Of vines and designs. What do you see in these vines? Dancers? Waves? Share your vision, here in the comments box.

le pif (peef) noun, masculine

    : nose (slang), schnozzle

au pif = at a rough guess, at random
cuisiner au pif
= cooking by guesswork

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Being snowed in for the weekend brought out the pioneer-survivalist inside of my family and me, along with a snowy sprinkling of creativity.

What with the roads around our farm frozen full of snow...  my family and I got to thinking: did we have enough food in our frigo?

A quick inventaire revealed two pints of milk, four eggs, and a funny looking root... shriveled and tough as an old French boot!

So as not to be stuck with a chewy omelette de gingembre, I riffled through the cupboards, the congélateur and even the drawers!

A note in the freezer read "selle d'agneau"... lamb something... (What "selle" was I did not know... but we needed to eat, so out came the selle, and into a marmite!)

I added herbs and spices to the cubed viande...
turned the last bottle of vinegar balsamique on its "ear"... added two old potatoes (cubed), an onion, and a tomato for good cheer!

Four hours later and wouldn't you know... it all tasted délicieux—just like Provençal daube!

"C'est excellent, c'est bon! Encore, mamannous l'aimons!" Outside the window, the icicles grew and grew, but inside the farmhouse four presque pioneers enjoyed the magic of "make do".


Post notes: Read about how Jean-Marc eventually drove the tractor to town for groceries... and see a favorite photo gallery of our snowed-in farm in Cinema Verite.

Finally, if I am having fun in the kitchen, this is with many thanks to my friend Ann Mah. Ann invited me to speak last November, at the American Library in Paris... after which we had a bite to eat.

At the table Ann inquired, "Do you enjoy cooking?" When I mumbled something about not knowing, Ann said that she sincerely doubted that, and even suspected the contraire...

Ann's remark put espoir in my oven and a tickle in my teapot! And since, I have been cooking everything from croissants to beef—cracking open cookbooks, but doing things mostly au pif!


It is my pleasure to announce Ann's forthcoming book, Kitchen Chinese.

Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah I could list a dozen reasons why you should order Ann's Kitchen Chineseillico presto—instead, I'd like to simply say merci beaucoup!: without Ann, my Simon & Schuster book may have never seen the light of day: it was Ann, whom I had yet to meet and who, living in Beijing at the time, forwarded my blog to la grande maison d'edition. Five years later, and a move to Paris, and Ann's book is about to see the light of day. Would you please join me (via the comments box) in wishing her Hip hip hooray! (It helps to say it as the French do):


Eep eep oooh rhay! Eep eep oooh ray!

More about Kitchen Chinese:

After her magazine career craters, Isabelle Lee, the narrator of Mah’s super sharp debut, leaves New York to reconnect with her family roots in China. Her familiarity with the language and culture limited to “kitchen Chinese,” Isabelle lands a job at a magazine for the expatriate community in Beijing and finds a circle of friends. However, her relationship with her big-shot attorney sister, Claire, who’s lived in China for a while, gets off to a rocky start, with the two not knowing quite what to make of each other. Isabelle’s Beijing immersion, coupled with her chick lit arc, provides a refreshing and fun narrative, helped along by a fantastic heroine whose insights into modern China and the expatriate experience will intrigue readers. It’s a great start for a writer with much promise. — Publishers Weekly

Thank you for ordering Ann's book illico and eep eep vite! Click here! Then tell a friend or a fellow foodie about it.


French Vocabulary & Audio file
(uncut! hear my daughter... and me... pronounce these French words:  Download MP3

le frigo (m) = fridge

un inventaire (m) = inventory

une omlette de gingembre (f) = ginger omelette

le congélateur (m) = freezer

la selle d'agneau (f) = lamb saddle

la marmite (f) = cooking pot

la viande (f) = meat

balsamique = balsamic

délicieux = delicious

la daube (f) = stew, casserole

C'est excellent, c'est bon! Encore maman—nous l'aimons = it's excellent, it's good. Mom--we love it!

presque = almost

un espoir (m) = hope

au pif = by guesswork

illico presto = right away

merci beaucoup = thank you so much

la grande maison d'édition = big publishing house

vite = fast (this word is not pronounced on our sound file)


A Day in a Dog's Life...
by Smokey Dokey

I think I'll be a photographer when I grow up. Here are my first two subjects: Grandma K (she thinks we need to find a better name for her... she has this thing with "words") and that's Robert Kral, who came to sample some wines back in November. No, Robert is not wearing a party hat, or even a reef--those are papyrus shoots (between you and me, they're the only greens that Gramma K can grow. Just don't tell her I told you so!)

love and bisous,


P.S.: who needs a yardstick to measure snow when a gool ol' paw will suffice?


Paris blanket  A Day in Paris France : Eiffel Tower Cotton Tapestry Throw Blanket
A high quality Woven throw, made in USA. Great decoration for home, office, excellent to hang on wall, fold on bed, etc.

French in Action : A Beginning Course in Language and Culture, the Capretz Method: Part One

501 French Verbs with CD presents the most important and most commonly used French verbs arranged alphabetically with English translations in chart form, one verb per page, and conjugated in all persons and tenses, both active and passive.

TRESOR by Lancome "possesses a blend of lilac and apricot, with lower notes with amber and musk."

Learn French with Fluenz software Learn French with Fluenz French.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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I see vines in need of pruning... :).

Are you telling us, Kristin, that Smokey was behind the camera? :D

How is the neige level today?


I see rows and rows of whales' tails.

Bill in St. Paul

I see antennae sticking up from the roofs of houses that have been buried by the snow.

Based on how wet Smokey looks, your snow must be fairly wet. Did you get out and make a snowman or have a snow ball fight?


Ann's blog is at I enjoy it.

In the picture I see black birds floating in the snow.



The stark contrast between the vines and the snow, the branches reaching up to the sky - a wonderful knitting design for that warm winter pullover! Now let me go write that pattern...


When looking at vines I often see arms reaching out and hands reaching up to God.

Debbie Turner Chavers

Telegragh poles,is what I thought!
Congratulations! To Ms. Mah.

Anne Widmann

Wellllllll, sort of looks like the dessert that is called Napoleons (chocolate lines are made on a whipped cream top & then you drag the chocolate to make the design)...haven't had breakfast yet....:)


I see electrical poles and power lines, but a lot of them! Must be at a generating plant...


It's waves of dancers.


I see skiers!

Linda R.

I see the beautiful contrast in dark and light that one finds only in a snow-covered winter landscape.

Karen - Maryland, USA

I'm with Paula - arms outstretched, looking up to the heavens. I guess one might calls them "Vineus Snow Angels" ...OR... maybe they are yelling to the heavens that their feet are FREEZING!!


I saw caligraphy, but as soon as I read about Napoleons I saw icing. And I have had breakfast.

Margaret Placentra Johnston


Diane Scott

Anne, I love your description of the vines and the snow as being so like the icing on Napoleons, at least as they appear here in the states! And what better desert to accompany a delicious daube? Why is it that just about any "viande" tastes utterly scrumptious when stuffed into a hefty dutch oven, smothered in onions, garlic and herbs, given a good sloshing of red wine (preferably the whole bottle) and then slow-cooked for hours?


Little altars everywhere...apologies to Ms Wells.


Rows of Menorahs. (sp?)

Tami (Austin, TX)

I just want to congratulate Ann on her new book. I work in publishing and know what it takes to go from manuscript to a beautiful book like hers. Congratulations, bonne chance, and enjoy the ride, Ann!

Ellen Cassilly

Thank you for showing the south of France in snow. I've been looking on the internet and all I'm finding is Paris.

Chris, Utah

This army of vines is doing stretching exercises.

Candy in SW KS

I see "hope". The naked vines awaiting the blossoms of Springs. The snow covered ground soaking in the much needed moisture. The awakening is yet to come, but we know it's on its way. eep eep ooray! :) Felicitations Ann! I envy you and I hope I will join the ranks of the published some day soon. As always, I thank you, Kristin, for sharing your view of the world - it's always beautiful through your lens.


I see lots of telephone lines with snow underneath -- from a distance away. The snow is pretty - I love the picture of Smokey in the snow!


Looks like Tai Chi exercisers to me..with arms outstretched. Also looks COLD! And yes, the icing patterns on Napoleons is a great comparison!


How beautiful everything looks in the photographs on Cinéma Verité. All that clean, pure snow makes me think of the Dorothée song from the 80s "L'enfant des neiges". The distinctly unmagical side of snow, nothing like Dorothée's sortilège, is here outside Washington DC, alas -- piles, now grimy and rock-hard, dumped by the snow plows after our pre-Christmas storm and still adorning the side of the roads and parking lots.

Kristin, I am so impressed that you make croissants. Years and years ago, I watched Julia Child making them on her TV show. When she was rolling, folding, and putting the dough in the frigo for the fourth time with no end in sight, I stopped writing down the directions because I knew it was NEVER going to happen in my kitchen!

Stay warm, all of you.


ohhh, too funny... I see little hair plugs growing out of the earth's scalp...hee,hee!


Good morning/evening Kristin...lovely pics and lovely tales, some vocabulary and hints for wonderful books. Ann sounds lovely and if you recommend her, well, then of course her book is a must buy and must read. Congratulations to Ann.
About your cooking skills, you are so far ahead of me that you should start calling yourself Mme Julia or another such famous chef.

I am delighted that Smokey has taken up plume and is jotting down a few words here and there.

Finally , after a good long look at the vineyard, and I believe I had seen another version of it, this scene reminds me of life sprouting from the soldier tombs in Arlington cemetery. The military cemetaries are the only places where there is such order, and each time I see one I pray for them with all my heart.

Love to you and hope freeze thaws out soon.


Paula Leal



Jens, the snow is melting and the kids are moaning (they'll have to return to school tomorrow!)

Bill, no, I didn't have a snowball fight -- will regret this later on!

To all friends: what a creative and imaginitive community! Your words open our eyes and I can't wait until Jules gets here to "try out" all the pictures, seeing anything from telephone poles to Napoleons... in what are really vine rows.

Paula -- I almost mistook your comment for my mom's. Your writing and signature threw me (Jules often writes in all caps and signs of with XOXO!)

Sorry if I've missed any questions -- just remind me!

Tyler Nuzum

I see telephone poles with the telephone lines scattered in every which way. Need to make a call, sorry the telephone poles are dancing and waving their arms around :)


Passante, I need to clear up the croissant claim -- and so clear my conscience...: I do not make them from scratch! I just learned a simple tip: we can make them from pâte feuilletée because (as French Wiki says: "Un croissant est une viennoiserie à base d'une pâte feuilletée..."

With the help of a gadget that I got at a French Tupperware (too pair waar) party -- it's a cinch!


I see open arms.

Eep eep oooh ray! Eep eep oooh ray! For Ann!

Andrea @ Austin, TX 7C

elizabeth foree

Dear Kristin,
The best for Ann's new book.
I bought X3 French word-a-day summer 2009 stories and would like to know how to begin receiving Cinema Verite?
Also check line 17, page 58, from the above "for whom to see we travelled to Nimes"

Pat Cargill

Limbo! To the sounds of Carribean music, or Marley, even better.

Congrats to Ann for Kitchen Chinese.


Perfect lines of winsome young ballerinas, paying rapt attention to Madame, preparing to practice their plier(s)! (Very unsure of proper spelling!) A lovely photo, merci beaucoup.

Jules Greer

Hi Paula - when I saw your comment I wondered if I had already commented on today's word - your words were right from my heart so I guess now I must have found my secret twin here on the comments page. You even write like I write, and in caps TOO!

Pat - I think your description is the best,
only you could have come up with the wonderful LIMBO & BOB MARLEY.

Kristi I am amazed at how you are bringing us all together and even more delighted with how creative and fun your blog is each posting. Every post is so fresh and fun. What a great way to learn French. Now that you are doing the seasonal books we won't have to take notes. If Jean-Marc can empty out the little apartment (it is now used to store wine) perhaps I will come and visit again. I could set up my studio and a command post with my own computer and pretend that I am your assistant. We could plot and plan our life away and I would be out of your hair in the main house. This I think is the only way for me to return to France. With the money I make selling my little paintings I could stock the little apartments kitchen and really play the roll of a Grandmere. Just the thoughts of having my own little spot on the front patio
where everyone will have to pass by me makes me giggle. What do you think?




whale tails.

Jean Lillibridge

Re croissants: we buy best we can find, freeze, and when we have company, remove as many as needed, slice and put thin slices of almond paste and a little butter, bake till heated thru, sprinkle little powdered sugar on top and a little sliced almond. Viola! almost like I remember croissants fouree from 40 years ago in France. Unfortunately, last few times in France we had a hard time finding good croissants like that. Jean in Shreveport, LA



That's a great idea. The front porch is free... but the little apartment next store is stocked. You'd have a couple dozen barrels of wine for roommates.

We'll have to go and see if that WWII airplane (remember the one) is for sale. Maybe we could move it onto the farm... and you could redecorate it into a "mobile" home with leopard carpet and a chandelier. The plane looked big enough. Now to figure out how to get a fireplace inside. You do need a fireplace!

Ellen Sue Pilger

I loved this ... and saw whales tails like Cyndy, because I live on the West coast of the USA where we see them on their bi-annual swim between Mexico and Alaska. Jules ... you and I are two peas in a pod. I feel and write to my daughter in much the same way as you do. Kristin ... your blogs are amazing.


Looks like fencing practice.

Mary Rossi

En mon avis, lots of little Gumby people in an arobics class... loud music s'il vous plait!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
It reminds me of exercise class years ago when we would have our arms outstretched and lean left and right to whittle the waist.
The word "marmite" reminded me of something my grandfather used to eat and I looked it up and it is a type of thick, brown spread from concentrated yeast that is a byproduct of the beer brewing process. It's so funny how words will bring back memories and ones that I haven't thought of in years!
It sounds like you put together quite a yummy dinner with what you had in the frigo!
Congratulations to Ann Mah also!

Ann Mah

Wow, Kristin -- I am so touched by your post and kind words, and all the lovely comments I found here this evening -- thank you! I feel so honored to have my book mentioned by you, and I am simply overwhelmed by all the kind words here. Also, I had a sneaking suspicion you enjoyed cooking more than you let on...

From the bottom of my heart, thanks to everyone for your good wishes. I am truly verklempt.


Donna L

I see a group of large black birds in flight, possibly skimming the clouds near Mt Blanc; it reminicent of the view out the window of the Amsterdam to Marseille city-hopper. :)

Robert Haine

Okay, all together now...
The vines go marching ten by ten, hurrah, hurrah,
The vines go marching ten by ten, hurrah, hurrah,
The vines go marching ten by ten,
They won't be done 'til the winter's end.
And they all go marching down, to the sea,
to get out, of the snow!

Candy in SW KS

Passante, I remember that Julia Child episode and I did the exact same thing you did! :) I think she said by the time she finished folding and rolling there were 100 layers! I loved watching her cook! But clever Kristin figured out how to use the ready-made pate! JULES, SO GLAD TO HAVE YOU BACK!! I love the idea of living in the WWII plane! I'll come help you decorate. I'm sure between the 2 of us we could figure out where to put that fireplace!

Bill Facker

Kristin - As you know, I don't even pretend to speak French .. though I've been traveling to Paris regularly since the 70's. My best friends live in Saclay (Paris) and they have always spoiled me rotten. I walk along behind Philippe et Veronique as they run "linguistic interference" for their language impaired friend. I suppose the guilt will overcome me one day, for I do love the sound, the feel, and the emotion of this most beautiful language. In a sense, maybe it is even more exciting because I don't understand it .. I only feel it. SO - when I saw the word "pif" today in your headline, I purposefully came straight to the remarks section to thank you for posting such a "great feeling" word. I didn't stop to look at the definition .. don't have the slightest idea what it means as I'm writing this! I saw "pif" and it made me FEEL good. Only the wonderful French could have such a good feeling word ... only the French. Mahalo Nui Loa, Kristin, please keep it coming! Aloha, Bill Facker

Pauline Lowe

"The Day of the Triffids" sprang to mind when first seeing this photo, perhaps the "March of the Vines".
Still relying on the look of snow to keep me cool. Weather still oppressively hot 41C in Adelaide, expect some pluie shortly to cool the earth and tempers.

OOROO (Australian for see you later)Pauline

Carol Squires

Telephone poles along a highway or perhaps the letter "T", over and over again.

Tammy Loehlein

I see Orca whale tails as well.But I love the comment about seeing "hope."

Kristine, Dallas

Very happy to see your mum, back on the boards! Jules, we have missed you so!

I see telephone poles. What does that say about me? Not very creative, eh? I love everyone else's description and I do see some of these, but on first glance, other than seeing vines, I saw telephone poles. Sorry to be so unimaginative.

Merci and Bon Nuit, as it's 10:43pm and a crisp 35 degrees here in Big D.

P.S. The picture of the Winter bird CV this weekend was one of the most beautiful nature pictures I have EVER seen in my 41 years of existence. Truly stunning! Well done!


black smocking stitches for a white dress...although perhaps the gathering should fall the other way :)

...congratulations to Ann on her new book...just the sort of book my daughter and I love to share!


Kristin, I am chuckling about your "snow," as we have at least three feet of the white (for now) stuff!! And more is falling. A dear friend arrived the day after Christmas and was finally able to go home (a four hour drive) today. Spring can't arrive too soon.

Diane Marie Samson

I see you still have snow! Our cold in south TX is lifting--only in the 40s this morning and will rise to the 50s by the afternoon, thank heaven. I loved your photo of the vines in the snow today. They looked like some sort of strange sentinels standing guard in the fields, a regiment of sorts, protecting the hibernating grape vines until the spring thaw comes!

Suzanne, Monroe Township, NJ

I see a corps de ballet in a yet to be choreographed "Macbeth." Remember, "When Durham Wood ...?" I see dancers dressed as trees advancing slowing through the snow!


trees on snow land

Geary Arceneaux

I see whirling dervishes,


Backbones, wishbones, vertebrae


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