This is not a chouia but a cabanon in the French woods (c) Kristin Espinasse
Cabanon in Les Arcs-sur-Argens

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.un chouia (or chouïa) (shooy-arrh) noun, masculine

    : "un petit peu," a smidgen

[Chouïa is an Arabic word; we hear it often here, in the South of France.]

Audio File: Listen to my mother-in-law pronounce today's French word.
Un chouia. Un petit chouia. Download Wav or Download MP3

"Bravo, bravo 'ma cocotte'!" My belle-mère cheered, after our recording session. I had showed her my blog and explained the various columns: the "word of the day," the story, the quote.... "Bravo, bravo, 'ma cocotte'," she approved. All those bravos... well, I suppose I'll forgive her for calling me "chicky".

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

(Note: The following story was written two years ago.)

"Just a smidgen," my mother-in-law says, pushing her plate forward with a little more enthusiasm than her French words would let on. "Un chouia," she insists as I dig into the pan, portioning off the cake in a range of slice sizes. Next, like a metal detector, I let the spatula hover over the cake until I sense my belle-mère's resistance melt like scrap gold. "Ça ira," that'll do, she says, indicating her choice—the largest slice: like mother-in-law, like daughter-in-law. I lift it out of the pan, keeping every crumb intact.

It is 2 p.m. on Christmas day and we are still stuffed from the réveillon. But there's always room for chocolate cake and, this time, my mother-in-law's has candied orange peel inside. (She's peeled the oranges before stringing the skins, hanging them to dry over her living-room radiator.)

I didn't know about the candied oranges—which just goes to show how my mother-in-law is always holding back an ingredient (chippie that she is) just to throw us off.

"So your chocolate cake calls for orange peel?" Aunt Marie-Claire ("Michou") inquires, as we huddle around the desserts. My belle-mère remains vague as Aunt Michou fishes for instructions and is, in the end, left to wonder about how to rig orange peels over her own Parisian radiator.

Meanwhile, I wonder about how I'm going to pry the Provençal "Pompe à L'Huile" Olive Oil Cake recipe out of Aunt Michou.... But before I can make any progress, she tells me it took her THREE years to coax the recipe out of Cousin Sabine.

Our recipe hunting reminds me of the demise of my belle-mère's oranges. If we aren't careful, we'll be strung just like those pathetic peels—only Cousin Sabine doesn't have a dainty radiator—but a walk-in Provençal fire pit, hooks and all!

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More about my belle-mère, French cousins and aunts in my book, Words in a French Life ...and you'll find the recipe for my mother-in-law's chocolate cake (sans oranges) in this book.

French Vocabulary

un chouia (m) = a smidgen; le réveillon (m) = Christmas Eve Dinner; une chippie (f) = little devil; la belle-mère (f) = mother-in-law

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