Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hemingway must be rolling over in his grave

I just received the following note from a friend:

In September we spent a week in Paris with four friends. I was showing them the sights on the Left Bank, when we stopped in to Shakespeare & Company.  The first thing I saw upon entering, on a shelf to the right of the door was your book!!!
 I almost fell over!!! How very cool is that??!!- Shakespeare & Paris....itself!!!

 For those of you who don't know, Shakespeare & Co. is the famous bookstore in Paris, founded by Sylvia Beach, that was the epicenter of the ex-pat literary world of the Lost Generation: Hemingway, Joyce, Elliot, Pound, Gertrude Stein... not to mention, believe it or not, another former resident of my tiny town: Djuna Barnes. What are the odds....

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving baguettes

What could be more traditional for Thanksgiving than, um, baguettes? Nevertheless, that will be my contribution to the table this year. Here's an easy recipe kneaded in a food processor if you want to follow my lead. Best part: all of the work is done ahead of time

460 g all-purpose flour
40 g corn flour*
345 g ice-cold water
1 teas. instant yeast
10 g salt

*Note: this is corn flour, not corn meal, and not masa harina. It's Easily obtainable from Bob’s Red Mill in a grocery store, and it adds a creaminess to the dough, but if you don’t have it on hand, increase flour to 500 g and decrease water to 340 g.
  1. The day before baking, thoroughly mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add water and mix until uniform. Transfer to a food processor and allow to rest, covered (a process called "autolyse") for about 15 minutes.
  2. Process for 45 seconds or longer, until a ball forms and starting flying around the processor bowl. Return the dough to the bowl you started with and cover tightly with oil-misted plastic wrap. The dough will seem a little wet – this is normal, and is what gives you those nice air holes.
  3. Place in refrigerate and allow to ferment overnight.  -- OR -- ferment at room temperature for about 2 ½ hours.

    Baking Day:
  4. Remove dough from fridge and allow to warm in container for about 2 hours.
  5. After 1 hour, place baking stone on middle shelf in oven. Place an old sheet pan or frying pan on bottom shelf. Preheat oven to its highest setting, usually 500-550 degrees F.
  6. After 2 hours, divide dough into 4 equal pieces on lightly floured countertop.
  7. Form each into a 3x5 inch rectangle, then fold into thirds, as folding a letter to go into an envelope. Fold once more, in half, and tightly seal the seam
  8. Roll out to baguettes, to a length of about 12 inches. Remember, they have to fit on your stone. Take a piece of parchment paper or wax paper and place the bread between folds to hold the loaf shapes. Support at both ends. Cover with plastic and allow to rise about 30 minutes
  9. Score loaves down the middle with a single-edged razor held at a 30-degree angle. Transfer loaves to a peel, and then to stone. Pour 1 cup water into the pan in the oven, taking care to protect your hand. If queasy about that, toss in the same amount of ice cubes instead
  10. Reduce heat to 480 and bake until center registers 210 F, about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How does this end?

"How does this end?" I asked a friend, an Egyptian immigrant, over the weekend.

"Its been going on for hundreds of years," was his less-than-encouraging reply, "And it will continue to go on."

While the terrorist attacks have been largely seen as retaliation for France's military action in Syria, perhaps the larger long-term problem is that France has long kept the lid on a simmering pot of jobless, frustrated, angry young men from the former French North African colonial possessions Morocco and Algeria, men who live largely on the outskirts of France's cities and on the outskirts of French society. They used to feel powerless to express their anger. But now there is an organization with the motivation and means to give them the power, in the form of bullets and explosives. So, I come back to my original question. "How does this end?" Let's hope it doesn't take hundreds of years.

However long it takes, the solution will have to come both from military might and social reform. The French do have their hands full.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Jeb apoligizes to French -- Mon Dieu!

Poor Jeb. He just can't get it right. First he gratuitously disses the French by making a crack in the last debate about Marco Rubio's Senate attendance: "I mean, literally, the Senate, what is it, like a French workweek? You get like three days where you have to show up?" Then when (quelle surprise!) the French, who actually have a longer work week than the Germans, take exception, he SEALS HIS FATE with the Republication Party by...apologizing!

Trust me, no candidate has ever gotten anywhere with the Republican electorate by apologizing to a foreign nation -- especially not the French, who for some reason remain the scorn of Republicans. So it's a three-man race now, and I'm putting my francs (ah, make that euros) on the young whippersnapper who never shows up for work.

Monday, September 14, 2015

10 Things Not to Do in Paris

As I pack for a trip to Europe (essentials: fanny pack, baggy shorts, oversized backpack), this good advice from Condé Nast Traveler on 10 things NOT to do in Paris resonated with me. And they also give you 10 things to do instead.  See you when I return.

 More (cough) advice on getting on in France in the NY Times bestseller, Flirting with French

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


I was browsing the French news this morning (definition of browsing: "understanding 5%") when I came across the delightful phrase -- only understandable to me because it was accompanied by a photograph of Venus Williams -- about Venus's pursuit of "le grand Chelem"

"Slam" in French is "chelem"? When did French start sounding like Yiddish? In fact, you ain't seen nothin' yet: An alternate spelling is schelem.

Better French students than I know that this is not the usual French word for "slam" (as in a door), which is more often claquement. Rather, chelem/schelem is a franglish mixup of the English "slam," mainly used in the context of sports and cards, and possibly was introduced by the American baseball term "grand slam." For good reason: grand claquement does doesn't quite have the same ring. (Although it does have some wonderful onomatopoeia going for it.)

Anyway, bonne chance, Venus! Chelem 'em!

More fun with French in NY Times bestseller, Flirting with French.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cauchemar américain

Forgive me (or pity me): I just can't stay away from The Donald, even on a blog about (ostensibly) learning French.  Now, with France dealing with its own immigration nightmare that makes our southern border problem seem trivial, you might think that Trump's strong views on the subject might get him a sympathetic ear over there.

Perhaps from Marine Le Pen's National Front party it might (although it should be noted that the party recently expelled the founder -- Marine's father --- for his too-radical views on immigration), but here's the take on Trump from the newspaper Libération:

Le Cauchemar américain

I'll save you the trouble of running to Google Translate. The headline translates as "The American nightmare"

That's nothing: Thursday they called him "a nutcase." The French are nothing if not direct. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

A note to my fans in Europe and Asia

To those of you in France and other counties who've not been able to reach my website,, I'm happy to say that the problem has been fixed. If you haven't visited, you'll find information on all my books, links to my New York Times and LA Times op-eds, reviews and interviews, as well as behind-the-scenes features, such as photographs of the other-wordly Abbaye St-Wandrille in Normandy, where as described in 52 Loaves, this American non-believer taught French monks to bake French bread (strange but true!) and jousted with God (stranger but true!).

Plus, for fans of The $64 Tomato, photos of my garden, recipes, and more.

Et maintenant, il marche de la France, aussi!

Friday, August 14, 2015

French to Trump English After All!

Vive la langue française ! Just when everyone thought French was going to be overshadowed by English (and possibly Chinese), crunching the numbers reveals that French may the world's most commonly spoken language by 2050, or the as French news site France 24 puts it, "the language of Molière will eclipse the language of Shakespeare."

How is this possible? you ask. Well, thanks to its history as a colonial power, French is still widely spoken in some of the fastest-growing counties in Africa:  Mali in the north, and Guinea, Chad and Democratic Republic of Congo in the sub-Saharan region, not counting North African countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.

The $64 Tomato -- I mean, question, is, does having the numbers mean having the influence? Je crois que non, because, to be quite honest, the language that children are speaking in a village in Chad doesn't much affect what they call "wi-fi" in France (it' "wi-fi," but adoringly pronounced "wee-fee."

So, the French may take some solace in their numbers, but they can only wistfully imagine a French-speaking world - which we'd in fact have had today if the French hadn't lost (yet another) war to the British -- this one in, yes, the New World, back in the 1700s.

Damn you, King George!

More fun and facts about French in my NY Times bestselling book, Flirting with French.

(And admit it, you read this piece because you thought I was writing about Donald Trump again!)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Is Trump more sexist than the French language?

Pity the Donald (or don't...), whose remarks about women are gaining him regular tongue-lashings by even the conservative press (and also...hmmm...headlines), but imagine the reception he'd get if he started referring to his wife as "my woman." As in, "Ask my woman Melania if I'm a sexist pig." Well, that is precisely how Frenchmen refer to their wives, because the French do not have a dedicated word for "wife": Femme means both "woman" and "wife."

Note that there is a dedicated word for husband -- mari.  But there is none for "wife." Same is true of son and daughter, by the way. Were he French (hello, France, he's yours if you want him!) Donald would use the same word for Ivanca Trump as he'd use for the girl who polishes his shoes six times a day: fille.

In Flirting with French I relate a conversation I had with a Frenchwoman about this very topic -- and the most amazing part is that she had never realized it until I mentioned it!  

Vive la France ! Vive la différence !