Food & Drink

American Bouchon

Most people’s opinion about American food, outside of the United States, tends to be not so positive. The trend seems to be, the idea that, American food is pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries; gross, greasy, and disgusting. And these are our favorites to some degree. I could argue, but that’s not my point right now.

So if our grub is so bad, then what’s up with all these food options here in Reunion that are, quote, end quote, American? What’s more, there’s not much that is really very American, about them. Take the case of the snack bars in Reunion. My first time ordering off the menu and I was really shocked.

“Pain américain! What the hey is this?” I asked my lunch companion. “Oh, well, fries, on a sandwich, with melted cheese,” he answered. Did I forget something? I tried frantically to look back at my life in the States. Was there some big, food trend that I had completely not participated in? Let’s see; steak fries, curly fries, sweet potato fries, Cajun spicy fries… and the list goes on.  But always served as a side. I do vaguely remember eating fries, with gravy and melted cheese, late at night, in high school.  That’s about as close to the cheese and fry association that I could get.

In bread, on top of meat, with melted cheese. That was a new one. So, I asked my friend, “If you guys don’t think highly of American food, why name dishes after it?” He really couldn’t answer that one. This first time, I shied away from the sandwich, even if it was so proudly named after my homeland. But then I saw, smelled and was tempted to taste, his sandwich of hamburger and its so-called American bread. And although it goes against all health advice and is probably illegal in certain states in the U.S., that thing was good!

Next, my friend washed down his sandwich with a “Limonade Americain!” Ok, cool I thought. I love a good lemonade. Gets me thinking to summer, picnics and grandma’s house. And pink lemonade, that’s the best! After having grubbed some bites of his tasty, so-called American sandwich, I was more than willing to wash it down with some lemonade.  Not a good experience, if I may say so. Sorry to offend the good people of Reunion (my husband and daughter love Limonade Americain) but to my taste buds, there is nothing lemonade about that drink. There is good reason for that, as I learned some time later. Good old lemonade is citronade and Limonade is like regular lemonade with some weird twist.

Vocabulary

trend – tendance
grub – bouffe
what’s up? – quoi de neuf ?
quote, end quote – je cite
order – commander

what the hey ? – c’est quoi ce truc ?
fries – pommes frites
let’s see – voyons
spicy – épicé
gravy – sauce viande

melted – fondu
side – garniture
dishes – plats
to shy away – éviter
homeland – patrie

to wash down – boire
to grub – bouffer
twist – nuance

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The Vanilla Conspiracy

Have you ever believed something was true for a long time, then found out it was a lie? I guess most people experienced this as children, when they discovered Santa wasn’t real. I always knew Santa was someone’s dad dressed up in a cheap red polyester costume in the middle of the Australian summer. But a few years ago I discovered everything I knew about vanilla was wrong. This may seem ridiculously frivolous, but let me explain. I’ve been cooking and baking since I could stand up on a chair in the kitchen alongside my mum. I love experimenting, testing recipes and discovering all sorts of new ingredients.

Even when I was living on a university student’s budget, I would happily go into my local gourmet food shop and ask for their softest, plumpest vanilla bean for my next recipe, despite the fact it cost an arm and a leg. As any good foodie learns from reading cookbooks and cooking magazines, the best vanilla should be flexible, squishy and fragrant. Leathery or dry beans are flavour less and bad quality, so say the best cooks in the world.

This is what I naïvely believed, until I went to visit the vanilla cooperative in Bras Panon. At first, everything was going well. We saw the vanilla plants growing, learnt about pollinisation and harvesting. But when we sat down to watch a short film about the vanilla maturation process, I nearly fell off my chair. The guide explained how it takes many months, even years to dry out the pods, in order to develop the vanillin inside. According to this expert, the best quality vanilla is dry enough to tie in a knot, and should be odourless. Armed with this new information, I did some more research. As it turns out, the big, shiny and fragrant vanilla pods found at many markets are known as « vanille zoreil » or « vanille touriste. »

Frequently, the pods are so fragrant because the vendors spray vanilla extract on their products to entice customers. Not only is this type of vanilla lacking in taste, it often becomes mouldy after being stored in the pantry. Since discovering this, I have a newfound love of vanilla. I’ve always cheered for the underdog, and knowing that the ugliest, leatheriest and least fragrant vanilla pods are the best quality makes me happy. I feel like the luckiest home baker to have access to some of the best vanilla in the world right on my doorstep.

Vocabulary

true – vrai
lie – mensonge
Santa – père Noël
dressed up – déguisée
wrong – faux

to bake – faire la pâtisserie
plumpest – le plus dodu
despite – malgré
to cost an arm and a leg – coûter un bras
squishy – mou

leathery – comme du cuire
to harvest – cueillette
to fall off one’s chair – tomber à nu
to dry out – sécher
to tie in a knot – faire un nœud

shiny – brillant
to entice – séduire
mouldy – moisi
pantry – placard
to cheer for the underdog – encourager l’outsider
doorstep – palier

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My Cup of Tea

My name’s Catharine and I have a confession to make. I’m a cliché. A walking cliché in fact. I’m British and I only drink tea.

When you live in Reunion what do you have to do to get a decent cuppa? Well, it turns out quite a lot actually. Something that you take for granted when you grow up in Britain can become quite difficult once you live abroad.

Now I don’t want to make a storm in a teacup, but having spent twenty of the past twenty-five years living in Reunion there are many things that I love about my adopted home, including some great food and drink, but making tea is not a strong point on the island.

There’s the time I ordered tea with milk in a Saint-Denis café and was served a frothy concoction in a teapot, with more milk than tea. In a fancy west coast hotel I once ordered plain tea and was brought lemon tea. I was given the explanation that plain tea wasn’t served other than at breakfast time because it wasn’t, and I quote, classy enough.

Another time in the south of the island after a Scottish-themed evening I requested my favourite drink at the end of the meal, only to be told “do you think this is breakfast here or what?”. And I’ve given up ordering thé gourmand in restaurants as I’m invariably served half a thimbleful of black, lukewarm flavoured tea.

New friends who invite me to their house must find me rather rude as when they offer me a cuppa they’re often subjected to questioning about whether they have a kettle, fresh milk, and most importantly, proper tea.

Recently when my elderly mother came to visit we got into the habit of going on our outings with a thermos and some teabags to ensure that she got a decent cup whenever and wherever. I’m pretty sure we got some funny looks as we sipped our refreshment by the side of the road in Plaine des Gregues or Salazie.

When I travel I take the opportunity to visit tea plantations in various far-flung corners of the globe, and enjoy bringing some tea back to savour on my return. However there can be problems elsewhere too, like the hot drink vending machines that use the same equipment to make tea and coffee, thus leaving you with a revolting beverage that doesn’t know which drink it is!

But for all the tea in China I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else than Reunion, and in recent years I’ve seen some improvement. We do say in Britain that “where there’s tea there’s hope” – so here’s to a brilliant future for tea-making in Reunion!

Vocabulary

cuppa – ‘cup of’ tasse de
actually – en réalité
to take for granted – prendre pour acquis
abroad – à l’étranger
a storm in a teacup – tempête dans un verre d’eau

to order – commander
frothy – mousseux
teapot – théière
thimble – dé à coudre
lukewarm – tiède

rude – impoli
subjected to – assujetti
whether – si (oui ou non)
kettle – bouilloire
elderly – agé

outings – sorties
teabags – sachets de thé
to sip – siroter
improvement – amélioration
hope – espoir

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The Citrus Thief

A few months ago my mother-in-law came to visit the island, she found a nice house on the internet to stay free of charge, as long as she fed the cat and watered the garden. The house was located in Le Tampon, and the best part was the orchard. There were avocados, lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, bananas and plants everywhere. My mother in law was enjoying waking up in the morning, picking some oranges to press for her morning juice, collecting some avocados for the salad with lunch, a nice juicy mandarin for a snack, and a few lemons to flavour the chicken for dinner.

This went on for about a week and just when she started to get into a routine she awoke one morning and all the oranges were gone! “That’s strange” she thought, since just the day before there were lots on the tree. Later on that day she contacted the owners of the house who were also quite surprised since that has never happened to them before. Well, the orange juice would have to be store bought from now on, which was not a big deal, after all there were still many other fruits left in the garden.

She carried on with her routine as usual, omitting the glass of orange juice of course, and lived comfortably for another couple of weeks, forgetting about the unfortunate loss of the oranges, when one morning she awoke only to realize that the citrus thief had struck again! This time stealing every last lemon! Now, if she were in Canada, she could blame the disappearing fruit on a bear, or raccoon. But, since this is not Canada and she can’t realistically blame the hedgehogs or chameleons, she started to ask herself: who was this thief and why did they want all of her citrus?

Unfortunately, this question would remain unanswered, but the garden was still full of limes, mandarins, avocados and bananas. In the weeks that followed the citrus thief struck one last time stealing all the mandarins except for one.. Which raises the question: why leave just one? Either the thief overlooked that one, or he/she started to feel bad for stealing all this fruit and left one little mandarin so that my mother in law could have a last drop of vitamin C.

In the end, there is no closure and this is a mystery that will remain unsolved. The worst part, is that the citrus thief is still on the loose! So, if you have lemons or oranges in your garden keep a close eye on them, and enjoy the fruit while it lasts, because you never know when it might just disappear!

Vocabulary

orchard – verger
lime – citron vert
to flavour – assaisonner
to awake – se réveiller
owner – propriétaire

not a big deal – pas un drame
unfortunate – malheureux
thief – voleur
citrus – agrume
to steal – voler

to blame – accuser
to strike – frapper
raccoon – raton laveur
hedgehog – hérisson/tangue
to remain – rester

overlooked – négligé
last drop – dernier goutte
closure – conclusion
unsolved – non résolu
on the loose – en liberté

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It’s Time for a Drink

It’s time for a drink! In Australia, you can basically say this sentence any time of the day, either to celebrate a special occasion or just because, and no one will be shocked.

In Australia, like most other English speaking countries, we have a drink when we feel like it: A beer at the pub at 5 to mark the end of a hard day’s work with fellow colleagues, cocktails at 6 with other friends followed by a glass of wine and nibbles and then a glass or two with dinner. And then, of course, ‘one for the road’! (one of the reasons why taxis are a lot more popular than in Reunion!). And the next day, it’s off to a brunch, which is obviously more exciting with champagne than tea!

That’s my life in Australia. And I’m not the only one who lives like that. My life in France however, is somewhat different. When I invited three friends for a champagne breakfast on the beach one year for my birthday, their first reaction was to ask “Really? Champagne? At 8am?” (after two glasses each, they were thrilled with the initial idea). 

On the weekends, when I reach for the bottle of wine at 3pm, my partner even after five years together is still quite shocked, but follows up with one of my very own expressions, “Well I guess it’s five o’clock somewhere in the world”. 

But the worst for me, is when I’m invited to a friend’s for dinner or when I’m staying with my in-laws and I’m obliged to respect the very French tradition of waiting for ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE to be together to start drinking. This is AFTER the painstaking process of waiting for everyone to choose what he or she wants drink, and then waiting for the host (who is alone in the drinks making task, as it’s out of the question that I help because I’m a guest) to prepare all of the drinks. During this time, I’m obliged to make small talk with everybody else when all I can think about is my damn drink that is sitting right in front if me but that I’m not ‘allowed’ to touch. So when everyone finally has their drinks (by this time, my glass of white is wine is now at room temperature) we have to look everyone in the eyes, clink glasses, make a toast and then I can FINALLY drink. 

And given that I’m at this point dying of thirst, my warm glass of wine goes down in about two minutes. Next dilemma, how to get a second glass… Stay tuned!

Vocabulary

nibbles – quelque chose à gringotter
one for the road – un dernier verre pour la route
brunch – un mélange entre breakfast et lunch
however – cependant
somewhat – assez

thrilled – ravi
in-laws – les beaux-parents
painstaking – laborieux
task – tache
make small talk – parler de la pluie et du beau temps

damn – fichu
room temperature – température ambiante
clink glasses – trinquer
finally – enfin
dying of thirst – mourir de soif 

stay tuned – restez à l’écoute

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Service With a Smile

Our island is famous for many things: stunning scenery, beautiful landscapes, cultural and ethnic diversity, and scrumptious food. However, nothing is perfect. Sometimes, the service in Reunion is far from satisfactory. Sometimes, it is very near to satisfactory. But the experience I had at a restaurant in the west of the island last month was so awful, so bad, so atrocious, that if ‘Satisfactory’ were a town, I can say that the service would have been so far from Satisfactory that I could have found myself in another galaxy.

There we were, five adults and four kids, all enjoying a Friday night meal ofmussels and chips.

Halfway through the meal, one of us discovered, in the bottom of the pot, amaggot. A big dead maggot. Now, you’re wondering what a ‘maggot’ is. Have a look at the vocab. Got it? I know. I nearly threw up. We told the waiter. He told the boss. The boss told his waiter to apologise. “No harm done” we said, “these things happen”.

Then my friend ordered a rum. Inside was something dark. Something crooked. Yes, it was the leg of a cockroach. I had had enough! My friends were being far too patient, so I picked up the cockroach leg and went to see the boss.

Typically British, I felt that all this was clearly my fault. But my Gallic side took over, and my guilt disappeared. “Erm, after the maggot, we have this…” I showed him the offending object. “It’s part of a cockroach.” He replied ‘no, that’s a bit of vanilla.’

I said, ‘I’m not an expert on vanilla, and I’m not an expert on cockroaches, but THIS is part of a cockroach.’

His wife appeared from the kitchen. She looked very angry indeed. “It’s impossible. We have no cockroaches in our kitchen!” she announced proudly.

“Are you suggesting that I go out to restaurants with bits of cockroach in my pocket for fun?” I countered.

Her reaction? She took a close look at my finger. Then grabbed the cockroach leg. And then yes, my friends, she put it in her mouth and she ate it. Like Luke Skywalker, I shouted ‘Noooooooooooooo!’

Chewing away, she went back into her kitchen shouting “you see, perfectly good!”

The boss then advised ME to go and sit down, as he was concerned that I wouldlose my temper. I was just trying not to throw up…

What could I do? What would you have done?

I didn’t want to annoy them. I just wanted to inform them of the problem. These things happen, even in 5 star hotels, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s all about how the situation is handled. And the way this situation was handled was light years from satisfactory.

Vocabulary

stunning – époustouflant
landscapes – paysages
scrumptious – succulent
satisfactory – satisfaisant
awful – affreux

far – loin
mussels – moules
maggot – asticot
to throw up – vomir
no harm done! – ya pas de mal !

crooked – crochu
guilt – culpabilité
cockroach – cafard
to grab – saisir
to lose your temper – perdre son sang froid

to handle – gérer
light years – années lumières

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Reunion Island’s Staple Dish

Nations and territories each need an identity. A national sport, pastime or bird are all symbols of a nation’s distinctiveness. Something that sets them apart from other countries. If I had to think of a representation of British culture, for example, I would imagine Beckham in a bowler hat, eating a bacon sandwich.

Food is a very important icon when it comes to symbolizing a country. France has frog’s legs, the UK has their breakfasts, the USA has hotdogs, but what about Reunion? What is Reunion Island’s staple dish?

I’ve been on the island for nearly ten years, and I think I’ve tasted everything the place has to offer, I’ve savoured all the caris from anguille to zef. I’ve enjoyed every samosa flavour, tried all of the sandwiches, and sampled all the puddings.

There is one dish that stands out however. The ultimate dish that the other caris look up to, and strive to be like. The cari that makes you salivate at the very mention of its name. I am, of course, talking about rougail saucisse.

I love thee my dear rougail saucisse,
Every spoonful, every piece,
Even though you’re full of grease,
I love thee my dear rougail saucisse.

Saucy and spicy, meaty and magnificent, rougail saucisse is probably the most delicious meal that you and I have ever tasted. It’s something about the burly sausages mixed with the mild sauce. It reminds me of my favourite Italian dish; spaghetti and meatballs.

The British love meals like this. If I had a million pounds, I’d open up a restaurant in the UK, and we’d only serve rougail saucisse. I’m sure I’d make the money back in a weekend.

Now, with all this talk of rougail saucisse, I’m sure you’re getting quite hungry, in fact, I think I can hear your tummies rumbling. So let me tell you the best place on the island for getting this delight. I’m on the road a lot for my job, so I’ve sampled rougail saucisse in quite a few restaurants and snack-bars. There’s one place that stands out in my mind. The chef is a creole woman and every time she makes her rougail saucisse it’s better than the last. I am, of course, talking about my wife, the best chef I know!

If you would like to sample her dishes, just give me a call! You’d be more than welcome at my caz, perhaps we could wash it down with some homemade flavoured rum? Enjoy your meal!

Vocabulary

to set apart – mettre à part
staple dish – plat nationale
to sample – goûter
pudding – dessert
to strive – lutter

thee – vous
grease – graisse
meaty – plein de viande
burly – épeisse
mild – doux

meatballs – boulettes de viande
tummy – ventre
to rumble – gargouiller
delight – délice
homemade – fait maison

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My First Vegetable Patch

My last trip back home to England was in May for my beautiful cousin’s beautiful wedding. Springtime in ‘Sunny Devon’ is really something. The countryside is really green after a long winter of rain, and the flowers are gorgeous.

My family all have green fingers, with stunning gardens. And yet, I live on a paradise island and, looking at my garden, you can see that I missed out on this gene. I was both inspired and determined. My new project for these winter holidays? To start my very own vegetable patch!

But with my natural gift for killing plants, how was I to succeed and what was I to grow? If it doesn’t meow at me, I forget to feed it. I knew that I had to be prepared. 

I used wooden pallets to build the vegetable patch frame. I bought earth, gardening tools and seeds. I took compost from my local recycling centre. I started my own compost. I even took time out of my relaxing holiday to study the shadows as they moved across the garden to decide where to best place my vegetables..

Now, I know what you’re thinking. With so much preparation, what could possibly go wrong?? After 4 days of watering every morning and evening, victory! My little seedlings had emerged. 

Unfortunately, the one thing that I hadn’t taken into consideration was… My 10 month old cat. In comparison to the poor, sandy soil elsewhere in our garden, such beautiful, rich soil was very exciting for her. For a week, I woke each morning to find holesuprooted plants and little brown bombs placed around my vegetable patch by my cat.

I put up a protective net, to create a cats- free-zone. It didn’t work! The net was used first, as a hammock and then, pulled down. The corn salad was lost. The beetroot was destroyed, and my spirit was broken. 

But even in this chaos, the rocket salad and courgette made it through. A few coriander plants survived, and the chilli pepper plant gave fruit. The net is now stronger, the cat’s evil plan to stop my green fingers is foiled, and I’m happy to report that rocket is on the menu every day.

Vocabulary

green fingers- la main verte
Vegetable patch- potager
Meow- miaou
frame-cadre
Gardening tools- des utiles de jardinage

Seeds- des grains
Seedlings- les germes
Poor, sandy soil- un sol pauvre et sablonneux
Hole- trou
Uprooted plants- des plants déracinés 

Little brown ‘bombs’- utilisé ici pour dire caca du chat
Net- filet
Corn salad- mâche
Evil plan- plan méchant
To foil- dejouer

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Being Vegetarian in Reunion

I still remember coming home from school one day when I was about twelve, having learned from a friend that eating meat could be a choice and not necessarily an obligation.  I proudly announced to my mum and dad at the dinner table that night that I had become a vegetarian.  Instead of the shocked response that I had expected, I just remember my parents looking at each other before replying “Okay”.  They later told me that it came as no surprise and that they had been expecting that day to arrive.

Growing up it was always a battle getting me to eat the meat that was on my plate, I would find interesting ways to hide it or to spit it in the toilet on one of my many bathroom breaks during a meal.  I didn’t like the idea of eating something that had been living and was now dead and sitting on my plate. As I got older the reasons became more political, but it always remained an ethical choice above all.  I would rather see a fish swimming free, or a cow grazing in a field than on my dinner plate.  I began to research more into the treatment of the animals that were being used to feed us, and was horrified with my discoveries, and that’s not even mentioning the environmental problems that are created when we support industrial farming

Anyway, I am sure everyone has heard these arguments before, and we are all free to make our own decisions, I made mine nineteen years ago, and have never looked back.  Being a vegetarian in Canada was simple, it is a popular lifestyle choice and there are veggie options at pretty much every restaurant. It wasn’t until I started travelling that I began to discover the difficulties in being a vegetarian.  I spent a few years after university living and teaching in Japan, and although it was an amazing experience, it was not easy being a vegetarian.  First of all, every time I mentioned that I didn’t eat meat, I would be asked a million questions “do you eat fish? Do you eat chicken? Do you eat pork?” and the list went on.  But even after responding to all of these questions with a big “NO”, I would often be served a dish with fish flakes all over it, after all if the dish is 95% vegetarian that’s good enough right? 

I will never forget the time that I discovered the “vegetarian tofu burger” at Starbucks in Japan, I was so excited to eat it, but the whole time I was eating it there was something about the taste that just wasn’t right.  After eating it a few times, I finally asked for the list of ingredients and sure enough it was 90% tofu and 10% pork… Great.  Needless to say, the easiest way not to have surprise meat in my dish was to stick to cooking for myself.

Now I am living in Reunion and although it is not nearly as difficult as Japan to be a vegetarian, I find myself faced with similar situations.  For example, the look of shock/disappointment when I announce to someone that I don’t eat meat, which is most commonly answered with the question “Then…what do you eat? ».  Also eating at a restaurant I am often left with the side dishes as my only option, even finding a salad without meat can be a challenge.  However, I do think that things in Reunion are starting to change, and there are even a couple of restaurants that serve only vegetarian/vegan food! My hope is that all restaurants will start to modify their menus by adding at least two or three meat/fish/seafood free options, so that everyone, not just the vegetarians, can incorporate a meat-free meal every now and then into their lives.

Vocabulary

necessarily – nécessairement
proudly – fièrement
spit – cracher
grazing – pâturage
industrial farms – fermes industrielles

although – bien que
disappointment – déception
side dish – accompagnement
however – néanmoins

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Goyavier Fever

In Réunion it seems each month brings with it a new tropical fruit to discover. Now that it’s May, goyavier is the fruit of the month. I had never tried or even had heard of this delicious red fruit before I came to Reunion. I knew of guava but not goyavier. In previous months here I had goyavier juice but only recently did I get to try the fresh fruit and oh my god I’m in love. I think I could live on lychees and goyavier,

So a week ago, my landlord organized a goodbye Creole picnic for us. We drove to the Foret de Bebour since I had never been there. We brought baskets full of picnic supplies that filled up the trunk of our tiny French car like true Creoles- blankets, folding chairs, marmites full of rice and caris, rougails, quiches, salad, and lots of rhum arrange, wine, and beer, and buckets for goyavier. Instead of taking the Plaines, we took a bunch of windy side roads to discover even more of Reunion. When we arrived in the forest, our first stop was to pick goyavier. We paid 10€ for a giant bucket to pick as many goyaviers as we could. Dennis and I left the group to go search for an untouched area with big, juicy, ripe red and purple fruits. One goyavier in the bucket, one in my mouth. And so it went like this for over an hour until both my belly and the bucket were full. Then we transferred the goyaviers into our own buckets and found a nice place in the forest to sit and have our elaborate Creole picnic.

When we got home, I started looking up recipes to deal with the almost 10 kilos of goyavier! For the next four days I was busy mixing goyaviers and straining the seeds to make all sorts of delicious things before the fruits rotted. Fresh goyavier do not last long, only a few days at the most. It’s so nice though to have so much fresh produce here. In the US fruits last much longer because they are full of nasty preservatives and pesticides. I succeeded to use all the goyavier and made a bunch of goyavier mousses, sorbets, and rum of course. The kitchen was a mess as there was goyavier juice everywhere! Our other friends from the picnic made a bunch of sauces with the goyavier and we all shared our recipes and dishes. Surprisingly I’m not sick of goyavier yet. I know I must savour them as much as possible since soon the season will be over and it will be another fruit’s time to shine.

Vocabulary

landlord – propriétaire
baskets – paniers
trunk – coffre
windy – sinueuse
to pick – cueillir

bucket – seau
looking up – chercher
to strain – prendre du jus
to rot – pourrir
a bunch of – bcp de

dishes – les plats

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