The Queen

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

The Queen

As a woman in this world,

We’re told to behave.

Be in your limits,

Don’t dare to crave.

 

For centuries it has been,

Women treated less than men.

They were things to conquer

And humans to tame.

 

queen

They shouldn’t be seen,

Neither the skin nor hide

Taught to sit silent,

And let anger pass as a tide.

 

But there was someone

A different woman, Oh yes.

Who knew her boundaries,

But couldn’t care less

 

She made her rules,

And broke many of the others.

She set sails to her destiny,

Not caring for the chatters.

 

A young boy, mesmerized

Asked her once.

You’re not ordinary,

Coz you act like a princess.

 

She looked at him and smiled,

Twirling her hair, she replied.

I’m not a princess mon chéri,

For I’m the Queen of my life.

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

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

cake

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

James’ Gâteau au yaourt

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

Procrasti-baking and the Power of Love

baking

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

All procrastibakers do not bake alike.

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

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

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

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

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

baked biscuits

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

brie bites

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

caprese

Dear Friend and Hubby provided roasted potatoes,

potatoes

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

salmon and beef

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

B

Et voilà! Our strawberry shortcakes.

strawberry shortcake

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

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

Strawberry Shortcakes

makes 8

for the strawberries:

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

for the shortcakes:

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

for the whipped cream:

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

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

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

 

Getting along

hand in love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(lyrics from genius.com)

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

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

strawberries

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

strawberry bread

Fresh Strawberry Quick Bread

from An Italian in My Kitchen

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

Topping (optional)

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

A new day

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(from Positive Thoughts Facebook page)

Maybe I am just a simple person. Maybe I was born under a lucky star. Certainly not with a silver spoon in my mouth or already on second or third base. I’ve worked hard all of my life. I have had good role models and mentors. Maybe sometimes I’ve just been in the right place at the right time. I haven’t cured cancer. I won’t leave a great sum of money to someone trying to cure cancer or to feed all the homeless people in the world. I get stuck worrying about the mistakes I’ve made in the past and how I would do things differently if given the chance. But that’s not the way it works. Living in the land of guilt doesn’t get me very far. It only produces anxiety and the occasional panic attack or long, sleepless night. I’ve seen a therapist a few times, one that I chose because her bio said  “I enjoy using humor in my work to create an interactive dialogue with my clients that is nurturing, informative and positive.” And she hasn’t let me down. She even told me in our first session that she curses and if that bothers me then maybe I need to reconsider. She sold me there. I think that I am rambling. No, I know I am.

I try to start my day with something positive. I read Sean Dietrich‘s latest Facebook post. It either makes me laugh or cry. Sometimes both. At the same time. I look at Facebook to see what my buddies are up to (two of my gals are in France right now- one in Paris, one in Nice; another one is in Switzerland). I gave up all of the negative crap out there and I don’t worry too much about the Russians hacking into my account, truth be told.  I know that sometimes the positive stuff seems trite. But sometimes it hits home. The above post was what I needed this morning. Along with this To-Do list in French:

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(from Santé Nutrition’s FB page)

I had a good day. Of course it helps that it was a beautiful, sunny 75˚ spring day. I love my job, even in May when dreaming of summer is how more than a few middle schoolers spend their time. But I also tried to remember to check off the items on this list:

  • Smile.
  • Take advantage of the sun.
  • Say thank you.
  • Remain positive.
  • Don’t judge.
  • Pay someone a compliment.
  • Help someone.
  • Say I love you.
  • Be happy.

I smiled and made goo-goo eyes at this cutie pie.

cutie

I was sitting outside Tutti Frutti enjoying a cup of frozen yogurt after school.

tutti frutti

He was with his mom. She told me he is 18 months old. I told her about my 14-month old granddaughter and how much I look forward to sharing frozen yogurt with her one of these days soon. He made me smile. And I made him smile, too. I told the mom what a darling he is. And I meant it.

One of my colleagues brought me coffee this morning. I thanked him profusely. I also thanked JB from our business office who came to my classroom to help me finally reconcile my receipts from the March France trip. I thanked her as well for taking care of all those pesky French bits of paper.

I sat outside in the sun, on a bench in the garden right outside my classroom, to eat my lunch.

I tried to be helpful to our administrative assistant and find some pictures of a couple of colleagues. I did not succeed. But I pointed her to someone else who might be more helpful than I was. I kept my patience with (almost) all of my students and helped them as they worked on presentations, projects, and we checked homework. (Maybe the really good cup of coffee helped…)

I told Sister Moo that I love her and that I hope she feels better. She suffers from arthritis and Arthur, as she calls it, tries to get the best of her. We have made plans for a girls’ week at the beach with Niece in June. I hope that helps keep Arthur at bay. It always help me to have a trip to look forward to.

I didn’t do too well in the Don’t judge category. But you know what, tomorrow is a new day. I will try to do better. Not perfect, just better.

I made a delicious loaf of quick bread this weekend. I couldn’t bear to see the blueberries and raspberries in my refrigerator go to waste.

bread

Blueberry Lemon Quick Bread

(fromChezSpice at All Recipes)

  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup white sugar (I reduced this to 2/3 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I didn’t use)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I also added raspberries)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (I didn’t glaze mine, but it sounds good!)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8×4 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, 1 cup sugar, juice and eggs. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into egg mixture alternately with milk. Fold in lemon zest, nuts, and blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool bread in pan for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Remove bread from pan and drizzle with glaze. Cool on a wire rack.
Bon appétit to all! Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most of us just do the best we can on a daily basis and strive to do a bit better tomorrow. Heed the above advice and I will try to do the same.  Much love and many thanks to all of my readers out there. My heart skips a bit every time I get a notification that I have a new subscriber. 

Early mornings and muffins

cookbook

I am an early riser. Mostly by choice. I love my quiet house. It’s me and the cat- sometimes. Unless she has decided to go back to bed. Right now the heat is on because it’s decided to go down into the 30’s here again. I can hear birds chirping in the trees right outside the window where I am sitting, so I know it is spring. But sometimes I wake up even too early for me. I start worrying about things over which I have no control or can’t change, and sleep is gone. Even the BFF’s trick of counting random numbers doesn’t work. The best thing to do is get up. The Ex-Ex says he gets his best sleep right about the time that I am tossing and turning and I don’t want to wake him up yet. So, here I am. With muffins in the oven. Today it’s Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins. I have a whole army of muffin recipes, but the one I come back to time after time is found in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It’s simple, I can change up the ingredients depending upon what’s in the cupboard, and the Ex-Ex likes them. And my kitchen smells heavenly right now. That helps.

muffins

Early Morning Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins

from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition Pink Plaid, 2006

Makes 12

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup sugar (I used half granulated white and half light brown)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 beaten egg

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup cooking oil

Streusel Topping (optional)

Combine 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Cut in 2 tablespoons cold butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped nuts, if desired.

  1. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin pan. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the center of flour mixture. Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, combine beaten egg, milk, and oil. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture all at once and stir just until moistened. Batter should be a bit lumpy.
  5. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin pan. If desired, sprinkle with Streusel Topping. (I sometimes just sprinkle Turbinado sugar on the top. Today they are just plain.)
  6. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until done when tested with a toothpick inserted into the center. Cool in muffin cups for 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Serve warm.

Bon appétit and Happy Monday to all of my readers. I wish that I could bake muffins for all of you. In my sleep deprived state I am even thinking “What if I made a different variation of this recipe every morning for a month? Coconut? Carrots? Craisins? Oh boy. Bisous! 

The best job in the world

chasing shadow

The best job in the world is not even a job. It’s pure love. Love that is unexpected. Joy that cannot be put into mere words. I am the Gramma to this sweet girl. She is now 13 months old. She came over to hang out with us today. We went for several walks and strolls. Looking for puppies. Listening to the birds chirp. Feeling the rays of sun on our heads and our toes. Babbling in our own language. Who cares that neither of us understands what the other is really saying. It just does not matter. It is pure unadulterated adoration. At least on my part. The Cutest Granddaughter in the World toddles around, climbs stairs at an astonishing rate of speed, eats saltines, sips water, looks at books, plays with Kermit the Frog, giggles uncontrollably, looks for the cat that hides from her, changing her voice as she tries to find her, moves a couple of my goofy paintings around from one spot to another, tries to open all the cabinet doors, plays hide-and-seek with her Granddad (yea, Granddad!), plays with the refrigerator magnets, and just generally brings a light to our lives that we never imagined possible.

We love you, Pumpkin. May you always know that in your heart of hearts. You are amazing.

We will make cookies one day soon! Which ones should we start with? Gramma can’t wait. Should we tell Mommy??

I am going to go with sugar cookies. Not only sugar cookies, but Quaker sugar cookies. You are part Quaker, thanks to the Bell side of the family. You need to know this.

Rolled Sugar Cookies

From Springfield Friends Cookery, Springfield Friends Meeting, High Point, NC

Marilyn Hipps (Mrs. Richard)

Makes 2-1/2 dozen cookies (depending on the size of the cookie cutters)

1/2 cup butter; leave out to soften 30 minutes before making the cookies

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

2 beaten eggs; leave eggs out to come to room temperature

1 tablespoon milk

2-1/2 cups sifted flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Additional sugar for sprinkling

Cream the butter until soft; add vanilla. Gradually add the sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Sift dry ingredients together. Combine eggs and milk and stir into creamed mixture. Add half the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add the remaining and mix well. Chill dough for at least an hour. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Roll a little more than 1/8 inch thick on well-floured surface. Cut with floured 3/4- inch round cookie cutter. Sprinkle with additional sugar. Place on baking sheet (lined with parchment paper) and bake in hot oven (400˚F) until only lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Remove from pan while warm. Cool on rack.

Bon appétit to all grand- and great-grand- parents out there. Isn’t it the best?

 

Feeders

I am stealing from Sean Dietrich again today. Can’t help it. I am head over heels in love with this man, his writing, his wife, Jamie, his hound dog, Ellie Mae, and his drawings. I will confess to him that I am using him as my guest blogger once again. I can’t help it with this morning’s story that popped up first thing in Facebook. Even FB knows of my love for Sean. He takes me back to my small town childhood. Sends me right up 1-40, takes the Bakersville Spruce Pine Burnsville exit and points me up the “mountain.” He conjures up Mama Mildred, my Granny, my Grandma Christine, my aunt Jeannette, my mutt Poochie Pie Bell, the church ladies who are still cooking for funerals at Liberty Hill Baptist Church and First Baptist Church. He recently wrote about the death of Rev. Billy Graham and made me realize that the Crusades that I attended and watched on TV sitting on the sofa with Grandma Christine were not just for us North Carolina mountain folk. They even knew him in Alabama? Whoa. Really? Anyway, a while back I wrote about cookers and eaters. Sean made me realize that there is a third category– feeders. (There are also lookers in there somewhere, but I am leery of people who just look…) So without further ado, friends, here are Sean’s musings for today. After this, I will set out the butter and eggs to come to room temperature to concoct my own pound cake. Pound cake is known to cure just about anything. Seriously. Sending you hugs, Mama Mildred. Wish I could do it in person. With a big slice of pound cake just for you.

 

I am in the kitchen with an elderly woman named Pauline. And, dear Lord, can she cook.
Her son, Don, brought me here. He tells me his mother’s downhome fare is good enough to coax even the most depraved human being into behaving like a Pentecostal.
This is Pauline’s old home. She raised a family here. She doesn’t live here anymore, she’s too old. She’s in the retirement home.
This house sits vacant most of the time. Old photos line the walls. Bed sheets cover furniture. The last time they used this place was for a family reunion last year.
I arrive at eight in the morning. The smell of bacon hits me like a freight train. Crackling eggs. Biscuits. Grits. Holy Chet Atkins, I’m home.
Pauline is wearing 1962—red polka-dot apron, pearls. She’s all business. The woman is a feeder. If you don’t know what that is, have a seat at her table.
Her food is breathtaking. Her grits contain so much butter I need to say three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers when I’m finished.
After breakfast, she takes a breather. We wash dishes.
“Now,” she announces. “Let the REAL cooking begin.”
Class is in session.
I’m here as an observer, watching a feeder teach her son to make pound cake. It’s a private moment. I feel privileged to see it.
Don is beside her, paying attention. She uses no recipes. She goes by feel.
“See,” Don tells me, “I always wanted to learn Mama’s poundcake. It’s the best there is, ask anyone, I just wanna carry on her legacy.”
You’ve never met her, but you already know her legacy. She represents every kitchen queen there ever was.
She is frilly aprons, Thursday-night Civic League, pear salad with cherries and shredded cheese on top, and an accent that makes your heart sore.
She cooks by handfuls, gut feelings, intuition, and can cure broken hearts with enough bacon grease.
Pauline learned to cook when she was ten. As a girl, she fed six brothers. As a married woman; three sons and a husband. Her whole life has been behind a stove.
“It’s what I am,” she says. “I feed folks.”
Her hands don’t work like they used to, and she gets winded after talking too much. She is not just an old woman. She is old America.
Her husband was a pipe welder—the backbone of this country. Pauline was his lumbar muscles.
Every day, another elderly woman like her crosses The River and the world loses another recipe index.
Pillsbury tube-biscuits are taking over the universe. Shoot me.
After a full day of baking, Don is testing his pound cake. His mother samples bites like a county-fair judge.
It’s impossible not to smile in this kitchen.
The old woman chews slow. “You DID it,” she says. “I’m so proud of you, Donnie.”
Don becomes “Donnie” again. I see it on his face. Even though he’s old enough to file for AARP, Mama’s pride reduces all grown men into little boys.
She kisses him. The day is over. They send two cakes home with me. They shut the lights off to a vacant house.
I’m eating cake while writing you. My lap is littered with crumbs. I’m no expert, but this cake has a familiar taste. I can’t pinpoint the flavor. It hits the gut first. It’s sweet.
I know what it is.
This cake was made with the same ingredient all feeders use. The only ingredient that matters in this life.
Hug your mother today, if you have one.
Thank you, Sean!
Mama Mildred recently passed on this well-worn cookbook to me. She worked at Baxter’s for several years and we used this cookbook extensively when I was growing up. My sister and I hand wrote quite a few recipes in it on blank pages, including this one:
Mahogany Pound Cake
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, room temperature, separated
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon bkaing soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift flour and cocoa together. Combine sour cream and baking soda. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Spoon into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 325˚ for 1 hour and 15 minutes for until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Bon appétit to all feeders out there. There is a special place in heaven for you. With a tricked out kitchen and a never-ending supply of butter and eggs. 

Entre les Bras update

An article written by Adam Nossiter for the New York Times partially republished in this morning’s Durham Herald-Sun immediately caught my attention. It is about French chef Jérôme Brochot, owner of Le France in Montceau-les-Mines, giving up his Michelin star.

This is practically unheard of. Those stars, however, drive up prices and bring a lot of pressure. It is very difficult and very expensive to maintain the stars and add more. Halfway through the article, Sébastien Bras’ name jumped out at me. My Sébastien Bras? I thought. Yes, indeed. Last fall, Sébastien, with his father Michel’s blessing, asked Michelin to remove his three stars. I googled and found this from the New York Times.

In 2013, I was asked to review a documentary film Entre les Bras (Step Up to the Plate is the English title), for The French Review, a publication of the American Association of Teachers of French. It is an excellent film. I actually know someone, a parent of one of my former students, who has eaten at Bras’ restaurant. That’s as close as I get in the grand scheme of degrees of separation to Michel and Sébastien. I did eventually send them a copy of the article and I received a very nice thank you note.

While googling Sébastien and Michel, I also found these videos of them preparing their signature dish Gargouillou.

After watching the film several times and reading all I could find about them in order to write my review, I felt as if I knew Michel and Sébastien. I got rather attached to them actually. I hope that Sébastien is happy and has found joy in cooking again. I still hope to visit Laguiole someday and meet les Bras. It’s on my to-do list.

Here’s my review of Entre les Bras. If you enjoy documentaries and food, this film is a great way to spend an hour and a half.

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Last year, I was asked to write about Entre les Bras for the French Review, the official publication of the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF).  The editor of the film section of the Review, Dr. Michèle Bissière, lives and teaches in North Carolina and is active in our chapter of the AATF.   She attended a presentation I made about my sabbatical or about cooking with my students.  Not sure which.  Anyway, she sent me a copy of the documentary, asked me to watch it, and write a review.  Wow.   Documentaries about French food and chefs are right up my alley after falling in love with Jacquy Pfeiffer in Kings of Pastry.  Durham, NC hosted the North American preview of the film as part of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival  and I wrote a review about it for our local newspaper.  Jacquy and his wife were in the audience, no less.

I watched Entre les Bras (Step Up To The Plate is its English title) several times and set about writing and daydreaming about actually eating there.  I am not sure that dream will ever come true, but I started thinking about it again after recently reading Ann Mah’s book Mastering the Art of French Eating.  Journalist Ann actually went to the Aveyron départment of France and interviewed Sébastien Bras.  And Papa Michel came in while she was talking to his son.

I realized that I haven’t posted my review.  I had grand plans to send it to Michel and Sébastien after it was published last spring, but either common sense got the better of me or I’ve been too shy to do so.  Silly me.  I need to mail it off with a fan letter.  Pourquoi pas?

Read the review and if you are in the mood for beautiful views of la France profonde, cows, and a glimpse into the life of a Michelin star chef, rent the film.

The parents of one of my 8th grade students have actually been to the restaurant in Laguiole…  Sigh.

Lacoste, Paul, réal.  Entre les Bras (Step Up To The Plate).  Michel Bras, Sébastien Bras. Cinéma Guild, 2012.

I recently read the story of Bernard Loiseau, a chef who committed suicide in 2003 at the age of 52, after rumors that his restaurant might lose one of its three Michelin stars.  Remembering that tragic story and considering that we have elevated chefs to rock star status in the United States, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a documentary about a three-star Michelin chef.  Would Michel Bras be a temperamental egomaniac?  Would he spend his time berating the wait staff in his restaurant or slamming pots and pans?   Or would he be riddled with self-doubt?  Or worse yet, would he have no confidence whatsoever in his son and heir-apparent, Sébastien, and belittle him?

Bras, père et fils, have a restaurant and hotel in Laguiole, in the Aveyron department in southern France, built on a hill with a breathtaking view of the valley below. Michel Bras is undoubtedly a perfectionist, as the viewer quickly finds out by watching him choose vegetables, herbs, and flowers for the restaurant.  His ties to the land where he has spent his entire life seem to be as deep as his family ties.  Michel is a slight, serious man, a runner, with round wire-rimmed glasses who looks more like a university professor than a chef.  He is, however, quite an entrepreneur and has built an empire based upon his expertise in the kitchen.

Food is the Bras family business.  Michel’s mother ran a restaurant and he followed her, taking over and earning Michelin stars.  He decided to build his current showpiece several years ago, secure in the knowledge that Sébastien would stay with him in the endeavor.  The premise of the movie is that Michel is ready to retire and hand over the reins to Séba, as he calls his son. I expected the movie to be mostly about Michel, but I found myself just as engrossed in the emotions of Sébastien and the idea of family duty.  There never seemed to be a question of what his life’s work would be. The photos of him at a very young age in a chef’s coat and toque made for him by his grandmother foreshadow his destiny. But is it easier to start from scratch as Michel did or to inherit an empire and try to stay on top?

Entre les Bras is divided into seasons, a fitting and logical setting for a movie about food and life.  The story comes full circle, in the course of a year, from spring to spring, watching four generations of family interact with one another around food.  Sébastien works on his own signature dishes, telling his own story, built on the time spent with his grandparents on their farm.  One touching scene shows Sébastien alone in the kitchen creating a dessert that he later calls his own chemin, or pathway, using elements from his childhood: bread (his dad), milk skin and chocolate (his mom), and blackberry jam and Laguiole cheese (his grandmother).  He seems truly at peace with the completion of this dish.  He must find his own way.  He knows this and his dad knows this.

The changing of the guard occurs as the viewer watches Michel take down his photos and mementos from the office bulletin board and put away his notebooks filled with recipes and drawings. Sébastien’s notebooks and a final scene of Alban, Sébastien’s son, cooking in the kitchen with his grandfather, wearing a miniature chef’s coat and toque, replace them.  Michel’s work isn’t finished yet.

From one of the first scenes, showing the plating of Michel Bras’ signature dish, Gargouillou, to the beauty of the Aubrac sunrises and sunsets, this is a stunningly beautiful and poignant story of the humans behind the creation of legendary food.

Resource:

www.bras.fr

Teresa Engebretsen

Durham Academy

Bon appétit, les Bras!

Searching for a recipe, I found Michel’s Coulant au chocolat. Have you ever eaten a molten lava cake aka fondant au chocolat aka moelleux au chocolat? Well, mon dieu bon dieu, I just discovered that Michel INVENTED it. I have attempted it several times, but mine never seems to coule… to flow. I even found a video produced by FR2, a French TV station, about French desserts that features Michel and his dessert. It’s in French and the photos are amazing. If you don’t like chocolate, don’t bother!

 

There are a lot of recipes out there for this amazing treat. Here’s the one I will try next. Maybe this afternoon? When I need a break from grading exams? Should La Table de Claire be on my Paris to-do list?  Well, malheureusement, that won’t be possible. It is fermé– permanently closed- now.

Fondant au chocolat recipe from La Table de Claire

From Complete France

With black-and-white floor tiles, a Formica bar, modern light fixtures and a sunny terrace, this is the little bistro everyone dreams of having around the corner. La Table de Claire in the 11th arrondissement made its name thanks to the ‘chef d’un soir’ nights, in which amateur chefs would take over the restaurant. Chef Claire Seban has moved on to other projects, but the current chef/owner, Lofti Sioud, continues to serve a spontaneous cuisine inspired 
by his travels and by seasonal produce. Because so many customers had a soft spot for Claire’s fondant au chocolat, it often appears on the menu.

Serves 8.

• 220g dark chocolate, the best you can afford

• 200g butter

• 100g white sugar

• 5 eggs

• 1 level tbsp flour

• A little butter for the mould

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

2. In a heavy saucepan, melt the dark chocolate and butter together over a low heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm and add the eggs one by one. Finally, fold in the flour.

3. Pour the batter into eight buttered ring moulds placed on 
a baking sheet, or eight buttered shallow dishes (crème brûlée dishes would work well). Bake for eight minutes.

4. Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla or caramel ice cream.

Bon appétit, mes amis, near and far. As 2017 comes to a close, I wish you all happiness and good eatin’, surrounded by loved ones. I will be with my in-laws, celebrating my belle-mère’s birthday.

 

All I Want for Christmas

As I sit here, next to my beautiful Christmas tree,

listening to the cat lap up water and to cars pass by at 7:15 on Christmas morning, I have the song All I Want for Christmas stuck in my head. Yesterday I had almost everything I need right under one roof. Adorable Granddaughter spent the night so she was crawling/toddling around the downstairs. Son #2 came in from Charleston by way of Charlotte, bringing Couper-Dog with him. Son #1 and EB came over to fetch Miss Adorable and stayed around to have some Maple View Farms eggnog and cookies. And for Miss Adorable to open her gifts. Not that she has any clue about what’s going on other than there are some bright lights on a tree and tissue paper to pull out of bags.

They are off to visit the other grandparents today.

Christmas is much calmer when your children are 30 and 25. And way quieter. So I am in my silent house (even the cat has gone back to sleep now) thinking about what I want for Christmas, the real list. In no particular order:

  • good health for my family, my friends and me
  • the satisfaction that comes from hard work and a job well done at the end of the day
  • kindness in this world
  • politicians who genuinely care about the people they represent, true civil servants
  • laughter
  • good books
  • an end to poverty, hunger and homelessness
  • more time with Mama Mildred and the SP gang
  • equity for everyone, regardless of their skin color, religion and geographic location
  • music to sing along with and dance to
  • delicious food and drink, shared with family and friends
  • travel
I know that I could add many more, but as we always told the Sons, Santa doesn’t like greedy children (or adults- especially adults).
On today’s menu, biscuits for breakfast. Or maybe French toast? Pancakes? (At least I already made the coffee.) For lunch, I will cook a roast beast (actually a beef tenderloin, I just like to call it that), gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans/haricots verts, if you want to get fancy, yeast rolls and an apple-cranberry crumble-type dish using a recipe passed on to me by the BFF (Miss Helen’s specialty). We will time this lunch so that it doesn’t interfere with the Boston Celtics basketball game later this afternoon. Son #2 is a huge fan and has started writing for a Celtics blog.
Time to get on with the biscuits– I hear the thundering paws of a white lab upstairs so the house is coming to life.
My final cookie creation from Christmas Eve–
 
Chocolate Peppermint Kiss Cookies
adapted from Sally McKenney’s Rainbow Kiss Cookies
 
makes 24
 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
24 peppermint kisses
  • Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Whisk together flour, cocoa and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
  • Beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, scraping down the bowl a couple of times. Add egg yolk, milk and vanilla; beat on high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides and beat again as needed to fully combine. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just until combined. You may need to switch over to a wooden spoon to finish adding the flour- this dough is thick.
  • At this point, I wish that I had refrigerated the dough for 30 minutes so that it would have been easy to roll. You may do this, if you wish.
  • Shape dough into balls. Place them 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
  • Bake cookies for 9-10 minutes, until set. When out of the oven, gently press an unwrapped peppermint kiss into the center of each cookie. Cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Be careful handling the cookies until completely cool. The kiss gets melty from the warm cookie. (I messed one up and had to eat the evidence.)
**Sally’s recipe calls for the balls of dough to be rolled in rainbow nonpareils or sprinkles before baking and then a chocolate kiss pressed into the center of each cookie when they come out of the oven. With all the different flavors of chocolate kisses out there, you could be quite creative.
Bon appétit, Joyeux Noël and Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. If not, I wish you a plain old wonderful day. I hope that you are warm, safe and well-fed. And with at least one person you love.