And so this is Christmas…

15th December 2013, Metz, Moselle, Lorraine

…well, actually, there’s over a week to go, but it is undeniably getting closer. That said, I’ve not been feeling overly festive, perhaps because, despite the presence of large numbers of excessive Christmas lights (there are Christmas trees hanging in the air across the middle of my street) and incredibly tacky Christmas markets, I don’t have the things that make me feel really Christmassy here with me. What’s that, I hear you ask? Well, mince pies, those chocolate gingerbread hearts with the jammy centre, Anton Berg marzipan chocolates… Just kidding! No, seriously, usually I’m at home, with things like buying and decorating a Christmas tree, making Christmas cake, planning the Christmas dinner, wrapping presents, writing cards… There are festive BBC adverts, Christmas carol CDs, the bakery aisle in Sainsbury’s… And this year, I have none of that. Not even Sainsbury’s.

Now, don’t go feeling too sorry for me. Christmas Eve is my first day back in England for six months, and is a designated baking day. I will be doing some serious shopping, but probably next weekend, when I’ve been paid… And midnight Mass at my local church, with the same carols in the same order, with the same typos on the hymn sheets as every year, will cure me of that particular yearning. But for the moment, a girl’s got to do something to remind herself that it’s mid-December. Otherwise you start going mad and thinking it’s snowed when you look out of your window to see the same white building across the road that’s always there…

So, I went to Metz. It wasn’t just to complete my nice tour of the northern regions of France (although with the news that I’ll be down in Aquitaine, practically in Spain, next summer, it could well have been), nor was it just because I fancied a go on a TGV (yep, the coach trip to Strasbourg was a one-off, not to be repeated for at least a month, until I find myself on the treacherous roads and unreliable public transport system of South America…). It was ’cause I wanted more Christmas markets.

Now, Metz is not Strasbourg, or even Colmar. It has a river, but its houses just aren’t as cute, the largest-big-wheel-in-Europe is surrounded by candy floss stands and hot dog stalls that just make it tacky, and the rather sad-looking few stalls gathered around the train station aren’t the best advert for a town attempting to attract festive travellers. But still… Part of the problem is no doubt my age: I’m just a bit too old for a model North Pole village, letters to Santa or brightly coloured life-sized (as in, human-sized) Nutcracker figures, reindeer and rather terrifying-looking children receiving oversized presents. And I’m of the stroppy temperament to get annoyed with people using excessively complex cameras (or iPhones) to take photos of these things. On the other hand, offer me a free sample of pain d’épices (somehow never as good as the stuff we made over the summer in Picardy) or a mug of mulled wine and I’m happy…

But anyway, what about the cake? Well, after a narrow escape with a meringue (Shop woman: “What would you like?” Me: “What’s that one, there?” SW (going to pick it up: “It’s a meringue, covered with…” Me: “Merci, au revoir”, leaves shop), I settled for something seasonally appropriate: a Yule log. I have always loved the idea, and yet somehow the ones at home always taste like stale Swiss roll with chemical-tasting whipped cream… (And I think part of me is still bitter that every other class at school got to spend a Christmas cooking lesson decorating a Yule log with chocolate spread and chocolate decorations and generally getting covered in chocolate. My class did electronics: we were soldering our battery-tester.) So here it is:

Yule log Metz - 14.12.13
Yule log
Metz – 14.12.13

Of course, I made what I like to think of as my mother’s mistake: I asked what flavours they had in the bakery (there were about five different colours) and then got distracted and missed most of the answer, so I wildly picked the last one I’d heard: Kirsch. For some reason I associated that with a kind of Black Forest gateau-type thing, and was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a chocolate sponge, and there were no cherries in it. On the other hand, it was anything but dry, since they seemed to have rolled it much tighter than a usual swiss roll, so the cream to cake ratio was about 60:40… (And the cream did have a bit of a Kirsch kick, so it wasn’t all bad!) The texture of the cream was actually pretty good, closer to a buttercream than a whipped cream, but without being too claggy. I do love a glacé cherry, but minus points for the mini-meringue (what’s the point?!) and I’m not sure about the mini saw: what about the season of peace and goodwill to all men? (Especially for those who think it’s a piece of angelica and try to put it in their mouth). All in all, not bad at all. But then, to be honest, in a setting like this, I could have eaten dry cardboard…

Yule log (by the river in Metz)

(And in case you’re wondering, yes, I had a spoon with me!)

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