Marianne's Easy Lasagna & favorite French phrase


We returned home last night from our family ski vacation to find poppies blossoming along the railroad tracks in our village. Bonjour Printemps! Are you here to stay?


    "Ça ne mange pas de pain" = it doesn't cost a thing

* literally, "It doesn't eat bread". I heard Jean-Marc say this while we were on our family vacation this week. Since, I've been saying it everyday!, ie:

"Jackie, send your fashion article to France Today or French Provencal magazine"- ça ne mange pas de pain! You've got nothing to lose!

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La compassion, la tolerance, le respet pour l'autre... ça ne mange pas de pain.
Compassion, tolerance, respect for others... it doesn't cost a thing.


    by Kristi Espinasse

Home now from a 3-day family getaway to the French Alps, the first thing I want to do--before even unpacking my valise, is to make Marianne's delicious lasagna! I've already been to the store this morning, to get the short list of ingredients for this easy, 6-ingredient recipe!

                      L'Art de vivre en montagne

(Marianne's Easy-Peasy Lasagne)

Twenty-three years ago, sitting at Marianne's convivial dinner table, I would not have thought to ask for the recette. But I've grown up, since, and rearranged my priorities! While I still stare at all the French guests--losing my attention span to daydreaming as my gaze picks up all kinds of inspiration from those seated around the table--I can now punctuate these lapses with pertinent questions, such as, Parle-moi un peu de cet écureuil qui se trouve sur votre mur... or May I have the recipe for this delicious dish? 

Monday night, as I stared at the stuffed squirrel on the chalet's wall, Marianne served up lasagna for thirteen, and Michel, Marianne's husband, explained: "The squirrel came from Alsace...."

I thought to ask Why?, when another, more pressing question came to mind: "Marianne, est-ce que je peux avoir la recette de ce lasagne?" And here, dear readers, is what she answered (my notes and questions are in parenthesis, in case you want to give me any pointers before I go to make this recipe this afternoon!) :

First make an easy bolognaise sauce...
Sauté some onions, add ground beef (around 100 grams or 3.5 ounces per person) and continue to cook, separating the beef with a spatula,  mixing it up with the onions. Add salt and pepper and a can or so of tomatoes (or tomatoe paste). 
Then add cream.... Marianne says she added two cartons of crême fraîche liquide (she held up her hands to give me an idea of the carton size, which I guess is about 8 ounces per carton. This will depend on how much beef you use, so just do it by guesswork, which is my plan! (As for me, I bought 3 small tubs of sour cream. Do you think this will work?) 

Now put down the first layer of lasagna noodles --precooked, directly from package, followed by one layer of the meat/cream sauce and one layer of shredded gruyère cheese. Repeat until you reach the top  of the pan. (Do you line the pan? I think I'll butter it or add sauce first... let me know!) 

Into the oven at 150-180C (300-350F) for 25 minutes... and voilà, fini!


I love the idea of this basic lasagna recipe, which gives me courage to make lasagna for the very first time. With an easy 6-ingredient base, I am free to be creative, adding chopped carrots to sauté along with the onions, or adding nutmeg and a lump of butter to the cream and meat sauce.... I may also add some leftover parmesan along with the shredded cheese. 

What would you add? Let me know this-and any other tips in the comments. I am so excited to finally be making lasagna, as it will be a very practical recipe at harvest time!

Check out these casserole dishes at Amazon.


Everybody had seconds! Thanks, Marianne and Michel! For another easy, quick, and delicious recipe by Marianne, click here.

valise = suitcase
recette = recipe
Parle-moi un peu de cet écureuil qui se trouve sur votre mur... tell me about that (stuffed) squirrel on the wall

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Vacation is over. This morning Max and Antoine are pulling out large stones from the vineyard floor and piling them at the end of the vine row, where an ancient restanque (Provencal stone wall) hints at a new purpose for these heavy rocks.

P.S. Smokey had a blast in the snow, chased tennis balls and ate plenty of snowballs too!

Thanks and see you next week!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Cheez Whiz + The 3-ingredient dessert my French guests raved about

French chestnut cake recipe

Make this easy chestnut cream cake and your guests, like mine, will be dipping their spoons into the pan for more! (Cuillères, because the French do not eat cake with fourchettes, as we do back home in Arizona.)

TODAY'S WORD: le marron

    1. brown or chestnut (color)
    2. chestnut 
    3.  black-eye (slang)

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C’est en 1882 alors que l'économie locale ardéchoise dans l’élevage du ver à soie traverse une crise due à une épidémie, que Clément Faugier, jeune homme du terroir, crée à Privas la première fabrique de Marrons Glacés.

It was in 1882, during a time when silkworm farming in the Ardèche was in a state of crisis due to an epidemic, that Clément Faugier, a young man from the region, created the first candied chestnut factory in Privas.


    by Kristin Espinasse

When I first moved to France I began to notice all kinds of unusual behavior among the French, most of it coming from my husband-to-be. Jean-Marc loves the outdoors and we would often hike down the jagged calanques, to the sea, where we enjoyed picnicking. Jean-Marc's favorite things to eat included the traditional baguette and cheese... and a brown paste that he would suck from a tube. (I know that last phrase lacks elegance, unlike my then-boyfriend).

It turned out he was relishing his favorite childhood goûter, or snack: chestnut cream in a tube! And who was I to judge the way in which he ate it--when my favorite childhood snack was Cheez Whiz? For those unfamiliar with the product, French Wikipedia offers some incite:

    Il se présente sous la forme d'une pâte de couleur jaune et est conditionné dans des pots en verre.
    It is presented in the form of a yellow-colored paste, and packaged in glass pots.

Not my Cheez Whiz! Mine came in an aerosol can--all the better for spraying directly into the mouth before replacing it in my grandmother's cupboard, beside her canned green beans from my grandfather's garden.

An ocean away from those delightful gastronomic episodes, I now cultivate beans in my own garden, and compensate for so much healthy eating by punctuated indulgements. (Did you know you can now buy Cheez Whiz in France?)

One of my all-time favorite, decadent desserts is this French chestnut cake that Jean-Marc's aunt often made us during harvest time at her vineyard. And when we began our own vineyard, Marie-Françoise (that's her handwriting in the opening photo) brought this beloved gâteau de marrons to our harvest picnics, to help us out. Everyone loves it and so will you! 


Le Gâteau aux Marrons

Note: you can purchase the chestnut cream here at Amazon. It's pricey, but only three ingredients are needed for this cake, which costs around $15. (I served 8 people). Also, you may notice how Aunt Marie-Françoise handwritten recipe (pictured) calls for beating the egg whites and gently folding them in. Up to you. (I'd rather spend the effort pulling weeds near my fava beans. Grandpa, you would be proud!)


    => 500 grams or 1 can(about 2 cups) of Crème de Marrons vanillé (vanilla chestnut spread)
    =>100 grams of butter (about 7 tablespoons)
    => 3 eggs

In a pan, over medium heat, combine the chestnut spread and the butter until softened. Remove from stovetop and let cool before adding three beaten eggs. Stir to combine. Pour into cake pan.

Cook 45 minutes at 150C (300F)

Note: my cake seemed ready after only 20 minutes! It is a thin cake. I served it plain, but you could frost it or put a chocolate sauce on top! Sliced strawberries would be nice. Here's a picture of one I topped simply, with pecans and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Why not share this post with a friend? Thanks and enjoy. Et bon appétit!

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French Chestnut cake gateau aux marrons

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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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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:
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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 creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Glaçon: A Wife's Revenge + Ratatouillaisse recipe


Just discovered another photo of Jean-Marc and his side-kick Mr. Sacks, in Italy. Don't miss the collection of Mr Sacks photos!

JEAN-MARC IN WINE SPECTATOR - Please read about Jean-Marc in this week's online edition of Wine Spectator! The story is called Parched in Provence.


TODAY'S WORD: le glaçon

    : ice cube

French definition of ice cubes from Wikipedia:

Les glaçons domestiques se réalisent en plaçant un bac à glaçons dans un congélateur. Sous l’action du froid, l'eau du bac (de préférence de l'eau chaude selon l'effet Mpemba) gèle dans le bac, puis il suffit de démouler les glaçons.

Domestic ice cubes are made by placing an ice tray in the freezer. Activated by the cold, the water in the tray (preferably from hot water according to the Mpemba effect ) freezes in the tray, then simply remove the ice from the mold.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

The other night, I crawled into bed with a tall glass of freezing cold water. I had forgotten just how much I love ice cubes! And then a heatwave hit France - sending me back to the nostalgic past. Sitting in front of a cheap fan (air conditioning is as rare as ice cubes here), looking out the window at the parched countryside,  glimmers from my Southwest American childhood come back, reminding me of how we managed to keep cool in the Valley of the Sun.

ICE CUBES- Everyone used them in their cups, adding sun-brewed tea or pop from the fridge. You either bought your bag of ice cubes at the store, or your refrigerator door magically produced them (as at my friend Vanessa's house). Some people made their own ice cubes, bien sûr.

NO ICE CUBES IN FRANCE-is an exaggerated statement, but not that far from the truth. If you have been to France, you know exactly what I mean. Restaurants serve one (maybe two?) ice cubes when you order a soft drink. But forget about ice in your water!

Indeed, forgetting about ice became my coping mechanism when I moved from Arizona to France. So much so that now, 23 years later, it just wouldn't even occur to me to offer you an ice cube in your drink. My unconscious reasoning? The ice tea has already been chilled... in the frigo!

Press me and I might offer another explanation: Have you seen our ice cube trays in France? I've tried the plastic sack molds, only to watch a piece of blue plastic break off with each individual cube. I've used the built-in trays (in a new freezer we once had) but the "tray-flip" mechanism never worked...and was broken when it was banged on the counter in frustration. And I've attempted the "flexible" molds (you bend them inside out and still the tiny ice cubes cling on for dear life!!). All such effort produces a few broken cubes (the rest end up on the floor) and several frozen fingers. Might as well stick those in your cup!

But when the temperatures hit triple digits last month, I was desperate to cool down and so resorted to using those crappy flexible molds to make a small cachette of cubes (hey, each for his own. If you want ice cubes around here--make them yourself. Suffer icy fingerburn!).

Then, last week, Jean-Marc took my precious, Rare Ice Cube Collection and dumped it into a bucket to chill a bottle of his rosé! Hell hath no fury that describes the degenerative effect this had on me. (Because we had a guest at the time, I could not dump the icy bucket over my husband's head and pour his rosé into the Mediterranean!

The next day, I decided to see what French store-bought ice cubes are like--and they're huge! That evening, I carefully chose four--enough to fill a small canteen. I took the accoustic, stainless steel canteen to bed with me (see opening paragraph) and, each time Jean-Marc nodded off to sleep, I jiggled my drink, smiling when a percussion of cubes sounded off in sweet revenge.

Done with my evening reading (and drinking), I shut off the lights. No matter how many times I read my well-worn prayer book, I'm still just a little devil. 

                                   *    *    *

Smokey-our father
Smokey's prayer: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Rainbow Bridge come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Dog Heaven...


Another picture from my Instagram, titled "Generous Neighbors". Now read on for what to do with summer vegetables...


My friend and artist Yvon Kergal posted his delicious Provençal recipe. I made it an my family loved it. Now see Ann Mah's post for the hit recipe in English .

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Meet Morrie & French fruit soup recipe

   Jean-Marc, returning to his vine fields after delivering me this tree!

Meet Morrie! We welcome to our vineyard a new tree, a morus alba pendula . This weeping mulberry tree, a permaculture gardener's dream, will lend a delicious dimension to today's recipe: French Fruit Soup. Read on!

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la cueillette
 (kuh yet)

    1. picking, gathering
    2. crop, harvest

Also: cueillir (to pick, gather, pluck) 

AUDIO FILE: hear Jean-Marc pronounce these French words: Download MP3 or Wave file

la cueillette des raisins, des champignons, des pommes et des poires....
  the gathering of grapes, mushrooms, apples and pears... 

la cueillette de la lavande, des fleurs sauvages....
  the gathering of lavender, of wildflowers... 

la cueillette à la ferme, au verger...
  harvesting at the farm, at the orchard... 


  • Update: the audio file for the previous post, chétif, is now up! Don't miss it--along with a picture of our audio man, here.

Exercises in French PhonicsExercises in French Phonics is a great book for learning French pronunciation. Order it here.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

A Fresh New Perspective on Gardening

Sometime last spring, I looked out to my garden and thought: who are you kidding? You can't grow things - at least not consistenly. True, I've had a glory day or two (that five pound zucchini and the prolific roma tomato plant. And those ears of corn! But the courgettes and tomatoes this year are weird and I never got around to planting corn, which is like sabotage since it wasn't so hard to grow afterall--and why wouldn't you grow something if you knew you could?

Just look at this mess! On a recent foray out to the back yard, to my three-part garden--a wild part, a tamed part, a wild part--Even my husband pointed it out: "It's a jungle out there. You need to tame it."

It's true, my garden experiment has gone amuck. Even the tamed part was out of control. Standing there, wondering what to do,  I knelt down to pull a few weeds from the base of this jungle. A bright red ball caught my attention, and I turned and yanked a strawberry from the vine, popping it in my mouth. Those random strawberries  didn't seem to amount to much, but, if you stopped and added them all up....  They might equal bushells by the end of summer!

I sat back and took a fresh look at my edible forest. What looked like havoc was, finally, the self-caring garden I had meant to cultivate from the very beginning-- when I began watching every Youtube video on the topic of permaculture and food forests.

Permaculture ("permanent agriculture")  and forest gardening are ways to jardiner by which you observe how plants behave in nature. Nature doesn't have neat rows of tomatoes or straight lines of thyme. Wild fruit trees are surrounded by plants and vines, not more of the same.

A week or so ago I began carrying a small bowl with me to my garden, filling it with whatever could be harvested. Back in the kitchen, I photographed the tiny harvest. When I string all the pictures together - days later, I see my harvest from a new perspective. Instead of the lone fraise, I now have a small bowl of berries.  Determined to come back to the kitchen with a small bounty, I now venture out through my jungle - searching out the hidden cherry tomato and the looming raspberry. This morning I found a pumpkin plant! It must have come out of the pile of compost I tossed at the foot of the kale tree (a veritable arbre!).

These petites cueillettes captured by my camera are wonderfully rewarding visual harvests and further motivation to head out each day and hunt for something ripe. Were it not for this recent return to the forest - the field riot I had so been avoiding - I would have never had the thrill of discovering our first homegrown avocado--here on the seacoast of France! I would have experienced the ironic twist of fate that sometimes happens to those who give up:

Strangely, so many people give up just moments before they would have realized their goal.

Speaking of strange, this brings me back to my weird garden. My weird and WONDERFUL garden. That little avocado would have been dangling out there in the forest, unseen as I headed into the house to hang up my garden gloves for good.

And what about that book I have given up on? Or the pursuit that you have stopped pursuing? Could it be it is well within reach?....

Vegetable garden and nettles patch
  When my garden was tame.

Post Note
I'm glad my husband made that remark, which poked at my stubborn heart. I now return daily to my wild garden, to remind myself it is just as it should be: rambling, uneven, free--and producing! My favorite thing to do with the jungle food -- will the recent micro harvests -- is to make fruit soup (the soup part, admittedly, makes up for all the missing fruit and has the added advantage of being super refreshing at the start of another canicular day).

I leave you with this simple recipe, and wish you bon appétit! 




  • selection of fruit including berries, stone fruit, bananas for creaminess
  • teaspoon olive oil*
  • scissored or chopped herb leaves - such as mint, basil, lemon verbena, or the simple-to-grow anise hyssop (see it somewhere in the above photo)
  • squeezes of lemon or orange
  • dollop of yogurt - optional
  • seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax...), raisins, dried mulberries...
  • a little water  

Olive oil? you say. I know it sounds strange, but think of olive oil's health benefits!  I got the oil tip from Rachel (who taught me the easy Provencal Tomato Tart. She uses canola oil in her fruit salad, mashing it up with a banana and lemon juice for the dressing.)

Chop up fruit (I leave the strawberry tops on), add chopped herbs and squeezes of citrus, and top with yogurt and seeds. I then put my bowl under the tap and add a quarter cup of water. I know that is very strange and surely amateur -- but have you experience the current heat wave in France? Extra water (now flavored with so much fruit!) can't hurt--and how else to make fruit soup? :-)

Your suggestions
Tell us what you would add to this refreshing soup. Click here to comment.

Smokey, Breizh, and Morrie--our new mulberry tree!

Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for pictures



It all adds up. Jean-Marc and I once made a meal out of this carrot, frying it with an onion and putting the glazed and sweet topping over rice.

Did you enjoy today's post? Maybe a friend would too! Thanks for sharing and see you in one week for another update.


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

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

Rabbit recipe + How to say DEADLINE in French?

French Word-A-Day goes out twice a week, but the stories continue in pictures over at Instagram. This snapshot, above, is subtitled "Following in a musician's steps, in Aix." I had been hurrying along behind the stranger, on my way to a meeting, when a little voice whispered: Snap out of it. Sometimes we are so clamped down on our track to the future that we are incapable of experiencing the present moment. This is also the theme of today's story. I hope you'll enjoy it.

la date limite

    : deadline, cut-off date

date limite de consommation = best-before date
date limite de conservation = expiration date
date limite de publication =  publication deadline

Nov2014Mas de Perdrix. A home in France that artists and writers love to rent.  Work on your creative project in this inspiring environment.

Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

La date limite d'utilisation est une date indiquée sur l'emballage de certaines denrées au-delà de laquelle leurs qualités ne sont plus garanties. The expiration date is a date indicated on the package of certain foodstuff beyond which their qualities are no longer guaranteed. (French sentence from Wikipedia)

Improve your French pronunciation with the Exercises in French phonetics book. Click here. 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

This month marks two years since I began writing the back page column for France Today magazine. In addition to Le Dernier Mot, I have been given the chance to write a three-page feature for their June edition! Though I have finally adapted to a regular deadline (getting lots of practice here in my blog) I am panicked about this week's due date and my tendency is to clamp down and shut everything else out. Like this, I recently missed the chance to meet friends in Cassis, and I missed my dear friend Tessa's painting class. C'est dommage. The friendly breaks would have surely had a positive effect and would not have caused my little publishing empire to come crumbling down! 

By Wednesday this new deadline was looming when another date limite (you need to say those words with a French accent: DAT LEE-MEET) crept into the picture. That is when I remembered the skinned rabbit in my refrigerator

Mon Dieu! It was time to cook it or see it expire for the second time! That would be inimaginable after what Annie--and the rabbit--went though! 

Surfing the internet, I found recipes and diagrams on how to cut up a rabbit. Gosh! I hadn't gotten to that last part yet, couldn't it be cooked whole, like a roast chicken? In the middle of this dilemma, my husband walked in and there, I saw a solution...

Jean-Marc and I stood side-by-side in the kitchen, one of us holding a dull knife (I tried sharpening it), the other waving an instructional diagram through the air, in vain. (Jean-Marc will have nothing to do with convention.) 

In 9 no-nonsense whacks, the rabbit was now ready to be sauteed in pieces... For this, I did as Annie had instructed earlier, when that very morning I had flagged her down in her car as she drove past our house. Reaching for me from her car window, she held my hand as she relayed La recette grand-mère pour Lapin à la Moutarde.


               (Rabbit, covered with shallots, thyme and ready to cook)


  • Saisir or fry the pieces in butter
  • coat them with good mustard
  • add fresh thyme, salt, pepper
  • sauteed shallots if you like...
  • a little water into the shallow pan, or a bit of white wine (or both)
  • and into the oven at 175c for 45 minutes, turning several times, during cooking, to coat the rabbit in the pan juices

Squeezing my hand a few more times for courage, Annie added, "When the lapin is done, gently scrape off all the mustard and mix it with cream (I used sour cream), then recoat the morsels with this thick sauce and reheat, adding more liquid if necessary, so the meat doesn't stick to the pan."

As Annie drove off, I reached down and plucked up several branches of flowering thyme and headed back to the kitchen. I was a little confused as to why Annie's recipe called for only 45 minutes of cooking, and most of the online recipes called for hours and hours of slow cooking. And then, by coincidence, a guest last night (Marie, see her vineyard here!), whose son-in-law raises rabbits, explained: old rabbits are cooked longer, to make civet. Young rabbits are cooked quickly).

Bon, back to our story. There remained one question: when to serve Annie's rabbit and to whom


Because we had two helping hands here at the moment (including Gilbert, who you met here in the asparagus post, along with his dog Inès de la Frange remember her...) the answer was easy. But would there be enough rabbit for three hungry men and one curious cook?

Amidst all the questioning, the thought of how can I ever thank Annie returned. And then I remembered a comment I had read from the morning's blog post, wherein so many of you were writing in with tips and encouragements on what to do with Annie's rabbit.

Cynthia wrote: By all means, do make a rabbit stew and invite Annie for dinner.

Mais bien sûr! This would be the perfect way to thank my neighbor! The only question now was: would there be enough for 5? Annie accepted the invitation and wanted to know if it would be alright if she brought her daughter along....

"Oui, oui!" I insisted, mentally watching our rabbit stretch itself to accomodate lunch for 6. Jean-Marc had cut up 6 pieces hadn't he? And there went my worries, back on the hamster wheel: round and round... 

Returning to the kitchen to finish preparing the rabbit, a miracle occured. Just like Jesus and the fish, the rabbit multiplied! There seemed to be more pieces than before....


When it came time to sit down for lunch, our garden worker friends were famished from four hours of débroussaillement (clearing the jungle of bushes from our driveway).  Annie and Margot, Annie's daughter, were exhausted from pulling up the lilac bush and an exotic plant from their own garden (which they gifted to me). 

Returning to the kitchen to pull the rabbit out of the oven, I prayed the pieces had not shrunk from the cooking. Arranging the servings with economy, I sent Jean-Marc out with the plates and careful instructions: this one's for Annie... this giant piece is for Roland... and this little one's for you!

At the table I studied everyone's faces until Annie spoke.

"Bravo, Kristin! C'est délicieux!"

Thrilled with the compliment, and seeing my guests' plates were empty (good sign indeed!), I returned to the kitchen to serve up more rice. Peering into the oven I saw another miracle. Three servings of rabbit remained.

Crawling into bed for an afterlunch nap, I relived the previous moment in my mind's eye. There had been two ways to spend my morning: nailed to my keyboard, overworking my story (due in a few days...), or preparing a meal for some lovely characters.  

The true miracle was to have chosen the second. 


To respond to this story, leave a comment here in the comments box.


SABLET HOME for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. Particularly suited to groups of up to four discerning travelers.


Sitting down to lunch with my guests.

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Un mijoteuse: a must-have for cool weather comfort!


No picture of a crock pot to illustrate today's word. How about a windowsill, which is sort of in theme with the corresponding story (the first sentence anyway). P.S. This snapshot was taken in Ménerbes.

une mijoteuse (me-zho-teuz)

    : slow cooker

Also: crockpot, crock pot, or cocotte

Audio file / Example Sentence: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence (he's recorded it for me while harvesting grapes at Chateau Pibarnon... you can barely hear the vendengeurs in the background :-) Download MP3 or Wav file

Une mijoteuse c'est un "appareil électroménager fonctionnant comme une casserole chauffée à feu doux, permettant la cuisson durant des heures quasiment sans risque de bruler la nourriture." (-Wiktionnaire)

A slow cooker is an electric appliance that works like a casserole heated over slow fire, allowing for hours-long cooking, practically without risk of burning the food.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Slow Food

An upcoming visit from my dad and my belle-mère has motivated me to dust the windowsills and dig out the crockpot, two things I don't think about doing very often.

Oh, I like the slow cooker alright. If I didn't tend to complicate things I might use it more often. But after learning that some ingredients need to be sauteed first--and that all food must be room temperature before adding to the crockpot, I realize one-pot cooking is too detail oriented for me!

That's sure not how Dad made it sound--years ago, when he was a bachelor once again. Back then he raved about the one-pot method of cooking. "Just toss everything in, put the top on, and set the timer. Nothing to it!" Dad would then leave for his 8-hour work day at Boeing, and return home to the warmth and comforting aroma of beef stew.

"You've got to have one of these!" Dad urged, offering to buy me one if I didn't mind carrying it on the plane back to France. Back then I must've preferred to bring back loads of peanut butter, Carmex, 501 jeans and any number of things besides a 13-pound crockpot!

Meantime I discovered France's version of the one-pot cooker: la cocotte minute! Funny how it works in the reverse: meals are ready in 30 minutes instead of 8 hours. I soon discovered that no matter what you put in a pressure cooker it tasted like a French grandmother's secret prized recipe! What a wake-up call. Anyone could cook!

But I never felt completely comfortable using the cocotte minute (having read about a female athlete who received 3rd degree burns after the pressure cooker exploded). So when my cocotte minute bit the dust after 10 years, I began wishing for Dad's slow cooker. 

Certain they didn't exist here (never having seen them anywhere in France) I almost gave up, until my dear friend Doreen (remember The Dirt Divas?) brought one back from England for me. It was huge! "How did you get it here?" I asked.

"Dave drove it back in our station wagon!" (I see, the English use crock pots, too!)

While it wasn't as big as Dave's station wagon, it was large enough to make chili for our entire harvest team. I think that's what Doreen and Dave had in mind, after noticing me panic before each harvest season.

They even offered a lengthy cookbook along with it! And therein lies the problem: l'embarras de choix. But it isn't the "embarrassment of choices" that's disheartening, it's all the ingredients and steps! Specifically, it's that bit about having to precook stuff. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of a "one-pot" meal? The thought of all the splattering and extra equipment led me to use le four for last night's one-pot meal: gigot de 7 heures. But it's a shame to heat the entire oven for one medium-size casserole. 

Yesterday, in a last-ditch effort I googled "do you need to fry meat before slow cooking?" and realized I'm not the only têtu, or stubborn mule, out there!

And today I'm googling "do you really need to follow a recipe when slow cooking?" I think if I could just cook au pif--or by guesswork--then my crock pot would earn a permanent place on the kitchen counter.

Meantime, if you can offer any inspiration -- some very basic delicious recipes for the slow cooker --then I'll quit kicking my hooves in the ground. After all, this mule is hungry for some comfort food! 

P.S. crockpots do exist in France! They're called mijoteuses :-)

Comments or Recipes
To respond to this post, or to add your favorite crock pot or slow cooker recipes, click here.


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Jackie and Grandpa Kip

Jackie and Grandpa Kip. Favorite picture of my dad and my daughter.


Photo of Jackie taken last night, in front of the fig tree. The kids love it when we have visitors--for the savory meals that suddenly appear on the dinner table! (Max, if you are reading, come home from Aix tonight. THERE'S FOOD!) 

... come to think of it, this 3-quart crockpot is half the price and perfect for my fledgling for his studio apartment.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Tarpin! How to say "super duper" in French?


2009. With Jackie, when Smokey was tarpin young. Lately everyone's growing up around here! (Picture taken months after Smokey's horrible attack.)

Today's word is listed under "Parler Marseillais," or Marseilles lingo, so it may be a regional expression....

tarpin (tar-pahn)

    : a lot, very 

Would then "super duper" = tarpin tarpin? :-)

Audio File & Example Sentence: listen to Jean-Marc: Click MP3 or Wav

Il fait tarpin chaud. It's very hot!
Il y a tarpin de monde. There's a lot of people here! 


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Modern English and My Daughter Share the Same Birthdate

If you've followed my Facebook or Instagram page lately, you may have sensed a spell of nostalgie. Since our firstborn flew the coop last week, I've been posting photos of the kids when they were petits bouts de choux. Back when they used to say the cutest things.

"Peur pas!" Max would say to his little sister, giving a whole new meaning to "don't cry!" But when kids hit the teenage years those sweet little phrases turn into gros mots and you wonder, Where did the innocence go?

Nowhere, I'm happy to report. Nulle part!

Driving my daughter home from school, she's in an unusually chatty mood. Perhaps that Huffington Post tip worked ("25 Ways to Ask Your Kids 'So How Was School Today?' Without Asking Them 'So How Was School Today?'" worked!) Currently Jackie's talking about her favorite movie....

"Have you seen Will Hunting?"

It takes a minute to translate my daughter's English--so strong is her French accent. "Yes! I think so. It's with Robin Williams and... whose that other guy?"

"Matt Damon!!!"

"Ah. And you say it's a  good film?"

"C'est tarpin bon!"

"Are you watching it in English I hope?"

"Yes," Jackie says, to my surprise. "Only it's hard to understand."

"Why's that?"

"Because they're speaking in old English. (Here, Jackie's exact words are "l'anglais d'avant.")

"Oh? What year did the film come out?"

"I don't know," my 16-year-old says. "1997?"


*    *    *

To leave a comment, click here. If you like, you might enjoy adding a punchline to today's story. I hesitated over this last line: "That old, huh?" before leaving the end as is. The actual response I gave? A good chuckle!

French Vocabulary

petit bout de chou = little kid
le gros mot = cuss word
nulle part = nowhere
peur pas = fear not
tarpin = very
bon = good 


Winetasting at Mas des Brun
Thanks, Meiling Newman, for this snapshot of a previous meetup. Winetastings at our home are informal and unpredictable. If it rains this Saturday we'll end up inside, as cozy as those sardines in Marseilles' vieux port. To reserve your seat for Saturday's 5 o'clock tasting, email 

First potatoes
Bye for now. Off to make un potage! Planted a potato that had sprouted on the kitchen countertop. Thrilled to find this at the bottom of the bucket! Enough to make one serving of Soupe à l'oseille et aux pommes de terre, using the sorrel from the garden.

My belle-soeur, Cécile's recipe: Stir fry the following. Add water. Simmer one hour.

  • A few finely sliced potatoes
  • handfulls of sorrel
  • some onion
  • a bouillon cube if you have one
  • s & p
  • bay leaf if you have one handy
  • sour cream (optional), to stir in after

Blend, right there in the pan, with a handy-dandy mixer like this one. 

Sack of potatoes
Took this photo near Valréas. Can you explain this set up? Is it a warding off? Or an IOU to the postman? Fodder for a roving photographer? Comments welcome.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue creating this French word journal and its newsletter, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site humming along, please know your donation makes all the difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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aimant + How to be a Chick Magnet + recipe


They don't say chick magnet in French. Here, it's aspirateur de gonzesses (literally, that's "vacuume cleaner of broads")

un aimant (ay-mahn)

    : magnet

Example Sentence 

Les aimants décoratifs servent à maintenir les messages sur la porte du frigo.
Decorative magnets are useful for holding messages on the fridge door.

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Last Chance for Best Price
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A Day in a FRENCH Life... by Kristin Espinasse

See the Humor in it or Skip it!

If I were as good a salesman as I've recently been accused of being (by the way, have you bought First French Essais? in paperback or ebook?) then I would title today's story this way:


And if I were a really good salesman then I'd offer (well, offer is a big word--with strings attached,  naturally); yes, I'd offer the secret in three words or less! So let's put the theory to the test: am I really that good a salesman (of First French Essais...) and can you really become a girl magnet with only three words?

(Drum roll...) Here are the 3 magic mots. Take note!

"Forget my birthday"

Yep, that's it. That's all it takes to become a girl magnet overnight!--to go from completely invisible, ignored, rejected and abandoned... to rock-n-roll irresistible!

Now, would a good salesman leave you with 3 magic words and then, basta, run with the money? Jamais! Here are the priceless instructions you will need to transform yourself into girl glue:

Simply whisper the suggestion "Forget my birthday" to the future chick magnets of your choice. Start a day early en chuchotant the 3 magic words:

...Forget my birthday... forget my birthday....

Then, the morning of your birthday, Bob's your uncle!* Or Jean-Marc is, or rather, we'll use Jean-Marc for this example!

The morning of my husband's birthday I stumbled past him on my way to the coffee machine. Bonjour, I mumbled. I vaguely remember pausing, seeing him sitting there on the couch--barely covered against the morning chill. I was sorry he woke up so early but didn't apologize, this time, for my snoring. Instead I grabbed a cup of coffee and slipped past him, with a noncommittal, ça va, Cheri?

As I settled back into my warm bed, enjoying my morning coffee before our house guest (Chick #2...) woke up, I heard voices in the front room.

So much for lingering. It was time to get up and hostess. This time I flew past my husband in time to greet Rachel, who was treated to a livelier bonjour! It's always a pleasure to see Rachel, and no need to change out of my morning get-up (pink and red knee-highs, my green-and-black-striped pjs tucked into the socks for extra warmth, and cashmere floor-length robe (five bucks at the consignment store) tossed over the whole (platform suede mules peeping from the bottom). 

Over toast, I caught up with our longtime friend. Rachel was a classmate of Jean-Marc's whom I had met days after him, 24 years ago. Owing to a long history in common, Rachel and I always have so much to say. This time we were chatting about bone density and I was telling Rachel about a tip I'd recently learned: save your organic eggshells, wash them in hot water and, using a coffee grinder, reduce them to a fine poudre. Take a small teaspoon in juice or yogurt and voilà! Calcium!

When Jean-Marc appeared at the table, we barely noticed him but for his greeting, which he was obliged to repeat.

"I said that's awfully interesting conversation on a day like today!" he smiled hopefully.

Rachel and I smiled back, she more politely than I, before continuing our conversation about our future foe: osteoporosis. But a noise in the near distance caused us to pause once more.

Jean-Marc was a broken record: "Fascinating conversation on a day like today!"

Our eyes froze midsentence as Rachel and I jumped up. Planting kisses all over his face, Chick #1 and Chick #2 wished Jean-Marc Happy Birthday!!!...

And that, dear reader, is How To Become a Chick Magnet with only 3 words! Now, depending on your birth day, it might be a little or a very long wait. For poor Jean-Marc, he has a whole nother year to go, before being clawed and kissed by a flurry of embarrased chicks. 

*    *    *

To comment, click here. Thanks in advance!

Selected Vocabulary
le mot = word
basta!= (interjection, Italian?) that's enough
jamais = never
en chuchotant = in whispering
Bob's your uncle = voilà! That's how it's done! That's all it takes!
la poudre = powder

Two places to stay in a favorite village: Sablet!

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Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. 

Birthday cake

 Jean-Marc's birthday cake: a crumble I've been practicing ever since Sandra made it, last Friday night for dessert. This one has sauteed apples and carrots (1 grated) and a drizzle of Jean-Marc's honey from his bees.

I like this easy-to-remember measure for the topping: 10 tablespoons flour, 10 tablespoons sugar, 150 grams butter--cinnamon and whatever else you fancy (a sprinkle of granola? pecans?). Malaxer (or knead this together) until fine like breadcrumbs. Spread crumbs on top of fruit (now in a baking pan) and bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes.


 Jean-Marc's birthday may have been like any other day--like laundry day--but there were many beautiful moments within it...


Like his shoes lined up along the porch, to freshen in the air.


And the thyme, collected by our daughter--for her grandmother. We celebrated Jean-Marc's birthday again with Michèle-France on Sunday. The herbs are for my mother-in-law's tapenade, a gift that keeps on giving!

Today is the last day to enter the book drawing, too. Go to the end of this post, and follow the quick instructions!

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

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Recipe + "willing to help" in French


Galette des rois (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Smokey's Temptation"

La galette des rois was not planned. I'd gone to the supermarché for eggs--to mix in with three overripe bananas (for sweet bread). Only, when I pushed my cart into Carrefour I saw the traditional stuffed cakes. "When is the actual date for eating these?" I asked the pretty check-out lady. "Epiphany," she said. " "When's Epiphany?" I wondered. "Today," she said. "...I think..." I love it when the French second-guess themselves. The world grows suddenly cozier.

serviable (sair-vee-yable)

    : willing to help, helpful

Example Sentence
I wish I could tell you more about the galette des rois, but I had another story planned for today. For those willing to help with information or an explanation about the galette des rois tradition--simply leave a comment here. Thanks, you're so helpful! Merci, vous êtes bien serviable!

You can even order a galette des rois on Amazon and try it for yourself. Click here and learn a few quick facts about the French King Cake for Epiphany.

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

On Becoming Serviable & Noël near Aix-en-Provence...

Jean-Marc's cousin, Sabine, invited the whole family over on Christmas Day. Because our clan is growing, it's a little more complicated each year to fit into the cozy reception room. I smiled noticing the clever diagonal position of the dinner table, allowing for 3 or 4 more seats to be squeezed in. As we admired the table's decor (set by 15-year-old Mahé), Sabine admitted that now that we're grown with kids of our own these winter indoor gatherings may no longer be possible. 

I had a good nostalgic look around the room as I prepared the tray of apéritifs. Each and every French face--how familiar they all were to me now. What a privilege it has been to be part of this family history in which year after year we stand here, a little taller or wider or wrinklier than the last time we gathered. And yet it is tricky seeing the physical changes, when the soul takes precedence, shining out from behind a loved one's eyes:

"And what have you made us?" my brother-in-law, Jacques, smiled, his eyes sparkling as he reached for a mini pancake.

"Oh. Blinis et tarama," I said, of the pancakes with their puréed fish-egg spread. The blinis seemed like a good idea at the time--back when I offered to bring a few dishes to the Christmas potluck. They are my husband's favorite and you could buy them by the dozen. All that was needed were a few small tubs of tarama, which could quickly be added once we got to Sabine's....

I studied my brother-in-law's face as he bit into the cold pancakes. "I should have toasted them," I said to Jacques, knowing full well I didn't mean it. (There was no way I was going to toaster four dozen mini-pancakes!) 

"You could use the oven upstairs," my mother-in-law whispered, as she found her way past me to the chair in front of the fireplace.

I was really hoping somebody wouldn't point that out. But there was no reason to feel guilty--after all, there was no time for dashing back-n-forth to the oven, now was there, when one had three more apéro trays to prepare! But I knew the truth: a good hostess would find a way to heat things!

Oh well. I wasn't a hostess! Just a lazy in-law. I quickly dumped a bag of bacon-wrapped prunes onto another platter. At least I'd thought to bring my mother-in-law's pruneaux au lard--leftovers from the previous night, when we'd gotten together at Jacques'. I figured she would be happy I'd thought to bring them.

Instead my mother-in-law said, "They taste better heated."

Standing there with the tray of stiff prunes, I looked down at my belle-mère. She was the only one in the room seated. I knew she was tired, but apparently not so pooped that she couldn't hand out a suggestion!

"They're good room-temperature, too!" I pointed out, as hot headed as a little chili pepper. Gosh, where had that feistiness come from? No time to wonder. Turning away I ran smack into Sabine, who smiled as she selected one of the little apéritifs on my tray.

"Looks delicious!" she said.

"Michèle-France would have liked them heated," I coughed. "They're better that way..."

"That's not a problem," Sabine said, taking the tray from me. I'll just pop them in the oven upstairs!"

Only, as she took the tray, a gaggle of teenagers ran up. Next an engine of grabbing hands worked itself across the platter as the kids went for their favorite: those pastry-wrapped mini hotdogs that my mother-in-law had also made.

"It's no use," I said to Sabine, as the mountain of hors d'oeuvres diminished right before our eyes. But Sabine only smiled, allowing the kids to continue picking from the tray.

"Stop it!" I shouted, slapping my son's hand as he grabbed for more. "Those are on the way to the oven. They'll all be gone before they've been heated! And God knows they are better heated!

While one of us grew even testier, the other was the picture of grace. "I'll be right back," Sabine said, disappearing to her kitchen.

"But there are hardly a dozen left! It's not even worth the time to heat them..." As I watched Sabine run up the stairs, I knew that there was a woman to idolize. But I needed more than an angel-faced mentor. Once and for all I needed to put my pleasure-seeking self behind me and learn how to serve others.


Ten minutes later, my mother-in-law lit up as she reached for a crispy bacon-wrapped prune. "Ahhh... nice and hot. They're so good this way!"

As I passed around the warm tray of appetizers, I wished Sabine were here to see the joy that came of her effort. Indeed, I wished I had made the effort. But it wasn't too late to do something thoughtful, after all--something that would further touch my mother-in-law.

"Sabine insisted on heating them for you..." I blurted out, before pausing to witness the effect. The news of this caring gesture caused my mother-in-law to melt from the warmth of so much tenderness. 

It was enough to make this little chili pepper mellow out, too ...and even remain calm when one of the aunts passed by with a surprise:

"Oh, I see someone made these too!" She said, dumping a plate of stiff bacon-wrapped prunes onto my steaming tray, adding "we can combine them!"

I cringed as I watched the cold prunes tumble onto the steaming mound, neutralizing the temperature of those that had just been warmed.

Where was the lesson in it all? Did good deeds, in the end, go unrewarded? Wise men ask such questions. This is one time I'm glad I'm not one of them. And thank goodness! Rather than rack my brain I realize I'm happier circling around the room with a tray of goodies.

Philosophy couldn't garner smiles like food could!

*    *    *

To comment on this post, click here. Thanks in advance! 

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Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos

Recipe: Pruneaux au lard fumé

Are these as popular in your area as they are at a French Christmas table? I see they're also known as "Devils on Horseback."

=> Simply take dried prunes and wrap them in bacon. Fasten them with a toothpick before putting them in the oven for 8-12 minutes (350F?) Delicious tip: my mother-in-law stuffed each prune with a pistachio nut before wrapping them with bacon. These were the best!  

1-smokey sheep
Mobile sheepherding with Smokey

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Iris unguicularis and stone cabanon (c) Kristin Espinasse
This chair was left out sometime last year. It looks onto the boules or pétanque court. All "tied up" now, it may forever look on to the boules or pétanque court.... (flower note: the purple beauties are "iris unguicularis". Thank you, Margaret Brown, for identifying them in the comments box!

 For more stories of French life, thanks for buying the book Blossoming in Provence. Click here to order a copy.

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

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.