Let them eat brioche?

I looked at today’s paper and saw that it was on this day in 1793 that Marie Antoinette lost her head.  Literally.  In front of a crowd of bloodthirsty Parisians who had gathered for the day’s festivities.  223 years ago.  My first thought was… I should blog about M.A.  Even go back to my orange brioche recipe that I worked on over and over when I first moved to Arles.  Well, fans, seems I have already done that.  Oui.  A few years ago.  So… I will just copy and paste it from the old blog.  But I might dust off that orange brioche recipe and give it another try.  It really is good.  Oh- and I still haven’t come up with the headless Halloween costume yet.  This year’s costume is already in the works and that’s not it. Maybe next year?  L’année prochaine peut-être?  On verra.

Bon appétit!  

From Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Marie Antoinette at age 13 by Martin van Meytens, 1767.
Well, boys and girls, tonight I was looking forward to a nice quiet evening of gubernatorial and presidential debates.  But what should I see when I get to the “Today in History” section of the local newspaper?  Today is the 219th anniversary of the death of Marie Antoinette.  She lost her head on October 16, 1793 in what is now the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Marie was just short of her 38th birthday.  Her body was tossed into an unmarked grave but exhumed in 1815 and taken to the Basilica of Saint Denis for a proper Christian burial.
I visited her gravesite last March.
She is also immortalized in stone in Saint Denis, alongside her husband, Louis XVI.
Funerary monument to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette,
sculptures by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot in the Basilica of St Denis
(I have developed quite a thing for statues lately.)
Some Marie Antoinette facts…
— She was the 15th child of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
— At her home court, she was encouraged to play with the “commoners” and was allowed to wander the gardens and have pets.  The atmosphere was much more relaxed than it was in France.  She tried to recreate this later at the Petit Trianon and her little farm, le petit Hameau, but she was not very successful.  It is a cool place to visit, though, and where I saw my first “wild” boar.  (If you find yourself at Versailles in nice weather, rent a bike and ride around the grounds– a great way to see everything without wearing yourself out and spending all of your time walking.)
— She didn’t take her education very seriously and had lousy handwriting.
Her signature:
However, she was a good singer and dancer, could speak Italian and French in addition to her native German, was fairly proficient in English, was a decent artist, and had great poise– a queen in training, wouldn’t you say?
— Maria Antonia, as she was called, had crooked teeth and the French didn’t care for that so before her marriage, she had to have very painful oral surgery to correct her smile and bring her up to queenly snuff.  No braces back in the day.
— After all the marriage negotiations, she was finally wed by proxy in Vienna.  Her brother stood in for the bridegroom who couldn’t make the trip, I guess.  She was handed over to the French at the age of 15 and headed for the palace of Versailles where another wedding ceremony took place.  The mystery surrounding the consummation of the marriage plagued the newlyweds for years.  A marriage of convenience?  Perhaps the future king of France had problems?
— Her mom was hyper-critical and her husband was not very affectionate.  She turned to shopping and gambling.  However, she did seem to get tired of fancy petticoats and lots of make-up and helped change fashion.
From this
To this
— She birthed four children, two sons and two daughters, but one daughter lived less than a year.
–“Let them eat cake.”  Did she really say this?  Supposedly, upon being told that the peasants had no bread to eat, she quipped that they could eat brioche, a sweeter bread than the usual baguette.
— There is a fascinating story about The Diamond Necklace Affair at this website.  I can’t possibly retell it and do it justice.  Just click and read on.  It was the undoing of Marie Antoinette.
As I attempted to write this post about Queen Marie Antoinette, I quickly realized that I had barely scratched the surface and that I am very ignorant about her.  I’ve seen the 2006 movie, Marie Antoinette, starring Kristin Dunst and didn’t care for it.  I just read a story about the attempted escape from Paris by the royal family in the book Parisians:  An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb.
I have this book in my bookcase but have not read it.
It has now been placed just under the Graham Robb book and is next on my list.
For the past four years (since spending Halloween in France and not dressing up), I have considered dressing up as her for Halloween.  I think that this is a sign that the time has come.  I have two weeks to get that costume pulled together.  Got any good suggestions?
Also while living in France, I decided to try to learn to make a decent brioche à l’orange.  The B&B guests were served quite a bit of it.  I discovered that it makes great French toast, too. I tried several different recipes and blogged about it here and here.
Brioche #1
1 tsp sugar (or honey)
2 packages yeast (or 5 tsp)
4 eggs
1/2 c. warm milk (110 F)
4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c + 2 Tbsp butter
1 egg yolk, beaten (for glaze)
orange flavoring (optional)
1 c. dried apricots (optional)- snip and add to dough during the second rising

Stir sugar into warm milk and sprinkle in yeast. Wait 5 minutes. Sift flour and salt together. Melt butter and cool slightly. Lightly beat butter and eggs into yeast mixture. Add orange flavoring. Add 2 cups flour and then slowly add more until a dough forms and you can knead in enough to make a smooth dough. Cover and let rise 60 minutes in a warm place. Grease small or large brioche pans. Take 3/4 of the dough and shape into balls. Use the remaining 1/4 to make small ones to place on top of the larger ones. Place in baking pans. Brush brioche with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Let rise another 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Brioche #2
My (Nearly) Perfect Orange Brioche Recipe
(found on the back of a package of yeast in France and slightly modified…)

1/4 lb (one stick) of softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs (at room temperature)
1/4 c. warm water
one package active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm milk
orange flavoring
2-3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
apricot or strawberry preserves

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
Mix the butter, eggs, sugar, warm milk and orange flavoring. I have sweet orange essential oil that I bought at Florame (www.florame.com) and I use 4-5 drops of it. I know that you can find orange flavoring at the supermarket.
Add the yeast mixture and mix.
Add the combined flour and salt. Add enough flour to have a dough that you can knead (not too sticky).
Turn onto a flour covered surface and knead for about 5 minutes or so.
Place in a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place to rise. My microwave is above the stove and is a great place. Allow to rise for 2 hours.
Turn onto a flour covered surface again and knead for another 5 minutes. Shape however you wish– into rolls, two small loaves or one large one. Place in pans.
Cover again and allow to rise for 2 more hours.
After the second rising, you can bake or you can put it in the refrigerator overnight and bake the next morning (allow the dough to come to room temperature before baking).
Brush with the egg yolk and bake at 400F for about 20-30 minutes. Baking time will depend upon the shape of your brioche. Rolls take a shorter time. Adjust the oven, if necessary, lowering the temperature a bit if it seems to be baking too fast or if your oven tends to be on the hot side.
After baking, while still warm, brush with preserves (you can warm them in the microwave so that they brush easily- I have also used orange juice at this point, when I didn’t have any preserves) and then sprinkle lightly with sugar. I have mixed orange essence in with the sugar before sprinkling to give it more orange flavor. As you can see, I have played around with this recipe. It is wonderful hot from the oven. It makes really good French toast when it is a couple of days old and a bit stale. It is also good sliced and toasted. It is not very sweet. French pastries and desserts are not as sweet as American ones.
Enjoy! And please let me know if you make it and something just doesn’t work or you make a modification that helps! It isn’t perfect yet! A work in progress!

Back to the present… Sunday, October 16, 2016
I have now looked through my Arles photos from 2007 and 2008 on my trusty MacBook and am feeling rather nostalgic.  Did I really do that?  Was that really me living another life en français in the south of France?  Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe it.  It was a rocky road that got me there.  Separation.  Divorce.  Leaving my friends and children behind.  But I have to believe that things happen for a reason.  I needed that time in France to find myself.  I was lost.  I didn’t feel needed here.  Just reliving those feelings brings tears to my eyes.  The guilt still builds up from time to time, but I find it easier to let it wash over me for a few seconds or minutes (instead of hours as it used to) and then let it go.  I have had some professional help with that, mes amis.  And I surrounded by people who support me and love me just the way I am.  That’s the crucial piece.  As my children have gotten older, I think they are better able to understand.  I hope so.  I still, and will always, consider myself a lucky woman.
How about a few happy photos?
The kitchen in Arles
The Sabbatical Chef 2007 (I kept the apron and still wear it every time I cook)- making crêpes for breakfast

Breakfast table at the B&B- home made jams, bread and granola, Cavaillon melon, Sophie’s honey, freshly squeezed orange juice, plates and cups from a local potter


Deboning a duck- the beginning of my love affair with duck and foie gras
At the Pont du Gard on a windy fall day
The Sabbatical Chef 2016
The hair color may have changed, but I am still the same green-eyed lover of France and everything French…
Bon appétit, Marie Antoinette!
Many, many thanks to everyone who loved and supported me then and who loves and supports me now.  I couldn’t do it without you. Life is an adventure, n’est-ce pas?.
My source:

“Bake something. You’ll feel better.”


This is your life.  Do what you love, and do it often.  Good advice, n’est-ce pas?  Words to live by.  I found the mug at Holstee after seeing what they call their Manifesto.  I bought the mug and notecards.  So, keeping in the spirit of doing what I love, I got up this morning and baked a new muffin recipe.  There are many reasons why I love baking first thing in the morning.

  • It makes my house smell really good.  We have a combined kitchen-dining room- living room set up downstairs with our bedroom close by.
  • The Ex-Ex has something yummy to eat for breakfast when he wakes up.
  • The process is very calming.  Follow a good recipe, make a couple of changes if you feel bold, put it in the oven, and voilà something delicious magically appears in just a little while.
  • Home made baked goodies make people happy.  I started reading David Lebovitz‘ cookbook Ready for Dessert last night (it was a daily deal on Bookbub) and he said it very well in the introduction to the book– Pastry whiz Nick Malgieri likes to say, “Bake something.  You’ll feel better.” and nothing could be truer. People constantly ask me, “Why do you bake?”  It took me over a decade (I’m a slow learner) to come to the conclusion that baking is about sharing.  The best bakers I know aren’t merely armed with a bunch of recipes, but baking is truly their passion, as it is my passion.  We just love to do it, not just for ourselves, but for others– I’ve yet to come across a dessert recipe that makes only one serving.  Cakes, pies, and batches of cookies are meant to be shared.  Amen.  Preach on, David!
  • I love to take muffins to my twice weekly 7:25 am 7th grade team meetings.  My teammates are so appreciative and they have no idea how happy it makes me when they sneak back up to my room for a second helping.
  • In fall and winter, it warms up my kitchen.  And dare I say my soul?

One of my go-to bakers is Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  I don’t know her.  (I don’t know David Lebovitz either as far as that goes, but I would love to meet him for coffee in Paris someday…)  Facebook is my escape– for recipes, as well as keeping up with my Frenchies and other close friends and relatives near and far.  So, when I came across Deb’s recipe for pumpkin bread this week, I promptly bought two cans of pumpkin puree. They are hot from the oven as I type.  I will take some to Tom this morning.  I have a date with him to get my nails done.  My twice a month guilty pleasure (which keeps me from biting my nails and messing with my cuticles when I am nervous).  I know he loves chocolate.  I hope he likes pumpkin as well.  He is so sweet.  He always takes home some of what I bring him to his wife.



Pumpkin Bread (or Muffins)

from Smitten Kitchen  makes 1 large loaf or 18 medium muffins

1- 15 oz can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

1/2 c. (120ml) vegetable or another neutral oil or melted butter (115g)- I used liquid coconut oil

3 large eggs

1-2/3 c. (330g) granulated sugar

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder (I use aluminum free)

3/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt or table salt

3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Heaped 1/4 tsp. ground ginger

Heaped 1/4 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Two pinches of ground cloves (oops- totally forgot this)

2-1/4 c. (295g) all-purpose flour

To finish:

1 Tbsp. (12g) granulated sugar (Turbinado or sugar in the raw would add a nice crunch, I think)

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 350˚F.

Butter a 6-cup loaf pan or coat with non-stick spray.  For muffins, line 18 medium-sized muffin cups or spray with non-stick spray.

In large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, and sugar until smooth.  Sprinkle baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves over batter and whisk until well-combined.  Add flour and stir with a spoon just until mixed.  Do not overmix.

Pour into prepared loaf pan or muffin cups and smooth the top.  In a small dish or measuring cup, mix sugar and cinnamon together.  Sprinkle over top of batter.

Bake bread 65-75 minutes or until it tests done in several places.  Turn the pan once during baking time for even browning.

Bake muffins 25-30 minutes or until one tests done.

Check out Deb’s blog for more details and photos.

I tried to get a photo of last night’s moon.  The iPhone didn’t capture it very well at all. Disappointing.  October’s full Hunters Moon will peak shortly after midnight tonight.  I will try another camera.  The moon fascinates me.


Bon appétit to all bakers and eaters!  Enjoy the beautiful fall weather.  



Quote:  Audrey Hepburn  Photo credit:  not sure- I found it on Oui, Oui Je Parle Franglais’s FB page

I am, quite truthfully, so undone by this presidential election and the ugliness that it has brought to the forefront of almost every waking moment of our lives in the United States, that I find myself in a state of unbelief that this is actually happening.  I look at the photo above, pretend it’s me, and daydream myself to a happy place where all I have to do is gaze at the Eiffel Tower and keep my hat from blowing away should a gust of wind come up suddenly. (My French friends accuse me of romanticizing their country and I am guilty as charged.  But I am not French so I do not have to worry about their next president the way I do as an American. I apologize to them if that sounds callous.  I do not mean it that way.  I have trouble understanding politics here where we only have 2 major parties.  France is way over my head! Noticing the Communist party headquarters at the end of the street I lived on in Arles shocked me beyond belief in 2005.)

I am not overly political active.  I started being aware of politics in 1968 when Richard Nixon was elected as our 37th president.  In 1972, my dad got me involved in the North Carolina gubernatorial race.  Daddy was a dyed in the wool Republican, like his father before him, Papa George.  James Holshouser vs Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles.  Holshouser, from Boone, in the mountains of NC, won.  It gave me great pride to realize I had helped in some small way.  And I actually shook Gerald Ford’s hand when he was running for election (he came to Spruce Pine and Mama Mildred took me to the small landing strip there to meet him).  Ford became president after the resignations of Nixon and his vice president, Spiro Agnew.  He was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 race, serving as president for only 895 days.

I have since turned to the dark side, as my dad used to say (not quite his language), changed party affiliations and become a Damn Democrat, to use his real words.  I took great pleasure calling him up to tell him I had cancelled out his votes for Jesse Helms each year he ran for yet another term in the Senate.  When Trump first was mentioned as a presidential candidate, I thought it was a joke.  I seriously did.  I thought that the Republicans were holding him up as a possibility and then they would introduce their real candidate.  Joke’s on me, I guess.  I have tried to stay away from the TV ads, I watched the first debate and then swore off, I keep my mouth shut in my classroom around my students, and just generally shake my head in disbelief about the whole thing.  How have we sunk so low?  It’s a good thing Daddy is not alive for this election.  We would not be on speaking terms, I fear.

In the interest of preserving this video and knowing where I will always be able to find it, I am posting a tribute to our two-term president, Mr. Barack Obama.

Published on Oct 7, 2016

Because of the lyrics of the song “Don’t Go” by Jon Tarifa, Spiros Lena was inspired to make a tribute video for the coolest President the world has ever seen!– from the Facebook of NEXT Studio.

I smiled as tears rolled down my face the first time I watched this.  And each time since.  My thoughts on FB when I shared the video:

How can anyone dislike this man and say mean things about him? Mr. Obama, my President for the past eight years, I am in mourning for our country as we head into the final stretch of this election year. Thank you for your kindness, your strength, your compassion, your dignity and the grace that you brought to your office. It may be a long time before the United States has another leader of your caliber. If anyone reads this and disagrees with me, that is their right, but I would ask them not to disrespect my feelings. May we continue to fight against prejudice and corruption in our government and in our own private lives. Keep smiling and dancing, Barack!


So where does kindness fit in?  After watching the video and seeing many acts of kindness performed by President Obama, I then read a petition posted by Molly Barker, a woman I have met and heard speak.  If you have heard of Girls on the Run or The Red Boot Coalition, she is the force behind them.  I admire her willingness to get involved and to speak her mind.  Molly, too, is concerned about how ugly and just plain nasty this campaign has become.  She has started a petition, My Promise to You After the Election.


It can be found here.  I think that it is at least worth your time to read.

I will wear my red boots when I go to vote, Molly.

It is now dinner time.  I am reheating a delicious dish delivered to my doorstep by Son #1 via my future daughter-in-law EB.  And I am hungry for something good.  It’s from Bull Street Gourmet Market and Café where EB works.  I am addicted to their food and drinks.


Bon appétit and bon week-end à tous!  Be kind.

Searching for Aimée Leduc

I blogged about Cara Black and her heroine, Aimée Leduc three years ago.  I was just reminded of Aimée by Arles Lucy because she shared Bonjour Paris‘s interview with Cara. I am ready for the next novel!!  2017, set in Saint Germain.

If you have read any of Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc novels, you know the significance of this pink Vespa that I photographed during my recent trip to Paris.  AND I even spotted it on Ile St. Louis.  Pink Vespa + Ile St. Louis = Aimée.  It must be hers.
I accidentally stumbled upon Cara’s books while roaming the aisles of Barnes and Noble a few years ago.  Each murder mystery is set in a different neighborhood of Paris.  I’ve read them all.  I am reading the most recent one right now.  It came in the mail while I was in Paris.

Aimée has a private detective/computer security business passed down to her by her grandfather.  Her father was a police officer who was blown up by bad guys.  Her godfather is one of the top dogs of the Paris police force.  Her mom abandoned her when she was eight years old.  Aimée dresses in vintage designer clothes she finds at the flea market.  In the latest book, she wraps a Hermès scarf around her neck before going out.  I have one, too, Aimée!!  I found it for $5 at one of the local consignment shops.

As far as dressing goes, that’s about all I have in common with Aimée.  But wouldn’t I love to shop at the Paris flea market?  Oui, oui et oui.   Aimée has a bichon frise named Miles Davis.  I searched for Miles while on Ile St. Louis, but I didn’t see him so I lifted a photo off the internet.  If I lived in Paris and wanted a dog to keep me company, I think he would make a great companion.  (If this is your pup or your photo, I am sorry, but I didn’t give you credit and I cannot find the photo now, three years later.)

Aimée has had her heart broken several times.  She is attracted to “bad boys.” I would match her up with a younger Bruce…

He was in concert in Paris last summer while I was there.  Maybe Aimée went to hear him?  Her latest love interest is a flic, a cop, but it isn’t going well at the moment.
Her best friend and business partner, René, has been lured to Silicon Valley, but he is in over his head, too, although Aimée doesn’t know it yet.
I really shouldn’t give away any more of the plot.  I want to race through the book, but I am trying to slow myself down and savor it.  I could stay up all night and gobble it up, but I would have a sleep deprivation hangover worse than I already do and it will be a while before Cara comes out with the next book.
At the very great risk of messing with my odds for winning, Cara has a contest associated with this book.

I plan to win.  A week in Paris with Cara tracing the footsteps of Aimée.  Details are inside special editions of the book and on Cara’s website.  I promise to blog all about it while I am there.
Aimée often forgets to eat while she is out looking for clues to the latest mystery.  In Murder Below Montparnasse, she is on the trail of a stolen Modigliani painting.  I have seen his work in museums but needed to google him.

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

He was an Italian painter and sculptor, but he lived mainly in France.  He painted a lot of portraits.  His style is very distinct.

Anyway, while on the trail of a stolen portrait of Lenin, Aimée talks to a woman who has just taken a batch of financiers out of the oven.  Aimée eats half of the still warm cakes.  This is  my first time making them.  They are a Parisian concoction, created by a baker in the 19th century.

Enjoy the book and make some financiers of your own.  Aimée would approve, I think.

I do not have financier molds.  I used a cupcake tin, buttering and flouring each cup.  And do be careful about browning the butter.  It cooks pretty quickly-  I boiled mine for about 3 minutes.  I was so excited to finally find ground almonds at Harris Teeter.  I found them in a special section of kosher foods since it is almost Passover.

Tea time on this rainy chilly Sunday in North Carolina… I don’t think my little cake will make it long enough to be room temperature.  Désolée, Dorie!  Aimée didn’t wait either.

recipe from Dorie Greenspan

Makes 12 cookies
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces; 180 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1 cup (100 grams) ground almonds
6 large egg whites
2/3 cup (90 grams) all-purpose flour
Put the butter in a small saucepan and bring it to the boil over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally.  Allow the butter to bubble away until it turns a deep brown, but don’t turn your back on the pan – the difference between brown and black is measured in seconds.  Pull the pan from the heat and keep it in a warm place.
Mix the sugar and almonds together in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the egg whites, place the pan over low heat, and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, heat the mixture until it is runny, slightly white and hot to the touch, about 2 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour, then gradually mix in the melted butter. Transfer the batter to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the batter to create an airtight seal, and chill for at least 1 hour.  (The batter can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Butter 12 rectangular financier molds (these were tested in 3-3/4 x 2 x 5/8-inch [10 x 5 x 1-1/2-cm] rectangular molds that each hold 3 tablespoons), dust the interiors with flour and tap out the excess.  Place the molds on a baking sheet for easy transport.
Fill each mold almost to the top with batter.  Slide the molds into the oven and bake for about 13 minutes, or until the financiers are golden, crowned and springy to the touch.  If necessary, run a blunt knife between the cookies and the sides of the pans, then turn the cookies out of their molds and allow them to cool to room temperature right side up on cooling racks.
Bon appétit and happy reading!!

An Ode to Autumn


Fall, glorious fall. Or autumn, if you prefer.  It is, hands down, my favorite season.  I ask my students which season they prefer and summer usually wins.  No homework.  No school. Sleeping late.  Camp.  The beach.  The skiers in the group say winter.  Once in a while someone says fall.  Girls who like to wear jeans and boots.  I love jeans, boots, and sweaters.  And turtlenecks.  And scarves.  But clothing isn’t my #1 reason for loving fall.

If I were a decent (or even halfway decent) poet, I would write an ode.  And maybe I will try, if writing this post inspires me.  But for now, I will stick to photos and a list.


My favorite of seasons

I love thee for multiple reasons…

  1.  Your skies of blue


Clear, brilliant, blue afternoon skies.  We call this Carolina blue.  Even us Duke fans. (You have to be from North Carolina to get this rivalry, I guess.)  This is the Lucky Strike Tower in downtown Durham at the American Tobacco Campus.

2.  Your leaves of red and golden hue


Orange will come later.  I look for the first leaves around campus and we went for a hike last weekend in Duke Forest. I collected the leaves at the top of the blog.  Outside my classroom, there is a maple tree planted in memory of one of our beloved teachers.  I so look forward to when its leaves change colors.

Here are photos I took a couple of years ago.


3.  Sitting outside when the temperatures are cool


And sipping a drink downtown at the Rooftop Bar at the Durham Hotel.  No humidity.  The sun just seems brighter.

4.  The football games of your favorite school


Son #2 and his best buddy (aka Son #3) went back to Knoxville to his alma mater to watch the Vols beat the Florida Gators. They have had an unbelievable season so far.  Keep singing Rocky Top!

5.  The smell of pumpkin spice in the air



photo credit:  Starbucks

Son #1 loves Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte.  It is celebrating its 13th birthday.  Officially a teenager.

How about some pumpkin muffins?  Or better yet, pumpkin muffins with cream cheese swirled in?



Would it be pumpkin spice overload to have a muffin with your latte?

6.  And spending an afternoon at the North Carolina State Fair







Signora and I took my advisees last year.  We had such a great time together roaming around, visiting the animals, checking out the arts and crafts, people watching and eating some down home good food– roasted corn topped the list.   Hmmm, we haven’t made plans for this year.  Need to figure that out.  It starts next week.

Long walks, deep breaths, feeling alive, well, and whole.


I love thee from the very depths of my soul.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl Muffins

“It’s almost like having a cupcake for breakfast.”

makes 18

adapted from The Novice Chef  “It’s almost like having a cupcake for breakfast.”


1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur’s unbleached)

1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1-15 oz. can of pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar (either light or dark- I used dark)

2 large eggs

1/2 c. vegetable oil (I used unflavored liquid coconut oil- you could also use the solid form, though)

1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

Cheesecake swirl:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  1.  Preheat oven to 375˚F.  Grease 18 medium-sized muffins cups or line with paper liners.  (I found some made of parchment.  The muffins did not stick to them at all.)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt until mixed well.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree and sugars.  Whisk in the eggs, oil, and vanilla.
  4. Gently stir in the flour mixture until there are no lumps but do not over mix.
  5. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
  6. In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add in sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla and beat until well combined and smooth.
  7. Top each muffin with approximately 1 tablespoon of cream cheese mixture.  (I used a small scoop- that made it really easy and less messy.)  Swirl the cream cheese mixture into the pumpkin mixture with a toothpick.  It does not have to be smooth. (There is a video on the Novice Chef’s blog.)
  8. Bake muffins 18-20 minutes or until one tests done by inserting a toothpick into the middle – if it comes out clean it is done.  If not, bake a little longer, in 2 minute increments.


Bon appétit and Happy Fall to all my friends and family!  I love you all and look forward to several weeks of cool, crisp fall days, good food, and a visit to the mountains to see the leaves. Pray for those affected by Hurricane Matthew, especially Haïti.  

This photo is for you, Best Sister-in-Law–


“News is bad for you”


photo credit:  Amanda Whitlock

“And giving up reading it will make you happier.”  The Guardian

I admit to being semi-addicted to Facebook.  I get up every morning, make my hot lemon tea water, start the coffee brewing, and open up the computer.  My day just doesn’t seem to start off right without reading Sean Dietrich‘s daily post.  I get up an hour earlier than I really need to so that I can have that cup of hot water, check emails and get all the morning news I need via emails from friends and Sean.  With a healthy dose of food porn, cute photos like the one above of Steve, a New Zealand cat, and his herd of lambs. Or this one of Major, the Durham bull, dressed as the Durham Academy Cavalier.


photo credit:  Melody Butts, with help from Tim McKenna and Leslie King

But this past Monday night, thanks to Son #1 and the thought that I should be a better informed Américaine, I watched the first presidential debate.  Huge, major, God-awful mistake on my part.  I even sat with my trusty laptop on my lap following fact-checkers. Instead of looking at cat photos. Before the debate, Son #1 hooked up the Apple TV and brought up HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a show he is addicted to and has been nagging me to watch for a couple of months.  (This, my friends, is a great way to get the top news stories of the week and laugh at the same time.  Don’t watch it, though, if you object to cursing.  It is HBO after all and they say whatever they want to for those willing to pay less than Time Warner charges for cable and the ridiculous stuff on nightly primetime TV.)  Anyway, I should NEVER have watched that debate.  I should have respected my usual early bedtime (which allows me that extra hour to goof off in the morning) and called it a night.  Let’s just say that because I decided to stay up until 10:45 pm and be “better informed” my week did not start well.  Tuesday morning found me uncharacteristically grouchy.  A 9 on a scale of 0-10.  I am sure that my colleagues at the 7:25 am team meeting noticed.  I know that my advisees did because I walked away from our morning circle time.  They couldn’t come up with answers to whatever my question-of-the-day was and I didn’t feel up to cajoling them.  So I walked away without a word.  Took attendance instead.  All day long I just could not shake the “Our country is going to hell in a hand basket” feeling that had settled over me.  I posted on my FB page:

Trying to find calm this morning. I cannot control or fix the things I am most concerned about. I will not watch any more political debates or ads on TV. I do not want to discuss it either. Deep breaths.

Bless all of my friends who then commenced to worrying about me.  Iron Woman, my dear friend who loves France almost as much as I do and may have been Jeanne d’Arc in another life, brought me a Chai latte.  (She knows my weaknesses.)  We went to dinner on Tuesday and I was beginning to feel a bit better about the world after a dish of house made pasta at The Boot and a glass of Pinot Grigio.  Mostly it was the conversation and the chance to laugh with this dear girl.  We both desperately want to have our DNA tested and find out if we are any percentage French.


Mont Saint Michel 2012

Another friend brought me an apple fritter– a sinfully delicious pastry with cinnamon and apples.  I didn’t even take a photo of it.  But I did manage to make it last for three days and I savored every crumb.

One other friend sent a private message to ask me if I am okay.  I answered back that I am, but that I have sworn off politics and debates.  I will vote.  I will volunteer to get folks here in Durham registered to vote, but other than that, I am done.  What will happen will happen, n’est-ce pas?  It is what it is.  C’est comme ça.

By Wednesday, I was less grouchy, maybe a 6 on the grouchy scale.  I had plans to go to a wine dinner at Pompieri Pizza with Arles Lucy.  We love the special dinners at PP and Bull City Burger and Brewery.


St. Emilion 2008

I have to admit, however, that I didn’t really feel up to it.  I thought about texting Arles Lucy (on the left above) and asking her to find a replacement to go with her.  I am so incredibly glad I didn’t.  You know how sometimes you don’t think that you are going to have fun at a party or whatever and you have an amazing time.  The San Marzano Wine Dinner was exactly what I needed.  Great food, great wine, even greater company.  Before I begin with the feast, I have to say that I know that I am a very lucky eater.  I am constantly amazed by how lucky I am.  And very grateful.


To quote directly from the menu:

POMPIERI PIZZA welcomes Cantine San Marzano and special guest Salvatore Ricciardi, vineyard owner and sales and marketing manager for San Marzano winery. In 1962, nineteen vine growers from San Marzano, whose families had farmed the land for generations, combined their efforts to establish “Cantine San Marzano.” The winery is located in Apulia, in the heart of the acclaimed d.o.p. “Primitivo di Manduira” area.  This strip of land between two seas, the Ionian and the Adriatic, in the province of Taranto and Brindisi,  is where vines and olive trees flourish side by side on the red soil surface, much like North Carolina’s red clay.


  1. Amuse-bouche


Beet Cube with Jalapeño, House Made Honey Mascarpone and Monte Iblei Olive Oil  Frizzante Lambrusco

A certain someone sitting directly across from me was heard to say that she could easily eat seven of these.

And Seth, owner and punster, said “You can’t beat that first course.” hahaha

2. Anti Pasta


Persimmons and Apples with Aged Cheese, Kale Salad  2014 San Marzano Savignon-Malvasia “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

3. Pasta


Fall Butternut Squash Ravioli Pillow with Lemon Ash, Tiny Farm Arugula, and Salted Pecans in a Butternut Broth  2014 San Marzano Negroamaro “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

(Negroamaro means black and black- in Latin and Greek  Merci, Salvatore!)

I did not lick the bowl clean, but I thought about it…


4. Fish



NC Coastline Caught Yellow Fin Tuna with a Fennel Crust, Smoked Pedach Jam, Roasted Tomato and Charred Carrot Ragú  2013 San Marzano Primitivo “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

5. Meat


Local Leg of Lamb with a Rich Red BBQ Sauce, Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Potatoes, and Mustard Greens   2013 San Marzano Primitivo di Manduria “Talò” DOP

There was another wine sampled served after this one.  A special anniversary wine?  A different vintage?  The details totally escape me at the moment.  It was an extra treat.  Grazie, Seth and Salvatore!

6. Dessert


Zeppole (fried dough) with Goat Cheese Granita  Americano Cocktail

As I was served my dessert, I was told that I got the one with the most chocolate.  I am special that way.


I had fun sitting next to Salvatore.  Quite the charming, handsome Italian.  He told his daughter that Seth had closed the restaurant early because a celebrity was coming.  She texted back calling him the Italian Justin Bieber.  (We had to explain who that is.)  Jin served the wine impeccably.

Salvatore made the rounds and addressed the group, explaining his wines and the growing region.


“Easy to drink.  Respect the characteristic of the grape.”

When we started trying to figure out which wine we liked the best and why (Do I really have to choose??), Salvatore said “When you can’t describe it, it’s love.”

I loved every bite and sip.  I also loved meeting Heather and Jill from Habitat for Humanity, who sat across from Arles Lucy and me.


I love my BFF for being herself as well as a great server.  Doesn’t she look beautiful in her Villeneuve-lez-Avignon market ruffles?  I love Arles Lucy for always making me laugh and for always being up for an adventure.  We’ve had some great ones.


What a delicious night.  Thank you, Seth and Chef Jeff (sadly no photo of him- we haven’t even been properly introduced yet.)

I solemnly swear to stay away from the news and to stick to uplifting activities involving my friends and family.  And good food, bien sûr.


Bon appétit to all cookers, eaters, and wine makers!  


A Paradox

According to Merriam-Webster’s Learners Dictionary:


noun par·a·dox \ˈper-ə-ˌdäks, ˈpa-rə-\
Popularity: Top 1% of lookups

Simple Definition of paradox

  • : something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible

  • : someone who does two things that seem to be opposite to each other or who has qualities that are opposite

  • : a statement that seems to say two opposite things but that may be true

After what I consider a great deal of thought (but what probably amounts to some deep thinking in the shower), I have come to the conclusion that I am a paradox.  And oui, this comes on the heels of the post “What am I?” Today in French 8, as we are learning and discussing words for professions, I said “Mon père était plombier.”   My dad was a plumber.

I did not go any further than that.  EXCEPT to say, in French, when your toilet doesn’t work or you do not have water, you need a plumber, don’t you?  I am so over trying to be something I am not.  And if that is not quite what people expect, so be it.  I am who I am.  I am my family.  My roots.  And, you know what, I am proud of it.  So there.  Tommy was a plumbing and heating kind of guy.  He remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, too.  He built houses, added on rooms, and built furniture without a plan.  Without directions.  It was all in his head somehow someway.  (So, why do I not get geometry?  Seriously.  Or distances? Or angles?)  I remember sitting with him when he was adding a room on to our little house on Bell Street.  I swear it was all in his head.  He scribbled stuff down with one of those funny flat pencils.  And he had levels and those really cool measuring stick kind of things.

www.texasbowhuntingrecords.com  https://www.johnsonlevel.com

http://www.acetoolonline.com/  www.harborfreight.com

Quite honestly, I am surprised we did not get more beatings for breaking his stuff.  But how could little kids keep their hands off of do-dads like these?  Remember, this is before video games.  And Netflix.  And HBO.

Back to the paradox.  How does a little mountain girl whose parents did not graduate from high school and who is a proud product of public school education (Mama Mildred did get her GED– she is also incredibly smart and well-read), become a French nerd and France fanatic and build a career teaching in an independent school?  Not one single French relative that I know of.  No long lost French cousins.  Granted, I have not had my DNA tested to find out for sure.  (I am dying to do that, though.)  A French businessman I met once said my Frenchiness is due to my Scottish roots.  “The Scots love the French.  They always have.”  That is all the explanation he needed.  I accept that.  I have no better explanation.

I think that I have a wandering soul. At an early age, I fell in love with Pepe le Pew.  Oui, c’est vrai.  We did have three TV channels and Looney Tunes was an option.



The lovable Looney Tunes / Merry Melodies French skunk trying to seduce the black cat who had the misfortune to end up with a stripe of white paint down her back.   And to be obnoxiously pursued by an idiotic smelly mammal.  Une mouffette en français.  Please, Fanny, Olivier, Ghislaine, Érick et Betty– tell me that there are no skunks in France.  S’il vous plaît. I want to believe that they only exist in the state of Virginia.  I think that the skunk is the official mascot of that state to the north of North Carolina.  Every time I drive through there on the way to Washington, DC, I smell them.

Mme Christiane Roze Buchanan, my high school French teacher, struck a chord with me my sophomore year in high school.  How I loved her.  She believed in me.  She was a WWII war bride who married her soldier and moved to the mountains of North Carolina.  And influenced my life beyond belief.  I fell in love with her country.  Sight unseen.  I was looking for the exotic, I think.  Something different.  I was not trying to be better than my siblings or cousins.  I was not ashamed of my upbringing.  But for some reason, I needed / wanted something different.  And I found it.  Is there something / someone in a former life that has drawn me to this culture and language?  I have no answers. Just lots and lots of questions.

You know what?  I think that I am going to take the DNA test and find out…  I promise to share the results in a future blogpost.

I am not sure why this recipe came to mind.  Maybe because it takes a rather complicated dish and simplifies it.  Brings it down to the basic level.  Maybe because it is the first day of fall and I am longing for cool temperatures and the comfort food of soups and stews.  Not important.

Easy Crockpot Cassoulet


serves 6

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, coarsely chopped

1/4 lb. cooked smoked sausage, such as kielbasa or spicier andouille, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/2 tsp. black pepper

4 Tbsp. tomato paste

2 Tbsp. water

3 cans (15 oz each) great northern beans, rinsed and drained

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion to hot oil and cook, stirring, until onion is tender, about 4 minutes.  Stir in chicken, sausage, garlic, thyme and pepper.  Cook 5-8 minutes, or until chicken and sausage are browned.  Stir in tomato paste and water.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Stir beans into the chicken mixture.  Cover and cook on LOW heat for 4-6 hours.  Before serving, sprinkle the chopped parsley over cassoulet.  (You could put it under the broiler for a few minutes before serving- without the parsley- to get a crust on the top- the way it was served in Carcassonne.)

When I am Chez Fanny, she serves me cassoulet.  And, of course, in France you can find seriously good duck cassoulet in a can from Castelnaudary, a lovely spot in Languedoc known as the world capital for this specialty.


Bon appétit to those who dare to be different.  



Who am I?

This popped up on Facebook as my post (on the old blog) from a year ago…  I am still wondering who I am!  A work in progress, I like to say.  I can even add a few more facts to the list.

When you were twelve or so, did you sit around and wonder why you are you and how you got to be you?  I did.  But maybe I was a weird kid and I was the only one lying in bed at night looking up at the ceiling doing all that wondering.  I remember asking myself “What makes me me?”  I studied genetics in a college biology course and I found it fascinating, but it didn’t answer my question. And I was indeed still asking myself that very same question, even after learning about DNA and chromosomes.  All these years later, I am still wondering.

So, what makes me me?

  • I am the only one in my family with green eyes.  Weird fact– they’ve become greener with age.
  • I am an optimistic extrovert.
  • Pale pink is my favorite color although my standard outfit is black- dress/pants/skirt.  (I love the scarf pictured above.  I bought it at a great stall at the Arles Saturday market in March 2015. I went back last March and bought a couple more! )
  • Fall is my favorite season.
  • I am proud to be from the Appalachian Mountains.
  • I cry very easily.
  • I have very vivid dreams, usually in color.
  • I love to hum, whistle, and sing.
  • I am messy, but I hate wrinkled clothes.  I make my bed every morning.  I rarely leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight.  Maybe I am as messy as I think?
  • I love to read and often am so immersed in my book that I dream about the characters.  I think they are my new best friends.
  • I have been known to stalk writers.  It has lead to some very nice friendships, though.
  • I love trivia.
  • My secret (or not so secret, maybe) dream is to be a writer.
  • I am very slow to anger, but when I am angry I get over it quickly.
  • I have an abundance of common sense.
  • I do not like being photographed.  I would much rather be the photographer!
  • I have no idea what my IQ is, but I do know that I am a hard worker.  So, I really don’t care.
  • I love pink lipstick and have way too much of it.
  • I am a spiritual person.
  • I love my two boys beyond reason.
  • I do not leave my house without mascara.
  • I am still ashamed of being mean to my 7th grade best friend. I wrote a very ugly note about her.  Someone showed it to her.
  • I am a procrastinator.
  • I love to dress up in costumes.  Ball gowns and evening dresses preferably.  I have two tiaras.
  • I am a terrible joke teller.  I almost always mess up the punch line.
  • I am going to be a grandmother in February 2017.  Excited doesn’t begin to cover it.  A girl!
  • I am resilient.
  • I am grateful for my life.  Every single day.
  • I love me and I know that I am a work in progress.
My new favorite quote–
“Nobody can be exactly like me.  Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.”
                                                                                    –Tallulah Bankhead
But enough about me.  How about a yummy it’s-almost-fall recipe from Deb at  Smitten Kitchen.  I love her.  I wish I could hang out with her in her tiny little New York City kitchen.  I could be her sous-chef. I would peel the apples.  Wash the pots, pans and measuring cups.
The Ex-Ex and I were invited to dinner at a friend’s house this past weekend.  I was asked to bring dessert.  I already had this cake in mind after seeing it on Deb’s blog.  And I had all the ingredients.  I used Honeycrisp apples because I love them and I know they bake well.  They don’t get all mushy.  I did add the optional walnuts, sprinkling them on top of the apple-cinnamon layers.  I decided to take talenti gelato to go with the cake.  The stuff is like crack to me.  Especially the Sea Salt Caramel flavor.  The BFF introduced me to it a couple of years ago.  I chose Tahitian vanilla and Caramel Apple Pie flavors to go with the cake.
Kind of flopped over on its side, but you get the idea of the apple layers.
Mom’s Apple Cake
6 apples, Mom uses McIntosh apples
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.
Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.
Bon appétit, to all.  “Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken.”  Another quote I love. Merci, Oscar Wilde et Deb!

Good Women by Sean Dietrich


Here I go again.  Shamelessly stealing from Sean.  Well, it’s not stealing if he says I can, right?  And if I give him full credit?  I love this man.  He says it the way it should be said. He is not ashamed of his Southern roots.  He is not ashamed to eat real food.  And to write about it.

Over the years, I have battled with my roots.  And I am not talking about my hair.  (I gave up coloring it a year or so ago, so I don’t have to worry about those roots anymore anyway.) I am not and never have been ashamed of where I come from, but I have not always been totally forthcoming about it.  I grew up thinking that everyone but me had the perfect family.  I now know that no such thing exists — except maybe on TV.  Anyone out there remember Leave it to Beaver? We all have some crazy in our backgrounds.  But, as I have come to understand, most people do the best they can on a daily basis.  Some are not as adventurous or ambitious as others.  That’s okay. Some don’t need to leave their zip code. That’s okay.  Some work with their hands.  Thank God.  Some go to school for many years so that they can heal us and help us get out of trouble.  Thank God for that, too.  Some hold hard and fast to their religious beliefs. That’s not bad.  At least as long as they allow others to do the same.  I am constantly amazed that some Americans seem not to have heard of separation of Church and State.  Or that some politicians simply ignore this in order to get more votes or to appeal to certain voters.  I was terrified of my 4th grade teacher.  Every Monday morning, she asked for a show of hands of her little 9-10 year olds who went to church the day before.  I was so embarrassed that I lied and raised my hand whether I had gone to church or not.  She should not have asked that question.  Times have changed, thank goodness.  Well, in some places they have.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have absolutely nothing against religion or religious people.  Mama Mildred would disown me.  However, religion is a personal choice.  I am much more concerned with how we as humans treat each other on a daily basis. On my maternal side, I come from some hard-core Baptists, Southern and otherwise.  On the paternal side, I am the descendant of Methodists and Quakers.  Wow.  I got off track there, didn’t I?

Anyway, back to Sean and his lovely Facebook post from today.  I read his posts first thing- well, after getting the coffee going and feeding the cat.  I laugh, I cry, I always find a little nugget in what he writes that I can identify with.  He uses the English language in a way that makes me happy.  He paints pictures with his words.  He loves and he is not afraid to say it out loud for the whole world to hear.  Bless his heart, as we say in the South.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  Enjoy.

September 12, 2016

I was going to write about something else, but then a stranger dropped homemade cookies onto my front porch. It was the same woman who said, “Don’t trust a baker who looks good in a two-piece.”

It took me a few hours to understand that. By then, I’d finished the cookies.

There was a note attached. She wrote: “I make everything the right way.”

Well, heaven bless the good woman who does not walk in the path of the unrighteous, nor practice the spiritual defamation of plastic-tubed biscuits and frozen breakfast burritos.

I’d like the record to show that I miss the days of real food . I miss country ham—the kind that comes from a hog in a nearby county. And real fried chicken—made with an iron skillet and slippery floor.

Last Christmas, a friend served ham from Walmart. It was an affront to decency. The meal tasted like undercooked linoleum. The package label on the ham read: China. I’d rather eat chicken feet than red ham.

Not only that.

I miss grits that come from feed-sacks, that take more than two minutes to prepare. I miss French fries cut before frying. I miss popcorn made in a skillet, with enough butter to short circuit U.S. Congress.

A friend made microwave popcorn during a football game last weekend. When it finished popping, he opened a yellow packet of slime, labeled, “butter-flavored topping.” That gold-colored degradation ruined my favorite shirt.

And my mouth.

What happened to real butter? The kind that made your arm muscles sore. Or ice cream that turned into soup if you didn’t eat it quick. Commercial ice cream wouldn’t melt on my dashboard.

I’m just getting warmed up.

I miss how it was before people worried about deadly mosquito bites, dookie in our drinking water, whole milk, and deer ticks. As a boy, deer ticks were no cause for national alarm. Now they’ll turn your brain into butter-flavored industrial pump lubricant.

Anyway, what I’m driving at is:

I met a man who went fishing with his nine-year-old son. While on shore, he saw a deputy in a khaki uniform. My pal knew something was wrong. The deputy inspected the fish his son caught, then asked to see fishing licenses.

My friend, like any self-respecting Southerner, did not have a license, nor has he ever. Johnny Policeman fined him. His son had to throw his fish back. And the deputy called his mama ugly.

Mother of fatback.

I don’t know how to get things back to the way they were—back when a grit was a grit. But, I wish it could be done. God help me, I do. Not because I’m not happy, but because the world doesn’t seem happy.

Thanks for these sugar cookies, ma’am.

And God bless the good woman who wears a one-piece.

Now doesn’t that post just make you want to eat some sugar cookies yourself?  Well, I have the perfect recipe.  I love these things.  Could eat my weight in them.  I have several recipes.  A Quaker one even.  But I will share these two.  I actually did a taste test a while back.

We will begin with Sistine Chapel.
The dough–

In a stack–

Top view–

Sistine Chapel Sugar Cookies

makes about 30 cookies

1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. Crisco
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. orange extract
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
Sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Using a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar, butter, and Crisco until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add the vanilla, lemon extract, and orange extract.  Mix well.
In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar.  With mixer set to low, gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
For each cookie, drop 2 Tbsp. of dough (I use a melon baller/scoop for mine) into a bowl of sugar and roll the ball to coat.  Place on a greased cookie sheet (I line mine with parchment paper and skip the greasing).  Before baking, sprinkle about 1 tsp. of sugar on top of each ball to cause crackled top.
Bake 14-17 minutes or until edges are light brown.  (My guys do not like “well done” cookies so I set the timer to 12 minutes and they were just right.)  Remove from baking sheet to cool on wire racks.

Now for Foolproof Chewy
The dough–

The stack–

Foolproof Chewy Sugar Cookies
makes 2 dozen

2 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 1/2 c. sugar, plus 1/3 c. for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350˚F.  Line 2 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl.  Set aside.
Place 1 1/2 c. sugar and cream cheese in large bowl.  Place remaining 1/3 c. sugar  in shallow dish or pie plate and set aside.  Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later).  Whisk in oil until incorporated.  Add egg, milk, and vanilla.  Continue to whisk until smooth.  Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft homogeneous dough forms.
Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 Tbsp. each (or use #40 portion scoop).  Using hands, roll dough into balls. Working in batches, roll balls in reserved sugar to coat and evenly space on prepared baking sheet, 12 balls per sheet.  (Spread them out even if you have to use an extra sheet so that they have room to bake– they do spread out when baking.)  Using bottom of a drinking glass, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter.  Sprinkle tops evenly with the remaining sugar.
Bake, 1 tray at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, 11-13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes.  Cool cookies on baking sheets about 5 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

Bon appétit and Happy Monday!  Eat more cookies– good ones!  Otherwise, why bother? Life is too short.



Ask Americans of a certain age where they were on 9/11 and they can tell you.  I was in a 7th grade team meeting.  Before internet and televisions in all classrooms.  Most of us didn’t even have radios.  Sounds like the Dark Ages to the young’uns.  The kids I teach this year, in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, weren’t born yet.  They’ve only known long security lines to get through gates at concerts, football games, and museums.  Taking off your shoes at the airport.  Three 3-ounce bottles of liquids.

Many will say that we have no modern day heroes.  Gloom and doom.  The world is ending soon.  Going to hell in a handbasket.  (Not sure what that is, but I’ve heard that saying all my life.)  I don’t believe it.  Americans are “accused” of being eternal optimists.  Not enough history under our belts to be jaded.  Only 240 years of it as a country as opposed to 2,000.  I am not buying it.  I am a card-carrying, well-documented optimist.  Everyone who knows me knows that.  And I believe that we have heroes in our midst.  We don’t even know them when we pass them on the street because they do not make the news.  Until a disaster strikes.  They go about their daily lives and business, doing the best they can to make a living for themselves and their families.  They step up when needed.  A little girl taking a plate of lunch to a homeless man  outside the restaurant where she is eating with her dad.  The folks who fill backpacks to the brim with brand new school supplies for kids who wouldn’t have them otherwise.  Mama Mildred, who herself doesn’t have a whole lot, volunteering for Meals on Wheels once a week.  One of my students giving his Nutella crêpe to a homeless woman sitting on the steps of a church.

Each year, I go to Washington, DC in February with 7th graders.  It is our annual class trip and a much anticipated one.  How lucky am I?  What a city.  It is filled with reminders of what our country has been through and the heroes who have helped shape it.  In no particular order, I will take you through some of my favorites.

Abraham Lincoln- 16th President of the United States; abolished slavery


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.- Civil rights activist; Nobel Peace Prize recipient




George Washington- 1st President of the United States, the Father of our Country


The Greensboro Four-Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson



A few years ago, I had the great honor of shaking Dr. McCain’s hand and thanking him.

Congressman John Lewis- One of Dr. King’s helpers on the road to Civil Rights; he is still fighting the fight; we bumped into him in DC and I dashed across the street with my kids to talk to him.  He took the time to talk to us.


All those who fought in WWII; there aren’t many left of those who came home




Vietnam.  My uncle Charles at age 18.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt- our 32nd President and a wise man


We are still fighting the fight.

The political cartoon at the beginning of the blog was drawn by Doug Marlette.


Heroes are men and women who are brave enough to draw and write what they feel.  Doug received death threats for some of his drawings after 9/11.


I knew Doug.  A quiet unassuming man.  What a talent.  There is a permanent exhibit devoted to him at the Newseum in Washington, DC.  This museum is not to be missed if your travels take you to our Nation’s capital.  It is our first stop every year.

There was an exhibit after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.



There is an exhibit dedicated to 9/11.  Many photos and videos.  Newspapers from around the country and world.


I live in an amazing country, filled with heroes, past and present.  We must keep believing in good, even in times of darkness.


In the spirit of our wild west, I decided to make Cowboy Skillet Cake for the Ex-Ex’s breakfast this bright Sunday morning.  I had some peaches and had planned to use my mother-in-law’s recipe for peach pie with homemade crust, but… I got lazy and I thought of the tea towel I bought on our trip to Fort Robinson, Nebraska a couple of summers ago.  img_5260


Cowboy Skillet Cake

I used peaches.  I’ve used cherries, apples, and pineapple in the past.  Or you can just follow the recipe, without fruit.  I put the peeled sliced peaches on top of the batter. Instead of lemon extract, I used almond flavoring.  And I sprinkled turbinado sugar on top of the cake before baking, without the lemon zest.

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Combine in a bowl and stir a little to mix:

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, whisk and set aside:

2 large eggs

1-1/4 cups milk

Melt 8 tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch iron skillet .  When butter has cooled, add to egg mixture and stir.  Add dry ingredients and mix well.

Stir into the cake batter:

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour into the cast iron skillet.

Finishing touch:

In a small bowl, combine and sprinkle on top of cake:

1/4 cup of sugar

the zest of one small lemon

a dash of cinnamon

Bake 25-30 minutes. (With the added fruit, mine needed to bake about 40 minutes.  Bake until a toothpick comes out clean!)

Bon appétit and thank you to all the everyday heroes out there who do what they can to make life better for others.  May we all be so brave, today as we remember 9/11, and every day we are lucky enough to be alive.