ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A-travelling we will go -- The 13 Desserts of Christmas in Provence - a finger-lickin' post. Photos! Recipes!

Hi all!
This will probably be my last post till after Christmas, so it's long. You might like to read it in installments, hahaha.

"A traveller without knowledge is a bird without wings," so said Sa'di, Gulistan (1258). 

Do you, like me, research your trips before boarding the plane to your next destination, or do you prefer to wing it? Research brings up the most delicious prospects such as the one I'm sharing with you today.

To me, the 'South of France' is a magical phrase. I tend to hit the South of France in winter where it provides a great getaway from the much colder climate of Paris.

The twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower in Paris at Christmas time.
At the Arc de Triomphe roundabout.

A view from Castle Hill in Nice in the South of France, showing the terracotta rooftops and some of the waterfront buildings along the Promenade des Anglais.

Christmas lights in Monaco

Nice, Monaco and Provence are wonderful places to thaw out as the Mediterranean keeps them warmer than the north. Nice and Monaco are crowded and busy, albeit awfully cute, but in Provence you can find vast areas that are wild and empty, quite like Australia. There's peace and silence, there's colourful markets, there's room to breathe and the air is clean as you travel the back roads. I'm sorry I haven't seen the lavender fields in July, but I've seen the ordered rows in December which is a fabulous time to be in Provence because of one tradition which really appeals to me...


It's a Provençal tradition where for Christmas Eve dinner, you eat thirteen desserts! Can you believe that? I love dessert and the idea of eating thirteen desserts for a Christmas lunch is enough to make me want to move to France, well, just another reason...
Like many traditions, the 13 desserts of Provence tradition starts as a recreation of a religious scene of the Last Supper with Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles with each course representing each attendee.

THE GREAT SUPPER (Gros Souper)
The major meal takes place on Christmas Eve. The table is ceremoniously laid with three white tablecloths one on the top of the other, garnished with three candles and three saucers of the wheat of Saint Barbara, representing the Holy Trinity.

The first part of the meal which is eaten before Midnight Mass, consists of seven very plain dishes served buffet style, symbolising the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary. An extra place is set for a beggar who might come to the door.    
Any self respecting restaurant in Provence will happily serve the traditional thirteen desserts, but the French like to do things their way. The idea is to begin by sipping a Pastis aperitif from the South of France, a deceptively aniseedy drink that looks like a lemon drink but is pure rich aniseed. I think it's an acquired taste. I'd prefer a Kir Royale (champagne and creme de cassis).
Often the restaurant will start off with a mixed Provençal antipasto plate to share, but vegetarians beware. The  triangular slices of country style pork terrine are made from the pork shoulder and back fat with some liver and duck liver and Armagnac. It is hand chopped in order to get the pieces of pork fat in larger pieces. There is also an absolutely divine duck liver pate, one of my favourite things, which is flavoured with Grand Marnier, pork and Armagnac. This is made by pan frying it and it has an incredibly gorgeous texture-light but buttery and easily spread. 

Mixed Provençal antipasto
Dessert is eagerly anticipated but you have to wait --first you need a glass of rose from St Tropez to go with the traditional bouillabaisse which is paired with a sauce rouille and croutons. Did you know that the origins of bouillabaisse go back as far as 6000BC where it originated at the sea port of Marseilles? 
The best fish was sold at the markets and any leftovers or cheaper fish were made into Bouillabaisse so it had rather humble beginnings.
The 13 Desserts of a provencal Christmas Eve supper
Finally...time for the 13 desserts 
In the centre of the restaurant, plates of sweets are brought out and thank heavens they are petits fours sized desserts. When choosing the desserts for this tradition, I'm told there are four key components:
Step 1 - Something from Africa to represent the Three Wise Men (dates)
Step 2 - A nougat-usually a dark and a white nougat to signify evil versus good 
Step 3 - A sweet brioche which signifies breaking bread with others.
A provencal brioche des rois

THE BRIOCHE DES ROIS


Step 4 - Mendiants, which feature four nuts and dried fruit representing the monastic orders of the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans and Carmelites, orders that have taken a vow of poverty. The nuts and fruit represent the colour of monastic robes. Traditionally they have raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnut for the Augustinians, fig for Franciscans and almonds for Carmelites.
Citrus is also featured in the 13 dessert menu as citrus is a popular item in Provence. Flowers like lavender and violet are also featured and it often comes in the form of a lavender panna cotta and a violet and lavender chocolate. Herbs such as fennel and tarragon are also used. Calissons are an item that are new to me and these come from Aix de Provence. These little diamond shaped morsels are made up of ground almonds, candied melon and a glaze of icing sugar and originate in the 15th century of Provence.
The desserts are accompanied by spiced mulled wine (vin cuit). 
Apparently families who skip the rigors of the Gros Souper still include the 13 desserts in their Christmas celebrations. Ready-made presentation baskets of the desserts are available to buy.

I won't be in Provence this Christmas. I'll be up at the beach house on the Sunshine Coast, where our tradition is to get together and eat seafood and lots of nibblies and desserts on the deck...and drink a bit of champagne and beer. This year I will be cooking many French-inspired desserts such as Tarte au Citron and Creme Brulee.

Today I made a batch of Bliss Balls and I'll share the recipe with you. Great for snacking on and quite healthy. 
CHOCOLATE BLISS BALLS

(Don't get hassled by portion sizes--any size will do)
  • A large handful of activated almonds (or ordinary almonds)
  • A small handful of dates
  • A few dried figs (optional--I love figs)
  • A dessertspoon of raw cacoa dried chocolate (I use the proper stuff from the health food store). You can substitute ordinary cocoa.
  • About 3 large tablespoons of nut spread/butter (hazelnut, macadamia, whatever). If you're a fan of peanut butter (I'm not) you could use that.
Now...
In a blender or any kind of whizzer, zoom the almonds till they're nice and crushed.
Add all other ingredients except the nut spread. Zoom till nicely chopped. Then add nut spread and zoom till the mixture can be pressed together and holds a ball shape. (You can add a little juice or water if you can't get to that sticky stage. Or olive oil if you're from Italy, hahahaha).
Sprinkle some coconut on a board. Wet your hands and shape mixture into balls and roll in the coconut (or you can roll them in cacoa).
Refrigerate. Pop one in your mouth whenever you feel like a sweet treat. Amaze balls!!
  • I hope you enjoyed reading a little about Christmas traditions in Provence and here in Oz. 
  • What are your traditions for the holiday season?
Getting ready for Christmas at the beach house!
For those who've followed my melanoma journey, I now have had four removed! Ugh! Ouch! 

And thanks to those who've participated in WEP challenges this year. Hopefully we will find a way to resume in the New Year. 








64 comments:

  1. Hi Denise .. what a lovely post ... I'd never heard of the 13 desserts Christmas seasonal take on a meal .. and then all the information you gave us to back up the reasons why .. what fun.

    I found my Christmasses in South Africa quite challenging with the heat .. especially because we had the proper meal - with some SA culinary differences ... but still lots of prawns, salads at other times ...

    I'd love to join you at your beach home .. looks amazing .. have a very happy time and this was a delightful post to read - full of goodies, information, educative snippets ... Happy Christmas and am glad the melanomas are/have been dealt with .. let's hope to a happy 2015 .. cheers HIlary

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    1. Yes, a Hilary type of post, eh. Happy 2015 to you and yours!😄

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  2. Super post, Denise! Really enjoyed reading about the 14 desserts, a custom I'd heard about but didn't know anything about. (Also love figs and dislike peanut butter.) But think I'd purchase one of those prepared baskets if I lived in France as it all seems like a lot of work. Very happy your melanoma is under control and all's well. Be careful of that sun, mate! From our house to yours (your beach house is gorgeous!), Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (It's always exciting when the fireworks go off in Sydney.)

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    1. Yes, they've planned an even better show for Sydney this year. Will be super amazing.

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    2. I'm back briefly .. what a very unpleasant thing to happen in Sydney ... and I hope all settles down, as too here ... I'd love to see the fireworks one day ... but perhaps the tv gives great views ... Happy Christmas ... H

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  3. Those pictures were pretty. And now I'm very hungry. I have been craving sweets for days! ;)

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  4. Wonderful post, Denise. I'm an unrepentent Francophile, so I loved every word and pic.

    Your beach house is lovely. Hope to visit Queensland one day. Wishing you a Christmas warm with happiness and filled with joy!

    VR Barkowski

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  5. I'm not sure I could justice to 13 desserts, but I'd love to try. That image of the lavender was spectacular. Have a wonderful holiday.

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  6. What gorgeous photos! And yup, now I'm hungry. I'd try to eat 13 desserts too, but I don't think I could do it. Maybe 20 years ago I could!

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  7. Wow. It's beautiful...and I like the idea of 13 desserts. I am a planner for sure but my husband isn't. So every trip we take involves me tossing out our itinerary at some point!

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    1. Being spontaneous at times is fun too!

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  8. Wow, 13 desserts works for me. And the picture of the field of lavender is beautiful.
    Happy holidays.

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    1. Isn't it an amazing picture! Thanks for visiting!

      I wish you every good wish for Christmas and the New Year!

      Denise :)

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  9. What a beautiful beach house! And thanks for all of the amazing recipes and ideas. We spend our Christmas day at the beach here in Florida. We look forward to it every year! I'm so glad you visited me....I've enjoyed your blog! Holiday hugs, Diane PS LOVE the lavender fields! WOW!

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    1. Lovely to see you here so quickly Diane!

      I wish you every good wish for Christmas and the New Year!

      Denise :)

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  10. Wow, after all of that I think the cat would get rather fat lol hope your holidays are grand in your land

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    1. I'm sure they will be. And in yours Pat.

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  11. Hi Denise,
    Absolutely loved the reasons behind the 13 desserts, and they all sound utterly delicious. Valid reason for moving there :)
    So glad to know you're done with the surgeries and can enjoy Christmas freely and fully. Merry Christmas and a happy, fun and fulfilling 2015 to you and yours.
    Wishing you the very best, always.
    Nila.

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  12. I love, love, love reading about France, and the pictures, but 13 desserts! I knew there was a reason I loved this place so much. How wonderful to be spending the holiday there. I'm so glad, and keeping my fingers crossed this is the last of the removals for you! I'm sure your trip will mean all the more knowing your body is finally free! I just read your last post for IWSG and now I have to take the list and check it against my latest first page. Thanks for sharing such wonderful info. I think I'm there, or at least pretty close! Fingers crossed!

    Have a wonderful holiday! A beautiful trip, and all the blessings for a bright and Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks Yolanda. You have a wonderful holiday too!

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  13. What a fascinating post. It's impressive how they go to so much trouble to make the Christmas Eve meal significant to the Nativity. I can't imagine putting so much meaning into the creation of the meal. But then that's the French, right?

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    1. Yes, the French definitely like their traditions.

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  14. I bet southern France is lovely this time of the year--and probably anytime of the year. Thirteen desserts sounds quite good, although I'm willing to skip the meat things earlier in the meal.

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  15. Thirteen desserts for Christmas lunch? I think I'd keel over...but what a way to go!
    Have a wonderful Christmas, Denise!

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    1. You have a wonderful Christmas too Lyn!

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  16. Just stopped by to say hey and have a good evening.

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  17. MERRY CHRISTMAS & A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR:))

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  18. I have been to Paris, but never the southern areas in France. You make it sound so lovely -- not to mention the food you shared. Thanks for a nice vicarious journey just before Christmas. Have a great Christmas.

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth. A very happy Christmas to you and yours!

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  19. OK, now I'm hungry. What a fantastic trip to take. Have a wonderful Christmas!

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  20. Thirteen desserts... I can have that! :-) Thank you for the great recipe. And I loved all the photos and the description of the French traditions.
    My very best wishes for you and your loved ones for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
    I didn't know you had health problems. I wish you a very quick recovery. Be well, Denise.

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    1. Thanks so much Vesper. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year yourself!

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  21. Wow, now there's a tradition I can get behind! Love the photos you posted. Have a wonderful trip!

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    1. Thanks Shannon. Happy Christmas and New Year to you!

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  22. Enjoy the holidays!
    Now those European traditions involve quite a bit of eating. It boggles the mind to think of 13 desserts.

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  23. Merry Christmas and hope your festivities are great! Wishing you a healthy recovery from the melanoma removals and the best in 2015!

    I'm always ready to participate in WEP, and hope you'll contact me when and if it revives. I do like the look of your beach house, you lucky person! Take care, Denise.

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    1. Happy Christmas D.G. I'll definitely contact you re WEP.

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  24. Ha, it certainly was a long post but I loved reading through. And seeing the kitchen at your beach house brought back memories! Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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    1. Happy Christmas too Kelly. At the baking stage which is fun after all the cleaning.LOL!

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  25. Lovely post. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a happy prosperous New Year!

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  26. Hi, Denise,

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! Since it's the EVE where you are..... Wishing you the HAPPIEST and HEALTHIEST year EVER.....

    SEE you soon!!!!!!!!

    HUGS.

    Michael

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    1. Hugs back at you Michael. So looking forward to meeting you in 2015...somewhere!

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  27. Just joining with Michael to wish you a most Wonderful New Year!

    Of course where you are it already is a Happy 2015!

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  28. Happy New Year to you and your family, Denise!

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  29. I loved this post! I have always wanted to visit Paris and other places in France. Now I want to visit even more. Absolutely beautiful. :)

    Wishing you a Happy New Year! May 2015 be filled with all the best things in life.
    ~Jess

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    1. Thanks Jess. Hope you made it! HNY to you too!

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  30. Just me checking out your mouth watering post again. :) Hope you've had great New Year celebrations. Wish you a stress free, healthful and peaceful 2015 again. Take care, Denise.

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    1. Nila, you're a sweetheart. The New Year is going well. Another 3 weeks holiday to enjoy. You?

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  31. Loved the post! Happy New Year to you and your family, Denise!

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  32. This is delightful! What great pictures and delicious ideas to try out. Wishing you a Happy New Year, Denise. :)

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  33. Boy, this post took me back almost 50 years. Never been in the South of France for Christmas, but all you wrote brought back the flavour of the region and the delight of the area. Lots of nostalgia and I could taste the food.

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