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Entries from July 2013

avoir la tete sur les epaules & Jackie's return

avoir la tête sur les épaules (ah-vwar-lah-tet-soor-layz-ay-pawl)

    : to be sensible, to have a good head on one's shoulders

Audio File:
listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's expression: Download MP3 file or Wave file

Pour faire un si long voyage seule à 15 ans, Jackie doit avoir la tête sur ses épaules. To go on such a long trip alone, at the age of 15, Jackie must have a good head on her shoulders.


    by Kristin Espinasse

Jackie's back! After a 4 week stay with her grandparents in Idaho, we met our daughter at the Marseilles airport. We are so proud of her for travelling solo from Sun Valley to Salt Lake City--then on to Paris and Marseilles. At the age of 15 she navigated the various airports, waited for long stretches for connecting flights, and got through customs--without any assistance at all. Bravo jeune fille! Tu as bien la tête sur les épaules!

Nearing the airport exit, on our way to pick up Jackie, Jean-Marc suggested we search the sky for her plane. After all, how many other avions were arriving at 5:12pm? 

"There she is! There's our girl!" I said, pointing to the sky above the deep blue Mediterranean. Our heads were craned before the windshield as we watched the plane descend like a metaphor. Thanks to this voyage de découverte, Jackie was gaining in Independence and confidence--learning to fly with her own wings or, as the French say, voler de ses propres ailes.

Entering the airport périphérique, I learned our plan was to meet Jackie at the zone de livraison des bagages.

"Baggage claim! Why aren't we meeting our daughter at the gate?!" 

Before Jean-Marc had a chance to answer, I bet this was part of the plan: he was rooting for our daughter to make it all the way through the voyage--from security check in Ketchum, Idaho, to baggage claim in Marseilles, France. 

"Go ahead," he encouraged me. There's still time to meet her at the gate. While Jean-Marc parked the car, I hurried toward the terminal.

Speeding to meet Jackie, I took a wrong turn in Hall 4--the arrival and departure terminal for international flights. By the time I got to "arrivals" (downstairs) the gate was clear. Everyone had already met up with their loved one. 

At baggage claim I ran into our friend Astrid, who was there to pick up her son from a similar trip (his voyage of independence took place in Miami, Florida). There was no time to chat; after a quick bise I sped off to find my daughter--but ran smack into Jean-Marc instead. With a giant ear-to-ear smile he announced our girl was waiting outside on the curb.

Pushing past my husband, I darted towards the tall glass doors--all but smashing in to them. Why weren't they opening? The answer came quickly enough as the doors slid open automatically, revealing the empty sidewalk beyond.

But where was she? Was this some sort of father-daughter prank? I give in! I give in! Bring on the much-anticipated reunion! I scrambled to and fro in frustration until... Was that she?  Beside the parking meter there was a tall figure with a mane of long blond hair. The apparition stopped me in my tracks and got me doubting.  

No, this was a woman. Studying the stranger's body language--upright, yet relaxed--I didn't recognize my girl, who tends to slouch. 

But could it be Jackie? I picked up my pace again--deciding to run around to the side and get a better look before bounding in and swooping her into my arms. I've made the mortifying mistake before, of embracing a complete stranger. With a bit of caution, the embarrassment might be avoided. 

But love throws all caution to the wind. Racing, now, toward the upright woman, whose back was to me, I threw my arms around her. My joy was sprinkled with relief on hearing the sound of her voice.

"Maman! Maman!"

*    *    *

That's my girl. Welcome home!!!


Valerian flower a.k.a. Le lilas d'Espagne (c) Kristin Espinasse

Before picking up our daughter at the airport, I saw this butterfly while watering the garden. As the papillon softly flapped its ailes, I thought of Jackie. This picture is for her. The leopard wings are just her style.

French Vocabulary

bravo jeune fille! = way to go, young lady!

tu as bien la tête sur les épaules! = you've got a good head on your shoulders

un avion = airplane

le voyage de découverte = discovery trip

voler de ses propres ailes = to fly with one's own wings

le périphérique = beltway, ring road

la zone de livraison des bagages = baggage claim

le hall = air terminal 

la bise = kiss

maman = mom 


  Outfits for Misfits (c) Kristin Espinasse

Black, black, or black? What to wear to the concert in Arles? Lately I'm picking my husband's brain for fashion advice. He didn't like the shoes here (the ones on the right are my daughter's), but suggested the black flip-flops my mom had left behind. Good idea! Let's go casual.

Panier du potager (c) Kristin Espinasse
Kale, parsley, zucchini, favas and tomatoes. Next year I'll remember to plant corn and melons and carrots in our potager garden

Smokey and Love Salad (c) Kristin Espinasse
Smokey: I love me some fruit salad. Recipe at the end of this story.

*    *    *

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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


A "crique" or little sea inlet along the littoral, or Mediterranean coast.
A "crique" or little sea inlet along the littoral, or Mediterranean coast.


crapahuter (krah-pah-ew-tay)

    : to clamber, crawl, trek, or yomp

 Also: to plough along, to trudge, to schlepp

Audio file: listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wave file

Pour accèder à la petite crique, on doit crapahuter sur les rochers.
To access the little sea inlet, we have to scamper over the rocks.


    by Kristin Espinasse

Extraordinaire. C'était extraordinaire! When Jean-Marc returned from his latest swim, he was shaking his head in disbelief. "You can't believe the site I just found. Ten minutes from here, there's a natural baignoire full of seaweed. I just had a bain d'algues for free. Some people pay a 1000 for this at a thalassotherapy spa!"

My husband has been trying to lure me to the sea for some time and this enthusiastic report was yet another attempt. "We'll go in the evening before the sun sets. You won't have to worry about le soleil."

I'm touched by all these swimming invitations. And yet I can't explain my resistance, or understand how a former fish turned into a fish out of water. But there's no use over-thinking things. That joy of gliding sous l'eau and floating above it is in here somewhere. Now where did I put my bathing suit

"Wait for me! I'm coming!" I shouted, when next Jean-Marc headed for the port.

Soon we were walking along a pine-scented plateau (a favorite spot for exercising our dogs). Approaching our destination, I began to wonder what escalader means to Jean-Marc. (He had assured me we could easily access the natural swimming hole--une petite escalade was all it would take to get down to it. Petite? I have learned that words and concepts appear differently in my husband's mind than they do in my own. What's small to him is big to me and vice versa, whether the subject is minutes or mountains). 

"Here we are," Jean-Marc says when we reach the end of the plateau where the land falls off to the sea, literally. I look down at a pile of boulders.... Even if we manage to scale them, what if one lands on our head? Instead of further self-questioning, I try a pep talk."You've watched too many 911 dramas on TV," I tell myself, "and all those newspaper "shock" headlines haven't helped. Don't let the media steal your joy ever again! You've got a good head on your shoulders and God gave you a gut feeling--now let these be your guide!" 

A quarter of the way down the rocky gorge, I had to call my husband on his choice of vocabulary. "I'm not sure escalader is the word...."

I had visualized an upright descent instead of this by-the-seat-of-my-pants adventure. But clinging to the rocks like a crab--and advancing like one--felt like the safest bet. Like this, with my feet leading and my hands trailing just behind--my body horizontally clamped to the rocks--I scampered down to the sea.

Jean-Marc congratulated me on arrival. On a bien crapahuté! he said, finding the precise term for our descent. Next he turned towards the sea. "Well, what do you think?"

"I think you are right. You have found a special spot--un petit bijou!"

But we weren't there yet. If we wanted to swim in the sea (before enjoying the bain d'algues--easier to access) we needed to do some more clambering. This time vertical:

"Hug the rock wall," Jean-Marc said, guiding me out to Le Grand Bleu. I was grateful for the plastic shoes he bought me. My feet now gripped the rocks and were protected from sharp "underwater things" (like oursins). 

"Très bien!" Jean-Marc cheered.  "Now you've got to dive!" Jean-Marc was smiling through his diving mask, waving a bright red star fish in his hand. "So much to see out here--come on in and join me!"

Looking out to sea, I wondered how far those "sharp underwater things" continued. Not too far it seemed... I could now see the seafloor drop off once again. All it would take is a good aim. Go, go, go.... my mind chanted along with my husband's outward cheers. Allez! Allez!

Plouf! A cold sensation ran over my scalp to course over the entire surface of my body. What a feeling! I remember this now! It's all coming back--like a hot summer day in the desert. Gliding through the water at the neighborhood pool, the stifling heat left my 10-year-old body, giving way to cool imaginings. I might have been a fish out of water who'd tumbled in... or I might have been an adult on the seacoast of some fancy foreign country--or both, as I am here today.

"What are you thinking about?" Jean-Marc said, floating beside me.

"The good old days.... and the good ol' today." 


*    *    *


la baignoire = bath

le bain d'algues = seaweed bath

le thalassotherapie = spa treatment seawater as therapy  

le soleil = sun

sous l'eau = under the water

escalader = to scale (a mountain)

un petit bijou = a little gem
le grand bleu = Mediterranean sea 

très bien
= well done

un oursin = sea urchin 

plouf! = sound made when one jumps into the water

  Epices (c) Kristin Espinasse

Classic French Recipes in these Recipe-Stories:

Cake Aux Olives - This olive loaf makes a delicious hors d'oeuvre or snack -- or you can serve a few slices for lunch, alongside a salad!

Yogurt Cake is good any time of year. Now that we have zucchini à gogo in the garden, I'll be shredding it and making a gâteau au yaourt à la courgette. 

Mint and Goat Cheese Quiche - Scroll to the end of this post for the easy recipe. If you've got mint growing in your garden - this will be a delicious standby! 

For the three other recipes I mentionned last time (Tomato Tart, No Grudge Fudge, and Love-ly Fruit Salad), go here and scroll down the page.  


Blossoming in ProvenceRecent review of Blossoming in Provence (thanks, Jack!):

 Her use of French words and their meaning is a very helpful way for the reader to improve his of her knowledge on French. It is, incidentally the sort of book that one can read many times and still find it a pleasure.  --Jack

Order a copy here for yourself or a friend.


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

How to say chopped in French? + gift giveaway

Mastering the Art French Eating by Ann Mah

Ann Mah is giving away three advance copies of her new book Mastering the Art of French EatingLessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. Enter to win here.

haché (ha-shay)
    : minced, ground; chopped

un steak haché = hamburger (the French say hamburger when the burger is served on a bun; sans bun and it's called un steak haché)


    by Kristin Espinasse

My friend Ann wrote a new book called Mastering the Art of French Eating. Now there's a book I could have used when coming to France. Then, the world of food and dining was as foreign to me as the bon vivants who lived there.

Over the years I've had to paste together my own version of l'Art de Manger Française. Here are just a few gleanings:

Get your order right or end up with a marijuana burger
It's easy to flub up an order, or une commande--but a command of the French language will save you the embarrassment. Take your time when ordering and avoid the mistake I made when, as a young recruit at the chamber of commerce in Marseilles, I slipped out to lunch at a nearby burger joint and ordered a steak hashish.... 

Don't stock beans or other things

While playing house with my then boyfriend, I was lining up the cans of haricots verts and thon and maïs when I received a polite request: Essayons de ne pas stocker la nourriture, Jean-Marc suggested. It was true, why hoard food when the market was nearby? By buying only what we needed we could eat fresher meals and save money (by not having to toss out expired food).
Is French milk older than a toddler?
One of the things the French do stock is milk. So much so that it has a creepy-long shelf life! (the French keep their milk in the cupboard until opening the bottle, at which point it's stored in the fridge).

It is an acquired taste le lait UHT (sterilized, longue durée) but one thing's sure: a café au lait made in France is appreciated far and wide. Americans love it! So if you've ever wondered why you couldn't recreate the creamy taste back home, now you know: fresh milk's the culprit. 

6 o'
clock is when the birds eat
This is a long-standing joke between my husband and me. Tu manges a l'heure d'oiseau, Chérie? he teases, now that I've gone back the American dinner hour. Tweet tweet! I love eating early but will gladly accept a dinner invitation--and be prepared to eat at l'heure de grillon, or the cricket hour.
Wandering Hands & Footsies
Isn't there a rule about keeping your elbows off the table and left hand in your lap when dining? It's practically the opposite in France, where a hand that disappears beneath the table might be up to no good (feeding the hostesse's escargots to the dog, are you? Or maybe, as in olden times, you're reaching for your gun?! Best to keep your hands to the sides of your plate so the hostess can relax.

(When I first learned this rule, I didn't know about hungry dogs or outlaws, or the history behind the "hands on table" etiquette. My guess was that French innuendo was at play again--and that the French were always imagining the racy side of things. In America we call below the table "hanky-panky" footsies.) 

Bon ap'!
It's lovely in any culture to wish each other bon appetit, but the French go as far as blessing complete strangers. Bon appétit, they'll call out, when you're seated on a park bench chowing down on un sandwich au fromage. Bon appétit, they'll shout, when you're stopped at a traffic light, inhaling a croissant, late for work. Bon appétit, you'll hear, when strolling down the street, window-shopping and munching on a slice of pizza. It can be embarrassing... or deeply charming. Depends on how you take things.
So bon ap' (if that's the case) and bon courage as well. I hope these insights will help you next time you tuck a napkin in your shirt collar (do the French do that? Let me think about it... I'll get back to you when I've got the answer (or share yours below...).
French Vocabulary
le haricot = bean (click here for haricot post)
le haricot vert
= green bean
le thon = tuna
le maïs = corn
essayons de ne pas stocker de la nourriture = let's try not to stock food

I leave you with a few recipes--in case you missed them:

Make the fruit salad I told you about (I've made it three more times since posting the recipe--and discovered that it is the ripe honeydew melon that really makes it good!)

Tomato Tart -- don't miss this favorite! It's tomato season here in France and time to make this easy, fast recipe that everyone loves!

No Grudge Fudge : you won't be mad at yourself after eating this organic 4-ingredient sweet treat. I've made it several times since posting the recipe (the latest version is a Reese's knock off! Just add peanut butter...)

  Door in Vinsobres (Var) (c) Kristin Espinasse
  Where's your favorite place to dine? On the front porch or on the beach or at a restaurant?

Kristin and Braise and golden retriever puppies (c) Jackie Espinasse

Braise (above left) and I in 2009. One of these 6 pups is Smokey.

This blog turns 11-years-old in a few months. 1500 stories are found in the archives, or pick up an edited collection here or here. Your book purchase is a great support to this free word journal. Thanks for reading and for sharing this website with a friend.

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

How to say "a thought" in French and rewiring the brain (neuroplasticity!)

Kristin Espinasse (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
Where is the mind located and do our thoughts really have substance--as scientists have observed? They say our thoughts can control our pain levels and more. I believe this, having used mind over matter while receiving several shots during skin cancer removal. Now if I could only train other parts of my brain--especially the emotional parts. Note: the fur, above, is fake. I'm wearing my daughter's vest.

la pensée (pahn-say)

    : thought

 perdu dans ses pensées = lost in thought


    by Kristin Espinasse

A Beautiful Mind 

In an ancient outdoor amphitheatre, while watching Lillywood and the $@#&! bring down the house, I stood up, kissed our friends goodbye, and stormed out of the concert. 

Making my way through the maze of Arles, trying to find our car, I looked over my shoulder again and again to see Jean-Marc lagging behind me. "Why don't you catch up!" I snapped.

(Before being labelled the castrating wife, let me share this: I'm currently working on a monumental task... the outstanding effort of retraining of a brain (my own). And what you witnessed in paragraphs one and two, was yet another discouraging backslip! )

It is disheartening to lose ground on the path of self-improvement. But it gives me hope to know that a positive rewiring of the cerveau is not as impossible as it seems. By taking every thought captive, we can begin the task of replacing our negative thoughts with positive ones--and so forge a new path of positivity.

My goal is to be more flexible. To go with the flow. To be easygoing. To say "No bother. Things change! AND CHANGE IS GOOD!"

But it's a one-step forward deux en arrier process--this thought replacement business. Step one is to examine my troubled thinking: what frustrated me last night--what had me steaming out of Arles, my husband in my wake, was something I'll call "The Let Down Factor"--my body was reeling with it! 

The Let Down Factor has to do with suffering. In a nutshell it's this: you are voluntarily engaged in an uncomfortable chore, one that has a start time and an end time. For this reason, you agree to suffer the task--knowing it is pleasing (and or helpful) to someone else, though painful to you. You can struggle through the task because you can "see the light at the end of the tunnel" and, so seeing, you set your heart and your mind on the bright light--while ignoring the inconvenience. Like this you can confidently suffer the moment knowing how long that moment will last.

The Let Down Factor occurs when the light at the end of the tunnel fades to darkness. This happens when the "stop time" is renegotiated (the "moment" is stretched) by a second party, causing you to lose sight of the destination (or "Pain's End"). Here is a classic example:

Harvest Time. The Let Down Factor is a given when you agree to help a friend or family member with the grueling task of grape-picking. You begin naively enough setting your mind to the task, ignoring the sweaty droplets running down your face and the sticky scratchy weeds scraping your skin. You hold your bladder, knowing at break time you'll be back at the farmhouse with its private throne.

"We'll break at the end of this row," the winemaker says.

"Yes!" your brain responds, beginning the let down process: letting down its guard, letting the dulled senses awaken (you now feel the scratchy weeds, the annoying sweaty droplets--and that nagging need for which you'll soon find relief! You don't mind the pain because break time is coming up, as promised!)

...And then La Grosse Deception. The Big Disappointment.

"We're so close..." the winemaker says, changing his mind (and your destiny). "We may as well finish these last two rows!"

Amazed, you look up at the never-ending vine horizon, the scratchy weeds circle around your knees, and the sweat slips into your eyes, stinging them. And you can't hold it anymore! Panic sets in. Your mind paints a bleak, humiliating conclusion to this story. Whereas a moment ago you were numb to the environment, suddenly all your senses are alive and kicking--ready to get the heck out of the Godforsaken grapefield. Alas, it's not gonna happen!

Enter The Let Down Factor, or Extreme Disappointment 

Had you known the true "stop time" (end of task or effort) you would have remained in your "buffered zone", keeping your pain under the hood of your physical engine. Instead, you let down your guard and in rushed the sensory torture

So how does all this tie in to a wonderful concert in an ancient ampitheatre in Arles?

Faulty baffles, for one. The speakers pounded across the outdoor arena, up the thick stone slabs on which we were seated, and into our chest cavities!

"I don't like it when I can feel it booming in my poitrine!" my friend Emilie remarked. 

She was right. It felt as though every organ in my body was bathed in the liquid pounding vibration

I looked over to Jean-Marc, who had his hands over his ears (this somewhat reassured me. I wasn't a wuss after all--the music really was too loud!

"C'est saturé," another friend complained of the sound. "Oui," Jean-Marc agreed, getting up twice to have a word with the technical crew, but the ear- and organ-busting beat continued. Unwilling to let it spoil his evening, my husband searched for a solution. Leaving his seat near the speakers, he disappeared....

But not before our friends began talking of leaving a little earlier than planned. Such a reasonable idea of theirs, I thought, to wait for the last band, and then enjoy a few songs before leaving. The thought perked me right up, knowing we, too, could soon be leaving. My motivation was renewed with the fixed destination in my mind. (I could almost feel myself crawling under the cozy covers back home--my ears filled with soft cricket sound and not this horrible pounding!)

What a good idea! I thought, beginning to set my hopes on the near future. "Do you mind if we leave a little early too?" I asked Jean-Marc. 

Jean-Marc didn't mind, and I was thankful for the sacrifice he made. Only, come to think of it, he hadn't made it yet. In fact, where had he just skipped off to?

Surely he'd be back, as promised, after the 2 or 3 song limit. He'd promised. But when the second song finished...and the third... my thoughts began to reel and that Let Down Factor began wreaking havoc on my mind:

You're going to arrive home at three in the morning. Have the dogs been fed? You've got to get up early. You won't be able to work with a late-to-bed hangover!

My thoughts were interrupted when my friend Isabelle reached over to kiss me. "See you later! We're leaving."  All three songs were up, the others were following through with the plan--that same plan I had set in my own heart in order to endure. But now those speakers and the late night was getting to me. The light at the end of the tunnel had been dimmed. When would we be leaving now? The unknowing made the moment hard to bear.  

Looking around, I noticed everyone else was relaxed and having a good time. Why couldn't I be the same? Maybe all that beer they were serving helped dull the audiences' senses--while waking their energy. Maybe after ten years, now was a good time for a drink?

My frustration began to grow and grow.Ce malin! That sneaky one! Jean-Marc had approached the stage where the sound was equalized. That meant we wouldn't be leaving after "two or three" songs!

And yet, after the fourth song Jean-Marc reappeared--but by then I was standing up with my bag under my arm. I kissed those friends that were staying for the end of the concert, and motioned to my husband that we were on our way out!

 "No, it wasn't the one or two extra songs that bothered me," I argued, trying to find where our car was parked.  "It's that I was set on leaving at the promised time. Not knowing where you were or when you'd return was extremely frustrating. We might have stayed all night!"

 Adding to my annoyance was my husband's gentle swaying. He'd enjoyed a few drinks over the course of the night and his relaxation was at odds with my frayed nerves.

It hit me then. I didn't have to go on suffering that way. I could change my thoughts and in changing my thinking I could be at peace.

"I feel bad you didn't get to see the whole concert," I admitted. (Stumbling through Arles, I was now following Jean-Marc, who, tipsy, could find our way 1000s times better than his sober wife, who was lost again and again.)

"Don't worry about it. It all turned out well." My husband's words were soft. 

"I'm just not a night person," I explained. "And I don't like it when plans change." Listening to myself talk, I heard the familiar self-limiting beliefs. But it wasn't too late to change... I could alter my thinking and expand my limits. I could once and for all enjoy the moment--or at least allow someone else too! 

"It was such a chance to be there tonight, in an ancient outdoor theater. I'm glad we got to hear the last band." Seated in the car now, I reached over to touch my husband's leg and continued the positive affirmations:

"Thanks for such a beautiful evening...." I whispered, and on saying it, I began to feel the gratitude that was first born in my mind. Thoughts really do manifest.  


Comments and post note: I continue to retrain my brain after a lifetime of limiting thoughts. I hope to talk more about the subject of rebuilding the brain or neuroplasticity. Let me know your thoughts, here in the comments box. Can you relate to the "Let Down Factor"?

French Vocabulary

le cerveau = brain
deux en arrière = two back
le baffle = speakers
la poitrine = chest 

Last night's concert in Arles. Thank you, Pierre Casanova, for this photo I stole from your Facebook page. And thanks for a great evening with friends, beginning at Ariane's Natural Wine bar and ending at an ancient Roman theater.

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

Pastèque: Easy Fruit Salad Recipe

Childhood (c) Kristin Espinasse
Back when things weren't so complicated and you spoke your heart out.


 pastèque (pah-stek)

: watermelon


    by Kristin Espinasse

La Salade d'Amour

I was talking to my table-mate to the right when my left ear perked up and my husband's words came as a shock. 

I can't believe he just said that! But that was private--just between us!

I sat back in my chair, the night sky and its carpet of stars twinkling above. Looking around, I saw 10 intrigued faces staring back. What was that Jean-Marc just said? our guests wondered.

In the awkward pause that followed I weighed the pros and cons of coming clean. But it was too late now. Those quizzical looks awaited an answer! Only, these were French people. What would they think if I confirmed the tidbit some of them had just heard? Would they write me off as some bare-footed baba cool? Or would I be classified as a woo-woo?

It didn't take a shooting star to see the light. But my gaze fell brightly from the sky back to our well-heeled invités. If I couldn't be real now then when? Almost as a hint as to what to say next, my husband's announcement echoed in my head. Elle a fait cette salade avec amour! he had said. It was an innocent enough statement, but would it peg me? (And as what? A sentimentalist? So what. Big deal!)

"Yes!" I confessed. "I made this salad with love... I once heard that food tastes better that way!"

Any silence that followed was broken by a guest's lip-slapping remark: This is delicious! And there aren't even any pits in the cherries!

Giggles erupted before another tablemate noted, "That must have been a lot of work!"

Listening to our friend's compliments, Jean-Marc smiled at me, and I might have relaxed then and there. Alas--he wasn't done divulging! I braced myself for the next revelation. 

"Yes, she pitted every cherry...with love." Next he mimicked the scene he witnessed in the kitchen, where I stood at the sink preparing cerises with the help of my garlic press and its built in pit-popper. ''This one's for Cari and this one's for Pierre (pop... pop...). This one's for Isabelle and this one's for Eric'..."

As Jean-Marc recounted the story I studied our guests' faces. It all must have sounded saccharine sweet to them. But it was true. I did whisper offerings to each piece of fruit as I prepared my salad. In cooing to the cherries and the bananas and the melons, I had only been betting on a tip I'd heard about: for delicious food, put your heart into it!

 Too late now, the awkward truth was out. There was nothing left to do but to own it....

"And this one's for Emily and this one's for Bernard," I said, illustrating the technique I had employed with the help of my pit-popper. "And this one's for Bénédicte and this one's for Fred...pop! pop!"

As I acknowledged our friends who were seated round the table, my mind returned to the kitchen, where I'd struggled with those same old doubts while putting together a meal. "And this one is for Jean-Marc," I had said, continuing with the chore that was no longer a chore.

And then suddenly I was filled with the thrill of remembering an ingredient I had almost forgotten. Pop! I watched the last cherry land in the salad bowl after one more "person" was added to the jovial bunch.

"... And this one is for Kristi!" I cheered. You know the saying, L'amour est contagieux.

*    *    * 


1 cup cherries 
1 cup love
1 cup honeydew melon
(squeezes of lemon)
1 cup tendresse
1 cup oranges, cubed
1 cup encouragement
1 cup apples, cubes
1 cup affection
1 cup bananas...
(more lemon squeezes...) 

Continue adding any fruit in season. seasoning each time with tenderness. 

Recipe Update: Lately I have really enjoyed adding roasted pumpkin seeds, a swirl of our very own olive oil (yes!), a litte salt, some dried cranberries or raisins... or anything I have on hand that would enhance the flavor or texture. Try something new!  

French Vocabulary
un baba cool = hippie
un (une) invité(e) = a guest 
elle a fait cette salade avec amour = she made this salad with love 
la cerise = cherry 
l'amour est contagieux = love is contagious 

  Jules drives again (c) Kristin Espinasse

Random photo. How do you learn to drive? Same way as how you make food, with love! See the encouraging gaze on Jean-Marc's face as he teaches my Mom to drive again after she spent years away from the wheel. Photo taken a few years ago (That mom of mine never did forget how to drive. And Jean-Marc learned a new term: lead foot!)

Mr Sacks in Chateauneuf du Pape (c) Kristin Espinasse
Mr Sacks -- spotted in Chateauneuf du Pape. We met up with Rick, his family, and their delightful friends for a tour of Jean-Marc's uncle's vineyard--Domaine du Banneret--and a few other tasting rooms, including Domaine Julien Masquin. Someone in our group got a group picture. If I get a copy I'll post it!

Thanks for sharing this edition with a friend :-) 


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

How to say wasp in French... and the fascinating life inside a figue!

Kristin Espinasse with Smokey, Fig tree, Olive Grove, boules or petanque court (c) Jules Greer
"Ignorance is Bliss." Remember this photo from last September? Back then, while eating my way from one end of this fig tree to the other, I had no idea there was more to a fig than meets the eye.... 

une guêpe (gep)

    : wasp

Terms, Expressions, and an example sentence:

la taille de guêpe = slender-waisted, hourglass figure
le nid de guêpe = hornet's nest 

Pour éviter les piqures de guêpes, un vieux truc [ou astuce] de viticulteurs: pincer le bout de la langue entre les dents tant que l'insecte menace. Cela créée une légère tension corporelle qui le gêne, s'il vient à se poser sur la peau.

To avoid wasp stings, an old tip [or trick] from winegrowers: pinch the tip of your tongue between your teeth for as long as the insect threatens. This creates a light corporal tension that bothers [the wasps], if they come to land on the skin. (that story here...)

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

Figs and the Fascinating Life of a Lilliputian Wasp

Last night I heard a curious sound coming from outside the bedroom window. Toc, toc, toc.... Was it a thief?

My heart fluttered as I tuned into the strange noise. I listened to the intermittent thumping and shuffling, wondering what in the world? Was it a wild animal?

My mind reeled with possibilities, eventually settling on the least spooky conclusion: falling figs! I remembered back a day or two ago when playing fetch with Smokey. As he retrieved his stick, over by the boules court, I saw a scattering of figs lying there on the ground.

Next I noticed the ping pong table. It too was covered with figs.... I recalled the rumbling sky and the burst of rain we'd had the day before. The figs must have been knocked from the tree.

Allez. Pousse-toi, Smokey! Va là-bas, BraiseLike looters who appear on the scene, our dogs rushed up to the fallen goods, attempting to cash in on the catastrophe. 

I reached down to pick up a fig and saw it was too young to salvage. But then, could one eat an unripe fruit? It was a question I'd often wondered about. Such a pity all these figs might be destined for the compost pile, instead of our plates--in the form of tarte à la figue or figues farcies au fromage bleu or "figues tout court"!

Impatient to know the answer I tore open one of the figs. Instead of the usual raspberry color with lovely star-burst yellow accents, this one was pasty white inside. 

As I stood frowning into the fig my eyes caught on something... something wiggling! Dropping the fig I wondered, Was that a worm I just saw?

I walked over to the ping pong table and picked up another fig. Splitting it open I searched the interior until--wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!--I found what I was looking for. Beurk! C'est dégoûtant!

Any disgust was soon replaced by curiosity. The little fig in my hand was teeming with life. But how had the wiggly vers gotten there? Turning the fig round and round, I could find no port of entry....

An internet search ("worms in figs") opened up a fascinating new world--in which two living things come into being by the grace of the other--a process called mutualism. But how is this possible and which came first--the chicken or the egg (or the fig or the wasp?). 

Quit sait? Meantime what is known is this: because of the location of the fig's flowers (inside the fig), to pollinate it a female wasp has to enter the fig through a tiny hole in its base. It takes a very small wasp to do this, hence its moniker "la guêpe liliputienne". 

Once inside, the female deposits pollen and lays her eggs, which soon hatch. After the pupal stage, male wasps quickly find their way over to young females--and mate! Next, ever energetic, the males forge an escape route for the females (remember, everyone is still trapped inside the fig!). But all that gusto soon goes broke. The machos die at or near the sortie de secours and only the females make it out alive.

As the females crawl out of the fig, their little legs collect the pollen distributed by the first wasp.... Exiting, finally, the fig they salute their fallen heroes (OK, this part's made up) and, without missing a beat, make their way over to the nearest fig and into a little hole there at the base. Next the whole extraordinary cycle repeats itself!

As I said, some of the males--and those females who've lost their wings on the voyage out, die sur le chemin...   These unlucky ones remain there, fallen heroines and heroes, trapped inside the fig which then grows and ripens around them--like a sweet tomb.

At this point you may be wondering, like I was, whether or not to give up your addiction to figs? Could you overlook this wiggly fact and bite into the luscious fruit with the same wild abandon?

(Relax, nature cleans up the gory mess....)

Better than a sci-fi movie, the mutant fig eventually (and completely) consumes the unlucky wasps--this with the help of alchemy! ASU's Ask A Biologist column explains the process:

Figs produce a chemical called “ficin” that breaks down the wasp bodies. Ficin is so effective at breaking down, or digesting, animal proteins that natives of Central America eat fig sap to treat intestinal worm infections.

The article goes on to say that the rumor some of us once heard (about fig newtons containing crushed insects) is false. As for the figs on the trees, it all depends....

Recently, I watched my friend Isa reach for one of our figs while admiring our fig tree. Je les adore! She cooed, about to pop one of the fruits into her mouth.

Noticing the figs weren't ripe yet, I yanked the fruit out of her hand. 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you...."


To leave a comment, click here -- or share your favorite fig recipe (and assure me that you are no namby-pamby--that you won't let some lusty wasps keep you from enjoying this fascinating fruit!). 

French Vocab

toc-toc-toc = knock-knock-knock
allez = come on
pousse-toi = move it!
va là-bas! = go over there!
la tarte aux figues = fig pie, fig tart 
figues farcies au fromage bleu = figs stuffed with blue cheese
figues tout court = simply figs (figs full stop) 
beurk = yuck!
c'est dégoûtant = that's disgusting
un ver = worm 
qui sait? = who knows
sur le chemin = along the road
la sortie de secours = emergency exit 

Kristi and Chief Grape - Painting by Dana Constance Thomas
Kristi and Chief Grape. (We moved from the Ste Cécile vineyard, Domaine Rouge-Bleu, almost one year ago, but Jean-Marc will always be the grape chief. Meantime he's getting ready to plant his next vineyard). Painting by Dana Constance Thomas. At Dana's blog, you will find the interview we did together about what inspires me... and the answer to this question : If  Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?. I had a lot of fun answering that one. Don't miss the interview, here

sunflowers old french farmhouse mas in st cyr-sur-mer france
I planted sunflower seeds sprouts last fall -- and forgot about them. Those are radish pods. Having fun in the garden -- hope you are having fun there, or elsewhere. Enjoy your day.

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

le mariage civil + noce + the French are softies when it comes to weddings

The Kiss - Kristin Espinasse Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Nicolas Bourreli
"The Kiss". Jean-Marc and I celebrated our 19th anniversary with a hike along the sea and a swim at this calanque, in St. Cyr-sur-Mer.

la noce (nohce)

    : wedding, nuptials

faire la noce = to live it up
la nuit de noce = wedding night
le voyage de noces = honeymoon

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

Stopping Traffic

Memories are like bubbles. Full and rounded, the richest of them come rushing to the surface of our minds. I marvel at how my husband remembers some things and I, others. With the help of our individual recollections we knit together the past, enjoying moments from our romantic history.

This week Jean-Marc and I celebrated 19 years of marriage. The French call this anniversary les noces de cretonne. Cretonne being a type of fabric, the symbolism hints at the consistent weaving together of a sacred fil, the thread of love and commitment. 

All this talk of fabric and weaving reminds me of a vivid scene from our first wedding day. This was the town hall wedding or le mariage civil and in our case it took place two months before the church ceremony. It being a more casual gathering, there was none of that superstition about seeing the groom or bride beforehand. In fact, the groom and I drove together to our nuptials.

I'll never forget parading down the streets of Marseilles, in traffic. Grinning from ear to ear, I looked out our car window as Jean-Marc navigated from behind the wheel of his poor man's sports car. The red exterior of his Honda was chipped and dented, but inside might have been finer than silk and leather--the latter being Jean-Marc's just polished shoes (as for my dress, it was silk-like).

As we drove past all the chic boutiques on Rue Paradis on our way to pick up my bridal bouquet, it was thrilling to feel a part of this glamorous world surrounding us. And when Jean-Marc stopped smack in the middle of traffic, one lane away from the fleuriste, I literally stepped out onto Paradise Street.

"You'll have to hurry! There's no place to park," Jean-Marc explained.

I opened the creaky car door and landed in the middle of two lanes of impatient traffic.

It is awkward to be the center of attention, but there on my wedding day--crossing the street before the halted commuters--I all but twirled in my two-tiered dress!  Jaywalking across traffic lanes, light on my heels, I stole in and out of the flower shop, returning to my modern day carriage with an armful of calla lilies. 

The bumper to bumper traffic outside had not budged an inch, but was united in a collective (if imposed) pause. As I passed before the halted traffic, my wedding dress fluttering in the breeze, our parking sin was quickly forgiven as horns began to sound. Allez, les mariés!

The French are such softies when it comes to weddings! I smiled thanks to the audience of strangers and hurried into the car as drivers practiced their patience for one more "Marseilles minute". Even the calla lilies blushed, witnessing that steamy kiss!

To read about our church wedding, where the groom feared he was stood up and the bride got stuck to the outside of the church (wind and stucco are bad company for a bridal veil), read the chapter in my book.

French Vocabulary

le fil = string
le mariage civil = civil wedding, registry office wedding
la fleuriste = florist 
allez les mariés! = cheers to the bride and groom!
Marseilles minute = the amount of time (seconds, actually) another car will wait before blaring its horn at a stoplight turned green 

Max and his 18th summer (c) Kristin Espinasse
Max was born 9 months after Jean-Marc and I tied the knot...

Jackie "First Cowboy Hat" (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jackie came next... She turns 16 in September (this post was written in 2013...). This photo was taken recently, in Idaho--where she is spending the month with her grandparents... and trying on her American hat! Whereas I dreamt of France at her age, Jackie's life goal is to live in the States. "France is so old," she moans.

Together Forever (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Through Thick and Thin". Everyone and everything needs closeness. Picture taken in Orange (Vaucluse)

Kristi jean-marc espinasse 1994 Bagatelle wedding in Marseilles France
Those calla lilies and our town hall wedding on July 4th, 1994.

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

How to say tenant in French?

Green Eggs and Man (c) Kristin Espinasse
Wish I'd gotten a picture of the hero in today's story. Meantime, here's a lovable stand-in. Photo taken somewhere in the Vaucluse...

le locataire (lo h-ka-tair)

    : tenant

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or  Wav file

Le locataire ouvre grand ses bras. "Entrez, je vous en prie!" il dit.
The tenant opens his arms. "Come in. Please!" he says.  

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

"La Ciotat, La Ciotat!"

I went twice to La Ciotat yesterday. First, in the morning--to get more ingredients for the Healthy Fudge--and again in the evening to look at an apartment for my belle-mère.

The second trip was Jean-Marc's idea. "But are you sure your Mom wants to leave Marseilles? All of her friends are there. And all of her friendly commercants, too." I remember meeting Michèle-France's pharmacist on my previous visit, and witnessing the cheerful bantering between the two women. In a new town, my belle-mère would lose these cozy ties--or have to slowly build them again. 

Jean-Marc assured me that his maman was desperate to move. After nearly two decades in her shoe-size apartment, Michèle-France feels like a bull in a birdcage. And because there is no elevator, she is obliged to climb four flights of stairs--the idea of which keeps her prisoner inside her own home (and one or two nagging health issues do nothing to encourage her to venture out).

In a flowering courtyard a hundred meters from the sea, a thin man is looking out from a ground floor apartment. The smile on his face is as warm as the sunshine pouring down on the flowering lauriers-roses beneath his window. 

"That's Monsieur C. He's moving back to Corsica," the landlady explains, guiding Jean-Marc and me up the stairs to lobby. 

In the entry hall, beside the door of the apartment, there is a giant poster in hues of blue--my mother-in-law's favorite color. The details of the affiche escape me when the porte flies open and another subject comes into view: the Corsican.

"Bonjour, Mr. C." The landlady apologizes for the invasion but we are apparently no bother: her tenant ushers us in with a warm welcome. "Entrez," he says, "entrez!"

We begin our walk-through of the one-bedroom apartment. Passing a hall closet, the landlady assures her locataire: "No need to open it, Mr. C."

"Je vous en prie!" Mr. C. insists, reaching down to push a heavy packing bag out of the way.

I peer into the tiny placard, which holds a few threadbare items. My focus returns to our voluntary guide, Mr. C., whose clothes mimic those in his faded wardrobe. He is wearing an oversized coat and pants and his fedora is about to topple off his head. Standing this closely to Monsieur, I smell fumes on his breath and notice how his eyes are softly lit.... I begin to wonder why he is moving and hope that wherever he goes he will be OK. 

"And here is the bedroom," the propriétaire points out. "The place comes furnished." 

As we step past him, Mr. C. smiles, pushing his packing bag out of the way once again. I reach out and grasp his shoulder in an automatic gesture of thanks. Thanks for the warm welcome. Thanks for being so helpful. Thanks for putting up with this invasion. Only, when I find myself patting his shoulder again and again, I realize my reflex may be overly sympathetic. I begin to wonder: if Monsieur didn't have the glassy eyes and octane breath--if he didn't have the repurposed suitcase--if instead he had a Louis Vuitton and wore a bow tie--then would I have patted him on the shoulder?

No, I wouldn't have! I would have been too intimidated. But here, there was no intimidation or awkwardness--only a sense of camaraderie. Still, I should be more composed--for overt displays of sympathy can come across as pitying, or worse--condescending!

As we continue to tour the stranger's apartment, I think about how quick I am to show affection to certain types of people. How chatty I can be! But put me in a room with the up and climbing Joneses, the cosmopolitans--or people my own age, or savants--and I'm suddenly tongue-tied and awkward. No way I'd be slapping them on the back, ol' pal style. Ça ne se fait pas!

As my mind overthinks my gestures, Mr. C. is going with the flow--the tide of strangers peering into the nooks and crannies of his upturned life. I notice the padlock on his bedroom window shutters; once again I have the urge to reach out... and comfort him? and for what? But the padlock, or cadenas, is proof of the fragility that up til know could only be sensed. 

"That's the WC," the landlady says as we follow her out into the hall again. "It's separate from the bathroom." Opening the door I'm cheered by the tiny room with its bright turquoise blue paint. There is a picture of a saint on the wall, her arms are outstretched just as Mr. C's were, on ushering us into his home earlier.

As I stand admiring the saint a sour scent lifts upwards from beneath my feet, filling my nose with an acidic tingling.... I quickly back out of the WC. but the scent seems to trail out to the hallway. I guess Mr. C. had missed the spot--as men will--only his aim was a little farther off than most.

Overall, Jean-Marc and I loved the apartment, and Mr. C's character lent an affectionate and adorable aura to the place.

"But we'll need to do some repair work," Jean-Marc explained. "Some painting... and we'll need to change the linoleum floors."
The deal was sealed with a bottle of wine - one Jean-Marc promised to bring on the next visit. With a little persuading, maybe we can get him to bring a bottle for Mr. C. (or would fudge be a better idea?), in thanks for his warm hospitality.

On our way out I brushed Mr. C's shoulder once again, finding it hard to resist the lovable character. The gesture wasn't condescending, no! How good it felt to touch a saint and to sense his gentle spirit run through me, filling my mother-in-law's next home with love and abundance.


Post note: The landlord tells us Mr. C. is returning to his native Corsica, after a stint in La Ciotat. No sad ending, here. May the beauty of the southern French island fill his days with joy.

French Vocab

la belle-mère = mother-in-law
le commerçant = storekeeper 
la maman = mom, mother 
les lauriers-roses (mpl) = oleanders
une affiche = poster
la porte = door
le locataire = renter, tenant
entrez = come in 
je vous en prie = please (go ahead)
le placard de rangement = small closet, often in a hallway
ça ne se fait pas! = one doesn't do that!
le cadenas = padlock 
le WC = toilet (bathroom) 

Words in a french life - joAnna students

Photos and words like this are the best reward for sticking to my writing dream, and pushing past all the doubtful moments!  Mille mercis to the students in this photo, and to their thoughtful teacher!

Hi Kristin,  I had an amazing 8th grade French class this year and some of the girls fell madly in love with Words in a French Life.  We did a weekly reading period on Mondays and they would literally fight over who got to read it.  Because I enjoyed them so much, I gave all of the girls in the class your book and they were ecstatic! ... I thought you might enjoy the picture!  

JoAnna, a middle school french teacher in Massachusetts

verrine surimi avocado crab smoked salmon

Another recipe--maybe we're on a roll?

Three sum years ago, when he was 15, our son Max had an internship at a local starred restaurant. There, he learned how to make verrines! I came across this photo in my archives, which comes in the nick of time: we have several guests this month and I've been needing some kitchen inspiration. This verrine (from the word "verre" or "glass") looks simple:

...a layer of chopped surimi (will replace this with real fish...), a layer of guacamole, a layer of sour cream, and a layer of smoked salmon. Top with anèth, or dill--something that happens to be growing profusely in our garden!

La ciotat france colorful buildings
Looking back on this post, written in 2013, I did not know we too would move to the historic town of La Ciotat in the summer of 2017

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

Fudging in French... + dessert recipe

La Charlotte de L'isle - patisserie in Paris (c) Kristin Espinasse
Forward this post to a French friend. Today's edition, on fudge, is a reverse-dictionary entry: instead of translating a French word, we'll begin with English. This is dedicated to all of our French readers--so happy to know you're reading. You keep me on my toes! (photo of a sweets shop taken in Paris)

fudge (n) (fuhzh)

    : espèce de caramel mou (a kind of soft caramel)

fudge (v)

    : tricher (to cheat)

chocolate fudge cake = le moelleux au chocolat
butter fudge = le caramel mou 

Get your copy of the printed archives of French Word-A-Day. Click here.

 Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

Le Fudge est une confiserie anglaise... réalisée avec du beurre, du sucre, du lait et généralement parfumée avec du chocolat ou de la vanille...

Fudge is a candy (or confectionery) made with butter, sugar, and milk and commonly flavored with chocolate or vanilla.

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

The Accidental Confectioners

After my father left early yesterday morning, I remembered an unfulfilled goal I'd set before he arrived: I was to pick Dad's brain a little each day--ask him all about his life and that of my ancestors.... Only, si vite que ça, three weeks had gone by and, poof, he and my belle-mère Marsha were gone!

I sat there in bed last night, eating the last two squares of fudge I'd found in the fridge. As the chocolate melted in my mouth I began to remember one story I'd gotten out of my dad: how surprising it had been to learn that he once loved to make fudge!

My dad, just like his mother was, is a skips-dessert type--so it was amusing to learn that the two enjoyed the bucolic pastime of candy-making. 

"In the 50s," Dad explained, "it was kind of the new fad. Everyone was making fudge."

(Later, I would google "fudge" and better understand why my no-dessert grandmother knew how to make this decadent confiserie: historically fudge came into public consciousness after it was made at college campuses to raise money. Among the first universities to participate in a fudge auction, were Vassar and  Smith college. My grandmother Annette was at Steven's Finishing College (for women), probably making fudge like the others. I wonder.

Dad went on to say that it was easy to make fudge, you only needed three ingredients: cocoa powder, butter, and sugar! "Mom and I just mixed it all together, heating it. Next we let it harden."

As Dad spoke, I looked over at my belle-mère, Marsha, who listened along with me. Wouldn't it be a fun project for Jackie (who would be spending the month of July in the States, with Dad and Marsha) to make fudge with her grandfather? It would be a wonderful souvenir. At the very least it would be an activity Dad and Jackie could enjoy together (should fly-fishing prove unpopular).

Marsha lit up as the two of us hatched a plan to get grandfather and granddaughter in the kitchen together. Locking eyes with my belle-mère I whispered, "I think we have all the ingredients here now--for a healthier version!"

 And just like that--illico presto--stepmother and stepdaughter (make that belle-mère and belle-fille, for isn't that much better?!) were in the kitchen-turned-laboratoire.... for a trial run.

I reached for the coconut oil, the cacao, and the honey as Marsha nodded in agreement: this should work!

My belle-mère agreed that coconut oil would be a perfect substitute. We discovered that both of us used it on a daily basis: Marsha uses it in her morning nutribullet -- and I use the organic coconut oil as a daily moisturizer.

I measured one cup of the oil, before transfering it to a bowl for mixing. Because it is summertime, the oil is almost liquified, so it wasn't necessary to heat it first.

Next, Marsha measured out the chocolate powder (I found a box of 100 percent cocoa powder in the cupboard), before carefully folding in the powdery chocolate (which tended to rise like a puff of smoke as Marsha stirred it. Atchoum!).

After, I measured out 3/4 cup of honey, then poured it into the bowl. That's when the intensive stirring began....

After a few minutes Marsha passed the bowl to me. "Your turn!" Having passed the bowl back and forth a few times we'd whipped up an almost pourable fudge! I grabbed a plastic spatula and Marsha guided the flow of chocolate into a cake pan (we had no wax paper. This was the best we could do!).

I remembered a bag of crushed pecans that had been in the fridge for months. Marsha and I stuck our nose in the bag and determined the spiced nuts were unspoiled--and ready to become the perfect fudge topping. On they went! Marsha then set the pan in the fridge for a few hard-to-wait-out hours. 

"Do you think it's ready yet?" Marsha asked for the third time. Finally, she fudged, pulling out the pan and lifting out a square for us to sample before dinner. As the chocolate melted in our mouths we locked eyes. C'était réussi! The fudge was a success! 

"It tastes kind of like a Mounds bar," Marsha noted.

"It's delicious," I agreed. "But I wonder if Dad and Jackie should stick to the classic butter-sugar-chocolate recipe?"

"It's true that not everyone will like this version," Marsha agreed. "You might have to be used to the healthy substitutions (of coconut oil and honey) in order to have a taste for it."

The real test came after dinner, when the fudge platter made the rounds at the dinner table.... and the accidental confectioners were delighted to see that everyone reached for seconds!


Tip: though refrigerated for a few hours, the fudge melted quickly on our fingers. Marsha suggested serving it alongside ice cream -- something that would help preserve it for a few more minutes :-)

Update: after Dad and Marsha's departure, when I ate those last two comforting squares, I noticed the chocolate didn't melt as fast. So an extra day in the fridge helps. I leave you with the recipe:

Healthy Fudge

  • one cup organic coconut oil
  • one cup chocolate powder (unsweetened, 100 percent cacao)
  • 3/4 cup honey 
  • toppings such as crushed nuts, coconut flakes, dried fruit...

Mix all ingredients together. Pour onto wax paper (or into a pan). Note: To loosen the chilled fudge, Marsha set the pan in an inch of warm water--for a brief moment! Then she was able to cut the fudge and lift it out of the pan.

Healthy fudge (c) Kristin Espinasse
We sprinkled crushed spiced pecans on top (made by our friend Phyllis Adatto, of French Country Wines. That's the deep pan we used to set the fudge (normally we would have used a cookie sheet and wax paper...) The pan's diameter was the right size -- small enough to allow the poured fudge to pile up for a thick enough square. 
Healthy fudge (c) Kristin Espinasse
I set the fudge on a pretty pottery dish that Marsha's son, Michael, gave us -- 15 years ago, while on a mission in Europe.

To comment on this post, click here. I'd love to know your ideas about what to add to this fudge recipe. Or come back after you've tried the recipe--and tell us how to improve it! Click here to comment.

French Vocabulary

si vite que ça = as quick as that
la belle-mère = step-mother (also means mother-in-law)
la confiserie = sweet, candy -- also "sweets shop" 
illico-presto = pronto 
la belle-fille = step-daughter (also can mean daughter-in-law)
le laboratoire = laboratory 


This recipe would be great to make for the holidays, so keep it in mind. (Here is Marsha and Dad. Picture taken on Christmas, 2009).

  Dogs of France and Europe (c) Kristin Espinasse

End of post photo--to leave you with a smile.The only reason this one is titled "Homeless Dog" is because of the poubelle or garbage can that lends to the imagination. But how many homeless dogs do you know who take the time to put on a shirt? Besides, this dog wasn't dumpster diving, he was practicing the fine French art of gleaning!

Looking forward to sharing a "Dogs of France: Part 2" edition with you sometime. Meantime, enjoy this photo of a "dressy" character I ran into at a ski station on Mont Ventoux. To see the Dogs of France (and Europe!) post, click here and share it with an animal lover.

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