While it’s not easy being far from home on Christmas, I was lucky enough to be adopted for the holidays by Pierre, the president of the Rotaract, and his adorable little family. I spent the 23rd cooking *struvella. It just wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without struvella with my big Italian family. After searching several stores for sprinkles, six hours cooking (no, it should not have taken quite that long), and one burnt hand later, this was the result. Fun fact, a natural human reaction is to try to catch something that’s falling. A word of advice, if that object is a pot of burning oil- DON’T! You’re welcome. (Thank God the oil was in one of the cooling periods!!!)
The 24th, Pierre picked me up and I spent Christmas Eve with he, his incredibly kind wife, and their absolutely adorable son, as well as his wife’s brother and father and Pierre’s mother. O, and their sweet cat, Fifa! Yes, he is indeed named after the international soccer association. He’s even got a jersey to boot. Yes, a cat-sized Manchester United jersey. I truly am sorry I didn’t snap a picture of that. We had a nice meal starting off with foie gras and pain surprise. Unfortunately for me, French Christmas involves lots of foie gras. I’ve tasted it five times, and I like it a little more each time. That being said, I still don’t much like it. The next day, we went to Pierre’s mother’s house. We had a traditional Christmas meal in which the plat de résistance was the chapon, a very large chicken which apparently gets to be so large due to the fact that it’s been castrated.
For dessert, there were two bûches de Noël, one chocolate, the other made of ice cream, and the traditional Provencal 13 desserts. These are: the pompe à l’huile (never cut it, rip it. sinon c’est foutu), clementines, dates, prunes, dried pineapple (exotic fruit to represent the exile in Egypt), black and white nougat, papillotes, and “the four beggars”, representing the different religious orders; raisins for the Dominicans, figs for the Franciscans, almonds for the Carmelites, and walnuts for the Augustinians, and one other dried fruit I can’t remember. One dessert each for Jesus and the 12 apostles. These can vary slightly region by region, family by family. For instance, I went to one of the teacher’s homes for lunch just before Christmas and we had 5/13 desserts and they stuck marzipan inside the walnuts and figs, called fruits déguisés. I had a really great time talking to everyone and getting to experience a real French Christmas and I am so lucky and blessed to have been surrounded by such kind and awesome people!!
*Or perhaps struffoli is the correct name, as I can’t seem to find references to “struvella” on the interwebs yet that’s what everyone in my family calls it. Perhaps it’s the name in the dialect of Campania? Or perhaps we just pronounce it wrong and my grandma gave up correcting people? I’d ask if I were home. What are struffoli? Basically, little deep fried dough balls flavored with lemon juice (it’s supposed to be limoncello) and lemon zest which are then covered in honey and sprinkles. It’s a Neopolitan Christmas tradition.