Rookie mistakes

KA muffins

At first, I wanted to blame King Arthur Flour and whoever posts the recipes on their website.  (I may have even been a bit snippy in my recommendation of the recipe- shame on me. I will go back and fix that.  I promise.)  I have been baking for many, many years. Not a rookie.  Yesterday I had leftover buttermilk in the refrigerator and some blueberry and cherry infused Craisins in the cupboard.  Baking muffins first thing in the morning is one of my hobbies/favorite past times/joys/reasons for living.  I had a meeting at 9:00 am yesterday (our division’s tech committee- you can teach an old dog new tricks, my friends) at school so I thought I would take some to my colleagues.  And leave a few for the Ex-Ex, of course.  I tied on my Arles apron (if you are new to the blog and have the time, click on the link and read about my sabbatical), read through the recipe, turned on the oven, sprayed the muffin tins, and assembled the ingredients.  Only dirtied two bowls, one whisk, three spoons, one liquid measuring cup, two dry measuring cups, and a teaspoon measure. I had plenty of time to bake two tins of muffins and clean up the mess.  I put the first batch in, set the timer, and set about washing up.  Soon, heavenly smells were coming out of the oven.  About 15 minutes in, I opened the oven door for a peek.  Hmm. That’s weird, I thought.  They aren’t rising.  I admit that when mixing them up I thought it was a bit strange that the recipe didn’t call for salt, baking soda or baking powder. However, I confess right here and now that I am not particularly curious about the science of baking (or anything else except how teenagers’ brains work).  I thought that perhaps buttermilk has magic powers and would provide whatever was needed.  I used to have Harold McGee’s book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, but I gave it to the BFF because she is actually curious. (But she doesn’t bake.) Anyway, back to my muffins.  I brought the recipe back up on the computer and, well, if you bake, you may have already guessed where I goofed up.  I only buy King Arthur’s all-purpose flour.  Sister Moo gives me a lot of grief about this (but she doesn’t bake much either).  The recipe calls for self-rising, which already has all of the other stuff in it.  My bad.  The muffins looked like lumps. Albeit warm, nice smelling lumps.  I tried one.  Not bad.  Should I take them to school?  I am not, never have been, and never will be a perfectionist.  At times, my motto/mantra is Done is Better Than Perfect.  That could be the title of my memoir. I did end up taking some to school.  I told my story.  A few were eaten.  The rest came back home with me at the end of the day.  By the time I walked in the door around 5:00 pm, the Ex-Ex, having had no lunch, had eaten five of them and pronounced them very good.  As a matter of fact, he likes them better than “normal” ones.  Go figure.  “I like the texture of the density more than I like the fluffiness.”  Voilà.

inside muffin

Before posting the recipe, a quick French lesson…  Merci, La Brune, for coming to my rescue via Facebook.  I don’t just like technology, I love it.  I embrace it. I asked for the French equivalent of “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and promptly got this:

On n’apprend pas aux vieux singes à faire des grimaces.  You can’t teach old monkeys to make funny faces.  Hilarious!


These little guys are part of the Ex-Ex’s childhood possessions. Speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil.

As you can see, I didn’t bother to read the name of the recipe yesterday morning at 6 am…

Self-Rising Soft and Tender  Breakfast Muffins

makes 12

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (this could be cut in half if you don’t like too much sweetness)
  • 1 cup Craisins (or other dried fruit, nuts or chips)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I doubled the recipe and added a teaspoon of almond extract)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan; or line the pan with paper muffin cups, and grease them.
  2. Whisk together the flour and sugar, then stir in the fruit.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, vanilla, buttermilk, and melted butter.
  4. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until combined; the mixture should be slightly lumpy. Don’t overmix.
  5. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, filling the cups about 3/4 full. (I now use an ice cream scoop- so easy!)
  6. Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re lightly browned. Remove them from oven, place pan on wire rack, let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove them from pan.

Bon appétit!  Keep baking and keep learning.  Every day is a new adventure.




Whosits and Whatsits

do dads drawer

I’ve got whosits and whatsits galore.

Anyone who has watched Disney’s The Little Mermaid more than once knows that line. (And will have the song running through her head all day.)  Son #1 was very much in love with Ariel, so we watched it at least a million times.  And thanks to Mama Mildred he had sheets, pillowcases and a comforter with that cute redheaded mermaid on them.

The first time La Brune came to visit from France, she took one look at this


and asked me if I planned to open a restaurant.  The Ex-Ex and she bonded powerfully right at that very moment.  He wonders why I need so much stuff, too. (However, he is the one who gave me the blue Le Creuset do-dad holder complete a few more spatulas.)

I just do.  Okay?  (And now I need a new pastry brush because mine went behind the stove yesterday when I was trying to cram  gently return it to its blue holder.)

Until a couple of days ago, though, there was one do-dad I did not own.  A cherry pitter.  I found one while strolling the aisles of Target.

cherry pitter

Did I really need it?  Well, no?  Will I really use it?  Well, yes.  For the few weeks of summer when cherries don’t cost an arm and a leg.  Grandma Bell had a cherry tree in her back yard.  I am surprised that I didn’t eat so many of them that I am sick of them.  They are my favorite fruit.  I learned what a kilo feels like the first time I bought a whole kilo of them at the market in Senlis many years ago.  I actually ended up sharing them with students that time.

I bought these cherries in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in southern France back in 2012 during our BFF trip to France.  We were having a picnic near the river.

And who doesn’t love a cherry seller who makes his own earrings? And hugs Americans.

cherry seller

Once I bought the cherry pitter, I fired up the oven and got to work.  Cherry scones first.

I was going to visit my friend Lyn and she is an Aussie afternoon tea drinker, so I thought she might like some.  I am not completely happy with the results.  I was going for a more biscuit-like less sweet scone than you usually find in the US, but it needs some tweaking.

The next day, Son #1’s girlfriend, EB, sent me a video with a recipe for cherry clafoutis. What a coincidence since she didn’t know about the new do-dad nor did she know that I still had quite a few cherries waiting to be pitted and baked into something delicious.

Son #1 loves cherry pie and often has that instead of a birthday cake, thanks to his Grandma E.  He is a Thanksgiving baby and she bakes one just for him.  And he obliges by eating the whole pie himself.  I gave him a slice of the clafoutis and he gave it his blessing. A good day for baking and motherhood.

I didn’t entirely follow this recipe for the scones.  (Hers are way prettier!)  I added the almond extract to the batter because I didn’t plan to glaze them- trying to cut down on the sweetness.  I added the almond extract to the dough when I added the buttermilk.  I patted the dough out and cut them with a biscuit cutter instead of the mounds.  I plan to make them again today to use up the pint of blueberries in my refrigerator.  I will follow the recipe more closely this time and swap out the almond extract for lemon extract and lemon peel.  Watch the baking times.  Mine got too done on the bottom before I moved the pans.  I always set a timer, but I should have shortened the time.  Neither Lyn nor the Ex-Ex complained, but I wasn’t entirely happy.

Cherry Almond Scones

from table for two (adapted from Food and Wine); makes approximately 16

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur is my favorite- I want to work for this company!)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1-1/4 cups buttermilk, plus more for brushing
  • 1 cup halved, pitted cherries
  • 1 tablespoons sparking sugar

For the glaze:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup sliced almonds (toasting them in a pan brings out the flavor)

  • Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into the flour using two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture looks like coarse meal.  Work quickly, though, so that the butter doesn’t melt.  Stir in the buttermilk, then gently fold in the cherries.
  • With an ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets.  Brush the tops with buttermilk, then sprinkle sparkling sugar on top.
  • Bake the scones in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back and top to bottom half way through the baking.
  • Let scones cool for 10 minutes on the pan before removing to wire racks for complete cooling.
  • While the scones cool, whisk together sugar, milk, and almond extract until you get a thick enough glaze but still thin enough to drizzle.
  • Using a fork, dip into the glaze and then gently, in a zig zag motion, drizzle over each cooled scone, then top with almonds.  (Put a piece of parchment paper under your cooling rack for easier clean up.)
  • Let dry for 10 minutes before serving.  Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


Cherry Clafoutis or Cherry Pie, French Style

ScrumDiddlyUmptiouscheck it out, there is even one of those quick videos (they give a great preview to whether or not I really want to make something)

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 21 ounces cherries, pitted and halved (or you can leave them whole if you wish)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Generously butter a quiche pan (or any round baking dish).  Sprinkle a tablespoon of the sugar into the buttered dish and carefully shake it so that the sugar is evenly distributed, even on the edges.
  3. Place the cherries in the dish.
  4. In a bowl, add the eggs, remaining sugar and salt; mix well.
  5. Add flour, vanilla and almond extracts, melted butter, and milk to the egg mixture.  Beat until smooth.
  6. Pour the mixture evenly over the cherries and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown. (I sprinkled sliced almonds on the top before baking.)
  7. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, before serving.

Mlle de Tavel, moi (when I was La Blonde) and La Brune in 2012 chez Olivier et Muriel Allemand– Vous me manquez, mes amies!


EB, Son #1, and Buddha the Wonder Dog


Bon appétit and Happy Baking to all!






Gratitude Project

This is an earlier post that I am moving over from my original blog.  It is one of my most meaningful experiences and I like to look back on it often.  It keeps me grateful and less likely to get wrapped up dramas or concerns that I cannot control.

Can you teach someone else to be grateful?  Do you just live it by example?  Why is it so difficult to just accept what we have and live each day with a grateful heart and mind?  Is it true that if you practice gratefulness daily that it will become a habit?  Research has shown that it takes 21 days to form a habit.  That is just three short weeks.  504 hours, part of which is spent sleeping.  30,240 seconds.  1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi 3 Mississippi.  While googling the topic, I found an interesting article on Psychology Today about happiness.  10 Ways to Make Yourself Happier in 30 Seconds or Less.  It’s worth a read.  Gratitude is in there.

Tracy Wilson, a woman I know here in Durham has also started a daily gratitude journal.  I have subscribed to her updates and enjoy reading them now each morning, along with Sean Dietrich‘s Facebook posts. (If you are not a FB user, I’ve linked his website.)  It is how I choose to begin my day.

Now, back to my original Gratitude Project post.

Abby is a very wise young lady.  I continue to be amazed by her.  And I am so grateful that we bonded last school year.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mrs E:

What happens when a student and a teacher make a lasting impact on each other?  I realize that I have only known Abby for two years, but somehow it seems much longer.  There are a lot of things I could say about Abby, but this video will tell you part of our story.  See for yourself what an amazing young woman she is.
Many thanks to SoulPancake and their video on The Science of Happiness.  We used a short excerpt from the video.  If you wish to watch it in its entirety and find out more about their project, click on the link.
Many thanks also to the amazing Mr. Fitz who shared the video with us and inspired us to do our presentation in front of the whole middle school!
And finally, I would like to thank the incredible Abby who makes me want to be a better teacher and person every single day.  I refuse to think about next school year without you and your classmates.
We’ll always have Paris, Abby… and the Plaza Athénée and Dr. Lantieri –what great adventures! I hope that we will have many more!


If you watched the video, I hope you understand the reason why showing appreciation is so important. You never know how far a simple thank you, phone call, email, or just a smile could go. And you don’t have an infinite amount of time with the people you love either. For me, showing my gratitude, as simply as sending a letter, led me to having one of the best relationships of my life. I’ve realized that life is short, and there is so little time to stay the things you mean to the people you love, so say them while you can.

Abby’s Queso Dip

1 lb or 16 oz of Velveeta, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 lb ground sausage
1 can of Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, undrained

1. Cook the ground sausage in a saucepan until browned, strain all the grease out and put the sausage back into the saucepan.
2. Add the Rotel and Velveeta, cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the Velveeta is completely melted, stirring frequently.
3. Serve warm with tortilla chips, I recommend Tostitos Scoops because you can scoop up a ton of queso with those things, they’re also good for making these really good mini nachos by the way.

Bon appétit, y’all.  I hope that you have someone in your life to be grateful for each and every day. Tell them.  Start your own Gratitude Project.  You will be amazed at the results.

The Sabbatical Chef’s New Look


I am trying to learn how to use WordPress, the new platform for my blog.  I am actually beginning an on-line course that they offer– for free.  I love those magic words. Starting with the basics this time instead of jumping in with both feet, the way I usually do!  I want to move posts over from my old blog, started in 2008 before my sabbatical journey to France.  I am emotionally attached to that blog.  I started it with the help of an 8th grade student as a way to chronicle the six month stay in Arles.  It is just a bit messy and I wanted a fresh look so I decided to go with WordPress.  Now, I need to learn the nuts and bolts.  The nitty gritty.  How to tag.  Categories.  Stats.  And way more, I am sure.  Am I serious about this writing thing or not?  How do I get myself on a schedule?  How do I carve out time to get my feelings, thoughts, ideas, celebrations, tears, photos and recipes on (virtual) paper?  All good questions that I ask myself several times a day.  The Sabbatical Chef should not make me feel guilty for neglecting her, but boy oh boy, does she ever.  She sits on my shoulder and sometimes smacks me upside the head with an idea.

Wish me luck.  I am going to need it.  I always tackle a new project about three weeks before school starts when I have a dozen other things that really need to be done… I have no idea what that says about me.  And I don’t intend to spend much time figuring it out right at the minute.  I have stuff to learn. And bathrooms to clean.  Closets to organize.  A new novel, The Nightingale, to read.

Bon appétit to all old dogs who attempt to learn new tricks!  Happy Wednesday!

P.S. I am just teasing you with the picture of the cherry scone.  That’s for my next post.  Stay tuned.  Recipe will be included!



I do not try to hide my age.  As a matter of fact, I make my new 7th graders practice their math skills in French during the first week of school by figuring out my age.  First, though, I ask them to guess how old I am.  A humbling experience, trust me.  Soixante-quinze??  Vraiment?  75?  There are always a couple of savvy young men (who have been taught well by their mères or grand-mères.  They guess vingt-cinq.  25.  That makes me laugh as I say Merci beaucoup, monsieur and move on. Then I make the little darlings figure out what year it will be when they are my age.  Something they cannot possibly comprehend, of course. They cannot even imagine their high school graduation yet.

So, last Wednesday was my 58th birthday.  I try to cram in as many celebrations as possible in order to make it last as long as possible.  The BFF and Arles Lucy kicked off big day by taking me to dinner on Birthday Eve at an Italian restaurant in town named Gocciolina.  I cannot for the life of me pronounce the name, but that did not stop me from enjoying every bite.  We toasted with glasses of Lambrusco while we waited.  Our server turned out to be one of my former students which made it even more enjoyable.  What a sweetheart.  And excellent server.  She brought me a delicious birthday gift– aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese drizzled with Modena Balsamic Vinegar.  I think I shared some with the BFF and Arles Lucy, but I wouldn’t swear to it.


Merci, Madeleine!

We shared olives.  Eating these always reminds of l’heure de l’apéro (washed down with a glass or two of rosé) with my friends in Provence.  And shopping for them at the marché with La Brune.


For my entrée, I chose hand cut noodles with pork ragu and more Parmigiano Reggiano.


The BFF shared her roasted Brussel sprouts.  She’s nice like that.


As a child, I hated those things.  But now?  Roast them and it’s magic.

My pre-birthday dessert?  Chocolate chip gelato.


And that sweet BFF of mine let me have a bite of her panna cotta with figs.


The celebrating didn’t end there.  Son #2 called me on his way to work the next morning. Then breakfast  with Mr. P and Pretend Daughter #2.  Pain au chocolat and a croissant at The French Corner Bakery.  With the added bonus of speaking French with a bonafide Frenchie, Chef Benjamin.


I skipped lunch because Mme Gould invited me to Afternoon Tea at the Washington Duke Inn.  I had never been to Tea, with a capital T.  Nope, never eaten a cucumber sandwich or sampled clotted cream… until now.

Beautiful and delicious.

The evening’s entertainment and my gift from the Ex-Ex was tickets to see the Durham Bulls play the Toledo Mud Hens at the DBAP.  I am a huge fan of baseball and of our AAA team affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays.  They won and I have to admit to now having a crush on the short stop, Taylor Motter.  (The picture of him is from the game two nights later- he hit a homerun and the Bulls won against the Louisville Bats.)  Having pizza beforehand with Son #1 was an added bonus.

Since I was doing so much eating and no cooking, I have no recipe to share with this post. I did do a little research on clotted cream, though, because I was not at all sure what it is. (Making it involves heavy whipping cream and cooking it in the oven for 12 hours.)

I hope that I have made you hungry and that you look forward to your own birthday and to celebrating another trip around the sun with your friends and loved ones.  I am a very lucky girl.  I am surrounded by people who love me and who love to eat and have fun with me.  What more can a girl ask for?  PD#2 gave me a Gratitude Journal.  We’ve promised each other to keep our Gratitude Project  going even though I will stay in middle school and she will move on to high school.

Son #1 and I sang Jimmy Buffet and Martina McBride’s song, Trip Around The Sun, when he was a senior in high school for his final exam concert.  I was thrilled that he asked me to do this with him.  A special moment with my boy.  I hope to have many more trips around the sun.

Bon appétit, mes amis.  Stay grateful and celebrate!

A Life Well-Lived

dave g

Saying good-bye in any language has always been very difficult for me.  Au revoir, ciao, adieu, arrivederci, salut, see you later, see you soon.  They all mean the same thing.  I hope that I will see you again.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Yesterday, we said good-bye to Dave Gould in a packed school auditorium.  A room packed with childhood friends, college chums, mates, colleagues, former students, and family members.  I volunteered to organize this celebration of his life because his wife asked me to and because that is my best way of dealing with grief.  Get busy and put off thinking about the hole that will be left behind when I no longer see this person again or get random emails from him.  At least not until I reach the other side.  Dave will be in my heaven.  It wouldn’t be complete without him.  If I didn’t invite him in, he would crash the party anyway!  Using a press pass.  Or sweet-talking his way in.

I put together a slideshow using photos supplied by his wife and daughters, friends, our communications staff at school and various photos I have sitting in the cloud known as Google Photo and Photo Library.  The one above is my favorite, I think.  This is how I will choose to remember my friend of 35 years.  The ultimate prankster, a man who made you think (or THIMK, according to his students), and who loved life and gave it his all.  Perfect? Lord, no.  No more than any of us are.  I heard his wife say more than once “Damn it, David.”  At one point, she was so fed up with him for not eating that I came over to give him cooking lessons.  I think that it was a ruse on his part just to get me over and to be able to tease me, but making macaroni and cheese with him and chasing her out of the kitchen with a book and glass of wine in hand may have saved her sanity just a bit.  I hope so.

I got to say good-bye to him 10 days before he died.  I didn’t know it was our final good-bye.  Rarely do you know it at the time.  But I am so grateful that I had that chance.  I had the chance to hug him, kiss him, and say “Gould, I love you, but you are still full of shit.” That always made him laugh.  It was high praise.  And the truth.

Our final email exchange went like this:

6/24 12:16 pm

ok, ms. e, I’ll treat you to a free lunch if you can tell me who mark sackling was – a hint:  obviously he has to do with DA and you would have known him.

6/24 1:00 pm
Okay, sweetie, that name is ringing not a single bell. But give me a couple of hours(days? Months? Years?) to think! Can we have lunch anyway?? Please?
6/25 1:16 pm
oh we can certainly have lunch, but it’s always more fun if you have to work for it!  You probably are a lot closer to this boy/guy/man than you think you are. Keep thinking!  Tweak that memory of yours!
6/25 8:12 am
Mark Sackling?? I will continue to rack my brain…
6/25 8:28 am
ok, ok, first hint.  he was not a student of yours but he was at DA
Break in emailing– I ran into DG and his wife in downtown Durham at an outdoor concert at American Tobacco.  Balsam Range, my favorite bluegrass band, was playing.  This is where the aforementioned hugs and kisses took place.
7/1 1:01 pm

good seeing you last nite at ATP – can see why you love the Balsam group so much .. . great music.

But back to your search for Mark Sackling:
next clue:  Mark was a colleague of yours for a while tho you saw him more on the Upper School Campus than the Middle School campus.  I know you know him b/c there were several occasions in front of the Fine Arts bldg when  I happened to bump into you guys having a conversation there.  Seemed like a quite likable man; reminded me of a chip off the old block of guys like Timmy and Dick F.
Still having fun??!
7/2 7:28 pm
Ok, M. Gould, I am assuming that you played the part of Mark Sackling. I do not even remember the name of my character. Sing played Quartermaine. That’s the best I can come up with.   Did I earn my lunch??
A confession (to you, I did not get a chance to confess to DG)–  Since I figured I had no chance in hell of figuring out his riddle, I cheated and consulted the all-knowing Google. All I had to do was look at the first hit and it came to me.
7/2 8:18 pm

Not bad, not bad, and in fact pretty impressive, but not quite there yet.  Shouldn’t have given you all those clues in last email – age has made you wiser and savvier!  You are right – I was Mark Sackling, Sing was Quartermaine, and you were _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _ _

And you don’t need any more clues about your character’s name b/c they, too, were in the last email . . .
(and damn, I should’ve made the last clue I sent a bit more obtuse so you’d really have to search a bit harder.)
(and if I can remember all this in my march towards forgetfulness, with all the years I’m giving you, you should have no problems . . .)
That is when I should have confessed.  Wiser and savvier!  Ha!  Not a chance.  That was our last email exchange.  I didn’t respond.  I left for Sunset Beach for a week and never answered.  We returned from the beach July 9 and on July 10 I got a call from Dave’s wife that he had passed away in his sleep that morning.
And just to prove that he could get the last word in, a couple of days later, I was looking for something in my nightstand and what should I find underneath a book, but very near the top–
I hadn’t thought about the play in years until Mark Sackling popped up.  We put this on at school in the 80’s.  And I didn’t think that I still had the playbook.  Coincidence?  Hmmm… not so sure.
the crew
france12 best
We had some fun over the past 35 years.  Dinners, parties, hiding beer cans, playing games, sand tennis, Sunset Beach, The Fruit Olympics, France, listening to your awful French.
You had a crush on Princess Diana?  How could I not have known that Gould fact??  I really would have teased you about that.  Or maybe not.  Somehow that just makes you more adorable in my eyes.
Thank you for being my friend, Dave Gould.  I love you!
One more thing before you go back to whatever mischief you are up to in your heaven.
Anita Manchip.  I played Anita.  I look forward to collecting on that free lunch one of these days!
Dave’s favorite movie was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  His daughters chose to show a clip of it at the celebration.
His favorite poem was The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service.  I found this version, read by Johnny Cash.
Dave’s Mac and Cheese

I am renaming my favorite recipe in honor of my friend.  If you are looking for low-calorie, forget it.  But if you are looking for comfort, get out the pot and pan.

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack)
16-oz. macaroni
Salt, pepper (black or white), ground mustard or Texas Pete sauce can be added.  Or a combination of all.  Today, I decided to add bacon that had been cooked to crispy and then drained on paper towels.

Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water until it is al dente (for small elbows, about 9 minutes).
Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Melt butter in large pan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and combine well.  Cook for about a minute to remove the flour taste.  Gradually add milk and continue to whisk.  Cook until the mixture thickens into a creamy roux.  Add seasonings and whisk well.  Remove from heat.
Add 2-1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted and combined.
Put macaroni into a buttered baking pan.  (I cooked the bacon in the cast iron pan and left some of the drippings in for flavor, so I didn’t need to butter the pan.)  Pour cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir well.  (I added the crumbled bacon at this point, reserving some for the top.)
Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. (My grandmother always topped hers with bread crumbs or crushed crackers.)
Bake in pre-heated 350˚F oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.

Bon appétit to all my friends.  I love each and every one of you.  At the end, may we all be able to say that we led a life well-lived.  You may be gone from us physically, Dave Gould, but you will never be forgotten.
DG beach

Making new memories

This has been a summer of memories for me.  My high school class held a long overdue reunion in June.  We didn’t track everyone down, but we tried.  The 35 or so of us who attended had a great time.  At one point, I just sat back and watched everyone hugging, talking, laughing, and sharing 40+ year old memories.

Harris High School Class of 1976


I don’t have the “official” photo yet, but the Ex-Ex took this one.  (Sorry for chopping you in two, Bobby!)  What a crew.  What fun.  What great new memories we made at Blind Squirrel Lodge and Brewery in Plumtree, NC.  Thank you, Edie and Will, for the great food, beer, cider, accommodations, and ambiance.  I now want to get together with this group every year and I will still keep searching for classmates.  We’ve already lost 11 of our classmates, one just a couple of weeks ago.  Life is short, mes amis.

I had the chance to talk to Middle School Boyfriend (I have blogged about him before although he doesn’t know it– at least not as I write this.  Should I let him in on the secret?).  I told the Ex-Ex that I had to have a photo to show the middle school girlies next year.  I have not always been so old, you know, kiddos.


I went zip-lining with some friends.  Yes, I did.


And I got a chance to really catch up with my across-the-creek neighbor and freshman year in college roommate.


The two friends I spent the most time with in high school attended.  We did a lot of things together way back when and even took driver’s ed class together– and survived!

reunion laughing

That’s us in the middle of the front row- BH, FB and TB, me, in the flowered skirt.  I love this photo because so many people are smiling and laughing.

The Ex-Ex also had his class reunion.  I had only met a couple of his classmates before, but I already felt as if I knew several of them from the stories that have been told over the years.  He went to high school near the coast, I am from the mountains.  We met in Durham, in the middle.

Here’s his crew.  The three ladies in the middle are the teachers who attended.

Aurora High School Class of 1976


And these characters?  Even the 90 year old Mrs. Long (in blue above) remembered their names.  I told them I cannot imagine having them in class in 7th grade.


William, in the hat, has the same last name as me.  We decided we are long lost cousins.  We’re people.

The Ex-Ex got props for vividly remembering the sordid details of losing a play-off football game in 1974 based on yardage since the score was tied.  Back in the day, they hadn’t come up with a different way to break a tie, I guess.

Some of his teammates-


I had fun just sitting back and watching there, too.  Watching and listening to the laughter.

We are lucky that we have these memories and these friends.  Sometimes it just doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen someone in 20, 30 or even 40 years.  You still know each other. Personalities do not change.  Hair color and waistlines, yes, but who cares?  Those are minor details in the scheme of things.

I hope to make more memories with these old and new friends.

Edie, at Blind Squirrel, is an excellent baker and possibly the nicest human being on the planet.  She was always smiling, even at almost midnight as a few of us were still sipping beer and swapping stories.


Will, her husband, cooked amazing breakfasts for us during our stay.  The buffet dinner for our reunion meal was outstanding.  The Po’boy Trout Sandwich that I had for lunch after zip-lining was excellent.  I asked Edie for a recipe and she said she gets the most requests for her Vinegar Pie.  It is a recipe passed down from her grandmother.  My own beloved Grandma Bell was a first class pie lover. Whenever we took her out to lunch in downtown Spruce Pine, her first question walking in the door was “Do you have pie today?”  If there was no pie on the menu, lunch was a disappointment from the get-go.  She was a pie connoisseur. To the best of my knowledge, though, I have never had vinegar pie.  I needed to know a little bit more because, to tell the truth, vinegar pie sounded a bit strange.  And this is from a girl whose mama was raised on a farm with a very frugal Granny who could make anything from scratch and memory. Seems that vinegar pie is about as old as our country and falls into the category of “desperation pies.”  Make do or do without.  The pioneer spirit. Lemons would have been the preferred fruit for this pie, but those were not readily available in the 1800’s to folks out on the prairie, up in the mountains, or out on the farm, needless to say. Apple cider vinegar was, however, so it was used to give the pie acidity and to fool the tastebuds.  I found several variations on Edie’s grandma’s recipe, some with maple flavoring, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon extract, or brown sugar.  Most add about 2-3 tablespoons of flour and boil to make a custard before filling the shell and baking.  Some use quite a bit less sugar. Even Martha Stewart is in on the action.  This version is very sweet.  Grandma Bell would have approved.

slice2 of vpie

Edie’s Vinegar Pie

makes two 9-inch pies

Your favorite pie crust recipe (or store bought if you wish)- Edie uses Never Fail Amish Crust recipe (recipe follows)

4-1/2 cups white sugar

10 whole eggs

1 stick butter, melted

6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 325˚F.
  2. Lightly spray the bottom of two 9-inch pie plates with non-stick spray and lay out your crusts; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients; mix until well-blended.
  4. Pour into prepared crusts and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until crust has formed and is lightly golden.
  5. Cool completely and chill before serving.

Amish Never Fail Pie Crust

makes two 9-inch crusts

4 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1-1/2 Crisco

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 cup water

  1. Blend flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Cut in Crisco to pea-sized pieces.
  3. Mix together egg, water, and vinegar.  Add to flour.  Mix until moistened and a soft dough forms.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.

This dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and will be easy to roll.

inside pie

Blind Squirrel is located on the banks of the North Toe River in Avery County, North Carolina, in a little bend in the road. Very spotty cell phone service and internet, fishermen standing out in the river at any given time, hummingbirds checking out the feeders and butterflies flitting around all of the flowers.  There are five rooms in the Lodge and cabins and camping sites about a mile away where the zip-lining happens.  Winter People, a movie starring Kelly McGillis and Kurt Russell, based on a novel by John Ehle, was filmed next door to Blind Squirrel and released in 1989.

Bon appétit, friends.  Here’s to making more memories! Merci, Edie.  I look forward to my next visit.  Maybe I can come help you bake next summer.  As I have said many times, I can even clean toilets in French, too, and have B&B experience!

Sean Dietrich aka Sean of the South


photo credit:  Amazon

I love this man.  I am not sure the Ex-Ex knows, but he will soon enough.  If he liked for me to read to him first thing in the morning, he most assuredly would know him.  But while I am reading Sean’s daily Facebook post, the Ex-Ex is still blessedly asleep.  I am the early riser in the family.  Oh, Callie the Cat gets up, meows a few times and the next thing I know she is curled up on his feet sound asleep and doesn’t even bother to look up when I tiptoe into the bedroom searching for something like my Kindle or my glasses.

So, back to the Bearded Man of the Hour.  He is Southern through and through.  But you do not have to be a Southerner to love him.  Just ask Ms. Arizona aka Tammy.  I have never met him, yet I feel as if I have known him forever or at least my whole entire life, whichever is longer.  Some of my Frenchie friends are now reading his FB posts and that just plain makes me happy.  Everyone should start the day with a healthy dose of his prose.  I have blogged about him before and I am pretty sure I will again.  Today’s reason? He is giving away, yes, that’s right, giving away five of his books on Kindle today.  He did this once before and I downloaded them all.  I confess to feeling ever so guilty about that. Sean deserves to get paid for his writing.  Therefore, today I bought a sixth one, The Other Side of the Bay.

Sean reminds us that we are all human, capable of lending a helping hand to those in need, whether we know them or not.  Even better if we don’t know them.  He is a keen observer of people.  I imagine him to be like the old (they probably weren’t as old as I am now, though) mountain men I visited when I was little.  Relatives that we would just drop in on because Mama Mildred said we did not need to call ahead.  Chances are good they didn’t have phones anyway.  These men were overall-wearing, front porch sitters.  Didn’t always say much.  Some couldn’t get a word in edge-wise considering the apron-wearing women presiding over the stove. But when they did, you listened.  Well, unless you had already run off to play in the creek…  I don’t think that any of those men from my past are still alive.  Such a shame.  However, Sean has stepped up to the plate.  He is old for his age. Which means he is wise beyond his years.  And he shares that hard fought wisdom with us, his loyal readers.  I cry and/or laugh when reading his stories.

I’ve also become pen pals with his wife, Jamie.  She is a chef-turned-teacher.  I have managed to talk her out of two of her recipes.  I won’t ask for more, just hope that she will toss one out once in a while.  I plan to make her Pimiento Cheese recipe this week to take to the beach with Sister Moo.  Sean carried on and on about her pound cake in one of his posts so I was brave and asked for the recipe.  I keep making it and messing around with the flavorings.  Hers is the best.  (But switching it up and using Ms. Arizona’s gift of Praline Pecan liqueur gives me an excuse to have a little sample while mixing it all up.)

So, download some of his books and read on.  Lyla is probably my favorite.  Whenever I read the stories of people he has met, I imagine climbing into the passenger side of his old pick-up truck and going along for the ride.  Food is almost always involved, too, which makes it even better.

I do not advertise for Amazon, nor do I receive anything for my links.  I just happen to own a Kindle, given to me for Christmas a few years back by Son #1.  (Technically, he gave it to the Ex-Ex and me, but let’s just say the Ex-Ex has yet to read anything on it.)

Bon appétit et bonne lecture!  Read on!



market fish w shrimp

Walking on the beach gives one a lot of time to think, contemplate, reminisce, philosophize, etc.  We had Son #2 with us for a couple of days here at Sunset Beach.  He has an internship at a Charlotte real estate law firm this summer, but he was able to take a couple of days off due to the July 4th holiday.  Son #1 couldn’t make it at all due to his job. So, the family vacation is a bit different this year.  But it gets the Ex-Ex out of the office and relaxed and I am very happy listening to the sound of the waves, getting a little sunburned around the edges, and taking long walks on the beach.  Oh, and eating shrimp. On any given day if you ask me what I would like to have for my final meal on this Earth, I would give you a different answer.  Today?  Shrimp.  And a crisp, dry, chilled white wine. Picpoul de Pinet perhaps?  Something from the south of France, my preferred wine region.

While strolling along the beach with Son #2, we started talking about me.  He wanted to know how I worked up the courage to go to France for the very first time.  Looking back, I am not really sure, truth be told.  I had just turned 20, had saved every penny I made from my summer job at Eseeola Lodge in Linville, NC, had been admitted to the University of Dijon, France, got a passport, bought a cheap seat on a charter flight, taking me from Johnson City, Tennessee to New York, where I met up with my college roommate and traveling companion, and caught a flight to Paris-Orly.  Did I mention this was the first time I had set foot on an airplane?  Oui, it was.  I had never been far from the mountains of North Carolina.  We spent a week in Paris roaming around.  I was prepared for the size of the Eiffel Tower but not for the grandeur of the Arc de Triomphe.  We got lost and wandered past this huge box of a building that looked unfinished with multi-colored pipes.  Oh, the new Centre Pompidou.  Mme Buchanan didn’t tell me about this one.  But she hadn’t seen it.  It had just opened.  We went to Sète for some beach time, up to Dijon only to find out that there were no more families who needed American au pairs, no chance for room and board in exchange for living quarters, so we ended up near Cannes, my friend with one family, me with another.  (I got the best end of that deal.)   We took classes at an international school, became the best of friends, swapping life stories (I learned to never judge a book by its cover after hearing hers), and had a few adventures over the course of the next several months.

Anyway, revenons à nos moutons, let’s get back to our sheep, as the French say.  I said something about how lucky I have been in my life and Son #2 said he isn’t sure that luck has much to do with it.  We make our own luck, he says.  He’s a quiet young man and a darned smart one, in my humble opinion as his mother.  I still can feel overwhelming guilt about the divorce from the Ex-Ex and what might appear as abandoning my boys. However, when I pull back from the guilt, I realize that those four years made me into who I am today.  A stronger, wiser, more grateful woman with many friends and experiences that shaped me in ways that cannot be put into words.  Did luck have anything to do with that?  Or was I selfish and only looking out for me?  Son #2 doesn’t think so.  I will go with that for today.

Back to shrimp.  I am not sure when I ate my first one.  Growing up in Spruce Pine, I remember eating frozen, breaded ones.  I do remember fresh ones eaten in a restaurant somewhere along the way on my family’s only vacation, a trip to Punta Gorda, Florida, to spend two weeks in my Papa Bell’s house there.  Sister #1 ate the tails and we laughed at her.  I am not sure she has eaten shrimp since then.  My best shrimp memories are from my months in Arles, France and here at Sunset Beach.  I photograph them at the markets in France, as you can see from the first photo.  I feel like that fish, mouth open, ready to gobble up the little unsuspecting crustaceans.  A few more photos from my past shrimp experiences–


Ok, so technically is a gamba a shrimp?  It’s a large prawn.  According to Cook’s Illustrated, my favorite cooking magazine, there is a difference in gill structure, in case you care.  I don’t.  We grilled those babies in Arles, heads and all.  Chef Érick loved to fry up shrimp heads as an appetizer.  Yum.  I also found this saying on a website while googling, makes no sense to me, but make of it what you will…  (If one of my Frenchies can explain this to me, I will be very grateful.)

You’re a jumbo shrimp and one day some corn goes floating by.

Tu es une gamba et un jour, tu vois flotter du maïs.


risotto in italy

Seafood risotto eaten in Italy with the BFF and Mo in 2008.  Big sigh…

shrimp and truffles

Shrimp and truffles, served by Madame, René’s wife, prior to my truffle-hunting adventure in 2008.

shrimp and oysters

shrimp with Fanny

Shrimp, oysters and Picpoul de Pinet shared with Fanny, Betty and Chef Érick at Les Halles in Avignon.  If you go to this food mecca, there is a little corner seafood seller- you can buy to take home or eat sur place, if you wish.  This was our little pre-lunch snack.  Hors-d’oeuvres, I suppose.

shrimp seafood tian

A pan of deliciousness whipped up in Arles for me on my birthday.  Mussels, shrimps, risotto.

But even with all of that, I must say that my favorite is preparing Shrimp and Grits at Sunset with my boys all around.  Sometimes I put them to work, sometimes they just sip their cold beer and watch, most times it’s a combination of the two.  I usually change the recipe around to suit myself, simplifying it each year.  This year, the Ex-Ex was put to work peeling the shrimp (he asked what he could do to help…)

steve shrimp

peeled shrimp

Son #2 was in charge of the grits and frying the bacon.

Et voilà.  The 2016 version of Sunset Shrimp and Grits.

2016 shrimp and grits

This is our favorite Sunset Beach dish. We get our shrimp at Bill’s Seafood.

All of this cooks up fairly quickly, so be sure to measure out and have everything ready before you start.  Serves 4.

For the grits:

1 c. grits (use whatever kind you want- instant or stone ground- I found Palmetto Farms Stone Ground ones and they are really good)

4 Tbsp. butter

1 c. shredded cheddar cheese (or you can mix in Gouda if you like the taste)

1-1/2 tsp. Paprika

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

½ tsp. white pepper

Salt, to taste

(Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste, start small, though and then add, if you wish)

A dash or two of hot sauce- Texas Pete or whatever brand you like, optional

All the spices are optional, however; salt and freshly ground pepper are good alone

Cook the grits according to the package directions. Pay attention not to burn them. I had to add more water to mine about 15 minutes into the cooking time. When they are 5 minutes from being ready, whisk in the butter and seasonings. Stir in the cheese until melted. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if desired. Cover the pot and keep warm.

For the shrimp:

2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined (I count on ½ lb. per person- I like medium-sized ones but it doesn’t matter)

8 slices of bacon, fried crisp, drained on paper towels (more if the people around you insist upon eating the bacon before you are ready to serve the dish!)

2 shallots, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Butter, olive oil, some of the bacon grease—the equivalent of about 4 Tbsp. of one or a combination of all- I use the same pan that I cook the bacon in, draining out most of the grease but leaving the pan drippings

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place butter/oil in pan and bring to medium high heat. Sauté the shallots until translucent. Add the shrimp and stir, cook, continuing to stir and turning the shrimp over individually until all the shrimp turn pink. Do not overcook, though, this will make the shrimp tough. Just before you think the shrimp are done, add the minced garlic and stir. You do not want the garlic to burn.

Some people add chopped Roma tomatoes to the shrimp at this point. My guys are not fans of that so I leave them out. Sometimes I add andouille sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces, to the mix, after sautéeing them or asking someone to grill them for me. You can use Parmesan cheese, if you wish.  This is not a fancy dish or one that is difficult to prepare.  Make it your own according to what your eaters like!

Bon appétit et bonnes vacances wherever you are!  I am grateful for all who have helped make me who I am today.  Luck?  I still consider myself a very lucky girl.

Summer Lunch Project


I love to go out for lunch.  I spend mid-August through early June eating lunch five days a week with my group of 10-12 seventh graders, my advisees.  In my classroom.  For 20 minutes.  Seems barbaric in so many ways.  When I tried to explain this to a group of French friends during my first summer in Arles in 2007, they were appalled.  That did not improve what they think of Americans as eaters.  At my school, we do not have a cafeteria and, truthfully, I am grateful for that.  We all bring our lunch and eat in our classrooms. I have a small refrigerator and a microwave so that we can keep things cold and warm up leftovers.  Once a month we are more civilized, however, because parents volunteer to bring in hot lunch for us.  We live for this.  Sometimes it is from a local restaurant or fastfood joint, but often it is homemade.  This past year, we enjoyed homemade soups and bread, pasta with homemade sauce, and lemon-chicken with rice. I know that not everyone likes to cook nor do they have time to prepare lunch for us, but I sure look forward to “real” food.  So do the kiddies.

Our final treat of the year, while not a complete lunch, is pictured above.  One of the moms is a master bread baker and she brought in two loaves of her bread, real butter, cheeses, jams, and desserts for us.  She is Finnish and an excellent cook.  She treated us to soup earlier in the year, with her bread.

Once school ended this summer, I posted on Facebook that I would be beginning my Summer Lunch Project and that I would love company.  Several of my friends have taken me up on it and the fun is well under way.  To date–

Blind Squirrel Brewery and Lodge, Plumtree, NC (with the Ex-Ex)


IMG_3803 (1)

I ate the Trout Po’Boy sandwich and sipped a glass of their cider (made with apples from The Orchard at Altapass in my hometown of Spruce Pine).  I didn’t take a photo.  Guess I was too hungry to even think of that detail after zip-lining.  Beer-battered North Carolina trout, house-made remoulade sauce.  I heard that their pizzas are really good, too.  Next time.  We held the Harris High School Class of 1976 40th reunion there.  Dinner was really, seriously good.  I sampled everything on the buffet.  I felt it was my duty.  Thank you, Edie and Will!


Pompieri Pizza, Durham, NC (first with Miss Hulka, then with Arles Lucy and Arles Betty)

I’ve actually had lunch here twice.  Just cannot help myself.  The BFF works there and it is my mission to introduce everyone I know to the Zeppino sandwich which is served from 11:12am-3:00pm.  Pompieri’s pizza dough fashioned into bread for the sandwich, baked, and then filled with deliciousness.


This is The Classic.  House-made mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, fresh basil leaves, salad greens, vinegar and lemon olive oil.  I also had a bowl of tomato and basil soup served with fresh focaccia bread.


I chose The Mighty Melanzana for my second lunch at Pompieri.

IMG_4013 Lovely, isn’t it?  Pan-seared eggplant, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, roasted peppers, salad greens, vinegar and basil olive oil.  Before living in Provence and working with Chef Érick, I really didn’t eat eggplant.  I learned to love it and prepare it in many different ways.

For dessert, the BFF offered up a flight of gelato.  Perfect ending.


Dulce Cafe, Durham, NC (by myself)

Son #2 has talked about Dulce for years.  Great coffee, Mom.  Great pastries, Mom.  Great food, Mom.  So, I was on that side of town running errands around lunch time and stopped in.  The pastries are beautiful- all sweetly lined up.  Gelato as well.  I chose a macaron for my treat.  But lunch first.  Although after seeing this sign in the ladies room, I almost devoured the macaron while waiting.  But I didn’t.


I chose the daily special- a chipotle chicken wrap with guacamole.  I love, love, love avocados.  The Ex-Ex is very allergic to them so I don’t have them around the house as often as I would like.




A lime macaron.

I plan to go back for coffee one day soon since I didn’t try it this time.

Bull Street Gourmet and Market, Durham, NC (with Ms. Judy)

We had plans to go to a restaurant in Carrboro but decided to stay in Durham.  Bull Street Gourmet is in a little strip shopping center best known for housing my zip code’s post office.  Locally owned, fresh ingredients.


I chose The Drunken — salad greens, prosciutto, pine nuts, drunken goat cheese, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  Really good light lunch. I’ve had coffee here before when dashing to the post office, but this was a first for lunch.

Sheetz, Greenville, NC (with the Ex-Ex)

The Ex-Ex and I went to his 40th high school class reunion in Aurora, NC and spent the night with The World’s Best In-Laws in Washington, NC.  We left his parents’ house to head home right around brunch time, shall we say.  Sheetz fascinates me, I must admit. I’ve stopped in for water and a quick snack in the past and we stopped at one in Pennsylvania once several years ago and ate hot dogs.  This time, I opted for a breakfast sandwich.  It’s ordered by touchscreen and custom made behind the counter.  I watched the guy assemble it.


Double bacon, caramelized onions, fried egg, gooey melted American cheese on toasted bread.  I ate every crumb.  The coffee was pretty good, too.  Real half and half and not in those annoying little cup things.  I always squirt the cream all over the place when opening them.  I offered the Ex-Ex a bite of my sandwich, but he had chosen a Banana Peanut Butter fritter so he declined.  Disappointing from my perspective.  No evidence of a real banana and no peanut butter oozing out.  I thought maybe he was trying to channel his inner Elvis by choosing this one.

It’s been a very tasty summer so far.  I have a couple more lunch dates on my calendar and hopefully more to come before mid-August rolls in.

Bon appétit to all of my lunch buddies, past, present and future!  Eat on!