Snow 2017

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(photo taken by C. Bland)

2017 has barely begun and we have our first snow “storm.”  Well, okay, it is a blizzard for us here in the piedmont section of North Carolina.  The photo my sister-in-law sent is from the mountains where she lives.  I took a photo of her vélo at Thanksgiving and gave it to her in the form of a notecard for Christmas.

cindys-bike

She returned the favor this morning via Facebook.  It looks beautiful in the snow. Or sous la neige, as the French say.  Under the snow.

It’s the perfect day to stay in the house.  Read, straighten out and put away my messy Christmas wrappings, make a stack of the things I need to pack for my upcoming trip to Paris, charge camera batteries, make note of addresses for postcards, update birthdays in my calendar, and make gingerbread.

gingerbread

While doing some of that straightening, I came across some thank you notes written to me by students just before the winter break.  One of the math teachers at my school gives his students a point of extra credit if they write a note to one of their teachers.  (I am tearing up again just looking at them…)  They will be added to my Gratitude bulletin board when on Monday (IF we have school).  These notes are the reason I teach, why I am sure that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do with my life.  Sure, I teach French verb conjugations, try to brainwash middle schoolers into thinking that studying French is the most amazing part of their day, but that isn’t my most important job.

I am very hesitant to post these notes.  It sounds as if I am trying to hold myself up above others and say “Look at me- I am such an amazing teacher.” Oh no.  I have so many self-doubts.  Am I teaching them what they need to know before they move on to French 3 and high school?  My lesson plans are not that exciting.  Why don’t I spend more time on them? (Because I do need to sleep at least 6 hours every night?)  Am I up-to-date on the latest research in language acquisition?  No.  I don’t even have a master’s degree.  I met with our head of school a few weeks ago and he was kind of surprised when I admitted that. I wish that I had done it right after I graduated, but then again, maybe I would have never found Durham Academy.  Am I just too old?  Have I become too old to know what adolescents are facing?  Am I too old-school? Do my younger colleagues look up to me or think that I should retire soon?  I am an expert at French 1, 2 and 3.  Teach AP?  Not on your life.  Am I fluent?  Yes, but I don’t know everything/enough.  I have nightmares where I cannot speak a word of French or every time I say a word with an “r” in it, I cannot for the life of me make the French “r.”  And everyone laughs.  I know that I am lucky- I teach in an independent school with motivated kids.  I can only hope that I do indeed make a difference in their lives.

But enough of my (abundant) insecurities.  The reason I was inspired to write this post is because I saw an article this morning written by a math teacher entitled “What even IS good teaching?”  I understood completely what the author was trying to say.  Thank you, Crazy Math Teacher Lady.  You ARE really really awesome.  I get it.

Here are some excerpts, unedited.  They are, after all,  middle schoolers and not 100% perfect…

“This year has really been fun.  Having you since 7th grade has been awesome.  I have learned so much about French and life.  You make learning French super fun.”

Merci, but I KNOW for a fact that it is not always super fun.  But thank you for sitting in the front row and making me want to be a better teacher. And for staying awake first thing in the morning even when I know you are exhausted (because I kept you out late at a performance of An American in Paris at the DPAC).

“We had the opportunity to write letters to different teachers in math.  You came right to my mind.  You are truly an influence and role model to me.  You love your students so much and it encourages me to work harder and do my best in your class.  Your  honestly like a mom to LW and me and I am so greatful for that.  I know that if I am having a bad day or just need to talk you will actually listen.”

Oui, I do love you.  That’s why I was Mme Grincheuse the other day when you and some of your pals decided to hang out after school, but no one knew you were there.  I am your mom while you are at school.  I take your well-being very seriously.

“Thank you for teaching me French this year!! Although, there have been slight hiccups along the way, this year has been very fun.  I may be riding on the B train right now I think that something has clicked and I am understanding the language more than ever.  I look forward to the France trip!”  P.S.  le beurre de cacahuète

The B train has good, comfortable seats, too.  Keep eating peanut butter and making me laugh out loud!

“I hope that you have an amazing holiday!  This is the time of year when you look back at what you are thankful for and appreciate.  I appreciate you as a teacher.  Your rigorous class always keeps me motivated and you always make me smile.  For the year and a half I have been in your class, you have taught me to how to be a mindful student.”

You are all a teacher could hope for in a student.  I have a feeling that you have always been mindful!  Your smile and quiet presence in my class are a gift.  I should be thanking you for making me look good.

“I have learned an unbeliveable amount of French in just a year and a half.  You always seem to care about your students and I will definitely remember you as a great teacher.”

And I will always remember you and how hard you have worked in my class. It hasn’t always been easy and I know that you have shed more than a few tears of frustration.  But you have stuck with it and now you are reaping the rewards.

“Thank you.  Thank you for all you have done.  While I may not be the best student in French, you have always made me feel important in the class.  You make everyone feel welcomed.  In 6th grade, I was new.  I had French class B period so it was one of the first things I experienced at DA.  In that class I never felt new.  I can’t imagine middle school without you teaching me.”

Well, thank YOU for making everyone in your class feel important.  I have noticed that you work with classmates who don’t have a partner.  I saw you walking around with new students at recess the first week of school.  You didn’t do it so that I would notice and praise you.  You did it because you sincerely wanted to.  Your beautiful smile is a daily gift to all.

“I wanted to thank you for the wonderful time I have had in your class.  You have made French class so much fun for me, in a way that inspires me to love learning.  I love how your class is so interactive and hands-on, and I never expected to have this much fun in a class, and I look forward to class every day.  You are a great teacher who knows when to be serious and when to be fun.  To be able to not only teach a language but to teach kids to love learning is a special quality.”

I am so glad you decided to come to my school this year.  We are the lucky ones. You make me laugh every single day.  And, although you are a very serious student and a worrier of the first order, you are able to laugh at yourself.

“Bonjour!! Merry Christmas.  Thank you for being the best French teacher ever.  You have made — and I not only better at French but just at being better people.”

Oh, how I will miss you and your smiling face at the end of this year.  French isn’t easy for you, but you come to class with a huge smile on your face every single day.  You are amazing.  Never, ever forget that.

So, how about one more beautiful mountain photo of snow.  And a biscuit recipe. Everyone loves biscuits, right?

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(photo taken by H.H. Wise, near Spruce Pine, NC)

All-Purpose Biscuits Biscuits

Sam Sifton, New York Times

6-8 servings

2 c. all-purpose flour, more for dusting (I use King Arthur, non-bleached)

2 Tbsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)

1 scant Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

5 Tbsp. cold butter, unsalted (European-style, if possible– higher fat content)

1 c. whole milk (can substitute buttermilk)

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, sat and sugar in a large bowl.  (I use a whisk and skip the sifting.) Cut butter into pats and add to flour.  You can use a food processor and pulse 5-6 times or use a pastry cutter or even a fork.  (I have a pastry cutter and do it that way.)  Mixture should resemble rough crumbs.  If using a food processor, return dough to bowl.  Add milk and stir with a fork until it forms a rough ball.
  2. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and pat it down into a rough triangle, about an inch thick.  Fold it over gently and pat it down again.  Cover dough loosely with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Gently pat out the dough some more so that it makes a (roughly) 10 x 6 rectangle.  (You can keep it thicker if you want bigger, but fewer biscuits.)  Cut biscuits using a floured glass or biscuit cutter.  Do not twist the cutter when cutting- it crimps the edges and your biscuits will not rise as high. (I cut mine into squares, using a sharp floured knife.  I do not have to work the dough again, which can lead to a tougher biscuit.)
  4. Place biscuits onto a cookie sheet (I line mine with parchment paper) and bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes.
  5. Serve hot with butter, honey, jam, or whatever your little heart desires.

biscuits

Bon appétit!  Stay warm!

“Whatever you are, be a good one.”   –Abraham Lincoln

Après Thanksgiving 2016

give-thanks-pumpkin

It’s post-Thanksgiving, T + 3, but I am still thinking about all I have to be thankful for in my life.  I have fallen into a post-election sadness.  Not depression, but a deep sadness for my country.  Politics aside, seriously, it’s not Democrat vs Republican.  It’s about treating others, those different from us, with dignity and respect.  We lost that in the 2016 presidential election. We now have a group known as the Alt-Right who think it is okay to bring back some sort of Heil Hitler mentality.  I am uncomfortable in all-white Protestant settings now because it isn’t what I want my world to look like.  I like differences.  The day after the election, I sat down to face my 11 advisees and looked into a group made up of 6 girls and 5 boys, one red-head of Italian heritage, three African Americans,  three Asian-Americans, one French-Asian genetic combination, and a couple who look like me.  White European Americans.  We all came from somewhere.  Unless you are Native American, your ancestors came over on a boat or maybe in an airplane.  My ancestry?  Turns out that I am (according to Ancestry):

35% Great Britain

29% Europe West

15% Ireland

12% Scandinavia

3% Europe East

2% Italy-Greece

2% Finland-Northwest Russia

<1% Iberian Peninsula

2 % West Asia

I looked at those 12 year-old faces on November 9 and told them that we are truly only in control of how we behave, how we choose to treat others. I, along with two 7th grade girls, challenged them to Spread the Kindness and do something kind for one person each day.

Son #1 lives close by so we discussed the election quite a bit.  We have the same views.  Son #2 lives a couple hours away from home and texted me a day or two after it was all said and done “The sun is still rising and the people I love are ok.  As selfish as it may be considering the circumstances, I’m going to take refuge with those two facts until I can think about everything with a clear mind.”  I have decided to take refuge in that as well.  The sun is indeed still rising.  Spectacularly some mornings.  And it is still setting beautifully as well.

I spent Thanksgiving in the mountains of North Carolina.  The view from the living room of my sister and brother-in-law’s house–

cindys-view

It reminds me of the woods behind my Granny’s house on a mountaintop in the Estatoe/Penland section of Spruce Pine.  My siblings, cousins and I spent hours making towns and playhouses under pine trees and rhododendron bushes.

The Ex-Ex’s parents made the trip with us.  We had almost the whole E clan there.  (We missed you D, K and M.)

We had an abundant amount of food.

We have two grandbabies on the way.  Thanksgiving next year will be quite different!  A pink cake pop- an ingenious way to let the family know what you are expecting. It took three of them and more than a few minutes for it to sink into my dense head.  I like to provide a laugh whenever I can.

cake-pop

My children barely tolerated my picture-taking.  One of them quite openly hates it, but puts up with me for a little while.  Can you guess which one?

three

Actually, from the looks on both boys’ faces, it might be hard to tell.  Too bad.  Mom wins.  (Thank you for smiling, EB!)

I got a few minutes with Mama Mildred and Sister Moo in Marion on the way to Brevard.  I had a couple of things to deliver and they met us right off the interstate.  Mama Mildred is on the mend (Merci, St. Bernadette) and Sister Moo is busy volunteering to take care of the firefighters who have come from all over the country to help fight the fires that have been raging for weeks in our mountains.  Love you more, Moo.  Bless you.

As I stood stirring a praline topping for this morning’s baking adventure, the thought popped into my head that in just a couple of years I will have a baking apprentice.  Sunday mornings will be my time to teach the soon-to-be-born Kennedy all of my secrets.  That thought alone is reason enough to get up in time to see the sun rise every day.

What to do with the leftover bread from Thanksgiving?  Eggs, milk, cinnamon, butter, vanilla, brown sugar, and a few pecans will solve that problem.

french-toast

Sunday Morning Baked French Toast

based on recipe from allrecipes

Casserole:

5 c. bread cubes (I probably used more- I had leftover sourdough and Italian-style bread), best if a bit stale

6 eggs

2 c. milk (maybe more if mixture seems too dry)

2 Tbsp. sugar (I used Turbinado, but granulate white sugar would have mixed in better)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Butter for greasing pan

Topping:

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)

1 Tbsp. light Karo corn syrup (I found some without high fructose corn syrup which is, according to a chef friend, the work of the devil, to be avoided at all costs)

Pecans

1/4 c. packed light brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Grease 11 x 7 baking dish.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Place bread in bottom of baking dish.

Mix eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, salt and vanilla.  Pour over the bread and stir to coat.  If mixture seems too dry, add another egg and some milk beaten together.  (You do not have to be precise!)  Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.  (You can refrigerate it overnight as well if you like to do things in advance.)

To make the topping, melt butter in a small saucepan along with the pecans, cinnamon, corn syrup, and brown sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Spoon it over the casserole.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until top is golden.

Bon appétit to all those out there who are thankful.  Keep smiling and Spreading the Kindness.  Wake up early and watch the sunrise!

 

Give Thanks

gratitude-tree

Practice gratitude.  Easily said.  Not so easily done sometimes.  But I try to do this every day.  By nature, I am not a negative person.  EB recently gave me this little gratitude tree. She and Son #1 have one in their apartment. Last time I was there, I noticed that theirs has more leaves on it than mine and that makes me very happy.  Now that I look at mine, so far I have the letter F covered!  When I begin to feel worried or upset, I take deep breaths and try to focus on the good.  This morning’s grateful list in no particular order.

  • My health.  A little neck pain requiring some treatment but nothing debilitating or too serious.  Getting older isn’t for sissies.
  • Two amazing sons finding their way into adulthood and their own happiness.
  • The Ex-Ex. We recently celebrated the anniversary of our first official date. We went to the 30th birthday party of a colleague (who has become a very dear friend and is still a colleague) in 1981.  2016-1981= 35.  Wow.
  • Mama Mildred.  Still my hero.
  • Sister Moo.  More.
  • Technology.  I have the world at the touch of a button or the click of a key.  Amazing.
  • A well-stocked pantry and refrigerator.
  • Leftovers.  Specifically chili and potato soup at the moment.
  • Fall.  It is going to be the perfect day today.  Sunny with a high of 65˚F.  We have had the bluest skies lately.  I actually had to find my ice scraper this morning to get the frost off my windshield for the first time.
  • My friends.  We laugh.  We cry.  We celebrate.  We mourn.
  • My home.  Warm. Dry. Comfortable. Casual.
  • Books.  My escape.
  • My students.  They inspire me, make me laugh, make me want to pull my hair out, keep me young.
  • My comfortable, warm clothes.  All my black dresses.  My black tights.  My Dansko clogs.  My boots.  A great pair of jeans I found at a consignment shop– on sale.  The cashmere sweater I found on get-rid-of-it sale and I had a coupon.
  • Durham.  The town I live in.  Keep it dirty, Durham.  I love you just the way the are.  Great restaurants.  The American Tobacco Trail.  Duke.  The Durham Bulls. DPAC.  Duke Gardens.
  • The student who inspired me (and, more importantly, helped me) to set up this blog. The people who read my blog.  Thank you very much.  Merci beaucoup.

banana-oatmeal-muffins

Oatmeal Banana Muffins

Makes 12

Inspired by Allrecipes

1-1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup Old-Fashioned oatmeal

1/2 cup white sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup mashed bananas (2 med-sized bananas)

Pre-heat oven to 400˚F.  Line muffin tin with paper cups or coat with cooking spray.

Whisk together flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg slightly with a fork.  Stir in milk, oil, and vanilla.  Add the bananas and mix thoroughly.

Stir the flour mixture into the wet mixture just until combined.  Batter will be a bit lumpy.

Divide the batter evenly among the cups.  If desired, sprinkle turbinado sugar mixed with cinnamon over the tops.

Bake 15-18 minutes or until muffins test done.

Bon appétit and practice gratitude and kindness.  It has been an ugly presidential campaign and I am glad it’s over as of today.

 

 

 

Let them eat brioche?

**Update October 25, 2016

Sometimes the most wonderful things happens when you write a blog. You make new friends.  And you realize that people really do read what you write.  I write this blog this for me, but if I can reach just a few others who have the same interests I do, then I feel so grateful and just plain old happy.  After I posted this one, I got the following unexpected email:

Looking for a yummy breakfast recipe for this weekend, I came across your blog about adventures in life, food, and travel and your brioche recipe, I enjoy your post and most of all thank you for the recipe, I will definitely try it!
I also read an interesting subject on your blog about Marie-Antoinette. (From Tuesday, October 16, 2012, you pasted back on Let them eat brioche? October 16, 2016).
This reminds me of my work, I work as an e-translator in the e-tourism sector at Seine Saint Denis Tourism Board Paris Ile de France. I translate and updated every week on a regular basis plenty of tourist information for international visitors! I love to socialize, and tackle ideas, talk to visitors from wherever they are in the world ….making my contribution to the fabric of e-community
As I translated some pages which included M.A (…..The statue shows some anachronistic details about the Empire-inspired dress worn by Marie-Antoinette. The former Abbey of Saint Denis is witness to centuries of the spiritual, political and artistic history of France, a masterpiece of gothic art and final resting place of the kings and Queens of France….).
So referring to your post, I would be very grateful if you can paste some links,
as I think it would be helpful to future visitors of the Gothic Basilica of Saint Denis http://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/louis-xvi-and-marie-antoinette.html or to locate Marie-Antoinette tombstone on this map http://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/map-of-the-tombs-saint-denis-basilica.html; and also know more and get practical information to plan their visit.
Thank you for your time and consideration, do contact me if you have any questions or for any information on Paris for your blogs.

How cool is that?  I am very happy to post the links and maybe I have made a new friend!  It makes me realize that I need to go back to the Basilica of Saint Denis and spend more time looking around.  I never miss the opportunity to photograph a statue of St. Denis carrying his head on his way to Christian land to breathe his last breath.

In Senlis-

senlis

In Montmartre–

st-denis-mont

montmartre

At Notre Dame de Paris–

nd

Merci, Camille!

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

Bon appétit!  

From Tuesday, October 16, 2012

 

Marie Antoinette at age 13 by Martin van Meytens, 1767.
Well, boys and girls, tonight I was looking forward to a nice quiet evening of gubernatorial and presidential debates.  But what should I see when I get to the “Today in History” section of the local newspaper?  Today is the 219th anniversary of the death of Marie Antoinette.  She lost her head on October 16, 1793 in what is now the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Marie was just short of her 38th birthday.  Her body was tossed into an unmarked grave but exhumed in 1815 and taken to the Basilica of Saint Denis for a proper Christian burial.
I visited her gravesite last March.
She is also immortalized in stone in Saint Denis, alongside her husband, Louis XVI.
Funerary monument to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette,
sculptures by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot in the Basilica of St Denis
(I have developed quite a thing for statues lately.)
Some Marie Antoinette facts…
— She was the 15th child of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
— At her home court, she was encouraged to play with the “commoners” and was allowed to wander the gardens and have pets.  The atmosphere was much more relaxed than it was in France.  She tried to recreate this later at the Petit Trianon and her little farm, le petit Hameau, but she was not very successful.  It is a cool place to visit, though, and where I saw my first “wild” boar.  (If you find yourself at Versailles in nice weather, rent a bike and ride around the grounds– a great way to see everything without wearing yourself out and spending all of your time walking.)
— She didn’t take her education very seriously and had lousy handwriting.
Her signature:
However, she was a good singer and dancer, could speak Italian and French in addition to her native German, was fairly proficient in English, was a decent artist, and had great poise– a queen in training, wouldn’t you say?
— Maria Antonia, as she was called, had crooked teeth and the French didn’t care for that so before her marriage, she had to have very painful oral surgery to correct her smile and bring her up to queenly snuff.  No braces back in the day.
— After all the marriage negotiations, she was finally wed by proxy in Vienna.  Her brother stood in for the bridegroom who couldn’t make the trip, I guess.  She was handed over to the French at the age of 15 and headed for the palace of Versailles where another wedding ceremony took place.  The mystery surrounding the consummation of the marriage plagued the newlyweds for years.  A marriage of convenience?  Perhaps the future king of France had problems?
— Her mom was hyper-critical and her husband was not very affectionate.  She turned to shopping and gambling.  However, she did seem to get tired of fancy petticoats and lots of make-up and helped change fashion.
From this
To this
— She birthed four children, two sons and two daughters, but one daughter lived less than a year.
–“Let them eat cake.”  Did she really say this?  Supposedly, upon being told that the peasants had no bread to eat, she quipped that they could eat brioche, a sweeter bread than the usual baguette.
— There is a fascinating story about The Diamond Necklace Affair at this website.  I can’t possibly retell it and do it justice.  Just click and read on.  It was the undoing of Marie Antoinette.
As I attempted to write this post about Queen Marie Antoinette, I quickly realized that I had barely scratched the surface and that I am very ignorant about her.  I’ve seen the 2006 movie, Marie Antoinette, starring Kristin Dunst and didn’t care for it.  I just read a story about the attempted escape from Paris by the royal family in the book Parisians:  An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb.
I have this book in my bookcase but have not read it.
It has now been placed just under the Graham Robb book and is next on my list.
For the past four years (since spending Halloween in France and not dressing up), I have considered dressing up as her for Halloween.  I think that this is a sign that the time has come.  I have two weeks to get that costume pulled together.  Got any good suggestions?
Also while living in France, I decided to try to learn to make a decent brioche à l’orange.  The B&B guests were served quite a bit of it.  I discovered that it makes great French toast, too. I tried several different recipes and blogged about it here and here.
Brioche #1
broiche1
1 tsp sugar (or honey)
2 packages yeast (or 5 tsp)
4 eggs
1/2 c. warm milk (110 F)
4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c + 2 Tbsp butter
1 egg yolk, beaten (for glaze)
orange flavoring (optional)
1 c. dried apricots (optional)- snip and add to dough during the second risingStir sugar into warm milk and sprinkle in yeast. Wait 5 minutes. Sift flour and salt together. Melt butter and cool slightly. Lightly beat butter and eggs into yeast mixture. Add orange flavoring. Add 2 cups flour and then slowly add more until a dough forms and you can knead in enough to make a smooth dough. Cover and let rise 60 minutes in a warm place. Grease small or large brioche pans. Take 3/4 of the dough and shape into balls. Use the remaining 1/4 to make small ones to place on top of the larger ones. Place in baking pans. Brush brioche with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Let rise another 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 F. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

brioche-2
Brioche #2
My (Nearly) Perfect Orange Brioche Recipe
(found on the back of a package of yeast in France and slightly modified…)1/4 lb (one stick) of softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs (at room temperature)
1/4 c. warm water
one package active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm milk
orange flavoring
2-3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
apricot or strawberry preserves
sugar

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

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

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

“Bake something. You’ll feel better.”

muffin-and-coffee

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

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

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

 

 

Pumpkin Bread (or Muffins)

from Smitten Kitchen  makes 1 large loaf or 18 medium muffins

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

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

3 large eggs

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

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

3/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt or table salt

3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Heaped 1/4 tsp. ground ginger

Heaped 1/4 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

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

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

To finish:

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

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 350˚F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

moon-1014

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

Searching for Aimée Leduc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

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

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

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

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

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

Financiers
recipe from Dorie Greenspan

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

An Ode to Autumn

leaves

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

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

Fall

My favorite of seasons

I love thee for multiple reasons…

  1.  Your skies of blue

lucky-strike-tower

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

2.  Your leaves of red and golden hue

red-leaf

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

Here are photos I took a couple of years ago.

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3.  Sitting outside when the temperatures are cool

s-durham-hotel

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

4.  The football games of your favorite school

vols

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

5.  The smell of pumpkin spice in the air

pumpkin

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photo credit:  Starbucks

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

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

muffin1

muffin2

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

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

pumpkins

garden

sheep

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cooking-contest

corn

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

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

Fall  

I love thee from the very depths of my soul.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl Muffins

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

makes 18

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

Muffins:

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

1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

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

3/4 cup granulated sugar

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

2 large eggs

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

1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

Cheesecake swirl:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

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

baked-muffins

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

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

candy-corn

Good Women by Sean Dietrich

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

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

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

September 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only that.

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

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

And my mouth.

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

I’m just getting warmed up.

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

Anyway, what I’m driving at is:

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

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

Mother of fatback.

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

Thanks for these sugar cookies, ma’am.

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

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

We will begin with Sistine Chapel.
The dough–

In a stack–

Top view–

Sistine Chapel Sugar Cookies

makes about 30 cookies

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

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

Now for Foolproof Chewy
The dough–

The stack–

Foolproof Chewy Sugar Cookies
makes 2 dozen

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

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

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

Heroes

doug-marlette-cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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i-have-a-dream

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

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

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

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

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

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Vietnam.  My uncle Charles at age 18.

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

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We are still fighting the fight.

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

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

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

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

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power-of-pen

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

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

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

 

Cowboy Skillet Cake

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

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Combine in a bowl and stir a little to mix:

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, whisk and set aside:

2 large eggs

1-1/4 cups milk

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

Stir into the cake batter:

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour into the cast iron skillet.

Finishing touch:

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

1/4 cup of sugar

the zest of one small lemon

a dash of cinnamon

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

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

 

 

A week of big news

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Yes.  Big, big news.  I am going to be a grand-mère.  Mamie, as my Frenchies are already calling me.  Pronounced Ma-Me.  Son #1 and Mom-to-Be invited me over at 7:00 am a couple of weeks ago to take the photo.  Buddha is a handsome fellow, too, isn’t he?  Looks as if he is ready to take his job seriously.  A lot to wrap my head around and so very exciting now that I have!  The Parents-to-Be stopped by my classroom a couple of days ago to give me a little present and more big news.  I burst into tears.  Of course.

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And to share a photo.  (They did not have this technology when Dad-to-Be was patiently waiting to be born.)

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Oui, that’s the Little Nugget who will be known as Kennedy in a few months.  Amazing. Incroyable.

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I want happiness for them.  A healthy baby.  Love.  And more love.  A child can never have too many people who love her (nor can her parents). She needs the devotion of a sweet pup.  And a grand-mère who has been given permission to decorate Son #1’s old room in pink and Eiffel Towers for when Kennedy comes over to stay. Visions of souvenirs from France are dancing in my head.  Baking with her.  Her first apron.  Someone to inherit all my Eiffel Towers.  And books about France. Pretty exciting stuff, n’est-ce pas?

School’s second week is coming to a close.  Almost everyone in the entire school is off on one field trip or another.  Most to the great outdoors in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

The Ex-Ex went rappelling.  I tried that once.  Scared the bejesus out of me.

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He is now back safe and sound.  And with both feet firmly on the ground.

I got up early this morning and baked for my fabulous 7th grade teammates.  A few days ago, Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted an update to her blueberry muffin recipe and I had blueberries waiting in the refrigerator.  One of my buddies proclaimed them the “best blueberry muffins I have eaten in my 48 years on this planet.”  That is high praise.

unbaked muffins

muffins 1

I think it’s the abundance of blueberries and the crunchy turbinado sugar on top that pushed this from good to great.

(Didn’t save any for the Ex-Ex…  oops.)

Even More Perfect Blueberry Muffins

Smitten Kitchen

(Below is Deb’s recipe copied and pasted.  I came out with 12 muffins and baked them for 23 minutes.  Her pictures are much more beautiful than mine!  Check them out by clicking on the link above.  Believe me, Blythe Danner has never commented on one of my recipes!)

This began with an adaptation of an old Cook’s Illustrated blueberry muffin but with so many changes, it no longer resembles the original. I use yogurt instead of buttermilk, less sugar, I’ve adapted it to make it one-bowl and then in August 2016 it got the biggest overhaul yet after a month of blueberry muffin studies. From Stella Parks at Serious Eats, I came to agree that a full teaspoon of coarse sugar on top of each muffin sounds crazy but actually makes a delightfully crunchy lid. If the muffin underneath it isn’t too sweet, it doesn’t put it over the top at all — it’s just right. I also found her combination of coriander (I know!) and nutmeg crazy good and worth trying if you’re curious, even if I’m still defaulting to my lemon zest only here. From Blythe Danner, I realized you could put an inordinate amount of berries in each muffin and still have a very good muffin. I ended up doubling the berries in my go-to in the last batch and regret not-a-thing. (Should you be hesitant, just an increase from 3/4 cups to 1 1/4 is excellent but not over-the-top improvement.) I found it made 9 taller and more gorgeous muffins than it did of the 10 to 11 in the original recipe; just double it for a crowd.

 

  • 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces or 100 grams) sugar
  • Finely grated zest from 1/2 a lemon (previously: 1/2 teaspoon zest)
  • 3/4 cup plain unsweetened yogurt or sour cream- I used Fage plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups (215 to 255 grams) blueberries, fresh or frozen (no need to defrost) (previously: 3/4 cup, see note up top)
  • 3 tablespoons turbinado (sugar in the raw) sugar

 

Heat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin tin with 9 paper liners or spray each cup with a nonstick spray. Melt butter in the bottom of a large bowl and whisk in sugar, zest, yogurt and egg until smooth. Whisk in baking powder, baking soda and salt until fully combined, then lightly fold in flour and berries. Batter will be very thick, like a cookie dough. Divide between prepared muffin cups and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar, which will seem over-the-top but I promise, will be the perfect crunchy lid at the end. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean (you know, except for blueberry goo). Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then … on a rack. 

Bon appétit and much love and happiness to all!  This morning when I got in my car to go to school, I got my first glimpse that fall just might be on the way.  I am ready and waiting.

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