How to keep traditions and elegance while respecting the bun in the oven.
“We enjoyed several Christmas dinners with friends this year. One of our neighbors invited us over on the 24th. We hosted a dinner on the 25th. And Cédric invited us to his place on the 26th. It was a full week of feasting.”
It was December 2012. I was pregnant with my own little Cupcake and I take these things very seriously. Maybe because I had a miscarriage the year prior, and after this baby was born healthy I had another miscarriage to follow, so Cupcake is my rainbow, my ray of hope, my sunshine in the midst of the storm. Perhaps I take these things seriously also because one of my best friends and midwife tested positive for toxoplasmoses that year, that is after not having it for her first pregnancy. So… I was acutely aware there are reasons why we avoid certain foods.
You know, before that pregnant Christmas, I always made sure there was at least one item on the menu for my pregnant guests. Oh, how kind of me right? But then, it took a bit of research to work out all of the substitutes and realistically who takes the time to research these things if you’re not personally concerned. So here’s a gift for all of you out there hosting pregnant friends for Christmas and New Years. Your menu is complete, just click purchase at your local “drive.” Oh, and stop to talk to your neighborhood baker…
Pain Surprise (surprise bread)
Make your own Pain Surprise. It’s a big giant loaf of delicious bread that is hollowed out and the center is transformed into sandwiches and carefully stacked back in place. Lift the lid to see what surprises are held inside as each layer offers new and exciting flavors. Traditionally one will be cheese, another cured ham, salmon, tarama, fois gras, you name it’s in there! Nearly entirely raw & smoked meats & seafood. You’re right, your pregnant friends can’t eat any of those things.
So here’s what you do, you visit your neighborhood baker and revive the lost art of talking to them like a neighbor. That’s right, just say, “Hi. How are you today. Sorry to bother you, but I have a request. Could you prepare me a Pain Surprise Vide?” And I guarantee they will say, “yes”. I went to the baker and asked her to bake me a pain surprise empty. Then at home I filled it with all of the things I’m still allowed to eat. Your options are endless, here are a few ideas to prime the pump: cucumber sandwiches, beet-philadelphia-arugula, tapenade, guacamole, babaganoush (you know that eggplant spread that’s so yummy), plus basically any favorite finger sandwiches from high tea.
Fois Gras – Faux Gras
Okay, so, this one is a work in progress. When everyone expects a royal fois gras, what do you propose? Here is a list of homemade vegetable jellies you could use as alternatives. But really, can’t you just cook your fois gras? Does anybody know? Does it ruin it? I imagine it would melt. I’ve seen feuilletés, but I imagine that is heavy, monotonous and overwhelmingly filling. Could we make pain d’épices muffin cups and put cubes of fois gras in them and bake it in the oven? Oh well, maybe next time. If anyone feels like trying it, send me a photo of the results.
Oysters – Seafood
Raw oysters traditionally follow after the finger sandwiches, but since pregnant women can’t partake in them we opted for fried shrimp instead. My hubby is a great chef, this was his masterpiece of the evening. He bought them in the frozen section at our neighborhood asian market. Did I mention this was the star of the show? You can’t feel deprived and spoiled all at the same time. With these beauties are melting-in-their-mouths oysters fade to oblivion.
Cured Salmon Fish Course
We cut this course out. We knew we were straying from tradition, but we were confident there was enough to eat. But I promised you my research and I will not disappoint. I found two routes to take. On one had, you could recreate that smoked flavor, color and texture with marinated carrot filets. If presented layered daintily on toasts with cream and chives they fit right into the finger sandwich appetizers and I suppose you could even include them in your pain surprise. And on the other hand you could play up the ceremony of serving an entire fish on a platter and thus preserving all of the Omega 3s and vitamin Ds – just serve your fish baked. Voilà.
There’s no need to change your main dish, as long as the meat is cooked and the vegetables are washed, keep your traditions alive and well. But if you’re looking for something creative and new this year, I highly recommend a Festive Falette.
2012 “Once again diverging from tradition. The French would stuff a big bird with ground pork dressing and this year we decided to go a different route. This Falette is an amazing recipe, highly recommended for any elegant special occasion.”
Bouche de Noël (Yule Log)
Finally, at the stroke of midnight it’s time to cut the cake and open one gift. You’ll find yule logs available at every bakery, no need to reinvent the wheel. Keep the tradition the way you normally do. “Fais-toi plaisir.” In 2012, however, I was a glutton for punishment and I was having a craving for red velvet, which didn’t exist in Paris. So, I just had to try my hand at this classic French tradition, as if I didn’t have enough food prep to make already, yikes. Fortunately I had seen my mom make dozens of cake rolls, so when things started falling apart, I knew just how to fix it. Red velvet cake with vanilla mousse filling.
I know, you know, there are non-alcoholic bubbly options out there. To this day I always have a bottle of Champomy chilling in my fridge just in case friends break out a spontaneous birthday celebration. Sure, I like to have an option for the kids to join in and learn how to interact at a grown up conversation, but honestly, I always have a guest who is abstaining for one reason or another, breastfeeding, weight control, health in general. I do make my own kefir water for the die-hard health fanatics, but remember pregnant women are supposed to steer clear of fermented beverages, making this sorbet punch a welcome treat: artisanal sparkling limonade, club soda, raspberries, pineapple and raspberry sorbet.