REALITY – Joyeux Noel

NJWILDBEAUTY readers and all my friends know; and some powerfully share; my longing always to be in France in general, in Provence in particular.

Writing in my journal this morning, Christmas Eve, I discovered, “I wish it were 1987.”

Then, I was a resident of Cannes, although it was far easier to walk into Picasso’s Vallauris than to drive down into Cannes on those cooked-spaghetti roads.

The scene below does not take place in an unheated, unscreened, capacious apartment above the Mediterranean, while magenta rose laurier bloom in my garden.  There aren’t Alps out my kitchen window, frosted with first flakes.  There are no un-snowy pre-Alps processing beyond living room windows, wreathed with all those Corniches, leading from beloved France into redolent, resonant Italy.  There is neither the Esterel Forest nor the Esteril Massif (mountain range), — all coppery and russet and terra cotta and sometimes even magenta and claret and ruby; the turquoise sea frothing at their feet.  No, this is Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  It’s the home of a person who was only an expatriate for one year; but who thinks she was born that way, and will never recover.

The poster in the scene below celebrates an exhibit at Galerie La Licorne, (the Unicorn) in Juan-les-Pins.  My firstborn and I, back in 1981, were enthralled by it, in the lobby of the establishment of potters in that storied town.  Madoura are solely licensed to bring Picasso’s platters, plates and pitchers to life in the years after his death.

The Madoura staff watched that young girl reverently touch, study, absorb Pablo’s work throughout those bountiful rooms. Her hands, in the presence of Picasso’s ouevre, were as full of awe as a priest’s at his first mass, holding the Host.

Entranced from the first, we’d asked the owners if we might buy the poster (l’affiche.)  “No,” they instructed, “you’ll have to go to Juan-les-PIns.”  We explained that we’d been there only yesterday, and that we would fly home the following day.  We regretted together that a return to the Unicorn was not possible.

Ah, but the owners of Madoura Poterie were so impressed by Diane’s attention to the Master’s work, that they presented her with the rolled, beribboned poster, when we finally brought ourselves to leave.


Santons de Provence, the Large and the Small, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey

No that is not a Cezanne, nearer the viewer, needless to say.  It is a Bernard Ungerleiter (of Lambertville, New Jersey), our Cezanne.  I have two of his works in my dining room – the other of garlic.  I had been with his wife, Peg, as she bought the fat pale heads, as juicy as l’ail de Provence, at a Pennsylvania farm market in the early 1980’s.  Bernard wouldn’t let her cook with it – he had to paint it!

The large santons (terra cotta figures that accompany the manger scene in Provence) were bought by my Swiss husband for our family, in Vence or St. Paul-de-Vence, when the girls were 7 and 8 years old.  The tiny santons, –not garbed as are the older sets, are of plain terra cotta (terre cuite in France — cooked earth).  One is supposed to buy them at the smart art store on Rue d’Antibes in Cannes, then take them home to paint  I love the hues and textures of the roof-tiles of Provence.  When I can bring myself to arrange those santons each current Christmas, I am very glad not to have altered them in any way..


Close-Up of the Santons, and of Noel Provencal — which I re-read each December, savoring hearty rituals of the land I cherish, from the wheat of the feast of Saint Barbara to les treize (13!) desserts of this night of the birth of Le Nouveau-Ne

Why do I want this Christmas Eve to be 1987’s?  Because, then I’d be taking my French gifts, –bought in the Nice Vieux Ville (Old Towne)– across the way in the dark to the tower where my young neighbors lived:  L’Observatoire… 

We’d had so much fun exploring together, since my late autumn arrival.  Even though everyone back home had said, “You’re going to be so lonely.  They will never invite you into their homes!”  Wrong.


Santon de Provence, Shepherd’s Cape

Jeanette et Didier and their little ones  wanted me with them for Christmas Eve supper next to their real tree, abundant with home-made ornaments.  They wanted me to share gift-opening with their family.  But the heart of the matter would be Midnight Mass (La Messe de Minuit) in Le Suquet.  This is the oldest part of Cannes, its barely known rocky promontory.  It served as a major watch site for hundreds of years and conflicts, dating back to Phonecians and Saracens. .

Our normal French Christmas Eve supper was nothing less than canard a la orange and frites’ and o, my, such slender, savory golden turnips!  Jeanette had tossed it all together without any fuss, the way my Michigan mother had made meat loaf and baked potatoes.

My gifts of large comic books (Tin-Tin — the French never lose their taste for comic strips) for the children, and candied fruits from the legendary Confiserie Auer near Nice’s Place Massena, were enormous successes.  I was one with this family, wrapped in their fondness, uplifted by their merriment.

These qualities have been in pretty short supply ever since.  Some who know me; and some who read my blogs; realize that I work very hard to survive Christmas every year, deprived as I am of my own family.

Usually, I ‘run away’.  Last year, I fled to Cape May, and often to the Brigantine. I pretend that birding the day away is all that matters.  I never did this with my lost daughters because I didn’t know any interesting birds in those days.


The Basket-Weaver and the Garlic-Braider observe Le Nouveau-Ne

Midnight Mass in Cannes was spoken and sung in three languages:  Latin, English and Provencal!  I knew two, but not three.  It was a thrill to hear the old songs in all tongues, and be able to sing some, even remembering Latin.

How I marveled to hear the gospel begin, “Dans le temps de Cesar Auguste.”   Indeed.  The very day before, I had spent in Frejus, favorite town of Augustus Caesar.  I’d found his port, his forum, his theatre, and something called La Lanterne d’Auguste — a species of lighthouse.  I’d feasted on rare lamb and Salade Antiboise across from that forum, writing feverish poems about the sense of ancient bullfights suffusing me near the ancient chutes through which animals had exploded innto the sawdust arena.

This is not the first time I’ve said, “Call me a dreamer; well, maybe I am…”   But when the French priest spoke those words of the emperor in whose footsteps I’d trod all the previous day, I suddenly realized the bible was real!  I didn’t know I didn’t know that until the holy night alongside my dear new friends of Cannes.


Traditional Santons de Provence, in hand-made costumes

The Mass was enlivened with living santons.  Women and men and children of the village had practiced for months for these few moments of procession and recession (which had NO economic tinge in that place!)  They wore the noble costumes of ancient times, in this region that has never fully been assimilated into France itself!  Accurate down to the lace on their petticoats, and the heft of sabots (like Dutch wooden shoes) of other eras, making a venerable sound of hollowness on the church’s marble floor.

Shepherds in flowing cloaks, the hue of camels, demonstrated why their hefty garb had the extra fabric on the shoulders.  They carried real lambs and real kids, on those capelets, to be blessed by the priest and to honor the Infant, Le Nouveau-Ne, the Newborn.

Others bore grapes; demijohns of wine; clear glass globules of golden olive oil.  The oldest women preceded the parents of the newest babe, these honorary grandmothers presenting layettes freshly made for this precious human child.  The young ones knelt and placed their infant in straw in a manger at the foot of the altar.

Then, all who carried the season’s fruits, alive and otherwise, recessed to the enormous terra cotta creche (Nativity Scene) on a far wall.  High in the back, where mountains loomed, the Three Kings and their servants (one of whom, Balthazar, is said to have founded nearby Les Baux) moved in stately array, ponderous and elegant as any wedding in Westminster Abbey.  Epiphany would have to wait until January the 6th, but the royal ones were already en route, following the star.


Portrait of my Daughters by V. Durbin Thibodeau, Artist-in-Residence of the Sacred Heart School of Grosse Point, Michigan

1987 was the year in which my daughters were taken.  I realized this fully at the time of my fiftieth birthday.  Standing on my luminous balcony, overlooking the midnight-blue-black Mediterranean, I watched stars wink on high.  They seemed to fall right into my shallow champagne glass, joining tears.

But Christmas Eve, 1987, for those few hours with friends in the tiny stony church of Le Suqauet, beloved traditions in my favorite favorite region of my favorite land, washed over me, banishing grief.

It became clear that night, and I must return to this certainty every year.  My loss was as nothing, compared to what had happened “dans le temps de Cesar Auguste,” in a time in the world when Peace ruled.


La lavandiere, Provencal Santon

Tonight, many will follow La Messe de Minuit in tiny churches all over the South of France.  When they eat their ‘meagre supper’ (meatless), it will be followed by les treize desserts.   At a certain time during the family gathering, the eldest will lead and the youngest grace the rear of the family parade in to the Yule Log.  Vin cuit, cooked wine, will be sprinkled onto this hefty log, chosen just that afternoon for the purposes.  A prayer will be said, hearthside.  I wish it for all of you:

“Next year, if we are not more, may we at least, not be fewer.”










PROVENCAL CHRISTMAS EVE – My Story in Princeton Packet on Midnight Mass in Cannes

Provencal Creche and Evergreens on French Table back in Princeton

Provencal Creche and Evergreens on French Table back in Princeton

In Provence, the real Christmas

Sharing a special holiday ritual in France

DATE POSTED: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 11:17 PM EST  The Princeton Packet

By Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Provence to see the seasons round. “But, Carolyn, you’ll be lonely!” “You with your two years of college French!” “The French will never invite you into their homes.” And so forth.

I paid no attention, as I wasn’t going to the south of France to be invited into homes. All my life I had wanted to be a resident in what has always felt my real country. The country was my goal. And, as it turned out, the nay sayers were wrong.

Take Christmas Eve. The year is 1987. As I walk across the crest of Observatoire Hill, high above Cannes, the night is bright, colder than I expected. The dark sky is nearly blinding, Vincent’s “Starry, Starry Night” seemed all around me, coming to more and more intense life.

I had been invited to my neighbors’ for that special time. They were a young and merry family in all seasons, from my first fall days on the hill, we had taken full and casual delight in one another’s company.

This night, I would not only share their Christmas Eve meal, we also would open presents together, beside their Christmas tree (or “sapin de Noel,”) quietly resplendent with its handmade ornaments. The boy and girl were fully a part of every aspect of those rituals.

The purpose of my presence was not only to share the sacredness of these home rituals. At a certain moment, we bundled ourselves warmly, and the father drove us all to Le Suquet, the old part of the Cannes the world connects mostly with movies. It’s a high and stony hill, from which watchmen peered over many centuries, especially during 800 years of Saracen invasions. Steep and rocky enough to be defended, high enough to light warning fires that could reach sentinels on the Iles de Lerin off-shore, without Le Suquet all those years, there might not be a Cannes.

A no-nonsense stone church crowns the rocky enclave of old Cannes. We walked from the velvet, nearly absolute darkness of these ancient towns into a nave of nearly blinding light. Votive candles flickered along both sides, leading our eyes to a wall-length “creche,” a Nativity scene created with terra cotta “santons” for which this region is famous.

These figures used to be created in the churches, until the Revolution. I don’t know why that ordeal meant no more santons and creches. But the clever French decided to create their own figures to honor Christmas in their homes. The irst post-Revolution santons were made of cookie dough.It had something to do with danger in people’s gathering in public places in those fiery times. This night, this church was one profoundly connected gathering.

There was a real wood stable, about as big as a breadbox. Mary and Joseph knelt by an empty manger. The requisite donkey and cow and other farm animals of baked clay were artfully placed to create a sense of waiting. Awaiting the birth of the child, outside the creche stable were the bread-maker, the garlic-braider, the aioli-maker, the lavender lady, the herdsman, the basket-weaver and so forth. Each more delightful than the last.

Along the creche hills moved a procession: tawny long-legged camels, their handlers, and, of course, the three kings and assorted servants. The proprietors of nearby Les Baux claim to be descended from the Balthazar of this pilgrimage. We know that stars directed the journey of the kings. They may well have been en route as Mary and Joseph found their way to Bethlehem. In the Cannes church, the reverent Kings were visible, lit and steadily nearing on some sort of motorized walkway. But, even though it was Christmas Eve, there wasn’t what my daughters called “the baby Jesus.”

That church was cavernous and deeply cold. My neighbors had warned me to dress as though for one of my daily hikes, with many layers. The pews were filled with people of all types, dressed in everything from full-length sable to the bleu of the laborer. Perfume mingled with incense. An eager though hushed restlessness stirred from front to back as the hour turned. I was reminded of suddenly riveted attention, as a bridal procession is about to begin.

Altar boys proudly swung censers, so that frankincense purled through the air. More clergy than I’d seen since the Vatican moved toward the altar. Music surrounded us, our seatmates singing carols in French, in Latin and Provencal.

The priests arrayed themselves, backs to the altar, facing the aisle. Suddenly, old Provence came to life before my very eyes. Villagers, garbed like the hand-made santons I’d owned since the early 1970s, walked where the clergy had been. The women’s thick quilted skirts belled out just like mine on the shelves at home. Each woman carried — like scepters, like jewels — objects identifying her role in the town. One held a bowl and a whisk; one a cluster of baguettes. One was adorned with a lei of braided fat white succulent garlic.

The women were followed by men. The shepherds wore long tobacco-brown cloaks, with an extra flap along the shoulders. And that night I learned why. The men carried live lambs over their shoulders, resting on those capes. The baker toted a handmade basket, full of his multi-shaped breads. Others held guns, so that the hunt might be blessed. Twosomes bore demijohns of wine, otherspaniers of grapes. Each and every living santon went to the clergy, knelt for the blessing, then took his or her very real offering off to the side, for “the baby Jesus.”

But even that was not the culmination. A cluster of townswomen moved as solemnly as brides, each carrying items of a baby’s layette — handmade, hand-decorated, proudly borne. Behind them walked a young man, carefully cradling the elbow of his even younger wife. In her arms was a baby. A real baby. “Le nouveau-ne” — the newborn — the most recent child of the town.

They, too, knelt at the front, between all the harvest offerings, flanked by the delicate layette. Mass was said and sung in the three languages. When the gospel came to “dans le temps de Cesar Auguste,” chills suffused me.

The mass concluded with exquisite timing. The incense boys turned and recessed toward the back of the church, followed by all those priests. Only the young parents and their amazingly silent infant walked carefully behind them. They all went over to the wall-sized creche. The priest who had said mass blessed the real infant in its mother’s arms. Then Father took something from the head altar boy — the Infant Jesus, “le nouveau-ne,” this one made of clay — as are all humans, come to think of it. Tower bells pealed, exactly as the terra cotta child was settled into its manger, lined with real straw provided by real shepherds.

Interestingly, the carol we sang then was “Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella,” — “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.” We were each metaphorically carrying the torch of wonder to that cradle. My dear neighbor turned to me with a very special grin, her name being Jeanette.

Provencal Madonna and Roman Mosaic of Madonna, Provencal Doorways, on table back in Princeton

Provencal Madonna and Roman Mosaic of Madonna, Provencal Doorways, on table back in Princeton


Provencal Christmas Creche 2014

Provencal Christmas Creche 2014

Some of my NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I lived the seasons round in Provence in 1987/88.  Around the time of my Thanksgiving birthday, all the excitement in the rues surrounding the Cannes Marche had to do with the Alsatian specialite, Choucroute Garnie.  Signs threaded the byways that circled the market, emblazoned, “LA CHOUCROUTE GARNIE EST ARRIVEE!!!”  (Choucroute means sauerkraut, and Garnie means garnished, as with meats.)

In the streets outside the market were imposing metal containers, in which the just-arrived sauerkraut with sausage masterpiece was enthroned and simmering.  In my halting French, with my midwestern-teacher’s accent, I managed to have the most interesting proprietor prepare a take-home container.  It was done with such pride, such ceremony, you’d have thought he was ladling with sterling onto heirloom china.  The proprietor steered me to the best local wine provider, also on that side-rue, so that they could give me the best Riesling to accompany his chef d’oeuvre.

At home, in my tiny, heatless Cannes apartment, I ladled out cabbage and sausages, carried it to the Provencal-quilt-covered table on my minuscule balcony.  I went back in for the Riesling and a wineglass.  I poured that nectar very slowly, watching it reflect the Mediterranean shimmering below.  It was warm on the November balcony.  A slight breeze ruffled the wild herbs from the garrigue which somehow thrived in my balcony window-boxes.  These wind-visits carried with them the essence of wild thyme and sage and rosemary, mingled with sea air.

I remember being surprised at how light the choucroute was, and that I liked the somewhat sweet wine that is its essential accompaniment.

In October, here, in 2014, I was suddenly overcome by choucroute nostalgia.  I called six brave friends, two of whom are our regions Ur-food-critics.  I told them, I have to do this.  I described the dish, which always loses everything in translation.  I said, “I’ve only tasted it once and made it never.  Would you come and eat it with me?”

Every single one said an eager yes.  One knew immediately, “I’ll bring rye bread.”  I’ve not been in Alsace so I’ve never asked why, but rye is the only acceptable bread with choucroute.  One agreed, bravely, to make a winemaker’s tart – specialty of the grape harvest in France.  It has a sweet crust, a custard filling, and is studded with what should be the ripest grapes of the current year.  We’re a little lacking in that particular ingredient.  The others volunteered to go to their favorite wine providers here, say “choucroute” and see what happened.

Heating the Riesling with the Spices and Herbs

Heating the Riesling with the Spices and Herbs

Sunday, December 14, was the day of the great choucroute challenge.  I’ve now dubbed my formidable friends, “La Confrerie de la Choucroute.”  (Not all my NJWILDBEAUTY adventures are outdoors…) My friends assembled promptly at 2:30, bearing their specialties.

The Table Awaits...

The Table Awaits…

We began with the sprightly German champagne from Trader Joe’s, Schloss Bieber.  With it, was served a hearty terrine from Brick Farm Market.  It was of pork and lamb — there wouldn’t have been lamb in the Alsatian version.  It was rosy and succulent, studded with fresh green pistachios.  Another dear friend had given me pickled fiddlehead ferns for my birthday, so we savored those instead of traditional gherkins and tiny pickled onions.

Brick Farm Terrine and Fiddlehead Ferns, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Brick Farm Terrine and Fiddlehead Ferns, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the choucroute simmered merrily.

Choucroute about to be put into oven

Choucroute about to be put into oven

It’s more of a technique than a recipe.  I’ll try to recreate it, because, with the help of the Pennsylvania Dutch Farm Market in Kingston/Kendall Park, this magnificent signature dish which absolutely defines that region can be successfully made in America.  And it’s not that hard.  Worrying about whether I might ruin it or not was far harder than just making it.

Buy meats at the PADFM — thick slab bacon, a ham hock, and knockwurst from the smoker right inside the front door.  Buy the plainest sausages (no apples, no chorizo, nothing trendy) — I bought sage and pork, and what I think they called brackwurst — it wasn’t white like the brafwurst I usually get there.  They were rough peasant sausages, and that is what’s called for.

Choucroute Meats on Royal Copenhagen, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Choucroute Meats on Royal Copenhagen, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Buy sauerkraut from the pickle-and-olive man — my recipe for eight called for three pounds, but that didn’t look like quite enough, so I did three and a half pounds.  I checked with him about rinsing the sauerkraut, which my American recipes required.  The French did not seem to get into that, but maybe they think everyone knows. I said, “I don’t want to ruin your wonderful sauerkraut,” as his (probably) grandson, with blonde hair yes in a Dutch boy cut was ladling my order.  “No!,” the elder insisted, “Rinse it!”

Choucroute with Spices

Choucroute with Spices – Dark Bits are Juniper Berries — essential item

I actually cooked the choucroute on Friday for three of the six hours it requires.  I just wanted part of it behind me.

Rinse cabbage and press to drain.

Saute four large yellow onions in bacon fat – I did this in large flat pan in oven with the slab bacon slices, so they rendered their fat and browned the onions.

Mix onions when golden but not dark, with cabbage.

Put layer of cabbage in bottom of crock pot or heavy casserole.

Put smoked ham hock in middle, and ring with knockwurst.  I should have had two of this hefty sausage, and could have used a larger ham hock.  But quantities are not the point here — marrying of flavors is all that matters.

Meanwhile, I was browning all the other sausages in bacon fat in a pan in the oven.  Then I cut those into chunks, but I had not cut knockwurst or ham hock.  I mixed the chunks with the rest of the sauerkraut and put that on top of the first layer and that ham hock and knockwurst.

The bacon slices were beautiful, like antique wood, wide and rich and dark.  I ringed the sauerkraut with them.

I couldn’t figure out, from any of the recipes, how the spices were going to infuse everything.  So I put them in the Riesling (for cooking I bought Ullrich Langguth Riesling from Trader Joe’s — “made from 100% very mature Riesling grapes — fruity, elegant, refreshing acidity” – says the label), in a saucepan and heated just to the simmer for about five minutes.  I poured that concoction immediately over the casserole.

My ingredients come from an array of recipes in French and in English — in effect, juniper berries are the heart of the matter.  I’ve just moved to Juniper Court, so this felt most appropriate.  Some recipes counted the berries and some measured.  You could say 2 tablespoons of juniper berries; 1 tablespoon each of whole black peppercorns and whole cloves or allspice.  Some recipes call for both – that might have been a bit much of that taste.  I put in 6 garlic cloves, cut very thin.  Cumin and coriander are usually part of this, and my new landlord, from India, tells me they help with digestion of meats.  For my recipe for 8, two tsps. ground coriander and two tsps. ground cumin were fine, not overpowering.  I bought those spices at Brick Farm Market, so they were very fresh.  I had inferior bay leaves — nothing equals Williams Sonoma bay leaf wreaths, and I don’t see them this year.  So I used six bay leaves.

This with a lid went into the crock pot on high until it boiled, and I don’t know how long that took; then on low until three hours had passed.  This went into the refrigerator when cool enough.

On Sunday, I took it out at noon and put it in the oven at 350 until it boiled, then on 225, until we reached the three-hour point.

Willm Riesling, from Faith Bahadurian, by Faith Bahadurian

Willm Riesling, from Faith Bahadurian, by Faith Bahadurian

One friend brought Willm Alsace Riesling Reserve, 2012, which was perfect; another brought Alsace Domaine Bott Freres Riesling 2010, which was also perfect.  Some Rieslings are fruitier than others.  I am no connoisseur, but they did blend and enhance with perfection that astonishing choucroute.  The other bottle of Riesling we did not open — it is Alsace Riesling Hugel.  All three wine purveyors were delighted to play the choucroute game.

Choucroute with Bacon

Choucroute with Bacon

If you want to read an expert on this, check out that marvelous chronicler, R.W. Apple, on his family’s choucroute traditions. I am no expert.  Pardon my inadequacies, as I even attempt to convey the savory, subtle, astonishingly light and digestible, beautifully melded dish that filled our plates.

Choucroute and Meats, Rye Bread, by Faith Bahadurian

Choucroute and Meats, Rye Bread, by Faith Bahadurian

Filled our plates twice, because everyone went back for seconds.  You couldn’t taste those spices individually — alchemy had occurred.

The meats had given over all their succulence to the whole, and yet were tasty and somehow almost airy – when I’d frankly expected heavy.  The choucroute gleamed and glistened, fairly leapt off the plate, after all those hours of cooking.  I couldn’t believe it.



Americans frequently add tart apples, and that would be good.  I didn’t do so because I wanted to be authentic.

French, not only Alsatians, add steamed small potatoes, red bliss i would think, in this country.  I didn’t do that because I felt it would be too heavy.

These friends are not trenchermen, but wondrously supportive, even outrageous women, perfectly willing to take this chance together.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them have seconds, come to think of it.

One of us brought the Alsatian winemaker’s tart, which was rustic and beautiful, and carried the theme through delightfully. However, American grapes can’t hold a candle to French, and don’t let anyone tell you they can.

Winemaker's Tart by Pat Tanner, Sugarplums by Faith Bahadurian, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Winemaker’s Tart by Pat Tanner, Sugarplums by Faith Bahadurian, taken by Faith Bahadurian

Faith Bahadurian, who has provided the actual dinner photos, brought sugarplums, which she had made herself!  I’ve never had, but only heard of, sugarplums.  Tiny, rich, dark, intriguing, even a little dangerous (cognac?), they were the perfect climax.  Now we all have ‘visions of sugarplums’.

Visions of... made by Faith Bahadurian, photographed by Faith Bahadurian

Visions of… made by Faith Bahadurian, photographed by Faith Bahadurian

Now imagine, since in Alsace they would have finished the meal with plumliwasser, kirsch, or eau de vie du poire, my visit to the industrial strength Vingo on Route 27, seeking these forms of finale…To their credit, though they clearly thought I was making this up, they checked their computers.  Lo, a young man ultimately arrived bearing a beautiful, jewel-like round and charming bottle:  Belle de Brillet — don’t you love it? – and belle she is.  Liqueur Originale.  Poire Williams au Cognac.  It is not firewater-clear, as is kirsch, as is eau de vie du poire.  It seems that Brillet has been crafting this elixir since 1850.  It is the color of the most luminous honey, only transparent.  I have little Swiss liqueur glasses, from my long-ago marriage. They were our centerpiece.  And they held the Belle de Brillet, to accompany our winemaker’s tart.

I still cannot get over the changes in the sausages, how they enhanced the cabbage.  I have to face it — choucroute is about one of my most cherished concepts — transformation.

And I’m here to tell you that every aspect of this, from light-bulb through phonecalls through research through talking with the sausage lady, the ham hock lady and the sauerkraut man, was a joy.  The cooking was so much easier than I thought, and the sharing paradise.

I didn’t take enough pictures as I was serving.  My guests did.  If they can send them in a form I can save and insert into NJWILDBEAUTY, I’ll do so.

Meanwhile, savor this with us in spirit, and go out and put together your own.  All of the chat rooms I read on this subject seem to imply you can’t go wrong.