Thursday, December 26, 2013

Finding cheer in a cookie

I spend the whole morning (and part of the afternoon) on Christmas Eve baking American-style peanut butter cookies and chocolate chip cookies. Ken provides quality assurance.

Despite the drizzle, we set out with a dozen or so packages of petits gâteaux. Our mission is to wish our voisins (neighbors) bonnes fêtes (happy holidays). The gesture is more for us than for them: We need a little cheering up as we are really missing our family this first Christmas abroad. (Technically, it's our second Christmas away, but we spent much of the holiday last year on a runway in Dallas.)

Our first stop is at Madame Alba's, the matriarch at the end of our block who broke her hip last summer. She  is wrapping gifts and eager for her niece from Milan to arrive tonight. We chat for a few minutes (always a challenge as our sweet 80-something-year-old voisine has a strong regional accent and speaks très rapide). She insists we accept a jar of her homemade apricots soaked in eau de vie. Bien sûr!

A stop at Charlotte and Bruno's nets us a bunch of holly for our table, so gorgeous that I at first think the sprigs are made of plastic.

Our next stop is at the home of a retired headmaster. He, his wife and their son, who is visiting from Picardy, insist we have some tea and cake. We chat about our plans for tomorrow's dîner de noël and I tell them I'll be preparing gigot d'agneau. The monsieur disappears to a back room and returns with a bottle of 2003 Bordeaux, which he assures us will be the perfect pairing with lamb.

Our promenade continues to centre-ville where we give cookies to our boucher and a couple of other commerçants. We notice that everyone seems a bit surprised by our little gesture. One voisin offers an explanation. He tells us that bringing gifts to one's neighbors is not something he has often seen in France. Perhaps, he speculates, it is common American hospitality? And, because our hearts of full of cheer, we agree.

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