Sunday, February 12, 2012

Galette des Rois/ King Cake

Cider, galette des rois and paper crown for the king/queen.
I have never heard of the French King Cake tradition until I came to France and was introduced to it in my French class.  I'm glad I was warned about it, as I don't think anyone from my family would enjoy biting into a porcelain doll unknowingly and breaking their teeth off :)  The French King Cake celebrates the Epiphany holiday (January 6th) in honor of the Feast of the Three Kings.  The cake is made of puffed layered pastry with rich "frangipane" almond filling and is sold/consumed for the whole month of January.  In France, it's customary to nestle la fève, inside the filling and crown the finder as the "king" or "queen" of the day.   La ve refers to a "broad bean" which is what used to be placed in the cake, but it has been later replaced by a thematic and collectible trinket/figurine.  These figurines are made of porcelain or plastic and the price of the cake ranges based on the value of these figurines and the size/quality of the cake.

Plastic queen trinket left; porcelain "king" trinket right.
You will definitely get a higher quality cake from a local boulangerie than at the super market.  The galette I purchased came with two paper crowns which made me think there are probably two trinkets inside for the king and the queen.  That's awesome I thought - two crowns = two kids.  But figuring out where the trinkets are without mutilating the cake is no easy task.  Tommy was discouraged that he won't get one for sure since he's never lucky.  But when I was cutting up the cake I cut into one trinket, so I saved the piece for Tommy.  Anna of course got upset that she did not get the trinket, so I stealthily washed off Tommy's porcelain doll and stuck it in her piece.  Then finally Jakub bit into the second trinket which was a plastic doll.  So at the end of the day Anna and Tommy were happy to each get crowned, Jakub was also noble, and I was left as the only unworthy member of the family. :D

We had the cake again when our friend Blanka came over.  Same deal but three kids, but we figured it out at the end and with lots of extra crowns from the previous cake, the kids were happy.

The three kings; Anna, Tommy and Annabelle (Anna's friend)

Friday, February 3, 2012

A "balmy" -12C and SNOW in the city!

Yesterday I decided to bike to my French class because I can kill two birds with one stone.  I get exercise and I'm not contributing to the already nasty pollution/smog in Grenoble.  The class is situated beside the !nuclear reactor! and synchrotron where Jakub works.  It's about a 20 min ride from home and totally do-able, but being practically raised on the West Coast, biking in -2C or lower does take getting used to.  Jack Frost was not only nipping at my nose but also at my toes, fingertips and buttocks, but it was fun.  The Siberian front is heading our
way and we're lucky here in Southern France, since we're receiving only the tail end of it; a "balmy" -12C compared to the -30C in the Eastern block.  We've been hit with snow in the city three days ago and it continues to fall slowly, but surely.  Alas, there are no "snow days" here in Europe when a few centimeters hit the ground; no crippled public transit, school closures, cars in ditches or other such issues.  Life goes on :)  In anticipation of the inclement weather, we have made some improvements to our home insulation.  We've stuffed foam in the chimney, we closed the window shutters, and we got a heating thermostat.  Now it's time to hibernate, see you in a week when I crawl out of bed!

Christmas in the Czech Republic.

The second part of our trip was spent in Czech Republic.  We first hung out with Jakub's family for a few days which consisted of eating duck, dumplings, sour kraut and washing this down with copious amounts of beer.  We had a huge (15 person) gathering and since there were 3 ducks involved from each family, we decided to have a duck tasting contest.  We even had our regional flags at the table (Grenoble, Kanice, Mesto-Brno, Svinosice)!

The  winner of the duck contest was Jakub's aunt, teta Ira, and so she received a certificate and a kiss from Jakub.

Duck and Dumplings for the taste test.

Teta Ira, the winner of the duck competition.

Tommy and Anna got to hang out with their cousins and grandparents...

Cousins Hanging Out.

Grandpa Ruda.
Regardless of all the eating and drinking, this was a time to socialize.  We also went out to Brno one eve without the kids to enjoy some beers and mead.  We spent half the evening in two very distinct pubs.  The first pub was a very smokey, bare bones pub, purely aimed at drinking alcohol because the waiter said they will have tea in January, he doesn't understand why we need to eat, and kept serving us beers before we have even half finished them.  Obviously they had some tea and food but it was just not routine there.  You could also get a good idea about the pub by observing the individuals that went there....   The second pub was more of a tourist "themed" pub called the medieval tavern.  I  do recommend the pub to anyone visiting Brno (despite the bad tripadvisor reviews) as they have really good food and also excellent dark beer as well as lovely and potent mead.  We had ribs, bramborak {deep fried potato patty} and škvarky {basically fried pork lard}.  The latter was worked off by Jakub as there is an option on the menu to get a free meal if you work for it.  You are not told what the meal or the task is and once you agree, you are committed.  They had a leak in the wall as this is a cellar pub, so Jakub had to mop it up every 10 minutes a few times in exchange for a bowl of lard goodness :)

I forgot to mention that we also ate all of those great traditional Czech Christmas pastries including the well known gingerbread, so here is a little photo of the gingerbread house that Jakub's mom made for the kiddies.  Looking at the cotton ball "snow" just reminded me that Jakub's mom also had a nice wooden nativity set in the midst of cotton fluff, and when she went to light the candle, a spark from the match ignited the cotton and the whole thing was in flames. Some of the burning cotton fell on the ground, so Jakub ended up pouring a decent amount of soapy water on everything to get the fire out.  Jesus survidved it; the only casualty was the gamekeeper with his charred rifle.