Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

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My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

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Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

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Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

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Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

Yule log cake on a Christmas table
Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

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Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking – Perfecting Cheese Fondue

Cheese. Where do I even begin to explain my love for cheese!? At this point in my life, I think I would give up almost all other foods if I could live on cheese and not look like big old Brie! So, it should come as no surprise that life in Paris was pretty chock-full of cheese samples. I discovered new and amazing ones that I had never heard of before like Vacherin Mont d’Or. I also discovered some that even I couldn’t wrap my cheese-loving taste buds around (sorry to my beloved Kiwi and the ‘farm cheese’ she introduced me to). Then we relocated to Switzerland and the cheese boat I was cruising along got a welcome shake up. New names, new textures and new tastes…oh my!

So here we are. Knee deep into our new life in Switzerland where the nights are getting colder, the fireplace has been on a few times already and in this part of the world, the cheese sections at the markets and grocery stores have quadrupled in size.  I kid you not, on the first of October every store turned into an enabler for cheese-addicts everywhere. Fondue pots. Raclette machines. Recipes.  Samples. Pre-mixed cheese blends. Offers to discover for free ‘your perfect fondue blend’ screaming at me. MY PERFECT BLEND??? I couldn’t live another day without knowing what that meant! I NEEDED to know what my perfect blend was! Thus, I didn’t just dabble into this new Swiss world of fondue, I leapt. Head first. With a crusty baguette and fork in hand!

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Fondue pots on sale at the local post office!

I can now say after much consideration that I am a classic “moitié-moitié” person – half Gruyère AOP and half Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP. BLISS!

Such the fan that I have become, I have been perfecting making fondue moitié-moitié at home. The juniors and Mr H have not complained once 😉 Quelle surprise!  Thus I give you my person, and my perfect version, of moitié-moitié.

Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!
Setting up for a 9 person fondue party chez nous!

Cheese Fondue moitié-moitié

Serves 4

  • 400 grams of Gruyère AOP, grated
  • 400 grams of Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP, grated
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 300- 400 ml dry white wine (or you can use vegetable stock, alcohol-free wine, water or a mix of wine and other depending on your preferences)
  • 15g/1tbsp fécule (potato flour)
  • nutmeg
  • pepper
  • kirsch, optional (I prefer cherry)
  • day old baguette

Rub your fondue pot all over with the garlic clove. This seasons the pot lightly and is a step heaped in tradition which is considered crucial here in Switzerland. What you do with the clove after is up to you. You can either finely mince it up with a knife or a garlic press and use it in your fondue or leave it out. I use it. Life without garlic makes zero sense to me.

Next, mix your cheese and potato flour together in the pot. Add 300ml of the wine/stock and garlic, if using, and heat over a medium temperature (save the extra liquid to thin out your mixture if it is too thick). STIR CONSTANTLY. This doesn’t mean leave it for 10 mins and stir it. It means constantly. It doesn’t take long to melt down so don’t worry about hours spent slaving over the hob. Once the cheese has started to melt, I add pepper and nutmeg to taste. When all the ingredients have come together to form an amazing pot of melted bliss, add the shot of kirsch, stir and serve.

Now, fondue isn’t just dip bread and eat. You must know that you will have to stir constantly with a spatula throughout your meal. There are some social taboos on this, the one we have seen most consistently is to stir in a figure 8 pattern. NEVER stir when someone has their bread dipped, this is considered rude. One person dips at a time and doesn’t eat off of the long for but rather, slides their gooey cheesy bread onto their plate and eats with their own fork. Don’t double-dip. Ever.

Can you taste it?
Can you taste it?

Some household rules we have adopted include:

  • giving a kiss to someone at the table if you drop your bread into the pot
  • le coup du milieu which is basically a shot of kirsch taken at the midpoint (yes, a shot) to help aid the digestion of the cheese
  • the egg – before the fondue has melted all the way down to the bottom of the pot, crack in an egg and stir. It thins out the mixture, extends the life a bit and gives a new flavour boost to the mixture
  • la religieuse – I feel like my life wasn’t complete until I discovered la religieuse (translated into nun in English but let’s ignore that). At the end of the meal, 99% of the time when you have finished all the amazing fondue you are left with a golden brown crust. DO NOT THROW THIS OUT or pour water all over to soak it off. Instead, carefully, using just a normal butter knife or something similar, try to pry this off the bottom of the pan. You are left with a salty, crispy treat that ends the meal in a perfect way! YUM!
  • I serve with pickles/gherkins (not the sweet kind), a VERY large salad with vinaigrette and my family likes a plate of charcuterie such as salami, cured hams, etc. I don’t partake in that but to each their own!

So, that’s it. It isn’t complicated but it IS delicious!! Feel free to adapt and play with the recipe. That’s part of the fun here! Remember, though, this is a very heavy meal. It is rarely finished with dessert other than some fresh fruit or something else very light. Please, no chocolate fondue to finish the night off. Swiss heads would roll!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia