The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
There's nothing more seasonal than vin chaud, the delicious hot spicy wine, served at Christmas markets and bars all over France during the winter. The smells of cinnamon, orange, cloves and star anise mixed with pungent red wine are redolent of the festive season and hard to resist. The first whiff of the year instantly puts me in a christmassy mood. It wouldn't be Christmas for me without vin chaud.
photo credit: dierk schaefer via photopin cc
Vin chaud exists in varying forms in many parts of the world, with local modifications depending on regional produce. It's perhaps most well-known as the German/Austrian version glühwein, or British mulled wine. In Scandinavia it's called glögg or gløgg and in Italy vin brulé. Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, the Baltic States, Romania, Croatia and Hungary all make their own hot wines with similar spices as do Brazil, Chile and Canada. In Quebec maple syrup is added to hot red wine to make a drink called Caribou. Mmmm that sounds good!
Vin chaud is not only a Christmas drink, it's also served in ski resorts as an indispensable part of the après-ski experience. There's nothing so warming after a cold session on the slopes than a fragrant glass or mug of hot wine.
Every year at Lou Messugo we have a Christmas party that has become know simply as our "Vin Chaud". We started the tradition back in 1994 when we lived in Hanoi, Vietnam, and it has taken place in six different locations in France since then as we've moved house from central Paris, to the suburbs and down to the Côte d'Azur. We make vat loads for 100 or so people and the quantities of the ingredients are fairly random but it always works out well and the house is infused with a gorgeous christmassy smell. It's very simple to make, especially in smaller quantities.
Using the above ingredients: place the sugar, water or OJ and all the spices in a pan on a high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then reduce the heat to low and add the red wine and brandy, stir to combine, and bring back to a simmer (don't let it boil). Slice the lemon and orange and add to the mix. Keep at a very low heat for the whole time you are serving it - your house will be infused with delicious spicy aromas. Sometimes I stud the orange with cloves making a pomander in which case I don't slice the orange and need a lot more than a pinch of cloves. I usually do this when making large quantities, not just a small amount like in this recipe. The choice of water or OJ is up to personal preference and some people might like either more or less sugar.
Walking around towns in France at Christmastime you might see cafés with signs like the above. It means homemade mulled wine (not house of vin chaud) and it's sure to be good. It may be possible to sit out on a heated terrace while sipping your mulled wine, warming your hands around the hot mug. Or else you can get a disposable cup of takeaway wine to savour as you walk around the market.
photo credit: gajman via photopin cc
Do you like vin chaud? Is it something you drink at Christmas too? I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks to Caro at Taste of Savoie for the lovely snowy photo of vin chaud.
We have a crazy robin at Lou Messugo: he sits on a bar across the windowsill and regularly, every minute or so, flies into the window, tapping it with his beak. I can hear the noise fom the other end of the house. It's like someone's throwing pebbles at the window to get our attention. It seems quite deliberate and has been going on for a few days now. He also sings his heart out. Which is nice. I just don't like him throwing himself at the window. Not only might he get hurt but it's making a greasy smudgy mark on the glass (and there's an awfull lot of bird poo on the window sill too!)
I decided to see if I could find out why he was displaying this manic behaviour and put the question to the British Ornithological Society on their Facebook page. And this is what I found out. The most likely answer is that robins are fiercly territorial and he probably thinks his reflection is another bird, so he keeps on trying to attack his rival. I haven't been able to get a good photo of this behaviour myself as I get too much glare from the glass, which is of course dirty too, but I'll keep on trying.
Or maybe he's just showing off, as Frances Hodgson Burnett says in one of my favourite books, The Secret Garden, "nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off - and they are nearly always doing it."
We seem to have a few robins in the garden, so I don't know how far their territory stretches but there's obviously enough room for more than one here. This is also nice as we don't have many other birds around except wood pigeons at this time of year. We also have robins in the house, in the form of Christmas cards. This one is my favourite.
The robin's association with Christmas dates from the mid 19th century when according to Wikipedia, the fountain of all knowledge, they took on a "starring role" on Christmas cards. This is most likely because postmen in Victorian Britain wore red jackets and were nicknamed "Robins", thus the robin on the Christmas card is representative of the postman delivering the card. Surely it's also as simple as the fact that colourful, bright robins feature strongly in winter landscapes and look decorative on a card.
I love seeing the first robin of winter, it always feels christmassy to me, even if it has suicidal tendancies and poos all over my window sill!
What birds do you have in your garden? Have you come across this peculiar behaviour before?
photo credit (robin): Mrs Airwolfhound via photopin