Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amuse bouche and beyond

Also known as "amuse gueule" and normally never seen on a menu- it's a great way to start a French meal. An amuse bouche is a complimentary tasty tidbit from the chef that precedes the first course. For me it's always a pleasant surprise that leaves me and my appetite grateful but anticipating the meal with greater impatience. Mangeons!

The amuse bouche (pictured above) is a frothy melon creation with a thinly sliced toasted piece of bread.

There were several options for a prix-fixe-menu but I wound up ordering à la carte:

Le Entrée -- Le Foie Gras: Mi-Cuit, Anguille Fumée et Pommes de Terre Grillées

Le Viande -- L'Agneau: Carré et Filet, Jus de Carotte, Romarin et Citron Confit (It came with a side of légumes)

Le Gourmandises -- La Framboise: Rafraîchies au Citron Vert, Fines Feuilles de Sucre, Macaron et Sorbet Litchi et Rose

There was a bottle of red wine (Domaine les Chenêts,Crozes-Hermitage 2009) and bread to accompany the meal. A typical French meal includes a course of cheeses before the dessert but I opted to skip this and thank goodness I did because the chef sent out a little plate of goodies (les macarons, des cerises, petit gâteau aux amands et meringues) along with the ordered dessert.

amuser to amuse

bouche human mouth

gueule animal's mouth

amuse gueule means the same thing as amuse bouche but it is less formal and sometimes can be considered vulgar

gourmandise it's a singular noun referring to a weakness for sweets or good food. On the negative side it also refers to greed or gluttony.

gourmandises plural noun, it refers to sweets (I guess in this case two negatives does make a positive, sweet!)

Les Photos: Un repas chez L'Orangerie à Chambery le Vieux, France. Juin 2011.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Les parapluies des Cherbourg

I picked up this film accidentally and almost put it back on the racks after I read that it was a musical. For all my love of Nouvelle Vague, the director Jacques Demy unfortunately did not ring a bell. Fortunately, I decided to borrow the movie from my local library and watched it.

The film started with a beautiful shot of the seaside town of Cherbourg (now known as Cherbourg-Octeville), colorful umbrellas accompanied by the pensive music of Michel Legrand. Premiére Partie: Le Départ begins with an explosion of happy music. It's November 1957 and we are introduced to 20-year-old Guy Foucher while he's working… and singing. He's a mechanic and he's not whistling a tune or singing some popular song while he's checking engines. The dialogue of the whole film is sung. Everybody is singing!

Hmmm… I'm curious and admittedly a little skeptical about the constant singing. The work day has ended. Guy and the other mechanics are washing up and talking, I mean singing- about their plans for the evening. It seems a little silly but actually they do pull it off because the acting and singing isn't overdone. A few minutes later, Guy is outside an umbrella shop where 17-year-old Geneviève Emery, played by Catherine Deneuve, runs out to throw her arms around him and sing sweetly "Mon amour, oh mon amour…". It takes less than six minutes into the movie and I'm hooked.

This movie has a lot of what I have come to love about French Cinema: lush and elegant cinematography, inventiveness, joie de vivre, elegant and stylish costumes, and interesting twists in the plot.

This film looks and sounds like a fairytale but it's a real story dealing with the difficult issues of love and overcoming difficulties. The music and the singing pulls at my heartstrings, underscoring the tenderness of the scenes of joys as well as profound disappointment and longing in the sad scenes. This film deepens my appreciation and knowledge of Nouvelle Vague as well as cute umbrellas. For language learners- the singing is an added bonus because the sung dialogue is more enunciated and slower.

You can watch the entire film in French with English subtitles here:


You can get your very own made to measure umbrella from Parisian designer Michel Heurtault:


La photo: Un Parapluie à Jakarta, Indonesie. Septembre 2006.

Movie Poster from, where the movie is available

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Free online Food Photography course: May 13-15, 2011

A good French meal is a feast for the eyes and a discriminating palate. I've gotten into the habit of taking photographs of my French meals as a nice remembrance of what I ate and where I've been. With every French meal I have I strive to learn more about French cuisine and the art of photography.

This weekend there's a chance to learn about Food Photography from a professional: photojournalist and food photographer Penny De Los Santos. The best part- you can join in for free and basically from anywhere since it's online:

Food Photography Course with Penny De Los Santos
May 13-15, 2011
10 am Pacific Time

(info on the course via/thanks to

Photos: Un repas chez L'Ami Schutz à Strasbourg, France. Aout 2010.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Eric et été: Le rayon vert

As I make my way through my "recommencer" alphabet - I'm lingering on "E": In this case Eric Rohmer of cinematic Nouvelle Vague fame and été of sun & fun fame.

The prizewinning film Le rayon vert, or Summer as it's known in the United States was released in 1986 as part of the series "Comedies et Proverbs" directed by Rohmer.

If you aren't a fan of either Eric Rohmer or Nouvelle Vague then I would suggest carefully choosing the first Rohmer film to watch. I watched this film without expectations but with the patience of a cinephile. So I hung on till the end. I can't really say more than that because I feel any sort of description is in fact a spoiler about what the whole film is about. If you are familiar with Eric Rohmer then you know what I'm talking about and why you are going to or not going to see this movie. If you aren't familiar- proceed with caution and a lot of patience.

Or maybe the French trailer is enough:

Foto: Lampadaire en Allemagne, avril 2011.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

"French is the language that turns dirt into romance."

Anu Garg starts his "A Word a Day" e-mail with this quote from Stephen King and then goes on to give the definition of the now English word "soubrette" which was borrowed from the French. It has one meaning in French, a maid, but two additional uses in English: a flirtatious young woman or a soprano in a supporting role in a comic opera.

He is devoting this week to featuring five words used in the English language that are borrowed from the French. So if your French is not yet up to snuff, there's no reason not to at least speak some French words while speaking English.

To view the words (April 2011) or sign up for the daily e-mails go to Garg's website,, where "A Word a Day" resides.

Foto: Une couple en un parc de sculptures en Taninges, France. Mars 2011.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Photo Duet: Chill

Last day of this week's Photo Friday Theme: Chill. Stepping out for a few quick errands today and "brrrr" - the weather in my corner of the world is in line with the theme.

I'm racing to get the photos (three in one) posted but wait- chill! Or rather du calme!

gauche Chill in the air, on the trees, on the rooftops...
A Taninges, France en fevrier 2009. Photo p_ff.

droite "Chillin under the gun"
In the waters of the Atlantic so it's "chilly chillin"
A Le Mans, France en août, 2002. Photo composé par KK.

chill - verbe transitif
mettre au frais make cold (food, wine)
vin blanc frais chilled white wine
frapper make cold (champagne)
glacer make cold (glass, person)
être glacé jusqu'aux os/jusqu'à la moelle
to be chilled to the bone/to the marrow

chill - verbe intransitif
se refroidir
rafraîchir chill out

chill - noun
la fraîchuer, la froideur coldness
il fait assez frais; un peu froid there's a chill in the air
son observation a jeté un froid dans l'assemblée
his remark cast a chill over the meeting
j'ai senti une certaine froideur dans son accueil
I sensed a certain chill in his welcome

chill out - verb intransitif
décompresser (familier)
du calme! chill out!

-- much, much more (definitions, audio for pronunciation, conjugation information) at

Sunday, November 28, 2010

E is for Equipier

Another French film and hâllo again to Sandra Bonnaire. I'm not obsessed with Sandra Bonnaire but I think someone at my local library might be. In fact, I'd seen this DVD with Sandra Bonnaire on a bicycle with a warm smile many times before. I would consider watching the movie but in the end, I had always passed it up because of the lighthouse pictured in the background. It seemed to me that it meant the movie would be desolate.

The last movie I'd seen starring Bonnaire was Chabrol's La ceremonie and I remembered only cold cunning smiles. I decided to see what was behind this warm smile.

L'équipier I thought meant team. L'équipe (f) means team, l'équipier means team member or friend or a shipmate. In English the movie title is just simply translated as "The Light" while in German it's "Die Frau des Leuchtturmwärters" (The Wife of the Lighthouse Keeper).

Yes, Sandrine Bonnaire does play the wife of the lighthouse keeper. The story is also set on the very small island of Ouessant in the Celtic Sea close to the English Channel. The lighthouse though is offshore- which I did not expect.

The story does deal with a lighthouse keeper, his wife, the isolation of working in an offshore lighthouse and of the small town. Why is the lighthouse keeper's wife smiling? It has to do with a young lighthouse keeper. It's 1963 and Mabé's (Sandrine Bonnaire) father, a lighthouse keeper, has just died. Antoine Cassendi (Grégori Derangère) is his eager and enthusiastic young replacement.

This movie is not desolate at all- it's full of emotions and people being happy, too despite their struggles and periods of isolation. All the titles apply to the story: it's about shedding light on the past, being the light in someone's life, being a friend and part of the team. It's not exactly a "feel-good" movie but it had me smiling warmly more than once.

L'équipier, 2004

Directed by Philippe Lioret

For a very thorough review of this movie in English

French trailer with English subtitles

La photo: Uniforms for the self-proclaimed team of "Oyster Mercenaries" at Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall, California. Juillet, 2010.