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French praluline cake - pink brioche!

We live part of the year in France. A place with verdant landscapes and sublime design sense. Also, praluline, the brioche swirled with pink, sugar-coated pralines. Praluline comes from Roanne in the  Auvergne Rhone-Alps region. We discovered it in old Lyon. It’s like something from Barbie’s Easy-Bake oven, only edible.  It’s what we miss most when we’re not in France.

Friends ask why we’re not there year-round. We tell them: “je ne sais pas” (in English: “beats hell out of us”). Could be taxes, could be bureaucracy. Most likely it’s primitive garbage disposal technology.

But the fact is, we also like our native home – the U.S.A. It’s where we grew up, raised our kids and have our Costco card. The challenge is keeping spiritually close to France while away. We do that in many ways.

For starters, our U.S. house is in Lafayette, CA. Hard to forget France when your namesake is the hero of the French Revolution. Couldn’t say why it’s called Lafayette. Internet research tells us he never ventured farther west than Las Vegas. Probably in search of In-N-Out Burgers, like Lewis and Clark.

But it’s not just geography that links us to France. We rely on cultural touchstones, as well: Jean Sablon recordings, Inspector Bruno novels, French vanilla ice cream.

Then there’s television.

We don’t have a TV set in our French house. I’m old. There aren’t enough years left to get the cable guy out. We make up for it by watching French television programming in the U.S.

You’d be amazed at how many French TV shows you can find in the U.S. There’s everything from murder mysteries to, well, more murder mysteries. It seems that the French love a good homicide. Agatha Christie may have been born at the right time, but definitely not in the right place.

Here are just a few of the murder-solving French TV detectives we follow from the U.S.:

  • A trained psychiatrist attached to the Paris homicide bureau;
  • A trained art historian attached to the Paris art crime bureau;
  • A trained oenologist (this is either a wine expert or a guy who feels the bumps on your forehead to determine if you need the care of the trained psychiatrist) who assists the Bordeaux homicide bureau;
  • Two husband-wife detective teams (divorced); one in Lyon, the other in Montpellier; who catch killers and annoy their kids; and
  • A morose loner who wears incredibly itchy wool turtleneck sweaters and contemplates death…. no, wait… that’s the Swedish guy.

Anyway, you get the idea.

And here’s the thing about French detectives: they’re all incredibly handsome. At least that’s what my wife tells me…ad nauseum. They have this thing they do with their T-shirts. They don’t tuck them in. So the shirts ride up seductively over the service revolvers on their belts.

I try the same thing. But in my case the shirt rides up over a protruding belly. I’m no judge, but I don’t think that this is seductive.

There’ve been a few good French TV dramas without the line: “I’ll know more after the autopsy” (it’s what the medical examiner tells the girl who wants to know if there’ll be a second date). Here are the best we’ve found:

  • Speakerine: moody 1960s political thriller set in Gaullist Paris;
  • A Very Secret Service (Au Service de la France): simultaneously understated and over-the-top French spy satire; and
  • Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent): the best of the bunch and a loving spoof of the entertainment business.

All of these programs are broadcast with subtitles. You may not need them. I do. I’m still working on a translation of the French alphabet to English. But if you get stuck, here’s the plot of every French murder mystery ever filmed:

The girl cop hates the guy cop. He hates her, too. They catch the killer. They get married. The only exception: when the guy cop turns out to be the abandoned-at-birth son of the girl cop. In that case, they bake cookies.

We watch these programs faithfully. They’re not always good, but they’re French. And that’s all we’ve got till I find a recipe for praluline.

Mike Zampa is a media relations consultant and former newspaper editor and columnist who, along with his wife, splits time between the Dordogne Valley and San Francisco Bay Area.

Discover great French films and TV shows with subtitles free at TV5MONDEPlus – like French Netflix!

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