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! 

“Grateful for everything, entitled to nothing”

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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.

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.

Baguettes et Beurre vs Biscuits and Bacon

breakfast #1

It isn’t a competition for me.  Really, it isn’t.  I have been back from my annual spring break trip for almost two weeks and it has taken me this long to get to the blog.  I go through a sort of grieving process and a bit of withdrawal every time I leave France. This year’s kiddos were amazing.  Great eaters, non-complainers, roll-with-the-punches-walk-for-miles 8th graders.  22 of them.  2 co-chaperones. 1 tour manager. Me.  26 of us traipsing around France for 11 days.  The weather was unbelievably beautiful.  Picnics and eating outside were the norm this time.  So, I will focus this post on food.

Breakfast.  A good baguette tartinée with real butter and some honey or fig jam, s’il vous plaît.

I won’t say no to a pain aux raisins…

pain aux raisins

Or a croissant, especially the ones at the Hôtel du Musée that Claude and Laurence serve up every morning… (I won’t even talk about their fancy any-kind-of-coffee-hot-chocolate-grind-the-beans-steam-the-milk machine that I covet)

breakfast at HduM

Lunch.  Picnics whenever possible.  Outdoor cafés.

Our first meal in Paris, however, was falafel in the Marais.  My choice.  I dream about this and have lunch whenever I am there. The kids deal with it.  No, it’s not really French. My vegetarians love it.  I love it.

falafel

Lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens. A simple sandwich of cantal cheese, jambon sec, tomato jam, and lettuce from a little place right outside the back entrance of the park. Of course, it comes as a package deal.  A drink. A sandwich. A dessert. Enough to share. My favorite meal this time.  Not necessarily due to the food.  Factor in the weather, the ambience, the people I ate with.  I said out loud to anyone who was listening that there was no where on earth I would rather have been at that particular perfect moment in time.

4 musketeers

Lunch in the Tuileries Gardens after a long walk down the Champs-Élysées on a beautiful Sunday morning.  Bertrand giving KR a lesson about the walls that surrounded Paris at one time.  Should you find yourself in Paris and in need of a first-class guide to show you the city (and other places around France), call on My Private Paris, Bertrand’s venture.  He is the best.

tuileries lunch

Another Paris lunch- at the sumptuous food section of Galeries Lafayette.  We let Bertrand, the expert choose, this time.  Cinco Jotas.  Bertrand is a Basque so this place takes him back to his roots.

lunch at galeries lafayette

We visited my dear friend GM and my students met their “pen friends” at the Collège Anne Marie Javouhey in Senlis.  They treated us to lunch in the school cantine.  At our school, we do not have a cafeteria.  We eat lunch in our classrooms with our advisees every day.  3-course meal for lunch in France instead of whatever I throw together at the last minute at home. (The sign said I could take 4 pieces of bread… so I did.)

lunch at AMJ

Lunch at an outdoor café in Avignon at Place de l’Horloge.  Goat cheese salad.  Another of my favorites. Mon dieu.

goat cheese salad

My après-marché picnic with La Brune in Arles.  Anything eaten with her is special.  We ate in the Jardins d’Été, a place that holds a place in my heart.  In 2005, before my cooking stage with Chef Érick, I took a book and un sandwich there almost every day. My favorite concrete bench was even open and waiting for us… next to the ruins of the Le Théâtre antique.

Lunch near Omaha Beach.  We went back to La Crémaillière, a local restaurant we discovered last year in Saint Laurent sur Mer.  We were pressed for time, Bertrand called the owner, and she had poulet-frites ready and waiting for my crew.  The frites were pronounced the best of the trip.  And I have never seen a chocolat crème consumed as quickly as KR polished off hers!

Dinner.  I had foie gras once. Sprinkled liberally with sel gros.  We went to a salt marsh in the Camargue later in the trip to learn more about harvesting salt.

The starter at a restaurant in Arles.  Terrine du taureau (they are proud of those black bulls), eggplant and tomato confit.

arles starter

A really good beef stew in Paris. Flourless chocolate cake for dessert.  I know it is hard to believe that I normally do not eat dessert.  But when in France…

stew

Crêpes near La Tour Eiffel.  Ham and cheese with salad and caramel for dessert.

We tried something new.  We ate dinner in French homes.  Divided into 4 groups, with metro tickets and directions in hand, we made our way to our hosts’ appartements. I was with the vegetarian group.  It is arranged by VizEat.  My crew was in heaven.  A tiny apartment, hosted by a delightful woman with two children and two cats who works in a Montessori school and who is a vegetarian herself.  The appetizer, baked camembert cheese, was a real hit.  I think that we consumed every single one. She told me how she made them, but I am going to have to email her for the recipe.  I have forgotten what she said. A great adventure.

camembert bites

This is really what I prefer for dessert.

cheese plate

Snacks. Extras. Indulgences. Call them what you want.  Éclairs from Christophe Adam, an award-winning pâtissier.  Bertrand knows all the best places. Tiny little shop.  I guarded the door (from the inside, of course) to allow 4 kiddos in at a time to drool and make their selections.

And, as Laura Florand knows, it sure doesn’t hurt when the pâtissier is handsome.

adam photo

Fougasse in Aigues Mortes.  Flavored with fleur d’oranger. Really generous portions. The sugar crunch on the top is divine.

fougasse

Ice cream.  Café et chocolat.  Bought some for all of the kiddos who were hanging around with me.  A reward, of sorts, on a sunny afternoon.

icr cream

Alain Ducasse, rock star chef, has started a chocolate-making business in Paris.  A taste of his version of Nutella at Galeries Lafayette.  Divine.

Cooking classes with the kiddos.  Éclairs and gougères at La Cuisine Paris.  Macarons at L’Atelier des Gâteaux.  I was with the éclair crew.  The macarons group gave me samples. Being the good teacher that I am, it was my duty to sample all of the flavors.  I did this while on the TGV from Paris to Avignon.  Bertrand supplied the coffee.

A few other random food photos–

A quick pit-stop on the way to Normandy and the display of Haribo candy.

haribo

Cheese- on Rue Daguerre and at the market in Arles

A sign above a shop in Paris

paris map steak

Feeling a little crabby?  So is this guy spotted at a poissonnerie

crab

Oreos have hit France with a boom!  One of my kiddos has quite a few allergies, but Oreos are on his approved list.  So, when we were in Monoprix in Arles and I saw the Strawberry Cheesecake Oreos, I called him over to take a look.  Thank goodness he bought some so that I could sample one.

oreo

Sacks of pommes de terre outside a café in the Marais waiting to be made into frites

sacks of pommes de terre

A sign in the window of the Monoprix on the Champs-Élysées (I was sorely disappointed to find out that the main store is closed for renovations)-

monoprix cheese

Enough is enough for one day.  My tummy is growling and grumbling.  But let me finish by saying that I do not think that I have to chose one or the other.  Baguettes or biscuits? France or the United States?  I can love both equally.  Just because I miss France and want to go whenever I have the chance, it doesn’t mean I do not love my home.  Voilà.  I needed to get that off my chest.  I have the best of both worlds.

Throw together some gougères to impress your eaters.  And eat them warm, right from the oven.  I am going to do that right this minute.  Then I will come back and post the recipe.  Be patient!  I just happen to have some gruyère cheese in my cheese drawer…

gougeres pastry

Gougères

recipe gleaned from several sources, including La Cuisine Paris and David Lebovitz

This is the same pastry dough used to make cream puffs or éclairs minus the cheese and herbs.

1/2 c. (125ml) water

1/2 c. (125ml) milk

7 Tbsp. (100g) butter

3/4 c. (150g) all-purpose flour

1 tsp. (6g) salt

4-5 eggs

Grated gruyère cheese (1/2 – 3/4 cup) or other “dry” cheese

Freshly grated pepper

Finely chopped herbs

Heat together water, milk, and butter on low heat.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat. Add flour and salt and stir.  Bring back to very low heat and mix quickly until it forms a dry ball that pulls away from the pan.  Remove and add eggs one at a time until mixture is smooth and when you hold up the wooden spoon it falls into a sort of V.  It should be smooth and glossy.  Add cheese, pepper and herbs, if using.

Fill pastry bag and pipe small rounds (about the size of a cherry tomato, although I made mine larger this time- you really want them bite-sized) onto parchment paper.  Brush with beaten egg, if desired.  Sprinkle a bit more cheese on top, if desired. Bake at 375˚F for about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top and on the sides.  Do not underbake. The puffs will deflate.  They will still taste good, though, they just won’t be as pretty.  I took mine out of the oven and then decided they weren’t quite done enough and put them back in for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and eat warm.  You could slice them open and fill with ham and a little Dijon mustard.

gougeres

Bon appétit!  Bon Poisson d’Avril!  Pack your suitcase every chance you get and see the world around you.  Be happy, mes amis et mes amies.

Weekend baking

IMG_3599

I am a creature of habit.  I have morning routines.  Even on Saturdays and Sundays.  Even during summer vacation. I like to get up, make the coffee, feed and water the cat, and bake.  The house is quiet.  It’s just Callie Cat and me, although she isn’t always quiet.  I think she really misses Rusty, her brother, who died a month or so ago.  She meows a lot more now.  Muffins are my favorite to bake because they are quick and the Ex-Ex likes to eat them for breakfast.  Scones are fun, too.  So is banana bread, but it takes a lot longer to bake, therefore I usually do that at night.

I like to make things from scratch.  I kind of hate to admit that I have become a mix snob, but I have.  Baking mixes were all the rage when I was growing up.  New and exciting.  And a lot of unpronounceable stuff added in, as we all now know.  I succumb once in a while, but I read labels now.  A chef friend of mine swears that high fructose corn syrup is the devil’s elixir, so I avoid that like the plague.  I use King Arthur‘s all-purpose flour.  I have fallen in love with that company.  It’s 100% employee owned and their motto is “Try it once, trust it always.”  Check out their recipes and company story and you will, too, I bet.

I am an amateur and I have been baking for as long as I can remember.  Cookies, pound cakes, pies, cupcakes, biscuits, bread. I’ve taken a few baking classes. Macaron-making with Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery here in Durham (my city is an eating destination these days- I don’t really like the word foodie, so I don’t use it, but google Durham, NC and see what you get).  I taught Amy’s daughter and she helped her mom with the class which made it twice as much fun.

 

I took a macaron-making class in Paris this past March with my students at L’Atelier des Gâteaux.  Several of the kiddies wanted to do this and, well, truth be told, they did not have to twist my arm.

My most recent baking class actually turned out to be two classes (the ovens weren’t working properly the first time so we were invited back to try again) taught at Sur la Table at Southpoint Mall.  Judy C suggested learning how to make croissants and I took her up on the invitation.  I love croissants.  Is there anything better than starting the day with a warm croissant, preferably eaten in France, with a cup of hot café au lait, people watching?

arles croissant

Non. Well, unless it’s a pain aux raisins

painauxraisins

I digress.

Back to the croissant-making.  It’s not as hard as I thought.  Time-consuming, oui.  You must plan ahead.  Jane Bobroff, a professional baker, was our teacher for Croissants from Scratch.  A woman who loves butter as much as I do.  Maybe even more.  King Arthur is one of Sur la Table’s sponsors, so I was quite happy.  Some of the baking vocabulary was in French since these little darlings are iconically as français as Maurice Chevalier.  Détrempe and beurrage. The dough block and the butter block.  Lessons in activating yeast, incorporating the beurrage, folding properly- letter and book folds, proofing the dough, egg wash, baking for longer than you think you should.  The class was a bit backwards since it takes a while to get the dough from yeast to oven.  We started with dough already prepared for us,

croissant dough

made our croissants,

cutting

set them to rise,

rising

and while we were waiting for them to double in size, we prepared dough for the next class.  We made Classic Croissants, Pain au chocolat, and Parisian Ham and Gruyère Croissants.

croissants slatable

Chef Jane also uses this dough for Morning Buns, croissant dough rolled with cinnamon and sugar and baked in muffin tins.

cinnamon

I will try this at home, now that I have taken the class twice, but I advise you to find a class or, if you follow directions well and are patient, to devote a Saturday morning to the process.  Planning backwards is a good idea.  Figure out when you want these pâtisseries to come out of the oven and work back from there.

For a much quicker breakfast treat, I will share my favorite, foolproof muffin recipe.  I have made many variations of this recipe since finding it in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition (in support of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).  It is the 12th edition of this well-known and well-loved American bible of cooking, originally published in 1930.  This edition was published in 2003.  The muffin recipe page came loose long ago and is held in place with a paperclip.

Muffins

Prep: 10 minutes.  Bake: 15-18 minutes.  Oven: 400˚F.  Makes: 12 medium-sized muffins

1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/3 c. granulated sugar (or sometimes I use turbinado sugar)

2 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, beaten

3/4 c. milk

1/4 c. cooking oil

1 recipe Streusel Topping (optional- I rarely make it)

  1. Grease twelve medium muffin cups (2-1/2 in.) or line with paper baking cups.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the mixture; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together egg, milk and oil.  Add egg mixture to flour mixture.  Stir just until moistened.  Do not overmix- batter should be lumpy.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.  If desired, sprinkle Streusel Topping over batter in cups.  Bake in a 400˚F preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove muffins from pan.

Streusel Topping

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbsp. cold butter

2 Tbsp. chopped nuts, if desired

Combine the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumb.  Stir in nuts, if using.

Add-ins I’ve tried-  don’t be afraid to be creative here

Note:  Gently fold in fruit and peels at the end.  Extracts or flavorings should be added to the egg-milk mixture.  Spices, such as cinnamon, should be added to the flour mixture.

1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries, 1 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel

1 c. coarsely chopped cranberries and 2 Tbsp. additional sugar

Reduce flour to 1-1/3 c. and add 3/4 c. rolled oats to flour mixture (mini-chocolate chips maybe?)

Increase sugar to 1/2 c. and add 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds to flour mixture.

Reduce milk to 1/2 c. and stir in 3/4 c. mashed banana and 1/2 c. chopped nuts into the flour mixture along with the egg mixture. (best not to use paper cups for this one- they really stick to the paper)

1 c. Craisins ( any flavor)

1 medium-sized apple, peeled, cored and diced (Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp work well) plus 1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup of chopped, pitted cherries, fresh or frozen, plus 1 tsp. almond extract

Bon appétit and happy baking!  Your eaters will love you and your kitchen will smell heavenly.  Sip your coffee while they bake, as I do, and read Sean Dietrich‘s daily posts about life in the South.  I follow him on Facebook and he is always amazing.  We are yet-to-meet-in-person best friends.  His wife, Jamie, is a killer cook.  I beg her for recipes.  I have no shame.  Check out what I’ve written about them here and here