Monday, December 17, 2018

Little icicles

These are called stalactites de glace (ice stalactites) in French. They started forming on our roof line last Saturday when a rain system moved in after a couple of days of below-zero temperatures. They never got any bigger than this, though, because the rain brought warmer air in and everything that had frozen quickly melted.

Size doesn't matter, right?

We seem to be back into a more normal weather pattern now for this time year. That is a succession of relatively warm fronts off the Atlantic and, in between, clear nights and foggy days.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Le sapin de Noël

I put the tree up on Saturday, as planned. The weather outside was frightful (just a little freezing rain, then real rain, and no snow), but the fire was so delightful. I played holiday tunes and sipped wine while I decorated. Fortunately, neither Tasha nor Bert is interested in the tree.

White lights inside, colored lights outside this year. Next year, switch!

I think that this is the sixth year for this artificial tree from Ikea. We got our money's worth, that's for sure. The price for real trees is, well, unreal. I was remembering holiday trees from the years before we moved to France. They were big floor-to-ceiling cut trees, usually. I used to string popcorn and cranberries to hang on the tree. Where did I get the time? Now I have the time, but I don't think I have the patience to string popcorn these days. I do have several strands of wooden cranberries that I found at Crate and Barrel one season, but I haven't put them up for many years now. Maybe they'll make another appearance next year.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Clémentines

It's that time of year again. Nothing says winter holidays like a bowl of juicy clémentines from the Mediterranean basin. I enjoy them every season. Two or three make a good dessert or evening snack. Of course, we're still working on finishing that batch of gingerbread men.

These clémentines are from Corsica, often sold with leaves attached. The other major sources are Morocco and Spain, usually sold without leaves.

Clémentines are apparently a cross between mandarines and another variety of orange. They're named for an Algerian monk, Brother Clément, who bred them in the late 19th century.  There's also the tangerine, named for the Moroccan city of Tangiers. The differences among these fruits are subtle, and I suspect that French people use the word clémentine as a general category for all of them, although I do see the different varieties marked accordingly in the supermarkets.

I'm planning to put up the holiday tree today. The weather wizards are predicting snow and freezing rain starting later this morning, so we have no plans to leave the house except to take Tasha out for her walks. They may be short walks.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Teasel

We see a lot of these around us during the fall and winter. They're there in summer, too, but they're more easily recognized (at least by me) after the leaves and flowers are gone.

Teasel.

Teasel is the English word for these cardères (dipsacus fullonum). I read that they are considered invasive plants in the US, but I don't remember seeing them there.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Gingerbread men

It's time to separate the men from the boys. The gingerbread boys, that is. A long time ago, I got myself a gingerbread man cookie cutter. I think I made gingerbread men once. Now I've made them twice.

This is the gingerbread man cookie cutter.

It wasn't difficult. The dough was a little hard to work with. The recipe said to chill it overnight, which I did. But it was too stiff and my rolling pin made a mess of it. But I got through, and managed to make a bunch of cookies. They baked well enough and looked delicious.

Naked gingerbread men. Scandalous!

Then I tried to decorate them. The icing recipe I used made a very wet mixture. It dripped and ran everywhere. The poor gingerbread men started to look like gingerbread zombies. Oh well. They still tasted good. Brains and all.

Gingerbread zombies. But tasty!

I will try another recipe the next time, especially for the icing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Jingle bells

This is what the house looks like this holiday season. It's different from previous years because I didn't string the lights all the way across the front. I've decided that I'm getting too old to climb up two stories on an extension ladder to hang lights. I can do it, but one false move and I'd likely fall and break my neck. Better safe than sorry.

Some time between 07h30 and 08h00 on Tuesday morning.

Hanging the lights above the deck section is easy because I can use a step-ladder up there. It's much more sturdy and there's less chance of falling. I won't win any holiday decoration prizes, but they don't give those out here, so I'm not going to miss anything.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Not long ago...

...it felt like fall. Now, the trees are bare and it's feeling more like winter. Temperatures are dropping lower each day. The weather people predict that the lows will dip below freezing as the week goes on. I'm back to making daily fires in the wood stove after a couple weeks of relative warmth. These are the shortest days, these weeks around the winter solstice. We'll only have just over eight hours of daylight today, and nearly sixteen hours of darkness.

A little fall color in our back yard, just over a month ago.

The growers have begun pruning their vines out in the vineyards. They will continue through the winter until all the vines have been cut back to a single cane, ready for spring growth. The holiday season is in full swing. Stores and markets are stocked with turkeys and foie gras and boxes of fancy chocolates. Local firefighters are making the rounds selling calendars for their annual fundraising drive. Jehovah's Witnesses are making the rounds searching for souls in their annual exercise in futility. The usual charities are collecting food, clothing, and funds to help those in need. And school kids are looking forward to two weeks off as the end-of-the-year vacations approach.

Winter arrives officially in ten days, but it feels like it's already here. Not long ago, it felt like fall.