The Banana’s Baking Adventure

Hannah's cookies

Meet The Banana. She is Pretend Daughter #1’s daughter. So, that must make her my Pretend Granddaughter #1, right? Maybe that is too much math for my brain on a Sunday morning. Pretend Daughter #1 and I go way back. She arrived in my beginning French class somewhere around 1991 or 1992 (more math). She was new to my school, driving all the way to Durham from Henderson. We bonded pretty quickly. In high school, she played softball on the Ex-Ex’s team and she stayed with us when her parents and brother went on vacations without her (he attended a different school so their vacation dates were different sometimes). She babysat for Son #1 and Son #2. She spent her high school and college summers babysitting for the BFF’s three sons so we spent a lot of time together at the pool and getting the gang together to play. She continued to study French at Vanderbilt University. She studied in France. She met her husband in Indiana although they are both from North Carolina and were most likely at some of the same events more than once. It was a beautiful wedding. She is a French teacher and dean of students in a great independent school. Mommy of two. I am a very proud Pretend Mother. It’s a rare and wonderful friendship we have.

Pretend Daughter knew I would be very distressed to learn that The Banana is allergic to eggs and has never had a homemade, warm, fresh-from-the-oven cookie. Heaven help us all. This little angel is how old?? (She was born on the birthday of my college BFF– what a wonderful coincidence!).  Google to the rescue. I experimented with a couple of chocolate chip cookie recipes. One recipe led to another and a reviewer swearing that it was the best chocolate chip cookie she had ever made. I also experimented with a sugar cookie recipe, but it was god-awful. The dough wasn’t horrible, but the cookie was a major flop. I didn’t even taste more than a crumb when they came out of the oven. A waste of good butter and sugar not worth repeating. In the trash.

The first chocolate chip cookie passed the test. The Ex-Ex declared it okay. He has had numerous variations on chocolate chip cookies, too many to count. His mama makes good ones as well. Spoiled cookie consumer. I took a plate of these to school to test on 6th, 7th and 8th graders. They passed. They were good, but not quite what I was hoping for.

cookie #1

Recipe #2 produced a more cake-like cookie. I baked them on the night of a full moon, in case you care about stuff like that.

fullmoon

That, of course, has nothing to do with baking cookies. I just love full moons.

The Banana and Pretend Daughter #1 made cookies yesterday. And sent photos as evidence.

Getting ready…

beginning

And off we go…

Taste test… Did Pooh get to taste, Banana?

tasting with pooh bear

Ready for the oven…

Finished product…

cookies 1

Poor Brother Bear. No cookies for him yet.

Noah looking on

(He is the Most Adorable Granddaughter in the World’s future husband. Shhh. Don’t tell them. We will let them think that it was all their idea.)

I not only got photos of the big event, I also got a video thank you. Cuteness personified.

Pretend Daughter also found a gift for me on Amazon (where you can find absolutely anything). Once upon a time, a dear French friend of mine came to visit with her students. As a thank you gift, she brought me a bottle of a French perfume that had just made its debut. I wore this perfume for years. It is the smell that PD #1 associates with me. I gave it up about 10 years ago. I couldn’t find it any more, my life took a different turn, I found a new perfume. Now, thanks to a cookie-baking caper, Amazon and PD #1, it is back in my life and it smells exactly the same.

eden

The sense of smell is very powerful and should not be underestimated. A certain smell can instantly transport us back to another place and time. Whether its perfume or cookies baking in the oven on a chilly day. The stuff of memories.

Eggless Chocolate Chip Cookie #1

Holly Hauck- KeepingLifeSane
24 cookies
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (or more)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Beat the butter with both sugar for 1 to 2 minutes, until creamy with hand or stand mixer.
  3. Add in flour and baking soda. Mix.
  4. Add water, oil, and vanilla and mix. (My dough was still a bit too dry so I added 1/4 cup of applesauce.)
  5. Fold in the chocolate chips with a spoon.  (I chilled the dough for about an hour before baking.)
  6. Drop by spoonful onto the baking sheet. I usually do about 1-2 tablespoons and put 12-16 on the cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Eggless Chocolate Chip Cookie #2

from SpiceUpTheCurry

makes 12-16 cookies

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons All purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • a pinch salt (skip it if using salted butter)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (my addition)
  • 1 stick or ½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ¼ cup white granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk (or half and half)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
    Preheat the oven to 350˚ F or 180˚ C for at least 10 minutes.
    Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  1. Whisk dry ingredients (all purpose flour, salt, cinnamon, if using, and baking soda) in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Beat softened butter in another bowl with wire whisk or by electric mixer until it becomes creamy and smooth.
  3. Add both sugars (granulated and brown sugar) to butter. Beat until it becomes fluffy (about 2 minutes).
  4. Add vanilla extract and milk until incorporated.
  5. Add dry ingredients. Beat just until well mixed.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips with a spatula or wooden spoon.
  7. If dough looks soft and sticky, chill it for about 30 minutes (or longer).
  8. Make 1-inch balls from chilled cookie dough. Place on cookie sheet, a few inches apart from each other. Flatten the balls slightly with your fingers.
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes in preheated oven or until the edges are golden brown.
  10. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes.
  11. Remove it to cooling rack to cool completely.

Bon appétit to all bakers out there! Let the Christmas cookie baking begin! If anyone has a recipe for eggless sugar cookies, pass it on, please. Or really any favorite cookie recipe. Share your recipes and your cookies. Make someone smile. It’s really easy.

 

kim

 

 

Black diamonds

This is a trip back in time. Back to December 4, 2008, to be exact. I am not sure why I woke up thinking about this adventure while I was on sabbatical. Coincidence? Who knows. But what I do know is that once I pulled up this blog entry, I was transported back to the woods on a chilly day, two Frenchmen, a dog and me. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had a truffle since I came home in 2008. Big sigh…

Enjoy. Bon appétit! Merci, René, Sonny et Érick. Je vous aime.

Yesterday I fell in love with a man, his dog and a mountain. After last Friday’s truffle market in Carpentras, Chef Érick and I were invited to have lunch with René, pictured above, and Françoise, his wife, at their home in Isle sur la Sorgue in the Vaucluse. René called on Tuesday of this week to confirm that we were coming. He asked me if I am afraid of walking in the mountains. He did not know he was talking to a mountain girl. And then he told me not to wear my high heels. Since I do not own any, that would be easy enough. He also reminded me that we needed to get there early. So, I dressed warmly, lacing up my tennis shoes, and we set out around 10:00 am. Isle sur la Sorgue is about an hour’s drive from Arles. We drove through fog for about 30 minutes and after it lifted, we could see Mont Ventoux in the distance, covered with snow.

When we arrived in the town well-known for its antique shops, Érick pulled off to the side of the road to phone René because he was unsure of how to find his house. René gave him directions and said he would come find us on his bicycle if we got lost. We set out again and, sure enough, at the turn to his neighborhood, there sat René on his vélo. We followed him home. We were greeted by the barking of Sonny, his white lab. Françoise had prepared a feast for us. We ate shrimp, paté de fois gras and smoked salmon on toast and radishes as appetizers. Then Françoise made omelets with truffles for the next course. René brought out a bottle of red Côtes du Ventoux wine and uncorked it. The omelets were followed by endives baked with ham and cheese with truffles sprinkled inside. Lunch conversation consisted of René telling me about his teaching days at the nearby high school and Érick instructing Françoise on the proper way to prepare truffles. He told her that truffles should not be cooked. They should be added to a dish after it has been cooked. Heating them causes them to lose their flavor. Françoise seemed very grateful for the advice. We had cheese, a little dish of ice cream and coffee before setting out on our adventure. Françoise elected not to go (probably because she had so many dishes to wash…) and she lent me her boots. René loaded Sonny into the truck and off we went.

I really had no idea what to expect. I did have a vague recollection of oak trees and roots after reading Peter Mayle’s books. We parked by the side of the road and found a little path up the mountain where René owns property and where he does his hunting. I followed behind René and Sonny, keeping a bit of distance between us so as not to distract her. I learned to walk in the grass or on the moss, not on the dirt path. Lesson #1: leave no tracks for others to see. Lesson #2: whisper so that your voice doesn’t carry. Others are probably around, hunting for truffles, too, poaching most likely. It is still a bit early in the truffle-hunting season and I had been warned not to expect too much. So, it was a pleasant surprise when Sonny started digging about 10 minutes into our walk. As soon as she begins to dig, René hurries over and scoots her out of the way. She has no interest in eating the truffle, however. I had read about hunting with pigs, but pigs like to eat the truffles. We did see lots of places where wild boar, sangliers, had beat us to the treasure. Once René finds the diamant noir, or black diamond as they are known in France, he rewards Sonny with several dog treats from the little bag he keeps in his pocket. He tells her what a great dog she is and pets her. It is obvious that he loves her dearly and she is fiercely loyal to him. She decided that she kind of liked me, but I think it was because I was wearing Françoise’s boots, to be truthful.

René then checks out his treasure, smelling it and carefully rubbing some of the dirt away in order to see if it is a good one. He can tell immediately if it is too wet or too dry. If so, it will not fetch much at the market. There are stories of fake smell being added to the truffles, lead pellets being inserted into them to make them weigh more, poachers who steal from the property owners, and so on. This seems to be a business based on trust, however, and René is a man of his word. He taught high school for about 30 years and loved it. He has hunted truffles for over 40 years. He took great pleasure in showing me how he goes about it. I am deeply grateful to him for the lesson.

We spent about two hours following Sonny’s nose and a little path up the mountain. René remembers where he has had success in the past and guides the dog towards those places. She, however, is guided by her nose and her knowledge that a treat awaits her should she find a truffle. We came out of the woods with 11 truffles of various sizes. René even let me dig one up. He carries a small screwdriver in his pocket for this purpose. He places his truffles in a small white plastic sack. His jacket has lots of pockets to hold all the tools of his trade.

At first glance, I thought his René’s mountain resembled the Appalachian Mountains, my home. However, once we started climbing up the path, I realized there was not very much resemblance at all. Snail shells are scattered everywhere. A wall made of stones winds up the mountain, built from the flat rocks that are found everywhere. Small stones huts, bories, are hidden away, built long ago by shepherds as shelters while they tended their flocks of sheep. I ventured into one of them, admittedly not very far as it was very dark and I am not too fond of spiders, even French ones. The oak trees are not large ones, as I had expected. They are small and different from any I have ever seen.

All in all, it was one of the best days of my life. René is a master storyteller and continued to tell me stories after we returned to his house. He pulled out his scales, a basic set, nothing fancy or digital for the truffle hunters here in the Vaucluse, and weighed the week’s findings, coming to almost a kilo or 2.2 pounds. He gave me two small ones. I just ate one of them grated on top of fresh pasta. To really get a taste of a fresh truffle, take a small piece of bread, dip it in olive oil, grate the truffle on top and sprinkle it with coarse sea salt. Heavenly. In one week’s time, I have become addicted to truffles. I just had dinner and am already thinking about tomorrow’s lunch. I plan to make an omelet from the fresh eggs we just bought, add some cheese while it is cooking and then grate my last truffle on top. I only have nine days to savor as much of Provence as possible, after all!

Here is the dish we made last week, after the market in Carpentras. This recipe is courtesy of Madeleine Vedel.

Bon appétit!

Fresh Pasta with Walnut Sauce and Truffles (or Mushrooms)

Pâtes Fraîches aux Champignons Sauvage avec un Sauce aux Noix –

Fresh Wild Mushroom Pasta with Walnut Sauce

This is rightly a recipe for the fall, but it can be made all year round with a stash of dried mushrooms.  The walnut sauce is a classic preparation that dates back to the time of the Etruscans. Walnuts are particularly present in the Cévennes, the hills of the Gard in Languedoc, just an hour or so from Arles. Fresh pasta is really quite easy to make. Anyone who’s made bread a few times, can easily start making pasta. From start to finish, this recipe can be on the table in an hour after a bit of practice.

Ingredients for the Pasta :

If served as a main course, one egg per person, if served as a side dish, then one egg per 2 people.

One cup (100-150g) flour to one whole egg.

Pinch of salt

Dried mushrooms ground to a powder – 1/4 cup to 4 cups of flour (30g to 450g) if you are not using truffles

For the Sauce :

300 grams of walnuts (this is about 2 cups chopped walnuts)

2 garlic cloves (good sized)

1/2 cup of olive oil (120ml)– not too bitter, extra-virgin cold pressed.

Salt to taste

A few fresh mint leaves (optional, or another herb you like…)

Grated cheese – we like a young sheep tome, or pecorino. A mild parmesan is fine, too.

For the pasta:

On a smooth work surface, such as a large counter space or marble slab, pile your flour in a well, in the middle of the well put your mushroom powder and your pinch of salt and your eggs. With your hands, gradually incorporate as much flour as the eggs are thirsty. If there is a bit of flour left over, you can add a tablespoon or so of water, as needed. You need to work the dough for at least 10 minutes, kneading it and stretching it, till it is smooth to the touch. Put aside covered to rest for 30 minutes.

Either with a pasta machine or by hand, continue rolling and folding the pasta dough. With the machine I pass a portion of the dough through, fold it in three and pass it again, always on the largest setting. I continue this at least 7 times, if not more, till the dough is very smooth and elastic and does not seem brittle and cracks stop appearing. When the dough is ready, then you can either roll out by hand, turning the dough in every direction, gradually increasing its elasticity and thinning it out, the pros use a bit of gravity letting the dough hang off the counter as then roll. Or, alternatively, use the pasta machine and gradually reduce the size of the setting to the desired thickness.

When the dough is the thickness you desire, cut it as you please, in large long noodles, in triangles, in thinner spaghetti lengths… to your preference. Lay the prepared pasta on floured cloths, – you can layer these – and let dry till you are ready to put them into the salted boiling water.

For the sauce :

In a mortar and pestle, grind your garlic cloves and walnuts to a fine paste, add the olive oil as you work to make it easier to form the paste, if you are adding the mint leaves, do so now, and salt to taste.

When your pasta is done, save some of the pasta water to add to the walnut sauce to lengthen it and thicken it. Toss the pasta with the walnut sauce, grate the cheese on top, and serve. If you are using truffles, grate them on top of the pasta, sauce and cheese.

Have fresh bread ready in order to wipe your plate clean so that you do not waste one bit of the sauce or truffles!

Casseroles and cakes

mushrooms

When there is a death in the family of a friend, Southerners head to the kitchen. We don an apron and heat up the oven. We get out the cast iron skillet, casserole dishes and cake pans. We need to feel useful and we know that there will be people who need to be fed. Maybe it’s the same in the Midwest or North, but I have only lived in the South. I remember once when a Bell relative died and my cousin from Raleigh came for the funeral. Maybe my Uncle Buck? We were maybe in the fifth grade? Anyway, she and I ate a whole loaf of white bread, toasted, with butter and jam. Grandma Christine was a jelly/jam lover of the first order so we had many choices. We sat at the kitchen table, where the toaster was always plugged in. I have no idea why we chose toast because I am sure that there were a lot of “real” things to eat in that kitchen.

This past week, the BFF’s mother-in-law passed away. Sweet T’s mama. We’ve been friends for 26 years so I met Eleanor early on in the friendship. I remember driving over one summer day to pick up their Son #1 to come to play with our Son #1. Those two became fast friends on their first day of Pre-K. Anyway, the BFF had forgotten to tell Eleanor that I would be coming and she wouldn’t let me have her grandson. There was no use arguing. She was not going to let him leave without written permission. So, I loaded up a tearful 5 year old and his 10 month old brother into the mini-van and went home. The BFF and I had a good laugh over it at the end of the day. Just the thought of me actually kidnapping another boy to add to my collection was hilarious and not at all believable in the least.

Sweet T is a creative, talented man. He wrote his mama’s obituary. It is my all-time favorite. I’ve promised him that if he will write mine that I will cook for him until we are both called to great beauty parlor in the sky. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

You were the world’s best son, Sweet T. I hope that my boys take care of me the way you did Eleanor.

wo0141164-1_20171127

Eleanor Daniels King

May 21, 1926 – November 26, 2017

Eleanor would like to inform everyone that King’s Beauty Shop is now officially CLOSED… stating, “It has truly been an honor and a pleasure to have helped make the world a prettier place by washing, cutting, setting, styling, and coloring the hair of so many wonderful women (and even a few men from time to time) in and around my second home, Durham NC.” 

So now, after 73 glorious years as a self-employed Beautician in the Bull City, she recently received a call — sort of an offer she couldn’t refuse — to travel to a wondrous place where she can “catch up on all the latest” with all of her Customers, Family and Friends who have gone before her… and there have been many. As she would say, “It’s impossible to do somebody’s hair for 40 years and not become a friend — even the ones that aggravate you.”

Eleanor Grey Daniels King was born in Orange County in 1926, when the average life expectancy for women in the US was 58 years old. She was the second child, but the first girl, for Rainey Samuel Daniels and Lola Harris Daniels. Raised on a farm, she quickly learned that “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” And while she was a good ol’ country girl at heart, the big city lights were also calling her.

Right after High School graduation, Eleanor moved to Durham to attend Beauty College in 1944. And by the end of the year, she graduated as one of the top hairdressers of her class… and the rest is history.

Sure, she’s had her ups and downs, but to borrow a line from the movie, Steel Magnolias (one of her all-time favorites); “…my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.” And that’s the way she rolled. She didn’t have time to stop and feel sorry for herself. She had her Customers, and they were depending on her, regardless of how she felt or what she was going through personally.

She’s also seen Customers come and go, but she was most proud of her “Regulars” — the ones that came to get beautiful again every week or so, year after year. But as her “Regulars” would one-by-one leave this earth, she would simply pack up her “Beauty Bag” and head off to the Funeral Home for one last “touch-up” (I still don’t know how she did that). 

And yet, with all that dedication to her Customers, she still found time to be the best Mom in the whole world.

But, now it’s time for her to put away her appointment book and finally close up shop here on earth. Eleanor, you done good, girl. 

Eleanor was preceded in death by her father, her mother, her older brother Wayne Daniels, her brother-in-law Cecil Isley, and her niece, Sheila. She is survived by her only son, Tracy King and his wife Martha, of Durham, NC, and 3 Grandsons who were her pride and joy – David King (and Lexi) of Wilmington, NC, James King of Greensboro, NC and Andrew King of Raleigh, NC. Eleanor is also survived by her younger brother Richard Daniels and his wife Bonnie, of Mebane NC, her younger sister Raynelle Isley, of Elon NC, and 10 nieces and nephews, Linda, Larry, Sam, Mike, Kay, Dianne, Kenneth, Deborah, Randy, and Rick.

There will be a graveside service for all of Eleanor’s Customers, Family and Friends on Wednesday, November 29th at 2:00pm at the Lebanon United Methodist Church cemetery, located down the road behind the church at 6101 Lebanon Road in Mebane, NC. Eleanor is returning home, to be buried on land that her father donated to the church many, many moons ago.

I decided to make one of my favorite casseroles. And a pound cake. We are in the South, after all.

pound cake

Chicken (or Turkey) Tetrazzini

adapted from Culinary Hill

Ingredients

For the topping:

  • 4 slices high-quality sandwich bread torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter melted

For the filling:

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pound spaghetti broken into thirds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 16 ounces sliced white mushrooms
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups cooked chicken or turkey cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used a supermarket rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas

Instructions

 To make the topping:
In a food processor, process the bread and butter until coarsely ground, about 6 pulses. Set aside. (You can also just tear it into small pieces and mix in the melted butter.)

To make the casserole:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, bring 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well, keeping in colander, and toss with olive oil.

  3. Return same pot to medium-high heat and melt butter until foaming. Add mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid, about 7 to 10 minutes.

  4. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  5. Stir in flour and cook until golden, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Whisk in broth and half and half.

  6. Bring to a simmer and continue to whisk until sauce thickens, about 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and whisk in Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  7. To the pot with sauce, add pasta, turkey/chicken and frozen peas, stirring to combine. Pour into a 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with crumb topping.

  8. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping has browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Cook’s Country Cookbook.

tetrazinni

Bon appétit to all, especially to Sweet T, the BFF and their boys. Thinking of you and am always ready to tie on the apron to keep you fed. Much love. Rest in peace, Eleanor. I hope you meet my Grandma Christine. I think that the two of you would get on quite well. I don’t know if you were a Jim Nabors fan like she was, but I can picture the three of you having lunch. With a big slice of pie or pound cake and a cup of coffee for dessert. And maybe a song.

Give thanks

give thanks

I am thankful for so many people and things. I have a good life.  As I was stirring up biscuits for breakfast this morning, I started a list in my head.

A: animals, Arles, apples, art, Aaron, Amelia, Andy, Appalachian Mountains, Abby, airplanes, Alex, adjectives, adventures

B: Bertie, butter, bacon, baguettes, buttermilk biscuits, bluegrass music performed by Balsam Range, books, Barb, blogging, bracelets, Betty, baking, BFF

C: children, choices, colors, Candice, Caleb, Côtes du Rhône, Cindy, champagne, colleagues, Christiane Buchanan, cousins, Carmague, cheese, chocolate, cookies, coffee, café au lait, cats, cafés

D: dancing, David, Durham, Duke basketball, dreams, Daddy, Durham Academy

E: Elizabeth, elephants, electricity, Érick

F: family, friends, Fanny, French, France, fall, foie gras, figs, flamingos, fresh flowers, french fries, Facebook, freedom

G: Grant, grandchildren, great-nephews, grandparents, Ghislaine, Google, Grandma, gum, garlic, goats, goat cheese, Granny, girlfriends

H: home, health, heat, herbes de Provence, hand-me-downs, Hailey, hamburgers, hearts, history

I: ice cream, internet, Impressionism

J: Jake, Jared, Judy, jokes, jeans, Joel/Joey, jam, Jean Valjean

K: Kennedy, kittens, Kim, Karen, kindness, Katie

L: love, lavender, lemons, lambs, laughter, lipstick, letters, Logan, llamas, Lily

M: Mama Mildred, Marsha, Martha, muffins, macarons, moon, music, Makayla, Monette, mascara, movies

N: Nelson, North Carolina, Natalie

O: oysters, Olivier

P: Paris, Provence, pasta, pesto, pizza, pink, photos, passport, perfume, pens, postcards, poetry, parents, Papa

Q: quirkiness, questions

R: Rick, rain, reading, resilience, Rob Hershey

S: Steve, sons, students, Sean of the South, soldiers, sleep, smiles, steak-frites, Sundays, spring, shrimp, sea salt, sisters, Seth, sunshine, Snoopy, Sandra Boynton

T: turkey, travel, teeth, teenagers, tears, teachers

U: underwear, uncles

V: Vincent Van Gogh, vacation

W: weather, walking, winter, writing

X: Xmas, xylophones

Y: Yolanda

Z: zebras, zoos

Perhaps this will be the last pumpkin muffin recipe of the year? Who knows? I had some leftover pumpkin from making pumpkin cheesecake and it simply couldn’t go to waste. This recipe comes from The Kitchen Paper, adapted from Smitten Kitchen.  I didn’t mess with it. No variations. Seemed pretty perfect. We will find out in about 20 minutes. I will say that my kitchen smells pretty darned good right now. Wish you were here to have a cup of coffee while we wait. Stay tuned.

Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Muffins

12 muffins

  • 1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tsp pumpkin-pie spice**
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

**If you want to make your own pumpkin pie spice, use this recipe (from My Baking Addiction.)

  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line or grease muffin tins.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin and butter, then whisk the eggs in one at a time.
  3. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar, pumpkin-pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to combine.
  4. Stir in the flour, then divide among muffin tins.
  5. Mix the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar with the 2 tsp cinnamon, and sprinkle over the tops of the unbaked muffins.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes. (I set the timer and started checking them after 20 minutes. Mine took exactly 30 minutes.) You know your oven. Test with a wooden toothpick.)

muff

Bon appétit! Make your own thankful list. You may shed a few tears while doing it, but those are good tears. Eat something good today. Savor every crumb or bite. You deserve it. 

My friend, The Geezer

I read this book several years ago and fell in love with it. When I pitched my own (still unfinished) book to Algonquin, I was asked if I had read French Dirt. Oui. A couple of times. Little did I know that a few years later I would be introduced to Richard Goodman through a mutual friend, Jo Maeder, albeit by email. Richard is a seriously talented writer. A recent post on his blog has proven his way with words once again. He is a poet. Paris on a rainy day. My dream at the moment. And when you are finished reading this, open a bottle of red. Start a fire. Curl up under a soft blanket. And fire up Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. You deserve a trip to Paris. We all do.

Merci, Richard.  Bon appétit!

Paris in bad weather

“Then there was the bad weather,” begins Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of living in Paris in the twenties, A Moveable Feast. “It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus in the terminal….”

I’m not dumb.  Start with Hemingway.

Hemingway knew exactly what he was doing when he began his poem to Paris with a cold, rainy, windswept day. He knew that bad weather brings out the lyrical in Paris and in the visitor, too. It summons up feelings of regret, loss, sadness—and in the case of the first pangs of winter—intimations of mortality. The stuff of poetry. And of keen memories. The soul aches in a kind of unappeasable ecstasy of melancholy. Anyone who has not passed a chill, rainy day in Paris will have an incomplete vision of the city, and of him- or herself in it.

Great photographers like André Kertész understood how splendid Paris looks awash in gray and painted with rain. His book, J’aime Paris, shot entirely in black and white over the course of forty years, draws heavily on foul weather. I don’t know of anyone, with the possible exceptions of Atget and Cartier-Bresson, who has come closer to capturing the soul of Paris with a camera. The viewer will remember many of these photographs—even if he or she can’t name the photographer—because they have become part of the Parisian landscape in our minds’ eyes. That solitary man, his coat windblown as he walks toward wet cobblestones; the statue of Henry IV on horseback reflected in a puddle fringed by—yes—those sodden leaves. Kertész’s Paris sends a nostalgic chill through our bodies.

On one memorable trip to Paris, it rained. When it didn’t rain, it threatened to. This was in October, so leaves were starting to fall from trees, and that added a sense of forlornness to my visit. Each morning, I stepped out from my hotel on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard St. Germain into a dull gray morning. The sky hung low, the color of graphite, and it seemed just as heavy. The air was cool and dense.

But I wasn’t disappointed. After a shot of bitter espresso, I was ready to go. That week in October I set myself the goal of following the flow of the Seine, walking from one end of Paris to the other. I had bad weather as my companion, and a good one it was, too. I walked along the quays and over the bridges in a soft drizzle. The colossal bronze figures that hang off the side of the Pont Mirabeau were wet and streaming. The Eiffel Tower lost its summit in the fog. The cars and autobuses made hissing noises as they flowed by on wet pavement. The Seine was flecked with pellets of rain. The dark, varnished houseboats, so long a fixture on the river, had their lights shining invitingly out of pilothouses. The facade of Notre Dame in the gloom sent a medieval shudder through me. None of this I would have seen in the sunlight.

 

Then there is the matter of food.

There may be no Parisian experience as gratifying as walking out of the rain or cold into a welcoming, warm bistro. There is the taking off of the heavy wet coat and hat and then the sitting down to one of the meals the French seemed to have created expressly for days such as this: pot-au-feu or cassoulet or choucroute.

I remember one rainy day on this trip in particular. I walked in out of the wet, sat down and ordered the house specialty, pot-au-feu. For those unfamiliar with this poem, do not seek enlightenment in the dictionary. It will tell you that pot-au-feu is “a dish of boiled meat and vegetables, the broth of which is usually served separately.” This sounds like British cooking, not French, and the dictionary should be sued for libel. My spirits rose as the large smoking bowl was brought to my table along with bread and wine. I let the broth rise up to my face, the concentrated beauty of France. Then I took that first large spoonful into my mouth. The savory meat and vegetables and intense broth traveled to my belly. I was restored.

I sat and ate in the bistro and watched the people hurry by outside bent against the weather. I heard the tat, tat, tat of the rain as it beat against the bistro glass. The trees on the street were skeletal and looked defenseless. Where had I seen this before? In what book of photographs about Paris? I looked around inside and saw others like myself being braced by a meal such as mine and by the warmth of the room. The sounds of conversation and of crockery softly rattling filled the air. Efficient waiters flowed by, distinguished men with long white aprons, working elegantly. Delicious food was being brought out of the kitchen, and I watched as it was put in front of expectant diners. Every so often the front door would open, and a new refugee would enter, shuddering, with umbrella and dripping coat, a dramatic reminder that outside was no cinema.

I finished my meal slowly. I had left almost all vestiges of cold behind. My waiter took the plates away. Then he brought me a small, potent espresso. I lingered over it, savoring each drop. I looked outside. It would be good to stay here a bit longer.

I got up to go. Paris—gloomy, darkly beautiful Paris—was waiting.

What’s your favorite recipe?

Thanksgiving card

(Carlton Cards)

I found this card to send to my turkeys in SP since I will not be with them for Thanksgiving. Too funny. I miss those turkeys. I will visit them soon. I promise.

Today’s question of the day… “What’s your favorite recipe, madame?” Asked by one of my 6th graders after she told me that she had read some of my blog entries over the weekend. She is new to my school and a sweetheart. My favorite food/recipe/dish depends totally on the day/hour/minute that I am asked. If I had to decide on my last meal on earth at this very second, it would change by tomorrow morning. However, I did my best to answer LZ. Since it is (almost) Thanksgiving, I would have to vote for Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. I plan to make it for my small crew in just a couple of days. Of course, I might change my mind…

stuffed pumpkincheese thyme nutmeg

It really is delicious.

It was fun to reread the post with the recipe. From November 2010. Can it really be seven years since that post? And funny thing is… I am waiting for the BFF to stop by tonight, too. Her mother-in-law is in hospice and I wanted to make something for her husband to eat whenever he gets to come home from being with his mama. Nothing fancy. Just chicken-pasta-vegetable soup. I hope it helps his aching heart. We are never ready to lose a loved one.

The best part of making soup? You can add whatever you want, as much or as little as you want, throw it all in a pot and voilà. Dinner is served. With lots of leftovers.

The Sabbatical Chef’s Chicken Soup

Olive oil – about 2 Tbsp.

1 onion, diced

4 stalks celery, chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

8 cups chicken broth

8 oz. pasta (elbows or whatever you want) or you could add rice instead

1 rotisserie chicken, meat pulled off the bone, chopped/shredded

1 bag frozen mixed vegetables

Torn baby spinach leaves, optional

Seasonings- salt, pepper, herbes de Provence, etc.

Parmesan cheese, for garnish, if desired

In a large pot/Dutch oven, sauté the onion, celery and garlic (if using) in olive oil until soft. Add the chicken broth and water, if needed, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes less than the cooking time on the package. Add the chicken and frozen vegetables. Season to taste. Bring to a second boil. Reduce heat. Add more water or chicken broth, if needed. Add spinach leaves. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Taste and add more seasonings, if needed/desired. Serve with grated Parmesan, if desired. (Spinach and Parmesan added at the suggestion of my lifelong across-the-creek neighbor Ms. Mary!)

soup

Bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving Week. Hold your loved ones near. Tell them how much you love them. Feed them good food. One of the highest forms of love, in my opinion. Keep asking questions, LZ!

 

 

Random thoughts on a chilly November night

helmet

It’s Veteran’s Day. Armistice Day in France. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. I have visited the site of the signing of the Armistice, the replica of the train car tucked away into the forest near Compiègne in northern France. The original one was burned by Hitler. Merci, Ghislaine. Thank you to all who have and continue to put their lives on the line so that I can be free to do whatever I please whenever I please with whomever I please.

1386858046

It’s hard to believe that is almost Thanksgiving. It seems that once we survive Halloween in the middle school that the year is almost over.

I am a lucky Gramma! Miss K came to visit me in my classroom one day.

K in my class

I have a sparkly Eiffel Tower that fascinates her.

The Ex-Ex and I have had the opportunity to babysit a few times recently. So much fun!

k with bow

The intensity of the love that I feel for her surprises me every time I see her.

School is keeping me busier than I ever imagined it would at this stage of my career. If Son #1 and Son #2 were still at home I am not sure they would ever get fed. Luckily, the Ex-Ex can fend for himself. Curriculum mapping brought a two-day workshop in Atlanta, though. With an amazing meal at Miller Union. Our waiter was amazing. The oysters were amazing. The field peas were amazing. And the colleagues I shared the meal with were amazing.

“Steven Satterfield’s menu shows off the best of the South’s okra, field peas, turnips and tomatoes in a style that would make Alice Waters weak in the knees. Perfect for a date night or lunch at the counter, where one can explore an innovative wine list with pours by the glass.”     – The New York Times, 2016

The farm egg baked in celery cream was amazing. After the amazing pork roast with polenta, there was no room for dessert. I know. Kind of shocking.

Last week, Arles Lucy and I had a date for Pompieri Pizza‘s Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner. I tend to choose wine over beer, but the pairings between the food prepared by Chef Joe and the beer were perfect. I enjoyed every sip. I took lots of photos and a few notes.

Beer cheese bites, scallops, duck, duck, duck, ribs with a ginger soy glaze, dark chocolate parfait… Pale Ale, Nooner, Torpedo, Porter, Narwhal.

yo and me

To quote Arles Lucy when the chocolate parfait was placed before her:

“I don’t know whether to pray over this or not.”  Eat, pray or love?

The BFF asked Tom to do her nails in Sierra Nevada’s colors for the occasion.

nails

This one is for you, too, Best Sister-in-Law, since you told me the Porter is your favorite. Next time we come to visit, we need to take a field trip to visit Sierra Nevada’s Mills River facility. Ok?

Since it seems that all I do is eat, I might as well include the recent France 2017 reunion dinner. Each year, I offer a Sabbatical Chef dinner as part of our school auction and for the past two years the same family has bought it and we’ve had a France trip reunion. Two daughters down and two to go! Here’s part of the crew–

2017

It was a great trip. I miss these kiddos. They are all off being freshman now. We laughed a lot looking at photos of the trip.

looking at photos

KR was still doing her trip duty and photographing our every move! Merci beaucoup!

We made cheese fondue and had Fanny’s Mousse au chocolat with locally made macarons for dessert. And to any Frenchies reading this… I apologize. Yes, the kiddos were actually dipping those cheese puffs into the delicious melted Gruyère and Emmental fondue. Teenagers.

a and k

My co-chaperones love their dessert. And the guy in the back, licking the mousse bowl? Master of the House caught on camera.

The Ex-Ex and I attended the Celebration of Life for a former student. Chris Rosati passed away after living for several years with ALS. And the service was indeed a celebration. He planned it himself. I’ve been listening to his playlist for the past week and reflecting on kindness and how to keep his motto alive– Be kind and worry less.  Thank you, Chris, for the lessons you taught us. And for the Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme glazed donuts.

cr

Life continues to be good. I am blessed with a wonderful family, many friends, a job I love and beautiful fall weather here in North Carolina. As Thanksgiving comes galloping towards me, I realize just how lucky I am.

Cheese Fondue

  • 1/2 pound Emmentaler, grated
  • 1/2 pound Le Gruyère, grated
  • 1 package of Emmi Fondue Original (optional, I used it on the advice of the very helpful guy at Whole Foods, Durham- he also helped me choose the wine)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 cup white wine such as a Chenin Blanc (I used The Holy Snail, a French Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 loaves bread with thick crust, cut into 1-inch cubes
Combine cheeses with flour in a medium bowl and set aside. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with garlic. Heat wine in fondue pot over medium heat until warm. Add lemon juice. Add cheese mixture gradually, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until melted and cheese-wine mixture has the consistency of a creamy sauce. Open package of Emmi Fondue and add, stirring well to mix. Add pepper and nutmeg. Bring to boil. Adjust flame of burner so fondue continues bubbling lightly. Serve with bread cubes.
**Granny Smith apples are really good as well. Pears, maybe? Boiled potatoes for a raclette-type taste. Cheese puffs?
**Can be served with slices of ham and small pickles, if you wish.
sunflowers
Bon appétit, family and friends far and wide. Happy November. Live like you were dying. And to shamelessly steal, once again, from Sean Dietrich— Life is a gift. And people are beautiful. 
playlist

 

 

Your Loving Vincent

When I first read about Loving Vincent, I was afraid that it would not come to Durham, NC. My fears were confirmed when I started seeing lists of cities where it would be playing on the film’s website and Facebook page. No Durham. The closest city listed was Fayetteville. Arles Lucy and I were ready to plan a road trip. Then, about a month ago, I saw that it would indeed come to our lovely downtown Carolina Theatre. I have now seen the movie twice, once with the Ex-Ex and once with my crew of girlfriends who have been to France with me. It is playing in Durham for an extra week so I may see it a third time. It IS that good, mes amis. If you have read my previous posts about Vincent (April 2014, May 2010, May 2010, November 2011) then you already know that I love him very much. Maybe a bit obsessively.

A team of 125 artists spent 6 years bringing Vincent’s paintings to life in 65,000 frames. The film is completely animated, with the scenes based on his paintings in color and the flashbacks to scenes of his life in black and white. The story comes to life as Armand Roulin, son of Postman Joseph Roulin of Arles, travels from Arles to Paris to give a letter to Theo, Vincent’s brother, a year after Vincent’s death. The letter had been found when Vincent’s landlord in Arles was cleaning out Vincent’s rooms in the Yellow House. However, upon finding Père Tanguy, Armand discovers that Theo died only six months after his brother. By this time, Armand wants to learn more about the last six weeks of Vincent’s life.

Vincent was a prolific letter writer. According to Mark Roskill in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, 670 of the letters Vincent wrote to Theo have survived to present day. The letters were gathered, transcribed and edited by Theo’s widow, Vincent’s sister-in-law, so that they could be published. The first batch of them was published only three years after Vincent’s death, in 1893. Johanna “Jo” van Gogh-Bonger spent years bringing the letters to light and was also instrumental in Vincent’s rise to fame as an artist. She inherited around 200 of his paintings upon the death of Theo and was seemingly relentless in her push to have Vincent’s talent recognized. Merci, madame.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has put together a touching tribute to Vincent and Theo. The museum’s website is very well done. Someday, I hope to visit it in person. In Noord Brabants Museum in Den Bosch (an hour from Amsterdam), there is an exhibit about Loving Vincent that will run until January 28, 2018. Paintings from the movie are on display. I believe that they will then be sold.

Without giving too much away in case you haven’t seen the film yet, let’s just say that the final scene with Roulin and his son is my favorite. Vincent was shot on July 27, my birthday. One scene in the movie revealed that July 27, 1890 was a Sunday. July 27, 1958 was also a Sunday. Perhaps my love for Vincent is fate.

image description
CBS This Morning recently paid tribute to the film.
This clip from Dr. Who pays hommage to Vincent and allows him to hear praise for his work while standing in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
It is written that Vincent did not eat well or very much. He gave away most of what he had during his stint as a missionary. One of his early paintings, The Potato Eaters, 1885, is dark and somber. He often forgot to eat, I imagine, as he painted for hours on end. According to Biography.com:
Vincent van Gogh completed more than 2,100 works, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings and sketches. Several of his paintings now rank among the most expensive in the world; “Irises” sold for a record $53.9 million, and his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82.5 million.
Over the course of 10 years, van Gogh created more than 43 self-portraits as both paintings and drawings. “I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer,” he wrote to his sister. “People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation,” he later wrote to his brother. The works are now displayed in museums around the world, including in Washington, D.C., Paris, New York and Amsterdam.
vincent's eyes
Some believe that Wheatfield with Crows, July 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, was Vincent’s last painting. I’ve walked through that field on the way to Vincent’s grave in Auvers-sur-Oise.
wheatfield
No story of mine about Vincent would be complete with this one, Starry Night over the Rhône, painted in Arles, September 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
starry rhone
What would Vincent eat? Here is a recipe I hope that he would have liked. Potato soup was a staple in the Bell-Gillespie household when I was growing up. There is nothing fancy about it, but it is delicious.
Leek and Potato Soup
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped (or 1-2 more leeks, if you prefer)
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed and thinly sliced
(I also add 2 stalks of celery, chopped)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper (black pepper is fine)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced
2 large Idaho (russet) potatoes (I doubled this- Dorie calls for only one potato), peeled and cubed
6 thyme sprigs
2 sage leaves
4 cups chicken broth (or water but the broth gives it a richer taste)
3 cups whole milk
Optional toppings:
Minced parsley, sage, tarragon or marjoram, or a combination
Snipped fresh chives
Grated Parmesan, Gruyère or cheddar cheese
Croutons
Crispy bacon, crumbled
Corn kernels
Truffle oil
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they are coated with butter, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but not colored.
Add the remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the soup bubbles, turn the heat to low, mostly cover the pot, and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Taste the soup and season generously with salt and pepper.
You can ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve as is, mash the vegetables lightly with the  back of a spoon, or puree the soup through a food mill or with a blender (regular or immersion), or a food processor. (I leave mine with the potatoes in chunks.) If desired, garnish with the toppings of your choice.
You could also chill it and turn it into Vichyssoise, a fancy name for cold potato soup, which was invented in 1917 by French chef Louis Diat who ran the kitchens at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City, according to Dorie.
Bon appétit and thank you, BreakThru Films, Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and all the artists who re-created Vincent’s paintings. Thank you as well to all of my friends and students who have been to Paris and Arles with me and who have paid tribute to Vincent with me. In Vincent’s words:
Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.
Je t’aime, Vincent.

 

July 28, 2008

The BFF asked me for “my” recipe for mussels- moules- during our Therapy Session this morning.  I have Chef Érick’s recipe. I can take no credit. Only credit for eating my weight in them!  So, down The Sabbatical Chef memory lane we go. To almost the beginning. I haven’t re-read it yet. I will. In a few minutes. After I finish the week’s lesson plans. Tonight.

The Day After…


As I sit here, ready to tell you all about my birthday dinner/feast, I have not decided which photo to post. The perfect one wasn’t taken. I should have taken one of the moules or mussels before they were consumed and nothing remained except a few drops of juice and one or two little bits of onion. Taking pictures just was not on my mind at the time, I must confess. (I have since added a photo I took at the market of mussels…)
The day started the way most of them do around here- breakfast on the table by 8:30 am, laundry to get off the line, fold and put away, more laundry to hang, breakfast dishes to do, kitchen to clean, two rooms to clean and prepare for the next guests, all of this accomplished by noon with the help of Dorette (she didn’t realize she would have to wash dishes either, Martha and Monette- it’s an evil trap we have here for people who stay on the family side of the house…). Chef Érick is really good at scrubbing showers. He did the green room while I did the yellow.
Lunch consisted of leftovers from the day before when we made lunch for two Japanese women who are visiting. On of them, Minae, was Madeleine Vedel’s boss when she lived in Japan. We had a salad of yellow, green and red tomatoes, raw oysters, shrimp, couscous salad and risotto rice cooked in the shrimp broth, followed by several different local goat cheeses and chocolate from Joël Durand, chocolatier in St. Rémy. The wine was a Costière de Nîmes white wine made by Jean-Paul Cabanis. Seth and Craig at the Wine Authorities need to check him out!
After lunch, I took my shower and put on one of what I like to call my “dresses from Christian Lacroix’s Saturday Market Line.” Dorette had given me a really pretty scarf at breakfast that I wanted to wear. That was so tiring that I decided I needed a little siesta and took a quick nap, wrote a letter to my mom and sister and went back down to the kitchen in time to find Chef Érick chopping vegetables. I thought maybe he was going to prepare an aïoli. He wouldn’t say. Then he chopped onions and tomatoes and put them on to cook. When he added a couple of bay leaves and some dry white wine, I became suspicious. Moules marinières provençales? I do love mussels from the Mediterranean Sea. Dorette and I opened a bottle of Jean-Paul’s rosé and helped debeard the mussels. There seemed to be a huge quantity for only the three of us. I asked if perhaps we were feeding the Russian Army? I had no idea how that would translate for a Frenchman. My mom always used that line. He just smiled and continued stirring. He steamed the mussels and then we arranged them in the tian. I love arranging them and saving some of the shells to use as eating utensils! This is when I should’ve gotten the camera ready. However, the baked pastry for a millefeuille appeared and he set about making the pastry cream. Then the sound of the doorbell distracted me further. I went to answer and found Marie-Christine and her dog waiting. Not the Russian Army, needless to say, but a very chic French woman who runs Le Pot au Tabac in town. I ushered her into the kitchen and offered her a glass of rosé. She gave me a beautiful china dish with a hand-painted Arlesienne woman on it. When the doorbell rang again, I found Gilles, Didier and Monique waiting. A few minutes later Gilbert (aka GBear) also showed up. So, the party started! I am so glad that my 50th birthday gave us all a chance to get together again. And this time with Dorette added. Monique and Didier gave me an original drawing of an Arlesienne. Their hair ornaments and dresses give them away. The woman of Arles have been painted by Picasso and Van Gogh, just to name two famous painters.
We feasted on the mussels and couscous, with more rosé supplied by Gilles and Gilbert. The millefeuille was greatly appreciated, too. We didn’t even bother to set the dining room table. We ate at the stainless steel work table that is in the kitchen. Have you ever noticed that the kitchen is the center of people’s homes? No matter how nice your living room is or what the set up is in your house, when friends come over to eat, the kitchen becomes the favorite place to hang out. It is definitely the case here. The kitchen used to be a stable- the feeding place for lambs. That gives the room a very comforting aura.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that eating is all about who you are sharing the food with. After I left Arles last summer and returned home, I found that I really wasn’t very hungry. Cooking for just myself was more of a chore than a pleasure. It’s the act of cooking for someone and then sharing the meal that makes eating a pleasurable experience. It’s an offering of sorts, a very personal one. In France, it is the social occasion, not just the prelude to going to the movies or a sporting event. Hours are spent talking, discussing the day’s happenings, telling jokes (I still don’t always get them and need them explained, as Dorette found out), as well as eating. A very nice way of life, n’est-ce pas?
Moules marinières provençalesFor 4 persons as a main course; 6-8 as an appetizer

2 kg. (1 kg = 2.2 pounds) mussels (in Arles, we use the Bouzigues variety, from the Mediterranean Sea- these are saltier than mussels from the Atlantic or Pacific so we do not add any extra salt)
one cup water

For the sauce:
1 onion, minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tomato, diced
1 cup dry white wine
4 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped

1. Debeard the mussels and set them to steam in a tall, covered pot with a cup of water. This will take 10-15 minutes. Once all the shells are open, remove from the flame and set aside. Do not throw away the mussel juice in the pot.
2. In a quart/liter size saucepan, pour the olive oil and add the minced onion. Simmer on a low flame until the onions have sweated and become simply translucent. Watch carefully and be sure that the onions do not brown. Add the chopped tomato and stir a moment, add the wine, the crushed garlic, the bay leaves and the mussel juice from the steaming pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer and reduce for 20-30 minutes.
3. To serve: Take a large rimmed platter and place the opened mussels in the half-shell in one layer throughout the platter. Extra mussels can be taken from their shells and added to the shells in the platter. Leave a few whole to be used as pinchers to eat the mussels. If you are making the mussels ahead of time, put them in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve, then take them out and gently reheat the serving dish, ladle the sauce over the mussels and serve. By ladling the piping hot sauce over the mussels, you reheat them without drying them out in the oven.

*Left over mussel juice is wonderful for a seafood risotto the next day, or as a base for a seafood chowder. Use it within a day or two at the most or freeze it for later use.

Bon appétit!

Therapy

runners

The BFF and I call our morning walks therapy sessions. And believe me, they are. We talk about just about anything and everything. This summer, we walked 3 miles every day that we could, usually beginning around 6:00 am. It gets hot and humid here in the North Carolina Piedmont and schvitzing (Yiddish for sweating- it sounds better to me) is not our favorite thing. The BFF is genetically predisposed to schvitz a lot. Now that the school year is well underway, unfortunately our sessions are limited to Saturday and Sunday mornings and the occasional day off. I go to school early, usually around 7:30 am, and she works late, usually until after 7:30 pm or later. I wish that I could say that I walk in the evenings every day by myself, but I do not. I cannot tell a lie. I walk around campus as much as I can during breaks and lunch usually to chase after a kiddo or track down a colleague, but once I get home, I get lazy and find a lot of other things I’d rather (or have to) do.

Today, I woke up to a cool, foggy, beautiful fall morning. My favorite. We walked on the American Tobacco Trail. According to Wikipedia–

The American Tobacco Trail (ATT) is a 22.6-mile (36.4 km) long Rails-to-Trails project located in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, running along an abandoned railroad bed originally built for the American Tobacco Company in the 1970s. The route crosses through the City of DurhamDurham CountyChatham County, and Wake County. The ATT is part of the East Coast Greenway and is open to pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians (in non-urban sections) and other non-motorized users.

bridge

We walk on a section that crosses over I-40 and this bridge takes us from one side to the other.  Pretty cool, huh?

Following in the tradition of the Parisian Locks of Love, a few folks have attached one here.

Probably not a great tradition to start. But there are only 4-5 of them now.

Squirrels are the most common critter we see on this trail. (Copperheads prevail on the Duke Trail…) Today there was a cardinal, our state bird, waiting for us. I have loved cardinals for as long as I can remember. I am not sure why, but that doesn’t even matter. I just know that it makes me very happy to see one.

cardinal

According to the BFF, seeing a cardinal means that someone who has passed on has come to bring you a message. I had never heard that before so I paid a visit to my friend Google for some info about bird superstitions.

From The Cardinal Experience:

small Red Birds – When you see a red bird in winter, you will prosper in spring. When you hear a Cardinal sing, your sadness will soon be lifted. When a red bird shows up, help is on the way.

According to California Psychics

Messages from Spirit can come in many forms, but the red cardinal has long been held as the most notable spiritual messenger. The male cardinals are certainly hard to ignore with their striking red feathers and melodic yet almost “pay-attention-to-me” chirps. And when they come to you almost insistently trying to gain your attention, it’s likely you’re receiving a message from Spirit.

When deceased loved ones want you to know that they’re around, one way they might do that is to send messengers from the animal kingdom: small, brightly-colored bugs, birds and butterflies are not an uncommon choice. Things with wings tend to get our attention, and if you allow yourself to get tuned in, you might even feel who has sent them to you in hopes you’ll receive their message—even if that message is a simple acknowledgement that your loved ones are always around. And if you’re pondering something and asking the Universe for guidance, seeing a cardinal or the like is telling you that you’re being heard and guidance is being offered.

I am not a particularly superstitious person. Spiritual, yes. I think that the Native Americans were way more in tune with nature than we are these days and times. I am fascinated by their beliefs. I really like the thought that this beautiful bird might be someone from my past who has come to visit me.

I’ve seen some photographs of cardinals in the snow that take my breath away. I found this one on Fan Pop, but couldn’t find out who took it.

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Or how about this pair from Dreams Time?

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Maybe this winter I will even find some of my own to photograph. Who knows?

Thank you for the therapy sessions, BFF. You are indeed the best.

I am still on a pumpkin spice kick. While driving back from the grocery store yesterday, I thought “What about pumpkin spice sugar cookies?” I googled, settled on a recipe, took the butter out of the refrigerator to soften, the egg to get to room temperature and pulled Mildred the Mixer out of her hiding place.

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unbaked

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I got help from Wine and Glue. I read her heartfelt post about the loss of her son. Maybe Elliot will come back to visit her in the form of a cardinal?

I decided to name mine Snickerdoodles after a friend said they reminded him of his mom’s cookies.

Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles

makes 4 dozen (I used a small scoop to measure them out)

2-1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (plus more for rolling- about 1/2 tsp)

1/2 tsp cinnamon (plus another 1/2 tsp for rolling)

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar (plus about 1/2 cup more for rolling)

14 Tbsp softened unsalted butter

 

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 egg yolk, at room temperature

3/4 cup 100% pure pumpkin puree

  1. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg yolk, then the vanilla, and finally the pumpkin until well combined.
  4. In two batches, add in the flour mixture. Mix on low speed, just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle/beaters.
  5. Refrigerate the cookie dough for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  7. Roll the dough into one-inch sized balls (or whatever size you want your cookies to be). Roll in sugar-cinnamon mixture. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets and press down slightly with the bottom of a glass. If the dough gets sticky, dip the bottom of the glass in the sugar mixture. Space the cookies about two inches apart.
  8. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking.
  9. Let cool on the pan for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack. (Sample a warm one!)

Bon appétit! Happy Delicious Fall! Bake something yummy for those you love. Get outside for some nature therapy, with or without your BFF.