The Little French English Improvement Project

little french person trying to improve her english, little french english person trying to improve herself, french english person trying to improve a little bit… and blogging along the way. (Now in Deutschland)

Posts Tagged ‘french’

The french farmers’ frolics I missed yesterday

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 30, 2011

Yesterday as you all know was the last saturday of January, and therefore the day of the foire de la Sainte Paule; and while I didn’t go this year, I have seen it many a time in the past and I thought you might be interested to hear about this strange indigenous custom. It is after all a very froggy-french type of thing. So froggy-french in fact, that it gets boring after a few times. I enjoy it the most when I have a foreign person with me to see them stop and stare in amazement. Basically it’s like a giant outdoor market which takes over the small provincial town of Issoire.It used to be purely a livestock market, but these days have gone now, and although you can buy a hen or a rabbit or a cow there, most people don’t.

Because I didn’t go this time, because I am not an organised person and because writer’s block is crippling me today, I think I’ll make an impressionist description of what I remember of previous years, with little metaphorical brushstrokes. It probably is the best way of doing this anyway, because I don’t believe there is any methodical way you can go about describing (or visiting) the Sainte-Paule. It is mayhem, organised chaos. A maelstrom of smells, bright colours, people, and loud noises. And all of this very french, apart from the market stall of the cake-selling Irish lady.

First of all, let me warn you: you will get lost. Issoire isn’t exactly a metropolis but during the foire, the houses and shops disappear completely behind the flapping awnings of the stalls. And there are so many people: most of the rural population from the surrounding area descend from their villages on the hills and plateaux to eat tripe for breakfast. Yes, I know: tripe. For breakfast. yum. The smell of it hangs over the town all day. It’s inescapable, especially if you’re foreign: you have to try it. My dad will treat you. He likes to take a foreigner and drop them in a circle of béret-clad french farmers talking about cows, agricultural machinery and the weather whilst eating tripe and maybe drinking a few glasses of cheap red wine from a buvette.

That would be the frenchest thing to do, but if you’re not so keen on eating a cow’s stomachs, you can just have a wander around. The way it works at the Ste Paule is you stand on the edge of the crowd for an instant take a deep breath and step into the flow. If you’re small enough, I imagine you could just jump and literally let yourself be carried away by river of densely packed people walking the streets. As you move along you can hear vendors advertising their wares, shouting at the top of their voice, and sometimes making a performance of it. “A massive technological advance ladies and gentlemen! The brand new no-tear, no-wear socks! Look at this: I am now going to take this knitting needle and rip through the sock! A foolish thing, you say, Madame. Well just look! And there. Have a look, no hole, no tear! The sock remains undamaged. There is nothing better when you wear boots on a regular basis. I cannot help but notice Monsieur you are wearing boots yourself now! Have you noticed how boots wear out your socks within a couple of weeks? Well, these times are over! With the new no-tear no-wear socks! The fibres, a special blend of…. ” And the same sort of things for knife-sharpeners, vegetable slicers, saucisson, cheeses… Most of the time, if you’re a girl and smile at the vendor, they’ll offer you a sample and call you Mademoiselle, or Madame if they think you look old. At 23 I look young for my age, so I’m still a Mademoiselle, but I dread the day when people start calling me madame. The first person to call me that will die instantly, struck down by “the look”.

But we’re still quite safe I think, last November I had to show proof of age to enter a wine fair. Back to Issoire. So we were letting ourselves be carried around by the compact mass of foire visitors. Whenever you see a stall you like and want to have a closer look at it, you have to squeeze yourself out from between a pram and an elderly fat lady. It can be so difficult you sometimes can just imagine a popping sound when you finally manage to extricate yourself from the crowd, like pulling a corkscrew.

And while you’re standing looking at things, that’s when people start seeing you. You see, for as long as you’re moving, you just melt into the crowd. It’s when you stop you become visible. People see you as they walk by, like they would look at the scenery from the window seat in a train. And sometimes they’ll recognise you. I’m usually identified as being Julie’s daughter (the one who travels). Both my brother and sister hang out a lot in Issoire, so they’ll be with their friends right now, while I perambulate in the streets alone with a million other people. But my mam is a teacher, and as such, everyone knows her. So even if I don’t stay with her, I still get spotted by a few people, who ask me how I am, what I’m doing these days, and the unavoidable: so you’ve come back to France for a few days? and of course: is your mam here, where is she? ridiculous useless question: unless you tie them up to a signpost, there is no way you can find people at the foire. And even if you do know where they’re supposed to be, you can walk past them a dozen times before you see them, unless you know they’ll be holding a dolphin shaped helium balloon on a string and waving a baguette around (or something noticeable to that effect).

I am aware I haven’t mentioned the traditional mimosa, or the tractors and agricultural machinery yet but all this walking around has left me tired, so I’ll just buy a paper bag full of candied nuts, step out of the crowd and away from the tripe smell and go and wait by the car.


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Mark Twain and truancy in the German department…?

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 17, 2011

Well today was the first of a shiny new semester, after two long weeks of exams, and what an impressive kickstart it was! For starters, there were only two lessons all day, adding up to a total of three and a half hours. Some cynics will say that’s because linguists have an easy life, and maybe that’s true: this semester I have four-day-long weekends (but just wait until wednesdays, when I have 7½ hours lessons with a just a 30min lunch break to run and find something to eat, closely followed by three hours training).

That not being my point however, I move swiftly on to discuss a serious attendance issue in my class. Indeed for the first lesson (translation), half the class was missing, then for linguistics, two thirds of the students simply didn’t turn up! So basically not only are we a bunch of lazy sloths, but we also have a serious truancy problem! And yet, you’d think it would be easy getting all three and a half of us together!

Yes, you heard me right: our university is strong of three, sometimes four final year german bachelor students. Obviously taking a literary, linguistic and cultural approach to German is not a very popular choice. There are way more lecturers in the department than there are students and -you may have guessed/calculated it by now- sometimes you end up getting private tuition. A bit of quick maths will tell you I spent two hours today faccing our linguistic teacher alone, while she grilled me. For example, please analyse this sentence:

Olaf steckt die Flöte in die Hosentasche und geht rülpsend und grinsend an der Jette vorbei, hinter der Mutter her, schön an der Hand.

I hope you’re not actually expecting me to analyse this for you now, I just did it in French; no way I’m going through this again especially since I have no idea how stuff like anaphore, ellision, le plan morphosyntaxique translates into English! Have fun analysing this yourselves!

I also learned today that Mark Twain knew German, and that he hated it! I had no idea! Here is something he wrote about parenthesis in a text about “the awful German language” as he calls it:

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the other half at the end of it. Can any one conceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called “separable verbs.” The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is reiste ab — which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:

“The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.”

However, it is not well to dwell too much on the separable verbs. One is sure to lose his temper early; and if he sticks to the subject, and will not be warned, it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it.

And it’s so true…

Anyway, I need to go shopping if I want food when I return from training tonight! TTYL

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Making “Macarons”

Posted by Alice Challet - alicethefrog on January 15, 2011

I really should have written and posted this long ago, since those pictures date back to the 29th of December. I have had a busy time since then, what with new year and my exams and everything… But I’ll try not to go overboard and into the great sea of randomness, this post will be devoted to the lovely sweet almondy perfection of macaroons. Mmmmmmh…

I don’t know what the state of macaroon affairs is in your country, but a couple of years ago in France, Macarons were the crème de la crème of french culinary trends. Instead of giving people chocolates, or biscuits, you would give them a box of many coloured, many flavoured macaroons garnished with creams, ganaches, jams, chocolates and nuts. People even had the stuck together and piled into fantastic macaroon pyramids. The cream of the crop were to be found at Ladurée, apparently. I personally have never tasted those, but like everyone, I know the name, and next time I go to Paris I’ll investigate: in case you wondered, I have managed to live 23 years in France and never set foot on the Champs Elysées, so it might be a while yet.

But anyways, the point is that  for Christmas my sister bought me a kit intitled: Macarons Moelleux Muffins, which included: 1 recipe book, 4 silicon muffin forms, 4 metal circles, and a reusable piping bag with a selection of nibs. I can’t wait to make all sorts of things with it! And so, on the 29th, I was making macaroons. I was quite apprehensive, since quite a few people had told me how very hard, complicated and tricky it is, which made me very afraid of wasting large amounts of almonds and be left with dozens of unused egg yolks. However, as you may have noticed from the pictures, that fortunately didn’t happen and I immediately posted the photos on facebook. I loooove to show off.

Despite what most people will tell you, I found making macaroons rather easy and straightforward, once you’ve understood how they work. I cooked my firs batch too quickly, which meant that the top cracked and collapsed as they were cooling down. The second batch was slightly better, and the third one was utter perfection! Apparently a good way to prevent this from happening is : after you’ve made piped out little piles of dough, you leave it to dry for at least 15 minutes, and when you bake them, open the oven door on a regular basis to let the moisture out. You dry the macaroons almost as much as you bake them, really. And by the way, the raw preparation tastes soooo good . I added a teaspoon of cocoa powder to give my macaroons a browny beige colour and it was simply yummy. I licked the bowl clean in no time after  I had finished.

The recipe that follows is translated from the website of “l’atelier des chefs”. I first spotted them on youtube a while ago when I was looking for tips to make choux pastry, and they have very good short explanatory videos, I highly recommend you take a look (Especially if you understand french). I didn’t follow their recipe exactly, but almost. It’s very well explained. Here is my translation of their recipe (I’ve only translated the basic macaroon preparation):

Macarons au sucre cuit:


185g powdered almonds (not just ground, really powdered as thin as you can, sieve it to check)

185 g icing sugar

30g non sweetened cocoa powder

150g egg whites

200g caster sugar

5cl water

1. Preheat the oven 160°C, mark 5

2. Pour the icing sugar, almonds and cocoa powder in a food mixer, set for30 seconds to make a fine powder, then sieve into a bowl

3. In a heavy based pan, mix the caster sugar and water with a spatula and cook until it reaches 118, 119 degrees celsius. If you do not have a sugar thermometer, that point comes about 3 minutes after the sugar starts boiling. It must still be colourless. (The video is quite helpful at that point, you get a good idea what it’s supposed to look like)

While the sugar is cooking, beat half the egg whites until almost quite stiff, when the sugar reaches the right temperature, pour it into the beaten egg whites, whilst beating them at the same time, and until the bowl cools down slightly.

4. Pour the rest of the egg whites into the almond/icing sugar/cocoa mixture and mix. Slowly incorporate the stiff egg whites to that mixture. You must end up with a slightly liquid light mix which produces a long ribbon when you lift it.

5. Fill a piping bag with your macaroon mixture and pipe onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. (a little trick: in order to prevent the baking paper from lifting off the tray, you can stick it down at the edges with a bit of your mixture). Tap the tray against the table to allow for any small bubbles to come to the surface.

6. Place in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes (mine took more like 15 minutes, actually),  turning the tray half way through to allow all the macaroons to cook evenly. Don’t forget to open the oven door regularly while the macaroons are baking to allow the moisture out of the oven and avoid the macaroons cracking.

7. Let them cool down before attempting to remove them from the baking paper, or they’ll just fall apart.

8. Enjoy!

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