The Magic of Christmas in our salon at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre
With the whole house again filled with the all pervading scents of hot spice and rum we are beginning to decorate our salon with coloured baubles, angels and other Christmas paraphernalia including a musical Carousel. To be frank I am not sure that we will have the musical element of this object playing throughout the whole of the Christmas period as we would be in danger of driving our customers insane with what is actually a very loud rendition of Silent Night; a misnomer of a carol in relation to this item if ever there was one. Still it is a pretty object and children love it.
Today I made our first batch of Miniature Christmas Cakes; a rich fruity mixture liberally laced with spices and Almond Liqueur, baked in a tray and cut into squares, cooled and topped with freshly made marzipan and royal icing and decorated with our home made hollies. Our first plate of Mince Pies adorned with stars has also emerged from our oven. The pastry this year is made with almonds, flour, butter, sugar and a hint of fresh orange juice.
Just the mention of spice can set me off on a revelry of images and dreams about different spices and what it must have been like centuries ago when the intrepid Captains of exploration from across Europe set off on pioneering seafaring missions returning from such places as Persia and the orient with sacks and boxes filled with exotic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and saffron along with coffee and cacao beans and vanilla pods. Such a sensuous array of colours, textures and scents must have been a revelation to the senses and the palate of the Elizabethans. In particular the introduction of salt and sugar must have been transformational. Imagine a Christmas Cake or Pudding without sugar or molasses and you would have a very bland affair. No wonder that prior to the introduction of such additions meat was used to flavour, enrich and embody such recipes. In fact even as late as the 18th century mince might be added to a Christmas Pudding. Not for the vegetarian to be sure.
I think that we are fortunate in France in so far as we have strong links with les Réunion…just the sound of Guadeloupe and Martinique sounds exciting to my mind transporting me on what is today a rather dull winter’s day to warmer shores where lush and vibrant coloured flowers sway in the sea breeze. Incidentally on the theme of the exotic a new spice shop has opened near to us just this year called Aux Saveurs De Dame Nature. Based in Saumur I love it. Many of the spices in stock are sourced from the islands. This morning I bought some intoxicating spices for our vin chaud and they even stock Sumac and a range of Indian and Moroccan spices which of course we adore and that are often quite difficult to acquire locally at least in terms of a rich colour and absolute freshness and quality. I sampled some Muscovado sugar from Martinique and it was delicious. The colour of the Tumeric – in France this spice is called Curcuma or Safran des Indes a far more exotic sounding name to be sure – is more vivid in colour then any that I have ever seen in any supermarket. This really is to my mind a truly magical store where you can find lots of your ingredients for Christmas for cakes, for exotic dishes and for vin chaud…..There is also a salt grotto where you can buy a range of salts including the gorgeous pink Himalayan salt perfect for salting food but also to put in a luxurious and soothing bath. Along with spices and fragrant herbs, also for sale are hand turned and crafted wooden bowls and spoons which are pricey but beautiful. Check out Aux Saveurs De Dame Nature on You Tube.
This year we have received a few commissions for our Christmas Cakes and one is from a local club who wanted to have guns on the top. I asked if they wanted Père Noël to be shot more as a joke than anything, but apparently “yes” they do want a gun theme so this year on this particular cake we have Santa Claus carrying a sweet teddy bear and yes this particular Father Christmas is being attacked by a character on a Segway jousting a gun…Sandwiched between them I have placed a dove as a token of peace declaring Paix et Amour pour Noël. My conscience is salved.
Other themes this year are of a more traditional nature.
Liberally laced with rum or almond lacquer, we have iced varieties available and also a couple decked with candied fruits.
This time of the year we are quite an industry here at Chez Teresa with me baking and Tony wrapping the cakes in cellophane and festooning them with ribbons etc…
Something to tantalize the taste buds, what could be more reviving then a slice of rich fruit cake with a glass of our delicious local sparkling wine la Crémant de Loire? Interestingly enough this year the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s in the UK are championing this particular crémant. I am not surprised as it is rather tasty so do get hold of some whilst stocks last!
Christmas displays at our local town of Saumur are of the automated and huge variety again this year with a drunken Princess Bear being one of the exhibits….Interesting idea….
A Christmas themed tea party with Père Noël in attendance is another exhibit at the center so all good fun for the children.
In our boutique this year we have a range of Christmas gifts on offer to whet the appetite including Christmas themed baskets and tins, filled with a delicious range of Chez Teresa edible products from biscuits to cakes to sweets plus a few decked out with cruelty free soaps and other beauty accoutrements.
Gorgeous gifts at Chez Teresa
The other day the Bijoutière Einav Benzano next door to Chez nous offered an evening of porte ouverts where there was vin chaud galore and an opportunity to check out Einav’s latest pieces……
A particular favourite of mine in terms of the stones Einav has used in her work this year is her use of Lapiz Lazuli…. a colour which must surely transport us back to the colours of the Renaissance and appropriately for this time of the year of the Madonna and her robes as depicted by the likes of Titian, Raphael and the glorious Botticelli.
Pure magic at the window…..
The display was designed by the talented créateur de ménagerie en verre, Sophie Touet….Love, love, love her use of coloured glass in all its rainbow colours……Hopefully you can catch a glimpse of the splendour of this wonderful installation whilst it is in situ at Einav’s studio thoughout the Christmas season.
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A sad note on the subject of des Sapin de Noël...
Tony has just got back from the Boulangerie in Montsoreau where he discovered that the boutique next door, La Ringlette have had their Christmas Tree stolen. Honestly we know money can be tight, but to steal someone’s Christmas Tree is surely plummeting new lows…. This area is relatively free from crime so it is always a bit of a shock when we hear of such things.
This year our colours for our trees have again be prescribed by our Maire and this year the colours are violet et blanche. We had fun decorating them and we hope that they stay around long enough to be enjoyed.
Not exactly what we expected…..
In many ways 2016 has been the most bizarre of years…….a time when all the things we thought could not possibly happen such as the outcome of the UK referendum on whether to stay or not in the EU, the result of the US Presidential elections were not at all what we thought they would be.
I am reminded of the words of Sydney Carton who in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities declares that
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
(A Tale of Two Cities, Para.1, Line, 1, pub 1859)
Words of a former age of course, but of a time not dissimilar from ours in terms of its radical opposites with not a little chaos and conflict thrown in for good measure. Curiously Dickens was writing about a European issue and France in particular.
I will anyway put on some more Strauss and waltz about the kitchen, do some more baking and hope so very much that everyone we know and love has a superb season ahead and has a blast of a Christmas time!
Here are some youngsters certainly having a blast at this years atmospheric Marché de Noël at Souzay, just along the road from Fontevraud l’abbaye.
Best wishes from us all at Chez Teresa/A Taste d’Angleterre from the fabulously historic Fontevraud l’abbaye!
A huge thank you to all our customers and guests! A bientôt!
We hope that 2017 is a good year for us all!
Don’t forget to feed the birds your Christmas left overs…