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Frenchie and la Bretagne

21 Feb

Diving into old photos from our last trip in Bretagne (Brittany) brought warm and sunny delightful summer memories of the French northwestern peninsula where I used to spend half of my summers as a child.

Rugged, historical, windswept, mystical – the most perfect place to spend a summer.

Driving the 240 miles (390 km) between the fainted noise of the school bell announcing the beginning of the summer season and our family house in Brittany used to be torture.

I don’t recommend French summer traffic jams.

But as soon as Rennes was far behind us, the western country was finally ours for an entire month.

And with dreamy names like Carnac, Pont-Aven, Quimper, Loctudy, Bénodet, or Lesconil flashing on the road signs as we were swiftly driving by, I could already feel the ocean and the waves wash over my feet.

Brittany – Land of the Sea – Land of Legends.

The summer schedule was pretty simple and always strictly observed.

Sleep in. Play in the garden. Read Treasure Island just one more time. Maybe work on some Summer Activity/Study Book – the dear cahier de vacances. Hiding it so no one could study was also part of the schedule at times.

A trip to the fishing port before lunch to buy fish or langoustines (scampi).

Lunch in the shade outside.

Waiting to digest – yes, this was part of the schedule too. The French have this wonderful crazy rule that kids should not swim or play in the water right after lunch.

Ç’est dangereux !

A 2-hour rule is imposed on all kids and teens. Past 15, the rules could be bent. Maybe digesting in the water wasn’t dangerous for 16 year olds, or so it seemed.

And then, an entire afternoon spent on the beach.

Red buckets, green shovels, colorful beach towels and clear plastic sandals, we were on our merry way walking through the small city.

Turn left past the stone manor, on the way to the abbey, through the sandy path, next to the lighthouse – that’s the best spot.

The blue beach umbrella firmly driven into the sand.

The rocks always hid treasures under the soft green algae where tiny crabs and periwinkles – bigorneaux – were hoping kids wouldn’t find them.

Secretly laughing at all of us, the seagulls were eyeing the crêpes we had brought for a tiny goûter break while enumerating the fascinating adventures we had just witnessed on the beach pier with shiny mica flakes still stuck on our fingers.

The last bite of the crêpe always proved to be a bit sandy and crunchy.

Adults liked to tease and tell grand tales of magical forests and druidic rites, strong heroes and tempting enchanteresses, dragons and forgotten cities, and the Knights of the  Round Table.

Tales of the supernatural both fascinating and mystical.

The raging sea, turbulent wind and  blinding rain made for cautionary tales of the treacherous coastline.

But the romantic heritage of the Breton lifestyle and scenery is hypnotic like the noise of pebbles on sandless beaches skittering on the ocean.

Despite eating crêpes on the beach, one of my favorite treat was to walk to the boulangerie to buy a far breton.

A slice of far breton – a delicious custardy pastry with prunes.

Like a boat on her beam-ends at low tide, slouching and lounging on a sunny bench to devour the entire package carefully prepared and taped by the boulangère.

The tall tiny pyramid of pink paper with a sturdy square base tied up with brown ribbon to open delicately until the first sight of a prune inside the package.

And that golden-brown crust!

The recipe I am giving you here is for a spiced far breton – served in individual bowls. You can always make a bigger one in a regular baking dish to slice up.

I also like to cook them in silicone baking molds to eat them on-the-go and transport them for a picnic, for example.

My spiced version – which is non traditional – also adds raisins in the mix with cloves, cardamom, lemon and orange flavors.

Easy to make and easier to eat!

I miss spending time in Brittany.

The white and blue houses.

The orange and pink bright colorful spots of flowers.

The French sailor’s striped shirts.

The elegance of Quimper.

The historic port of Concarneau.

The sand dunes of Fouesnant.

The waterside walks of Pont-Aven.

The house in Loctudy.

And the windy granite cliffs of the Pointe du Raz, where it is fun to pretend you can fly by extending the arms as the wind blow through coats and hoods.

La mer tourne

autour de ses noms

la baie, le cap

le sillon

la presqu’île, la ria, le marais

et forment un paysage

Saint-Michel, Fréhel


Crozon, Etel, Guérande

qui confirment un pays

où la mer tourne autour de la terre

sous la lumière du soleil”

La terre tourne – poem by Yvon Le Men

Spiced Far Breton

2 Tbsp (30 g) butter

3.5 oz (100 g) of pitted dried plums, sliced lengthwise

0.8 oz (25 g) of raisins

zest and juice of 1 orange

1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves

11 cardamom pods, crushed

3/4 cup (150 g) of sugar

1 cinnamon stick

2 Tbsp spiced rum (I use the MA locally made Diabolique rum)

3 eggs

pinch of salt

2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 cup (25 cl) milk

4 Tbsp of spelt flour

1/2 teaspoon of guar gum

pinch of ground cinnamon

Lightly butter small individual bowls with 1 Tbsp of butter. I use bowls with a 3.5 in. (9 cm) diameter and 2 in. (5 cm) high.

You can also use silicone baking molds – pour less dough than for individual bowls.

Place them on a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 425 °F (220 °C).

Prepare the dried plums and raisins first. Make sure to let them marinate overnight. If pressed for time, at least marinate for 2 hours.

In a small sauce pan, bring to a boil the orange juice and juice of half the lemon.

Add the ground cloves, crushed cardamom pods, 1/4 cup (50 g) of the sugar, the orange and lemon zests, the cinnamon stick and the rum to the sauce pan.

Mix well and let simmer for 4 minutes.

Discard the 11 crushed cardamom pods and pour the liquid/syrup over the sliced plums and raisins in a small bowl. Make sure they are covered.

Set aside overnight.

When you are ready to make the far breton, remove the cinnamon stick and zests from the bowl with the prunes and raisins. Drain them but keep the syrup.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the rest of the sugar (1/2 cup or 100 g) until smooth.

Add the pinch of salt, vanilla extract and milk. Whisk well.

Sift the flour and guar gum over the bowl. Gently incorporate the flour to the dough.

If you prefer a spicier taste, use the marinating syrup and add 1 Tbsp to the dough. Otherwise, discard the syrup.

Place prunes and raisins at the bottom of the lightly buttered individual bowls. Pour the dough over and fill the bowls 3/4 full.

Add a pinch of ground cinnamon on top of every bowl.

Bake for 25-27 minutes (less time if you’re using smaller silicone baking molds).

Set aside and let cool at room temperature. Sprinkle each far breton with tiny pieces of butter for a more authentic taste. Divide the last Tbsp of butter among all bowls. Let the butter melt and serve.


Frenchie and the Retarded Booger

4 Apr

Once upon a time, there was a fresh-off-the-boat young Frenchman moving to the U.S. of A. with 3 suitcases, $200 in his pocket, a French accent and a never-warm-enough jacket for the rough Midwestern winters. Moving or traveling to a different country can be as exhilarating as it can be mortifying when it comes to mastering the intricate meanderings of language learning combined with the ability to detect false friend subtleties, which will consequently give you a feverish headache from thinking too much about it and a big case of embarrassing redness once you finally understand what it is you just said.

We’ve all been there, we’ve all done it. Language mistakes! And somehow, for some strange reason unbeknownst to me, it always ends up turning and twisting my original thoughts into some sort of naughty idea with dirty undertones and connotations. My all-time 2 favorite mistakes English-speakers make when speaking French are when a woman says “Je suis pleine” for “I am full” after a big French meal, which literally translates to either “I am sloshed” or when referring to an animal “I am pregnant”. Good fun! Simply saying “Je n’ai plus faim” (“I am no longer hungry”) works very well. The other example, which will continuously make me giggle until the day I die, is when an English-speaker says “I want to introduce myself” when meeting someone for the first time. When said in French, usually something we don’t really say anyway, the English mind automatically translates it to “Je veux m’introduire“, which means “I want to insert myself”. You cannot not laugh at this, it’s too good for words! “Je veux me présenter” is perfectly proper in this context. The ultimate lesson here is that one cannot expect to avoid making mistakes when being inserted introduced to real life situations and colloquialisms – the other lesson though is to never use the false friend “introduire” for “introduce” ever again when meeting someone. Just ‘cuz!

My own personal issues with these funny embarrassing moments came mostly from words that sound similar. If they sound similar, their pronunciation is obviously similar. Unfortunately, the mouth and tongue muscles involved in these pronunciation exercises failed me occasionally. I always meant well, but it came out wrong. I had the right words in mind but my tongue said otherwise. So other than the fact that I was known for ordering a “booger” instead of a “burger” – and if you add adjectives such as “juicy”, the person you’re talking to is in for a treat! – I was also famous for what is now known in my inner circle as “the grandparents story”. When meeting people for the first time, basic questions such as who you are, where you’re from, what you do, and why you moved become trite questions after a while. It gets a bit complicated when questions go more in-depth requiring other type of information to divulge along with an extended vocabulary to be quickly at hand without any notice. So when describing what my parents do, where they live, who my family and grandparents are, I ended up proudly saying that “my grandparents are retarded, and they’re just thrilled and happy about it!”. I said it once, four times and then all the time thinking that I was saying “retired” and that I was doing my grandparents justice explaining to a floor of American listeners that retirement is perfectly OK and you shouldn’t have to work until you’re 85.

Americans are always sweet and funny in these delicate situations when they don’t know if it’s a joke, a mistake or actually true. The reactions I saw were the same across the board as people inadvertently tilt their head to the side with compassion and express a drawn out “Aww” – an exclamation of pity sprinkled with warm feelings of appreciative sweetness. It wasn’t until I questioned these reactions that I understood my mistake. Why would people say “Aww”? My grandparents aren’t working… there’s really nothing to it. And you have to agree, “retired” and “retarded” look a bit the same and they are only separated by a small degree of pronunciation differences. So whether you want to order a juicy burger or talk about your retired grandparents, I want to know what your most embarrassing funny foreign language mistakes triggered the biggest reactions.

The Sweet Life of “Retardment”

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