Snow Day 2018

So, I want everyone to know that I just got up off the sofa, out from under this amazing blanket (a late Christmas gift from an 8th grade girlie and her mom), put on my clogs, and braved the cold- 24˚F- to take a couple of photos for you. I am brave like that. Teaching the kiddos yesterday, after a two-week break, was exhausting. Hahaha

I love this holly-type bush/tree just outside my door.

 

The Ex-Ex is already out driving around in it. He went to check the roads so he can tell his coaches that their will be no coaching going on today. He also went to fetch my computer charging cord because I didn’t believe it would really snow and left it on my desk. He likes to put the Jeep in 4-wheel drive and go exploring. Pas moi.

You can see his foot prints.

He did ask me to sweep the steps clear of snow if the spirit moves me. Hey, I did get up early and take a shower and put on my favorite sweatpants. I am not a total bum. And those steps might get swept in a bit. On ne sait jamais.

I have stuff to do right here on this sofa. Write this blog. Listen to some music while I type away. Right now, my very talented friend James Green is playing Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne on his saxophone. I have a thing for sad songs and this is one of my favorites. Listen. James has his own YouTube channel in case you want to hear more.

And then if you want to listen to Dan sing it, here you go.

I also need to grade some pen pal letters that my students wrote before the break. I am going to hand deliver them to Mme M next week. I will indeed tuck them inside my suitcase and take them across the ocean. Oui, off to Paris next week. Just a tiny bit excited.

For three glorious days, I will be a guest of ACIS, spend some time with other teachers, wander the streets of the City of Light with Betrand, my tour manager and our tour guide next week. Then I will have three more glorious days solo. I have some trip scouting to do for the March student trip. A few places to check out in advance. I buy postcards of places and works of art that the kiddos will see to hand out to them so that they can prepare short presentations they will share with their fellow travelers during the trip. Last year, Bertrand and I came up with the idea of asking each of them to photograph their favorite work of art in the Musée d’Orsay (yes, you can now take photos in there without a long lecture from a guard). We also asked them to be prepared to tell us the name, artist and why the piece “spoke” to them. Later that day, we sat on steps near the École Militaire, if memory serves me correct, and everyone, including the adults, took turns. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.

What else do I need to do today? Finish a project for Seth and Luke at Bull City Burger and Brewery. A table and “curtain” for beer-tastings. I am their resident seamstress.

I am currently reading a biography of Hadley Richardson, the first Mrs. Ernest Hemingway. It is Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife by Gioia Diliberto. (It’s on Amazon Kindle for $1.99 today. I get nothing from Amazon for posting that, BTW. I have a Kindle app on my iPad and read a lot that way.) Sofa-reading under the new blanket seems like a nice way to spend some time on a cold day. I enjoyed The Paris Wife by Paula McLain a couple of years ago and decided to read more about Hadley.

Sister-in-Law sent photos a week or so ago of French onion soup that she made in her crockpot. Needless to say, I have been craving it since. (Dare I ask the Ex-Ex to stop at the grocery store on his way home to pick up onions and beef stock?? I usually have both but the cupboards are a bit bare right now.)

 

S-in-L and I also discussed the recipe when we were together during New Year’s. This is one of my very favorite dishes. It is also probably the first thing I will eat when I hit the streets of Paris. Last year, I found a café near my hotel and ate a bowl of soup, sipped a glass of Côtes-du-Rhône, and watched a man delicately devour un hamburger-frites with a knife and fork. I wish that I could have videoed that feat. Hamburgers are the rage in Paris. I hear that there is also a hamburger food truck roaming around.

Anyway, revenons à notre soupe. Sister-in-Law is very clever and has her favorite recipes in Evernote and sent it to me. I use Evernote for my class assignments. It is so easy and user friendly. Using for recipes would mean that I could easily bring up a recipe on my phone while at the grocery store. Smart, right?  Here you go.

How to make French Onion Soup in the slow cooker
from the Kitchn.

I haven’t tried it, but S-in-L and her husband raved about it. She cut the recipe in two since there are only two of them.

Serves 6 to 8

What You Need

Ingredients

  • pounds yellow onions, peeled, sliced, and cut into quarter-moons
  • tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • tablespoons olive oil
  • teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
  • tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • tablespoons brandy (optional)
  • To Serve
  • 4 to 6 toasted baguette slices per bowl
  • 1/3 cup grated Gruyère cheese per bowl (1 1/3 to 2 cups total)
  • Chopped shallot or fresh onion (optional)
  • Equipment
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • 5-quart or larger slow cooker
  • Wooden spoon
  • Oven-safe soup bowls
  • Rimmed baking sheet

Instructions

  1. Season the onions. Place the onions in a 5-quart or larger slow cooker. Stir in the butter, oil, salt, and a generous amount of pepper.
  2. Cook on LOW for 12 hours. Cover and cook on the LOW setting overnight until the onions should be dark golden-brown and soft, 12 hours or overnight.
  3. Add the broth and vinegar. Stir in the broth and vinegar.
  4. Cook for LOW 6 to 8 hours. Cover and continue cooking on the LOW setting for 6 to 8 hours. This is flexible; as long as your slow cooker holds moisture well (wrap a towel over the lid if quite a lot of steam escapes), you can cook the soup for hours. Longer cooking will only intensify the flavors. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed, and stir in the brandy if using.
  5. Portion the soup into oven-safe bowls. Arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven and heat to 350°F. Ladle the soup and onions into oven-safe soup bowls and place the bowls on a rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Top with toast and shredded cheese. Top each bowl with a slice of toast and a generous quantity of shredded Gruyère cheese, about 1/3 cup per bowl.
  7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Bake until the cheese is completely melted, 20 to 30 minutes.
  8. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the oven to broil. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve with chopped fresh shallot or onion if desired.

Recipe Notes

Adjusting Consistency & Thickness: When I have made this, the soup has always been just the right consistency. But if yours seems a little thin or watery, you can quickly finish it off on the stovetop by simmering gently in a saucepan for 15 minutes or until the broth has reduced a little.

Bon appétit and Happy Snow Day to all! Stay warm and toasty. Eat something tasty. Listen to some music. Read a good book.

My friend, The Geezer

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

Merci, Richard.  Bon appétit!

Paris in bad weather

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

I’m not dumb.  Start with Hemingway.

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

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

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

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

 

Then there is the matter of food.

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

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

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

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

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

Going back in time: A life resumed

I wrote the following post in February 2009, two months after returning from my six month sabbatical in Arles, France. I was feeling a bit nostalgic this morning and started looking back through old posts. I didn’t have many readers then and the blog (and my writing) was just a baby. At that point, I wasn’t even sure that I would keep it going. New readers, I hope you enjoy this little step back in time.


The Sabbatical Chef has returned to “real life.” As of today, February 15, I have been home for two months. I have resumed teaching at Durham Academy and have finally learned the names of my students. I have worked with Dorette at C’est si bon! (I continue to stress the fact that I am an assistant, not a chef!) I have taken over as president of the North Carolina Association of Teachers of French and survived my first board meeting. I moved in with my sixteen year old son and my ex-husband. (Steve got his passport, came to Paris, finally, and proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. What can I say? That story deserves its own entry and I will try to get it all in words soon. The headmaster at DA is taking full credit for our reconciliation since he gave Steve the time off to come visit me.) I have unpacked almost all the boxes and found most of my belongings, thank goodness. Grant’s two cats seem to like me and Rusty has stopped hiding from me. I went to Spruce Pine to visit my family in the mountains. They are very happy to have me home safe and sound but still do not understand what I was doing over there in the first place. I have a meeting tomorrow with the features editor at the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper to talk about the possibility of a new column. Life goes on, almost as if it was never interrupted. Life has a way of doing that, I have discovered. My six months in France seem dream-like now. I bring up iPhoto on my MacBook daily to look at a few photos, however, to remind myself that it really happened.
Life in Arles goes on without me, too, of course. Wally has returned to Lisbon. Didier and Monique have closed their brocanterie on Rue de 4 Septembre. Business had not been good, unfortunately, for a while. They hope to open a tea room, if they can find a suitable space. Or Didier said he can always go back to work as a stock trader in Paris. (I was shocked to find out he had done this at one time- I told him he seemed much too nice for that line of work!) Business at Gilles’ bookshop has been slow, too. Although Christian Lacroix told the newspapers and magazines that he thought his exhibit at the Musée Réattu would be good for the local businesses, it didn’t really help much. The exhibit was a grand success, however, and was extended until December. The B&B is up for sale. No offers have been made, though, so Chef Érick continues to rent out rooms. He plans to continue offering his cooking classes and visits around Provence but is looking for someone who is computer savvy to help him set up a website and blog, as well as an English-speaking assistant for the spring and summer. Provence experienced its largest snowstorm in 21 years. I begged Érick to go out in it with his camera so that he could send me some photos of Arles covered in snow. The posted photo is of the front door to the B&B.
At one point in the summer, probably mid-July or early August, I thought seriously about making Arles my home. I wasn’t sure how to do that and didn’t even have a long-stay visa for the six months I was there (another story involving red-tape and passports). A guest joked that I could find a French man to marry. The pace of life suited me perfectly. I loved the guests and meeting new people every day. I could walk wherever I needed to go. I could feel my French improving daily. I ate like a queen- all the shrimp and mussels I wanted. Nice chilled rosé and Picpoul de Pinet. Lovely reds from Pic St. Loup. Moussu T e lei Jovents music. Drinks at dusk in the Place du Forum, gazing at the Van Gogh café (now painted to match his famous painting of Le Café la Nuit- but do not eat there. Lousy food and questionable owners.) But waves of homesickness would hit me like a ton of bricks every time I thought about my two sons. And I finally realized that I missed my life, my real life. When I put Martha and Monette on the plane in Marseille in mid-September and drove myself back to Arles on that early Sunday morning, I knew that I would be ready to fly home myself in three months. At that point in time, I still had no idea that I would come back to Durham and resume, in many ways, my life of four years earlier, before Arles ever happened to me in 2005. Only the new and improved version. Older and wiser but still young enough to appreciate and enjoy the changes that can happen if you are open and can let go of the past.
I am asked repeatedly if I miss France. The answer is a most definite oui. How could I not miss speaking the beautiful language, enjoying long lunches and amazing conversation in that language, staring history in the face every time I walked down a street past a monument built over 2,000 years ago, walking through the market and smelling roasting chickens, herbs and spices sitting in open baskets, fragrant goat cheese, freshly cut lavender and lavender scented soaps. The scenery is a work of art and most of it has indeed been painted and photographed many times over the years, from the abbeys and churches to the fields of sunflowers and lavender to the Roman arenas and aqueducts. Provence is a feast for the senses.
I have indeed brought some of it home with me. I have made lamb and tarte Tatin for friends (I couldn’t have made the tarte without Martha’s help and pan!). I have turned Grant on to the joy of freshly grated parmesan cheese on his pasta instead of the stuff in the green can. I have made French toast for him from my orange brioche. I sprinkle my chicken recipes liberally with herbes de provence as they cook in olive oil. I have shown a video clip of Moussu T et lei Jovents to my students and taught them the song “Forever Polida,” as well as “Le Tube de Toilette” by Boby Lapointe, a song that goes along with the vocabulary we are learning. I made a presentation to our middle school students on truffle hunting and showed a short video that I took with my camera. Martha and I are going to cook with the boys from the Durham Nativity School in March and teach them to make tarte Tatin. I am reading Death in the Truffle Wood by Pierre Magnan, a murder mystery that takes place in Provence. I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside, The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo, A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan and Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow are on the nightstand waiting for me. I consult Bistro Chicken by Mary Ellen Evans and French Woman Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano for new recipes once in a while. I check out Kristin Espinasse’s French Word-A-Day website two or three times a week for photos of Provence. In less than three weeks I head to Paris, Normandy and Senlis with 21 8th graders for our spring break trip. I continue to be a very lucky woman.

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!

Érick’s Rice and Tuna Salad
(with my modifications!)

2 cups rice, cooked and drained (I use whole grain)
2 cans of tuna (I use tuna packed in olive oil- big difference in taste!)
1 can chick peas
1 jar (about a cup) of artichoke hearts, if desired
1 Tbsp capers (or more to taste)
Chopped green or red bell pepper, if desired
Juice of 1/2-1 lemon
Olive oil- enough to moisten the salad or to taste
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp tarragon

Mix everything together. If desired, however, you can mix the “dressing” ingredients separately- lemon juice, olive oil and mustard- and pour over the salad. This is good warm or cold. I like it at room temperature so that the olive oil warms up. I sprinkle on the sea salt just before eating.

Sometimes I use leftover pasta instead of the rice. I leave out the chick peas when I use pasta.

**Here’s the link to the original blog- I still maintain it, but for some reason, I am running it on two platforms.  Je ne sais pas pourquoi.  

http://thesabbaticalchef.blogspot.com/

Bon appétit, mes amis! 

Small things, great things, great love

rose

It is hard to believe.  September has arrived.  It came in rainy yesterday here in my little corner of North Carolina. Hurricane season. My thoughts continue to be with the people in Texas who lost family, pets, and all of their worldly belongings. Stuff is stuff and can be replaced, but some of the stuff has sentimental value and losing it can be traumatic. And it always seems that the ones who can’t afford to lose it all, often do. With no insurance or savings accounts to help replace the stuff or even enough to find a dry place to sleep. Heartbreaking circumstances. During Harvey’s devastation, I had a small personal tie to it through Son #2’s GF. I texted her daily (and confessed to being a worrier) to get updates on her family and friends in Houston.

Bravelets, a company that sells jewelry, mostly bracelets, and donates a portion of the profits to charity, has a Texas bracelet and necklace for sale with 100% of the proceeds going to the American Red Cross Relief Fund for Hurricane Harvey victims. There will be scammers out there, I am sure there already are, but the Red Cross does good work.

bravelet

This morning during our therapy session (AKA our morning 3-mile walk), the BFF told me about a great idea I want to share.  Undies for Everyone.  This was posted on their Facebook page just a few minutes ago–

Due to your overwhelming generosity from all over the world, we distributed over 30,000 pairs of underwear today alone to Hurricane Harvey families in need! As we receive shipments, we will continue to provide new underwear to survivors of the hurricane all over South Texas.

Nice, clean underwear is something quite a few of us don’t have to think about, right? We take it for granted. I am pretty sure that Son #1 and Son #2 dashed out to Target or Walmart to get new ones more than once when they had no clean ones.

I think that it’s now time for a What Am I Reading update. I haven’t done this in a while and I have indeed been reading. Every day. Usually for an hour or two before I fall asleep. Here’s what is on my bedside table right now.

Currently reading-

Mothering Addiction: A parent’s story of heartache, healing and keeping the door open by Lynda Harrison Hatcher

The BFF is a college friend of Ms. Hatcher. She was even a bridesmaid in what appeared to be the perfect wedding of the perfect couple. As those of us who have lived long enough know, perfect doesn’t exist and Ms. Hatcher takes us through what it is really like to be the mother of a drug addict. Her perfect life and marriage crumbles. I can identify, albeit in a small way compared to the author, as the aunt of an addict who is currently sitting in jail, headed for a 5 year prison term after a plea bargain. I went with Mama Mildred to visit him this summer. Talking on a phone to a loved one through plexiglass was only a movie scene in my mind prior to this visit. Mama and Moo go faithfully every Saturday. There is a line in the book where either the author or one of the members of her “Book Club” (really a support group of mothers of addicts) says that at least she knows where her child is when he/she is in prison/jail. Mama said the exact same thing. I can’t send care packages, only books shipped directly from Amazon. I highly recommend this book. With the drug epidemic in our country, most of us are touched by addiction in some way. Addiction is difficult to understand. As the child of an alcoholic, I have grappled with understanding it my entire life.

Waiting in the wings-

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I swore to myself that I was not going to read this one. I can be a bit touchy by the label hillbilly with my background as a proud child of the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. I get tired of Deliverance jokes and those who whistle the tune for me. I do not enjoy comments made about those people. When you choose to make holier-than-thou remarks about dumb inbred hillbillies, you are talking about my people and I do not like it. I recently read a review of this book and had decided not to read it, but it was a summer reading choice for teachers at my school. After hearing about the discussion some of the readers had, I borrowed it from one of my colleagues. I read the first few pages and have decided to give it a go. I am still not sure that I will appreciate the memoir of a 30 something who did not grow up in the mountains, but my mind may be a bit more open now.

Recently finished-

Dimestore by Lee Smith

I have been a huge Lee Smith fan for many years. She writes with the voice of a Southern Appalachian woman. She is a Virginian, hailing from Grundy and this is her memoir. How she grew up, the demons her parents faced, and how she found that voice so many of us love. I have met Ms. Lee and attended more that one of her readings. Her voice reminds me of Arles Lucy, another Virginian. (I wish you could hear Arles Lucy say that word. It sounds as sweet as honey tastes.)

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell.

I have read quite a few books about French artists, trying to see them as real people, not just masterpieces. Even after reading this one, it is hard to wrap my head around Claude Monet as a dirt poor, struggling artist trying to support his family and sell his work, surrounded by Bazille, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro and Manet, mentored by Boudin. This centers on his relationship with his first wife, Camille Doncieux, a woman about whom little is really known. As we all know, Monet lives long enough to see his work appreciated and he is able to live comfortably in his home and gardens at Giverny. This haunting painting of Camille on her deathbed is part of the story.

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Image: http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/events/exhibitions/archives/archives.html?zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1[showUid]=99997&cHash=398d90108b

I love the Musée d’Orsay and visit it almost every time I am in Paris. I want to come back as an artist in my next life.  Or a French cat.

Murder in Saint Germain by Cara Black

Probably my favorite series, the 17th book takes place in a neighborhood I have recently been roaming around in as much as possible when in Paris. I love Aimée and have watched her struggle with love on all fronts, from being deserted by her mother, to losing her father in an explosion to her relationship with her godfather to the bad boys she chooses as boyfriends. She gets herself in hot water in a different neighborhood in each book.  Keep them coming, Cara. S’il vous plaît.

Play Dead by Harlan Coben

Several years ago, I fell instantly in love with Coben’s character Myron Bolitar, a former Duke basketball player drafted by the Boston Celtics. Bolitar blows out his knee, has to give up his hoops career and becomes a detective. Play Dead isn’t a Bolitar novel, but it is a slam dunk. (Clever, n’est-ce pas?) Basketball is front and center, with a star Celtic and a super model as the main characters. I couldn’t put it down. Lots of twists and turns and an ending that I didn’t see coming. M. Coben is very popular with my Frenchies. One of his books, Tell No One, was made into a movie in France, Ne le dis à personne. I even saw Coben interviewed on French TV once a few years back! (He had a translator.)

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

If you’ve read any of his novels, then you know that his stories are good escapes. And hard to put down, at least for me.  This one takes place in Wilmington, NC and revolves around a wealthy reformed bad boy and the successful daughter of Mexican immigrants who own a local restaurant. Some bad guys are out there and threaten their hard found happiness.

The One Thing More by Anne Perry

This novel is set in France in the time of Louis XVI with his execution on the horizon. There are those calling for his head and a few others who think that worse will happen if they do indeed send Louis to the guillotine. Célie, the main character, gets brought into the secretive fight to save the king. I thoroughly enjoyed this work of historical fiction, my favorite genre.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This is the best book I have read in a long time, maybe ever. I gave a copy of it Mama Mildred for either her birthday or Christmas last year (who just this morning tried to tell me that she thinks she read it– not believing she really did, she probably lent it to someone or someone “borrowed” it)

From Picoult’s website–

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

As I was reading this book, I attended a workshop on racial equity here in Durham which coincidentally was held on the morning of the white supremacy march in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Groundwater- Intro to Race Equity workshop was sponsored by the Racial Equity Institute of Greensboro. I fully intend to take another of their workshops to learn more about how to be a part of the solution.

Picoult is an amazing writer. She takes real events and turns them into stories told from all sides, even if you do not really want to know what white supremacists think and how they recruit new members. At one point, I thought that I would not be able to finish the book because of the couple’s hatred based solely on the color of Ruth’s skin. Ruth has done everything “right” in her life and is working hard to provide for her son and teach him that the world is fair and the color of his skin doesn’t matter. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Here you can find an excerpt and also Jodi’s story of how the idea of the book came about. The title of the book comes from a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” 

It also reminds me of a Mother Teresa quote:

“There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.”

I have read other books, but I will end with that one. I hope that Mama Mildred finds her copy. If she doesn’t, she will probably get a new copy for her birthday this year.

Today I plan to make a new recipe, one that I’ve been thinking about for a while.  I’ve been thinking about it since I ate this dish at Luna Rotisserie in downtown Durham. Every time I go there I promise myself I am going to try something new, but, no. I cannot resist the sides– black beans and coconut rice, spicy bacon collards, pan-roasted succotash with smoked bacon and my favorite…pimento hominy “mac and cheese.” There is no “mac” in this dish nor does there need to be. I ate a lot of hominy growing up, but not once did it occur to me that you could add cheese to it and bake it. I wonder why. I have found a recipe and am off to the grocery store to get some hominy now.  Back in a bit. Oh! But first… do you know what hominy is? Do we only eat it in the South? Just in case, here you go– basically, it is corn soaked in lye. It turns white and soft and plump. My Granny used to make her own. If you want the long, drawn out, actual scientific explanation, click here.  It is also ground up to make grits, another thing we love in the South. Now I’ve made myself really hungry.

I really am going to the grocery store! See you soon.

Okay, back from Food Lion.  I cheated. My favorite brand of ready-made pimento cheese was sitting there waiting for me… with bacon already in it, no less.

pimento cheese.jpg

 

Baked Pimento Cheese Hominy with Soul

by The Nutty Vegetarian at food52.com

4-6 servings

(I apologize to the NV in advance– I plan to put bacon in mine…)

8 ounces Cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded

1/4 cup mayonnaise (I only use Duke’s)

4 ounces Pimentos, diced into small bits

2- 15.5 ounce cans of Hominy, cooked

Crisply fried bacon

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly butter an ovenproof baking dish.
  2. To make the pimento cheese, combine the shredded cheddar, mayo and pimentos in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste and gently mix in the hominy.
  4. If adding the bacon, crumble it up and mix it in with the hominy and/or sprinkle some on top.
  5. Spoon into the baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the top is browned.

baked hominy

 

Bon appétit, mes amis!  Keep reading good books and serving up good food to your family and friends.

 

 

 

Being real

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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! 

 

 

Bits and pieces

shells

I used to roam the beach looking for whole, perfect shells and sand dollars. I spent more time looking down than looking up. Now I just pick up whatever I happen to see that strikes my fancy.  Bits and pieces. Odds and ends.  Kind of like last night’s dinner here at the house we are renting for the week.  Cheese and crackers, blackened sausage, hummus, carrots, peppers, cucumbers and broccoli with ranch dip and leftover Frogmore Stew. Really good at the end of a long day spent sitting in the sun and trying to hit 10,000 steps on the Fitbit by walking to the end of the island.

Cooper, the Wonder Dog, was relaxing and hoping for a bit or piece of something tasty to come his way. Cooper belongs to Son #2’s girlfriend.

cooper

There has been some great first-thing-in-the-morning play time with the Cutest Baby in the World for both Granddad and Gramma.

kennedy steve

kennedy

Some fireworks in the distance, at Ocean Isle, on July 3.  All the beauty, none of the noise.

fireworks

Fireworks are illegal on Sunset Beach due to fire hazard, but that didn’t stop some of our neighbors. The police cruised by multiple times trying to find the culprits. The Ex-Ex and Brother-in-law were questioned when they decided to go out and check out what was happening, but they didn’t come home in handcuffs in the back of a squad car so I guess they were believable.

The Ex-Ex captured a lovely shot during a moonlit walk towards the pier.  Sort of Starry Night Over The Rhône-ish with the reflections on the water, I think.

pier

Son #1 and his two beautiful girls had to go back home because he has a follow up job interview this morning.  Fingers crossed. They will return in a few hours.

At this very moment, the Ex-Ex is still sleeping, as are Son #2, Cooper and his owner. Best Sister-in-law-in-the-World is checking out what’s happening on her iPad. Brother-in-law has gone out for a long bike ride.  When he comes back, he will turn on the TV to check out Stage 4 of the Tour de France. Vittel to La Planche des Belles Filles.

route17

I have to admit that I don’t care who wins.  I watch for the scenery.

I am an early riser, even when on vacation. I have been washing clothes, turning on the dishwasher, pitting cherries and making muffins, and reading my beach week book, See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I am getting attached to Colin, one of the main characters, and I am afraid that something bad is going to happen to him. I will hope for the best.  It is set in Wilmington, a city in North Carolina only about 50 miles from where I sit right now.

Life comes in bits and pieces.  Not perfect, but sometimes perfect for me. My week at the beach is just that. Surrounded by the people I love, my family once again under one roof, no plans, nothing that has to be done, the smell of warm muffins filling the house. And a view of the Atlantic Ocean from where I sit writing this.  Life is good. Every bit and piece of it right now.

muffins batter

Cherry Vanilla Muffins

makes 12

1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/3 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, beaten

1/4 c. oil or melted butter

3/4 c. milk (this time I used a mixture of vanilla Greek yogurt and milk)

1-1/2 c. pitted, chopped cherries

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top, if desired, for a nice crunch

Prepare the muffin tin by lining with paper cups or spraying with non-stick spray. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the middle.

Add the beaten egg, milk (and yogurt, if using), oil (or melted butter). Stir just until combined. Fold in cherries. Sprinkle sugar on top, if using.

Spoon the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups. Bake for about 15 minutes or until muffins test done.

muffin

Sister-in-law said spreading butter on top of a warm muffin was pretty tasty.

Bon appétit and have a lovely day.  If you can’t be with your favorite people, let them know you are thinking about them. The beach is calling and I must answer.

 

 

 

 

Sean of the South

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(photo courtesy of Jackie Thompson Reagan)

AKA Sean Dietrich.  One of my heroes.  I feel as if we are long lost cousins or I am his long lost aunt.  I consider him and his wife, Jamie, my dear friends although I have never met them.  We send messages.  I’ve begged Jamie for recipes and she has grudgingly given me a couple.  I’ve written about him before.  And here. I kind of accidentally stumbled across his writing a couple of years ago and I used him (with his permission) as a guest blogger. Sean gets to the heart of people. He champions the underdog. The people who aren’t glamorous, who live in trailers, who work two or three jobs just to provide (barely) a living for their kids. My people. Someone recently was ugly to him in the comment section after one of his Facebook posts. Seems the fellow did not believe what Sean had written. Sean’s rebuttal was priceless.  As were the faithful followers who called the jerk out. Me included. Sean is a writer (although he was told by a teacher once that he his writing would never amount to much- I am paraphrasing here), a musician, a dog-lover, a real human being. This article in an Alabama newspaper gave me more of an insight into his life. He routinely gives his books away for free on Amazon. I have been known to fuss at him for this. (And I have downloaded them… and bought a couple as well.)  He overtips waitresses. He admits to having a soft spot for them and if you read about his mom you will understand.  I fell for him when I read a column he wrote about women.  He did it again today, so I am sharing it. We are all beautiful in our own way. As a middle school teacher, I worry about girls and the pressure they are under to be perfect physically. There is no perfect. We all come in different shapes, sizes, and hair colors. How boring life would be if we all looked the same.  Thank you, Sean, for reminding me. Even at my age, I need it most days.

If you don’t fall in love with him, well, I am not sure you would like me much either.

Image may contain: one or more people

I’m sorry. That’s what I want to say to any woman reading this. I’m just flat-out sorry.

The world is trying to squash you like an albino cockroach, and you deserve an apology.

Today’s modern female is expected to be a walking-talking industrialized domestic machine.

If she’s not busy bathing toddlers, dropping kids at soccer, or changing her own transmission fluid, she’s supposed to be planning a three-course supper, scrubbing dirty underwear, learning a foreign language, or making her living room fit for HGTV.

She must be a certain size, weight, width, she must have a gym membership, a midsection stronger than most outboard motors, tight underarms, young-looking hands, perfect teeth, slender necks, soft-spoken voices, no gray hairs, no eye wrinkles, and the amiable disposition of Princess Grace of Monaco.

I’m even sorrier for young girls.

Not that it matters what I think, but I believe television and magazines are trying to ruin females.

Take a gander at the magazine racks in the Piggly Wiggly. Half-naked bodies on magazine covers. Pop-stars dressed like senators from Planet Krypton. Reality television hosts with plastic hindparts.

Anyway, the reason I am writing this is because of my friend’s daughter. Her name is not important. But let’s call her, Little Miss Alabama.

She is in seventh grade, top of her class. An athlete, a social butterfly, a horseback rider, fluent in Spanish, math wiz, funny, kindhearted, and well-loved.

Miss Alabama has dreams of attending Auburn University, she wants to study zoology, she is pretty, has brown hair, blue eyes, flawless health.

She has aided in the birth of exactly three colts. She can spit farther than any boy, and cook just as well as granny alive. I know this; I have eaten her biscuits.

And she hates herself.

Well, not her SELF, exactly. But she hates her body. She thinks she’s too fat, and she’s disgusted with her own reflection.

Well son of a biscuit.

Who told females they had to be USDA-approved and ninety-eight percent lean? Who in the H-E-Double-Cuss said beauty had anything to do with dress sizes?

Look, I have no right to talk about things I don’t understand. I’m not a woman—you might’ve noticed. But do I cry at “Steel Magnolias” so hard I have to pause it after Shelby’s funeral. And that counts for something.

And, I am a person, by God. I don’t like what people are doing to other people.

I don’t like underwear commercials. I don’t care for celebrities that People Magazine says I should care about.

And when I hear about my friend’s thirteen-year-old girl who believes herself to be—in her own words—“ugly, and fat,” it is an affront to my human-hood.

The voices on TV are too loud. They tell girls who they should be, what they should do, how they should think, what their den should look like, how their waistline should appear, what they should eat, and what they should feel.

There are too many voices talking to our women.

So here’s one more:

This world owes you an apology.

Jamie’s Pound Cake
makes 2 loaves or one bundt cake, but Jamie recommends the loaves
I have blogged about this cake before and made it a couple of times, playing around with the flavors each time. In the South, we sure do love our pound cake.
For the cake:
3 c. sugar (this time, I used 2 cups granulated white sugar and 1 cup Turbinado cane sugar)
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 sticks + 2 T. butter, room temperature (2 T. are for buttering the pans)
3 c. all purpose flour
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 t. each: vanilla extract (this go around, I used 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tsp. coconut extract, 3 tsp. Praline Pecan Liqueur -sent to me by Ms. Tammy in Arizona who spoils me)
coconut extract
almond extract
brandy
sherry
For the glaze:
1 cup sugar
1/2 T. each: vanilla extract
coconut extract
1 t. each: brandy
sherry
Prepare 2 loaf pans by generously coating them with soft butter and then coating them with sugar.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar, butter and cream cheese.
Gradually alternate adding the flour and eggs, stopping to scrap down the bowl as needed. Mix just until blended.
Add the extracts and the wines until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans.
Place the pans in a cold oven and then set the oven to 300 degrees.  (I think my oven is a bit off so I set it to 325˚F for the first 40 minutes and then turned it down to 315˚F)
Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Sometimes mine need a little longer. However, you want this cake super moist–like a butter cake.)
Once you remove the cakes from the oven, let them cool in the pan on a wire rack.
In the meantime, melt one cup of sugar in half a cup of water in a pot on the stove. Once the sugar is melted, remove the pot from the heat and add the extracts and wines.
Spoon the glaze over the top of each cake–do not remove the cakes from their pans. Continue to let the cakes cool and absorb the glaze for a couple of hours before serving. ***This can be made in a bundt pan. However, you will need to invert the cake before adding the glaze. I feel that you do not get as much glaze absorption on a bundt cake as a loaf cake.

 

Bon appétit, y’all! Make a pound cake and take it to a friend.  Or make it and invite a friend over. Pound cake is a gift no matter what.  It has healed many a broken heart. Calories? Yes. Sugar? Yes. Moderation, people. A little pound cake once in a while never killed anyone. Thank you, Sean and Jamie!

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!