Category Archives: festive season

Christmas in Toulouse

Christmas is still a not-so-distant memory, so now is as an appropriate time as any to share with you my favourite time of year in such a gorgeous city.

Firstly, a short disclaimer is necessary on my part – I unashamedly love Christmas; for me Christmas begins the day after Halloween. I am that person. This year, my local Tesco began stocking Christmas goodies in September and I for one was delighted.

I did significantly lower my expectations when I moved to Toulouse though – especially following their somewhat (in my opinion) half-hearted attempt at Halloween. I was however pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically the city embraced the Christmas festivities. I cannot recommend Toulouse enough to anyone who will be looking for a cheap weekend away over the next festive period, with (at the time of writing) return flights from most London airports for under £30 (some as cheap as £10), and attractions as stunning as some of the following:

Marché de Noël

On the 24th November 2017, 117 white wooden huts clad with lights and festive decorations popped up in in Place du Capitole. The long-awaited (by me, at least) Marché de Noël had arrived. Every year the stalls sell artisanal products from the local area, Christmas gifts and handmade goods in addition to the plethora of fresh festive food and drinks.

I did develop somewhat of a crêpe addiction over the course of the festive period – several friends back home in the UK had words with me about how bored they were of seeing pictures of crêpes on my Snapchat story in excess of three times a week. I wish I was kidding. In addition to the wealth of churros, vin chaud and gauffres (waffles), another culinary highlight of the Christmas market was Aligot – commonly known among students as cheesy mash. Aligot however has a continental twist in the form of extra ingredients: Raclette, butter, cream and garlic and is very commonly found in the region of Occitanie. If this video doesn’t qualify as food porn, nothing does.

Pictures cannot do justice to the quintessentially festive atmosphere – the smells, sounds, lights and cold air epitomise Christmas for me, although this video of the toulousain Marché de Noël in 2015 gives a pretty good idea.

Galleries Lafayette

Much to my delight, Toulouse is home to a six-floor baby of the iconic Parisian department store. One thing it does succeed at is festive décor – although I imagine on nowhere near the same scale as its parent in Paris. Both inside out, every inch of the store was decked with festivity and was completely packed throughout the whole month of December.

The opening of its new rooftop restaurant and bar Ma Biche sur le Toit, from which the views over Toulouse are said to be spectacular, also coincided with the festive season, so, of course, a visit was necessary. Unfortunately this visit was not a success, as bookings are imperative and the wearing of trainers is forbidden, so this trip is still on the agenda for the next few weeks. Watch this space.

Lights in Centre-Ville

Much to my despair I missed the evening of the switch on of the Christmas lights, although France doesn’t seem to be as big on ‘switch-on ceremonies’ as the events we are used to in the UK which generally feature a Z-list celebrity pressing an oversized button on a rainy November evening.

The lights themselves were gorgeous, with each different area of the centre following a different theme. Some of my favourites are pictured below, although I could have taken thousands of photos of this photogenic city and its stunning lights.

 

Captioleum and Square Charles de Gaulle

Behind the Capitole building is the Square Charles de Gaulle, the new home to a small village of inflated igloos for the festive season. These igloo pods contained different themed versions of Santa’s grotto and were a delight for young children. In my excitement I forgot to take pictures, although you can see them peeping into the back of this photo:

Above these igloos, a ten minute Christmas film for children was projected directly onto the back of the Capitole building, which really made it all feel very magical.

As city centre Christmas trees go, I’d say Toulouse does pretty well with this enormous ride-on tree which took up residence in Square Charles de Gaulle:

Christmas at Air France

Having already expressed my feelings towards Christmas, I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine my reaction to returning to a ten-foot Christmas tree in the foyer of the office after a weekend back home in England. This was in fact destined to be decorated by the whole building in order to compete with those in the other four buildings on the site. The theme of ‘origami and paperwork’ was elected and soon the tree was covered in makeshift sticky note adornments and an assortment of origami. Sadly our building did not win, but it was one tinsel-clad rung on the festive ladder to feeling ~Christmassy~.

The festivities continued, with a pull de moche (Christmas jumper) competition and a Christmas dinner taking place that same week. Of course, a large part of running conversation classes is to discuss topics which are current and culturally informative, so naturally I led a class about Christmas adverts in the UK. The John-Lewis style Christmas ads we have come to love are basically unheard of in France, so many of my students found this really interesting.

Santa et Cie

One of the more linguistically challenging things I had resolved to do during my time here was to watch a French film at the cinema – obviously sans subtitles. The first week in December I saw posters advertising a family film by the name of Santa et Cie (Santa and co.), and, given the lack of Christmas films available on Netflix in France, two of us went to see it in the hope of feeling yet more festive.

What followed is the strangest, yet most original Christmas film I have ever seen. The plot is as follows: with only three days to go until Christmas, Santa’s entire workforce of elves become ill, leaving Monsieur Claus and his reindeer to travel to Paris to source the only cure: 92,000 doses of vitamin C tablets. Naturally he encounters a whole gamut of difficulties, and enlists the help of a young family with whom he learns the ins and outs of life outside the North Pole. The narrative features the usual morals of not doubting yourself, and the importance of family, especially at Christmas.

I can only hope this film is released with English subtitles in time for next Christmas, so that I can watch it again and understand the 70% of the speech which completely went over my head.

Watch the trailer for Santa et Cie here:

With so much festivity and the added excitement of having to actually travel in order to get home for Christmas, I can say this was the year I truly felt the most festive in the lead up to les vacances. I left work for the airport on the 21st of December with visions of the airport scene of Love Actually in mind.

Watch out for my upcoming post about some of the non-Christmas highlights of Toulouse!

A la prochaine!

Festive treats you can try

The festive season has arrived and it’s time to eat all the chocolates and delicious food we can! This is also a great time to take a break from the stress of coursework and revision, and cook some delicious treats and learn new recipes for Christmas. The Careers+Placements team have shared their special recipes for you to try, so get cooking!

Frangipane mince pies

Ingredients for mince pies:

  • 200g plain flour, plus extra to dust
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 medium egg yolk
  • 500g mincemeat

Ingredients for the frangipane topping:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 25g plain flour
  • A few drops of almond extract
  • 25g flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar, to dust

Method:

  1. To make pastry, rub flour, sugar and chilled butter into a flour mixture. Separately, stir together yolk and 1tbsp cold water. Add to flour mixture; stir until pastry just comes together. Tip on to a surface; knead briefly to make a smooth dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, make the frangipane topping. In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg until smooth. Stir in ground almonds, flour and almond extract to make a soft mixture.
  3. Roll chilled pastry out on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick, then stamp out 12 rounds using a 10cm round cutter (re-rolling trimmings as necessary). Use rounds to line a 12-hole muffin tin; fill cases with mincemeat.
  4. Divide frangipane among mincemeat-filled cases; smooth down a little. Sprinkle over flaked almonds. Chill for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 190°C (170°C fan) mark 5. 
  5. Bake pies for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. Leave to cool in tin for 5 minutes to set pastry; carefully transfer to wire rack to cool; dust with icing sugar. Serve just warm or at room temperature with cream. 

Hilary Barrett

Chestnut and Chorizo Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  • 120g mild cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1½ tsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 small dried red chillies, crushed
  • 2 tomatoes, fresh or tinned, roughly chopped
  • 500g cooked peeled chestnuts (fresh or vacuum-packed), roughly chopped
  • 20 saffron threads, infused in 3-4 tbsp boiling water
  • 1l water
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Method: 

  1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chorizo and a pinch of salt and fry for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything caramelises and turns quite brown.
  2. Now add the garlic, cumin, thyme and chili and cook for one more minute, followed by the tomato and, after about 2 minutes, the chestnuts.
  3. Give everything a good stir, then add the saffron-infused liquid and the water, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and mash by hand (with a potato masher) until almost smooth, but still with a little bit of texture. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Enjoy with some crusty bread!

Liz Bland

Christmas Malteser Brownie   

Ingredients: 

  • 180g butter, melted, plus extra for the tin
  • 250g light brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 75g malted milk powder 
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Bag of Malteser reindeers to decorate 
  • 50g white chocolate, melted, for drizzling (optional) 

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4, butter a 20x20cm brownie tin and line the base with baking parchment. Mix the melted butter with the sugar, beating until smooth, then beat in the eggs.
  2. Add the malted milk powder (usually found in sachets by the drinking chocolates in shops), flour and baking powder, stir to just combine, then fold in the Maltesers.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutess until cooked around the outside but still wobbly in the middle. 
  4. Resist the temptation to eat straight away and put the tin in the fridge to set for 2 hours. Once set, top with the reindeers, drizzle over the melted white chocolate (if using) and cut into 12 squares.

Emma Tromans

Vegetarian toad in the hole

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack meat-free sausages
  • 300g of mixed root vegetables, peeled & diced (optional)
  • Half a red onion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 50g plain flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200ml skimmed milk
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. Bring a pan of water to the boil and par-cook the root vegetables for 7 minutes, drain and set aside.
  3. Pre-heat the oil in an oven proof dish and add the sausages, red onion and root vegetables, and roast for 5 minutes.
  4. Place the flour into a mixing bowl, add the eggs and beat to a smooth paste. Gently add the milk, baking powder and whisk vigorously.
  5. Pour the mixture over the sausages and vegetables and cook for 28 minutes.
  6. Serve with onion gravy.

Jodie Carpenter

Healthy Bites

Ingredients:

  • 10 medjool dates
  • Handful of hazelnuts
  • Handful of walnuts
  • 1 tsp cacao powder
  • 2 drops of vanilla extract
  • Coconut flakes

(If you are not a fan of these nuts,  you can swap them for different ones. However, they may make the bites taste differently depending on what you choose.)

Method:

  1. Break the Medjool Dates into a small pieces then put them into a food processor. (Tip – You can soak them in warm water for 5 minutes first to soften the skin, which makes them easier to break).
  2. Add in a handful of both the hazelnuts and walnuts.
  3. Add in the cacao powder and add in the vanilla extract.
  4. Then blend these ingredients together in the processor until a thick paste has been made.
  5. Roll the paste into round balls with your hands and then dip and roll these into the coconut flakes.

Harjap Bassi

White chocolate and ginger cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 400g white chocolate, in pieces
  • 6 balls stem ginger from a jar, drained
  • 12 gingersnap biscuits, broken
  • 75g butter, melted
  • 2 x 300g tub light cream cheese
  • 1 x 250g tub ricotta
  • 150g caster sugar
  • Raspberries to garnish

Method:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Line a 20cm springform cake tin with non-stick baking paper. Whiz the stem ginger in a food processor and tip into a large bowl. Whiz the gingersnaps to crumbs and mix in the melted butter. Tip into the tin and press down evenly to make the base; chill.
  2. Add the cream cheese, ricotta and sugar to the stem ginger and mix well.
  3. Pour about a quarter of the melted chocolate on to a baking sheet; chill until set. Pour the remaining chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and whisk to combine. Tip the mixture into the tin and tap on the work surface to make sure the mixture is smooth. Cover and chill overnight.
  4. Bring the set white chocolate to room temperature and make curls using a sharp knife. Remove the cheesecake from the tin and place on a serving plate. Scatter with the chocolate curls, then add as many raspberries as you would like on top.

Jodie Carpenter