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Entries from May 2020

A funny French expression to help you respond "sur-le-champ"

Sos bijoux perdus
The sign near the beach reads "SOS Lost Jewelry in the water." Here in La Ciotat, there's another place where people lose things... and it also has to do with water! Learn a handy expression in today's vocabulary-packed story!

Today's word: sur-le-champ
    ​: at once, immediately, right away

Audio: listen to Jean-Marc read the following definition:

Une riposte c'est une réponse vive, instantanée, faite à un interlocuteur 
action qui répond sur le champ. A riposte is a lively, instant reply, made to an interlocutor [often one who has just asked a question] for an on-the-spot response.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

After packing un panier-repas for my husband's lunch, feeding the hens, and working on a chapter for our book, I knew if I didn't pause to eat something I would quickly turn into an LSB--a Low Blood-Sugared Zombie! (Do you know the feeling?) Funny, LSB also stands for "Low Surface Brightness Galaxy" which could explain our brainpower when we run out of fuel... It could also explain the inversion of letters, above, but we're sticking with LSB--for consistency! 

For le petit déjeuner, I was preparing a kiwi, an orange, and a baguette with beurre de cacahuète...when a cry sounded from a nearby galaxy (my son's room):
"I can't find my boot!"

"Max!" I set down my paring knife. "I thought you were wearing your Dr. Martens to work?"
"I can't find my boot!" The dismissive response reminded me he's as stubborn as his father. And I knew both well enough to predict the next scene....

On hands and knees, I was now searching for the LMO--Latest Missing Object. (LMO also stands for a Living Modified Organism which is what I become each and every time my family pulls me away from my own morning join their own wild goose chase!) Crawling around on the floor Max and I knocked heads. Aïe! Aïe! This was no way to start a day!  What am I doing down here with the dust bunnies under the bed? I should've listened to my friend Sophie....
When I was newly married, Sophie (married to Jean-Marc's best friend, Nico) was my model of the Modern French Woman: feisty, sexy, Sophie also had the gift of riposte, or funny comebacks. It was Sophie who taught me How To Deal With People Who Constantly Misplace Things:
"When zey say, 'Where eez it?' (zees thing they are losing...). You tell zem zees: 'C'est. Dans. Le. Chiotte'." 
(It's in the crapper.)
I should have listened to feisty Sophie. 25 years later and I am still being dragged into everyone else's wild goose chase at the expense of my own treasure hunt (I could be searching for words for my next story, instead of crouching here on the floor, my head pulsing from a skull collision!)

Spotting the missing botte, I let out a victory shout. "There it is! There's your boot. Way back beneath your bed. You go get it!"
Dusting myself off on the way back to the breakfast table, I encountered my husband. "Next time I'm gonna tell you guys to look in the toilet! Oui! C'est dans le chiot!" I said, threatening, une fois pour toutes, to stop searching for everybody's lost stuff.
"Chiotte," Jean-Marc corrected. "'Chiot' means "jeune chien." Next I received a light scolding: "Chérie, after all these years in France, where have you put your French?"

Well, what was there to say for myself? "Je l'ai mis dans le chiot?" I put it in the puppy?

It may not have been a sassy response, but it was quick--sur-le-champ!

un panier-repas = a packed lunch
le petit déjeuner = breakfast
beurre de cacahuète = peanut butter
la botte = boot
aïe  = ouch
riposte = retort
chiotte = toilet, crapper
chiot = puppy
jeune chien = young dog, puppy
une fois pour toutes = once and for all
sur-le-champ = immediate

Smokey as a puppy
Which of these puppies stole my French? A young Smokey and his sisters are scolded by their mama, Breizh. 

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

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Two celebrations + Langue de belle-mère (a funny word for a certain party favor)

Our garden in mayGiven Mothers Day is celebrated on different dates across the globe, I will take this moment to wish all caregivers a Joyeuse Fête! Photo: the tidy side of our garden. We'll talk about the weeds--and a mother's needs--in the following story.

Today's Word: Langue de belle-mère (f)

    : party blower 

literal translation: "mother-in-law's tongue" (photo below)

 Audio file: Click here and listen to three featured words in the following sentence, read by Jean-Marc

Une langue de belle-mère, aussi appelé sans-gêne, est un accessoire de cotillon utilisé dans les occasions festives. C'est un tube en papier (parfois en plastique) avec souvent tout du long une bande en plastique ou en métal souple, aplati et enroulé en spirale, muni d'un bec en plastique avec une anche ou plus rarement un sifflet. En soufflant dans le bec, le tube se déroule et l'anche émet alors un son caractéristique. A mother-in-law's tongue, also called without shame, is a party favor used on festive occasions. It is a paper tube (sometimes plastic) with a long a plastic or flexible metal band, flattened and wound in a spiral, including a plastic beak with a reed or on rare occasions a whistle. By blowing into the spout, the tube unrolls and the reed then emits a characteristic sound.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

I was standing in the party aisle at the dollar store, fighting back a wave of resistance about buying such throwaway items, when a bag of plastic sifflets caught my eye. Red, white, and blue with stars and stripes, these musical blowouts would be a symbolic addition to the decorations I was gathering. After all, Max, our soon-to-be 25-year-old, is half-American. If any more justification were needed for buying the cheap, single-use item, I found it in the giant description on the label....

"Langue de Belle-Mère" 

Sifflets langue de belle mere party blower mirliton

What a funny and delightful name for party blowers! As someone who appreciates the playful side of the French language, this was a find! Plus, I could share the expression with my blog readers. Vendu! 

Carefully setting the mirlitons into my basket, beside the Joyeux Anniversaire banner (reuseable, n'est-ce pas?), and the balloons, I now had enough festive trim to decorate our living room and surprise Max the moment he woke up! Hélas, returning home on foot from the store, any satisfaction turned to stress...there were a number of to-do's remaining on my list in order to be ready for Le Jour J. There was the birthday cake to make, the shortcrust pastry to pre-bake, the couscous to prepare... and the cadeau to wrap, the card to write, the guest bathroom to clean and...and...

AIDEZ-MOI! Who else was helping around here?!!

Recently, during a venting session (by the way, I googled "venting" and scientific studies show it does NOT help! Best to suck up and soldier on!) in which I unloaded my current frustrations about family life, my Mom said in so many words: Face it. You are not a caregiver.

Who me? Not a caregiver? Ouch! In protest, I cited all the things I do for everybody around here all the time....

"But you do them grudgingly...." 

That did it. I was ready to divorce my entire family! Bon débarras! Mom's next words eased the you-do-it-with-a-grudge sting: "It's normal you'd feel this way! You should be done taking care of kids by now. Mom went on to say I could use a housekeeper and a gardener. But I don't want those things. I'm fine here in the dust and the weeds!

Being somewhat of a rapporteuse, I went and tattled on my mom to my son--and I didn't have to travel far as we are three generations living under one roof.

When Max's reply amounted to the opposite (that I care too much about everybody and their business) I began to notice the varying feedback I was receiving came from family members who feel either neglected...or smothered.  I suppose I may never know the answer as to just what kind of caregiver/homemaker/wife/mother/daughter I am--but this much I know for sure: Domesticity is something I value and admire in others. And what we value says a lot. Our valeurs coupled with effort is what matters.

Recently, a letter from my dad revamped my domestic energy which has been deflated for some time. (The first words of Dad's email refer to a post he was forwarding on) Dad's note begins:

A well written essay on the importance of tending the hearth and giving substance and comfort to the ones we love.  We know how hard you work to take care of your family.

I love you,

Dad's words had a super transforming effect! I began polishing my bedroom window after months of staring at the dusty designs on the glass. From there, I started to see other chores in a new light: the light of matter (as in this so-called drudgery matters!)

As for tending the hearth, my sister Heidi is a shining example to me. Whether tucking homemade sandwiches into our carry-ons when Jean-Marc and I fly home to France, or waking early to decorate her living room to honor a family member's birthday, my soeur ainée truly enjoys and finds peace in homemaking and caring. I called Heidi to tell her about my birthday decorations for Max. "That's wonderful!" she said. 

"I learned it from you!" 

"Thank you for letting me know that," my sister said, touched by the recognition. 

It's time to end this essay somewhere.... I'm just not quite sure where. How about I pass out those party horns? Those langues de belle-mère? And we celebrate--via a needed second wind--all caregivers and those who love them!



joyeuse fête = happy celebration
le sifflet
= whistle
le langue de belle-mère = party blower 
vendu! =  sold!
le mirliton = party horn blower
Joyeux anniversaire = happy birthday
n'est-ce pas = isn't that right?
hélas = unfortunately
le jour J = D-Day, the big day
le cadeau = present, gift
bon débarass = good riddance!
un/e rapporteur/se = a tattletell
la soeur ainée = older sister

*Corrections to this blog are always welcome and appreciated. Thank you in advance!

Max friends gift shoes
Max, trying on a pair of shoes his friends gave him. Also on the table, wines from 1995 -- gifts given to Max his birth year--enjoyed 25 years later! Jean-Marc says all the wine was still good, beautifully intact! I didn't have wine, but I can vouch for the cake--my mother-in-law Michèle-France's recipe is always good! Would you like to know the ingredients in a future post?

Birthday lunch for max
Max, center, with his best friends, and we, his parents.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
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To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Cheese needs to breathe and so do we

Smokey golden retriever lavender jugs wooden shuttersPhoto of our dear golden, Smokey

Today's Word: respirer

    : to breathe, inhale

Click here to listen to the French quote below:
Respirer Paris, cela conserve l'âme. Breathe in, Paris, it conserves the soul. --Victor Hugo

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

While preparing a plateau de fromages for today's lunch, I was surprised to see the refrigerated cheese now wore a fuzzy white coat: the Comté, the Saint-Félicien--even the bûche de chèvre--all were covered in velours blanc!

"It's still mangeable," my son assured me, taking a bite to prove his point.

"Here, hand me that!" I said, carefully cutting off the mold. "I thought this glass​​ Tupperware was a good idea for conserving cheese," I said to Max, who stood nearby, preparing pasta. (Linguines au Citron et Saumon Fumé. It was delicious with the finely minced leaves from the lime tree!)

"Cheese needs to breathe," my son explained.

Mais bien sûr! It was an aha moment, one that returned later in the hour...
After lunch, I went to lie down but was kept from resting after a few worries trotted through my mind: there was the weekly blog post I failed to complete, and there were a few accrochages with family members. I was feeling emotionally lessivé when a funny phrase trotted through my mind, in place of the soucis:
Le fromage a besoin de respirer.
Yes! It was the right message at the right time: cheese needs to breathe and so do humans and their projects. I've set aside the blog post I had been writing but I can give it to you in a nutshell--or in a fuzzy white coat en velours if you fancy: 

The half-written post was an update about our online memoir, and un message de remerciement to those dearhearts who responded to my recent entry: Staying Sober at Two Vineyards. Once again, I am deeply moved by your words of support, especially by the fresh perspective you offered following Chapter 14.

Now, to end on both a serious and terribly cheesy note: Regarding any doubts about continuing on a path of sobriety...I have put those doubts aside. This cheese just needed to breathe! (No wine or spirits necessary. A fresh perspective worked beautifully. Merci!)

Post Note: Taking some of the pressure off is vital if we are to keep our sanity and continue living healthfully. One pressure I have felt is the need to turn this online book into a hardcopy or paperback. For now, it will remain an online book, available for purchase here.


le plateau de fromages = cheese plate, cheese platter
la bûche de fromage de chèvre = log of goat cheese
le velours = velvet
blanc = white
mangeable = edible
Linguines au Citron et Saumon Fumé = linguini with lemon and smoked salmon
mais bien sûr = but of course
un accrochage = clash, dispute, fender-bender
lessivé = whacked, worn out
le souci = worry
c'est le cas de le dire = you can say that again
(that last phrase appeared in the previous version of this post. But I'm keeping it here as it's a good one!)

Wild poppies
Wild poppies are in bloom now. Enjoy.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.

Pâte Brisée : Jêrôme's 4-ingredient wine-based shortcrust pastry is easy, versatile, delicious for savory quiche or sweet, delectable pie!

lemon pie tart shortcrust pastry recipe geraniums pepper tree bistro chair
I can tell you--after seeing them in the bathroom mirror this morning--this shortcrust pastry recipe will give you les poignées d'amour. That's French for "love handles." Même pas peur? Not even scared? Good! Read on and discover a truly delicious and versatile pâte brisée. I should know...I've tested 10 of them in the past week--ever since you asked for the recipe!  

Today's Word: la pâte brisée

    : shortcrust pastry, a rich dough for making pie crust

Audio: Listen to the words pâte brisée in this soundfile
En cuisine, la pâte brisée est une pâte servant de base aux tartes salées ou sucrées.  La pâte brisée désigne généralement une pâte composée principalement de farine et de matière grasse sans sucre.
In cooking, shortcrust pastry is a dough used as a base for savory or sweet pies. Shortcrust pastry generally refers to a dough composed mainly of flour and fat, without sugar.

Jérôme's Pâte Brisée: 4-ingredient Shortcrust Pastry
(makes one large or two small tarts!)

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup sunflower oil

Note: ordinary white wine is all you need. Leftover wine will work as long as it hasn't turned to vinegar. For oil, we used sunflower, but olive oil or other oils could work.
Optional additions to the dough: pinches of salt, poppy or sesame or flax seeds, cumin, herbes de Provence or other spices.... The sky's the limit!


Pour 1/2 cup wine and 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Heat 1.5 minutes (until very warm) in a microwave. In a bowl combine flour and baking powder. Slowly pour in wine/oil mixture, stirring as you go with a fork or your hands.

Do not over mix. The shortcrust pastry dough is ready when it is no longer sticky.

Note: Having gradually added it to the mix until a good consistency was achieved, I had about 1/8 cup of wine/oil liquid mix leftover. 

Roll out the shortcrust pastry dough on a floured surface. Or roll it out onto some cooking paper, for easy transfer to the pie pan.  (No rolling pin? You could use a bottle of wine or similar.)

Pre-cook the dough
Cook the pâte brisée at 180c (350F) for 15 minutes or until golden and firm. (No need to add weights, such as beans, to the shortcrust pastry dough).

Your pie crust is ready! Just add your favorite filling: for savory tarts try grilled vegetables, one or two eggs whisked with sour cream, salt, pepper, herbs = a good basic (cook in a 180C/350F oven for approximately 30 minutes. For sweet: fry some bananas in butter, add a little sugar (and rum if you like), and arrange in pastry (photo below). I recommend Mimi Thorisson's simple and delicious lemon tart (pictured in the opening photo, above), using Jérôme's Pâte Brisée. A winning combination!

Give this oil and wine-based pâte brisée a try and let Cécile and me know here in the comments how it worked out for you. Bonne chance et bon appétit!

Cecile rolling out shortcrust pastry dough
Cécile, rolling out the shortcrust pastry, a recipe she learned from her friend Jérôme. Little does he know what a big part of our lives his 4-ingredient recipe has become. Mille mercis, Jérôme! And a thousand thanks, Cécile, for all you gave when you were with us these past two weeks. Thank you for cleaning up our porch, for all the cooking, for repairing those broken tiles on the outdoor stairs, and for the mega project of creating a tool room in our unruly cafoutche (before and after photos coming!). You are truly my rock star sister-in-law, and you will never know what an example you are to all of us. 

Mushroom pepper cumin mustard quiche
The last quiche  Cécile made for us using leftovers in the fridge--including leftover pastry dough. There are sauteed yellow peppers, mushrooms, and she added Dijon mustard + cumin to the egg/sour cream base. Our son Max loved this one!

Tomato tart tarte tomate recipe recette
Thanks to the additional pâte brisée in my frigo (as mentioned, today's recipe will make one large or 2 small-medium tarts) it will be easy to throw together another meal. I'm off to make an All-time Favorite Tomato Tart for lunch (recipe here). Will worry about those love handles--those poignées d'amour--later. On second thought, même pas peur!  

la pâte brisée = shortcrust pastry
les poignées d'amour = love handles
même pas peur! = not scared! (word of the day on Jan 7 2013)
bonne chance = good luck
bon appétit = enjoy your meal
le frigo = fridge
Banana tart for shortcrust pastry
Banana tart with caramel filling.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.