It snowed and so winter was here properly. But it didn't last and anyway we had more important things......

Winter from our front door.

So, our fourth and hopefully final Christmas has arrived with visit of my daughter Amy and partner, Charlotte. They are both vegans and accordingly eat no meat or any animal product. So no milk or dairy products. This poses a bit of a challenge in France who are not really used to vegetarians let alone vegans. The usual response is to expect them to eat chicken which is not really seen as meat in France. Pork, Lamb or beef is proper meat; chicken is not regarded as meat. When you explain that this is not acceptable to vegetarians, the next response is well we can serve fish. Eventually the penny drops and in some restaurants they simply remove the plate, take off the chicken or fish and return with a plate of vegetables!

To be fair attitudes are beginning to change and many restaurants do very good vegetarian dishes but still struggle with veganism which is a further step along as animal products cannot be used in the cooking process either so no eggs, milk or butter. Mrs. Parish and I spent some time scouring the shelves of our local supermarket and reading the backs of packets to see what they contain. This is difficult as the print is exceptionally small and in French. With some products there is a great long list and you get to the end to find the phrase “may contain traces of milk”. There is a great sense of joy and achievement when you get through the list and can declare it vegan suitable. 

So in preparation we have packets of lentils, beans, soya milk and vegan spread as well as loads of fresh vegetables. Mrs. Parish has acquired several vegan cook books and has been preparing some amazing food. Last Thursday was designated Christmas Day 4 and we had a shepherdess pie. This is the same as a shepherd’s pie but with lentils and veg replacing the minced lamb. It was delicious. Even I enjoyed the meal. Fortunately the vegans have no objection to drinking wine and calvados and whisky so we drank well in addition to the food and had a great Christmas, along with presents and of course board games.

One new game involves having to hum the tune of pop music songs and for your team mate to guess the tune. This is especially challenging for me and for my team mate as I am hopeless at producing any sort of tuneful utterance. Hence my success with the moles who all hate my singing of mostly Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen songs. The problem with this game is that neither Dylan nor Cohen seem to appear and that a lot of the groups and songs I had never heard of. Despite being such a liability Charlotte and I did manage to win one game.

So our vegan Christmas is going swimmingly and then we find out that the consignment is due to arrive. In an incident of the utmost irony we are told that we have the chance to buy a quarter of a pig from our French farmer friend Olivier, but it is now ready and has to be delivered immediately! So we have to mention to the vegans that a special delivery is coming and that it is called “the consignment” and will be going straight into the chest freezer in the cave.

So the consignment duly arrives in our friend Sarah’s car and immediately the cats begin circling the car sensing the arrival of food. So of course we then have the logistical problem of ensuring that at no time are the packets of meat left unguarded. The other issue is that Mrs. Parish and I did not fully appreciate that we were being offered meat from a French farmer. So as well as the lovely chops, roasting joints and sausages came other more complicated and yucky stuff including fat and bits of pork to make pate and rillette. Also there was some tongue, a pig’s trotter and tail. Fortunately, Sarah who had the other quarter (making half a pig in total) kept the head. Of course the French don’t waste any bit of the animal and eat it all in various guises. So some culinary challenges which I will probably leave to Mrs. Parish to solve.

Anyway none of this could be shown or discussed in front of the vegans!

So onto today. This Sunday is our friend Emile’s 84th birthday and we were invited by our friends Ian and Sarah to join them with Emile and Yvette at a local restaurant for a special birthday lunch. Amy and Charlotte were invited along as well so there were 8 of us for lunch. The restaurant had been warned in advance that there were vegans with us and produced a very nice vegetable pizza for them. Of course this is in France and so as soon as we arrived there was the usual kissing all round as we greeted and wished Emile a happy birthday. Then drinks arrive and we have to chink glasses with everyone. When you go into a restaurant in France normal time is suspended and you enter restaurant time and everything takes it own time. So we arrived at 12-30 and finished the meal about 3 hours later. During this time several people who know Emile (who does seem to know everyone) came in and so we had to all get up and kiss and shake hands etc.

Of course at the end of the meal Emile insists we all go back to his house for more coffee and of course some of his legendary calvados. As it is his birthday his daughter, son in law and grandchildren all turn up to and that means we all have to get up and another round of kissing takes place and this is complicated now because depending on their age you either kiss on one cheek or two. We didn’t kiss the daughter (we shook hands) as we had not met before but you always kiss children even on first meeting (either one or two times). It is even more problematic for family and close friends who have to kiss four times. It is very complicated, tiring and time consuming!! Then we got up to leave and the whole kissing thing started all over again. It is a wonder we got home before dark.

Emile is a great friend and so the sacrifice was worthwhile. Last week Mrs. Parish and I arrived home to find two very ancient crates of newly made cider outside our cave with 24 full bottles as a gift. This was cider Emile had made and we discovered later that this was a part of a batch of 220 bottles he had made that week. The cider had been made including apples from our orchard. It is very nice cider. So we discover that this is what French farmers do in winter when the weather is not conducive to doing much outside. It is amazing how many different sorts of alcohol can be made from summer fruits. We have cider and of course calvados. There is also pommeau which is a cider aperitif.

Cider left by Pere Noel

The stuff that is made from our apples tends to come back to us in the form of these drinks. However we have our own fruit and have been trying to make our own liqueurs on the basis that when in France do as the French. So some of our cherries have gone with vodka to make kirsch. In the summer we bought in a whole load of apricots to make apricot brandy with some very nice French Armagnac. I have noted before that this seems to be a custom amongst rural folk and we have some lovely William pear liqueur made by an English friend Kay who lives in rural Somerset. We also have some of her Russian plum liqueur which we haven’t tried yet.

What we do in winter!!

So rural crafts and traditions are being maintained on both sides of the channel and Mrs. Parish and I are doing our bit! I think that after a sumptuous meal with wine and then some of Emile’s calva that it is time for a bit of a nap on the sofa. The cats will soon start their tradition of harassment!

Joyeux anniversaire, Emile