manger ses mots
How to say "cleaning frenzy" in French! + photo vocabulary!

RECIPE: Annie's Soupe de Poissons


A fish shop in Brignoles. 

 la soupe de poissons (sewp-deuh-pwa-sohn)

    : fish soup

Jean-Marc has been catching lots of little fish these days. Last time it was une rascasse! Apart from being unappetizing to look at, they are too small to eat. "Faites la soupe de poissons!" Make fish soup! our friends tell us. Recipe, in today's story....


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

It's the first week of August and we've got tomatoes coming out of our ears! (Now there's an expression to add to our growing list of English and French idioms...).

In the potager the other night, I was harvesting tomatoes when I realized there was no way we could eat them all before they rotted. I needed to learn how to can! Meantime, why not give some away?

I thought about our neighbor, Annie.... but almost as soon as the idea popped up that old faulty thinking kicked in: Annie's probably busy with her family. Or she might be resting. Or maybe she doesn't feel like company. It's 7pm--too late now anyway...  There seemed to be any number of reasons to stay put, and not risk stepping out.

But as I mentioned before, I'm working on such self-defeating and ingrained thoughts. I will no longer let doubtful thinking keep me from enjoying new experiences!

Quickly, I filled a paper bag with the best tomatoes and marched faster than my darting thoughts, right up the little dirt path, to the field between Annie's place and ours. Arriving at the edge of her garden, I heard a chorus of alarms: first there was the horse, which whinnied. The goose was next...honk! honk! honk! Then the dogs and the chickens chimed in. I didn't hear a complaint from the lapins, though. What should they sound like?

Barking, neighing, clucking and honking, the creatures approached the property line. I stood on the other side of the rope, not daring to venture any farther. Looking around I saw no sign of Annie.

And then I heard bleating... Turning toward the field above her house, I saw my neighbor walking her goat and her sheep. What an endearing sight!  A rare and beautiful glimpse of another place and time. I wondered if Annie had any idea how peaceful and lovely she looked.

Apparently not. As I walked up the dirt path, she held out her cane in a gesture of warning. "I'm not very presentable," she apologized. "I'm wearing my pajama top. The long sleeves help keep the mosquitoes away!" Annie smiled, offering a friendly welcome despite initial standoff. Next, she pointed to her pants, which were missing a zipper. The waist was nearly held together by a rubber band.

How refreshing it was to be around someone so down-to-earth. I raised my hand in a thumbs-up gesture. "No worries, Annie! So many of my pants are busted, too! Rigged together now with rubberbands, safety-pins, or, in a pinch, an old tie from Jean-Marc's office days!" How I wanted to say these words to Annie, but I couldn't find the French to express myself. And so I smiled and said instead, Quel plaisir de vous voir tous!

Pointing to Annie and her walking companions--a feisty young goat and a tired old sheep--I wanted to let her know how treasured an image they were, but I should be careful not to gush.... or come off as the hopeless Francophile that I am! I love French country life and the uncomplicated characters whom I sometimes have the privilege of knowing. 

I kissed Annie on each cheek and patted her goat and her mouton which, after a cursory greeting, returned to their foraging. (Chinese mulberries grow here like weeds and are a favorite to eat!)

"They are so sweet, Annie!" I didn't know goats acted like dogs, and were so outgoing. The sheep, on the other hand, seemed shy--especially for his giant size.

Annie told me that they were rescues, but that it wasn't so easy keeping up with all the animals. Picking up the ragged tail of her mouton, she laughed: "I just trimmed him. It's a little uneven but I did it my best!"

"You did an excellent job!" I assured her, impressed that she used kitchen shears when she didn't have the electric kind, made for the task. 

As I admired her handiwork, I saw the heavy sharp hooves of the animals and took a few discreet steps backward. Steel-toe boots would have been better than these flip-flops... 

Annie pointed to my skirt, below which my bare legs were splotched with red dots.

"Careful, the mosquitoes are getting you."

"Next time I'll wear my pajamas," I smiled, handing Annie the tomatoes I'd brought her. "I'd better get back. Jean-Marc wants to go on a boat ride and I keep finding excuses not to go."

Suddenly, Annie's expression turned concerned. "Go with him when he wants to take you on that boat. One day you'll be my age and you won't be able to enjoy such things anymore."

Annie's words struck me like a thunderbolt. Somehow, coming from this peaceful soul, the suggestion finally took hold.

"I've been out a few times..." I explained. "We went fishing last night. Jean-Marc caught a rascasse! We are saving all the little fish, freezing them, and plan on making la soupe de poissons at the end of summer!"

"I used to love to go fishing!" Annie said. She turned her gaze out to the parched field, beyond which the great blue Mediterranean beckoned.   

"Why don't you join us?!"

Annie smiled and quickly changed the subject. Taking my arm, she shared with me another recipe, (after the fava stew ingredients she suggested last time).
Max plays soccer 030
A classic wooden fishing boat in the South of France, photo taken in Giens.


"Saute all the fish in olive oil. First, add onions and garlic to the pan, frying them in the oil. Then add salt and pepper and wild herbs," Annie said, waving her arm, indicating all the plants growing here in the field: thyme, fennel, laurier...

I was curious whether one emptied the fish, or did we keep the insides--as well as the eyes

Annie confirmed that the entire fish was used. "The fish and the herbs will thicken in the pan. Next you can add some water to adjust the texture. Finally add a bit of saffron..."

"OK, I think I got it... olive oil, herbs, saffron, eyes and tails and stomachs..." I winked.

Annie smiled. "I'll remind you of the recipe at the end of summertime."

Now that was something to look forward to--the promise of another visit with Annie. With any luck, maybe we could see each other again before then? For even more lovely than the image of Annie walking her sheep and her goat, is the picture of her with her fishing pole--casting a line far out to sea.  



le potager = kitchen garden

la rascasse = scorpion fish

le lapin (la lapine) = rabbit

quel plaisir de vous voir tous = what a pleasure to see you all

The World is your Oyster. Photo of young girl with telescope, my daughter Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse,
"The world is your huitre." Photo of Jackie when she was 7 years old. My girl, keep your vision steady and you will achieve your goals. Read a letter by Jackie in which she asks a work related question: Est-ce vraiment aussi dur qu'on le dit de trouver du travail? Click here to read her bilingual note.

Lunch in Provence. Schedule a vineyard tour with Jean-Marc. Join us in Chateauneuf or another Provence vineyard town (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Last month we met up with Rick (center, to the right of Jean-Marc) and his family and friends for a vineyard tour in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. After tasting at three caves, including Uncle Jean-Claude's, we had a sunny lunch and enjoyed talking about France, wine and writing. If you are interested in touring the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and beyond, Jean-Marc is your man. Actually, he's MY man, but I might share him for a 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]

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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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Christine Dashper

Such a lovely story Kristin. Lots of lovely images in my head. Thanks as always


aart van der Heijden

For amusing English expressions, look at the Webster's dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

Being somewhat Francophone, my favorite expression is:
Donner a manger aux puces
Direct translation: feed the fleas
or: retire to bed, go to sleep

Lovely site, keep it up.


Suzanne Dunaway

SOUPE DE POISSON AVEC SA ROUILLE (Fish soup with its sweet red pepper sauce)
Serves 6

The fish used in this delectable soup are called rascasses, rougets, merlan, and petite crabes, the crab being the base for the soup. Most of the fish used are tiny fish which swim among the rocks in Collioure (the roches). The crab and olive oil are cooked together first to make the broth for the soup, then the rest of the ingredients are sautéed and added. All is put through a strainer, or chinios, pressing the ingredients to extract all the flavor and some of the texture. The tiny fish used in soupe de poisson are easily desiccated, and some of their flesh comes through the chinios easily to make the lovely texture of this soup. There are no whole pieces of fish in the soup, and only a pure, smooth soup is the desired result.

½ cup olive oil
2 pounds small crabs, in the shell, or 2 pounds cooked crab, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large onions, chopped
¼ cup fennel, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic
6 large tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato concentrate
1 small sprig fresh thyme
¼ inch piece bay leaf
½ cup parsley, chopped fine
½ teaspoon powdered saffron or a large pinch of saffron threads
1 ½ pounds small red snapper, whole if possible, cut into pieces
1 pound cod, cut into pieces
½ pound whitebait or any small fish available
2 quarts vegetable, fish, or chicken broth
A few drops of lemon

In a large skillet or deep casserole over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add the crab (if live), cover, reduce heat, and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes. If using cooked crab, add it along with the fish. Add the chopped onion and fennel to the oil and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes until golden. Add the tomatoes, the concentrate, the herbs, and the fish (and crab, if cooked), and add broth to cover. Cover and simmer on very low heat for 1 ½ hours, adding more broth if necessary. Pass the contents of the skillet or casserole through a Moulinex or food grinder, then pass the soup through a chinois or medium sieve. The soup should retain some texture because of the small parts of the fish which will pass through the sieve. Heat and serve with toast spread with rouille.


1 egg yolk (or whole egg)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large red pepper, grilled, peeled, and chopped
1 very small dried red pepper
½ cup stale bread crumbs

Make the mayonnaise: In a blender or bowl of a food processor, add the olive oil, one drop at a time, to the egg yolk and salt (or whole egg) until thickened. Add the rest of the ingredients and process to form a smooth, thick mayonnaise resembling aioli. Spread on toast, place the toast in soup bowls, and serve the hot soup de poisson over the toast. Or, serve the toast and rouille on the side and let each guest do his own. Grated gruyere is often served with this soup, but I have never cared for it as a condiment.

Donna Knight

I so relate to your feeling the tide of excuses roll in, that often times, flood the exuberance of a great idea. I'm so glad you decided to surf the wave, in order to deliver the tomatoes to your lovely neighbor! It takes courage...but what a pay off? Seeing her and all her real ness, and to receive, in return, a bit of wisdom and a recipe to boot!

Donna Knight

I so relate to your feeling the tide of excuses roll in, that often times, flood the exuberance of a great idea. I'm so glad you decided to surf the wave, in order to deliver the tomatoes to your lovely neighbor! It takes courage...but what a pay off? Seeing her and all her real ness, and to receive, in return, a bit of wisdom and a recipe to boot!

Note: comment posted on blog about Jackie in error... How to delete a comment?


Yea Kristi!!!

I am so happy to see that you have finally brought our precious Annie into the fold. I can almost remember the exact moment Annie came into your life and began sprinkling her wisdom upon your ears. For months I heard about this mysterious lady that lived in the Chateau above your meadow - I remember begging you for stories and photos of her dreamlike life on the ridge above the valley that lead down to the sea. Needless to say the very day I arrived to inspect your new adventure it only took me a few moments to spirit your flip-cam off your desk and run up the hill, through the meadow to Annie's place. Of course she knew who I was as she had caught sight of me hanging out of your car window throwing her kisses as we passed on our mountain road arriving to our destiny from the aeroporto in Marseille.

Every few weeks I boot up that memorable video and watch Annies Geese introduce me to the delilghts of her garden, chickens, beautiful black horse and of course the unforgetable goat and sheep that she claims are the end of all of her peace. Of course my fantasy is living in the forest just above the meadow with my little goats (I'm going for the minature black and white) and of course the two sheep I will start my flock with. And of course by then I will have that beautiful Swiss White Sheppard that I found last visit at the beach. I also look at that photo every few weeks when we were playing at Port Alon. Everything in my daydreams feels real to me - so now to know that perhaps you are going to add Annie into the mix here at FWAD just means I will have more images to paint while I perfect my vision of life in the forest above the sea.

I must say Annie is really going to open up the gates of info on what real life and history is like in this part of France as she has been on this mountain since birth. I believe Annie to be in her 70's, and I must say she is strikingly beautiful, elegant and humble...just what we would want to see in a painting as she wanders at sunset with her adorable companions.

Kristi - you have made my day with todays post - I am so happy you are busting through that door into the freedom of exploration.




Kristen, you have such a big heart! You know that the French aren't accustomed to the kind of neighbourly acceptance that would make including her in your fishing trip possible, but you ask anyway. I love that about you. I spent two years in Paris as a young bride. Loved it, (like you, I'm a raving Francophile) but it took a lot of adapting. Love your blog.

Nancy,                     Cambridge

Had a strong connection with today's delightful story: I have always been attracted to older people's life stories and the wisdom they have learned, so I hope to hear more about Annie. Amazing things happen when we venture to share something- whether tomatoes, or stories.
Also, the strong images of Annie and her pets remind of one drive I had in France once: arriving at the height of a hill covered with fields, a silhouette of a shephard with his long coat and staff and goats was etched across the background of a blank pale sky. Unforgettable!


Sorry--it's the apostrophe police again:

mulberrys, not mulberry's
tomatoes, not tomatoe's

And Jules--who is often the culprit did the reverse today:

Annie's, not Annies
today's, not todays

Don't get me wrong--I love FWAD!

Gaelle from AZ

I so enjoyed today's post! I, too, am working on self defeating and ingrained thoughts. Not an easy task. I loved how you hurriedly gathered your gift of tomatoes, seized the opportunity and were richly rewarded!! I wonder if i were somehow to remember these sweet rewards of stepping out of my comfort zones that I wouldn't be so apt to listen to the excuses in my head.

Loved hearing about Annie. Hope to see a photo someday of her and her companions. Also, I always, always enjoy your mom's posts! How very fun and encouraging she is. You are blessed!!

With AZ love,
Gail :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for your comments. Exciting to see some new names here. Welcome!

Mom, thanks for rounding out these stories and making them sparkle with the extras you sare.
Donna, no worries about the extra comment. I will fix it.
Allen, Corrections are always appreciated. I saw a lot of the mistakes right after I sent out the newsletter. So often happens that way!

Ellen McCarty (pen name)  Sara Ellen Ben-Eliahu - Garvin

Hi Kristen: Just a quick and heartfelt note from another American writer - this one living on a French mountaintop (but I can see the sea from on high). For your info, and maybe to calm any tiny sadness about those negative book reviews: Books published on-line and through todays mass paperback warehouse-trade attract all kinds of "critical" reviews -- often quite self-important, even nasty, dismissals. This is the world we live in now -- full of quick, judgmental "twitterers" who couldn't care less about real mature expressions of feelings and vivid descriptions of the secrets we learn so painfully (and sometimes joyfully) during our lives.
I told you once before, on first reading your blog, that you are a very fine writer, able to create special moments with your honest words. Now I tell you again -- ignore the small-minded, "bored" and self-indulgent mass of readers looking for diversions. Just tell it "like it is" and we who understand will feel it across all the miles or years of age that separate us.
Hugs from Ellen in Castellar

Kristin Espinasse

Aart, loved the fleas expression. Too funny. On the other hand, we have a full house of guests at the moment and one of them woke up with welts all over the backs of her legs. Yikes! We thought it was the mosquitos but now there is a doubt....

Barbara Hylton

Re tomatoes, I had the same problem: beau coup tomatoes all at once but they freeze beautifully for stews, soups,etc. Wash and dry them and place them in plastic bags. Dropping them in the stews and soups the skin floats up to the surface.

Kristin Espinasse

Gaelle, and those who struggle with their thinking, keep renewing your thoughts--to the positive-- and know we are cheering for you.

Ellen, Thank you for your encouraging words about writing!

Barbara, this is just the tip I have been needing! So simple--why didnt I think of it?


Kristen, tell us more about Jean-Marc and wine tasting tours. Does he hire out? If so, what are his prices? Sounds enticing!

Kathleen from Connecticut


I wish that you had your camera, although she might not want a photo taken and you so adequately described her and the little family so well that I could visualize it all without the photo. But maybe some day we will be introduced to her visually in FWAD.

What happens to the fish eyes or maybe you strain the soup or pick the fish apart before eating. I had a student who eat the whole fish including the eyes...a delicacy. Not for me!

Enjoy the boat while you can. I sure wish that I was still in Provence at the beach enjoying the cool blue water...not the same here in Long Island Sound.

Enjoy the summer!


Cynthia Lewis (Eastern Shore of Maryland)

Kristin ,thanks so much for taking us along with you on your visit with your neighbor, Annie. I could almost feel the warm sun and smell the wild herbs. I hope you can one day (might take years) break through Annie's natural French reticence. I feel that you are just the person to do this with your sunny, warm and thoughtful personality. Annie will become a treasure for you just as you are a treasure for all of us!

Pat from Oregon

Loved the life-picture today of your neighbor walking with her goat and sheep. But what I want to comment on is your note about reading your book critiques (did I spell that right?) Oh well. I am a college instructor (English as a Second Language) and we ask for student evaluations on a rather regular basis. I know just how you feel! I look forward to my students' feedback with both positive anticipation and dread. Almost always the evaluations are very positive, but there are those honest people who tell you what you need to do better.

Why is it that we so often focus on the negative and brush off the positive?

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Lovely story ----- great comments. Thanks!

Be well.

Valerie Carr

Your uncle Jean-Claude gave us a wonderful tasting at Domaine du Banneret in June 2012.
We have a bottle of his Domaine du Banneret 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape which we are saving for a special occasion!
I had no idea this was where your husband had worked, and that he was a relative!

I am still enjoying French Word a Day.
Glad you are settling in your new home.

Regards Valerie Carr

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm

Dear Kristi!

It is as if you have written this story for me --- it stole my heart! I have dreamt of a life such as Annie’s since I was a small child. Now in mid-life, I have a wonderful farm in the mountains and am surrounded by my beloved family of animals.

I do hope you will share more of yourself with Annie and more of her with us. I picture her much like my precious neighbor, Francie, who lives on the farm she was born on, 73 years or more ago. She can still out work most twenty year olds (most anyone!). She has a heart of gold, eyes that dance and twinkle and is salt of the earth.

Thank you for adding such delightful thoughts to my day!


Loved the story! Some day I hope to be Annie myself, working outdoors in my garden, helping things grow, enjoying the sunshine.

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

La soupe de poissons sounds delicious. The flavors all mixed with the seasonings, and the soup sort of creamy after being put through a sieve (or cheesecloth?).

Rascasse looked very pretty as to colors at the link you gave. They are small fish?

A gift of fresh picked tomatoes, that is the best way to say hello in August, I think. That was a lovely story.

Kitty Wilson

What a superb account of a brave encounter with your lovely neighbour, Kristi -- you took us with you so close to your side that every facet of the event is real to me, as if it were my own experience.

Please pratice this skill: brush off or even LAUGH at the ignorance of some ordinary reviewers if your beautiful books. Some of these people are naive and/or very young, others just a bit thick, and others are deliberately mean, as if the online world is the one place where they are free to feel negative power -- tho' I bet they're snarly in person as well. I find myself feeling sorry for their ignorance.

Your writing = irresistible! LOVE its unfailing fullness of depth, lightness, wonderment and courage, all in the crucible of human realities lived vividly. BLESS you for sharing your world with us so authentically and so well. Hugs from Ontario, Canada

Kitty Wilson

Forgive my typos!

Bill Facker

They are precious, the Annie's of our world. The excellent description of your Annie and her herbivorous friends is yet another "Kristin Victory" for writing and humanity. Aloha

june furey

Kristin you painted a wonderful picture with words about your visit to Annie. I do hope you continue your visits to your lovely neighbour where she still lives her slower "olde world" lifestyle. I have been reading a book recently by Gully Wells, now of New York, about her mother's home in the hills behind Bandol she writes of memories over years of happy holidays spent in their rustic environment. Your story portrayed an overwhelming sense of atmosphere I felt I was enjoying the visit also. merci merci June, Gold Coast Qld.


What a delightful word picture you created of your visit with Annie! And I can really relate to the excuses you gave for not going to see her. Bravo to you for conquering your fear and doubt. You gave yourself and her a true gift of friendship!

Sheila , Charlotte, North Carolina

What a beautiful comment from your mother!! It is obvious where you get your ability to see through to the heart of the matter. Keep with your young and warm inspirational messages about real people in real places. Perhaps I am about your mothers age and I do have grown children a bit younger than you (I think), but I do enjoy you sharing your lovely ,simple, yet very real important moments in life. Thank you.


I am sad to say that we do not have an "Annie" in our neighborhood. However, I know a lovely lady who was born in France named Yvonne, now almost 90, and a delightful woman to know who lives in my sister's neighborhood. You and they are all the breaths of fresh air in our world!

Loved your story and thanks!



Judi Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

What a treasure you have in your neighbor, Annie! I'm like several of your other readers, and admire and really love the wisdom, and ease, and perspective on life of our elders (although she probably isn't a lot older than myself)! There is something so calming and at the same time fascinating about an older generation.

I am also interested to know if you & Jean-Marc are going to be doing some 'reader-hosting' - maybe next Spring?

Wells Edmundson

Speaking of fish...almost 40 years ago a French family adopted me for a week when I was a scared 19 year old en route to Quiberon on the Brittany coast; I slept in a tent in their jardin and I went fishing with the young boys of the family. Our poles were wooden blocks and fil wrapped around them for 'casting'. As luck would have it I caught quite a few poissons; they were broiled with heads on, and when an eye popped out of one of the stacked fish on the platter, it rolled across the dinner table. In my best rudimentary French I told them to laissez les bons temps a rouler !

Jill Ferrie

Kristi, Your insightful, warm and loving words have helped prepare me for my first trip to Provence. Looking forward to experiencing France in a few days. Thanks for FWAD.

Mark Holmberg, Minneapolis

Ah, Kristin, you have a gift for seeing the beauty in the everyday!


Julia Gary

I have made your tomato tarte several times, to rave reviews! It is a new favorite. Somewhere in your writings (which I can't find) the question arose as to why Americans refer to waiters as "Garcon" and the answer was that the term is in French language books as taught in America--which is true. However, in looking over a book "Les Aventures de Tintin" published in Paris, in French, I noticed that several times the waiter is referred to as "Garcon". For example p. 10 "Garcon, voulez-vous ajouter un demi?", P. 11 "Garcon!...Combien?" So, it is in French publications as well as American. Of course it is much more respectful to refer to a waiter as "Monsieur"---perhaps it shows that language continues to change.

Votre amie Shari Forcina

Dear Kristin:
Vous pouvez "garder un peu de l'ete pendant l'hiver" by putting your tomatoes on a baking sheet (with shallow sides, topping each cored tomato with olive oil, and a mixture of herbs (thyme, parsley, fennel, rosemary, what you like/have,etc...), garlic, salt & pepper, then bake 2-3 hrs. turning every hour, on low temp (150-200 degrees) until slightly carmelized. Allow to them to cool, and place in freezer bags with more olive oil, and freeze!!
bon appetit,


French is one of the most romantic languages I've ever heard, though I don't really have a wide understanding of it. But this blog helps me to know new words spoken in French.

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