Bois, Kindling, or Tinder in French + A Fun and Free Activity while walking
Big News! A Change is Coming + se lancer dans l'inconnu

What is “Sobriété Énergétique”? + How to warm up in winter (with la bouillotte)

Noel Christmas in La Ciotat France
Our town's tourist bureau produces a delightful series of travel posters. Here’s one for Christmas, spotted while Jackie and I enjoyed an evening stroll by the port. Notice the traditional wooden boat, or “pointu.”

TODAY’S WORD: la bouillotte  

  : hot water bottle

Avec le froid, la hausse du coût de l’énergie et la menace de coupures d’électricité,les gens s’équipent. La bouillotte revient à la mode. With the cold weather, the rising cost of energy and the threat of power cuts, people are getting equipped. The hot water bottle is back in fashion.

Click here to listen to the example sentence + all the French in today’s story

by Kristi Espinasse

It's mid-December and with ice forming on the car's pare-brise and condensation dripping down our upstairs windows it’s been tricky keeping warm—even in the south of France. My husband and I have quit wrestling over the thermostat and come to a compromise: I'll keep the indoor temps a toasty 22C (71.6F)--and he can shut off the heat at bedtime...which makes for an icy visit to le petit coin in the middle of the night. As for Grandma Jules, we’ll turn a blind eye to her temperature-dial-doings in her studio around the side of our house. But even Jules's cranked-out space heater has its limits. Heureusement, Mom's new old cat has become more than good company these days: Lili is a good leg-warmer!

The term sobriété énergétique* seems to be a buzz-word in French politics lately. Citizens are incited to keep household temperatures no higher than 19C (66F). But even with extra layers of clothing and a wool cap and gloves (Grandma's tip) this eco-friendly environment feels hostile to me and my daughter. Is it true women suffer the cold more than men?

While collecting wood and making fires in la cheminée is one way to generate heat in winter, for a few years now I’ve relied on a good old-fashioned bouillotte to keep me warm in bed. Winter in our 1960s villa means the upstairs is Siberia while downstairs is Les Tropiques. This poses a dilemma when I go upstairs to the North Pole to read peacefully in bed while my husband stays by the fire, watching soccer in our sizzling salon. (BTW it's France vs. Morocco in tonight's World Cup semi-final. Things are really going to heat up...) As soon as I open the door to our stairwell, the frigid air makes me shiver. Sometimes I can see my own breath!

We do keep our upstairs bedroom "heated" (the quotes refer to our inefficient radiator on the wall. I do feel its warmth when I place my hand upon it, each time I enter the tiny room). Thankfully I have my hot water bottle ready to glisse beneath the sheets.

My trusty chaufferette was a gift from Max, and I love the extra-long version. It warms the length of my back and its non-scratchy housse is soft to the touch. The heavy, two-liter model is tricky to fill up but I have a system that works well: I fill half the bottle at the steaming kitchen tap and top it off with a kettle of near-boiling water. Occasionally I get burned (last night I lost my grip when the boiling water seared my skin as I filled the bottle. You should've seen me dancing to the tune of Ne lâche pas la bouteille! Don't drop the bottle!

While la bouillotte has its hazards, it won't keep me from sleeping beside boiled water in cold winter. C'est douillet! They say hot water is a healthier source of heat (vs. electric heat, i.e. the electric blanket). A hot water bottle's chaleur lasts well into the night. Or long enough to temper the freezing in-between time after which you'll find me hurrying downstairs to switch back on our thermostat, before returning to bed with a hot cuppa. Ah, coffee, that marvelous inner-bouillotte that heats you through and through. Yet one more way to warm up this winter.

Restez au chaud et à bientôt,


le pare-brise = windshield, windscreen
le petit coin = toilet, bathroom, loo
heureusement = thankfully
la cheminée
= fireplace
la bouillotte = hot water bottle
le salon = living room
glisse (glisser) = to slip
la chaufferette = heater, a small heating device
la housse = cover
Ne lâche pas la bouteille! = Don't let go of the bottle!
C'est douillet = It's cozy
Restez au chaud et à bientôt = stay warm and "see you" soon

*La sobriété énergétique. Energy sobriety is the reduction of energy consumption through lifestyle changes and social transformations.

Portrait of my husband. When Mom suddenly asked Jean-Marc to pose for a photo, he went with the moment. Here he is posing beside a small collection of found kindling, including sticks, pine cones, and some trusty cardboard. Wishing all of you a lovely rest of the week, and remember to go with the moment (where joy often hides).
Ile flottant
Sweet of the Week, No. 2: Îles Flottantes. One of Max's Floating Islands (little meringue "islands" floating on crème anglaise... also known as Œufs à la Neige "Snow Eggs"). Max made this one with the sugar sprinkles when he was 15, after being an apprentice at a restaurant in Orange. (Twelve years later he followed his flair for flavor to the wine business.) Have you ever tried Îles flottantes? What is your favorite French dessert? Share with us in the comments.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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fatima reyes

Lovely post. Enjoy your yogurt cake:) Happy holidays to you!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Fatima, and thanks for remembering the yogurt cake. Glad you like it! 

Allyson Gretz

Bonjour Kristi!

A delightful post, as always. Allez les Bleus !

Diane Heinecke

La bouillotte me semble efficace, mais comment la chauffer pendant une coupure d'electricite? Brrrr. J'aime tous les desserts, mais mon favori, c'est la creme brulee!

Suzanne Dunaway

Tarte Tatin, hands down. I make it with apples sliced FINE (not finely) with my French apple-slicer-peeler-corer, a magic tool that many French do not know! Probably because they can find tarte tatin in so many bakeries.
But I love apples and the tarte is easy (with store-bought butter puff pasty on top).
LOVE the idea of a water bottle….
We sleep cold also, but we have each other YAY!

Jens Hork

Hi Kristi,

Nothing beats a good mousse au chocolat!

'Ramenez la coupe à la maison
Allez les bleus, allez ...'.

Leslie(Falls Church)

I like the chocolate in my advent calendar. One piece with the first sip of morning coffee and then it melts.
Even just a 99 cent one from Trader Joe's is bliss. (For my 91-year old aunt, I will splurge for La Maison du Chocolat.)
I used to love my grandmother's chess pie at Christmas. Also Tarte tatin or apple galette with crème fraîche.
Fatima reminds me: maybe yogurt cake with cranberries, walnuts,& orange zest.

Sue Lennox

What a wonderful photo of your handsome hubby! And the cap is stupendous.


I had oeufs à la neige for the first time when I was sent to Paris, age 16, to polish my French. Other firsts were yoghurt, baguette, and camembert. It was all so exotic to a Londoner from a culinarily unadventurous family back in the sixties.

As to warmth, I'd rather be hungry than cold. I take a heating pad to bed with me. It turns itself off automatically after a while -- not sure how long but long enough for me to fall asleep. If I wake up cold in the night I can always switch it on again for whatever that period is.

Athens francophile

A heated mattress pad is the way to go! Uses little electricity, has dual controls so each spouse is comfy and allows one to pre-heat the bed.

Bonne courage!

Seana G

I don’t know if you have a microwave oven, but if you do, a rice bag (a mini pillow case of flannel or other fleece material, filled with rice, and sewn shut) is an excellent companion in the cold. 3-4 min in the micro and you have a reusable heat source that is great for sore joints while reading, or taking to bed for toasty tootsies.


Hi Kristi,

I like the house thermostat set to 68 in the winter. In the summer we try for 80 but sometimes that's still too warm for me. I don't know how you all sleep peacefully in the summer in Provence with the heat!

I have a buckwheat and lavender heating pad that I heat up in the microwave and then place on my side of the bed while I brush my teeth. It's very cozy when I get into bed at night!

Barbara Bell

It’s wonderful to see Jean-Marc in such a great photo!

We keep our thermostat at 72F year-round, but need a space heater, warm throws and sweaters in the winter. It’s a drafty old house. The dog sleeps under the covers in bed with us which warms our feet nicely!

Brenna O'Neill

Sans doute, la crème brûlée! J'adore la craque sous les dents! ...miam....

Suzanne Codi

Jean-Marc is as handsome as ever!And I highly recommend a thick down comforter, we live in a very old schoolhouse ( JM knows!) that costs a fortune to heat because of all the windows, so we keep the temp very low at night. The down comforter is so warm that sometimes I have to turn it down for a minute to cool off!! They are pricey,( good prices at Ikea) but a good long-term investment.
And it's a toss-up between mousse au chocolat and my French mom's Flan.

Darlene Pajo

Mais oui! 20-plus years ago, my husband and I stopped at a nearby restaurant (not realizing that was way too early for supper). After eating, the waiter suggested isles flottante for dessert. He really couldn’t describe it so on a whim we agreed. It was heavenly! It would be worth another visit just to have it again.


Aloha, here in Hawaii we have neither air conditioning nor heating. And our electricity bill is still hovering close to $300 monthly. We do have wonderful ceiling fans and blankets though. And we have applied for solar panels which will be installed soon. Yay!... My favorite French treat is pain au chocolat. I used to buy one every morning on my way to class at l'Universite de Dijon way back when. Thanks for your delightful posts. They make each day that they arrive begin with joy.

Gerry Forth

So glad to know we are in good company. Our cottage in Sonoma County has one heated room, courtesy of a woodstove in the main room. We spend quite a bit of time in there in this unusually cold season. Thankful for the little things in life.
Your post is a reminder of what we will face when we return to France in February. Our apartment has no heat other than a trusty space heater. If we will face power shortages this winter, I guess we will go hunting for a couple of hot water bottles. But alas, our hot water and cooktop are both electric.
Thanks for your always interesting posts.

Frances Napa CA USA

Ah, yes, a hot water bottle! I have one of those, but I really use my little heating pad that really helps to warm the bed and my back. Just watched the soccer match! Yeah!! Allez Les Bleus!!

Sarah LaBelle

France won its semi final! Grand news.

I had a home with three floors long ago. Once we insulated the top floor (previously an unused attic) it was kept warm simply by keeping the door to those stairs open. Heat rises! In a well-insulated house, at least. The second floor had radiators, like the first (ground) floor, but it benefitted from the insulation blown into the walls. Totally changed the comfort in that house, insulation all around, and lowered the heat bill a lot, cost effective. It was a 1908 house near Chicago.
Your extra large hit water bottle sounds like a good nightly ritual.

Carolyn Chase

After a restaurant meal, Îles flottantes permitted me to indulge without bursting, but my second favorite is Crème Brulée. What I really loved was the cheese platter, however - one of each please!
We keep our Victorian house with 12 foot ceilings at 60 degrees except for the family room where we spend the winter, a gas fireplace keeping it at about 73 degrees for our old bones.
Bed is more welcoming in a 60 degree room because I run the electric blanket long enough so it's warm to get into, but I turn it off when I get into bed.


Rice bags are the way to go. I made them for the whole family last year as Christmas gifts. I Used flannel to make them cuddly.We use them all year round.Right now we are having an artic blast so its's cold in Idaho to, I sure can't wait for spring.But for now I will cuddle with my rice bags.

Janet Markoe

La crème caramel! Such a delight in texture and taste. Flan is close, but just doesn't make the cut - a bit too firm. Guess I'll have to return to France one day for the real thing. Merry Christmas, Kristi, and a joyful New Year filled with blessings! - Janet


Hi Kristi, Also, you might try corn bags to keep warm! I have two I have used for years made by a friend from non-popping corn sewn inside a cloth bag with a removable flannel wrapper on top. Heat on high for three minutes in microwave; I am using them every night as our temperature in southern California is quite chilly right now - in the low 40s at night. (Cold for me, that is!) Take care and keep warm! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Maryanne Leblanc

My brother the former firefighter would certainly agree that a hot water bottle is better - safer - than an electric blanket. Need I say more?
Happy holidays!


J’adore les marrons glacés et les sorbets avec un crème ou un sirop de marron. Quelle belle photo de JM!

Pat Golson

Bonjour, Kristi.
Please repeat your shortbread pie crust recipe for anyone who may have missed it. It is my go-to for quiches and other savory dishes. For desserts, we use Kahlua or other liqueurs instead of white wine. So easy and delicious. Works with gluten free flour, too.
Pat G.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Pat, for the suggestion. I will share that recipe again sometime.


New word for you - bed socks. Used year around. Not too tight, above ankles.
Electric heating pad with variable automatic shutoff and heat regulator. Extra long size to warm up the bed before getting into it. Repeat as needed.
Down comforter.

Jeanine Woods

Encore, Kristi, une poste que j’aime. Les choses simples sont les choses importants ! J'utilise le sac de riz que je réchauffe à la micro-onde. Ca réchauffe bien mes pieds froids! Et mon dessert favori est le crème brûlée- miam!

Marti Hinman

Dear Kristi,
Joyeux Noël et bonne année 2023🎉🥂
Best wishes for whatever the new
may be for you and Marc.
After the sale of your Wine Shop ,
together, you will successfully
move forward, In Spanish we say, “
“la union hace la fuerza”


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