French Friday: French Comfort Food With a Twist

This post was just published when my favorite editor texted me.

Mom! You wrote cherry cheery. Three times!

I replied that since I was in my car, on my way to Trader Joe’s, I would attend to the matter later on. Which was great since a smile followed my immediate embarrassment.

Today of all days I likely wanted to feel cheery.

Now that I’m back home I am following my editor’s advice, of course.

What I did is what we call a lapsus révélateur in French. I would not go as far as calling it a Freudian slip but simply a revealing slip.


Unlike millions I didn’t watch the Thomas’s hearings in 1991.

Unlike millions I didn’t watch the O. J. Simpson’s murder case in 1994.

Unlike millions I didn’t watch the Clinton-Lewinsky’s scandal unfold and lead to President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.

Starting a new life thousands of miles away from my native France and caring for very young children didn’t allow me the possibility. My husband briefed me since he listened to the radio as he commuted to work, watched snippets on TV on his lunch breaks, and spoke with colleagues. Retrospectively this bubble of isolation was probably more a gift than a curse.

Yesterday, however, like millions, I was able to watch the Kavanaugh’s hearings from the beginning to the end.

I could write an entire blog post about the topic. I won’t. We don’t need more divide right now.

Watching hours of TV was a first for my husband and me. I grew up without TV. My parents bought their first set when I was in high school. Together my husband and I spent years without a TV set and today we still don’t have cable.

Although yesterday was a turning point in our country, I don’t recommend watching TV for hours.

What I recommend, though, when we go through emotionally charged times, is a slice of comfort food. Another phrase that I discovered in the U.S.

American comfort food remains different from one region to another, from one family to another, and even from one person to another.

My idea of comfort food stands on the sweet side of the aisle. In the States it is bread pudding. In France it’s clafoutis.

I found out recently that even comfort food could be a topic of discussion.

Early September I hosted my monthly book club. Since I am the only French-born in our group we never share French books, but I still do my best to add a French touch to our meetings. Since we met mid morning I baked a clafoutis this time.

From, mouth-watering pictures and everything you want to know about this dessert.

I am the only French-born in my book club but not the only French speaker. One of my friends was born and brought up in Belgium and we always speak French together.

Our American friends loved my clafoutis that they found amazing. I never get tired of the American enthusiasm.

“How do you make it?” asked one of them.

“Actually this is not a typical clafoutis,” I started. “The traditional one is baked with cherries and I used blackberries for mine.”

“Less work,” added another of my friends. “Pitting cherries is a pain.”

“You do not pit cherries for a clafoutis,” I said.

“Oh! So you spit the cherry stone?”

I nodded, mimicking the way to do so.

“Not for little kids, then,” concluded another friend.

The list of baked goods I stopped making when parents or teachers told me they were potentially dangerous for little kids grew in my head 🙂

“But there is a reason behind,” I went on. “The clafoutis was first made in Auvergne, a central France region. Auvergne people are said to be cheap and since clafoutis was sold by weight, they kept the cherries with the pit.”

“Funny!” said the most diplomatic of our group. “Well, pitted or not, this dessert is excellent. How do you call it already?”

“Clafoutis,” I said, and my Belgian friend joined me as I spelled out C-L-A-F-O-U-T-I-S.

“Oh,” she said. “I don’t put an S at the end.”

“I think both are correct spellings,” I said, realizing that I had probably never read the word with an S in the U.S. but always with one in France.

This clafoutis was already twisted, so we went on, enjoying each a slice as we discussed our book.

Later that day, I got a text from my Belgian friend who said that she Googled ‘clafoutis’ and that I was right about the spelling. Clafoutis was written with an S. I replied with a funny face emoji and added that even French native speakers met occasional challenges.

Which is the reason why authors are often reminded to stay away from foreign words, unless there are crucial to the story and ring authentic.

This is why I cringe when I read choux and not chou, or Pierette and not Pierrette, or still “votre secret es dans de bonnes mains,” an awkward sounding sentence to start with, but moreover with wrong subject/verb accord, in otherwise excellent American novels.

Writing in another language is tricky. Believe me 🙂

Despite our different way to spell the infamous Auvergne dessert, my Belgian friend and I agreed: With or without an S a clafouti(s) is yummy.

The one I favor is very simple to make.


And very quick to polish, too, when comfort food is needed.









French Friday: The Magic of Fall

When I arrived in California from Paris I had no idea that Americans called autumn fall.

I really fell for the season’s magnificent gifts when my family lived in New England. It’s truly magical, I kept telling everyone around me. New Englanders smiled politely, used to the compliment. I pressed leaves so colorful they seemed painted between the pages of my dictionaries and later sent them all the way to France.

Away from the Northeast, I’ve learned to track the more subtle ways nature signals the arrival of fall.

In Southern California for the last week, sadly without my husband who for business reasons could not join me, I traveled from one place to another, often by foot. Quiet witness of the delicate shifts in the air, I missed my husband’s voice in my ear, his arm looped around mine, his jokes and laugh that can lift the thickest fog, but I felt so thankful to our children for taking me to their own cherished places.


7 A.M. fog in Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego County

I almost expected to see my husband, waiting for me on this bench seated above the Pacific

A plane cut through a perfect blue sky above the Liberty Public Market, in Point Loma San Diego where my daughter invited me for a Thai lunch, food we both adore

Pepper plants in bloom in Los Angeles County

SoCal Beauties, still in Los Angeles County

And everywhere through this part of the Golden State, the distinct colors of fall 

Fall remains only a name for another month in SoCal. The hottest days are behind, but the Santa Ana winds can still blow warm air and the rain remains a distant dream.


Awaiting for rain, plants are dormant along the trail that leads to Cowles Mountains in San Diego

The 1,593-foot (486 m) summit is the highest point of the city of San Diego

My daughter took me up to the less dusty, more urban, still steep Secret Stairs in La Mesa, San Diego County…

…and then down…

Fall is maybe only a name in SoCal. Yet the change of season is here.


Hot Tea Replaces Iced Tea

Red Is the New Color

Overcast morning on the Pacific means

sun-drenched afternoon

Magically, new books make their way to bookstores, here at Warwick’s in La Jolla, San Diego.

Speaking of which, I read two magical books over this trip.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton is an unusual story that explores the meaning of love through several generations of people. A friend lent it to me, probably because the family has deep roots in France and also because the novel is filled with mouth-watering baked goods 🙂

I was not immediately drawn to the novel, mostly because it targets Young Adults and I found it very different from most novels in this genre. I suspect that older readers (college students, for example) and even adults will appreciate the beauty and meaning of the story more than teenagers. Anyway, it took me a few pages to be fully immersed, but soon the exquisite writing and the original pulled me in. Gorgeously crafted, filled with lots of sensory details and irresistible baking this book was a magical companion to my trip.

I hadn’t anticiped to read another novel filled with magic realism. But I’m a sucker for Middle Grade books and I knew I had to read The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine. She’s one of the biggest names in children’s literature and each and every of her books is a gem. I knew I would not be disappointed but didn’t expect to read one of her funniest and yet deepest novel.

Nine-year-old Julian is 100% obsessed with space. He even has imaginary friends in alternate universes. He’s also very scared of water and doesn’t go anywhere without his life jacket. The story of Julian’s family (fourteen-year-old sister Pookie and two moms) moving from bustling Washington, DC to rural Maine to run a lakeside bed-and-breakfast is told through his amazingly fresh and honest voice. Julian loves his family, but he is really tired of Pookie’s typical teenage mood swings. In reality, he misses Pookie’s younger version much more than she annoys him. I loved Pookie!  And loved the siblings’ realistic relationship. Let’s be frank: Julian’s behavior is quite strange, so his overprotective mother, the one he calls Mom wants to homeschool him in order to save him from bullies. Thankfully, his other mother, Joan, is much more laid back. That was cool to see the two mothers acting so differently and yet equally lovingly toward Julian and Pookie. The bed-and-breakfast project derails when the retired neighbor sends a lawyer over because the latest addition to the bed-in-breakfast illegally blocks his water view. Pookie convinces overfriendly Julian to befriend the neighbor to make him drop the lawsuit. The rest is a smartly crafted story packed with stars, dreams, Smores, lots of love, and even dogs.

I hate spoilers, so I won’t say more. Anyway the first sentence of the novel says everything.

“Magic is all around us, but most people never see it.”


A week later, I came home to find out that my husband had also read and loved two books while I was gone.

Fear by the one and only Bob Woodward and Small Fry, the memoir written by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs’s daughter.

Totally different books from mine. But you know what they say? Opposite attract. It’s magic.


Tomorrow marks the first day of fall. Enjoy its magic and a couple of books, too!

French Friday: Freestyling on the Road

Away from my American home, even when still in the USA, I pay attention to little French things unnoticeable otherwise.

Like these clothes.





Often popular in the U.S., I kept spotting them everywhere this last week.

Nothing beats hands-on experiences to acquire a foreign language. Trust me.

Of course, these explorations come with mistakes. We can always correct them later on. Otherwise, there is little chance to progress.

Do you spot the tiny French mistakes on these T-shirts and sweatshirts?


On the other side of the Atlantic, things are pretty funny too. I discovered a young Belgian singer who sings in French but incorporates some English lyrics in her songs. In her really cool song La Loi de Murphy she complains about her ruined brushing, which is a blow dry and orders a coffee to take away. She got the hips and is shaken to the top. I love Angèle Van Laeken, simply called Angèle for obvious reasons. Really awesome.

And the winning team Orelsan/Stromae is really great in the song La Pluie (The Rain). The French rapper Orelsan sings mostly in French, but occasionally adds some English words.

How can I blame them?

I sometimes go freestyle too. Sentences form and grow in my head, some words in French, some in American English. They would sound strange to anyone these sentences built from two languages, but somehow they create a song that belongs to me and accompanies me when I am away from my American home, even when still in the USA.






French Friday: Ah, Those False Friends…

The more I speak French with my daughter the more I’m reminded that my native language and American English share a fair amount of false friends. Faux amis in French designate words that look exactly the same in both languages but have very different meanings.

I made my first acquaintance with false friends over my very first trip to New York City in the mid 1980s. The American couple who hosted me described one of their friends as being special. Although the French adjective spécial (e) also means unique, it is not the first choice to describe someone who has a very special place in your life since spécial is also used to describe someone or something that exists away from the accepted norms. It took me a while to understand that my friends were speaking highly of their special friend and didn’t find her peculiar.

More than a decade later I made closer encounters with more false friends.

When one of my daughters invited a kindergarten classmate for a play date, I met a precocious six-year-old boy who spoke eloquently and was a huge fan of the adverb actually. Which I instinctively translated in actuellement. But, actually means in fact and not currently which is the translation of the French actuellement.

Years went by, yet I could still occasionally think in French. Once, because of an injury I needed physical therapy. Frustrated with the slow progress, I expressed my concerns. My PT kept telling me that I would eventually recover full usage of my left knee. Although his warm smile was encouraging I had a hard time believing him. In fact, I freaked out, unable to accept that he meant that in the end I would be able to use my knee as I used to. In my mind, he meant possibly, which is éventuellement in French. Ultimately, my PT was right: I finally fully recovered.

When my daughter talks with me, texts me, or e-mails me, she makes the effort to do so in French, and I do too, although it would sometimes be much simpler in English. If only to avoid those false friends…

Of course, my daughter has always been able to avoid the classic ones, such as pain, which means bread in French and not hurt, or coin, which designates a corner in French and not some currency, or still store, which is a blind in French. She knows that when real estate agents claim that location is key to a property they are not talking about a rental but about localisation.

But when she read passer un examen, she naturally assumed that the candidate had been successful after taking the exam. In fact, passer un examen means to take an exam. To pass an exam is être reçu à un examen.

False friends are confusing to nonnative speakers. But they can be fun, too.

When recently my daughter told me in French that she didn’t like people who lectured her, using the English noun lecture, I had to smile. A lecture in French is a reading. People who give you moral lessons don’t lecture you. They give you a lesson or a sermon. They sermonne you. By the way she wasn’t talking about me 🙂

I’m not immune to my own mistakes if I don’t pay attention. When I bump into adjectives such as comprehensive, for example, I must remember that it doesn’t mean understanding as it does in French, but detailed, complete, which are my French détaillé(e) and complet (ète).

Or when I instinctively use design instead of designate, thinking of désigner, which means to designate.

Below is a very short list of words that have the potential to create mistakes, more or less funny. I picked a few nouns, adjectives, and verbs from American English and not British, which has its own set of false friends. If you took French in high school or college, you may have met some of these false friends too.

A cave: une grotte and not a cellar

Confidence: confiance and not a secret

Grand: grandiose and not tall

Sensible: raisonnable and not sensitive

Rude: impoli and not rough

Confection: friandises and not ready-made-clothes

Notice: avis, préavis and not instructions

To demand: exiger and not to ask


Witnessing my daughter’s immense progress and occasional setbacks reminded me that she and her siblings didn’t have it easy, contrary to what many English native speakers have so often told me. You don’t automatically become fluent in your parents’ native language only because they are your parents. You have an edge, but only work will make you bilingual. Which explains why my daughter is so, so close to be.

But I knew all along that she would.





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