La galette des rois was not planned. I'd gone to the supermarché for eggs--to mix in with three overripe bananas (for sweet bread). Only, when I pushed my cart into Carrefour I saw the traditional stuffed cakes. "When is the actual date for eating these?" I asked the pretty check-out lady. "Epiphany," she said. " "When's Epiphany?" I wondered. "Today," she said. "...I think..." I love it when the French second-guess themselves. The world grows suddenly cozier.
: willing to help, helpful
I wish I could tell you more about the galette des rois, but I had another story planned for today. For those willing to help with information or an explanation about the galette des rois tradition--simply leave a comment here. Thanks, you're so helpful! Merci, vous êtes bien serviable!
You can even order a galette des rois on Amazon and try it for yourself. Click here and learn a few quick facts about the French King Cake for Epiphany.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
On Becoming Serviable & Noël near Aix-en-Provence...
Jean-Marc's cousin, Sabine, invited the whole family over on Christmas Day. Because our clan is growing, it's a little more complicated each year to fit into the cozy reception room. I smiled noticing the clever diagonal position of the dinner table, allowing for 3 or 4 more seats to be squeezed in. As we admired the table's decor (set by 15-year-old Mahé), Sabine admitted that now that we're grown with kids of our own these winter indoor gatherings may no longer be possible.
I had a good nostalgic look around the room as I prepared the tray of apéritifs. Each and every French face--how familiar they all were to me now. What a privilege it has been to be part of this family history in which year after year we stand here, a little taller or wider or wrinklier than the last time we gathered. And yet it is tricky seeing the physical changes, when the soul takes precedence, shining out from behind a loved one's eyes:
"And what have you made us?" my brother-in-law, Jacques, smiled, his eyes sparkling as he reached for a mini pancake.
"Oh. Blinis et tarama," I said, of the pancakes with their puréed fish-egg spread. The blinis seemed like a good idea at the time--back when I offered to bring a few dishes to the Christmas potluck. They are my husband's favorite and you could buy them by the dozen. All that was needed were a few small tubs of tarama, which could quickly be added once we got to Sabine's....
I studied my brother-in-law's face as he bit into the cold pancakes. "I should have toasted them," I said to Jacques, knowing full well I didn't mean it. (There was no way I was going to toaster four dozen mini-pancakes!)
"You could use the oven upstairs," my mother-in-law whispered, as she found her way past me to the chair in front of the fireplace.
I was really hoping somebody wouldn't point that out. But there was no reason to feel guilty--after all, there was no time for dashing back-n-forth to the oven, now was there, when one had three more apéro trays to prepare! But I knew the truth: a good hostess would find a way to heat things!
Oh well. I wasn't a hostess! Just a lazy in-law. I quickly dumped a bag of bacon-wrapped prunes onto another platter. At least I'd thought to bring my mother-in-law's pruneaux au lard--leftovers from the previous night, when we'd gotten together at Jacques'. I figured she would be happy I'd thought to bring them.
Instead my mother-in-law said, "They taste better heated."
Standing there with the tray of stiff prunes, I looked down at my belle-mère. She was the only one in the room seated. I knew she was tired, but apparently not so pooped that she couldn't hand out a suggestion!
"They're good room-temperature, too!" I pointed out, as hot headed as a little chili pepper. Gosh, where had that feistiness come from? No time to wonder. Turning away I ran smack into Sabine, who smiled as she selected one of the little apéritifs on my tray.
"Looks delicious!" she said.
"Michèle-France would have liked them heated," I coughed. "They're better that way..."
"That's not a problem," Sabine said, taking the tray from me. I'll just pop them in the oven upstairs!"
Only, as she took the tray, a gaggle of teenagers ran up. Next an engine of grabbing hands worked itself across the platter as the kids went for their favorite: those pastry-wrapped mini hotdogs that my mother-in-law had also made.
"It's no use," I said to Sabine, as the mountain of hors d'oeuvres diminished right before our eyes. But Sabine only smiled, allowing the kids to continue picking from the tray.
"Stop it!" I shouted, slapping my son's hand as he grabbed for more. "Those are on the way to the oven. They'll all be gone before they've been heated! And God knows they are better heated!"
While one of us grew even testier, the other was the picture of grace. "I'll be right back," Sabine said, disappearing to her kitchen.
"But there are hardly a dozen left! It's not even worth the time to heat them..." As I watched Sabine run up the stairs, I knew that there was a woman to idolize. But I needed more than an angel-faced mentor. Once and for all I needed to put my pleasure-seeking self behind me and learn how to serve others.
Ten minutes later, my mother-in-law lit up as she reached for a crispy bacon-wrapped prune. "Ahhh... nice and hot. They're so good this way!"
As I passed around the warm tray of appetizers, I wished Sabine were here to see the joy that came of her effort. Indeed, I wished I had made the effort. But it wasn't too late to do something thoughtful, after all--something that would further touch my mother-in-law.
"Sabine insisted on heating them for you..." I blurted out, before pausing to witness the effect. The news of this caring gesture caused my mother-in-law to melt from the warmth of so much tenderness.
It was enough to make this little chili pepper mellow out, too ...and even remain calm when one of the aunts passed by with a surprise:
"Oh, I see someone made these too!" She said, dumping a plate of stiff bacon-wrapped prunes onto my steaming tray, adding "we can combine them!"
I cringed as I watched the cold prunes tumble onto the steaming mound, neutralizing the temperature of those that had just been warmed.
Where was the lesson in it all? Did good deeds, in the end, go unrewarded? Wise men ask such questions. This is one time I'm glad I'm not one of them. And thank goodness! Rather than rack my brain I realize I'm happier circling around the room with a tray of goodies.
Philosophy couldn't garner smiles like food could!
* * *
Recipe: Pruneaux au lard fumé
Are these as popular in your area as they are at a French Christmas table? I see they're also known as "Devils on Horseback."
=> Simply take dried prunes and wrap them in bacon. Fasten them with a toothpick before putting them in the oven for 8-12 minutes (350F?) Delicious tip: my mother-in-law stuffed each prune with a pistachio nut before wrapping them with bacon. These were the best!
When you share this journal with a friend or family member, you open up a window to another land. May we all enjoy a relaxing change of scenery during the work day. New readers click here to sign up to French Word-A-Day.
For more stories of French life, thanks for buying the book Blossoming in Provence. Click here to order a copy.
Thank you for the time you've spent reading this post. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that a one-time contribution helps me continue doing what I love most: improving this journal. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi