Therapy

runners

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

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

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

bridge

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

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

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

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

cardinal

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

From The Cardinal Experience:

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

According to California Psychics

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

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

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

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

Cardinals-image-cardinals-36122736-900-675

Or how about this pair from Dreams Time?

cardinals-snow-20034195

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

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

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

pumpkin

unbaked

stack

cookies2

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

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

Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles

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

2-1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

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

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

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

14 Tbsp softened unsalted butter

 

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 egg yolk, at room temperature

3/4 cup 100% pure pumpkin puree

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

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

Dear Google Paris

images-1

Dear Google Paris,

First, allow me to tell you how much I love you. Well, not necessarily your Paris office since I have not yet visited, but Google. As I say often, I must have been dumber than dirt before you came into my life 19 short years ago. I even made googler into a regular  -er verb in my French classes. I am pretty sure many other French teachers have followed my lead, but I was first.

googler:  to google

je google         nous googlons

tu googles       vous googlez

il google         ils googlent

elle google     elles googlent

Impératif:  Google ce mot pour trouver la définition, Avery.

Page et Isabelle, googlez les dates de Paris Fashion Week 2018, s’il vous plaît.

Googlons et trouvons une vidéo des Jeux Olympiques 2024.

Passé composé:  Hier soir, j’ai googlé des photos du bureau parisien de Google.

Futur: Et je googlerai tous les jours de ma vie.

Conditionnel: Je googlerais Justin Timberlake si mon ordinateur marchait.

And on and on and on.

Second, I have applied for a job with you in the past. I even had some of my 8th grade students write letters of recommendations for me. Oui. I have at least two former students who work for Google here in the U.S. They could put in a good word for me, as could their siblings and parents.

I really want to live in Paris. That’s on my bucket list. Hmmmm. Wonder how you say that in French?  Oui, j’ai googlé, bien sûr–

ma liste de choses à faire avant de mourir

I have visited your beautiful city many times since my first trip in 1978. I take 8th graders every March during our school spring break. If I am lucky, I go one other time  for a few days during the course of a year. That’s not the same as living there, n’est-ce pas? I lived in Arles for a total of eight months in 2007-2008. That’s been almost 10 years.  Far too long.

You are probably wondering just what job I would like to have. I have a proposal for you:  Snack Coordinator. Just hear me out, d’accord? I know that France is the pastry capital of the world. Éclairs, macarons, tartes au citron, pain au chocolat, croissants, etc. I would not even attempt those. Why on Earth would I when they can be found on every street corner? I would stock your snack room with American delicacies (dare I say Southern American?). Chocolate chip and sugar cookies. Red Velvet, vanilla, and chocolate cupcakes. Cheesecake. Brownies (I have an amazing Nutella recipe). Pumpkin spice muffins. Lavender, cherry vanilla, and blueberry scones. Banana bread. Vanilla Wafer Cake. Pound cake (easily my favorite). Apple, coconut cream, pumpkin, and pecan bourbon pie. Rice Krispie Treats. I am confident that this would make the Google Paris snack room unique in the City of Light and make your employees happy. And you know what happens when your employees are happy. They work harder and are more productive. Right? I have seen some very sad attempts at brownies and chocolate chip cookies in Paris and Arles.

And last but certainly not least… my qualifications. I have been baking for as long as I can remember. My earliest childhood memories involve sitting in my Grandma Bell’s kitchen as she made her famous coconut cake and banana fritters. My Granny Gillespie, who lived on the farm made an amazing 7-layer cake– thin layers of vanilla cake with homemade applesauce in between each layer. She and I also went blackberry picking so that she could make cobbler for us (kind of what my French friends call “crumble”). Warm from the oven, served with vanilla ice cream. Oh là là. Quelle joie. While living in France in 2007-08, on sabbatical from my teaching job, I worked with a chef in Arles, in his 5-room B&B, chambres d’hôte. He and his wife offered cooking stages, with visits to beekeepers, goat cheese makers, bakers, winemakers, chocolatiers, markets, olive oil producers, and lavender fields as well as local historical sites. We made picnics for the guests to enjoy under the shade of a tree or on the grounds of a winery. The guests, Chef Érick and I gathered in the kitchen every evening to prepare our evening meal using ingredients purchased at the market and accompanied with local wines. I also took care of reservations, cleaned rooms (I love to brag that I can clean toilets in French), washed clothes, hanging them out the upstairs window to dry (including all of those sheets and towels), and washed dishes without the benefit of a dishwasher. I was l’Assistante américaine, the translator in the kitchen. Let’s just say that I will never forget what une louche is… Chef Érick asked me for one my first night in the kitchen and I didn’t have a clue.  Oh, and I can already speak French and can even tutor in either French or English, if needed.

This blog is the result of my sabbatical. Just before the end of the school year after I was awarded my sabbatical, one of my 8th grade students help me set up the blog as a way to let my friends at home know what I was up to and to chronicle my time living in France. This young man now works for Google in San Francisco. Reference available upon request!

So, in closing, dear Google Paris, I hope that you will consider my offer to work for you. I do need to finish out the school year, making me available in mid-June 2018. I will be in Paris for 10 days in March with a group of students. I will gladly stop by for a face-to-face meeting/interview and can even bring some 8th graders along as references. They have all sampled my baking. I could, of course, even bake something up for you, if you wish. Perhaps you need some visual evidence of my prowess in the kitchen? Voici des photos:

Cakes:

Cookies:

Muffins:

Pies:

Cupcakes:

Scones:

I hope you enjoyed the random sampling of goodies. Mildred the Mixer and I stay busy. And covered in flour and sugar.

I even have my own chef’s coat… a gift after a Sabbatical Chef dinner at a friend’s house.

me

Today’s recipe is an old Southern favorite–

VWCake

I am sharing it with my colleagues tomorrow. It could be you, googleurs français

Mama Mildred’s Vanilla Wafer Cake

with help from Spicy Southern Kitchen

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1-1/2 cups  granulated sugar

6 eggs, room temperature

1 (11-ounce) box vanilla wafers, crushed

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon rum or rum flavoring

1 (7-ounce) package (about 2-2/3 cups) sweetened shredded coconut

1 cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Butter and flour a bundt or tube pan.

 

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time.

 

 

Mix in vanilla wafer crumbs and milk, alternating but beginning and ending with the crushed cookies. Add rum and vanilla and mix.

 

 Stir in coconut and pecans.

 

Place in oven and bake for 60-70 minutes or until cake tests done with a toothpick.

 

Allow to cool in pan for 15-20 minutes. Turn onto a plate. If necessary, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake before inverting it.
Thank you for your time, Google Paris.
Trois bisous,
The Sabbatical Chef
Bon appétit to all! Happy Monday and have a lovely week. Be the change you want to see in the world. Wake up grateful for what you have and make a list. Tell your family and friends that you love them. 

Cuppycakes

 

RV cupcakes

In my humble opinion, the best thing we do at my school is group kids into advisories. I am not sure how long ago we started doing this, to tell you the truth. When I arrived at DA in the fall of 1980, as a just-turned 22 year old, I faced a group of 22 seventh graders in my homeroom. They all seemed taller than me, although to tell the truth, that year is a blur. I remember what I wore to school on the first day- a light blue dress trimmed in white ribbon that Sister C had made. No idea why I remember that. I had to have conferences with the parents of each of those 22 twelve-year-olds. Wonder what advice I doled out? Heaven help us all. But I am friends with some of those “kids” and I currently teach the children of a couple of them.

1980-81 small

Anyway, back to advisories. I have 12 this year, six girls and six boys. We are together first thing in the morning for a 20-minute advisory lesson on Monday and a 7-8 minute “morning meeting” time Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday morning we assemble as an entire middle school for Community Meeting. Student-led announcements, the Pledge of Allegiance, and sports teams updates, usually followed by a faculty member or student sharing something of importance to them. Last year we started Lollipop Moments, thanks to a faculty member who found this Ted Talk:

I’ve watched this video several times. I love the way Drew tells his story, but I also need to be reminded how impactful my words can be- for better or for worse.

I eat lunch with those 12 kiddos each day.  We brownbag it- no cafeteria. I do have a mini-refrigerator (pink, no less) and a microwave in my classroom. We are together again every afternoon for a 20 minute tutorial period for kids to get some homework done, see a teacher to make up work or get some extra help. And once a 7 day cycle (no Monday-Friday for us- it’s Day 1-7, with Day 0 thrown in occasionally so that we meet all of our classes), we have a 42-minute advisory session. And our class periods are lettered A-H. We drop one class a day. Are you confused yet? I am. This crazy schedule allows our kiddos to have PE/Health and Fine Arts five out of those seven days. Each academic course (and foreign language is not an “extra” at my school, it is a requirement) meets six out of the seven days. So, I spend my days teaching French to 6th, 7th and 8th graders and being “mom” to my twelve advisees.

One of my girls just became a big sister. Pretty exciting stuff. Yesterday morning, I asked each of them if they are a cake or pie person. Important, right? The overwhelming majority said cake- no surprise there. Icing or no? Huh? Some people eat cake without icing?? What flavor? When Big Sister’s turn came, she said Red Velvet. And another girl chimed in that the icing has to be cream cheese and homemade. No kidding. I am with her 100%. None of that plastic-tasting canned stuff for my advisees. We will celebrate today with Red Velvet Cuppycakes, as I like to call them.

This recipe comes from the New York Times Cooking website, which I happen to love. It made 24 cupcakes. I didn’t go with the ermine icing although it is really good. I’ve made a version of it before. I couldn’t imagine anything except cream cheese icing.

Red Velvet Cake

This is similar to the original recipe that began the red velvet craze. It was developed by the Adams Extract company in Gonzales, Tex. The original recipe, popularized in the 1940s, called for butter flavoring and shortening and is usually iced with boiled milk, or ermine, frosting.

  • ½ cup /113 grams butter, at room temperature, plus 2 tablespoons to prepare pans
  • 3 tablespoons/22 grams cocoa powder, divided
  • 1 ½ cups/300 grams sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons/30 milliliters red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon/6 grams salt
  • 1 teaspoon/5 grams baking soda
  • 2 ½ cups/320 grams flour, sifted
  • 1 cup/236 milliliters whole buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon/15 milliliters vinegar (evidently, this makes the red really pop)
  •  Ermine icing, or other fluffy white icing
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by buttering lightly and sprinkling with 1 tablespoon sifted cocoa powder, tapping pans to coat and discarding extra cocoa.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time and beat vigorously until each is incorporated. Mix in vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, make a paste of the remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa and the food coloring. Blend into butter mixture.
  4. Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Alternating in 2 batches each, add dry ingredients and buttermilk to the butter mixture. In the last batch of buttermilk, mix in the vinegar before adding to the batter. Mix until blended.
  5. Divide batter among 3 pans and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a rack completely. (Can also be made in 2 cake pans.)
  6. To assemble, remove 1 cake from its pan and place flat side down on a serving platter. Drop about 1 cup of icing onto cake and, using a flat spatula, spread evenly over top. Remove the second cake from its pan. Place flat side down on top of first layer. Use remaining frosting to cover top and sides of cake.

Ermine Icing

This is an old-fashioned icing, also called boiled-milk frosting. The results are as light as whipped cream but with much more character. It was the original icing for red velvet cake.

  • 5 tablespoons/40 grams flour
  • 1 cup/235 milliliters whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon/5 milliliters vanilla extract
  •  Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup/ 230 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
  1. Over medium heat, whisk flour and milk in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer, stirring frequently until it becomes very thick and almost puddinglike.
  2. Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla and salt. Pour into a bowl to allow it to cool completely. Put plastic wrap on the surface to keep a skin from forming.
  3. Use a mixer to cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium, add the cooled flour mixture a little bit at a time. Continue to beat until the mixture becomes light and fluffy and resembles whipped cream.
The Best Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 pound (4 cups) of Powdered Sugar
  • ½ cup Butter (We use Salted Sweet Cream Butter)
  • 8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 3 teaspoons of Vanilla
  1. Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a mixer until blended.
  2. Add powered sugar a cup at a time and continue to mix until sugar is incorporated.

Mildred the Mixer at work:

batter

Bon appétit and Happy Friday, tout le monde. And have a lovely weekend! Here in my neck of the woods, we are looking at a high temperature of 76˚F. Perfect. My heart still goes out to the people who lost their homes due to hurricanes and earthquakes though. I cannot imagine.

More Muffins?

pumpkin muffins

Sister Moo found an incomplete place setting of Fiesta ware for me at Kohl’s. The dinner plate was missing. Who cares? I love the color. And I realized that it matches the salt and pepper shaker that she found for me at a yard sale in Spruce Pine. (Turns out that the set belonged to the grandmother of one of my high school classmates. Makes me love it even more.)

Son #1 and Fiancée invited us over for an end-of-summer cookout at the pool at their apartment complex. The Most Adorable Baby in the World (who is now 7 months old) loves water. She would have crawled right into the deep end if her mommy had let her. No fear. I am very happy about that. I want her to be fearless and think that she can do anything that she sets her mind to. I, on the other hand, have long been afraid of water that is over my head. I didn’t learn to swim until I was in the 6th grade. My uncle taught me when I visited his family in Raleigh for a couple of weeks that summer. They had a pool in their backyard. I love to waterski and ride in boats, but I don’t like the idea of deep water. I took a swimming class in college. My teacher was a very patient woman and she taught us all the strokes, made us dive off the side of the pool, and timed us while we dog-paddled. Even though it was an 8:00 am class I enjoyed it tremendously. I enrolled both boys in swim lessons early on and they loved hanging out at the pool, but neither had any desire to be on a summer swim team and I was not the kind of mom to make them do something like that. I never told them about my fear of water. I swear I didn’t. But I don’t think that’s a genetic thing.

Anyway, Son #1 loves pumpkin spice. I thought of him when I found this for MABW–

kenn pumpkin spice

Too cute. The little black leggings have a ruffle-y tutu-like thing on the back.

I like to try out new recipes on the Ex-Ex and Son #1 and I found one for muffins on Sally’s Baking Addiction a couple of days ago. I took them to him yesterday and he texted today– “Those muffins btw were excellent. They are already gone.”  That’s my boy! And I am so happy that I found Sally!

Another thing that I’ve found (at Target)–

parchment liners

These are the best. The muffins don’t stick like they do sometimes in regular cupcake liners. (That is a major baking pet peeve of mine.) Target had two boxes left on the shelf and I bought them both.

Pumpkin Crumb Cake Muffins

15 muffins

  • 1 and 3/4 cups (220g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (340g) canned pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) milk, at room temperature (buttermilk would probably be really good in this recipe)

Crumb Topping

    • 3/4 cup (94g) all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup (50g) packed light or dark brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
    • 6 Tablespoons (86g) unsalted butter, melted

Maple Icing (optional)

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (180g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) milk2

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F (218°C). Spray a 12-count muffin pan with nonstick spray or line with cupcake liners. This recipe makes 15 muffins, so prepare a second muffin pan in the same manner. Set aside. (SC note- I didn’t read this part– and wondered why I had leftover batter. I doubled the recipe so I used the leftover batter to bake a small loaf.)
  2. Make the muffins: In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together until combined. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the oil, granulated sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin puree, eggs and milk together until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then fold everything together gently just until combined and no flour pockets remain.
  3. Spoon the batter into liners, filling them almost full.
  4. Make the crumb topping: Whisk the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice together until combined. Stir in the melted butter until crumbs form. Spoon crumbs evenly on top of the batter and gently press them down into the batter so they’re snug. (The recipe for the topping makes a lot. Don’t be afraid to use a lot on each muffin.)
  5. Bake for 5 minutes at 425 then, keeping the muffins in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (177°C). Bake for an additional 16-17 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The total time these muffins take in the oven is about 21-22 minutes, give or take. Allow the muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin pan as you make the icing. *For mini muffins, bake for 11-13 minutes at 350°F (177°C) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Make the icing: Whisk all of the icing ingredients together until combined and smooth. Drizzle over muffins and serve warm. Cover tightly and store at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Make ahead tip: For longer storage, freeze muffins (with or without icing) for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature or warm up in the microwave if desired. Top with icing before serving if needed.

I didn’t make the icing. Not enough time. But I bet it would be really good with the maple syrup added.

bran banana muffins

Today I decided to use up the overripe bananas in my refrigerator when I discovered a forgotten box of Raisin Bran Crunch next to the flour in my pantry. (How on earth I could have forgotten about it I have no idea. It hadn’t been there long, only a couple of weeks, and I am constantly pulling out the flour. Who knows? Anyway, I found a recipe to use as a guide. I cut down on the amount of sugar Genius Kitchen listed and I added cinnamon to mine. See how easy that liner peels off?!

Think I will make a cup of tea and enjoy one! While I do the week’s lesson plans.

 

Banana Raisin Bran Muffins

Makes 12

Adapted from Genius Kitchen

1cups Raisin Bran cereal

cup buttermilk (I used almond milk because that’s all I had in the refrigerator)

1cup vegetable oil

egg

1cup brown sugar

1teaspoon vanilla

small bananas, mashed

cup flour

teaspoon baking soda

teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together cereal and milk; stir and let stand ten minutes while you assemble the other ingredients.

Combine vegetable oil, egg, brown sugar, vanilla and bananas, then add to milk/cereal mixture.

In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Add to first mixture and stir until just blended.

Spoon into greased or lined muffin tins.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

21765220_1350394645073480_5794372481056409144_n

En français:  L’automne est un deuxième ressort où chaque feuille est une fleur.

…Copyright © French Moments Ltd unless otherwise stated. Read more at https://frenchmoments.eu/french-quotes-and-sayings-about-autumn/ .

Bon appétit, tout le monde. I hope you are having a great Sunday afternoon wherever you are and whatever you are doing! Merci, French Moments and Albert Camus!

Blue

 

clean water

Meet Lightening. My advisory mascot. An African Spotted Water Frog. Oui, une grenouille africaine. One of the girlies brought him in to share with the rest of us.

While out and about, roaming around in one of my favorite thrift shops, Pennies for Change, I found a treasure.

blue nude

I am a fan of Henri Matisse and his Blue Nudes are beautiful. I found this on a website called Paradis while looking for “my” nude:

The Blue Nudes refer to a series of cut-outs by Henri Matisse. Completed in 1952, they represent seated female nudes, and are among Matisse’s final body of works. Blue Nude IV, the first of the four, took a notebook of studies and two weeks work of cutting and arranging before it satisfied him. The pose he finally arrived at for all four works—intertwining legs and an arm stretching behind the neck—was his favorite. The posture is similar to a number of seated nudes from the first half of the 1920s, and ultimately derives from the reposed figures of Le bonheur de vivre.

The Blue Nudes also reflect Matisse’s earlier sculptures. Despite the flatness of paper, they are sculptural in their tangible, relief-like quality, as well as the sense of volume created by the overlapping. Blue Nude I in particular can be compared with sculptures like La Serpentine of 1909.

The color blue signified distance and volume to Matisse. Frustrated in his attempts to successfully marry dominant and contrasting tones, the artist was moved to use solid slabs of single color early in his career, a technique that became known as Fauvism. The painted gouache cut-outs that comprise the Blue Nudes were inspired by Matisse’s collection of African sculpture and a visit that he made to Tahiti in 1930. It took another twenty years and a period of incapacity after an operation before Matisse synthesized these influences into this seminal series.

“Mine” is the bottom left in the series.

static1.squarespace.png

I am spending the weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains visiting my family. Great Nephew J and I decided to cruise around the Blue Ridge Parkway this afternoon. He took me to his favorite spot, Chestola Overlook.

mountains

blue skies

Table Rock

trees

Lovely views. These mountains will always be my home. The Cevennes are the closest to the Appalachians that I have found in France. I took these two photos in 2008 when Chef Érick and I went to visit his friends Richard and Nadine at their beautiful home built into the side of a mountain. This is the view from their patio.

france mtns france mtns 2

Thank you, Great Nephew J. For organizing my phone apps, for helping me with my photos, for cruising around the mountains with me and showing me where you spent a lot of time playing when you were a mere young’un and for enthusiastically eating and photographing the cake I made.

jared

Keep taking photos, working hard in school, and having fun. I am very proud of you.

Today’s recipe came to me from an 8th grade girlie. She wanted to make a cake for her advisor to celebrate the opening of Ms. S’s play. (I work with some seriously talented people.) Ms. S asked for a Funfetti Cake. Girlie doesn’t bake from a mix. Scratch only for her. A girl after my own heart. She has even started a binder of her favorite cake recipes. Thanks to Sally’s Baking Addiction and Girlie for the recipe!

Here is a photo from Sally’s blog. She made it in one 9-inch pan.

blog cake

Girlie’s cake was amazing. Dense and very vanilla-y.  She doubled the recipe and made two 9-inch layers.

pages cake

I decided to make it for Mama Mildred and Moo. (Favorite Niece, I hope they save some for you…) I doubled the recipe also. I used a 13 x 9 pan. I didn’t account for the doubled recipe and I didn’t have enough sprinkles for the batter.

my cake

But lots of them for the top!

sprinkles

Yum.

Homemade Funfetti Cake

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 115 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (60g) yogurt  (plain or vanilla; or greek yogurt; or sour cream-I used Oui vanilla flavored)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) milk (cow’s milk; or soy milk; or almond milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon (15ml) vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (90g) sprinkles (not nonpareils)

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3-4 cups (360-480g) powdered (confectioners’) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream (see note above about substituting milk or half-and-half)
  • 2 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform or baking pan (round or square) generously with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Melt butter in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl or on the stove top. Whisk in the sugars vigorously getting out any brown sugar lumps – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Slowly mix in dry ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick. Slowly stir in sprinkles, but do not over mix because the sprinkles will bleed their color. Do this at the last minute.
  3. Pour batter into prepared cake pan. This cake takes around 33-37 minutes to bake. What I suggest is to bake it for 20 minutes, then cover loosely with aluminum foil (loosely to avoid the top from sticking to the foil) and continue baking for 13-17 more minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool.
  4. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add powdered sugar, cream, and vanilla extract with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add 1/4 teaspoon (or more) if frosting is too sweet. Frost cooled cake as desired and top with sprinkles. There may be leftover frosting depending how much you wish to use.
  5. Cake stays fresh covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 5 days.

 

Bon appétit, my mountain family. Thanks for letting me hang out for a couple of days. You can take the girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl.

 

 

 

Cooking for me

heart pasta

I love cooking for me. I don’t have to worry about what I like (basically everything edible) or dislike (basically not much). I can take leftover stuff and turn it into something pretty good most of the time. And I don’t care how many dishes I dirty because I don’t mind cleaning up. I had a late lunch today. I cleaned out my closet, took donations to Goodwill, bought school supplies for a 7th grade project (of course, the first place I stopped had 8 tri-fold boards and I needed 9), stopped in at the grocery store and stopped to get the last board (almost double the price at Michael’s compared to Walmart, shoppers). I had a Michael’s coupon but chose to use it on the cutest cookie cutters in the whole world.

cookie cutters

They are, aren’t they? They even come with a template to help me decorate. I will need all the artistic help I can get. Trust me.

When I got home from the errands, I decided to bake Pumpkin Spice Cake Bars from a recipe that one of my former students posted this morning on FB. Heather is a chef and currently teaches at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. While the cake was baking, I realized that I had not eaten lunch. My mind went to pasta– a cute bag of heart-shaped pasta (a gift from globe-trotting Pretend Daughter #2) in the cupboard, half a jar of Newman’s Common Good Organic Tomato Basil pasta sauce in the refrigerator along with some leftover caramelized zucchini I made yesterday. Sprinkle a little grated Parmesan on top et voilà. A couple of slices of my home made baguette and   À table, madame! 

pasta dish

The Ex-Ex would want to know “Where’s the meat?” but he’s not here. Just moi. I will let him sample the cake when he gets home. And there will be meat for dinner.

The cake is out of the oven, cooling, waiting for the cream cheese frosting. Smells pretty good in here. As you can tell, I am on a pumpkin spice roll right now.  Might just last until Thanksgiving. On ne sait jamais.

pumpkin spice cake

Pumpkin Cake Bars

recipe from Cross E Ranch in Salt Lake City, Utah

Cake:
1c Vegetable Oil (I used 1/2 c. applesauce and 1/2 c. oil)
2c Sugar (I cut it down to 1-1/2 c. sugar)
4 Eggs
1-15oz can plain pumpkin
2c Flour
2t Baking Powder
1t Baking Soda
½tsp Salt
2tsp Cinnamon
½tsp Ginger and nutmeg
¼tsp Cloves

Mix dry ingredient and wet ingredients separately and then mix together. Pour into 12”x17” buttered and floured cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8oz Package of Cream Cheese
1/2c Softened Butter
4c+ Powdered Sugar
4tsp Milk
1t sp Vanilla

Beat together, frost cool cake.

Bon appétit, tout le monde. Be good to yourself. Take care of yourself as well as you take care of everyone else. Eat good food, even when you are alone. Bake something so your house will smell good. Bonne Rentrée to all my Frenchies whose first day of school was today.

“Grateful for everything, entitled to nothing”

download

This is Jim McIngvale.  A man I had never heard of until yesterday.  AKA Mattress Mack. The Clarion-Ledger ran an article about him yesterday and that’s where I found the quote that is the title of today’s post. In today’s Durham Herald-Sun newspaper, I read an editorial from the Charlotte Observer. It touched me, so I thought that I should share it with all of you. My thoughts and prayers are with all of the people dealing with Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath.

Let’s talk about the human chain in Houston

Let’s talk about the chain. It was a human chain, on Interstate 10 in Houston on Tuesday afternoon.  A black woman holding the hand of a white man holding the hand of a Latino man, then more than a dozen others.

Moments before, they were strangers, until an elderly man’s SUV got swept up in floodwaters on the highway. Somebody said: “Let’s form a chain.” So they did, finding strength together against the waters, then reaching the man’s vehicle, then opening the door to pull him to safety.

Let’s talk about the millennials. A couple of them, Joe Looke and Daniel Webb, were watching the early devastation from Hurricane Harvey when they decided they wanted to do more than watch. So they found a dry spot at a Houston shopping center and put up a sign asking for donations.

Soon, as the Houston Chronicle reported, people came by with toilet paper and bottles of water. One man brought an armful of pizzas. Within hours, they had filled more than 30 SUVs with items to take to local shelters.

Let’s not talk, for a few moments, about our disagreements. Let’s not talk about politics or hate or climate change policy or whether someone was enough of a leader this week. These are legitimate debates, and we will surely have them soon enough.

Let’s talk about those who did lead this week, in their own way, no matter what you expect of them, no matter when you think of them. Let’s talk about the mosques throughout the Houston area that opened their doors for shelter without anyone asking them to. Let’s talk about the businessmen who decided to look past their bottom line.

One of them, Jim McIngvale, opened the doors to his Houston-area furniture emporium so that the suddenly homeless could have a place to stay and sleep. When 400-plus people straggled in, the man named “Mattress Mack” told them they should use the furniture on display. He’s not sure what he’ll do with that furniture when everything gets back to normal. Maybe have a Harvey Sale, or maybe just take a loss.

“To hell with profits,” he said. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the law enforcement officers who risked their lives again and again for rescues. Let’s talk about the government officials turned shelter volunteers. And let’s also talk about the journalists- the supposed enemies of the people.

One of them, Brandi Smith of Houston’s KHOU, abandoned a live report to flag down sheriff’s deputies when she saw water filling the cab of a man’s tractor trailer. Another, from CNN, was preparing to go on air when he instead ran to a ravine with his cameraman to save a man floating in his truck. They, like so many others, rushed into danger with one thought in mind: help.

Yes, there were people who exploited this week’s tragedy. There were stores that gouged and scammers who preyed and looters who didn’t need the items they stole. There will always be those people among us- in tragedies and every other day- and many of them will get away with it. It’s up to us whether we want to spend our time worrying about being taken advantage of, or deciding that it’s worth the risk to help others who need it.

So let’s talk about the chain. The human chain. There were several of them this week- hands grabbing hands in floodwaters, because that’s what the moment demanded. No one asked if the hand they gripped was here illegally, or if that hand pushed a button to vote for Donald Trump. No one asked if the person needing saving could have avoided their situation in the first place.

It was simply people, kind and courageous and willing to sacrifice, because other people needed them.

Let’s talk about that this week. Let’s try to remember it when this week is over.

Can we do that? Can we just concentrate on helping and not criticizing? Is that too much to ask from Americans from North Carolina to Nebraska to New York? I don’t think so. I believe the vast majority of us have good hearts and want to help when we see our fellow human beings suffering. I am a glass-half-full kind of girl. Let’s donate if we can’t be there to help.

In searching for ways to help and where to send funds and donations, I found an article posted by NPR.  There are lists of organizations, broken into categories such as food banks, animals, elderly, medical, etc. Last week, I learned quite a bit about my local food bank, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. My advisees and I, along with all of our 7th graders, volunteered at the Food Bank and spent the morning bagging sweet potatoes donated by a local farmer. It was dirty, smelly, deeply satisfying work. I plan to do more of it.

In light of those sweet potatoes, I will repost a recipe I love and made for Thanksgiving 2013!

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Dorie Greenspan’s Baking:  From My Home To Yours

Using canned sweet potatoes makes them easy to prepare at a moment’s notice.  I use canned sweet potatoes packed in light syrup– I just drain the potatoes and mash them with a fork.  If you’ve got leftover cooked sweet potatoes or yams, give them a good mashing, measure out 3/4 – 1 cup and you’re good to go.

Makes about 18 biscuits

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. (packed) light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 15-ounce cans sweet potatoes in light syrup, drained and mashed
Pinch of ground cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425˚F.

Get out a sharp 2 – 2 1/4-inch diameter biscuit cutter, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and spice, if you’re using it, together in a bowl.  Add the brown sugar and stir to incorporate it, making sure there are no lumps.  Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat it with the flour.  Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.  You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between — and that’s just right.

Add the sweet potatoes to the bowl, grab a fork, and toss and gently turn the ingredients until you’ve got a nice soft dough.  Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick, gentle kneading — 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough.  Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hands or roll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even — a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can.  Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of this first round.  By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet.  Gather together the scraps, working them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet.  (The biscuits can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting — just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown.  Transfer them to a cooling rack — cooled a bit, they’re more sweet potatoey.  Give them 10-15 minutes on the rack before popping them into a basket and serving.

Serving:
Unlike most biscuits, there are best served after they’ve had a little time to cool.  They are as good at brunch (they’re great with salty ham and bacon) as they are at tea (try them with a light cheese spread and / or marmalade.)   Or have them with butter or jam, fruit butter or fruit compote.

Storing:
You can keep the biscuits in a plastic bag overnight and give them a quick warm-up in the oven the next day, but you won’t recapture their freshly made flakiness.

Bon appétit to all glass-half-fullers and helpers out there. I am indeed “grateful for everything, entitled to nothing,” too, Mattress Mack. Thank you to all who have and will lend a helping hand in whatever way they see fit and are able.

Being real

5fdfa01098418f3b3fc2638e1ba2a8c5--vintage-art-vintage-quotes

image:  https://www.pinterest.com/explore/the-velveteen-rabbit/?lp=true

As Son #1 and Son #2 will tell you, I am a sap when it comes to children’s books. I loved reading to those two little critters.  The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams was my favorite. At the beginning of this school year, one of my colleagues quoted the Rabbit, using the short passage above. It makes me tear up every single time I read it. And the older I get the more I get the message. So, how about listening to the story? Get a tissue and enjoy. Mr. Le Mesurier has a very soothing voice and there is some lovely music interspersed between the chapters.

I need to get a copy of this book for Miss K. I want her to understand nursery magic and the importance of being real. Do Son #1 and Son #2 understand? I hope so. Or if not quite yet, I hope they understand soon. I am not sure when I finally understood. Luckily, though, right now I still have all my hair and eyes– even though some of my joints might be a bit wobbly. We are all a work in progress, aren’t we?

Here in North Carolina it’s been a bit cooler the last couple of days.  Just enough to make me start thinking of fall, my favorite season. Thinking about fall makes me think about pumpkin. Pumpkin muffins#1, pumpkin muffins#2pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin stuffed with everything good from Dorie Greenspan, pumpkin spiced coffee and tea. Here’s the latest pumpkin muffin recipe I’ve used… Let’s just call it Pumpkin muffins#3, I guess.  Or, as TGIF (this grandma is fun) calls it–

The Best Pumpkin Muffins {Ever}

makes 12 medium-sized muffins

1¾ cups all purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs, room temperature, if possible

1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin puree

½ cup vegetable oil or melted butter (TGIF uses coconut oil)

1 tablespoon whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*optional: Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top of the unbaked muffins, if desired.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners or spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, oil, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and fold to combine. The batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar, if desired.  You can even mix in some extra ground cinnamon with the sugar before sprinkling.

Bake for 22-24 minutes, or until the muffins test done. Let cool for a few minutes then remove the muffins from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, if possible!

pump muff

 

Bon appétit!  It’s okay to be real because “once you are real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Son #1 if you are reading this, I promise to make you some of these muffins if you come to visit!  Bring the girls! 

 

 

Dear Ten-Year-Old Teresa

teresa 5th grade

Am I the only one who thinks about this stuff– Who am I? Why am I the way I am? How did I get to this place? What makes me different than everyone else? I have spent more than a little bit of my time trying to figure out the answers to those questions. I am not a philosopher type. I studied French philosophers enough to get through my literature courses. But I didn’t really understand much of it. Mountain girls don’t really have time for that stuff. We are busy surviving. And then we plan our escapes. I think back on me when I was the age in this picture, which has always been my favorite photo of myself.  I think that I was in 5th grade, maybe 6th. I loved this dress. I felt pretty in it. I am pretty sure it was a hand-me-down from one of my talented cousins who could sew up a burlap sack and make it beautiful. I look like my brother, I think. Definitely a Bell. Sorry, Mama Mildred.

I remember sitting in our yard on summer afternoons and occasionally seeing an airplane pass overhead. I always imagined John, Paul, Ringo and George were in that plane, traveling to a concert or maybe back to England. I would wave from my spot on the grass and long to meet Paul. My aunt, who was 11 years older than me, and the very essence of cool introduced me to The Beatles. It was instant love. Still is. My iTunes account houses all the oldies, thanks to a CD given to me by Alex F-B, an advisee a few years back who was a Beatles fan as well. So, the question is… is that when my longing for faraway lands and adventures began? Cool Aunt let me hang out with her occasionally and she studied French in high school. Is that where my obsession began to take root? Or was it Looney Tunes and Pepé Le Pew?

2_Pepe-Pasta

Image: photobucket.com

Pepé_Le_Pew.svg

Image: Wikipedia

Getting back to philosophy, though, I saw a blog post today by a woman who has become a virtual friend to me and many, many others. She packed up her dreams and moved to France a few years ago. Her post today is about her daughter-in-law’s illness, explaining why she is back in the States. Her son and his wife need her. She is here until they don’t need her. A visit home to see them and the grandbabies turned into more. Life happens. Barefoot Blogger‘s advice struck a chord with me.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I want to share the lesson I’m learning with you.

Don’t wait to enjoy your life.

If you want to travel,  travel.

If you want to live abroad, start working on it now.  

Life doesn’t wait for you to “get around to it.” 

There it is. Maybe when we get to be d’un certain âge we “get” this advice. Or maybe I am just weird, selfish and shallow for wanting to see more, taste more, take more pictures, meet more people like me, see what’s around the corner. A friend just moved to England to teach for a year. This has long been a dream of his. He made it come true. He dreamed about it for a long time. Then he actually arrived, unpacked his bag, opened a bank account and realized that he didn’t have anything to dream about anymore. Now, he worries that since he has crossed that mark he will have nothing to dream about. What if he made a mistake leaving his family and friends behind? Is he shallow for wanting/needing this experience? Why did he need it in the first place? I can tell you that, having been in his shoes (the beginning of The Sabbatical Chef), there are no easy answers. Are you selfish? Maybe. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone needs it. Is it worth it? Oh, yes, it is. Will you come out on the other side a different person? Not fundamentally because you are who you are. But you will see life differently. You will appreciate baseball, American English, hot dogs, and chocolate chip cookies with a new passion. You will feel more complete, more whole after this experience. Will it make you stop looking for the next adventure?  I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it. There will still be things to see and people to meet. Go with it. Embrace it. Learn from it. Grow.

Dear Ten-Year-Old Teresa,

Stop worrying so much, my dear girl. You can’t change people who don’t want to change or who feel as if they can’t. They have demons you cannot even begin to understand. But you can’t fix them no matter how many tears you shed or how many Dear God, if … then…  you send up to Heaven (it might make you feel better to do that, though, and that’s okay).

Don’t worry about what other people think. It doesn’t really matter in the long run. So what if the boy you have a crush on comes from the “nice” neighborhood and his mother doesn’t approve? She will take back those thoughts someday, trust me on that one. And I hate to tell you, but no matter how much you think that you are hiding it all, people know about what you are going through, but the ones that matter love you anyway and they will always love you.

You will live to be at least 59 years old. You will have two incredible sons who have strong, amazing women who love them and an adorable granddaughter who lights up when you walk into the room. You will have the love of a man who has known you for over half of your life, has seen you at your worst and your best and who still respects you and makes you laugh. And who is one hell of a father to those two boys.

Friends? You will be abundantly blessed in that department. Seriously. Many who love you and support you on a daily basis. Some who will pop into your classroom just to say hi and to see what you are up to. Some you will not see for months and years at a stretch, but who you know so well and love so much that it doesn’t matter. A couple who you know that you can call any time of the day or night and they will grab the car keys and be right there if you need them.

You will be blessed by family members who may live in a different place and have different dreams and they may not understand yours, but that’s okay. They love you unconditionally. They are proud of who you are and you are equally as proud of them. They know you better than anyone, from back when you talked with a different accent and ran around barefoot all summer long chasing lightening bugs.

You will indeed pack that suitcase and see the world. You will visit Paris more times than you can count. You will have French friends who feel like family. Your incredible job will allow you to do this, in fact, it will be a part of your job.  You will get paid to take students to France. Can you believe that? You will live in the south of France, work with a chef, eat the most amazing food ever, meet people from all over the world, and write about it. It will change you forever. It will open doors you never imagined possible. Heck, you don’t even know those doors exist right now. You may not ever meet Paul McCartney, but you will still listen to his music and dream of meeting him. You will read so many books about Vincent Van Gogh that you feel as if you know him. You will walk in his footsteps, take the path that leads through a wheat field and kneel at his grave. You will cry every single time you stand in front of one of his self-portraits and Starry Night Over the Rhône. You will look back and wonder how on earth you could have missed the meaning behind Don McLean’s song Vincent back in 1971. You will read Lust for Life in the ’80’s and finally have an aha moment.

Keep wearing pretty dresses, Teresa. It’s more than okay that they are hand-me-downs. You will have a thing for thrift and consignment shops later probably due to those gifts of “new” clothes. Keep reading stories of people in other places and times. Sing, dance, and laugh as often as you can. Keep looking for the next adventure. Don’t wait to have fun and enjoy life. Be grateful. Tell people you love them. Eat good food and when you are legal, drink good wine. Be happy.

I love you.

My great baking adventure these days is baguettes.  Oui, c’est vrai.

baguettes2.jpg

I took a class, taught by Franca Gilbert, a French teacher friend.  She bakes up a storm and sells her goods at local farmers’ markets. Her business is Alimentaire. I am not confident enough to share the recipe for feeding the levain yet. But I can assure you that it is a work in progress. I am a messy baker, but that’s okay. I clean up the messes!

Bon appétit et bonne nuit! It’s okay to be different. Eat good bread. “Life doesn’t wait for you to get around to it.” Remember that.

Happy New Year!

gonza

(Gonza Tacos y Tequila, Durham, NC- site of our faculty party)

My new year doesn’t begin in January.  It begins in August.  It has for all but the first five years of my life. For the last 38, I’ve been in charge, seated behind the “big desk” as a friend used to put it.  Well, I am not so sure how much I was in charge for the first few years! I sure as heck didn’t feel in control, but I learned how to fake it. We get our back-to-school info electronically now. I used to be so excited to get the big envelope at the end of July-beginning of August. I love electronics and all that, but there was just something about the anticipation of finding that envelope in my mailbox. Class rosters, my list of advisees, schedules,  welcome back letters from the head of school and the middle school director, the new school year calendar. I am a self-proclaimed school nerd. Nice new shiny notebooks with blank pages just waiting to have important stuff written in them. A new planner begging to be filled out with hot lunches, faculty meetings, Fall, Thanksgiving, Winter and Spring Breaks. The lesson plan book, sitting there letting all the other supplies know he is the most important of all, waiting for my ideas to be jotted down. A grade book that won’t get any names written in it until after the first week, just to be sure that no kiddo changes his or her mind and decides that maybe taking two languages isn’t the best idea or that Spanish or Chinese is more his/her cup of tea.  (That rarely happens, thank goodness.) And last, but by no means least, the endless supply of pens that I accumulate. Heaven help me but I have an addiction to pens. Sharpies. Highlighters. Papermate Flairs in all colors. Mechanical pencils are cool, too. Real fountain pens. My supply comes from Target, Office Depot, the grocery store occasionally, and Monoprix when I am in France. It’s silly really. (Kind of like my pink lipstick obsession, I guess. Always makes me think of the Alan Jackson song “Too much of a good thing is a good thing…”)

This is what my work space looks like at the moment-

desk1

First homework assignment of the year- to make a postcard to send to our future pen pals, school iPad, pens, pencil pouch (a gift from a former student a couple of years ago bought with his own money his dad informed me), and a clipboard for class rosters, with Callie Cat supervising.

This year, though, for my birthday gift to myself, I splurged on the mama of all teacher plan books.

planner

A colleague has one and I decided to get my very own, designing my cover with a flock of pink cuteness.  Erin Condren is the company in case you are envious or even just curious. I have already goofed up the inside and am searching for White-Out. Instead of looking at 2018 dates when I got to January, I stuck little number dots on the 2017 days. Sheesh. Kind of par for the course, but I will not be deterred from organizing myself.

The Ex-Ex is off on Senior Challenge this morning with his band of Mountain Men. He was initiated into the group a few years back when one member retired. He packed his towel, sleeping bag, clothes, rain jacket, toiletries, pillow, my water bottle, and his book last night. He almost forgot socks, but thanks to his Ex-Ex, moi, he was reminded. I also sent him with a surprise batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies with share with the guys. (I saved some for me, too.)

14183768_10201932274905101_6994652379494987316_n

It’s been a good week.  Son #1 started a new job at Hopewell Academy. He moved his little family to Cary/Raleigh a couple of weeks ago.

20992520_1451243548292904_6852729475831311216_n

(photo credit:  Hopewell Academy’s Facebook page)

Son #2 is now in law school in Charleston, SC. He and his girlfriend celebrated his 25th birthday a couple of days ago.  Crème brûlée was part of the celebration. (Thank you for the photos, H!)

grant brûlée

Couper and Charlie seem to be adjusting to life in Charleston and to each other.

couper and charlie

So, time to get to work. The BFF and I have logged in our 3.5 miles on the American Tobacco Trail, the house is silent (Callie has already gone back to bed), and the papers aren’t going to check themselves nor is the planner going to fill itself out. I have bread starter sitting on the counter waiting to be mixed up for baguettes later today.

baguettes

Those chocolate chip oatmeal cookies? I haven’t forgotten those in case you feel like giving them a try!

cookies

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

makes about 5-6 dozen– can be cut in half

adapted from Quaker Oats recipe for Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1-1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

21/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

5 cups uncooked oatmeal (not steel cut- I use Quaker old-fashioned, not quick)

**2 cups chocolate chips (the best you can find and afford)

**You could use raisins, if you prefer

Pre-heat oven to 350˚F.

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine well.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of mixer until smooth and creamy.

Add eggs and vanilla.  Beat well.

Add flour mixture and mix well.

With a wooden spoon, mix in oatmeal and chocolate chips.

Using a small scoop, if you wish, drop dough onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, depending on how done you like your cookies. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet. Remove to wire rack to cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container or ziploc bag. Cookies can be frozen to be eaten later. (never happens in my house, though!)

Bon appétit, mes amis!  Happy New Year! What do you hope to accomplish this year? Do you make resolutions? How do you stay organized? Bon courage!