New Year’s Eve should have been a success. It usually consists of a 10 hour marathon in the village hall which starts with an aperitif at 8 o’clock and finishes with onion soup at 6am. In between time, you try to swallow an inordinate amount of food, most of which you don’t get to see the colour of before midnight. You dance between courses to compound indigestion and the meal ends with coffee at about 4 am. Seeing daybreak (and the onion soup) is a gift given to the chosen few – those who possess the secret knowledge of pacing alcohol consumption. It is true survival of the fittest.
Not so this year.
My daughter woke up with a headache and tummy ache on the morning of the 31st. I had been expecting the worst ever since she had been round to play with a friend a few days before. The friend had since come down with a bad bout of gastric flu and although I had been practising frantic germ damage control, my plans had been thwarted by the fact that they had made cookies together. She brought a batch home and they were consumed by the whole family – gateaux à gastro I called them, or belly bug biscuits if you prefer.
She slept all day and woke up feverish half an hour before we were due to leave. As for myself, I had put my back out in the night – the sound of bones grinding together had woken me up and I was feeling incapacitated and sorry for myself. My long suffering husband who was up to his neck with the lambing anyway, suggested that we give the party a miss and stay at home.
The New Year’s Eve feast is sacred to the French, so hence began my frenzied search through cupboards for a 5 course, gourmet meal that could be knocked up in 20 minutes. An in-depth examination of the freezer revealed 7 snails, probably left over from Christmas, the year before. As I put them into the oven, I calculated that 3 and a half snails each was probably a bit on the light side for the most important meal of the year, but my husband had come just come in brandishing a bottle of champagne and I didn’t give it another thought.
A few glasses later, I remembered the snails. The butter had evaporated and the snails (when we managed to coax them out) were black, wizened, chewy things, glued to the inside of their shells. We quickly knocked up some garlic bread (the freezer also containing a copious amount of baguettes) and downed a drop of Spanish red.
I felt as light as air when it was time to go up to the bergerie* to see if any of the sheep required the midwifery services of my very competent, if slightly merry husband. Midnight must have struck when he had his hands somewhere in the nether regions of a ewe having difficulties giving birth. It was nothing if not a memorable evening. Bonne année mon chéri!
*Bergerie Sheep fold – the building where we keep our 270 sheep