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Entries from January 2016

Why The French Won't Give You The (Entire) Recipe

Delicious sorrel soup - with a swirl of Pesto in Bed. Recipe follows.

TODAY'S WORD: oseille (f)

    : sorrel (a plant)

Oseille is also slang for "cash", or "dough". To comment on this word, go here.

to Jean-Marc read these French words:
Download MP3 or Wav

Frotter une feuille de Rumex (l'oseille) sur une peau piquée par les orties ou les insectes supprime les démangeaisons.
To stop itching, rub Rumex (sorrel, dock) leaf on skin stung by nettle or insects.

Mas de la Perdrix-the perfect home to celebrate special occasions with family and friends…click here.


"Sorrel Soup and a Sundae"

    by Kristin Espinasse

Have you ever made tapenade or gratin de courgettes or French yogurt cake and wondered if quelque chose was missing? Well something probably was! The question is: did the French person who gave you the recipe intend any culinary deceit?

I wonder about these things, too, as I work in my garden cleaning up the patch of oseille. Tossing aside a dozen torn or bitten leaves it suddenly occurs to me I could put them to good use - in soup! But before heading off to the kitchen, I take the opportunity to show off an exceptional part of my garden (this tidied up area being l'exception!).

For the photo, I summon my mannequin, Smokey. At 5ft3--and a half--inches tall (on his tiptoes), Smokey is too short to strut down the fashion runways in Paris, but he is Top Dog here in the countryside. Now if only he would behave as a professional model would, by striking a pose! Instead, Smokey sees my photographer gestures as an invitation to wrestle!

I respond, trying to pin my dog down for a selfie. After 5 minutes I'm out of breath, I've lost my hat, and my face is scratched. Smokey is ready for round 2!  

Eventually I get a photo to post at Instagram, and another I can use at the end of this post. (Which reminds me to speed up this story or you will never get a recipe out of me--just like you won't get one from a French person. And you'll soon learn why....) 

Back in the kitchen, I put a swirl of olive oil into a small saucepan (just me eating today, so "petite soupe"). I take a lump of butter, using it to spread the oil across the pan, before putting the lump back in the butter dish.

Next, I sauté half a chopped yellow onion in this butter-oil mixture. I toss in the French sorrel (about one-half cup), leaving on the stalks. (Push the leaves around the pan, along with the onions,  for five minutes...)

I go and get the leftover cooked potatoes in the fridge... and rejoice seeing the sauce. I'd forgotten they were cooked with the roasted chicken. Good flavoring for my soup! 

I add the potatoes and sauce to the pan and chop down the former with the help of my wooden spatula...

Next, a bouillon cube.... (chicken, beef, or vegetable--I can't see which as I've tossed the box!)

Now's time to add sour cream. Only we don't have any.... Milk will work even better, as we need to add volume to this soup (enough to get a bowl or two for my lunch!). The milk will also help to cool down the "potage" in time to use the immersion blender to mix it up....

*    *    *

Now, I believe those are the ingredients I have used for this Sorrel soup -- along with salt and pepper to taste... and a grind or two of garlic flakes (oh, and the salt was herbal salt... part herbs, part salt....). But if for some reason your soup doesn't come out just right... then you will know the answer to today's question: Why The French Won't Give You The Entire Recipe

Because they have forgotten an ingredient or two!

*    *    *

The soup was so delicious that, after finishing two bowls, I went and licked the pan clean. It was also so satisfying that I didn't think to complete the meal with bread or cheese. This meant that 2 hours later, while on the way to the health food store, I pulled over and ate a cheeseburger, fries and a sundae at McDonald's. "Which makes your mom a hypocrite!" I admitted to my daughter, who sat facing me in the fast food booth.

"Oh, but it is sooo good!" Jackie said, encouraging me to dip my greasy fries into my chocolate sundae--which seemed like a perfectly good idea to me.

 *    *    *

   What do you think, Smokey?

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Gratin & Traditional French zucchini casserole

My slowcooker has been on nonstop these past two weeks, as I've made a daily lunch for Jean-Marc and his stagiaire, or intern. For  today's recipe, however, you'll need an oven..... 

TODAY'S WORD: le gratin

    : a cheese-topped dish (also a dish topped with breadcrumbs)

In addition to being a dish topped with a browned crust, le gratin also refers to the upper crust of society. Another definition has it as "anybody who's anybody." Wikipedia adds:

The etymology of gratin is from the French language in which the word gratter meaning "to scrape" or "to grate" as of the "scrapings" of bread or cheese, and gratiné, from the transitive verb form of the word for crust or skin.

ECOUTEZ/LISTEN to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words:
Download MP3 or Wav file

Les oeufs au gratin Ne donnent pas de poussins.
Eggs in a casserole dish don't make chicks.


"Eggs in a Casserole Dish Don't Make Chicks"

    by Kristin Espinasse

I think I've correctly translated today's quote, and yet I still can't make out the meaning. Furthermore, I wonder if the traditional French gratin de courgettes calls for eggs or not....

Marianne had given me the recipe, verbally...but I don't remember her mentioning eggs...which, come to think of it, helps me to understand today's citation: it could be that it's a rhyme, helping cooks to remember whether or not to put an egg into a casserole recipe! 

So no eggs in Marianne's gratin. But I feel like adding eggs, so I will... (Does that mean we need to rewrite the popular dicton?)

    => Eggs in a casserole don't make FRENCH chicks. 


Being an American chick, I crack three eggs into a bowl, as Smokey observes the scene from the other side of the kitchen window.

Next, I add the contents of a small tub of crème fraîche , or sour cream. I salt and pepper this when a light goes off: noix musçade! A few grates of nutmeg might enhance this dish, just as nutmeg makes potato gratin so good!

In a frying pan, I sauté 4 cut-up zucchini and one chopped onion (yellow), adding more salt and pepper. When the vegetables are soft, I let them cool before mixing in the eggs and cream. 

Greasing a casserole dish with butter (or oil), I pour in the zucchini-onion-egg-cream mixture, and top it off with grated gruyère (swiss cheese will work, or name another....).

Because I cook au pifomètre, by guesswork, I'm never sure how hot I'll set the oven. I go for 175C (around 350F) and set the timer for 20 minutes (adding another 10 when a glance through the stove window shows the gratin is not yet golden.

*    *    *

The zucchini casserole made a delicious Saturday night dinner... and on Day Two, Jackie and her friends, back from clubbing all night near Toulon, happily ate some for lunch. (When a French kid likes my cooking, the recipe gets marked with stars!) On Day Three, Monday, I served the rest of the casserole to Jean-Marc, his stagiare, and me, placing a spatula full of gratin along side a plate of spaghetti and slow-cooked gigot (leg of lamb).

A French woman would never ever mix up food like that. But I am not a French chick. I am an American poussin!

Thanks for reading and for sharing this post.


I have gotten a lot of use out of my slow-cooker and my gratin dishes this week. If you are in the market for one of these and you shop at Amazon, please use one of the highlighted links, above, to enter the store. For your purchases, this word journal will receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you! 

(Her) "Lemon pie, lemon curd, lemonade..."
(Him) "Tennis ball, tennis ball, tennis ball..."

Some of you commented that Max has really grown up. Our son was 7-years-old when this blog began. He turns 21 in a few months.

Jackie was 5... She is thinking of pursuing her studies in Aix, this fall. And she hopes to move into her brother's apartment (seen here), as he may be moving to another city.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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A fun French word for pizza, tart, or quiche crust + Mieux vaut tard que jamais

Collioures 102
Benches along a trottoir in Collioures, France. Photo taken 11 years ago, when Jean-Marc and I celebrated our 11th anniversary, while dreaming of owning a vineyard one day

TODAY'S WORD: le trottoir

    : sidewalk, pavement, curb
    : slang for the outer crust (or le rebord) on a pizza, tart, or quiche

Listen to Jean-Marc
 Download Trottoir

En France et en Suisse, par métaphore, le trottoir est aussi le nom communément donné au bord d'une tarte ou d'une pizza.
In France and Switzerland, as a metaphor, the sidewalk is also the name given for the crust of a tart or a pizza.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristin Espinasse

"Mieux Vaut Tard Que Jamais"

Yesterday--24 years after moving to France--I got the chance to thank Marianne. Marianne is the mother of Fred, who is the godfather of our son, Max. It was Fred who picked me up at the Marignane airport in the fall of 1992, after a 24-hour voyage from Arizona. I'll never forget him glancing down at my cowboy boots as he stood beside the baggage carousel, wearing a crisp Façonnable chemise and Italian loafers--at least I think that is what he was wearing--and if I retell this same story in 10 years, don't be surprised if Fred is sporting an Izod sweater and wingtips. While my memory may be foggy for details, it is crystal clear when it comes to kindnesses, as we will see in the following remembrance.

Fred drove me to his family's home in Marseilles, where we unloaded my U-Haul moving boxes and mes valises and waited for my then-boyfriend, Jean-Marc, to get off work. Fred lived with his parents, Marianne and Michel, and his 17-year-old frère cadet, Antoine. Over the next 10-months, I had the chance to eat many a Tuesday night dinner at Marianne's table, where I sat absorbing every detail. From pre-dinner ritual of apértifs (I loved Porto!) to the post-dinner digestif (le marc!), I drank it all in. Looking back, I wished I had put down my wine glass and helped Marianne carry all those heavy gratin dishes!

Yesterday was my chance to thank her. Michel and Marianne had come to see our vineyard and they were here, as well, to visit Château de Pibarnon, where they're considering celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. After touring the Bandol winery, we headed to the charming port of La Madrague, to eat at our local pizzeria, Chez Henri. Almost as soon as we were seated, I blurted out a decades-late remerciement:

"Marianne. You may not know what an impression you made on me all those years ago!"

Thinking about it, Marianne would have been the age I am now: 48. She would have been serving dinner in high heels and a slim, above-the-knee skirt. It may have been leather. With her shoulder-length wavy black hair parted in the center and her big green eyes, she looked as beautiful as when she left for work that morning at her law firm. And here she was, late at night, serving 8 of us homemade gratin de courgette and steak--followed by a cheese platter, salad, dessert, and coffee (and perhaps a limoncello maison...). 

Over the years I thought a lot about Marianne as I tried to cook and to entertain--all the while balancing kids, casseroles, and my own burgeoning career as a learn-as-you-go écrivain.

As I considered all I wanted to convey to Marianne, the waiter at Chez Henri appeared... and the focus was about to go to the savory pies he set down in front of us. It was time to hurry and sum up what it was I wanted to say to Fred's mom all these years later....

"I wish I had helped you clear the table!!"

Looking at me with those beautiful green eyes, which now sparkled and smiled, Marianne said: "I have no memory of you not helping."

As everyone dug into their pizza, I savored Marianne's words until Michel piped up with some perfectly-timed comic relief. Pointing to the crust on our pizzas, he said: Do you know what we call this in French? 

(Two of us shook our heads.)

"Le trottoir. The sidewalk."

The sidewalk indeed! This concluded our meaningful stroll down Memory Lane--Life's gentle path where we overlook shortcomings and recall only the best in others.

                        *    *    *


The crust or trottoir on my favorite pizza at Chez Henri. It's called "La Madrague"

Zucchini gratin casserole
Marianne's Easy Lasagna & A Favorite Word
Marianne's Zucchini Casserole

mieux vaut tard que jamais = better late than never
la chemise = shirt
la valise = suitcase
le frère cadet = younger brother, little brother
un apéritif = drink before lunch or dinner
digestif = after-dinner liqueur
le marc =
a digestif made of grapes or apples
le remerciement = thanks
gratin de courgette = zucchini casserole
limoncello maison = homemade limoncello
un écrivain
= writer
le trottoir
= sidewalk, pavement

The view from Chateau de Pibarnon, where we visited with Marianne and Michel.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Se rendre compte & We can be heros, just for one day

The sunflower that bloomed here in January. Today it reminds me of a search light, combing the sky above, looking for a starman....

TODAY'S WORD: se rendre compte

    : to realize

ECOUTEZ/LISTEN hear Jean-Marc read this quote
Download MP3 or Wav file

J’ai toujours pensé que j’étais un artiste intellectuel, je me rends compte aujourd’hui que, la moitié du temps, je n’ai aucune idée de ce que je suis en train de faire. Et plus je vieillis, moins je réfléchis à  ce que je fais. 

I'm terribly intuitive—I always thought I was intellectual about what I do, but I've come to the realisation that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing half the time.  And the older I get, the less I think about what I am doing. -David Bowie. 


What More Can An Artist Strive For?

by Kristin Espinasse

The best tribute one can give David Bowie is to continue on with their art or their art de vivre. For me, this means continuing to write today, whether the words come easily or not.

This morning I woke up thinking about the reader who shamed my dog and me, and about what kind of response I could give him. Sarcasm popped up as one in a million possibilities, until I remembered the words of Glennys.

I met Glennys in my first writing support group, found by chance after signing up for the internet in the late 90s.  The group was called BIC HOK TAM, which stood for:

Butt In Chair
    Hands on Keyboard
        Typing Away Madly

The name of the group was beside the point. Mostly, the writers chatted. One day, I delurked and joined in! After several weeks I got to know their personalities, and was surprised to learn they'd already pieced together mine....

One day someone said something, I can't remember what, and I sat behind my screen, trying to come up with a witty response. The subject was banal enough (so banal I cannot remember it), but, eager to write something writerly (whatever that meant), I painstakingly formulated my response (probably reading and rereading it 17 times before hitting "post", at which point my heart would have thumped until someone responded).

That's when Glennys from Scottland popped up. I will never forget what she said: "Kristi, sarcasm does not suit you."

But it sure suited Glennys! Oh, how I enjoyed her retorts! (And now I am reminded of what the original thread must have been: another of Glenny's sarcastic insights. I must have been inspired to respond in like.) 

Glenny's wouldn't have it. Instead, she took the opportunity to help me find my voice

Though I still may be influenced by others, such influences are at the risk of not ringing true to readers. Speaking of which... Did I tell you about the reader who shamed my dog? I still have not responded to his comment. I will try to now--by saying what comes to heart, in the next instant, while typing this essay....

    Dear (I can't remember your name), 

And that, it seems, is the end of my letter! The fact is, "a good comeback" is found nowhere in my writing repertoire. So I will use what tools I have acquired so far, the biggest of which, is this:

La sensibilité.

Which brings us back to David Bowie: more than having sensitivity, through his work--through who he was--he brought out sensitivity in others. What more can an artist strive for? 

This inspires a few more words for the man who shamed my dog: 

Dear (I can't remember your name),

I sincerely do not mean any disrespect by addressing you in this way. The fact is, I cannot remember your name. Mysteriously, I can remember the name of the person who commented after you.

I'm signing off, now, to wonder why....



                      We can be heros, just for one day. -David Bowie

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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The Lazy Man's French Cake & faire son beurre

Occasionally someone writes in to ask about room rates at our vineyard. Now's a good time to clear up any confusion: the rental ads seen in this newsletter are not referring to our home (how I'd love this to be our kitchen! Hélas, it belongs to Mas de Perdrix, a dream-come-true place to stay in Provence, with it's well-appointed kitchen and well-appointed everything!
Mas de la Perdrix-the perfect home to celebrate special occasions with family and friends…click here.

"faire son beurre"

The French definition for faire son beurre is: gagner grassement sa vie, or to fatly earn one's living. Maybe a better translation is: to earn a good living

 hear Jean-Marc pronounce today's word
Download MP3 or Download Wav Faire-son-beurre

Quand on pédale dans le yaourt, on fait son beurre.
When we pedal in yogurt, we make our butter. 


"Quand on pédale dans le yaourt, on fait son beurre."

    by Kristin Espinasse

While looking up citations for today's story--which partly concerns a yogurt cake--I found this funny Bulgarian proverb, which turns out to be a handy lead-in to today's missive! Except that the following story, unlike the quote, has nothing to do with making money. 

This essay is about making things, or creating--something I never thought I could do without coffee. But then I once made the same assumption about wine. And that turned out to be a CROCK--keeping me imprisoned from writing for the longest time! 

But there are other kinds of prisons. There is the prison of numbness. Wading through this kind of soul thickness feels very much like pedaling in yogurt, or as my mother-in-law puts it: pedaling in the choucroute. (Certainly sauerkraut would be harder to pedal in, thus more illustrative, but because this story is leading up to a recipe on yogurt cake and not sauerkraut cake, let's keep on track with the "pedaling yogurt " lead-in. Now where were we?)

...We were, three days ago, sitting beside a branch of leaf-bitten kale, Smokey and I, when the joy of gardening left me. Remembering to remain aware, I focused on the feeling--a kind of blandness. Bland as that polenta I made for a couple of Indians from Mumbai who desperately resorted to pouring tabasco (only thing hot in my kitchen) over the dish.

Spice! Maybe I needed more spice in my life? I whispered to Smokey, who sat chewing on a very bland stick.  There in my garden, it didn't take long to realize that coffee-sevrance had something to do with this état d'âme. At least now the abstract feeling had an identity! It even had a name: Caffeine Free!

Feeling somewhat better for the awareness, I looked over at my faithful garden hand. I think there is a place for coffee in my life, I said to Smokey, who listens to my thoughts. But for now, let's go bake a cake!

Guided by another feeling--a feeling named Chocolate!--I hurried to the kitchen to let the internal wave incarnate itself into a veritable Gâteau au Chocolat.

Because I am a lazy cook and an even lazier baker, I relied on an old standby: The Classic French Yogurt Cake (recipe here) --the easiest cake in the world to make. Use it as a base for any cake you are too lazy to make (recently I've used it for Carrot Cake, and before that banana bread!).

Knowing the measurements by heart, all the joy, now, is in tweaking things! Less sugar, less flour, more chocolate powder.... Once the batter was poured into the pan I remembered the pistachios, chopped those and tossed them on top. Next, I noticed the tangerines, sliced those (leaving on the skin) and placed them artfully around the nuts. Then, a drizzle of honey on top and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Standing back, I gazed at my cake and felt a familiar sensation, the one that was missing back in the garden.... Looking at what I had created, I enjoyed a rush of satisfaction. Come to think of it, I felt psyched! Which is exactly how I feel with that first cup of coffee.

Oh, man, I'm looking forward to that! 



Have fun coming up with your own version of the Lazy Man's French Cake, which can be dressed up for celebrations, too! Use this traditional Yogurt Cake Recipe - given to me by my brother-in-law, Jacques (seen in this Christmas dinner photo, beside my bearded son!).

to leave a comment click here, or use the comments link near the end of this post.


French Vocabulary
la citation = quote
état d'âme = state of mind, mood, emotion
amicalement = yours, regards, with goodwill

SABLET HOME - for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. Click here for pictures.

Provence & French Alps Tours – Two regions of France in one affordable, small group tour. Majestic mountains, Provence colors. Wine/cheese tastings, Michelin Star cuisine. Click here.

Batter up! I am unable to upload a photo of the actual cake I made, but you can see it here at instagram

Here are a few versions I have made, over the years. The first has sliced plums. The second has lemon juice added to the mix, an a dusting of powdered sugar. And the one below is a marbled version (divide batter in two bowls, then add chocolate powder to one, then pour into pan in two layers.)


Thank you for sharing this post! Have a lovely weekend. I'll be posting photos daily here.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Bonne Année! Dependency and what I gave up

Sunrise here at our vineyard, and a new day. Make that a new year!

TODAY'S WORD: la bienveillance

     : goodwill, kindness, loving-kindness

ECOUTEZ/LISTEN to Jean-Marc read this example sentence

Download Bienveillance

Développe en toi l'indépendance à tout moment, avec bienveillance, simplicité et modestie. - Marc-Aurèle
Develop at every moment in yourself independence, loving-kindness, simplicity and modesty.


"Independence in the Land of Coffee and Wine"

    by Kristin Espinasse

This may very well be my first coffee-free edition. I had not planned on this one-day-at-a-time coffee quittance--it just happened, surreptitiously (I admit I had to look up that word after first misspelling it).  

    surreptitious: done, made, or acquired by stealth.  

I won't look up "stealth", but it sounds very much like what I thought giving up coffee would entail. Then again, all my preconceived notions about giving up coffee have been proved wrong--ever since writing a pseudo vow in my new agenda on December 31st at 1:46 pm. It was easy at the time (as it is easy to swear off booze having drank one too many).

The difference between giving up alcohol (this February 3rd marks 13 years!) is that I have no plans to give up coffee forever. I mean I'd like to, but I no longer see coffee abstinence as vital for me.  In four days sans café, I've had no shakes, no irritability, no depression, no visions of coffee beans swirling around my head.  Maybe those 4 cups a day (the last before bedtime) didn't equal dependence after all?

Dependence being key. I do not want to be dependent on anything, least of all a piddly cup of coffee! I don't want to be a slave to "I have to drive to the store for a pack of cigarettes at 11 pm" or "I can't make it through the morning without a pastry"--or a box of pastries (been there!).

Thinking about it, it is clear the "all" in my "all or nothing" personality is tied to my emotions. (And, thinking a little further, probably my "nothing" is equally tied to those same emotions.)

What gives me hope is what I have learned from experience: that the chains of dependency (on things or people) are not worth the temporary freedom that they manufacture. And that it IS possible to give up an addiction and to find "normalcy" again. Said in a different way, it is possible to give up a strong dependence on something and enjoy a newfound peace. The tricky part is knowing what to give up for good, what to give up for a time, and what to cut back on. 

I don't know when I will have my next cup of coffee. Maybe after lunch? Nah! Maybe next time I see my sister... (coffee time with my sister!).... But reading a list of what coffee does to me (aggravated teeth grinding, increased anxiety, exaggerated gestures, edginess, and palpitations), gives me pause. And such awareness is one thing I told you I wish for more of in the new year.

This, and the courage to continue tweaking the things inside that need tweaking.

Thank you for reading, and warmest wishes,




A walk along the coastline with dear Smokey.


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Thanks for sharing this post with someone. 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.