When I arrived home from marvelous Maine, Louviers was brittle with frost, the house an ice-box. Now that things have warmed up inside from the fireplace and Aga, and the heat of the oven, everything is settling into a lively holiday season. My side-kick, Fiona, and I have been decorating, after a mad dash Monday evening to buy our northern tree from Ikea (their Christmas tree program is excellent, and sustainable). Her dream (and my nightmare) is lights on the exterior of the house. After some effort, I believe she is thrilled with the glittery dress on the fig tree, and the lights at every window.
Creating Christmas cookies is my part-time job now. The chocolate tipped crescents are baked and put away; the Pfefferneusse dough is aging in the pantry (see Nuts in the Kitchen, page 191), and I cut and sugared the final piece of quince paste last night. Today the house smells of lemon-laced Holiday Nuggets, and I will mix up the Chocolate Rocks so dear to my son, as well. Tomorrow will be another day, and another several batches as I work through the family repertoire. My accompanying music of choice is Sting and his seasonal collection “If on a Winter’s Night,” interspersed with Michael Jackson, whose new album was released here today.
I give Christmas cookies as gifts to friends and neighbors. The first year I did this, people were agog. The French don’t bake cookies at home – they don’t need to, with a patisserie on every corner turning out macaroons, financiers, and madeleines by the pound. In any case, reactions were gratifying, except for one. The daughter of my favorite farmers at the Louviers market opened the bag as soon as I gave it to them, and bit into a Chocolate Rock, a truly divine, clove-laced chocolate biscotti that hails from Sicily. Her face wrinkled. “These taste like the dentist, no thanks.” I almost exploded with laughter. She was right – everything at the French dentist, from novocaine to mouthwash, tastes like cloves. I’d never before made the link. It’s firmly made now, so the chocolate rocks all stay home!