The "Gâteau Savane" from today's story. Those are the pine cones that Christiane helped me to collect. And that, there, is a very old roof tile. The cursive reads "fait" and "30 juin".

gâteau (gah-toh) noun, masculine

    : cake

Plus la part de gâteau est belle, plus elle a de chance de tomber de travers dans l'assiette au moment de la servir. The prettier the slice of cake, the greater are its chances of falling sideways onto the plate at the moment of serving. (Murphy's Law)

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "gâteau" and read today's example sentence: Download Gateau Download Gateau


(Of Cake... and Conflicting Feelings)

When Jean-Marc asked me to make a cake for the Loto des Commerçants,* I reminded myself, after the initial panic, not to complicate things: just make a simple gâteau au yaourt!*

Stirring together the familiar yogurt-flour-egg-baking powder-sugar ingredients,* I glanced down at the package of flour and noticed an astuce* marked "Gâteau Marbré": for amarbleized cake, simply add two teaspoons of cocoa powder to the mix....

Turns out marbleizing a cake is as easy as dividing the finished mix into two bowls, then stirring two teaspoons of cocoa powder into one of the bowls before pouring the mixes, by turn, into the cake pan.

What had been panic quickly turned to pride, as I watched the marbled cake rise, taking on a tortoise-colored appearance. The cake rivaled any store bought "savannah,"* I decided, on the surface at least. (Fingers crossed that the cake tasted as good.)

Watching Jean-Marc walk off with the "prize," its sweet aroma carrying me to the door in time to wave the cake goodbye (forever!), it occured to me to make another gâteau marbré at the next chance.

That occasion came only four days later. Out came the ingredients and, thankfully, there were just enough eggs left to make the cake. Before long, the scent of savannah sweetened the room. I looked at the clock and calculated that there would be just enough time to pick up the kids from school and make it back in time to collect the goûter,* hot from the oven.

In the school parking lot, my son approached the car. I noticed the tall blond by his side. She must be two grades older than Max, I figured, feeling an alert go off inside of me. Turns out the two were, giggle, giggle, the same age.

As the couple approached the car, I quickly ran my hands through my unkempt hair. He might've prepared me to meet his girlfriend! Given me some advanced notice! I thought.

"Can you take her home?" Max asked, in his "cool," almost 14-year-old voice. "She needs a ride."

The two got into the car. When the giggles continued, with me interrupting now and again for directions, I realized that we were getting farther and farther away from the village--and from the cake, which was still cooking!

"Is this where I turn?" I asked the girl, impatiently.
"Euh, je ne sais pas," she answered, and was that "husky" in her voice?
"You don't know?" I questioned.

"Is this your street?" I repeated, activating the turn signal.

"You know where you live, don't you?" I questioned, and was that "condescending" in my voice?

"We don't usually go this way," the girl admitted.
"Well, which way do you 'usually' go?" I snipped.

When the girl indicated that the way was several kilometers back, via another road leading from the village, I swung the car around with an audible, irritable sigh, but not before commenting "Why would you tell me to go this way, when it's the other way?!"
"She didn't tell you to go that way," Max pointed out, in gallant defense of the demoiselle.

That's when the car fell silent and I was jolted back some 25 years. I could now remember that awkward, confusing feeling: the way that an unfriendly adult could make you feel after some sort of vague accusation--this, followed by the feeling of inadequacy, or inability to defend oneself--due to lack of experience.

Through softened lenses, I now peered into the rearview mirror, to the young (if tall and blond) passenger in the backseat.

"What did I do wrong?" The girl was probably wondering. As for my unfriendliness, I guessed it had something to do with the soon-to-be overcooked cake and... perhaps... a lot to do with the not-so-little girl. Then and there, I noticed some sort of prejudice going on within me. Prejudice, I wondered, against what--puberty?

Immediately, I regretted my behavior. But the guilt would stay with me until I reached home.

Opening the front door, Fate greeted me, with fervor--and with her holy plan for redemption....

Max and I floated toward the kitchen, hooked by the sweet scent which carried us forth. "The cake!" I remembered. All that guilt had erased my memory of having ever made the cake! And now, I realized with relief, it was just what the doctor ordered: comfort food!

That's when Fate's plan went into action. Salivating now, I opened the oven door. On my mind was the perfect cup of tea to accommodate the cake. I'd have two slices, and set aside a few for Jean-Marc. The kids would eat theirs with me at the table.

That's when Max remembered something very important.

"Mom," he said, with his usual nonchalance.
"Just a minute," I replied, getting out some plates and some honey for my tea.
"Mom," Max insisted. "I volunteered to bring a cake to school tomorrow."
With that, shoulders slumped, I returned the plates to the cupboard and wrapped up the cake.

*     *     *
Third time around at making the cake (one I hope I'll finally have the chance to taste), I glance down at the package, to the instructions for marbling: simply add two teaspoons of cocoa powder to the mix.... If only the instructions for living--and for loving others--were as simple to comprehend.

Corrections, comments--and stories of your own!--are always welcome in the comments box.

100 more lessons in love, in the book "Words in a French Life"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le loto des commerçants = local merchants' lottery; le gâteau (m) au yaourt; recipe for yogurt cake =
this link; une astuce (f) (du métier) = a trick (of the trade); savannah = savane (type of marbled yogurt cake; le goûter (m) = snack (tea time)

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The following video, on how to make a French yogurt cake, was made 4 years after the story was written. Our dog Smokey wasn't even born yet... enjoy.

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C'est du gateau ou c'est pas du gateau?...That is the question...
C'est du gateau= it's easy ( Piece of cake), but it is more fun to use it in the negative , example:
Apprendre le Francais, c'est pas du gateau!
Variation: C'est pas d'la tarte!


You are a super nice mom! I would have eaten the cake.
Happy week-end!


Time to start baking -- we have the Super Bowl coming up this Sunday which, for my family, is simply a great excuse to camp out in front of the television to eat and enjoy the commercials. (Perhaps I need to check out which teams are vying for the championship!)

Jules Greer

Kristi "Honey", What a beautiful story, I pray for my sweet MAX that he may survive his adolesence with you. Ha-Ha ! Your photo today is my favorite still-life painting project for you. This is a GREAT painting because it tells a story - I wonder if MAX has given his new love a pinecone yet? Also,
that was quite an honor for you when MAX decided to let you into his life. GET READY.




Bon jour, Kristin,

Thank you for a perfectly lovely story. I salivated over your cake and then empathized with your pride in your handiwork, mixed with conflicting parental feelings of protectiveness and jealousy - (because yes, no matter the age, moms are usually jealous of their sons´ girlfriends).
Sandra in Spain but yearning for, and soon returning to, la belle France


Tu es toute douce comme tes trois gateaux, Kristin!

Jules Greer


I wonder if MAX was really going to give that cake to his new girlfriend. Don't think this is something so new, I'm sure if
you go back into your memory bank you will find plenty of references. MAX is smart enough to think that idea up, just to save the confession for you when he is 25.



Good luck with the "petite amie"!

My mother used to make what we called "marble cake" -- which had nothing to do with the consistency! -- when I was a little girl. She divided the batter in three and colored a third brown with cocoa powder, as you did, and a third pink with cochineal -- about which I was less enthusiastic when I learned it was made from squished up beetles, but on reflection, at least it was a natural food coloring product!

I sometimes make colored cookies from an English recipe much like American sugar cookies. I cut back the sugar and add half a small box of Jello powder to the dough -- lime for green Christmas tree cookies, raspberry for pink Valentine heart cookies, and so on.

Doug Stiteler

Are you aware that your old home team, the Arizona Cardinals, are in the Super Bowl this weekend?

Bro-in-law, Doug


I'm in Paris, in a small apartment and no cookie sheets nor cake pans supplied by the landlord, so I'm off the hook for baking. But with so many good Patisseries around, I really don't have to bake, yet we miss the aroma of cookies coming from the oven. Jeanne


I feel for you, Kristin! Our children's first signs of interest in the opposite sex can catch us off guard. Le gateau seems like a good thing to help us through it, though!

I printed off your recipe, and I think I'll make an attempt at marbling it soon.

By the way, you truly have an eye for arrangement, the photo is lovely!

Robert  Faux, Makawao, HI

"Murphy's Law" does not require that anything be beautiful or good to preceed it getting worse. It just means that if things can get worse they will- the "luck" of the Irish at some times in history. Some of my ancestors were Irish and experienced this first hand. Robert Faux


As a mom of two older teens, just fall towards the inevitable and plan on being snubbed by young ones, and always double the desserts so you will have an "extra" one so you can actually have a piece for your tea.

Holly in Massachusetts

I've just played "catch-up" with the last month's worth of FWD. I have been reading it for years, but this is my first posting as today's entry spoke to me loud and clear. My son, MAX, turns 12 next week, and in his first year of middle school is just starting "to feel his oats" (French equivalent, anyone??). I have often identified to your responses to things, Kristen, and today's was especially poignant for me. The pre-pubescent's challenging remarks, the irritable mom's response, the ensuing guilt, and then our adorable boys still know how to make it all right again. Thank you, and I look forward to more insights as your Max matures in tandem with mine.

Cindy Gooch

Oooh! I am SO impressed by your nurturing, motherly behavior! Makes me want to bake a cake, but I'm on another diet, so...tant pis!

So the cake wasn't available for tea/snacks that day, but what lovely serendipity that it was ready for Max's volunteered cake.

A still life! Haven't painted since high school - maybe I should use this lovely photo as a first effort at age 55?

Jules Greer

Kristi, I think you should email Cindy Gooch and tell her to get out her paintbrush and join the "club" - I'll bet that old Darling Dr. Plough will want to paint this photo too. I'm surprised he hasn't asked you yet. Email him too. Shake
him up a little.



Vicki Archer

Hello, please check out French Essence as I have included you in my post. Feel free to pass on the award or not. Have a lovely weekend, xv

Carol Folino

the things we do for kids....

Fred Caswell

Kristi, there is "stuff" inside me that wants out but can't find the way (words). After sharing most of this gift from Ste. Cecile with my wonderful wife, she answered the question "what would you have wanted for a gift from your boyfriend when you were about 14?"

"Maybe jewelry, a movie ..."

That pleased this guy who gave his 1st petite amie a Mikey Mouse pin and later a trip to the movie theater.

Was going to send this French Word-A-Day to e-mail heaven but can't let it go yet as it is too touchingly beautiful.

Julie Schorr

Hi Kristin,
Thanks for the great story and the picture inspired me to print the recipe for myself so that I can bake a cake too today. I told my students about it and many of them wanted the recipe too. I printed around 50 copies of the recipe to hand out in various classes. There are probably dozens of teenagers in El Cajon, California baking your cake recipe this weekend!!
Thanks for sharing,


(said in a sing-song voice..)
There is going to be cake baking around the world today!!!
I am up to trying out a new "gateau" receipe and have told my family who are "tres joyeux"!! ( Jules...my french may be as bad as yours *smile*)


Thank you for the "receipt," old-timey word for recipe. Love the simplicity of it. I am wondering if you were distracted and concerned about having left le gateau in the oven while you ran car pool, which evidenced itself by your reaction to having to make a longer trip than you thought you'd have to. (And the cake is in the oven!) All this stuff does get mixed up--try not to take anything personally! Our darling children have to learn to separate from us in order to find out who THEY really are and prepare for life beyond Mom and Dad. It does get "hairy." (Now, that's another dated expression!) Life is good.


Bonjour Kristin,

I bought your book, I love it, every time i get a chance ( having 2 very young children, c'est FICELLE) i jump into ma canape and read and read, so charming. I love stories with Max, so cute. I cant believe how fast time is running, i look a mes enfants and it seems that time had stopped somewhere, but i know its because they are so young and before i know they will be all " smart" :)
Love what you do, love your taste.

God Bless!



I love the light on the photo. It looks like an evening shot as the sun was nearing the horizon with the warm tones of the yellow sun. This is definitely a Provencal light!

JacquelineBrisbane (Oz)

Bonjour tou'l monde!
I have baked this gateau tres souvent, and nearly always double the proportions except for the sugar which I actually halve! Sometimes I add une cuilleree de cannelle, or line the baking dish with sesame or poppy seeds..... . Miam miam :)



The warm luminosity on the photo is strikingly beautiful! It enhances the charm of the earthy colours of the cones and the gâteau marbré.
The tile …. Oh! Quelle trouvaille extraordinaire!
It not only focuses the eye, adds some light, height & structure to the composition but it did arouse my curiosity to the point of even forgetting the delicious “gâteau marbré” for a while. You may laugh but... I enlarged the photo and looked at it through a magnifying glass, turning my head upside down and trying desperately to read a bit more.

Kristin, I wish you had the top piece of the broken tile to complete the jigsaw puzzle! You mentioned the word “fait”. I can clearly read: “a fait”, so, it's the verb “FAIRE”, passé composé (to do or to make). “a fait” = did, or made.
I assume the verb is preceded by its subject. 'Who' did or made (the tile)? I can read.... ndre / or is it ...ndré ? My magnifying glass doesn't reveal an “accent aigu” on the last “e”, so, I guess the handmade tile was Not made by a man called “André” but quite possibly “Alexandre” (?)
“Alexandre a fait” (then some missing words … on the missing piece at the top!)
Yes, “30 juin" is the date the tile was handmade and I can read ”Le” in front of 30. Oh! it would be SO interesting to know the year too (written … on the missing piece).
I guess there may be some similar clay tiles of the same age, and a few of them might have the same inscription... which would allow us to solve the puzzle!

By the way, “Quelle tuile!” = 'What a blow!' , so, in a figurative sense, "une tuile" implies some unexpected incident, misfortune, trouble that put you in an awkward situation, or it's the result of some bad luck... The expression comes from the fact that a roof tile can break, slide along the roof and unexpectedly fall on your head!

There is a more pleasant “tuile”, of course -> the delicious one you can eat: “la tuile aux amandes”. It is a thin almond biscuit, curved like a roman tile. The recipe is clearly and simply explained in the following “vidéo de la recette”:

So for you, Kristin, the prediction: “jamais 2 sans 3” didn't materialise and I guess you finally enjoyed the 3rd “gâteau marbré”, worthwhile to be photographed with the pine cones... and the enigmatic and beautiful "tuile". Thanks!

Eve Robillardrobill

Kristin--Tres, tres amusant! It reminds me of when my kids were younger! Oh, the bittersweet joys of mamahood. Mamanhood?

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