate it, a fun chaotic evening! Hope you really enjoy the chocolate pots, they are so simple but also very decadent and quite delicious. Have a very Happy peaceful, relaxed and calm Christmas and enjoy it xxx

  • Just catching up with your December posts, Susan, and what a treat!
    We’ve gradually withdrawn from the hustle and commercialization for some years here (USA), and the 2 hardest things have been finding the courage to stop worrying what others think of us for being “odd”, and also finding enjoyable ways to celebrate instead. Posts like yours help so much on both counts!

    My wish/dream is that each of us distressed by the commercialization of Christmas (and everything else precious to us!) would simply stop purchasing the garbage and patronizing those establishments, and would instead celebrate together in the simple and lovely ways that feel good to us. I think we would actually create the change we’re longing for. …Worth a try.

    Thank you so much for the time and effort you spend sharing your family’s traditions and the ones around you! Wishing your family and the world all of the serenity and joy that life has to offer –now and in the coming year,
    Adelia

    • Thank you so much Adelia, one of the things I love so much about life here is the very slow build up to Christmas, the lights in our village came on only a few days ago. Decorations have just started to appear now, Christmas markets are in full force, but only again since the weekend and it’s a lovely way to buy locally made things and support the local artisans. Your comment has many many wise words, surely the real pleasure of Christmas is special time with family and friends and sharing goodwill. Wishing you a very happy and peaceful Christmas too and yes a very serene one. xx

  • Oh yum! Chocolate pots! I’m going to be making those! Our emphasis this year is on meals together with friends and family and getting out into the snow as much as possible. Simplicity really does take a lot of pressure off sometimes. Have a great holiday in la belle France!

    • Simplicity really does make it all so much easier and I don’t think it makes it any less special, perhaps it makes it even more special as it means we really are able to spend the time with loved ones and enjoy the festivities so much more. Your Christmas sounds perfect, just wish we had some snow, I am a little envious of that! But then we are loving warm days around 15C so we cannot complain too much, it’s great to be outside in this, we can hardly believe it is December! Hope you enjoy the chocolate pots. xx

  • Susan…
    This the season! Happy Holidays! 🎄☃️🎅🏻❤️!
    Isn’t if funny how something so simple as picking out a🌲can become something so utterly mind boggling?
    This year we decided to try a new place. The trees were lovely; not a bad one in the bunch. We choose 🌲🌲…One for the living room…one for the lower level. The sweetest man (who owned the farmers market) even delivered it for us.
    Normally, we leave the 🌲🌲outside for a few days to “spread their branches” but this time we just decided to get them up as we were having a party for 60+people!
    To my surprise the next morning when I went into the living room the 🌲 had “spread” out its branches and it seemed like it literally took up half the space. I am not joking the 🌲 was huge! So I now have a Beautiful 🎄 that looks so out of place that it is ALMOST hysterical.
    So, what does this have to do with your post? Our French Oasis Always grounds me in remembering the importance of the three F’s: Family, Food and Friends.
    The recipes are Fabulous! ❤️The Chicken looks SCRUMPTIOUS… The Melt in your Mouth Chocolate Pots… Heaven.
    There is nothing lovelier than a family who enjoys sitting down at a table eating…talking together!
    ❤️ Your kitchen…so beautiful…full of family and love!
    Thank you for sharing the 🎄 Tree adventure and the recipes.
    Enjoy the next 11 days! It is such a Wonderful time of year…
    🎄🎅🏻☃️❤️

    • Now if only I could find the tree on my Mac I would be able to post a comment that looks as festive as yours! I can imagine how huge your tree is, but I guess it’s in situ now and going to stay there, dominating the room, sounds perfect!! Ours is coming in on Friday, it is always such a wonderful evening decorating it, loud and noisy and so much fun, everyone goes just a little crazy!! It is indeed such a wonderful time of year, loving every minute of it even though the festivities are only just beginning here. Hope you are having a lovely holidays too. Huge hugs from France xx

  • Wow that sounds perfect, I’m giving both of these a go. Thank you for trialling them and sharing them with us Susan.
    I love your blog, it’s so practical. Keep up the great work in 2017.
    From my family to yours, may you have a blessed, rich Christmas season with your family and friends.

    • Thanks so much Joanna, I hope you will enjoy both dishes, the dessert is quite decadent but quite delicious and the aroma is divine! I hope you too have a wonderful happy and peaceful Christmas xx

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