Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Read my New York Times op-ed: The French Give in to the Hashtag!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in this space about the remarkable fact that France seems to be giving up the fight against English. I've expanded this into a full op-ed that you can read online in the New York Times or in print in the International editions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Buzzfeed's "42 reasons to never visit France"

"The landscapes are ugly and food sucks." Read the full piece, while keeping tongue firmly inserted in cheek.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kids Cook French

To those of you who, like me, despair when you see a children's menu in a restaurant (denying kids child-sized portions of the delicious stuff the adults are eating), you have a friend in Claudine Pépin. Not one to pamper the children, Claudine's new cookbook, Kids Cook French, with illustrations by her father, the better-known Jacques Pépin, has kids cutting up a whole chicken, making a béchemal sauce, and just generally acting like grownups in the kitchen. In other words, there are no chicken fingers on this kids menu.

Although I suspect it is adults who will get the most out of this book, especially adults with a yearning for French, for the book is bilingual, with English recipes and text on one page, and the French version the facing page. Which is how I learned that cauliflower is chou-fleur (literally, "cabbage flower"). And unless you have very precocious kids, this may not be, with some exceptions, a cookbook you turn over to your 11-year-old and expect to find dinner and the table when you get home from work. Unless you trust your kids chopping up a whole chicken (with no instruction other than "cut the chicken into eighths") with your 10-inch chef's knife (to be fair, the recipe does say you can buy chicken parts instead) or spending the afternoon on a beef bourguignon. But the best part of kids cooking is cooking with them. And so, do these recipes a couple of times with your kids, and, who knows, you may just be surprised some evening to walk in the door to the smell of poulet à la crème.

That is not to say the recipes don't make concessions to youth - there are many, some of which my inner enfant welcomes. I'm looking forward to making a simple soufflé in which you don't separate the eggs (this recipe, like several others, is accompanied by a charming family story about its accidental origin); a croque monsieur that omits the béchemal (although, mysteriously, béchemal is included in a later recipe); and helpful tips for inexperienced cooks of all ages ("If you have the time to wash something you've used while you're cooking, do it!"). Most of the recipes are in fact accessible to a child who likes to be challenged a bit, and Claudine has done a wonderful job of coming up with a well-rounded, appetizing selection of real food, healthy food, and the kind of food our kids should be learning to eat -- and make -- at an early age.

The fact is, were it not for the title and the kind of thick cardboard cover you find on picture books, you'd never know you were reading a children's cookbook. And that's a good thing. If youth is wasted on the young, so are a lot of children's books. So you can safely buy this (ostensibly) for your kid, try some good, easy recipes with our without your child, and brush up on your French at the same time.

Parents against chicken fingers, unite!

Kids Cook French (Les enfants cuisinent à la française), by Claudine Pépin with illustrations by Jacques Pépin. Quarry Books, $21.99

Full disclosure: Jacques Pépin graciously provided a blurb for my book, 52 Loaves. I have no other connection with the Pépins.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

France surrenders to the hashtag

Didn't see this coming: France's Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin, last week declared that she (and thus France) are ready to end the stubborn resistance to the incursion of English words into French, declaring a unilateral truce in the decades-long war on English. “French is not in danger and my responsibility as minister is not to erect ineffective barriers against languages but to give all our citizens the means to make it live on,” Pellerin told an audience assembled for the opening of French Language and Francophonie Week, acknowledging with one sentence both the futility and misguidedness of the battle.

“French is not in danger” is a remarkable assertion from the chief language guardian of the country that once fined TWA for issuing boarding passes in English and that has been trying to keep the language pure since King Louis XIII.  Perhaps the final straw was the ridicule heaped onto France for trying to come up with a French word for "hashtag," settling on mot-dièse.

My only question for the Mlle Pellerin is,  did she run this past the elders (and some of them are quite elder) in the Académie français? Or is the merde about to hit the fan? Bon courage, ma fleur!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Les affairs

Is seems there is (fortunately for us bloggers) no shortage of salacious news from France these days. First we have the DSK trial with its bacchanal orgies; now the country is in an uproar over the widespread advertising of a website that helps married women find willing partners for affairs.

French feminists are protesting the double standard apparently in play here: French men having affairs is one thing, but if a woman tries to return the favor, sacre bleu!  Meanwhile the (male) moralists are retorting that men keep their affairs discreet, while this website, Gleeden (as a public service, I've provided the link) is being advertised on the back of buses and in Metro stations. Check out the ad below. The caption reads, by the way, "to be faithful to two men is to be twice as faithful." You have to admire the copy writing, if nothing else, non?



Yet the openness of it does seem a little outre, even for France, and some bus companies, in response to the public outcry, have pulled the ads. All of this is great publicity for the website, which has a million subscribers in France. That's right, boys. A million Frenchwomen are actively trolling for a discreet affair. This in a country of only 33 million women! Do the math.

Frenchman, you've got no ones to blame but yourselves!  Bon courage!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

DSK trial ends (bizarrely, bien sur!)

"Neither the investigation nor the trial justified the charges against Mr. Strauss-Kahn. I call for him to be acquitted, pure and simple."  Thus was the closing argument of the prosecution in the pimping trial of former IMF head and almost French president Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Wait a second, that was from the prosecution??? Not the defense?

Mais oui! La France, je t'aime!

It seems that 4 of the 5 prostitutes that DSK is said to have hooked up with his sex parties withdrew their charges. This sounds more like New Jersey or Brooklyn (were les filles made an offer they couldn't refuse?) than France, but there you go, and DSK is set to walk yet again. Although, even with both the defense and and prosecution agreed that there are no grounds for prosecution (boy, that's hard to write), the case has gone to the judges, with a verdict to be rendered June 12, giving DSK time for a couple of more sex parties before the verdict (June? French courts make the US Supreme Court look like a body that rushes to judgement, by comparison)

So did someone "get" to the girls? The prosecutor blamed the press for putting the girls through an ordeal, and few in France are suggesting anything underhanded, but the trial was essentially completed when the girls suddenly quit en masse. C'est bizarre, non? DSK himself said that "perhaps the girls have revisited their memories."

Didn't Tony Soprano use that line?