Mulled Wine à la Française

Today, I’m taking you all to France.

Doesn’t matter if you’re willing or not. We’re goin’ there. Sorry ’bout it.

Ever since I spent a year studying (and eating) in Lyon, the month of December and the holiday season bring back very specific memories.

Twinkling stars and dazzling colors…

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Hustle and bustle, the sound of haggling voices, shiny gifts…

And wine. Sweet, hot, spiced wine.

One of the most special memories I have of my year living in Lyon is of the Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights. I often heard native Lyonnais residents remark of their snobby adversaries — the Parisians — that they never leave Paris…except to go to the South for vacation during the summer, and to Lyon for the Fête des Lumières.

Centre-ville (downtown) Lyon is guarded by a river on each side – the Saône on the left and the Rhône on the right — as well as a large hill on the left. On the top of the hill, you will find Notre Dame de Fourvière, a beautiful old cathedral that overlooks the entire city. Atop one of its towers sits a huge bronze statue of the Vièrge Marie (Virgin Mary), to whom the cathedral is dedicated.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of cities in Europe have giant churches and statues dedicated to everyone’s favorite virgin. But homegirl is especially special to the Lyonnais. Legend has it (OK, its recorded in history…but doesn’t legend sound cooler?) that though the cathedral wasn’t built until the 1800s, the hill has always had important religious significance to the Lyonnais.  Throughout the years, small churches and chapels have been constructed on the hill. In the 1600’s when the city was fighting a plague (or was it in the 1800’s during a cholera epidemic? I’ve heard different stories…), many people would make an annual trek up the hill to thank the Vièrge Marie for keeping them alive one more year. This tradition grew and grew, until a larger cathedral had to be built.

Each year, on December 8th (the commonly attributed date of the Immaculate Conception), residents began to light candles in their windows honoring Mary for protecting the city. Hundreds still make the trek up to the Colline qui Prie (the hill that prays) to pay their respects. But now instead of just candles being lit in window sills, the entire city lights up.

{click photos to enlarge}

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on the Colline qui Prie, overlooking the city

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Notre Dame de Fourviere, with la Vièrge Marie hidden on the right

And this is the view from the city.

The rest of the city:

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Place des Jacobins

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Cathedrale Saint Jean, which usually looks like this

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Musee des Beaux Arts – these lights changed to tell a 10 minute story

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Only several times per year, Hôtel de Ville (city hall) is opened up to the public…Fête des Lumières is one of those times.

The pictures don’t do it justice…It’s an amazing few days. These photos are from 2008, which means there are 4 more years of amazing photos you can likely find online.

Another lovely thing about December in France (or any European country, for that matter) is Christmas markets.

This is where you go to buy super French hand crafted gifts to send home to your family and friends for Christmas when you’re studying abroad. Tins full of cookies, soaps, artisan foods… you name it, they’ve got it.

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Left- my German colocataire (roommate) and I, neat cuillères & fourchettes (spoons & forks), and beautiful lamps. Right- escargot DUH, and fruit-shaped candles.

Have you spotted the highlight of all of these holiday Frenchie things?

Hint: it’s in my hand in front of Cathedrale St Jean, and in my roomie’s hand at the market…

Vin Chaud. AKA Mulled wine.

Around every corner and at every market during the cold winter months, you will find tables with Frenchies standing behind signs advertising “VIN CHAUD – 1€”

or this guy, charging 2 euro for his ORGANIC vin chaud

Every year since I returned from France, I have craved the stuff.

If you like spiced cider, you will love mulled wine.

If you like wine, you will love mulled wine.

If you like being happy and warm inside, you will love mulled wine.

Have I sold you yet?

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Mulled Wine
serves a small crowd

This is a very make-it-how-you-like-it kind of recipe…I rarely make mulled wine the same way twice. Adjust ingredients to your liking! My only real suggestion is to use a wine that is not too sweet, because you’ll be adding a lot of sweetness to it.

2 bottles red wine (or make it simple and just get a jug of Carlo Rossi)
1-2 oranges or 1/2 can orange juice concentrate
1/3 cup sugar
1-2 cinnamon sticks (ground cinnamon can work in a pinch)
1 tsp whole cloves
1/4 cup brandy (optional)

Place the sugar and spices into a pot and squeeze in juice from the oranges (save half of one of the oranges to slice as garnish). Heat on low until the sugar is dissolved. Add in wine and warm to a simmer, stirring occasionally. I like to add the juiced orange halves to the pot. Taste and adjust according to your preferences. Add more sugar, orange juice, or wine as you see fit! Don’t let the mixture boil, keep it at a simmer. Keep in mind that the longer you simmer, the less alcohol will remain in the wine. Add brandy just before serving…To serve, ladle into cups and enjoy!

Lyon: A Foodie’s Paradise

On Monday, when I shared my recipe for French Ratatouille, I alluded to the fact that I studied abroad in France for a year. I realized that I haven’t talked much about my “French side” (it was one of my majors in college, after all). This was just a French week overall for me, as my roommate and I  even hosted a French friend I met years ago through couchsurfing.org this week!

Before moving to Lyon, I had not been exposed to a lot of what I’d like to call fine dining. It’s not like my parents only ever treated us to Olive Garden and Chevy’s — plus, what kid doesn’t prefer that kind of stuff anyway? But I never really had a taste for it until my later teens. There are a fair amount of high quality restaurants in Santa Barbara, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many college kids who can actually afford them.

In France, being able to go out for a fine dining experience is much more accessible for a larger part of the population. That’s not to say that there aren’t a ton of McDo’s, Subways, and sandwich shops like Brioche Dorée — believe me, there are, and I took full advantage of them and their 3€ sandwiches. But there are also extremely high-quality restaurants who offer a 3-course Menu Fixe for less than 15€.

As part of my study abroad program, we were treated to dinner at a restaurant called La Cuvée several times throughout the year and took little excursions to nearby villages where we were also treated to meals. Here are 3 noteworthy meals from the first semester I was in France, ending with the Most. Epic. Meal of All. Time!!! Everyone I studied with reading this probably already knows which one I’m talking about 🙂

Being that my initial language level was pretty awful, I rarely understood what they said they were feeding us… I will try to be as descriptive as possible!

Before we start, let me just throw it out there that most of my meals looked like this:

I really can’t attest to whether or not my friend Robert and I ate all that warm brie in one sitting…but it is very possible and highly likely.

Our pantry. My side is on the left, and mostly contained nutella and wine. My colocataire was German, and thus knew how to approach European specialties in moderation

Now that we have the ugly truth out of the way, let me show you the good stuff!

(I didn’t always document it, but while browsing these pictures it is safe to assume that multiple bottles of wine are a’flowin.)

“Thanksgiving” Meal in Grenoble, France — November 2008

Considering where we were, this was a fairly decent attempt to treat us University of California students to an American Thanksgiving meal. What do you think?

It started with an apéritif, as is traditional in France.

Salade avec un… breadstick?

Our Thanksgiving plate! Sweet potato, pumpkin gratin, some kind of cranberry, and either chicken or turkey (we couldn’t really tell at the time!)

The best part:

Apple pie!

It was much colder in Grenoble than in Lyon (Grenoble is in the mountains), and it was there we saw our first snow!

La Cuvée — December 2008

This was our second trip to La Cuvée — we had all already grown fond of the restaurant and eagerly looked forward to our return…It didn’t disappoint!

Salade Lyonnaise — A Lyon specialty! Frisée, lardons (bacon), and a poached egg make up some of the key ingredients to the classic salad.

Leg of Lamb, with sauce and veggies

Ice cream with candied orange zest, and Crème Anglaise spiked with Grand Marnier

And without further ado…

The Best Meal of All Time — Chez Marie et Ludovic à Beaujolais — September 2008

You may have heard of Beaujolais before. It is a wine region close to Lyon that releases their wine every fall, and there is a yearly festival to celebrate the Beaujolais Nouveau. Marie and Ludovic are long-time friends of the UC Education Abroad program and each year they open their home in the Beaujolais region to UC students. Marie bakes fresh bread, and Ludovic takes care of producing their wine.

Near the beginning of the year, we had an amazing meal in their home that was followed by a tour of their vineyard and bread-baking ovens.

Pâté

Cornichons (pickles)

OK, keep in mind at this point we were already stuffed from pâté, bread, wine and pickles.

There was a main course, too. Beef!

And of course, dessert from the breadmaker. Sweet brioche and other assorted goodies!

By this point, we were all slightly drunk and ready to explode. See, look how miserable I was:

And yes, I do know now what an idiot I looked like wearing a hoodie in France.

This is Marie, preparing fresh bread for us!

Marie and Ludovic, being adorable and French.

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Sorry for the huge barrage of photos. Can I make it up to you with this gem?

I’m sorry. That picture of me defiling a statue of King Louis XIV just made it worse didn’t it?

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Anyway, will all of my readers do me a favor today?

If you like reading French anecdotes, or travel stories and tips in general, I advise you head on over to my friend Adrienne‘s blog Cultured Chaos. Adrienne and I studied in Lyon together, which means she was present for the above amazing meals — Her birthday is tomorrow and after a not-so-happy couple of weeks, I want to wish her a much happier birthday!

Adrienne lives in NYC and has the travel bug like me (but she actually travels, ahem). Click to see her own take on Lyonnais cuisine, and some wonderful photos she took throughout her own travels in France!

Bon anniversaire, Adrienne!