Summer Reading 2018

impression

This is what I am currently reading. A former student who is now one of my beloved colleagues gave it to me this spring. I think she found it at our annual book fair, one of my favorite school-related events. It is a great read- kind of like peeking in the window and watching Renoir, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Pissarro, Sisley, Manet (although he did not want to identify as an Impressionist), Morisot and Cassatt in their studios. They were so unappreciated (that is an understatement) and many of them struggled to make ends meet and provide for their families. Roe decided to write this book and concentrate on the 26 years, 1860-1886, between their first encounters with each other and 1886 when Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel got on a boat with 300 of their paintings and set sail for New York City. I even discovered that Monet briefly set up residence at the Hôtel Londres et New York, across from the Gare St. Lazare, the hotel where I stay with my students every March. Quelle coïncidence.

I have finished my faculty summer reading book.

sing

Each spring, we are asked to “nominate” books we think are valuable to read and then when the list is pared down, we choose our book. When school starts back in August, we will have book discussions. Another reason to love my school. I couldn’t put this book down although it was very disturbing. The hardships of a young mixed race boy, Jojo, and his family in Mississippi isn’t necessarily “pretty” reading. Throw in Parchman, the state penitentiary, white racist grandparents, a drug addict mother, a grandmother dying of cancer, and family members who can see and hear the unsettled dead and it is pretty intense reading.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain is the story of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. She was a war correspondant and Hemingway’s third wife. A great read. I wasn’t sure that I would like it after falling in love with Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife, while reading The Paris Wife also by McLain. I now have an immense amount of respect for Gellhorn and her courage.

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash is set in North Carolina and is the story of two little girls, living in an orphanage since the death of their drug-addicted mom. Their father comes to get them and they have quite an adventure. Dangerous and dark at times. Throw in some baseball and it is a great story. I have enjoyed all of Cash’s books. He is a good North Carolina boy and I especially love him for that.

I indulged in Nicholas Sparks’ Two by Two while at the beach with Sister Moo and Best Niece. Who doesn’t need a quick read like this once in a while? A man who learns how to be a single dad and take care of his Barbie doll-loving daughter while coping with a wife who no longer loves him and for whom he has never been a good enough husband.

The Chocolate War by Martin Walker is a short story starring Bruno, chief of police in a small village in southern France. I have a huge crush on Bruno and have loved all of the mysteries he has solved.

Charles Salzberg is a writer I have gotten to know a bit through Facebook and email. Second Story Man is his latest and I couldn’t put it down- which meant reading way past my bedtime a couple of nights. “Francis Hoyt, arrogant, athletic, brilliant, manipulative and ruthless, is a master burglar.” That line alone should hook you. I would love to attend Charles’ New York Writers Workshop someday…

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn tops the list of books I have recently read. It is the story of a woman recruited as a spy during WWI and an American who is searching for her lost cousin in 1947. The novel is set in France and takes the reader back and forth between the two wars and the story of amazing women doing what they could to help their country win the war. This is subject that I can’t seem to read enough about these days. Meeting Monique Saigal while in Paris in March, listening to her story, and then reading her book, French Heroines, 1940-1945, were life changing experiences for me. At the age of 3, Monique was put on a train by her Jewish grandmother to get her out of Paris and to a safer place in the southwest France during WWII. Monique was taken in by a young woman and her father and given a new identity, that of a Catholic child, for nine years. Her grandmother died at Auschwitz one month after putting Monique on that fateful train. Many thanks to Niece M for pointing me towards The Alice Network. She read it for a book club organized by someone at her workplace.

I have a couple of books waiting in the wings (in addition to a couple of books on designing curriculum…).

french food

I found this one at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill while waiting to have a delicious dinner next door at Kitchen with Mme M. Looks good, n’est-ce pas? I love Flyleaf. And books about eating.

And last, but not least, on my list at the moment is Ann Mah‘s latest book, released in June, The Lost Vintage. I am a big Ann fan. I learned quite a bit while reading Mastering the Art of French Eating. Ann even sent me a signed book plate for my book. Her newsletters are always full of great information and her website includes recipes. The sure way to my heart.

So there you have it. Not a complete list, but definitely the highlights. Reading is one of my greatest passions. Mlle Adorable, my 16-month-old granddaughter, is already showing signs of being an avid reader When she comes to visit, she heads straight for her stack of books. This is my favorite photo of her and Granddad, taken a couple of weeks ago at Sunset Beach.

K and gdad

Bon appétit! “Reading can seriously damage your ignorance.” Spread the word and keep reading. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment!

I am an eater

britts

I like to eat. No, scratch that. I love to eat. Most of the time, food that is really good for me, once in a while treats that are probably not so good for me but undeniably delicious. Just look at those beauties from Britts Donut Shop in Carolina Beach. Two donuts once every two years are not going to kill me or my waistline. They make those babies from scratch while you watch. Cash only. Each donut $1, including tax. Sister Moo, Favorite Niece and I decided to sit at the counter and eat ours this year (so we could watch them being made– all that lovely sugar coating dripping after they come out of the hot oil). Mercy me.

I have become quite picky, though, in my use of ingredients when I cook at home. No more cake mixes, very little in the way of prepackaged food. Bisquick is no longer found in my cupboard nor is Crisco. King Arthur’s all-purpose flour, aluminum-free baking powder, butter and whole-fat milk, cream or buttermilk are used to make my biscuits. Cooking for others is a labor of love. Eating really good food is one of life’s great pleasures, in my humble opinion. Homemade mac and cheese, pound cake, beef stew, vegetable soup, cornbread, rice and tuna salad… my favorite recipes tend to be rather eclectic. A mix of Appalachia, the South, and France. I have a ridiculous number of cook books. The only magazines I subscribe to are Our State and Cooks Illustrated. They test all of their recipes several times so I don’t have to! (I am also admittedly a bit lazy.) I don’t watch cooking shows on TV. I do sometimes watch a French series Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier? I have a thing for pastry chefs, I guess… especially French ones. What can I say?

Pierre Hermé is my favorite (if you read this blog, you already know that!)–

His macarons are divine. Seriously, he will be the macaron-maker for angels someday. Not any time soon, I hope, though. In January, I had a chocolate-foie gras one (why didn’t I buy at least a half dozen??) that was one of the best things I have ever eaten. I may not watch cooking TV shows, but I do watch chef movies. Pierre is one of the judges in Kings of Pastry. (My 7th graders LOVE this film!)

A second favorite is Christophe Adam, king of éclairs, in my heart.

In March, I sampled his lovely framboise and vanilla cream éclair while at Galeries Lafayette. Miam.

While at Carolina Beach last week, Sister Moo, Favorite Niece and I went on a mission. To find the best crab dip. Niece loves crab and, well, I love eating. We tried it at four different restaurants. Each was quite different, served on different types of bread.

#1 Michael’s Seafood– good, Dijon-mustard taste served with soft pita bread (the best thing on their menu is the Seafood Chowder)

crab1

#2 Sea Witch- nice melty cheese on top, served with buttery toasted pita (my favorite)

crab2

#3 Havana’s- least favorite bread- fried pita?- dip with a strong mayo taste

crab3

#4 The Deck House- good dip, served with garlic toast- not bad, dip baked with bread crumbs on top (I prefer the cheese), bit of a spicy after taste which I liked

crab4

I am now at Sunset Beach with the Ex-Ex. We tried the dip at Crabby Oddwaters night before last. Served in a bread bowl, with toasted baguette slices on the side. It is good- the crab taste comes through on this one.

crab sunset

So there you have it. I have no crab dip recipes. Maybe I will try one when the crowd arrives in a couple of days. Bill’s Seafood is just across the bridge and I will be going there to buy shrimp for Frogmore Stew (thanks Uncle Beano and BFF) and Shrimp and Grits (boy, looking at the posts and various renditions of this recipe brought back some memories!) later this week. Anyone have a crab dip recipe to share??

Bon appétit! I hope that you have something delicious to eat today with someone you love. Feed people good food. It is a sure fire way to show them that you love them. Everyone on this earth should have access to good, healthy food. If I were in charge of the world…

Projet Déjeuner 2018

Ken and Gma

Okay, so that bundle of cuteness has nothing to do with lunch, but I couldn’t resist. Babysitting for Mlle Adorable is my other summer project now that SCHOOL IS OUT!!

My official summer projet has begun, as of Thursday. I kicked off the Out-to-Lunch Series 2018 with a visit to Namu with Señora Verde. She has been grading language placement tests for me and we decided to take a break and have lunch. She had been to Namu one time already and I am always up for a new adventure when it comes to eating in any of the amazing new restaurants that are popping up all the time in Durham. (I will also probably hit Chapel Hill and Raleigh, just to venture out of my zip code.) I can’t find a regular website for the restaurant, only a Facebook page, but I did find a blog post by Bites of Bull City. It was written before the actual restaurant opened. It’s in the Straw Valley shopping center just off 15-501 between Durham and Chapel Hill, next to Walmart and Best Buy. It is billed as casual Korean food. I chose what Señora chose because she had the same dish with chicken on her previous visit. We chose beef this time and we were not disappointed. I think it was called Joe’s Special, named for one of the owners.

namu

There is lettuce, a few crispy-tender carrot and zucchini slices, rice, green onions, onions, beef and the star of the show, as far as I am concerned, sweet potato noodles. They were amazing. I love the “bowl” concept for meals and could eat like this every day. Mix it all up, attempt to use chopsticks, have a nice glass of chilled Sauvignon blanc and sit on the patio. Délicieux!

So, sweet potato noodles. A must try now. I have a vegetable spiralizer that Sister Moo gave me for Christmas. Time to dust it off.

spiralizer

Of course, I may scout out the noodle aisle at LiMing’s Global Mart just up the street. I promise to update after I have tried making my own bowl of deliciousness.

Bon appétit! Bonnes vacances! I have been dubbed “Mme la Vacancière” by a French friend. Oui, c’est moi! Eat more vegetables- make it fun and healthy. Voilà!

How a French teacher becomes l’assistante américaine to a French chef in Provence

As if the title isn’t long enough… It’s now been 10 years since The Sabbatical Chef was born. I am honestly afraid to read my first attempts at writing, but, well, here it is. My first post.

I am a Southern girl and grew up around good food, but my mom and grandmother never used recipes. I learned to make biscuits just by watching them. I couldn’t do it now if my life depended on it, though. Sorry, Mama. My grandmother lived on a farm and cooked on a wood cookstove for most of her life! I remember calling up my mom when I was in college to ask for her recipe for broccoli casserole and she wanted to know why I needed to use a recipe. Guess she figured I was getting above my raising! My fondest memories growing up involved sitting in my grandfather’s kitchen listening to him whistle and sharpen his knives. He tried to teach me about cuts of meat and fresh ingredients, but I was distracted by the smells and sounds he was producing. His beef stew was my favorite. Grandpa Bell had been a chef in a hotel in High Point when he was a young man and he loved to cook. I loved him and I loved to eat so it was a match made in heaven! And whenever a relative would pass away? Not that we weren’t sad, but we kids knew that the food that would be delivered by everyone we knew and a lot of people we didn’t know would be amazing. Especially the desserts. To this day, whenever someone needs cheering up I turn on the oven.
I went on to college, moved away from the mountains of North Carolina to what we call the piedmont (central NC), and have been here for 28 years now teaching middle school French in a private school. I have been asked many times where the obsession with France and all things French came from. My family thinks I am odd, to say the least. I am the only one to leave the small town we were born in. French people, of course, totally understand my obsession since they do believe they are the center of the universe and the mecca of all things cultural. And I would have to agree. Upon finding out that my ancestors are Scottish, one Frenchman declared that that explained it perfectly. The Scots have always loved France, he said matter of factly. Voilà! Mystery solved. Now we know why I am weird, although why it happened to me and not my sisters or brother, I am not sure. My high school French teacher should share the blame here! What a saint. I’ll save that story for later.
In 2005, I received a summer grant from my school to spend two weeks in Arles, France. I found out about a cooking school there from Dorette Snover of the C’est si Bon! cooking school in nearby Chapel Hill and decided to take a 5 day Mini-Gourmand course. Vincent Van Gogh spent his most productive period there painting so I figured it would be a good place for me. I had recently separated from my husband and had never taken a vacation alone. So, why not? Pourquoi pas?
I spent a week at the Hôtel Le Cloître in Arles, a wonderful family run place in a former cloister. I wandered around the streets of Arles, had picnics in the park, looked at the spots Vincent painted, visited Roman ruins and museums, and read a lot. For the first time in my life, it seemed, I was alone and didn’t need to talk. I was introduced to the music of Yannick Noah as he was in concert one evening right outside my bedroom window! Oh là là! My students know how I feel about him.
I moved to the bed and breakfast or chambres d’hôte, run by Madeleine and Érick Vedel. This is where I would stay and take the cooking course. I was a bit nervous because my cooking skills were fairly non-existent. I had spent the past several years making family meals, but certainly nothing French other than an occasional dessert! The week was spent visiting a goat cheese maker, an olive oil producer, an organic winemaker, shopping at the open air market, having lunchtime picnics in incredible spots, and taking an afternoon nap before rejoining the group in the kitchen around 5:30 pm. We all worked together to orchestrate our evening meal. Chef Érick speaks no English so Madeleine would translate for the ones who spoke no French. I went home with a handful of recipes and the determination to cook using herbs and fresh ingredients and to make meals more of an experience rather than just a necessity.
Of course, real life set back in, as it always does. I talked about those two weeks non-stop and showed pictures to whomever would look and a friend and colleague at school convinced me to offer a trip back to Arles for adults. We found 3 other brave souls who wanted to join us in the summer of 2006. I had travelled for years with my students but never with adults. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The Queen

I just stumbled across this poem, thanks to the dad of one of my 6th graders. It came from the blog Just An Inquisitive Soul. Maybe Inquisitive is the author? When I googled The Queen poems a slew of different poems popped up. No time (or patience) to wade through them right now. I am not procrasti-googling (see procrasti-baking post) at the moment.

The Queen

As a woman in this world,

We’re told to behave.

Be in your limits,

Don’t dare to crave.

 

For centuries it has been,

Women treated less than men.

They were things to conquer

And humans to tame.

 

queen

They shouldn’t be seen,

Neither the skin nor hide

Taught to sit silent,

And let anger pass as a tide.

 

But there was someone

A different woman, Oh yes.

Who knew her boundaries,

But couldn’t care less

 

She made her rules,

And broke many of the others.

She set sails to her destiny,

Not caring for the chatters.

 

A young boy, mesmerized

Asked her once.

You’re not ordinary,

Coz you act like a princess.

 

She looked at him and smiled,

Twirling her hair, she replied.

I’m not a princess mon chéri,

For I’m the Queen of my life.

***************************************************************************

The aforementioned 6th grade jeune homme is a talented young man. He is quite an accomplished musician already and he bakes very well! Last week, he made a cake for his classmates and we ate every crumb. Délicieux!

cake

Yogurt cake is a French go-to dessert recipe. I have seen many variations of it and made a few myself. This one features the addition of Nutella. Hard to go wrong there (unless you are allergic to hazelnuts or chocolate).

James’ Gâteau au yaourt

1-1/8 sticks butter (9 tablespoons)
1-1/2 cups  flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup Nutella
Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Spray or butter a spring form pan.
Melt the butter.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until it thickens and becomes lighter in color.
Beat the flour mixture, yogurt and melted butter into the egg mixture. Beat until smooth.
Pour 2/3 of the batter into the spring form pan.
Mix the Nutella into the rest of the batter. Pour evenly over the first batter.
Bake until cake tests done, about 40-45 minutes.
Bon appétit! Let everyone eat cake! Happy almost end of the school year. Bring on the Grandes Vacances!! Mesdames, may we all feel like The Queens of our Lives.

City Daily Photo- Me!

pont du gard- me

City Daily Photo‘s June theme is ME.  I found this out by looking at Virginia Jones’ Paris Through My Lens blogpost. This photo of ME was taken by a student during our 2017 school trip to France. We spent a week in Paris and then headed south on the TGV to Avignon. It was a gorgeous day so, on the way to Arles where we were going to spend a couple of days before returning home, we stopped at the Pont du Gard. We all put our toes in the water and spent a couple of hours lounging about like lizards, sunning ourselves in the March sunshine.

PduG

I first visited the Pont du Gard in 1987, the first time I took students to France. I have been back several times since then, with friends, with clients when I worked with Chef Érick in Arles, with students. It is an amazing place. One of my favorites places in the world.

How about a Tomato Tart today? Dreaming of Provence in the summer makes me think of it. This recipe is from Recipes from Provence, René Husson, Éditions Fleurines, 2006. The dedication says:

  For those who love Provence … C’est moi! Definitely ME!

Tomato Tart  Tarto à la poumo d’amour

Pie crust (make your own or buy one that you roll out)

500 grams (1 pound) tomatoes

200 grams (10 ounces) slices of swiss/gruyère cheese

100 grams (1 cup) grated cheese

1 sprig of thyme

bread crumbs

Dijon-style mustard

olive oil

salt, pepper

Peel, seed and slice the tomatoes in rounds. (I don’t do this… I just slice them!)

Put the pie crust in a pie pan and spread a nice layer of mustard on the bottom.

Lay the cheese slices on top, then cover with the tomato rounds, salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with the grated cheese and the crumbled thyme.

Drizzle all over with olive oil.

Place in a hot oven for 40 minutes. (Not much direction here… other recipes I have used call for 20-25 minutes at 400˚F- until crust is golden brown and tomatoes have started to shrivel.)

Here are three older posts on my Blogspot blog with recipes for tomato tart/pie–

#1  #2  #3

Bon appétit, mes amies et mes amis! Enjoy this beautiful Saturday! Bake something good for someone. Or just for yourself. Do you have a favorite photo of yourself? Does it bring back a happy memory? I hope so!

Procrasti-baking and the Power of Love

baking

Yes, it’s a thing. I saw it on Facebook and, frankly, I was relieved. The article, from the New York Times on-line, entitled Why Work When You Can Procrastibake? starts this way:

All procrastibakers do not bake alike.

Procrastibaking — the practice of baking something completely unnecessary, with the intention of avoiding “real” work — is a surprisingly common habit that has only recently acquired a name. Medical students, romance writers, freelance web designers: Almost anyone who works at home and has a cookie sheet in the cupboard can try it.

“I started procrastibaking in college as a way to feel productive while also avoiding my schoolwork,” said Wesley Straton, a graduate student in Brooklyn. “Baking feels like a low-stakes artistic outlet.”

 Hooked me pretty quick. There is a name for what I do to put off doing other stuff. As I said before, relief.

I have projects to grade, quizzes to mark, letters to write to 8th graders, lessons to plan and placement tests to score. So, how did I spend my afternoon? Making strawberry shortcakes. And just why not?  I have heard that some suffer from procrasti-cleaning. Thank God I don’t have that affliction.

I found the recipe on Two Peas and their Pod.  They are really just sweet biscuits. Some of mine turned out lop-sided, but that’s okay. I am not a perfectionist. Just don’t have it in me.

baked biscuits

Our final Supper Club “meeting” at Dear Friend’s house was a lot of fun. And crazy delicious. Beck’s Mom made her signature appetizers, Brie Bites. Phyllo dough “cups” with a piece of double creme Brie, some raspberry-jalapeño jam, and pecans baked in the oven, then a sprinkle of (French) sea salt added and baked a bit longer. (I ate two, showing great restraint, because I could have eaten every single one of them.)

brie bites

Miss Molly brought Caprese salad- another of my all-time favorites. I took two of these as well. Symmetry?

caprese

Dear Friend and Hubby provided roasted potatoes,

potatoes

salmon cooked in his outdoor smoker and very tender roast beef.

salmon and beef

I had a very special helper when it came time for dessert. Dear Friend’s oldest granddaughter, who is the spitting image of her mom at this age, helped me make the whipped cream and was my taste-tester par excellence.  She also served everyone their dessert. Not that I want my Darling Granddaughter to grow up too fast, but I cannot wait to give her her first apron and a stepping stool for my kitchen!

B

Et voilà! Our strawberry shortcakes.

strawberry shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake and I go way back. Growing up, I always asked Mama Mildred to make this for my birthday. You can use Angel food cake, regular yellow or white cake or real shortbread. I opted for sweet biscuits. Strawberries are in season. Go for it!

I need to get this post done or I will start suffering from procrasti-blogging… The stack of work is staring me in the face right this moment.

Strawberry Shortcakes

makes 8

for the strawberries:

  • 1 1/2 pounds strawberries, stemmed and sliced or quartered
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

for the shortcakes:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/3 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, for brushing on shortcakes
  • Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on shortcakes

for the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  1.  Hull and slice the strawberries and place them into a large bowl. (I saved a few whole ones to use as garnish.) Cover with granulated sugar and stir. Cover and refrigerate the strawberries while you make the shortcakes so they can get juicy.
  2. Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Mix in the salt. Add the small pieces of cold butter and use a pastry blender, fork, or your clean hands to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Mix until you have pieces that are the size of peas.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the cold heavy cream and vanilla extract. Pour the mixture over the flour mixture and stir until just combined. You may need to add a bit more cream, if the mixture is too dry. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead the dough together to incorporate all of the crumbly dough pieces.  Do not over mix or your biscuits will not be as tender.
  5. Press the dough into a circle, about 1-inch thick and cut into rounds, using a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Place the pan in the refrigerator and chill the biscuits for 20 minutes before baking.
  6. Using a pastry brush, brush the chilled biscuit tops with heavy cream. Sprinkle tops generously with turbinado sugar.
  7. Bake the biscuits until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely.
  8. While the biscuits are cooling, make the whipped cream. Using an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and pinch of salt together until the cream reaches stiff peaks.
  9. To assemble the shortcakes, cut the biscuits in half horizontally. Spoon the strawberries over the bottom of the biscuit and add a dollop of whipped cream. Top with the other biscuit half. Add more strawberries and whipped cream on top, if desired. You can also break up the biscuits and top them with strawberries and whipped cream or leave them whole and add strawberries and whipped cream on top.

Make Ahead-if you want to make the shortcake biscuits ahead of time, you can. Place unbaked biscuits on a lined baking sheet and freeze. When frozen, transfer the biscuits to a freezer bag and freeze for up to one month. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake for 23-26 minutes. You can also freeze baked shortcakes in a freezer bag for up to one month. Defrost before serving. You can warm them up in the oven, if desired.

Bon appétit to all strawberry lovers out there. I am deeply sorry for you if you are allergic to these heavenly delights. Substitute juicy ripe peaches or blackberries. If you didn’t watch The Wedding (I didn’t), at least listen to or read Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon. Amen, Reverend. Let’s spread the message of LOVE. There is power in love.

 

Getting along

hand in love

So, I have not always been a Kenny Chesney fan. (Sorry, Kenny.) Just for the past few years. Welcome to the Fishbowl, released in 2012, was the first album by him that I bought. And I still listen to it all the way through. The BFF saw him in concert a few years back and started trying to convince me of his talent. It took me a while to come around. Thanks to Daddy, I grew up listening to country music. Then I went through a phase when I swore that I would never, ever listen to that stuff. What goes around comes around, right? I rediscovered country music in the ’80’s. It’s changed since the Johnny Cash days. I like songs that tell a story. Sad songs. Real songs. Songs with a message. Songs that just make me feel something. It was a good day on my way home from school yesterday when a new song came on 93.9. I immediately took to it. I loved the lyrics.

A man wearin’ a t-shirt, says “Virginia is for lovers”
Had a Bible in his left hand and a bottle in the other
He says “All you’re really given is the sunshine and your name”
We both started laughin’ when the sky started to rain

Get along, on down the road
We’ve got a long long way to go
Scared to live, scared to die
We ain’t perfect but we try
Get along while we can
Always give love the upper hand
Paint a wall, learn to dance
Call your mom, buy a boat
Drink a beer, sing a song
Make a friend, can’t we all get along

Saw a model on a billboard, 1-800 get to know me
Wondered was she photoshopped, or were her eyes really that lonely?
Did she leave her hometown thinkin’ she’d end up in L.A.?
Did she break down in the desert and get stuck beside the highway?

Get along, on down the road
We’ve got a long long way to go
Scared to live, scared to die
We ain’t perfect but we try
Get along while we can
Always give love the upper hand
Paint a wall, learn to dance
Call your mom, buy a boat
Drink a beer, sing a song
Make a friend, can’t we all get along

We find out when you die the keys to heaven can’t be bought
We still don’t know what love is but we sure know what it’s not
Sometimes you got to

Get along, on down the road
We’ve got a long long way to go
Scared to live, scared to die
We ain’t perfect but we try
Get along while we can
Always give love the upper hand
Paint a wall, learn to dance
Call your mom, buy a boat
Drink a beer, sing a song
Make a friend, can’t we all get along

(lyrics from genius.com)

It sounds too simple. Can’t we all get along? Sometimes these days and times it doesn’t feel like it.

On Mother’s Day, I went to school and picked strawberries out of our garden.

strawberries

I decided to make strawberry bread for my colleagues. It was a hit.

strawberry bread

Fresh Strawberry Quick Bread

from An Italian in My Kitchen

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup butter softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries

Topping (optional)

  • 3 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Simple glaze (optional)
  • 1/2 cup powdered / icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon cream
Instructions
Pre-heat oven to 350°F  (180°C Celisius).  Grease and flour a 9 – 9 1/2 inch (24 centimeter) loaf pan.
In a medium bowl cream butter and sugar add egg and combine.
n a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
With a wooden spoon add flour mixture alternately with the milk to the creamed mixture in three parts, then add vanilla, mix just until combined. Gently fold in the strawberries.
Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan, if desired sprinkle with topping, if desired. Bake for approximately 50 minutes.  Let cool completely before drizzling with simple glaze, if desired.
Glaze
In a small bowl, mix together until smooth: icing sugar, vanilla, cream and milk. Mixture should be quite thick.
Bon appétit, Kenny Chesney. Sorry I missed you last weekend in Raleigh. Maybe next time? Let’s try to get along. We’ve got a long long way to go. Call your mom. We ain’t perfect but we try. Make a friend. Get along.

One day at a time

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Today a very dear friend of mine taught me a very valuable lesson. She probably won’t take credit for it. That’s just how she is. We have taught together for 30+ years.  We can finish each other’s sentences. Kind of like an old married couple. We sponsor a club for 7th and 8th grade girls at our school. Our pet project this year is helping decorate rooms in homeless shelters with A Lotta Love, an organization started by Lotta Sjoelin. We decorated a room in February and have been raising money to decorate another one. We have taken up money at basketball games, sold concessions, had neighborhood lemonade, popsicle, and bake sales and today we sold coffee, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, granola bars, popsicles, and Gatorade at a lacrosse tournament. Fund-raising isn’t easy, especially on a 90˚ day. Our girls are very busy with their own activities and families, but they passionately believe in this cause. One 8th grade girlie said “I love lacrosse and I love fundraisers- what a great day!” That made me realize that I needed to stop internally complaining about giving up my morning and my frustrations with trying to raise money. (It wasn’t totally internal– I complained to Dear Friend…) That was one lesson that I needed to learn. Stop complaining. Period.

Dear Friend and I were discussing health issues today while at the lacrosse tournament. We are almost the same age. She never lets me forget that I am 3 months older. She has recently been diagnosed with thyroid issues and I have been dealing with the same for about 12 years or so. If you have a normal thyroid you are lucky. This butterfly-shaped gland in your neck affects an awful lot of the body’s functions, including:

  • Breathing
  • Heart rate
  • Central and peripheral nervous systems
  • Body weight
  • Muscle strength
  • Body temperature
  • Cholesterol levels

Mine was hyperactive when I was first diagnosed. I was exhausted all the time, my hair was falling out, I had heart palpitations, and my nails were very brittle. My hands were very shaky and I was either freezing cold or sweating. (The BFF actually forced me to make a doctor’s appointment even though just the thought of picking up the phone and calling made me tired.) It came on quite suddenly since I always ask my doctor to test for it when I have a physical exam. My mom and both sisters have thyroid issues. I thought that I had escaped it and even felt quite smug about it. Big mistake. I started seeing an endocrinologist and we tried to regulate it with medication, but that only worked for a little while. I decided to swallow a dose of radioactive iodine to gradually kill my gland. I now take a daily dose of Synthroid to keep me from suffering from hypothyroidism. Finding the proper dose is tricky. The levels of T3 and T4 are measured by a blood test and what are considered “normal” levels vary from doctor to doctor. I have learned to trust how I feel and push for the dosage of Synthroid that makes me feel the most “normal.” (I also check my comb every morning for hair loss.)

Dear Friend commented today that perhaps having an overactive thyroid isn’t a bad thing. Yes, she did. And the reason is that an overactive gland can help you control your weight because it revs up your metabolism. But it has other, much more serious side effects, including heart problems. I gave her my honest opinion and told her that she needs to get the thyroid under control. Period. Mine only caused me to lose weight when I suffered from a thyroid “storm.” She then told me that she is trying to go carb-free for the day in order to eat more healthily. We later had this text conversation–

Me: Every time I want a cookie today I am going to think of you. To keep me honest.

DF: You’ve got to have something better to think about that that! We’ll work on it together… but remember, it’s no carbs just for today! I can’t last more than that.

Me: One day at a time.

DF: Amen, sister.

Me: My new motto!

DF: Works for me!

Today’s recipe is one I tried about a month ago. If you are giving up carbs for one day, leave out the pasta. This is really good and easy. Pesto and Parmesan cheese are two of my weaknesses. I also added roasted chicken, torn into bite-sized pieces to make it a non-vegetarian dish for the Ex-Ex. Grilled andouille sausage cut into bite-sized pieces would also be really good.

roasted vegs with ravioli

Ravioli with Roasted Vegetables

from Jaclyn Bell of cookingclassy.com

serves 6

2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced into half moons

2 medium yellow squash, ends trimmed, sliced into half moons

1 red bell pepper, diced into 3/4-inch squares

1/2 large red onion, diced into 3/4-inch squares

8 oz button mushrooms, sliced thick

2 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 (10.5 oz) package of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups fresh baby spinach

1 (20 oz) package refrigerated cheese ravioli

2/3-cup pesto

Finely shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
  2. Place zucchini, squash, bell pepper, onion and mushrooms on a rimmed 18×13-inch baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast 10 minutes, then remove from oven. Add tomatoes and garlic to pan, and toss. Roast 10-15 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Add spinach to pan and toss. Roast 1 minute longer or until spinach has wilted.
  3. Cook ravioli according to package directions; drain. Pour ravioli into a large bowl. Stir in roasted vegetables and pesto (I let everyone add their own pesto after serving). Season with salt and pepper to taste then toss to evenly coat. Serve warm topped with cheese.

Bon appétit. Remember– one day at a time. Every day is a new day. A chance to start again. 

42 years and counting

My life in middle school.

4 personal years  (1968-1972) + 38 teaching years (1980-present) = 42 years spent in middle school.

Oh yea. Really. And there is rarely a dull moment. Take today for instance. I gave my 8th graders an assignment to use their vocabulary for homes and neighborhoods.

You have been offered a two-month summer internship in Paris. 
Choose where you will work and what your job will be.  
  • Arrondissement
  • Address
  • Name of place and your job
You will make 1600 euros a month.  You and your roommate are looking for an apartment to rent.  You must stay within your budget.  A single person can expect to spend 1200-1800 euros per month to live (food, rent, transportation, miscellaneous expenses) in Paris.
I gave them tasks to complete, a website en français for appartements. They had to devise a budget, find an apartment, tell me how they were going to get to work every day, tell me about the layout and furnishings in the apartment, etc. They could put their presentations in Google slides, PowerPoint, etc. I have an Apple TV in my classroom so that they can project on the screen from their iPads. for their classmates. The presentation must be en français, bien sûr. French 8 at my school is a high school level French 2 course. Presentations began today. Some of the little darlings are going to starve because they did not budget nearly enough money for food in Paris. I want to share one of the presentations. So, with their permission, I give you two of my jeunes hommes...
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Pretty impressive, n’est-ce pas? I think they learned something. And they made me laugh. In May no less.
How about some mushroom-shrimp risotto for dinner? Not French, but delicious. Mlle M and I made this for dinner a couple of weeks ago. The BFF was invited to come eat with us because she loves this dish. She couldn’t make it, though. Tant pis. Next time.
risotto
Simple Risotto
This is a basic recipe.  I added a cup of frozen green peas, some sautéed mushrooms and sautéed shrimp, 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, and 1/2 c. dry white wine.
approximately 3 cups of risotto

1 c. uncooked arborio rice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. chopped onion
4-5 c. chicken or vegetable broth, heated to simmering
Salt and pepper, to taste, if desired

Sauté onion in oil and butter for 3 minutes.  Add rice, stirring to coat with oil/butter for about 2 minutes. Stir in one cup of broth and wine, if using.  Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed. Gradually stir in remaining hot broth 1/2 cup at a time (I use a ladle), cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. When rice is almost done, add whatever ingredients you wish– sautéed mushrooms, vegetables, shrimp, etc. and continue cooking until rice is tender but not mushy.

Bon appétit tout le monde! Good luck to all my colleagues out there. The end is in sight. I am counting down the Mondays. Hang on to your sense of humor. Goodness knows we need it right now.