A Winter Fairytale, With Kings
It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it.
It had been snowing all night, and the ground was covered in a thick blanket of white. The roads were slippery and dangerous, impassable but for the grippiest of cars, and the air was heavy with cold and silence, all sounds of nature and man muffled by the thick, white fluff. My boots crunched through the powder as I walked the white wonderland, while Polly jumped around in glee, her face covered in flakes, her old eyes shining with delight.
Who would ever have imagined we would experience such a thing in SW France?
I’ve never had much experience with snow, given that I grew up in Asia and spent most of my adult years in sunny California. So I can count on my hands the number of the times that I’ve seen it IRL.
Our last viewing actually dates back to Spring of 2015, when we traveled through the Sierra Nevada Mountains along 395 with our friends Todd & Russ. It was cold and beautiful, and the high mountains were sprinkled with white stuff and nary a soul in sight. But that was the remnants of winter. The last time we actually saw snow fall was in 2013 in in Catalina State Park, AZ, another gorgeous spot that we shared with good friends Alex & Ellen. Both moments seem like many lifetimes and multiple adventures ago, yet the wonder of them is so strong that I remember them as sharply as if they happened yesterday.
Today we’re in the SW of France, in another time and another life, and now one more count is etched into my mind.
Flakes of snow are falling, inches of it covering the ground and I am overwhelmed with childish delight. We are surrounded in a blanket of powder, the day of the Kings has come and gone, and the world is standing perfectly quiet and still again.
I’m in my very own fairytale, and this week I share that experience with you.
A Story Of Kings
The first week of January is actually a rather special time in France, with a sweet tradition that dates back to the 14th century.
It’s the story of the Three Kings (the Magi) and their visit to the manger where Jesus was born. Known as the Epiphany, it’s traditionally celebrated on the 6th of January in France with a cake rather aptly known as the Galette Des Rois (The cake of the Kings), usually accompanied by a drink of Cidre and a circle of family or friends.
The two most traditional versions of the cake are a puff-pasty base stuffed with almond-paste frangipane, typically eaten in the North, and a brioche-style cake covered with candied fruit, more commonly consumed in the South. These days there are also all kinds of specialty versions, stuffed with things such as pear, Nutella and more. All of them however share the common element of a feve, a small figurine (or sometimes just a fava bean) hidden inside the cake. And the person that finds the feve gets to be the King or Queen for the day and wear a golden crown.
It’s a wonderful, festive occasion and a lovely way to end the celebrations of Christmas, and this year we decided to embrace the idea completely.
Of course we could have just bought the cake ready-made. Bakeries, markets, supermarkets all have them for sale this week, and there’s many delicious versions easily available everywhere you go.
Just for fun however, I decided to take the challenge to heart by attempting my very first French-style puff pasty (I followed THIS recipe), culminating with a frangipane-version of the cake using a Marmiton recipe. 100% home-made, 100% mine. The quest took several days, and my puff didn’t turn out quite as “light and fluffy” as I’d hoped, but I did get a good flakiness, and the cake itself was absolutely delish. All-in-all a very decent success.
A few days later we were graciously invited to share the tradition with some close neighbors (on another night, with a cake that they made) and it was truly a lovely evening. I enjoyed it tremendously and I think the day of the Kings will become part of our yearly tradition from now on.
A Story Of Snow
It started on Monday, the first day of complete white where snow fell throughout the land.
We woke up to it, like Snow White awaking from her princely kiss, and we both just stared in love and awe. Everything had come to a complete standstill, the roads deserted, the sounds of nature gone, with nothing but the fall of flakes and the white ground blending into a grey sky.
Like a Broadway show, the ballet of winter had come alive.
The dancers were our trees, their branches heavy with snow, intertwined in a winter waltz reaching into the sky. The stage set was our house gates, their hard metal forms rounded and soft, creating sculptures and patterns to frame the whole. It was beautiful and all-absorbing.
Apparently it used to snow like this with regularity in France, at least according to dad and our neighbor friends.
The Don once told me that he remembers huge banks of snow from his childhood, all along the road here, He bemoaned their loss too, since without a proper winter none of the nasty beasties that invade his crops every summer are properly controlled. Even the local town has stories of yearly snow, mostly forgotten in recent times. And the biggest recent occurrence according to dad was in 2010, where snow and a 10-day frost gripped our whole area. A fair while ago and a rare event that has not been matched since.
This particular bout changes all that.
It’s been snowing for days now, on and off, with a bit of melt in-between. Just yesterday we had a handful (around 4 inches), and barely made it up the driveway into our garage with the car. This morning, we’re completely snowed in and won’t be going anywhere until it melts again. Thankfully my pandemic-stocking skills have been finely honed over the past year, so we’re not lacking in anything and will easily make it through, even if the snow ends up lasting several weeks.
Just across the border, our neighbors in Spain have seen unprecedented quantities too. Up to 20 inches have fallen in Madrid, which was reportedly followed by general mayhem and pics of folks skiing through the Capital. Then a mind-boggling temp of -35.8°C (!!!) was recorded at the Vega de Liordes weather station in the NW province of Leon. All record-breaking numbers, in a league all their own.
This has been a helluva snow week, and one to remember.
We Weren’t Really Equipped (“Stuff”-Wise)
Personally, I have to admit we were not really prepared equipment-wise for this week.
Polly is OK thankfully. She has her Ultra Paws Durable Dog Boots (the ones we bought for the stickies at Albuquerque Balloon Festival several years ago), and I’m happy to say they do really well in the snow too. Plus I recently had the foresight to buy Mushers Secret Paw Wax which absolutely works as advertised (I’m totally impressed by it)! Plus of course she’s got her natural thick black fur coat. She’s set, and just loving these temps.
Paul and I, on the other hand, don’t really have the right “stuff”.
I’ve got one pair of boots with reasonable grip, but no proper snow boots. And although we both have all-weather puff jackets, none are really adapted for hard winter weather and lots of wet snow. Plus of course we didn’t think ahead to put snow tires on our car, nor do we have any snow chains (we’ve never needed either up until now!). No doubt we’ll be making some purchases, if/when we ever make it out of our driveway again, even if we won’t use them again for several years.
After all, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s good to be prepared, no?
I’ve Got A Lot To Learn (Camera-Wise)
Camera-wise, I’m happy to say my Nikon D750 is still doing just fine, although I’ve had to learn a bit more about settings for all this snow business.
Photographing snow you see, is not as easy as it might initially seem.
In-camera I’ve had to up my exposure several stops to get the brightness right, as well as correcting the white balance to try to get the whites truly white. Then I’ve had to adjust in Photoshop afterwards to get rid of the latent blue overtones that always seem to creep in no matter what I do. For the latter, if you’ve been struggling like me with this, I highly recommend this quick snow-post-processing tutorial I found at fstoppers.com. I still can’t say I get it picture perfect every time now, but the tutorial has certainly helped me improve the color balance in my snow pics overall.
Lastly, I still haven’t mastered a good macro pic of a snowflake (like THIS guy!!), and that is one challenge I would really LOVE to achieve before all this white stuff disappears. I’m using my trusty old Zeikos Extension Tubes, and I’m getting closer, but I still haven’t quite got “the one”, at least not one I’m willing to share on the blog yet. I’ll keep working on it though and will let you know when/if I get it.
Either way, photographing snow is a fantastically fun experiment.
The Fairytale Was Wonderful
I guess part of the wonder of snow, is not having seen too much of it?
If you get it every year, and it lasts for months I can imagine you don’t really get that excited about it. The novelty wears off quickly (I can totally see that) and after a few weeks you are probably well and truly over it. Snow and cold are after all, not really that much fun in the long run.
But perhaps our experience this week reflects the key to all that, and in turn…rather interestingly…to the joys of life itself. If you don’t over-do the good stuff, if you cherish it, and deliberately enjoy it sparingly, in the way that the “heart grows fonder” kind of thing, then perhaps that is the best balance of all?
I thought a lot about that this week, as we went through our fairytale of white and Kings.
With everything happening in the news…COVID, vaccines, hospital overloads, political craziness and so on….it’s been really nice to have this momentary distraction and to pretend that we’re far, far away from it all, if only for a while. I know it won’t last and I guess that makes it all the more special. This week felt true, and normal, and adventurous, like life used to be before it all. A fiction perhaps, but a very pleasant one indeed, and that is something I can carry with me for a long, long time.
How do YOU feel about snow my friends? Perhaps those of you who grew up with it are well and truly over it, but perhaps others feel the awe like I do? Either way I’d love to hear your thoughts. DO share and comment below!SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Hi. Many years ago, we lived in the mtns, and I remember most clearly the hush and quiet all around while it was snowing. It was SO quiet and felt so special. I loved watching the snowflakes fall. So peaceful. ❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄❄
YES!!! The quiet. It’s the first thing I noticed. When the snow was falling and we had thick blankets on the ground, everything was muffled and so…so…quiet. Incredibly special.
Linda Sand says
When we were young adults we were into snowshoeing and cross-country skiing which helped us get through the long Minnesota winters. Now we stay inside and enjoy the view of the nature preserve across the road from us. But, I’m ready for the spring melt to hit which definitely won’t happen this month. 🙂
I like the idea of snowshoeing, and keep meaning to try it (still haven’t!). Maybe I’ll head up into the mountains next week and give it a go.
Winter has been a bit of a disappointment in Northern NV … only 1 decent storm in the valley, but at least it’s snowed pretty well up in the Sierras.
Sandy hit the nail on the head … the utter calm and serenity after a storm is a much needed reset on my tumultuous, flip-floppy mind.
Nina, can I ask which booties you bought for Polly? The DH & I are looking at property in Wyoming that seems to be covered with small cactus plants with lots of prickles. Maybe these could help our two Shibas when we’re walking the area and checking out lots.
YES absolutely! We bought the Ultra Paws Durable Dog Boots from Amazon. They’re not infallible, but they’ve lasted very well indeed, and really did help with the horrible stickies at Albuquerque Balloon Festival.
Denise Johnson Isaacs says
Your description of this special time brings me such peace just reading it. Your writing style is so very real in both good and not so good times . . .I love that I get to share your wonderful experiences . . .many virtual hugs to you and your wonderful family.
Thank you for your lovely comment 🙂 Glad I get to share all this.
Jeff T says
Reading of your experiences brings to mind some RV snow experiences we have had. In November 2008 we were in Catlina State Park, had just pulled in. I needed to dump so was at the dump station near the entrance. Grey overcast skies, a brisk breeze. I’m standing there listening to the holding tanks unload, and it starts snowing. Christmas 2009 we spent in Johnson City Texas. The weather forecast was for in about two days so we beat feet to Las Cruces NM to have a decent place to hang. We got about 4 inches overnight. he morning dawned clear and cold, quiet and beautiful.
I have not tried photography in the snow in years. The best photo I ever got was with my old Kodak Instamatic. It was about 1:00 am. I looked out my bedroom window as the snow falling, it was as light as day. The photo shows the large puffy flakes, the trees and the tall grass.
Thank-you so much for sharing your thoughts and observations. I anticipate the next blog for a week.
How FUN that you also had snow at Catalina State Park! I love that place. We only managed to stay once in our US travels, but I have such fond memories of it. A beautiful park in a beautiful setting. And I love the story of your pic w/ your old Kodak Instamatic. Sometimes I do miss my old cameras.
Another Texas Traveller says
It snowed here today in DFW. Too warm to even cover the grass but we enjoyed it. We don’t remember it snowing at all last year. We’re much more likely to get black ice instead. We just stay home then as even 4 wheel drive won’t help!
Black ice scares me!!! Again, I’ve not had much experience with it given that I haven’t lived in many cold areas, but I know it’s very dangerous. We’re getting sun today and then it’s going to cool down again, so I imagine those are perfect conditions for ice. I will have to be careful!
Your pictures and words make the snow look like a fairy tale wonderland. I’m glad you are all enjoying it.
Having lived through some 70 odd winter wonderlands, you’ll forgive me if we don’t want to experience it ever again. It was fun when we were kids, we saw it through your eyes. Exciting, fun to go out and play in, exercising our creativity turning plow piles into igloos, sled hills, etc. Exciting to wake up early and hear the “silence” of a big snowfall and wondering (tingling with excitement really) if school would be closed and we could go back to bed! Fun to pour maple syrup on cups of snow to make delicious slushies (beware of yellow snow, however). Eating dinner in front of a roaring log fire and turning the outside lights on to watch the blizzard race past the windows. Waking up to your yard completely white, untouched and sparkling in the blue after storm skies.
But….the joy of the winter wonderland pales as one gets older. Yes, I know, if one cultivates the sport of skiing the snowy landscape can still bring enjoyment. Scraping snow and ice off your car in the morning, sitting on your blue hands as you drive to work (until the heater really warms the steering wheel), wet boots with salt lines on the toes, repeating the whole process at the end of the day. Carrying buckets of water, through snow drifts (whose depth are difficult to judge in the dark mornings or early evenings) and dumping most of it on yourself as you fall down and lose a boot, finally getting to the barn and finding that the huge sliding doors have frozen shut (or open as the case may be), horses always being on the wrong side. Trying to break the ice in the barn buckets, picking the huge balls of ice out of the horses hooves (that reform again almost instantly), more blue fingers…….I’ll say no more, I’m afraid I’ve been buzzkill. but….you did ask.
I can almost taste your King Cake, however. I was hoping you’d use the almond paste version, my mouth was watering as I looked at the pictures.
HA! I probably needed the reality check. A few days of this has me dreaming of living in snow-drenched winter lands, but I can totally see how that would get old very, very quick. Winters in the SW desert are a very nice alternative.
The first snow … always the best. Magical. So quiet. So still. Living in the tropics, I REALLY appreciated this post. Thank you Nina!
It really did feel magical….like a fairytale. I’m so glad we got to experience it.
There is a reason we spend winters in Arizona but I will have to admit that first Montana snowfall–in 2020 it fell on Labor Day, September 7–is always beautiful. It’s the snow in March and April that drove us to spend winters in Arizona!
I can imagine a few weeks of snow is nice, and then it probably gets old. I can totally understand why you seek the desert in winter.
Try finding some children’s bubbles. You know the ones with soap in them and a stick to shape the bubble. Have some dark fabric and make a bubble. It will freeze into a beautiful crystal globe. Put it on the fabric and take pictures of it. It has to be very cold out. Show us your pics.
Ooooooo…..this sounds totally intriguing!! Temps are warming up again over the next days, so we’ll have to see if I have enough time to make it happen, but I LOVE the idea!
Oh how delightful. I usually detest the cold but fluffy white snow laying thick over the world and the all encompassing absence of sounds it affords is something I always enjoy. We haven’t had such winter in the UK in years, but winter is just started so who knows.
Enjoy the snow and make sure to create at least one abominable snowman ⛄⛄⛄⛄⛄
Can you believe I forgot to make a snowman?????? I guess I was having too much fun photographing. Hope you get a little dusting up there, especially with your lock-down. It would be a lovely distraction for all.
Mary VanHaverbeke says
What a wonderful post! Mark and I spent the last few months Campground hosting in a closed Campground at Hyde Memorial state park above Santa Fe New Mexico. We had the most wonderful snows while we were there! Our dog was in fluffy dog heaven and it was like we had a Forest to ourselves. After 1 snow family came up to go sledding on a very steep Road up to some remote campsites. It was a wonderful time!
I think I know exactly where that campground is! What a lovely, secluded spot to host. Beautiful country, and not far from Santa Fe at all. A forest in winter snow is a wondrous thing.
Happy new year! I’d say you’ve got the snow photography skills perfected already. Such lovely photos! Best wishes to you all for 2021, and heartfelt thanks for sharing your blog. It’s a weekly highlight and respite to our secluded life.
Thanks so much, and thanks for following me all this time 🙂
Janet bickham says
What a wonderful way to describe snow! I love seeing it, but from a warm window! Thanks for posting your blog, I enjoy your blogs, janet
Pamela Wright says
Gorgeous winter photos!! I love, love Polly’s boots. So darn cute. Having been away from real snowy winters for 11 years, I appreciate seeing a little snow on rare occasion. But I always enjoy seeing beautiful winter photos posted by others. I applaud your tackling the King Cake. It’s looks and sounds wonderful. Yum!!
Polly does look super cute in her booties. She’s not terribly keen on wearing them, but she does put up with it. And she really does enjoy the grip she gets with them on.
Lee and Shelia Brandt says
What beautiful writings you have done. We just learned about the Kings Cake and wife celebrated it at Women’s Fellowship last Wednesday and now I read this. Can’t wait til she gets homs so I can shared with her.
Thank You Nina for the many hours (1 at a time) reading your blog over the years….. Lee and Shelia
Oh HOW FUN!! SO glad you enjoyed a Kings Cake. Lovely.
Dolores Tanner says
You know, snow is pretty, but if you have to go to work every day there is just SO much to do, shovel, stuff sticking to you, getting in the house, melting, just making a mess.. then sometimes, it freezes into odd shapes and you can’t get over the ‘berms’ of snow walls on the road.. OR the snow plow comes along just after you get done shoveling the driveway and places 3 feet of ice and slush right at the end of the drive and you once again can’t get out and have to chunk it out with an ax. that being said, THIS year we have, so far, had no snow at all!!! Dire dryness for the summer months….
Have also learned if the snow is falling and you use your flash you can see/get highlighted individual flakes all about.. (nothing like that individual one that guy above took tho)
A gal in Maple Valley, WA says
Did the locals start planting tender plants when the snow stopped coming? Did your ‘winter wonderland’ hurt/freeze any of your plants? Anyone sledding on the roads? Were sleigh rides with horses anywhere to be found?
My favorite winter shots were of water moving under thin ice. Smooth snow bank then crusty ice to clear icicle drops into the transparent sheet on the trickle of water.