jeu de mots


In the lava land of Lanzarote, the Canary Islands, Spain... where we relaxed after the latest grape harvest.. 

creux (creuse) [kreuh, kreuz] adjective

    : hollow, deep, empty

le creux (inv) = a hollow, a dip, a slack period
La Creuse = name of a French river and of a Department in central France 

French Idioms & Expressions

avoir un petit creux = a little hollow in one's stomach (an empty stomach), to feel peckish
les heures creuses = off-peak hours
avoir le nez creux = to be shrewd

There are many more interesting "creux" and "creuse" expressions. Would you like to help out by posting one here, in the comments box?

Sound File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following words:
note: the sound is problematic... working on this... Download MP3 or Wav

En cas de petit creux, j'ai prévu des petits sandwiches à grignoter....
In the event of a little hunger, I've planned for a few sandwiches to munch on....


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

"The Sandwich Maker in Spain"

Every morning we would line up at the resort's breakfast buffet, Jean-Marc, with his shirt à l'envers, Max and Jackie, with sleepy eyes, and I with an eye on the three stomachs ahead of me.

"Jackie, did you notice the green melon?" I'd suggest, when she reached for the milk and the cereal. We could always have cereal back home, but honeydew melon!
"And did you see the bacon?" We never had bacon for breakfast and this was the chance to sample things we wouldn't normally eat this time of day, back home in France.

"Max, did you leave some for the others?" I'd remind our 15-year-old, who piled his plate with sugary viennoiseries

And Jean-Marc... "JEAN-MARC!!!!"  I'd screech. Presently my husband was making sandwiches! And I knew just what sort of trick he had up his sneaky sleeve... only any self-respecting trickster would cache the object of his trickery. Not this one! Jean-Marc was making a picnic lunch via this breakfast buffet -- comme si de rien n'était! As if everything were A-OK!

Oh no you don't! Don't you start that up here! You did that back in Madrid, for the 15 euro buffet, and, OK, it was quite expensive and you did get your money's worth... but you're not going to start pocketing your picnic here! My mind was arguing up a storm. I could just imagine what would happen to our restful vacation if my husband began to take from the daily breakfast buffet.  Peace would go out the door... along with quite a few of those pancakes, to be sure!

Meantime, Jean-Marc, calm as the cucumbers that were not present (after all, this was a breakfast buffet and not a 24-hour diner!) just kept on building his sandwiches: A little bit of sliced bread... and why not a sesame roll? Inside went the scrambled eggs, some breakfast sausages, oh, and did he fancy a tomato? They had those, too! Other sandwiches were more creative: some hash browns, ketchup, and sliced cheese on wheat (hash browns on wheat??? fried potatoes on toast. Well, whoever...!).  

I was horrified when the fellow vacationers strolled by, sure they had one eye on our sandwich-making monopoly and the other on the manageress, who had checked us in earlier, at the front counter. Would she be sending us a check once she caught sight of our "extra bite"?

"Well, what are they going to do?" Jean-Marc questioned, amused. "Throw us in prison?" With that he would look at me with soft eyes:
"Would you like me to make you one, Chérie?"

"No. No! No! No! I do not want one of your sandwiches."

I thought about my strong reaction, wondering whether my good citizenship was only a cover... for questionable qualities of my own. Finally, I decided that it wasn't pride. No! It was principles!

"Well, you'll wish you'd said Yes," was all the sandwich-maker would say. "Tu vas le regretter...."

And of course he was right. Later on at the beach, around 10 a.m., I would look enviously at the sandwich man. There he sat, beneath the "borrowed" shade (can you believe he even swiped the hotel parasol? "but I did it for you, cherie..."), staring out at the Atlantic sea, the crested waves slapping foam against the sandy beach with its black-ashed sable from volcanic eruptions of long ago. He ate with glee and reverie, those sumptuous sandwiches that now had even me dreaming.

"Would you like a bite, Chérie?"

"No, I would not like a bite!"

And with that I would roll over and pout into my book about a French woman, Gervaise, who was going to pot after "sweeting" to the slow, slovenly, saturated life. My stomach would grumble and I'd turn the page... only to read about yet another smorgasbord. 

The next morning at the breakfast table (and the mornings thereafter) it was the same industrious sandwich-making enterprise.
"Jean-Marc!!!" I began, as usual. "Tu exagères!"
"Peut-être je vais les vendre sur la plage! I might sell them on the beach!" he teased. "It might pay for our vacation!" he went on, taunt after taunt. And like that, I'd steam, right there in my seat.

             The Sandwich-maker in Spain, aka "Chef Grape on Harvest Holiday"

But those sandwiches were looking good. And, true, if you reasoned a certain way, then, really, what was the difference? What with eaters like me -- who took only a piece of toast, an egg, a piece of bacon, and a slice of melon.... one of each, as opposed to the two or three of each as did the man at the next table. Why... one could rationalize! Yes, one could reason, therefore, that a little extra sandwich made from the buffet leftovers (for it helped to call them that) would do no harm....

By day three I began to make suggestions to our sandwich maker.
"I might like some fried egg and some bacon... if that one were mine..." Jean-Marc took the hint and made me up a mid-morning snack. Meantime, Max made himself a mini casse-croute (a modest ham and cheese sandwich on white... and an apple for dessert). Jackie steered clear of this shady sandwichery... preferring to wait for 2 p.m., when respectable Spaniards ate -- and paid -- for their midday meal.

By the end of our vacation my rigid rules were loosening... along with my belt... as I began putting in orders to the sandwich man, instructing Jean-Marc to go light on the sausage... or to avoid the cheese altogether. But I still could not get up the gumption to make my own sandwich. I guess this time you'd have to call it pride.  As for those "principles" I mentioned, I'd lost them somewhere between the clipped ketchup and the heisted hash brown potatoes.


Two Strongly Recommended Books!

While I remained glued to Emile Zola's L'Assommoir, the story about the downward spiral of the working class in 19th Century Paris (owing to alcohol, gluttony, and a fancy for free time...) Jean-Marc was in rapture with the latest book by Robert Camuto, Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey. I thought I might shove two of those sandwiches in my ears if Jean-Marc kept going on and on and on about his love for this book! But then, when my own book ran out of pages, and I'd finished L'Assommoir, I couldn't help but see what all the fuss was about... and steal glances at Jean-Marc's copy of Robert Camuto's latest. Wine and Italy lovers,  don't miss it! 

French Vocabulary

à l'envers = inside out

viennoiseries = pastries

cache (cacher) = to hide

comme si de rien n'était!  = as if nothing were amiss!

Chéri(e) = Darling

Tu vas le regretter! = You'll regret it!

le sable = sand

Tu exagères = you're overdoing it!

le casse-croûte = snack


Family on vacation: Jean-Marc, Jackie, and Kristin

                                                                                                                    15-year-old Max

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Julie Schorr

Just love the family pictures! They are great!! It looks like a great place to go and unwind. Also, I think Jean-Marc would be an excellent person to introduce the idea of the "doggy bag" to the French!

Jeanne of Maumee, OH

The photos were lovely. The children are growing so fast and beautifully.


From a couple of great Aznavour songs:

"Au creux de mon épaule":
Si je t'ai blessée
Si j'ai noirci ton passé
Viens pleurer au creux de mon épaule

And the end of "Après l'amour":
Nous restons enlacés
Après l'amour
Au creux du jour
Pour aimer


Umm ... breakfast buffet sandwich not a problem. I remember the medical students at the hospital cafe showing me how to build a giant 'salad' on a tiny salad plate ... Some lettuce at the base and then pile all the heavy stuff: turkey, ham, chicken, olives ... hold it down with the cucumbers and chilled beets, onions or cottage cheese ....then pour vast quantities of blue cheese or ranch dressing over it all. Eventually the cafe introduced weighing each 'serve yourself salad' instead of selling by the size of the plate.


Dear Kristin, First of all, what happened to the 'children'??? They look so grown up, especially Jackie! But regarding the "sandwich man"....Here's what I don't get. Americans, when we pay for a meal that is not completely eaten and there is enough left over to make another meal and take home (mind you, we've paid for it!) is looked down upon by the French. So quelle est la difference, mon ami? LOL!! I can't wait to see you guys next week, and Jean-Marc can explain it then, xo rk

Julie F

My gosh, Jackie is looking more like you every day. And I heartily agree that Chief Grape should introduce the idea of doggie bags to France. While most portion sizes are not overdone (unlike a Cheesecake Factory restaurant here in the States), there are times it would be good to take some home. For example, when we go out for pizza I'm forced to eat the whole thing because there is no way to save it for lunch. And the French really don't have the spirit of making their pies "half and half" to satisfy a variety of preferences in the family. Or I always end up stuffing a piece or two of unique bread into my pack. But the place I have to get the most ingenious is when we eat at restaurants either with stars or trying for stars. From the apertif all the way through the petit fours, it can be a chore getting through all the courses. For those restaurants I always bring extra tissues and hubby keeps a lookout while I load my bag with petit fours, truffles, and any other sweet treat for which our stomachs just have no more room.

Suzanne, Monroe Township, NJ

A wonderful story! I'm on your side, Kristi, but on the other hand, on the beach, I would have sided with Jean-Marc. I enjoyed the photos of the four of you. The Canary Islands? Hmmm sounds inviting.

ann ceraldi

Your family is beautiful--adorable kids! I've been known to swipe food myself--esp if I know it's only going to get tossed by the restaurant--like the uneaten rolls--nice for a snack or seagull or duck feeding! I hate wasting food....

Sophie Day

The french are notorious food thieves. When I vacation with my friends from Nancy, they always take extra food from the breakfast buffet for "later". And when I say extra, I mean at least enough to feed an army. My experience in Madrid was not so pleasant since they were caught and told to put the food back. I'm with Jackie, happy to wait until the respectable 2pm hour for the spanish comida.


Wonderful photos....thank you for sharing!
How about: avoir un creux? (to feel hungry)..Jean Marc certainly took care of that! Une periode creuse (low season) but do like the best the Charles Aznavour "creux".....

Lynn McBride

Too funny! In our family, I'm afraid I'm the one loading up the doggy bag, and my husband is tsk tsk-ing.
Oh my, when did your precious kids grow up?? amazing!

Becky Namovicz

What a beautiful family; you must be very proud.

Thanks for sharing your family and your life with us.


What a nice looking family! Can't blame JeanMarc for the apres breakfast sandwich caper. The hotel probably has lots of people who do this and that is why the buffet is so well stocked.

June at Superstition

There are ethics about breakfast buffets and Alexander McCall Smith, wrote amusing rhetoric in one of his novels. This is a comedic story and it shows how our American guilt flows into everything and it is this very thing that makes for fun stories from you. Relax-Hotels know that this sort of taking is done,and it seems you all enjoyed your picnic and nothing was wasted.Father Hen takes good care of his family should have been you headline.

Marybeth Gallot

Regarding the book about wine, I recently read Wine & War The French, the Nazis & the battle for France's greatest treasure by Don & Petie Kladstrup. I just started reading their book Champagne.


Think you should poll your readers on how many have done exactly what Chef Grape did. I know I have.....:)
pourquoi pas?

Alice Halliday

We got 'caught'(noticed) making a sandwich for my daughter who was in bed and had not attended breakfast. When we came to pay the bill after a couple of day's stay we had 5 extra breakfasts added to our bill for our family of 5. My husband was so ashamed he paid! Alice Halliday, Oxford, UK

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for your stories and "creux" or "creuse" examples! Keep them coming! How about these:

une assiette creuse: not quite a bowl but a good "hollow" plate for stew... or spagetti....

...and the noun "le creuset": well, melting pot

Alice: oh, we feel for you! Quelle horreur to have been "noticed"! :-)

Denise in the Pacific Northwest

Chère Kristin:

Thanks for the family photos - Max and Jackie are so grown up - even from last year! I'd watch out - if some fashion photographer is smart, Jackie might just get discovered. :)

And, concerning location: you were IN Spain. :) There are times when playing fast and loose with emotional vs. technical truth can be a hindrance - as evidenced by Chef Grape's sandwich-making, n'est-ce pas?

Cheers -


Kristin, how did you and Jean Marc transport the breakfast bounty to the beach?
Your purse,perhaps(?) or a basket(?),all the while strolling non-chalently out of the door?
Wonderful pictures! What a beautiful family!(Max and Jackie! So grown up!)
THANK YOU for giving us smiles today! And for sharing another happy post!
Bon journee!


I guess we're in the minority here, but like Sophie, I'm with Jackie. Some hotels I've stayed in actually have signs on the breakfast buffet reminding people that the room rate includes breakfast, not breakfast and lunch.

Alice, that seems steep. You stayed a couple of days, so you should have been charged fpr two breakfasts, not five.

Trish Nickell

Looking at your family photos is a pleasure--and your children are beautiful--as are you and Jean Marc! I loved "l'histoire des sandwiches"--you write so well!Merci!


Lovely photos and lovely story, as usual... I think as you do! xoxo

Marianne Rankin

Yes, it's good to see photos of the family, and to keep up with Jackie and Max as they grow.

I tend toward strictness, Kristin. Can you believe there is a sign in the local McDonald's saying "free refills [of drinks] limited to duration of visit"? I wouldn't dream of leaving, then coming back later for more. In fact, if I refill my medium-sized drink cup at all, it's never more than halfway. Otherwise, if I'm going to drink the equivalent of two mediums, I might as well get a large. I've mentioned this to people a couple of times, and they think I'm crazy.

With regard to food I've paid for, I make sure it doesn't get wasted, such as crackers that come with soup, if I don't eat them all with the soup, or biscuits or bread accompanying a meal. I do ask for doggy bags (these days, styrofoam boxes) in places that have them, so nothing is wasted.

Many eateries are so stingy with napkins now, often giving you only one, that I always save the napkins if there are extras, and use them at home.

I'm glad you all had a relaxing trip after the harvest. How did Jackie and Max get off school for that, or was there a holiday?


Kristen,I just discovered your post from June,2008, about lovely Lily.("Pipette" in the picture).It has wrapped itself around my heart.
Is she still with your loving (and nurturing!)family?
Fingers crossed for happy endings!
Bon journee!


tres belle\beau famille!

Diane Dainis

Great pictures! The kids are getting so tall.
I do love your writing. I will now think of sandwiches in a totally different light.

louis bogue

As my Irish friends say," An a fine looken brood it tis" I know first hand, Jean-Marc earned that vacation, Bonne chance, Au revior, Lou

Kristin Espinasse

Natalia, sadly, Lily did not make it. Here is the follow up to that story (there is also a link to part 1) titled "How to Mourn a Cat":

And, Natalia, thank you for questioning just how we transported the loot. It occurred to me after I posted the story that I had left out that part. I need to go back and work this part in. Meantime, I'll tell you here: The hotel had a lot of napkins (unlike the places Marianne mentioned)... so Jean-Marc simply wrapped his sandwiches and carried them off!

Marianne, Max and Jackie missed a half-day of school. When Jackie returned for the afternoon classes, the superintendent was not at all amused after asking Jackie "where were you this morning?" and Jackie answered "in Madrid". (We had a connecting flight there).

Audrey Wilson

Whay a lovely family !! And how could one resist a sandwich from Jean-Marc, whether it was correct to make them or not !!


Merci for sharing your lovely family photos! I think Jackie's face is more like Jean-Marc's ... and Max's more like yours.
The photos will also look great in your next book, decorating the pages where you show your artistic "pêle-mêle" of family photos, as you did on pages 118 & 119 of 'SUMMER 2009 STORIES' (second edition).

I'd like to tell you my copy got to my letter box a good week after my order, so, before our journey to France! The wrapping was unbelievably strong. That book could have travelled three times around the globe and still looked impeccable when arriving at destination!


Papa pense au “petit creux” de l'estomac, papa n'aime pas le gaspillage (= waste) et papa est le grand expert du système “D”...
... "pas mal" (not bad), "pas mal, papa"!
Put all this together, and mix it with maman's principles, plus writing talent, and you can understand why, with a smile on my face, I am now reading all about the extra sandwiches made in Lanzarote!

Have we ever done that ourselves? The answer, I'm afraid, is plainly 'No ... never'. Our “once-a year” family holidays were self-catered anyway. If transferred into the Espinasse family situation, I couldn't imagine my husband collecting some food like Jean-Marc did, but I think I could imagine my daughter helping me to discretely grab a few goodies for 'later'... and ..., my son eating the whole lot!
These days, if at a B&B with my husband, we always eat a fuller breakfast than at home and, occasionally we might put in our bag the banana or apple we didn't eat. We have a very light lunch and go to the restaurant in the evening.

I read all the comments and, believe me or not, as far as I can remember, I never went to a restaurant where portions were twice the size of 'normal portion', so never had the idea of 'saving' some of the 'surplus' food in... a bag or box. I must also say I never visited the USA. We were in Biarritz in October and went a few times to a restaurant. Their portions were fine and the food was great. I couldn't possibly imagine myself filling up a little bag or box with any leftover – even bread. Baguettes don't stay fresh for very long anyway.
Here, when we used to visit my husband's parents in Cambridge over the Xmas period, my mother-in-law would always wrap up several large pieces of (handmade) cake to take back home (she loved baking ... and was happy to give us the leftovers!)

I must admit the one and only thing I pinch in a coffee shop or restaurant is sugar. I don't put any in my black coffee, so, it seems ok to me to slide it into my pocket. I love doing that when I am in France, because the “morceaux de sucre” are so nicely wrapped up! In England, with coffee, you usually get Demerara sugar -> a lovely cane sugar, served in sachets of crunchy tiny golden bits, rarely in cubes.

PS - Kristin, do you know where my (pinched) French sugar lumps are kept at home? and how I use them? They are in a small box, next to a (certain ?) little bottle of “Alcool de menthe Ricqlès”. You only need one or two drops on a lump of sugar. A 50ml bottle lasts for ages!

Lisa Denise

This is a delightful story and one that I thoroughly enjoyed! Thank you!


With "creux", used as an adjective:

-> “un plat creux” = a shallow dish
-> “une assiette creuse” = a soup plate
BTW, "une assiette plate" ("une grande assiette")
= a dinner plate
-> “pendant les moments creux” / “pendant les heures creuses”
= when not busy / during slack periods

With "creux", used as a noun:

-> “dans le creux de la main”
= in the palm of my hand

With verb "creuser":
-> se creuser la tête / la cervelle
= to rack one's brains


De Baudelaire:

"Ma pauvre muse, hélas! qu'as-tu donc ce matin?
Tes yeux creux sont peuplés de visions nocturnes,
Et je vois tour à tour réfléchis sur ton teint
La folie et l'horreur, froides et taciturnes."

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Smiles...and a big welcome home! So lovely to "see" your beautiful family and hear of your adventures!

Jacqueline Gill

What a beautiful family! I am sure you know how blessed you are and what a charmed life you lead. Your posts are one of my favorite things, Blessings and thanks for a fun read!

Sandy Maberly

Kristi, thx for the story. Sounds all too familiar, I'll admit. I had to laugh when I read Newforest's comment about never having taken advantage of bundling up her leftovers to take home. She's right, the portions in the U.K. are "just right" and not the ginormous family style helpings that we have in the States (especially in the South).
When Mark and I moved back to the States from the U.K., he was horrified when I asked for a "doggie bag" whenever we went out to eat. I'm not about to waste leftovers that are enough for another meal. I will say that I never attempt this maneuver in really fine restaurants, but then you usually don't get mountains of food on your plate in a 4 Star establishment. I also never take any leftovers with me when dining out in Europe or the U.K. I will say that now, after 10 years in the States, Mark is not opposed to a little "slight of hand" when it comes to eating out, however, it always has to be my hand doing it!

Marina Garcia

Would you one day pronounce the following words for me? Thank you..
1. Clown
2. Choir

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