This & That: March 2017 Edition

dirty-dishes

Dirty dishes?  This is a great photo because this is all I had to dirty in order to make two loaves of banana bread this fine Sunday morning.  I found a new recipe, located the overripe bananas that the Ex-Ex had stashed on top of the refrigerator (the man detests messy countertops), and stirred up something that is still baking and smells heavenly.  Excuse me for a minute– the oven timer is beeping.

banana-bread

Voilà.

So, random stuff this morning.

Kennedy, the cutest baby in the world continues to grow.  She is almost two weeks old. Gramma and Granddad are totally in love.  As are Mommy and Daddy.  Seven pounds of perfection.  Pretend Daughter #1 just gave birth yesterday to a bundle of baby boy.  I am thinking arranged marriage.

kennedywaving

I am preparing for my annual student trip to France.  This will be my 30th anniversary trip. How the heck did that happen, I wonder?  Anyway, the checklists are growing, but I am crossing off as much as I am adding.  I think.  I have 22 kiddos and 2 other teachers going with me this year.  Delta began offering a non-stop flight to Paris from my hometown airport last May and, although this crop of kids cannot fully appreciate it, they are so lucky.  I will be a much happier traveler which means they will, too.  No running through airports to catch a connecting flight that may or may not have left already.  (I have been known to beg for the doors to be opened to let us on.)  We leave on Thursday.  Paris, Normandy D-Day sites, including a tour and wreath ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, a visit with our pen pals at the Collège Anne-Marie Javouhey in Senlis, a macaron-making lesson at L’Atelier des Gâteaux for part of the group, éclair-making at La Cuisine Paris for others, and a tour of the Stade de France for a small group of boys.  And the usual sites in Paris– the Louvre, Notre-Dame, the Musée d’Orsay, Sacré Coeur and Montmartre.  Throw in some crêpes, Berthillon ice cream, macarons from Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, and shopping at Galeries Lafayette and Monoprix while in Paris, course. Falafel in the Marais, strolling along the Seine, a boatride on the river, gliding under the Pont Alexandre III and Le Pont Neuf, making wishes under the Napoléon bridge,  finding at least a couple of passages to wander through, a trip to the top of the Eiffel, bien sûr. Then Avignon bound on the TGV.  The Palais des Papes and perhaps the Pont du Gard on the way to Arles, “my” French town.  Only two nights there unfortunately, but two is better than one or none.  A morning drive through the Camargue on the way to Aigues Mortes, a visit to a salt-harvesting facility (a first for me), and a few hours at the Arles Saturday market before heading back to Paris.  I will get to see all of my favorite Frenchies while I am in France.  My heart is happy at the thought of this.  Time to drag my suitcase out of the closet where it has been since January and start filling it. Sticking to my list, of course. Hahaha- I am a terrible packer.

What have I been reading lately?  I just finished this one.

swann

I am in love with Henry Swann.  This is Charles Salzberg‘s latest in a series featuring Swann.  Charles and I are email pals.  I hope/dream about/would love to attend his writers’ workshop in NYC someday.

I get daily emails from BookBub offering up inexpensive (and sometimes free) books for my Kindle.  I am reading Blackbird Fly by Lise McClendon right now.  It is the first in a series about the Bennett Sisters.  This one features Merle, whose husband has just died, leaving her a pile of debts, a unknown mistress and daughter, and a house in France.  I cannot put it down (translation:  I have stayed up way too late the last two nights reading) because Merle is a believable character.  A 50 year old, intelligent, non-glamourous woman whose life takes quite a turn after her husband dies of a heart attack at his desk. And before you even wonder, yes, I have downloaded the next three books in the series.  I am addicted to authors that way.

Quick coffee and banana bread break…

bread-and-coffee

Another book at the top of my list– dear darling Pat Conroy‘s final novel, published posthumously.  A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life.  Says Amazon:

Final words and heartfelt remembrances from bestselling author Pat Conroy take center stage in this winning nonfiction collection, supplemented by touching pieces from Conroy’s many friends.

I’ve loved Pat’s writing since I picked up The Great Santini years ago. I even talked the Ex-Ex into reading it and he never reads fiction.  However, so much of Pat’s life is wrapped up in his writing, that it’s not really fiction.  We have both read all of his novels, ending with The Death of Santini.  Santini was Pat’s dad.  Thank you for the recommendation, Miss Anna T!

I am not really a shopper.  I loathe trying on clothes.  This week, however, I happened upon two bargains.

#1

Pale pink linen from Chico’s.  My favorite color.  I was at The Stock Exchange, a consignment shop in Chapel Hill, and it caught my eye. It was already on sale, I had a $10 gift certificate from my last shopping adventure there, so I ended up spending $1.63. Can’t wait to wear it.

#2

Navy blue and white polka dots from Crown and Ivy at Belk’s.  I am normally a black dress/pants/skirt/sweater kind of girl, but this caught my eye.  I have a thing for polka dots.  Once again, on sale.  Around $10.  Go me.  I look forward to wearing it with jeans in Paris.  Très chic, n’est-ce pas?

Lo and behold, I just found out, thanks to a text from the BFF and CBS Sunday Morning, that berets are back in style!  I have never worn one, but I think I may change that. Being the snob that I can be, though, it will have to be one made in France, the traditional way.  Laulhere is the gold standard in France, it seems. Perhaps Bertrand, our French ACIS tour manager will be able to help and give advice…

beret-on-mannequin-head-620

(photo: CBS News)

My goal for Lent this year–  place one item of clothing into a bag for each day of Lent. This will be given to The Salvation Army after Easter.  Admit it.  Most of us have way too much.  There are many out there without enough.

Enough randomness for this morning.  I will leave you with yesterday’s photo of Granddad and Granddaughter.

granddad

As I wrote yesterday on my Facebook page:

I love this photo. The beginning of a very important bond. My Papa was a major influence in my life from my birth to his death. I was lucky to live next door and spend many hours with him.

New life.  New beginnings.  New love.

Easy Sunday Morning Banana Bread

adapted from Simply Recipes

makes 1 loaf, 4 x 8

  • 2 to 3 very ripe bananas, peeled
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I also used rum flavoring)
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the flour)
  • I sprinkled turbinado sugar on top to give it a crunchy finish

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and butter a 4×8-inch loaf pan.

2 In a mixing bowl, mash the ripe bananas with a fork until completely smooth. Stir the melted butter into the mashed bananas.

3 Mix in the baking soda and salt. Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla extract. Mix in the flour.

4 Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour at 350°F (175°C), or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. (Mine was completely done at 50 minutes.  Be sure to test and not overbake.)

5 Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack. Remove the banana bread from the pan. Slice and serve.

 

Bon appétit.  Bon dimanche.  Have a lovely week.  Be kind.  Be brave. Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Or even better.

So many books…

books

You guessed it.  So many books, so little time.  I love to read.  An article that I read over the weekend says “Book ownership ranks as the number one predictor of academic success for children; yet 61 percent of children living in poverty are growing up in homes with no books at all.” (Danielle Berman, Book Harvest, writing for the Durham Herald, October 23, 2016) The article was about Jumpstart’s annual Read for the Record Day.   This year’s book for the 11th annual Read for the Record event to be held on October 27 is The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach.

the-bear-ate-your-sandwich

My copy is on its way from Amazon (please note that I do not receive any compensation whatsoever from Amazon) and I will read it to my classes on Thursday (and to anyone else who will listen to me read). According to Berman, this 24 hour read-a-thon has involved over 17 million people since 2006 and holds the world record for the most people reading the same book on the same day.  I am excited about being a part of this in 2016! And then the book will become part of the library I am building for Kennedy, my granddaughter-to-be.

Reading was a huge part of my childhood.  My family had very little money for anything extra, but somehow Mama Mildred made sure to read to us and when we were older, she took us to the public library.  One of my cousins gave me a book in the Bobbsey Twins series for either my birthday or Christmas when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I loved that book.  It was all mine.  I wish I still had it.  One of my greatest pleasures now is giving Mama Mildred a book I know that she will like.  And if I haven’t read it, she saves it for me.

I haven’t written about what I’ve read or what’s on my to-read list in a while.  So here goes.

A few of the recently read:

  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett; her latest novel about four parents and six children who become the subject of a best-selling novel.  Truth & Beauty is the first Patchett book I ever read and I instantly fell in love with her style.
  • Murder on the Quai by  Cara Black; this is the 15th (or 16th?) novel is a series starring Aimée Leduc, a detective who lives on Ile Saint Louis in Paris- need I say more? Except that Best Friend in Paris is offering A Week in Paris with Cara Black in November.  I wish.  Actually, I would settle for just a cup of coffee in a Parisian café with Mme Black.  C’est vrai.
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg; an almost 1000 page story about NYC in the 1970’s- a disturbing story about a murder, a dysfunctional family, lost kids involved with drugs and a plot to blow up part of the city. I read it for my school summer reading and am glad that I did.  Hallberg will be here in Durham tomorrow night at The Regulator Bookshop.  (something is up with The Regulator’s website at the moment- sorry)
  • The Third Girl by Nell Goddin; Molly Sutton, a recently divorced American buys a house in southwest France and finds herself involved in the murder of an art student; #1 in a series of 4 (I love series!)
  • One Paris Summer by Denise Grover Swank; a young adult novel about Sophie, an American teen who is shipped off to France, along with her brother, to visit their dad who deserted them a year earlier;  who wouldn’t love a Parisian romance and a young woman trying to find her way?  I ordered a couple of extra copies for two special girlies I know.  I will offer up my copy for 8th graders who would like to borrow it.  One girlie already asked for the title again so that she can download it onto her tablet!
  • Life After Life by Jill McCorkle; one of my favorite writers- a Southern girl; fans have waited 17 years for this; a story set in an assisted living facility and the cast of characters connected to it and to each other.  Thank you, Jill.  I am happy to have you back.  Mama Mildred will love this one.

Currently reading:

  • The Luckiest Woman Ever by Nell Goddin;  Molly’s next murderous adventure
  • The Underground Railroad by Coalson Whitehead; somedays the only time I have to read is right before I go to sleep- I started this book and promptly started having nightmares about it;  I handed it off to the Ex-Ex who has finished it; I will pick it up again during Thanksgiving break when I have time to read during daylight hours.

On the to-read list:

  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult; another of my favorite authors since I found a copy of The Pact at the beach house we rented one summer; I have read almost all of Jodi’s 26 novels.  A truly gifted storyteller.
  • The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely;  last week, I went to a screening of (Dis)Honesty– The Truth about Lies, Dan’s film about the research he has done about why people lie; he was there for a Q&A session afterwards.  Dan is a fascinating man and now I want to read his books, beginning with this one. He was also quoted recently in an article I read about how to raise kinder kids.
  • Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith; Lee has been writing stories set in the south, specifically the mountains, for over 45 years and this is her memoir.  I’ve met Lee and she is such an interesting woman and gifted writer.  Mama Mildred and I love her.  Oral History and Fair and Tender Ladies are two of our favorites.
  • All of the books in the series featuring Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker; okay, so I admit to being a bit in love with Bruno- on his website you will find his playlist, recipes, links, etc. and he is also working on a cookbook– swoon.  I plan to binge on Bruno soon. I started with the first book, Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside. (Thanks, Jean!)
  • The next four books in the Hugo Marston series by Mark Pryor;  I started with The Bookseller; crime stories set in Paris– what’s not to love?
  • Killing Hemingway (A coming-of-age novel about life, decisions, love, and genius) by Arthur Byrne;  young adult novel?  “a bedtime story for adults” according to Byrne’s assistant

Well, that’s it for tonight, readers.

It’s the last week of the grading period and my chefs-in-training are supplying my classes with goodies… macarons, vanilla and pumpkin spice; mousse au chocolat; three types of meringues!  Yum!  A pretty sweet day, n’est-ce pas?

 

(Plus a slice of chocolate Guglhupf from Guglhupf–  merci, Señor!)

MacKenna’s Meringues

Prep: 25 min Bake: 40 min + cooling

Yield: 32 cookies

2 egg whites

⅛ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar

⅛ teaspoon peppermint extract

½ cup of sugar

⅓ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

In a small mixing bowl beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and extract on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high until stiff glossy peaks form and sugar is dissolved (about 6 min). Gently fold in the chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 in. apart onto parchment lined baking sheets. Bake at 250 for 40-45 min or until firm to the touch. Turn oven off and leave meringues in oven for 1 ½ hours. Remove iron racks. Store in an airtight container.

Bon appétit!  Keep reading.  Share the love and books!

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!!

Sean Dietrich aka Sean of the South

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photo credit:  Amazon

I love this man.  I am not sure the Ex-Ex knows, but he will soon enough.  If he liked for me to read to him first thing in the morning, he most assuredly would know him.  But while I am reading Sean’s daily Facebook post, the Ex-Ex is still blessedly asleep.  I am the early riser in the family.  Oh, Callie the Cat gets up, meows a few times and the next thing I know she is curled up on his feet sound asleep and doesn’t even bother to look up when I tiptoe into the bedroom searching for something like my Kindle or my glasses.

So, back to the Bearded Man of the Hour.  He is Southern through and through.  But you do not have to be a Southerner to love him.  Just ask Ms. Arizona aka Tammy.  I have never met him, yet I feel as if I have known him forever or at least my whole entire life, whichever is longer.  Some of my Frenchie friends are now reading his FB posts and that just plain makes me happy.  Everyone should start the day with a healthy dose of his prose.  I have blogged about him before and I am pretty sure I will again.  Today’s reason? He is giving away, yes, that’s right, giving away five of his books on Kindle today.  He did this once before and I downloaded them all.  I confess to feeling ever so guilty about that. Sean deserves to get paid for his writing.  Therefore, today I bought a sixth one, The Other Side of the Bay.

Sean reminds us that we are all human, capable of lending a helping hand to those in need, whether we know them or not.  Even better if we don’t know them.  He is a keen observer of people.  I imagine him to be like the old (they probably weren’t as old as I am now, though) mountain men I visited when I was little.  Relatives that we would just drop in on because Mama Mildred said we did not need to call ahead.  Chances are good they didn’t have phones anyway.  These men were overall-wearing, front porch sitters.  Didn’t always say much.  Some couldn’t get a word in edge-wise considering the apron-wearing women presiding over the stove. But when they did, you listened.  Well, unless you had already run off to play in the creek…  I don’t think that any of those men from my past are still alive.  Such a shame.  However, Sean has stepped up to the plate.  He is old for his age. Which means he is wise beyond his years.  And he shares that hard fought wisdom with us, his loyal readers.  I cry and/or laugh when reading his stories.

I’ve also become pen pals with his wife, Jamie.  She is a chef-turned-teacher.  I have managed to talk her out of two of her recipes.  I won’t ask for more, just hope that she will toss one out once in a while.  I plan to make her Pimiento Cheese recipe this week to take to the beach with Sister Moo.  Sean carried on and on about her pound cake in one of his posts so I was brave and asked for the recipe.  I keep making it and messing around with the flavorings.  Hers is the best.  (But switching it up and using Ms. Arizona’s gift of Praline Pecan liqueur gives me an excuse to have a little sample while mixing it all up.)

So, download some of his books and read on.  Lyla is probably my favorite.  Whenever I read the stories of people he has met, I imagine climbing into the passenger side of his old pick-up truck and going along for the ride.  Food is almost always involved, too, which makes it even better.

I do not advertise for Amazon, nor do I receive anything for my links.  I just happen to own a Kindle, given to me for Christmas a few years back by Son #1.  (Technically, he gave it to the Ex-Ex and me, but let’s just say the Ex-Ex has yet to read anything on it.)

http://www.amazon.com/Sean-Dietrich/e/B00SCFZ6RC/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Bon appétit et bonne lecture!  Read on!