Wednesday, December 23, 2009


November- you wonder what happened to me? I was on vacation, but getting my fill of French. So there I am in Tokyo and it seems to me that every pâtisserie is French- or at least has a French name: Bon Dessert, St. Germain, La Pêche-Blanc...

There are ALOT of pâtisseries that also double as a café. On the other hand when I walk into cafés and ask for the menu- it's not uncommon to see the headers in English (Coffee, Soft Drink, Alcohol, Dessert) but that's it- then it's all Japanese. English is rarely spoken or "only little".

One day when I walked into to a café and asked what was on the menu and the owner responded with "gâteau" I seized my chance and asked "parlez-vous français?" The answer is the same blank look and a raising of the eyebrows I get when I ask "do you speak English?"

After two weeks, I'm undecided as to which language/culture the Japanese favor more: English or French.

My French experience in Tokyo was limited to the tasting of "gâteaux" and the interesting Japanese/French dessert fusions.

La photos:

1+2) Dessert at Ma Chatelaine in Shibuya with the explanation of what could be found inside the dessert.

3) Sweets for sale at the Bon Dessert in Seiyu/Nishi-Ogikubo Station.

Japon, Novembre 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Come and get them!"

Always on the look out for tasty chocolate even when I should actually be looking out for Balkavas or Kataefi. I am in Greece after all.

In Athens, against the backdrop of the Acropolis, I spot a chocolaterie: Leonidas. Aha, I thought, time to check out Greek chocolate. I'm in the middle of picking out an assortment to fill a little golden box when I notice "Fresh Belgian Chocolates" written on it in fine script. The first time I ever groaned at discovering Belgian chocolates. I quickly recovered from the disappointment of not having found Greek chocolate and finished filling my box.

I have spartan knowledge of Leonidas so I decided to find out more. Leonidas was a Spartan King. Leonidas Kestekides was a Greek confectioner who immigrated from Anatolia to America in the late 1800s. In 1910, at the World Fair in Brussels he was already winning awards for his chocolates. Belgium has a reputation for producing the world's finest chocolates but it was a young woman in Brussels that he fell in love with and later married that kept him there permanently. Alors, c'est le meilleur de mondes possibles: bonjour chocolat multiculturel!

Alors, c'est le meilleur de mondes possibles: bonjour chocolat multiculturel! So, it's the best of all possible worlds: hello multicultural chocolate

The title of today's post is a quote found under the bronz statue of Leonidas at the site of the Battle of Thermopylae. "Come and get them!" refers to what the Spartans said when the Persians asked them to put down their weapons. (

La photo: The three surviving chocolates jostled around in their golden box in my suitcase. Right after this photo was taken there were no more survivors. Octobre 2009.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Michel Cluizel

J'aime le chocolat mais je ne suis pas hanté par lui.
Still, in almost every article or the one book (see how cursory my knowledge is) I've read about chocolate the French chocolatier Michel Cluizel is mentioned as producing one of the best chocolates in the world.

Today, my tastebuds know why: Grand Noir, 85% cocoa.

I didn't go to Paris to get the chocolate. I got it in Frankfurt at:
Bitter & Zart
Domstraße 4
Frankfurt/Main - Germany

In Paris and elsewhere the Michel Cluizel Website will tell you
where you can get luxury chocolate goodness:

J'aime le chocolat mais... I love chocolate but am not chocolate obsessed.

La photo: Aujourd'hui en allemagne.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pour les intellectuels

In the late 1980's there was an anti-drug television and poster campaign that was all over America: This is Your Brain on Drugs.

Vous rappelez-vous? It involves an egg and a frying pan. A man shows us an egg and says "This is your brain". He shows us the frying pan and says "This is drugs". He cracks open the egg and drops it into the very hot frying pan and says "This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

Well you might be questioning what is today's picture all about. C'est mon cerveau pendant l'immersion française.

In June I was in the French Alps again for another French immersion. It's the second day of my weeklong program. We are dealing with pronouns. Grammar! I need something to fortify and soothe my nerves while dealing with pronouns.

I go into the kitchen and put the théière on the stove to heat the water. I go back into the "grammer room" to review and learn more about pronouns: subject, direct and indirect, reflexive, imperitive and disjunctive. Disjunctive? They are also aptly called stressed pronouns!

Soudainement, je me rappelle... oui, la théière! I run to the kitchen and there I see: my brain on French pronouns! My French teacher's wife is more positive- she sees the tea kettle, smiles and exclaims "les intellectuels"!

C'est mon cerveau pendant l'immersion française It's my brain on (literally "during the") French immersion

Vous rappelez-vous? Do you remember? (formal form)

Soudainement, je me rappelle... Suddenly, I remember...

la théière tea kettle

All about This is Your Brain on Drugs


Les Pronoms (in English)

On - French section


More on stressed pronouns


Free action sets for making the tea kettle "lovely & ethereal"

à la Pioneer Woman

La Photo: Saint-Pierre-en-Faucigny, Juin 2009.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Rie Rasmussen stars in French director Luc Besson's film Angel-A. You might look at her and be impressed by her beauty (yes, she's modelled) or her height- especially in this film since it seems to be in a starring role itself. You might be impressed by her acting.

The movie is shot in black and white in Paris. It's very poetic and funny. It's also shot in French.

Rie Rasmussen was sent an English script and offered the part. She said yes instead of "oui" because she couldn't speak French then.

Rembobiner. Oui! So I go look take a look at that film again. Not only does she speak French in the film but in the features on the DVD, she's speaking partly in French, too. She looks relaxed. She definitely doesn't come off as someone who's struggling with the language.

Googler. 1 month to 3 and 1/2 months. Depending on which interview you read- that's how fast she learned French for her role. She did admit in an interview that learning French was the hardest part of the film project for her. How did she do it? She immersed herself: went to Paris, had a coach, made French friends. Not to mention that she had as motivation the paid opportunity to work with a famous director.

Not all of us are going to be as lucky as that- to find heavenly circumstances in which to learn French. Still we can watch the results of one woman's success and perhaps find inspiration in that.

rembobiner to rewind (tape, film)

googler found this on the online dictionary as the equivalent of the accepted American verb to google® but there is still debate as to how commonly it is used in France.

chercher sur google search on google

View the trailer to Angel A in French with English subtitles

More on Rie Rasmussen and a little about her learning French on:

More on "google" being declared a verb

La photo: Un macaque de Barbarie à Rocamadour dans la forêt des singes. Mai 2009; merci Mr_FF

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cheesy Omelette

While I rave online about the French food I've tasted during my trips to France I can't muster up any enthusiasm to cook French food at home. It all seems so dauntingly complicated.

Then I happened onto the movie trailer for Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep. It's about a girl named Julie who takes on French cooking: 524 recipes in 365 days with Julia Child as her guide. 

I checked out Julia Child on YouTube and immediately found the 6-minute video of her explaining how to make a French omelette. Julia asks "and what makes the perfect omelette?" and answers "it's how fast you take to do it. An omelette takes 20 seconds to do, is all"

Well, she had me at "20 seconds"! How could I resist that? I signed right up. Signed onto my Amazon account and had Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck delivered to my door two days later.

Once I held the book in my hand I kinda' felt a little cheesy. Like I had ordered some superflous gadget from a late-night tv shopping show. Who needs eight pages to explain how to make an omelette? Wasn't the  six-minute video enough instruction? 

I decided to make something "cheesy"- it only seemed appropriate. So l'omelette au fromage it was.  The next choice concerned technique. I decided against l'omelette brouillée because I didn't want to beat up my pan handle to loosen the eggs. I picked l'omelette roulée because jerking and tilting the pan, cooking and serving up the eggs without any utensils seemed the the flashier move  and more fun! 

The results thus far have fed me for the last five days and counting. I didn't think I liked omelettes that much. But when I make it for someone else, it does smell and look so delicious that I have inevitably ended up making one for myself, too. 

The recipe from Mastering the Art of French cooking:

Julia Child demonstrating how to make rolled omelettes:

Watch the trailer for Julie & Julia here:

La photo: Supposed fragment of Roland's Sword, Durendal, at Rocamadour, France. Mai 2009

The word omelette, according to the new Oxford American dictionary is an alteration of alumette, a variant of alumelle from lemele which means knife blade. "The association with knife blade is probably because of the thin flat shape of an omelet".

Friday, July 10, 2009


I must admit that when it comes to French cuisine I am woefully uninformed. While others might pore over guides about what and where to eat I am happy to get coincidental recommendations or risk just going into restaurants to learn about French food.

"Let's eat" is my strategy. Sometimes without knowing exactly what- as thumbing
through my little Berlitz phrase book and dictionary from 1993 sometimes doesn't tell me what everything means.

Pictured, the fixed-price menu I had at the Hostellerie le Fénelon. Can you pick out the dishes I ordered from the menu? Advanced French students, gourmands and gourmets, can you tell me exactly what I ate?

Menu à 22.50 Euro

Cou de canard farci et sa petit salade aux noix


Salade moulée d'avocat au saumon fumé


Potage de légumes


Suprême de valaille panée aux noix


Filet de sandre à l'oseille


Faux filet grillé beurre béarnaise


Légumes du jour


Plateau de fromages


Carte des Desserts

La photo: à Carennac, dans le Lot, France. Mai 2009.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Le charmeur

Almost everyday of our week in the Lot, We drove by the
small town of Gramat. A painted commercial sign from long ago on the side of an old stone building catches our eye although it is almost obscured by a leafy tree in front.

Charmed by the coquettish eyes of the moon and the moustache of and the beautiful, soft
watercolor effect of age on the painted sign we stop on a sunny day to take pictures of it.

We've barely taken two steps from the car when M. Foufou sees a cute
pair close by: un canard and une cane. The drake and the duck are irresistibly close, especially when he takes out a telephoto lens.

I am left holding the camera bag while he tries to approach as slowly and silently as he can. The ducks are totally aware of their photographer, registering his every move and the constant clicking the camera. As he gets nearer they begin to inch away. Soon enough their feathers have been ruffled from the photo shoot and they fly off.

We turn to leave and face a Frenchman. He speaks to M. Foufou and gestures at the ducks
and then at me, "Madame". He smiles. Il parle trés rapide. He repeats himself, lentement. Slow enough for us to get the gist of his French remarques: If I were you I would be taking pictures of the beautiful woman and not the ducks.

Off we go to take a picture of a moon that we think is smiling, too. It's France- who's charming, who?

M. the abbreviation of Monsieur, requires a period

Mme the abbreviation Madame, no period

Il parle trés rapide He speaks very fast
lentement slowly

remarques comments

Les photos: Gramat, Mai 2009.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Le Menu

My first visit to France this year was also my first French immersion course ever. For one week my gracious host guided me through joie de vivre in the French Alps. She corrected my French, answered my questions, explained cultural traditions and prepared our meals.

One of the very first things I learned was to come back to the table to finish my meal. The first three days I was getting up after the main dish thinking that the meal was finished only to find out that there was still fromages and dessert. By the end of that week I had learned to stay at the table- my stomach full and much wiser. Joie de vivre means enjoying a meal of many courses!

So on my recent one-week visit to south-western of France I vowed to put what I had learned to practice: stay at the table til dessert is served! Everyday I sampled one of the fixed-price menus instead of ordering à la carte.

le menu the fixed-price menu
joie de vivre joy of life

fromages cheeses

dessert dessert

la carte the menu

à la carte ordering from the menu

Les photos: Delicious four-course 21€ prix fixe menu at Le Bouche à Oreille, Alvignac. Mai 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comme le temps passe vite

How time flies! Especially now because I have two calendars to keep track, or lose track.

En fait, ces calendriers ne servent pas à mesurer le temps. These two
calendars are to help me improve my French.

Deux calendriers ? Yes, this year I decided to compare the one for adults to the one for children. I
couldn't decide if one would be too hard, the other too easy. When in doubt, get both.

My calendars are from Bertelsmann and are French/German. The calendars basically have the
same look and philosophy. Mais, bien sûr ils sont différents.

The calendar for adult learners introduces a theme each week with each day introducing vocabulary through idioms, proverbs, cultural information, questions, puzzles and conversations- sometimes accompanied by photographs. The weekend is on one calendar page with a quiz about what I should have learned that week.

The calendar for children also works on a theme each week and the vocabulary is introduced through a sentence, a children's rhyme on Fridays and a simple quiz on the weekend (also one page)- always accompanied by a charming illustration. The calendar is designed so that the drawings can be cut out and used as flash cards: on one side the picture, on the other side word in French and German.

I've had calendars for learning vocabulary before. Even though the calendars for adults have an approximate reading time of only three minutes, I find that these three minutes are easy to forget by the end of February. By mid-March I usually have a pile of calendar pages that I've yet to read much less study. I invariably have days where the only minute I spend on the calendar is tearing off the sheets of days gone by too quickly.

So here I am with two calendars. The adult calendar is challenging in content and does present interesting facts. Did you know that the first Romanpolicier was set in Paris? Written in 1841 by Edgar Allan Poe! Intéressant! En fait, c'est intéressant, non? The children's calendar is chouette and the children's rhymes, too! At the moment I'm learning from both and still keeping up.

March is coming soon, though. And I wonder if I'll still be faithfully tearing off a page from each calendar every day. Will I still be reading all the words on the calendar page- especially the one for the adults? Will I still be diligently cutting out each illustration and writing the sample sentence on the back for a quick review every few days? Seul le temps nous le dira.

Learn French (and German) with your own calendar:
For adults from
For children from from

En fait, ces calendriers ne servent pas à mesurer le temps. In fact, the calendars are not really for tracking time.

Mais, bien sûr ils sont différents. But, of course, they are different.

Romanpolicier detective story

Intéressant! En fait c'est intéressant, non?
(How) Interesting! In fact, it is interesting, no?

chouette cute

Seul le temps nous le dira. Only time will tell.

La photo: Up and Away over Taninges, France. Fevrier 2009.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bonne Année!

You might think that - 13 days into the new year - it would be too late to wish anyone a happy new year much less send a card. Not so in France. You have til the end of January to send out your wishes.

This new year's you have the chance of keeping last year's resolution of sending out those new year's greetings- and in French, no less:

Meilleurs voeux pour l'année 2009

Best wishes for (the year) 2009

Mes meilleurs voeux pour cette année

(My) Best wishes for this year

Tous mes meilleurs voeux

All my best wishes

La photo: La fête de Saint-Sylvestre/le jour de l'An, à Zurich 2008/2009