It's 2014, and our family is embarking on our virtual travel to West Africa. To explore these countries and their culture, we will follow along with the festivals, cook and eat traditional foods, learn of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Our French Canadian Roots: Christmas Tradition of 'Le Réveillon' & Recipe for Tourtiere (Meat Pie)

We've been getting ready for Christmas, a time of year filled with so many traditions. As a family, we've "created" our own traditions over the years based on our preferences. It's also the time of year that we share with our children the Christmas traditions we grew up with - and the most important Christmas celebration for many French Canadians is 'Le Réveillon'.

Le Réveillon takes place Christmas eve. Families gather together, attend midnight mass and return to a feast, festive merriment and the opening of presents. "Réveillon" is the French word for "awakening" and everyone is up and awake for most of the night, getting sustenance to remain awake with the food (and libations) offered during the midnight meal. It's celebrated throughout Quebec, many areas in Northern Ontario and in many Acadian communities in the Maritimes.

Hubby and I both share memories of staying up for réveillon. Some of my fondest Christmas memories were when we visited my maternal grandparents over Christmas. Celebrations included my mothers seven brothers and sisters, and her very many aunts and uncles who came by after church. My earliest memories are rather blurry - not with time, but with the quality of dreams as I remember often nodding off to the sound of raucous singing of traditional French Christmas songs, desperately trying to stay up with the adults.  As I grew older, and my aunts & uncles started having children, celebrations became a little tamer. We started attending church earlier, first at 10pm, then at 8. We continued to gather afterwards at my grandparents for the traditional feast, and wait for Pere Noel to stop by at midnight (invariably an uncle who had stepped out). Gifts were handed out, and while the kids played the adults did their exchange before everyone headed home packing up their sleeping children.

The réveillon feast usually included ham, stew, cheese, crackers, patés and crudités. It has changed and adapted over the years, but there are 3 dishes that are always present: Tourtiere, Tarte au sucre, and Buche de Noel. The sugar pie is a delicious, incredibly sweet pie made essentially with sugar (find our recipe here) and is what I always looked forward to eating. Buche de Noel is a cake shaped like a yule log, and growing up it was always an ice cream log. I remember being so excited to be given the task to go down into the cellar and get "la buche de Noel" from the deep freeze. 

Buches de Noel (Christmas Logs)
Photo Credit: Appaloosa
The centerpiece of the réveillon meal is the tourtiere. It's a French Canadian meat pie, and essential for a proper réveillon. Hubby and my Acadian brother in law both remember looking forward to digging in to tourtiere the minute they were allowed, and don't consider it Christmas without one. 


Though our family is much smaller, being a blended family we have many, many different schedules to juggle over Christmas, so we don't celebrate réveillon every year. When we do, we have a Christmas dinner of ham and all the trimmings with my sister, and other family members in town around supper time on Christmas eve. We then stay up playing games and singing carols until midnight, at which point the kids race to their stockings and gifts are exchanged between the adults. Then the tourtiere comes out with fanfare, though at this point the kids are usually asleep on the couch. Families return to their homes, get to sleep in a little on Christmas morning, though not nearly as much as you'd think considering how late the kids were up. Like many families in North America, we are shaken awake by the girls to open their presents under the tree. For breakfast, we pull out a second tourtiere.


Makes one 9" deep dish meat pie

Tourtiere recipes are a little different with each family, and can be vastly different depending on the area you are from. In certain regions of Quebec, they are made with finely diced meat with either beef, pork, veal and/or wild game. The tourtieres hubby and I grew up with (and continue to enjoy) are made of ground meat. Some have only ground pork, while others have a combination of ground pork and another meat - beef, veal, even goose. My grandmother made with a combination of pork and beef, and that's what I do as well. Although tourtieres are associated with Christmas, we eat them all year round - especially when my father or hubby's parents are visiting. They make a great breakfast (or lunch, or supper) eaten traditionally with baked beans. Some people like theirs with ketchup, and others with gravy (though my mother was aghast at this addition - which I guess means isn't common in Quebec).

The meat filling needs to be made ahead of time in order to cool before putting it into a pie crust. It also takes some time to make the filling, so this isn't a quick weekday meal. I like to double the recipe to make two, put them in the freezer and take them out to bake on Christmas eve. You can make your own favorite pie crust recipe, but since I rarely succeed with pie crust, I just buy 9" deep dish pie crusts. 

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 deep dish pie crusts
1. Heat oil on medium heat in a large skillet and cook onions until golden and translucent, for about 10 minutes.

2. Mix the two meats together in a bowl with your hands, then add to the onions and cook, stirring for about 10 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink. While stirring, break up any clumps - you want the texture to be a fine crumb. 

3. After 10 minutes, add the diced potato, the broth and the spices. Cook on low for about 45 minutes, until the juices are reduced and the potatoes start to fall apart. Stir occasionally, again making sure to break up any clumps. Season with salt and pepper to taste, take off the burner and let cool. At this point, I take a potato masher and go over the filling a couple times to make sure there are no clumps of meat - but then I'm especially particular about not biting into a clump of meat. Once cooled down, refrigerate until completely cooled, approximately 3 hours. 

4. Fill a pie crust with the meat filling, packing it down. Cover with your second pie crust, "smoosh" down and trim the edges. (Though storebought, doesn't that pie crust look homemade? It's all about the decorative "smooshing"). Cut a few (or many) slits to release the steam while it's cooking. 

5. Cover the crust in an egg wash - whisk an egg with a little bit of water and brush this over the crust. Bake in the oven at 375F until golden brown, approximately 45min - 1 hour. Let cool slightly before serving. 

Enjoy! And have a wonderful Christmas!

This post has been written as part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs 'Christmas In Different Lands' series. Each day of December up until the 25th a different blogger around the world will share a part of their family Christmas. Check back each day for seasonal inspiration, from crafts to recipes, family traditions and more!

Find our other French Canadian recipes here.

You can find more posts exploring culture, history and geography at All Things Beautiful 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Our Weekend in a Nutshell

Can I just say that I can't believe we are already well into December? Where has the time gone? I may possibly be feeling a little bit stressed about having everything ready and done on time for Christmas!

At least, the decorating has been done. This past weekend we went to get our tree. We were gung ho in the morning for a day out in the country - I even made a fresh batch of cookies and had a thermos filled with hot chocolate, and hubby packed a picnic. Then as we neared our destination, about 1 1/2 hours away, we found ourselves in freezing rain. If you've ever been to Nova Scotia, then you would know it's very important to check the weather forecast the morning of your outing - not count on the mild, dry weather called for the night before. All that early morning food preparation distracted us from this important step. Traipsing about a tree farm to find the perfect tree and cut it is great fun in the cold, in the snow, in grey weather - but not so much in freezing rain. (You can see how nice it was last year here). To the girls benefit though, I must say they weren't to be deterred. I was frankly taken aback. I certainly didn't want to get soaked. So we planned on getting one near the parking area, and lo and behold the perfect tree was right there waiting for us! By the way, lots of other families were headed out in the rain through the farm - which had me feeling a bit wimpy, but likely also much drier :) 

My sister, brother in law and five year old nephew met us there, and after their tree was cut, also near the parking area, we headed to a working 19th century farm for their Christmas in the Country event. It was a lot of fun - Elle made some crafts, we tasted plum pudding for the first time (if you don't like raisins - and we don't - you won't like this no matter how much you want to), and generally enjoyed the old fashioned, country Christmas feeling. It's been great having so many community Christmas events to enjoy. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Our Weekends in a Nutshell

I have been remiss. My father - provinces away, proud grandpa - pointed out that he hasn't seen updates about our family time. Admittedly, a lot of it is spent on homework - but we have ventured out for a few seasonal activities. 

Over the past two weekends, we enjoyed two Christmas festivals. We headed to the picturesque town of Mahone Bay for the Father Christmas festival, where the town has many life sized Father Christmas' throughout (bottom left photo). We go there nearly every year, though the girls have outgrown the gingerbread house making station. Elle still loves to make them, just not in a room full of strangers.  We checked out a gingerbread house competition, participated in a cookie walk while Elle pointed out which cookies were worthy, were amazed at the Land of Christmas fantasies and got a mini tree from Charlie Brown's tree lot.

We also enjoyed A Victorian Christmas at our city's fort (Citadel Hill) complete with old fashioned carolers, dancing and Father Christmas. After much grumbling from the proud teens, I got us all in front of the green screen offered during that day's events for the silly postcard seen below - my fake "we're barreling down a hill" facial expression looks a little demented, and the girls got the only two adult sized Santa hats so that mine would be better off on a cat, and why wouldn't Elle be holding a large plastic candy cane?. Yup, silly. And I love it :)

All in all, a great start to the festive (and busy) season ahead!

(I'm also quite happy to report that I finally have my other website up! Now to see how well I manage both blogs!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our French Canadian Roots: Recipe for Acadian Ployes | Buckwheat pancakes Part 2

Sharing our French Canadian heritage with a monthly recipe from our childhood, hoping to inspire similar traditions and memories for our daughters

Both Hubby and I grew up with buckwheat pancakes. In Quebec, they are crepes au sarasin, that is thin buckwheat crepes with or without a filling, drizzled with maple syrup. In New Brunswick, an Acadian breakfast treat are ployes, buckwheat pancakes, topped with butter and brown sugar and often eaten with baked beans.

Find our recipe for Crepes au Sarasin & Maple Baked Beans

We were at a tourism conference with a section on Acadian heritage when both pepere, Hubby's father, and Hubby excitedly came to get me with warm, sweet treats in their hands. Not having eaten them in years, they were excited to get their hands on these breakfast treats, instantly drawing Hubby back to his youth when his memere (grandmother) would make them. This is how the girls and I were introduced to ployes, small buckwheat pancakes, topped with brown sugar. We found a recipe and have been enjoying them every few months ever since. Traditionally, these were a griddle "bread", an inexpensive filler eaten with most meals.

Acadian Ployes

Serves 4

  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 3/4 cup boiling water

1. Sift together dry ingredients. Add the cold water and stir into a thick dough. Add the boiling water, and whisk until smooth.

2. Heat an ungreased pan or griddle until a drop of batter sizzles when dropped on the pan. Pour a tablespoon full onto the hot pan, and let cook, without flipping, until the top surface is dry, approximately 3-4 minutes.

To enjoy, spread with butter and brown sugar. And you don't need a fork - this is breakfast finger food (unless you're having them with beans...). Just fold in half and dig in. 

Find our other French Canadian recipes here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Make a Gris Gris {West African Good Luck Charms}

A gris-gris (or grigri) is an amulet or talisman believed to bring the wearer good luck and/or protection from bad luck. Though some associate them with voodoo, gris-gris are commonly used by people throughout West Africa, whether Muslim, Christian or animist. Gris-gris are considered powerful, and are used as lucky charms, keeping the wearer safe and in good health. They're also considered protection against bad luck, bad neighbors, bad employers or even against sorcery. They can be worn around the neck, arms, waist, attached to belts and bags. Babies often wear one (or more) as a necklace or on tummy belts to keep them safe. In this gallery, you can see gris-gris as they are worn (you'll see lots of cute babies wearing them).

A West African Tuareg Gris Gris from Niger
Photo Credit: Teo Gomez
Gris-gris are often small leather pouches that come in different shapes, sizes and colors. They often contain a verse from the Qur'an and/or items for luck such as dried plants and roots, coins, locks of hair, and animal bones. They can be carved in the shape of animals, decorated with designs, included beadwork or metal - some families have generations old personal designs on them.

Make Your Own Gris-Gris - A West African Good Luck Charm

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