Let the Countdown to Christmas Begin (let’s get cooking)

P6800307As much as I love Christmas and believe me I really do love it, I think I love it every bit as much now as a grown-up as I did as a child – but probably in a different way. I know that the shops are a necessity, but they are not where I want to spend my December days; instead I want our Christmas celebrations to be more about the joy of the season and less about the shopping. I want to spend any spare time making foods with those distinctive seasonal spicy aromas; I want to take walks in crisp winter air and decorate the house bit by bit, together as a family, taking our time; this is my remedy to the modern seasonal madness.

Pausing to look out of the kitchen window my thoughts slowly drift away; the scene is far more autumnal than wintery, but that doesn’t mean to say that cold weather and the last season of the year isn’t standing in the wings, ready to make a grand entrance at any moment.

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Already the house has taken on a cosy feel; the fire in the kitchen gently burns all day, radiating it’s warmth throughout the rooms downstairs. Candles highlight every evening meal and the last few roses we can scrounge from the garden sit proudly in the centre of the table.

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The countdown is about to begin with the arrival of Advent Sunday in just a few days.

P6810072Last year we abandoned for good the shop-bought calendars and made our own from an old white shutter and lots of empty glass yoghurt pots.

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Bringing it in from the barn last night and watching the children fill it with goodies ready for the 1st December felt like another family tradition, albeit a new one, but one we have started together and one that I hope will now continue into future generations of our family.

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I’m also turning my attention towards festive food. We’ve harvested our lemons, (probably far too grand a term for our two small trees), but they produce a decent crop each year and growing lemons in western France always seems something of a luxury and as a result we treat them as if they were made of gold!

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Although cooking is an integral part of the festive season, what we don’t want to do is find ourselves chained to the stove with a never ending list of things that have to be made, there is nothing more soul destroying. Make what you enjoy and what you can prepare in advance; concentrate on the little things that fill the kitchen with the smells that say Christmas and if you’re cooking in the evening, have a glass of wine on the side;  relax and really enjoy using fresh ingredients and creating homemade dishes.

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And it is never too early to start making mince pies. I feel very safe and secure knowing I have a tin full of them for whenever anyone pops in for tea (even for a slightly decadent moment myself!). Half of the fun here is tempting new friends to try our British seasonal foods and watching old friends return for more of our traditions that they have found they rather like in years gone by.

Of course you can buy them quite readily in the UK and I believe in many shops in other countries too, although there aren’t many in France! But it is so gratifying to make your own and they really are so simple and it is another way that everyone can get involved. A plain pastry is all you need, they really don’t need anything sweet or rich. Roll it out and cut into rounds and place inside cupcake tins.

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The fun part  is making the mincemeat, a delicacy with origins going back to medieval times when it included meat and beef suet! Nowadays mincemeat is mainly made from just fruit, although some bought varieties (and many recipes) still use suet,; happily I find the trend is turning slowly away from this altogether and I prefer to use butter nowadays.

You will need:

200g/7ozs/1 1/3rd cups currants
200g/7ozs/1 1/3rd cups raisins
200g/7ozs/1 1/3rd cups sultanas
45g/1.6ozs/1/3rd cup finely sliced or chopped almonds
125g/4ozs/1/2 cup butter chopped
1 apple, peeled, sliced, cored and chopped into small pieces
150g brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
juice and grated rind of 1 large lemon
juice and grated rind of 1 large orange
100ml cognac, rum or brandy (if you don’t want to add alcohol you can substitute orange juice)

I normally like to add a good handful of fresh cranberries because it adds to the festive colour, but alas, this is France, and the grocery stalls are not yet stocked with seasonal produce and there are no fresh cranberries yet to be had. I am sure they are on offer in the larger cities, but in these more rural parts we have to wait! But there are no hard and fast rules to my recipe, add some dried ones if you wish or go without all together; you really can make this to suit yourself.

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Place all the ingredients except for the alcohol in a large heavy based saucepan and very gently bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Then turn the heat down as low as possible and simmer slowly for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This is the fun part, the aromas that fill the kitchen will draw everyone in, wherever they may be in the house, you don’t need to worry about scented candles, this is a far more powerful festive smell and as each person arrives encourage them to take a turn in stirring, it’s all part of the Christmas tradition, doing things together.

After the fifteen minutes or so, take off the heat and allow to cool a little before adding the alcohol and mixing well.

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You can either cook with this straight away or you can store in clean sterilised jars in the fridge for several weeks, just remember to bring to room temperature before you want to cook with it.

Now back to the actual pies. Fill each uncooked pastry base with a good teaspoon of mincemeat, cover with a pastry hat, squeeze the edges tight and cook at 220C/425F for about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, sprinkle with a little icing sugar and try and restrain yourself from eating too many all in one go, they will keep in a tin for a couple of weeks, but ours never do, they seem to disappear almost as fast as we can churn them out!

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Now when it comes to the Christmas meal itself, this is often the least problematical meal to consider, most of us know the routine off by pat and it’s a little bit like not being able to teach old dogs new tricks. But every now and then it is worth reminding ourselves we need to have fun too, so often we run around making sure that everything is perfect for everyone else and that very quest for perfection leaves us feeling run ragged and too exhausted to enjoy it at all.

Every year we have a yule log for dessert for our main Christmas day feast. The British tradition is a pudding made of dried fruit steeped in alcohol and steamed, but since none of us like it we have all opted for the French Bûche de Noël to take its place, and again it is something that looks complicated but is oh so easy and can be made a day in advance. Better still have a trial run and play with different fillings, that way you can make it as individual as you wish and add your own touch.

The actual bûche itself is terribly simple, what’s more it has a fabulously light and airy texture which is exactly what you want after a big meal. You will need:

3 eggs
85g caster sugar
85g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C. Line a 23 x 32cm Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk for about 8 mins until thick and creamy, this is the secret and they should end up looking like this.

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Mix the flour, cocoa and baking powder together, then sift onto the egg mixture. Fold in very carefully, then pour into the tin. Now tip the tin from side to side to spread the mixture into the corners and bake for 10 mins.

Remove from the oven and tip it onto another sheet of parchment paper, peel off the lining paper, then roll the cake up from its longest edge with the paper inside and leave until completely cool.

Then comes the fun part, what to fill it with! One of our favourites is to simply whip some cream until it is stiff and holds shape and then fold in 100g (or one bar) of good quality melted milk chocolate. As a side note this makes a wonderful summer dessert when filled with either this chocolate cream or plain cream with plenty of fresh raspberries or strawberries. But we are talking about Christmas, a time when food is rich and decadent and we didn’t want our bûche to be found wanting. We made our regular chocolate cream version the other night, a trial run which was received extremely well by the children!

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But the jury is still out, half want it just like this, the other half want something a little more substantial in the middle. I suggested a chocolate butter cream and there was a mumbling of agreement but not a definite “yes” which I rather suspect translates into, “make another one we can sample!”

So I am guessing that is what I will do and this is the filling I will spread over the middle before rolling it up once more and icing it with the cream and melted chocolate which for the ‘outside’ icing won a unanimous vote of approval.

Mix together  250g butter and 250g icing sugar and then add  175g dark melted chocolate (I like to use a minimum of 70g cocoa variety, but the choice is optional), add 1 tablespoon vanilla essence and mix until smooth.

Assemble the bûche, grate an ample amount of chocolate on top, add some simple decorations and put it into the fridge. It will happily keep for 24 to 48 hours and you don’t have to worry about a thing. Another part of the big meal ticked off.

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123 thoughts on “Let the Countdown to Christmas Begin (let’s get cooking)

  • Well as I was the last and very late to comment on the last post I am jolly well going to be the first today! Loved this, you have totally summarized the very essence of Christmas. If only everyone was the same and the over spending and mass consumerism of the holidays would cease. But it won’t and so we must each make of it what we will. I’m off to buy some ingredients and make mince pies, you ha e totally inspired me, oh and I’ll wait until after 6pm, cocktail hour and I can have a nice G&T in one hand! Cheers or perhaps I should say santé !

    • That sounds like the absolute perfect way to make mince pies, and make sure you have some music in the background too, make it a really festive atmosphere. Is it too early for carols? for me, I rather think it is, but any good music always puts me in a happy mood. Enjoy your cooking, the G&T and Santé to you too xx

  • Mince pies have been consumed for a few days here, Christmas pudding made, Christmas cake made, everyone had a stir and made a wish, some traditions never die, isn’t it all fun, I love this time of year.

    • Those are our traditions too, especially with the cake as I don’t make a christmas pudding because as I said, no one likes it! But the cake, yes we all have a stir and we all close our eyes and make a wish, always have done in our family, I wonder where that tradition came from, it seems quite a well known one. You sound as if you are super organised. Let the festivities begin! xx

  • I used to love introducing French friends to our Christmas cookery, and used to have a Christmas cake baking session with some each October. I have at least a couple of French friends who now regularly make mincemeat and mince pies, even though we have now left France. It seems only fair to share these traditions about. I still have just one fève ( he seems to be a fireman) to use in the galette des rois at Epiphanytide. I have to look after him well!

    • I know it is great fun isn’t it. I love introducing people to Christmas cake also, they have absolutely no idea what to expect, I explain to them that with us it tends to be mince pies before Christmas and Cake after, both lots of fruit steeped in alcohol, but everyone loves it! You must look after that five with very great care, do you want me to send you one of ours this year? We always have several galette des rois courtesy of our good friends who own the boulangerie in the next door village! xx

  • Oh my I am feeling ignorant in the traditions of the world, I have never even heard of mince pies! But google is my friend, I have given myself a quick education and I will be making some, to add some European touches to our Christmas foods!

    • Google is indeed everyone’s friend, where would we be without it, so much information, unimaginable amounts right at our finger tips. I am glad you have looked up mince pies, you will find thousands of recipes online. Mince pies are a huge British tradition and they are delicious, do make some and enjoy!! xx

  • I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your blog. Your idea of a family Christmas is the ideal that everyone should strive for. I have looked at so many blogs that are all about trying to outdo each other decorating their houses and not much info about family or friends. I am 80 years old and now live on an island north of Scotland where Christmas is a rather sad time for me because we are so far from family. Travel is difficult especially as our weather is particularly bad at the moment. However, you have cheered me up tremendously and I am going to go get our few decorations up and light some candles. My sincerest thanks!

    • Thank you so much Margaret, your comment brought tears to my eyes. It is so sad that Christmas seems to have lost its real Christmas spirit for so many people around the world. I remember the excitement as a child building, it always started when my grandparents arrived, they came to stay every Christmas. Of course we loved the presents and stockings, who doesn’t, but it was so much more than just that. The house always looked magical, but in a very traditional way, my father would cut great trug loads of holly and ivy and it would be draped over every painting in the house. There wasn’t much else apart from the Christmas tree in the way of decorations aside from masses of cards, everyone sent cards in those days and they would cover quite literally every surface. I hope it is not too hideously cold where you are. I am intrigued, are you in the Orkneys or Shetlands? We have a great friend who used to live on Papa Stour. I hope your candles are alight, they always look so pretty in my opinion, stay warm and snug and if we don’t chat again in the next couple of weeks, have a wonderful, happy and healthy Christmas. xx

  • Made our Christmas puddings at the end of September. For a cake, decided to try one of Delia’s recipes – not sure about it – will wait until Christmas to try it. Here in Spain, our long drawn out end of Summer (we rarely get Autumn) has come to a close in the middle of what Autumn we are likely to get. There a some lovely colours ranging from the bright red of the cherry trees, via orangey browns, gold, a sort of clay-like beige to the bright yellow of the poplars so I guess this will have to pass for Autumn but with a max temp of only 9° today, it is more like Winter and we will be down to less than 6° max in a day or two. We have had our first proper rain for over six months but no snow here, yet!

    • Wow you really have gone from summer to winter with little in between. It is bitterly cold here today as well, hovering around 7C and meant to stay the same for a couple of days. I am sure the rain was incredibly welcome with you and was a huge relief. I am sure the cake will be delicious, let me know! xx

      • We usually go away for Christmas and New Year to a small hamlet in the Natural Park of the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas where we rent an apartment and sometimes they have snow there when we don’t here, although they are only 50 metres higher than here (we are at 750 m) but their mountains are higher than ours which tends to provoke more snow. We take all our Christmassy stuff plus a halogen oven (apartment only has a stovetop) and a slow cooker and since the apt. also has central heating, we can enjoy a cosy Christmas without the bother of lighting the log-burner at home. The apt. is in a small complex with its own supermarket and cafeteria plus there are a number of restaurants on the main road if we don’t want to cook. There is a largish enclosed off-road parking area so the dogs can roam under supervision without being on leads.

        • Sounds like great fun, especially if you get snow. I have tried to persuade our children that we should all go away one Christmas, I would love a white one, but no one wants to leave home and I am always met with a firm “No”! One Christmas some 15 years ago I remember when we were living in England it started snowing on Christmas morning and continued all day and night. It was utterly magical. The apartment sounds perfect and it’s location too, I hope you have a fabulous time and a wonderful festive season xx

  • My English grandmother made a Christmas Pudding that I recall was just a giant mincemeat cake filled with booze. Ha!! The only reason I would even take a piece was because she put a sterling silver dime in the cake, and the person who found the dime would have good luck all year. Is that a British tradition? Have a Merry Christmas.

    • Yes that is a very British tradition. There is always a small silver coin, it was a sixpence when my parents were young and then when I was a child a 5pence piece. And how you made me laugh, that is the only reason I ever had a small piece of Christmas pudding, even though I never liked it, in the hope of winning the coin! Plus traditionally in the UK it is served with lashings of cream and brandy butter or rum butter, which is yet more alcohol!! butter with rum or brandy and mixed together, gosh it is delicious though! Have a very Merry Christmas too xx

  • Are they European in general or are they just English? Mince pies seem to be grabbing all of the attention today, I can smell that cinnamon and nutmeg combination from here, if only!

    • They are most definitely a British tradition, I don’t think they are known in the rest of Europe except by British expats! Isn’t cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and all spice the most wondrous Christmas scent, it is worth cooking just for the smells that radiate around the kitchen. xx

  • Susan, How I loved this post. Your holiday preparations are so delightful. I especially enjoyed seeing your children setting up the advent calendar as well as the close-ups to show the details of how it is constructed. Can you tell us more about that tradition? Are the fillings of each day’s pot new each year or are they ornaments or other decorations of Christmas that you reuse each year? We have an advent calendar that my mother bought 50+ years ago from a holiday fair at our elementary school. All of the items sold in those days were handmade by crafty moms and donated. There is more than a little magic in this advent calendar since it is in the very bright blues and greens of the 60’s in Los Angeles where we grew up but it looks as if it was made yesterday! There is a big empty tree made out of felt in the middle of the panel and a calendar below. Beneath each day of the calendar is a small handmaid felt ornament cut in different shapes–a bell, a skate, a Christmas tree……you get the idea. And each are embroidered with beads, sequins and cording. SO charming. On each day, you simply remove that day’s felt shape from underneath the day of the month and pin it onto the large felt tree in the middle of the panel. The ornaments are held on with straight pins……very old school…..and it still is a sign one is growing up when a child of the house becomes old enough to handle the straight pins! I wish there were more of these homemade items in the world today so you can imagine my joy in seeing your family’s.
    One other comment! Here in the US, unsophisticated bakers like me do not use, nor could we find at our local groceries, saltanas or currants. In fact, until today, I thought sultana was the British term for a raisin. All I have ever seen are regular and golden raisins in our stores. I know that these items can probably be obtained from Amazon but I am so intrigued that they seem to be a regular ingredient to you and are unknown in the ordinary course here.
    Best wishes to you and yours during this Advent time! xo

    • Anne; how funny (read ‘interesting’). I swear I haven’t even read Susan’s post but already got the comments sent to my mail box…. and was just reading your words. Two things spoke to me – that inventive advent calendar – what a beautiful, great thing to have and keep and treasure, and then the sultana/raisin question.
      Coming from a Swiss German spoken background and living in France (after Canada, UK and obviously Switzerland), I’m still amazed at How Amazed I Am about these little buggers. I had and have to re-learn in every country about them. The (only) ones I REALLY like are the large black raisins. And whatever they are called or in what shape they come, I only ever buy the UNSULFURATED ones….. In the UK I learned about the Korinths, they are super large and very tasty. I also found out to my ‘damage’ that my Hero Husband has the same (good) taste as I. Whenever I want to make a fruit tart I find the jar with the raisins empty or very near empty…… I don’t like the blond/yellow sultanas much but accept the happiy f they come in an Italian panettone…
      Thank you for wetting my appetite. I now just need to take some time off to read Susan’s blogpost 😉

      • Ha ha, the raisin question, tell HH that I do the same, I always buy only organic raisins and I always snack on them when I feel like I need something sweet! This evening I noticed the jar is very nearly empty, time to put more on the shopping list. xx

    • What a wonderful advent calendar, those sorts of traditions and memories are for me, exactly what Christmas is all about, and it is what I so want our children to feel too. Those embroidered ornaments sounds incredible, and the work that must have gone into each one, that makes it so special and something to be treasured always. I feel a little like that about our tree ornaments, when we take them out of their boxes and hang them on the tree, there are so many memories. Our little jars are filled with all sorts of things, some just simple chocolates, Quality Street, another English thing I think! Some have Lindt chocolate teddies in them and others have little gifts that I think the children might like, totally inexpensive little trinkets, a festive eraser each for their pencil cases or a miniature trinket. On the 24th under the snowman are five tiny handwritten notes, they are the first clue in a treasure hunt, which leads them all around the house, until they find their treasure, always a great fun tradition on Christmas Eve!

      Now as for raisins, sultanas and currants, I guess this is something I just grew up with and I never even realised that they were not a common thing, certainly in America, as well. But I have learnt something new, thank you. So to help you out a little, a currant is a very small, quite hard dried fruit that results from the drying of dark red seedless grapes, often the Corinth grape and in French they are called raisins de Corinthe. Sultanas are made from dried white seedless grapes and are known as raisins blond in French and the classic raisin as we all know it is a raisin sec in French and comes from dried white Muscatel grapes. Raisins and sultanas both soak up alcohol and other flavours which is why they are so popular in this type of cooking when they are steeped in alcohol. The Raisin, incidentally, soaks up even more flavours than the sultana. If you were to make the mince pies, I think the best you could do would be to buy classic raisins and golden raisins, there is little difference in flavour it is really more about the colour and just add more of each and forget the currants! It won’t make any difference at all I promise, it’s just an English thing!!

      Very best wishes to you too, what a wonderful time of year this is xxx

  • I love your advent calendar and all of your family ideas for making the most of Christmas. You think as I do, Christmas is not at the shops but at home with family and friends. I cannot wait to try your recipe for mincemeat, I do not like it but my dad does and I want to make him a tin of your beautiful pies!

    • Oh I would be flattered if you made them and I am sure your Dad, if he likes mince pies, will be thrilled. I love having one, or sometimes two each afternoon, it just seems so right at this time of year and today, I introduced another French friend to them, they seemed to go down rather well!! Isn’t this what Christmas is all about, sharing, laughing, having fun, but not non stop shopping! xx

    • Thanks Margaret, there was absolutely no problem at all. Just when you comment for the first time, or if you have not commented in a long time I have to approve the comment first, which I have done. I hope you can see this. xx

  • I just love the smell of baking at Christmas time, our lovely neighbour used to make us dozens of mince pies & we looked forward to them so much. There’s nothing like home made, the shop bought ones are just not right! I love your advent calendar, I’m getting lots of inspiration this year from Pinterest! Long may these traditions continue, I love the sense of history attached to them. One of my Xmas ‘musts’ is to watch Scrooge, the 1953 black & white version with Alastair Sim, & of course ‘The Snowman’ also. xxx

    • Oh isn’t The Snowman just the best and we also love The March of the Penguins. I just adore Christmas scents, heavenly and if you buy mince pies you miss out on that altogether. I am really passionate about traditions, whilst making Christmas the very best possible for the children I also want them to come to love the traditions as much as we do, so that they will want to hand them down! Isn’t it a wonderful time of year, I love it! xx

  • With just 25 days until Christmas {gasp!} I’m beginning to plan the tins I share with my wonderful neighbors. I think I have the various sweets all picked out, now just to find a day where I can bake away. LOVE your advent calendar! It looks so special and seems filled with love. And mincemeat?! A favorite Christmas treat in my books. Too many people around here aren’t fans, but I savor it every year. I could eat a jar of the stuff without making it into pies I love it so much! Thank you for sharing your recipes. I can hardly wait to try them out. The Bûche de Noël that I’ve made always includes chocolate and raspberries to feel completely decadent. Sincerest holiday wishes to you and yours as you prepare for the big event. 🎄

    • What a fantastic idea to make tins of homemade goodies to give to your neighbours, I think sharing something you have made is so much more special than buying something. I can eat mincemeat by the spoonful as well, and I have to admit whilst making a batch the other day, I did, I dipped in my teaspoon and had more than one, the taste, whilst it was still warm, was sublime. It sounds as if you have the holidays well planned, enjoy every moment, 25 days and counting, no doubt it will go by in a flash! xx

  • Oh, I love seeing your mince pies. My family still makes one big mince pie every Christmas. Your ingredients are the same as mine except we use a sweet wine, no sultanas, and add a whole beef roast, cooked to tender and then finely chopped. No one likes it but those family members whom have been raised on it. The recipe goes back to the 1830’s in America, and who knows when in England. Thanks for sharing your pics and recipe.

  • Lovely post. The view out your window looks much like ours. We are surrounded by 100’+ tall poplar, hickory and oak trees – with an occasional decorative maple thrown in. I left a few tall pines since lightning seems to like them best (hopefully a deterrent to keep it away from the house). The hickorys take on a dense golden bronze color and are among the last to drop their leaves. Because the yard is so heavily treed it sometimes looks like it is raining color when the wind is blowing just right. And many of the roses have flushed out again – confused by the lingering warm weather I suppose.

    I like the advent calendar very much – very clever! I’ll share it with our daughter – our two year old granddaughter is just coming to realize that there is something special afoot! Over the Thanksgiving holiday they were at our house – a basket of Christmas ornaments sat on a low table in front of the sofa in the family room. Our granddaughter entered the room, greeted everyone then went straight to the table, stood on her tiptoes and buried her face in the basket! (those ornaments are plastic) It was really funny – like she was inhaling something special as she dove into the splendor.

    Both my wife and older daughter are Methodist ministers so this is an especially busy time for them. Even so my wife considers cooking to be a stress reliever so our home is filled with the aromas of the season. Plain soul that I am I am generally happy with a batch of homemade ginger cookies (a specialty of our younger daughter) – even better if they are frosted. My sister (the “Brit” 🙂 ) always sends us a tinned Christmas pudding as a holiday happy. We don’t care for them either – but it’s the thought that counts – so probably have four or five from seasons past buried on a shelf in the pantry. Since this has become an annual tradition I’ve asked how her family enjoys them to be told “we don’t” – maybe the ones we receive are a re-gift. 🙂 I think they are like MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat) – as long as the seal is good they’ll keep for a decade!

    Best wishes to you and your family for a joyous season.

    • Steven, your lovely comment made me laugh more than once! I can just picture your 2 year old grand daughter burying her head in a basket of ornaments! The fun is really just about to start for her and it will just get better and better, I am sure you will love it just as much too. it is funny how so many of us dislike Christmas pudding. I only ever ate it as a child in the hope of having the slice that had the silver coin in it, there is only one in each pudding and if you win it you can make a wish. Also traditionally it is served with cream and either rum or brandy butter, yet more alcohol, but utterly delicious, I think I would have a large portion of cream and rum butter and a tiny one of pudding!!!our garden tends to rain leaves too, today the temperature dropped, a lot! and the wind blew, so a great deal more have come down, perhaps winter really is here now, just in time for Christmas. Hope you have a wonderful festive season and lead up to Christmas xx

  • I have NEVER had a MINCEMEAT PIE!
    It is nothing what I thought it to BE!
    I think I will make these for our street party!
    MERCI!!!!!!!!!
    XX

    • That would be a fantastic idea, they are really easy, plus the smell is just divine. Let me know your thoughts on your first tasting please. I like mincemeat so much that I have to just test it whilst it is still warm, a teaspoon or two never goes amiss and tastes even better straight from the pan!!! xx

  • Dear Susan, what a great and well-timed post. You’ll be in for a(nother) long report from me, but first things first.
    My first encounter of mincemeat pies was indeed when I lived in rural Devon, UK. Never heard of them before. And ignorant city dweller I was, I never thought of trying them because I just couldn’t get my head around why anybody would want to have MEAT pies (minced meat is what they are called, right?)….. So, when after at least the first Christmas season we lived there, I was finally tempted into having them at friends’ places, I fell for them, hook, line, and sinker…. that much for ignorance! I confess: They ARE good!
    Then, are you actually still having trees with leaves? Just asking as our two old linden trees now have shed their load within 2 days to total baldness….. Now a ton of leaves are waiting to be raked together and put away. But HH still has blisters on his hands from wielding the rake for a few hours and that was only the upper patio and part of the (rather large) parking! And this week he is mostly away and has a full day commitment on Saturday too, so they might be lying about for a while yet. They are wet and the going is a bit dangerous for slipping.
    Advent calendars: I’m terribly sad year after year to see that in France all you get to buy are those horrible chocolate-stuffed advent calendars or those with toys in every space. They are devoid of love, attention, joy and far too expensive. I have ‘artisanal’ calendars from many countries which I treasure. I put them up like a gallery and open the well worn out doors one by one. One I have is from the National Gallery London, others from visits in Germany, Switzerland, England and USA. They are beautiful, they make me happy, the give joy and hope and smiles. I have one talented sister who makes a number of calendars every year for her dearest (mother, husband, children, grand-children etc). She buys or makes over the 12 months tiny little things (a special candle, a balloon for kids, just small stuff) and wraps every parcel up with coloured silky paper and a lovely tie, numbers them and either brings them to the lucky person or sends it on a long string to others. On Flickr I got a few shots of the huge carton which arrived in Englan one day but I never made the photos public…. A true labour of love. Stupily, in hindsight, I told her once that she really didn’t have to go to all that trouble, that I loved her anyway etc and the result was that she was offended and ‘cut me off’ her ‘donators’ list’ which was NOT what I intended but a thought born from the horrendous amount of money she had to spend to send this from CH to UK….. I too made many similar advent calendar inc some years a daily gift of a photo with a quote or a song – a lot of work and one I can’t do any longer. I also have at least 3 dozens of those tiny yoghurt glass jars which I used to put outside in those late summer nights when we had guests and nobody wanted ever to go inside, so we sat around with tea lights casting their soft light and we all looked so beautiful!
    Cranberries; I loved them to distraction, but they are only known to me from ‘bags’ not fresh ones. And since I know how they are being ‘grown’, swamped and flooded, I have gone off a tiny bit. So where you get fresh cranberries from is a ‘first’ to me. I get mine from America! 🙂

    • Hi Kiki, I know several people who assumed mince pies contained meat so you are not alone. After all mince pies contain mincemeat and we make a cottage pie with mincemeat, it’s all very confusing I am quite sure to anyone who is not English! I love giving mince pies to the French and I am amazed at how much they like them, only today I introduced someone else to our English tradition! Now as for the leaves, yes we still have leaves not the Linden trees, but getting less by the day and also on the Ash and Plane trees. But today the weather turned much colder and their was a keen wind and so I am sure they will all be down within another week. Not a bad thing, time to get them all cleared away and raked up, huge job I agree, but I always tell myself it is great for the arms! There has to be a positive side to everything and I rather enjoy it in my own way. Sunday is going to be major leaf clearing day, it’s a huge job, so I sympathise with you too, our drive is covered in them, it all looks a bit of a mess, but there is nothing we can do, tis the season for falling leaves!

      The advent calendar your sister makes sounds incredible, what a labour of true love. The family advent calendar when I was growing up never had chocolates or toys inside, it was simply the opening up of a window with a little picture inside, but it didn’t matter one bit, we loved it just the same and there was great excitement every evening as to who’s turn it was to open the window. The entrance to our local supermarket is completely smoothered in Advent calendars of every make imaginable, toys and chocolates, I noted today that a Playmobil toy one was 29 euros! Now the cranberries, yes I am sure they are imported, by fresh, I did mean, fresh in bags as opposed to dried or frozen. But I do like to make cranberry sauce for Christmas day to go with the turkey so I buy the bagged ones! xx

    • I am jealous of your snow! We’ve actually had much laughter about the snow today, our eldest daughter called from London, “it’s snowing”, she said. A friend called from Paris, “it’s snowing”, another friend told us his friends in Limoges have snow. We all made quite a joke of this, “it’s snowing in Norway” said our son, “in fact it’s snowing everywhere today except in the Charente Maritime”!! xx

  • I’ve never made (or had) mince pies, but they look delightful. In January when I visit my parents in Arizona, I always bring back a bunch of enormous lemons in my carryon. 🙂 I’ve been stocking up on all the German goodies from Aldi that are so inexpensive–cookies, little crackers, etc.– and that will make my life easier once Christmas and family arrive. I don’t know how much I’ll have to work, but I’ll be making ravioli for sure. Our older daughter likes to cook, so I’ll get her to do a meal or two as well. I do like to cook and bake at Christmas but how much depends on how many hours I’m working at the patisserie. Thanks for these recipes, Susan, and the wonderful Advent calendar idea!

    janet

    • Janet, one year you have to try mince pies! The smell alone is worth making them. I would be bringing back lemons from Arizona too, there is nothing like freshly picked ones, and I have found ours are really juicy. I have never made ravioli, but it sounds like fun, maybe something we should try this year as Roddy is quite into making pasta at the moment. Hope you get some free hours so you can enjoy some cooking and if not I hope the patisserie where you work has some really lovely Christmas goodies you can enjoy. xx

  • Dear Susan,
    You have made my mouth water with this blog. So, here I sit outdoors on a delightfully warm & sunny November day in Maryland with a mug of tea and Miss Kitty by my side. And my foot propped up, still recovering.
    When I am finally able to stand on both feet, I will be making your mince pies. I love raisins, Golden or black but sultanas are hard to find in rural American stores. I like to make tea tassies at Christmas with walnuts or pecans. Are you familiar with them, basically mini
    Pecan pies? So small that they pop into your mouth whole and slide down joyfully.

    For Christmas dinner, it is always filet of beef for entree. Oven roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts and sautéed mushrooms. Then I serve Dorie Greenspan’s
    “Helene’s French Cake “with whipped cream and berries. Yummy!

    Now, I am thoroughly hungry…..
    I love your clever Advent Calendar.
    Cheers from Patty🎄

    • I am so glad that at least you have some sunshine and are able to sit outside Patricia whilst your foot heals. I have never heard of tea tassies, but they sound utterly delicious, would I find a recipe online or if you have a moment could you send me one, I particularly love tiny bite sized things like this. Isn’t it funny how many of us have Brussel sprouts at Christmas, I wonder where that tradition came from, I am sure because they are a winter vegetable and are in season, but in truth none of us really like them that much and yet we all eat them at Christmas, it just wouldn’t be the same without them. Your meal sounds delicious and now I am hungry too! xx

      • I will send you recipe for tea tassies later today. You need a miniature muffin tin to make these.
        You will love them and they will become a favorite with your family.

  • My mouth is watering. Mince pies are a firm favourite but each year I struggle with a Christmas pudding I don’t like. I am going to try a bûche this year and follow your recipe. Thanks

    • Yes do try the bûche, we love it, and it is rather nice to incorporate a French tradition as we live here, so ours becomes a mixture of a French and English meal! Choose your filling, there are lots of ideas online, but the two I have shown work rather well. It is light and not too filling, although quite rich. A little goes a long way! xx

  • I made mincemeat many years ago when I was just learning to cook. I believe mine even contained meat, as I was set on being authentic. Your recipe sounds grand, and I look forward to trying it. Lovely photos as always.

    • It’s funny how many people have actually mentioned having mincemeat with meat, I truly did not know it existed any longer. It sounds horrible!!! However, do try these, the modern classic version perhaps we should call them, most definitely without meat! xx

  • Beautiful post Susan. I haven’t been for long time. Yes Christmas is already here, with the countdown of the days. Been busy with things over here. Was in France lately only to finalise things and now my packing up is done and just waiting, been late for it. Wishing you all some wonderful days of Christmas preparation! Take care now.

    • Great to hear from you! I am sure you have been incredibly busy, when is the big move planned? So looking forward to meeting you over here once you get settled. France is of course very slowly gearing up for Christmas, I love the way it only gets going properly in December, it somehow makes it far more special. Have a wonderful Christmas xx

  • Thanks so much for that mince recipe!! I have one from my grandmother, but have never made it as it calls for quantities in the pecks and pounds! Yours is much more manageable. And the bouche de Noel recipe looks fabulous as well. I hope your Advent is full of lovely scents and preparation and that your Christmas is magical.

    • Old fashioned large weight measurements indeed! Do try the mince pie recipe, they are quite delicious, I am already about to make my second large batch of the season! I love the slow build up to Christmas here, and it really is slow, no lights have been turned on in any of the villages yet, perhaps this weekend being Advent Sunday, it makes the anticipation so much greater. Have a lovely weekend xx

  • I absolutely ADORE that advent calendar. We had a felt one that my sister-in-law made when my eldest was 2 which had little pockets for each day but as the family grew the pockets were really too small …. your shutter and yoghurt pots is genius. I will remember this when I settle and make one for grown-ups and visiting yet to even be conceived Grandies (ever broody me!) Isn’t it such fun introducing our French friends to British traditions … I love that they all drop in for more and more mince pies – my friend Ann-Sophie calls them ‘Damn Magpies’ because I once pronounced the mince in the French way which as we know is not just the word for thin but also a mild expletive and Pi instead of pie from Magpie. Very silly but she loves it when I make a batch …. xx

    • Thank you! Yes we had a felt one too, but the pockets were too small for five children!! Love how your French friend calls them Damn magpies, eat lots of them and we will all be far from mince!! But they are irresistible, I love mince pies at this time of year, one of those treats that I gorge on in December and I have yet to meet a french person who doesn’t like them! Now the yoghurt pot advent calendar has been a huge hit. I struggled with something for the 24th and then came up with the idea of putting just a paper clue inside and sitting the snowman decoration on top. That way we can have a giant treasure hunt around the house on Christmas Eve, just to add to the excitement and everyone loves a treasure hunt, we started the idea last year and now that is another tradition that has been made. Hope you have the most wonderful early Christmas weekend with your family, it is this weekend isn’t it? And I daren’t mention it, because I am sure you have snow! -2C here last night, unheard of almost but no snow, snow in London, snow in Paris, snow in Limgoes, in fact snow everywhere except the Charente Maritime, I say with a large sigh!!! xx

      • Yup… big dump of snow in the city yesterday just perfectly timed for my drive to Lyon to fetch them 😂 …. it’ll melt quickly in the town but the mountains look fantastic. I shared your calendar idea with eldest daughter who was chatting about doing things for her husbands little nieces … so your idea is spreading. Love the treasure hunt as a finale… you are SUCH a clever girl xx

        • You know exactly how to make me jealous! -2C here this morning and meant to get down to -4C this evening, I mean this is almost unheard of, I have had to wrap up my lemon trees! But bright sunshine, clear and not even the tiniest hint of snow!! I can imagine the mountains look fabulous, nothing like seeing those snow covered peaks in the distance. So hope our eldest does do something like this for her husband’s nieces, it is so much fun and I can tell you the treasure hunt really does create it’s own special excitement on Christmas Eve, it just adds to making it all so special. Hope you are having a FABULOUS weekend xx

          • Update …. we had a blissful time and I now have my youngest here. We all enjoyed a raucous lunch together in Lyon before dropping two back at the airport and back to Grenoble. My son-in-law commented that I must be confusing confusion at Saint Exupery since I have been there 4 times in 3 days! Xx

          • I am so happy you had such fun, I was thinking of you and your family Christmas this weekend and a white one no less, just thought I would mention that!! Sounds as if you did a lot of driving and now hopefully you can relax with your youngest, what fun. Counting down the days until Izzi is back here for the holidays now. Xx

  • Mmmmm what an evocative post, Susan, I can almost smell everything from here, especially the mince-pies, as everyone else has mentioned. The buche looks fabulous too, but Mrs C says it is not good for LA REGIME, as we joke to each other now and again. I am sad that we will not be crossing the Channel for a little Christmas shopping (Mrs C does not trust the sea in winter – certainly not enough that some shopping will make up for a spot of mal-de-mer), but we can both live vicariously through a French Christmas via your photos, I think! Thank you for the little 10 minute sojourn in your kitchen.

    • Thanks so much Phil, tell Mrs C that I wouldn’t take a boat across the Channel in the winter either, not my idea of fun at all unless it was our own and I could sit out on deck wrapped in thick survival gear, but a cross channel ferry, no way!! Mince pies, bûche de Noël, none are good for la regime, but they are all so much fun, the idea is that all those long Christmas hikes burn off the extra calories!! xx

  • I always ‘make’ mince pies. Shop bought block pastry and mincemeat I’m afraid, but still they taste better than the ready made ones, the pastry is much nicer and thinner. Your Bûche does look lovely, I could be tempted to give it a go. The last time I attempted a Swiss roll was 1974 in Home Economics, it cracked when I rolled it up and the teacher took great delight in pointing out my failure to the class.
    Your advent calendar is delightful, so much nicer than anything found in the shops.

    • Do try the bûche, it is the only recipe I have ever known that rolls up easily with absolutely no problem. My two bits of advice, firstly when you take it out of the over and turn it upside down onto the parchment, peel off the parchment it was cooked on immediately. Secondly, after rolling it up, leave it until is completely cool and do not touch until it is quite cold and then it peels off really easily when unrolled. Once I was in a rush and put it in the fridge to speed up the cooling process, disaster!!! the paper would not peel off after that as it went sort of moist and the only way I could salvage it was to have a cake form of Eton mess!!! xx

  • Thank you for the mince recipe, it was always a favorite for my father. I know my husband will be pleased as well and it is easy peasy.

    • My father adored them too, in fact we all do! And yes they really are terribly easy to make and the smell as the mincemeat cooks really is Christmas all wrapped up neatly in a pan, it is divine, knocks spots off any candle! Do enjoy them! xx

  • Love the advent calender idea, i am really fed up with the ones we tend to buy here and remembered today how a little picture behind the door. (not a chocolate) was all it took when we were young. Your idea is much more fun. The dessert looks yummy too.

    • I know just what you mean, my sister and I shared one advent calendar and we took it in turns to open the window, there was just the little picture inside as you say, but somehow it was so exciting, we couldn’t wait to open that window each evening. Our homemade one does have some Quality Street, some little knick knacks and on the 24th, under the decorative snowman is a clue, and that leads to a great big treasure hunt around the house, great fun on Christmas Eve and just what the children need! I highly recommend it. I just started following you and was browsing through your blog. I was intrigued to see you are a Sussex girl, me too, I grew up near Cuckfield, where were you? xx

      • I think we talked about that before. I was born in Crawley then spent my teenage years in Burgess Hill then moved to Anstye then my parents moved to Lindfield. Its a small world really isnt it. Thanks for visiting my blogg, i think ill use your idea for an advent calender next year, just need to find a stray shutter xx

        • You are so right, of course we did, we talked about Lindfield! I was only chatting about Lindfield the other day, how I remember walking from my grandparents house through the garden gate, into the village, past the pond and everyone seemed to be stopping to talk to one another, shopping basket in hand, a real village community. Is it still like that? It is sadly years since I have been there. Do try and find a shutter somewhere, maybe if you visit France, they are easy to find here and super cheap of course!! It is a fun idea and certainly beats the shop bought ones. xx

          • Ive not been back for a long time but i do have fond memories of it, i can remember standing at the pond with two little ones who are now extrememely tall. I would love to live in a village like that, they are so much friendlier than the city streets. I have a hunch that maybe one day i might but just a hunch.

          • Just to quote your name, I wonder if perhaps I rather remember Lindfield through rose tinted glasses! But even if I do, those memories are for me the perfect village life, the pub, the pond, the local shops and everyone so friendly. I am sure it was full of village gossip too. Just walking out of my grandparents garden gate was perfection! I really hope you get to live in a village like that one day. I shall go back and take the children there at some stage, I would just love to and see how much has changed. xx

          • I expect it is very much the same but would be lovely to walk through it im sure. I did go back just to Burgess Hill a couple of years ago for a few dates with an old school friend but apart from that ive not been back for 20 years. Things didnt continue and i ended up finding a yorkshire man in Derby.x

          • It is about the same length of time for me, I went with some friends but again at least two decades ago and all looked the same then! I will go back though, or perhaps I shouldn’t I don’t want to spoil the perfect village in my mind!!

          • Susan, if any shutters were available here, I’d jump at them…. so better look out for them in the country side 🙂
            When we bought our very old tiny house in Lutry, Switzerland, we had those huge wooden shutters. I had to have my brother-in-law get them all off the house, he then took them with him in his large car, he ‘renovated’ and repainted them, oiled and all, and then brought them back to me – the hanging itself was a MAJOR problem. They are incredibly heavy – but the ‘new’ owners (soon 10 yrs) love them too. This was a wise investment – and the green is so fresh & inviting, people took photos all the time. And of course, I decorated the windows always, around Christmas time with real fir branches, unbreakable ornaments and huge red ties…. Now I also decorate our house but apart from us and the people we invite, nobody ever sees anything, which is a bit sad… 😉

          • I can easily put some in the barn for you if I see some here, they are really cheap and cost next to nothing. Wow, those shutters sound incredible, what a fabulous job and I love the idea of decorating them. Just like you no one sees our decorations except people that actually come to the house too, but we do always put some lights and ribbons around our big gates so at least they are visible from the road, it does make the village seem a little bit more festive. xx

  • Susan,
    My goodness love love love the Advent calendar. Remember seeing it last year thinking maybe it’s time this “gal” gets a little creativity in her life.
    Mincemeat pies and childhood memories! My Mom used to make them during the Christmas holidays. Have not attempted to make one. Our traditional Christmas goodies consists of Red Velvet Cake and Chritmas Cookies. The cookies are a Big Production with even my husband getting involved! This year Granddaughter Emerson will definately be helping decorated the sugar cookies!
    Life certainly gets crazy these Holiday Weeks. One thing That is a tradition for Steve and myself is a concert for a college that we support in our home town….It is in this gorgeous church that as a visitor you feel you are really somewhere in France.
    Thank you for the reminder that Christmas is not all about gifts (except for Granddaughter Emerson). As a family we support a few local charities with “gift baskets” for those in need.
    One thing that Steve and myself have been trying to change with his family is to find a charity that each family sends a check to to support it’s cause. Finally, last year we accomplished it by each family supporting Smile Train! Could not believe the excitement this generated within the family members. And to think we could have been benefiting others all these years!
    Busy days ahead…
    “It is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Not knowing everyone personally still have to believe that ALL of us are Blessed.; and Very Blessed to have you in our lives! ❤️
    Can’t imagine we wouldn’t be chatting on the blog before Christmas but still would like to wish you and your family the Absolute Best Holiday Season EVER! 🎄🎅🏼❤️🦌

    • Oh you have a way with words too! It’s so true and I say it often, being able to read this ‘community’s comments, opinions, wisdom’ IS a blessing and it all stems originally from Susan….. Hurrah!
      Your idea of sending cheques to charities for Christmas is just wonderful….. We have stopped making presents to family members years and years ago and we do give small gifts to people we know who have little. We support many charities here in France but whatever we do, it’s never really enough, because although we are far from rolling in money, we still have it better than probably 95% of the human population. We live in a country who isn’t at war, we have a system which allows most ppl to live a secure life, we have enough food, a roof over the head…. we are TRULY blessed in more ways than we can think of. Driving into Paris, we see ‘SDF’s (sans domicile fixe = homeless people) trying to ‘live’ in street tunnels, in tents under the trees, and this in Paris! I have a friend who is far over 70 who is working in a soup kitchen and she always says: I have so many friends – these people are really thankful for a warm meal and a kind word…. Puts many of this country to shame. Thank you for not only giving joy to Susan and her readers, but also to me! Have a blessed Christmas with your dear ones.

      • Isn’t it the most wonderful idea and I found this very humbling too, because surely all of us who are able to read this are blessed. Because you are so right, we may not be rolling in cash but we do have it so much better than most. We are all so lucky. It is the season of giving and not just to our family and friends, but to others too, to the aged and the homeless. You have put this so beautifully Kiki and Stephanie. I so wish we could all do more. xx

      • Oh Kiki, your comments are so kind and sweet. My story is that this young man and myself were set up on a blind date 41 years ago and we were engaged six months later. Celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary July, 2018. What needs to be said is he is the true role model in our relationship. He has taught me more about love and giving than anyone. The story about Steve is complicated but he has never shied away from caring and giving to those less fortunate. There are many a story that could be “unfolded” here but not to embarrass let’s just say Thank God he chose me as his mate!
        We are Blessed and while praying; those in need are always included in my prayers. It’s a troublesome world but let’s be honest “let charity, kindness and love begin with us.”
        Bless you and keep being you because you are one Awesome Lady! Happy Holidays to you and yours! ❤️🎄

        • @stuffie6us; love you already! Hero Husband and I will have our 20th wedding anniversary in March 2018 (and I still hope we can take a ‘tour d’amoureux’ including a visit at dear Susan’s…. ). Not to give you wrong ideas; it’s my second marriage, I’m not a young girl anymore! But boy, my heart is still beating nineteen to the dozen for strong causes, I abhor all evil, can’t stand the heartless attitude of many of today’s society, and mostly, I try to be good, good for others, for nature, for my family and myself 🙂
          (We believe in charity – w/o pretentiousness – but hate to be ‘pulled over the table’ or being taken for fools)
          I’m happy to talk to you. Sending you a heart (can’t do that on my computer)

      • I am sure we were BFF’s in another life, Kiki. With that being said what a wonderful testimonial to Susan that even friendships can be made online.
        Thank you for being yet another role model for me as someone who lives their life with grace and a grateful heart! Keep loving that HERO husband! I have to believe that he is a VERY Lucky man to have you to love.
        Happy Holidays. Big Hugs!

    • Thanks so much! It was so much fun getting it out again this year, felt as if it had been around a lot longer than a year, there is something about creating traditions and memories, a fabulous feeling for everyone. I can imagine the fun with Emerson decorating cookies, what a special time that will be. I remember when one year we decided to make homemade liquor chocolates, we had to melt dark chocolate and then paint the inside of small petit four cases, it started off so well, then somehow chocolate got on fingers and then a nose and before I knew it all the children had chocolate painted faces, including Gigi who was about 14 months at the time and happily watching from her highchair!

      I love your idea of gift baskets for those in need. I had not heard of Smile Train, but have just been reading all about it, what a fabulous charity to support. We should all be more like you, just reading this comment is very humbling and makes me realise that we must do more. I remember last year we were in Saintes and The girls saw a homeless man by the river, they had their pocket money with them as we were visiting the Christmas village and they went over and gave all their money, about 10 euros between them, to the man. Afterwards we had a hot chocolate and then went home, in the car they were so happy, they said it was one of the best feelings ever, to have helped someone. That made me so happy.

      I think we here are probably in our own ways very blessed, just to be in a position to sit here and write means we are so much more fortunate than so many. It is certainly a time of year to help where we can. Thank you for making us all stop and think a little and I am sure we will talk before, but anyway it is Advent Sunday and so a very happy holiday season to you and your family too xxx

      • Susan, love the story about your Xmas cookies! I can just picture ALL the laughter that was ringing throughout the house while making the cookies. This is Family Life at its BEST!
        Life can be so complicated yet so ridiculously simple. It’s literally taken me almost 65 years to figure this out!
        Most of us more often than not need to be reminded that it really does take a “village” to “support” and be “supportive” of those less fortunate.
        Little things can be done such as a smile, buying the car behind you at Starbucks a cup of coffee or just a kind word. One never knows “what the other person’s story is about.”
        As KiKi says it all comes back to you and the fellowship this blog produces! Thank you!
        Warmest Wishes for Love and Happiness this Season! ❤️

        • I agree with the little things, there is so much we can do to help in the smallest of ways. We have little ways that we help around the village, and although I don’t want to go on and on at the children I do think it is vital that they realise how fortunate they are, compared to 95% of the world they have everything. I think you have hit the nail on the head, the way to show them this is to get them helping others who are less fortunate. Xx

  • I made the mince pies this morning and oh my goodness the smell was heaven and he taste just as good as you promised. Can’t wait for my family to try them out, I think they might wrinkle their noses at the name but I am sure once tasted they will be hooked!

    • I am so happy that you made them and that you found the smell as intoxicating as I do, isn’t it just fabulous, the very scent of Christmas right there. I do hope your family enjoy them, I am sure they will, if you have a moment, let me know their thoughts! xx

  • I think a Christmas where gifts are made with love rather than bought at huge expense always wins, I love your advent calendar. Can’t wait to see your house decorated, it seems to me all I see on the internet are a mass of people trying to outdo each other. I am hoping yours will be tastefully done, that’s of course if you show it to us at all which I am hoping you will.

    • I do agree, now if only we could make our children believe the same thing, I think one has to be of a certain age to appreciate something small and handmade completely, especially with adverts and television and non stop commercialism pushing the latest “in thing” at this time of year. We try hard to keep the children as grounded as possible at Christmas, but it is not always easy and we are as guilty as the next person for buying them “stuff”. I will take some photos of the house when it is decorated, which won’t be for another week or ten days, we never do it until mid-December, which is far more the European way! xx

  • Lovely post and piccys as usual. I’ve never made my own mincemeat so thanks for the recipe. Something news to try out on my French friends and neighbours. I’m going to have a go at the Buche as well, sounds simple for someone who doesn’t rate as a competent cook.
    I’m guessing the snow may have caught up with you now …you were right, at least for Occitania, winter was waiting in the wings.

    • Yes do try the mince pies, it is such fun introducing French friends to them and I haven’t met any people who don’t like them yet! Now if you try the buche, and it really is easy, only peel the final layer of parchment off once it is completely cool and you are ready to spread the filling over it and don’t put it in the fridge to cool, the humidity will cause the paper to stick to the cake. When you are ready to fill, unroll it carefully, gently peel off the paper, spread the filling and roll up again and then you can ice the outside. Have fun, it really is that simple. Sadly no snow here! Even Provence got snow, but none for us, most of the time we love our mild coastal climate, but we just wanted a little snow!!! Xx

  • Susan, re the shutters – I admit I LOVE THEM – I would have a brilliant tale to tell from my ‘first wooden shutters’ experience, as a young maried woman and a visit of Canadian friends who visited Switzerland and stayed with us…. BUT having said that, we have the most beautiful white metal shutters, folded back manyfold and when (if) we move again, I shall dream of my wooden as well as my metal shutters. I only don’t think that I will ever be in need personally of wooden shutters – should this happen I come happily back to your kind offer 🙂 🙂 🙂 You are such a great woman.

    • No problem, I can always get them if you need them. I love the metal shutters which fold back so neatly and are always hidden in the window recess, but I also love the big wooden shutters, both solid and louvred, in fact I love all shutters, they really are so practical and so sensible. It is a shame we don’t have them in England! xx

  • Yes, it’s the traditions that we all remember and you are making wonderful memories for your family. I love that advent calendar! Such a pretty and meaningful piece to have in your home! A wonderful reminder to slow down and enjoy the holiday season! Thanks for sharing again at Take Me Away!
    Shelley

    • Thank you Shelley, it is always a good idea I think to try and really enjoy this season and to think of others. I try to do this, I am not sure I always succeed, but I try to encourage the whole family to. xx

  • Mince pies!! Mom always made them…and now I think I will too!!! Thanks so much for the info. Mom did not leave a recipe behind that I know of…although maybe one of my sisters has it…but these were a big favorite in our house! Happy preparations! I love the Advent time of year, and I love not being too commercial with my preparations and celebrations.

    • oh, and Advent calendars in our house are simple manger scenes with little pictures hiding behind doors that you open. The final door opens to reveal the holy family. As a kid, I always loved this tradition…but I bet I would have LOVED LOVED LOVED an advent calendar filled with goodies!!

      • That is just how our advent calendar was when I was growing up too and the 24th always had double windows that opened and yes, always to reveal a nativity scene. But they may have just been pictures on a piece of cardboard, but how we loved those calendars and enjoyed opening the window every night. Goodies, wow they would have been amazing, but we never had them so we never missed them! xx

    • It sounds as if we share many similar ideas, this is such a lovely time of year and when it is not too commercial it really does become so much more enjoyable, in my opinion! I really hope you do make the mince pies, they are delicious, I am about to make our second large batch already, they don’t last long around here, but then we only have them at this time of year, so it is a real treat. xx

    • Yes they freeze perfectly for several months, just take them out and put them in the oven to thaw and reheat at the same time. Delicious! I am about to make our second big batch this week! xx

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