Paris has to wait (for me)

PCW

Finally.  The movie made it to Durham.  Arles Lucy and I went to see it a couple of nights ago. It was the second time for her. She was very tightlipped and gave me no hints about what was in store.  Impressive, AL!  And merci.  So, I will not go into the details.  But let’s just say that the story hit home.  No, I am not as drop-dead gorgeous as Diane Lane. My grandmother was not a Pentecostal preacher, although she was religious enough to have been one. My mom did not run off to Mexico to divorce my dad, even though she did threaten to join the Foreign Legion if her four brats did not stop arguing and fighting and start behaving. My dad was not a drama coach and taxi driver… he was a plumber and drove a truck.  I did ride around in that with him from time to time. When he was actually holding down a job. I did not declare my independence from my family at age 15 and run off to California. I did escape my hometown at the age of 18 and ran off to France at age 20. I didn’t stay gone long enough. Hindsight. Ms. Lane did come to North Carolina to film Nights in Rodanthe. She has kissed Richard Gere. Sadly, I have not. However, friends, I am saying right here and now and putting it in writing, that if a movie is ever made of my life, I want Diane to play me. Period. I’ve said that before and I still mean it. Should that not happen and should I be dead and gone, returning to another life, I will haunt you.  And I will haunt you in interesting ways.  Let’s leave it at that, shall we?

I loved every second of the film.  Arles Lucy has vowed to buy it as soon as it comes out. (You can pre-order it at Apple.) She will host a viewing party at her house so that she can stop it and I can translate the French tidbits.  I caught some of them the other night and translated a bit, but I, too, want to hear everything.  And see the Pont du Gard, picnic along the Rhône, drool over chocolate desserts, ride in a car through a lavender field. You get the idea. Oh, and don’t forget hang out with a handsome Frenchman who, it must be said, has un accent charmant when he speaks English. And, Arles Lucy, this thought just popped into my head… he calls her Brûlée, as in crème brûlée, as in burnt. You were once nicknamed The Woman on Fire by a Frenchman, if memory serves me properly. Just saying. I will leave it at that.

Here’s the trailer. Fall in love. Indulge in a little fantasy. It’s okay.  They do eventually make it to Paris, at night, when the Arc de Triomphe is all lit up and Mme Eiffel is sparkling.  Big sigh. Paris must wait for me.  My summer trip didn’t work out. She will still be there, waiting for me, when I do get there again.  Hopefully, in January, definitely in March.

Now I think I will go google Arnaud Viard.  Au revoir.

How about some chocolate tarts? I made these several times while living in Arles and working with Chef Érick.  The ganache recipe has come in handy many times over.

Hazelnut Sablée Crust and Chocolate Ganache Tarts

recipe from Érick Vedel and Madeleine Vedel

For the crust (makes enough for a dozen little tarts or a large single tart):

2 cups flour
1 cup toasted and ground nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans)
¼ lb plus 3 tablespoons sweet butter
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon water (if necessary)

In a large mixing bowl, put in the flour and toasted, ground nuts, the sugar, the salt and the butter, cut in small pieces. Push up your sleeves, wash your hands, take off your rings, and with your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until you get a sandy texture that, if you squeeze a handful will hold together. Into this mixture, break your whole egg and work in the egg with your hands lightly, then, as needed, add a tablespoon of water, work the dough quickly together and pat it into a ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator to chill.
At a minimum 2 hours later, remove the dough from the fridge and put it onto a work surface. At this point, preheat your oven to 350F/160C. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface and start to knead your dough. Press it down and fold it over, press it and fold it, for about 2-5 minutes. You want it to start to hold together and no longer crumble apart too easily. When making tartlets, take a small amount of dough, roll it out and place it in the greased tart pan and press into the pan. Do not make the dough too thick. It works better for small ones, rather than one large one, as it is not easy to cut once cooled after cooking.
To preheat the crust, poke the crust with a fork multiple times, place into your preheated oven and bake just until it begins to brown, about 5-10 minutes. Cool before filling.

For the chocolate ganache:

300 grams (12 oz) superior quality dark chocolate
225 grams (9 oz) heavy cream
90 grams (4 oz) butter, cut in small pieces

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces. Put into bowl. In a saucepan, heat the cream to boiling point. Remove from heat and pour slowly over the chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate melts, then add the bits of butter, one at a time, stirring gently and continually until the chocolate starts to thicken. Pour into the shells. Let cool before eating.

I love you, Arles Lucy!  Thank you for being my friend and indulging me in my love of all things French.  Let’s hit the road in a little décapotable and see France the right way!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

my lavendar

Bon appétit!  Fantasies are fun and good for the soul.  So are movies, music and chocolate. And amazing friends.  Indulge.

Summer Vacation Day 2: Sticks and stones

Sticks

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and stones.

DSC00625

I had a completely different idea for today’s post. Then I took a break from writing and decided to take a hike. It was a stunningly beautiful June day in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Blue skies, 72˚F, cool breeze blowing, quiet. I grabbed my camera, my purse, my walking shoes and set off to acquaint myself with Mr. Moses Cone and his manor.

DSC00632

I worked in a denim factory for two summers, making Wrangler jeans, with Mama Mildred.  My nephew was born in Moses Cone Hospital, I saw an exhibit of the Cone Sisters’ art, Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters, twice when it came to the Nasher Museum at Duke.  I watched a TV special about the exhibit, produced by UNC-TV, several times. I am very interested in French art and this period of time in history, the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, is fascinating.  Growing up in the mountains I knew nothing about the Cones and Vanderbilts and their palatial estates until I was in high school. Moses, the son of a Jewish German immigrant (his father’s name was Kahn), and his brother made their fortunes in the textile business. There is little mention of his sisters, Claribel and Etta, in many of the articles about him, but they inherited money when their father died and, later, their brothers provided them with an allowance that they used to purchase art. They probably raised at few eyebrows at the time- neither sister married, one became a doctor, and they traveled to Paris, befriending Gertrude and Leo Stein as well as several struggling artists, including Picasso and Matisse. I love this quote from an article written by Edward Cone (yes, a relative) in Forbes magazine about the sisters:

The Cone sisters’ use of the family’s prosperity to collect fine artwork was unparalleled among other women. They were known as eccentrics and had a comical presence clad in their long Victorian dresses. When they went to the opera in Paris, they would buy an extra seat to hold their day’s purchases.

I would have been a hoot to meet those two women.  Can you imagine sitting in a café having a drink with Dr. Claribel, Etta and Gertrude?

collecting

Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein and Etta Cone sitting at a table in Settignano, Italy. June 26, 1903. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collection, CG.12.

I digress.  But I just can’t help myself sometimes.

Looking at that rock wall along one of the pathways on the estate and at the trees while walking along Figure 8 Trail and then during the hike up to see where Moses is buried, I started thinking of the old children’s saying:  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.  That is a lie. It may be interpreted as you can say what you want, but calling me names won’t hurt me. But I think that words can be very harmful and leave lasting scars and regrets. I wish that I had been more careful with my words over the years. And I wish that others would be as well. Every single day I work at watching what comes out of my mouth.  Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.  But I do try.

On the other hand, putting into words how you feel about someone is a gift.  I received several gifts of letters last week. I have two of them in my purse now.  They are from a couple of girlies I taught for three years, from the day they arrived as new 6th graders at my school. I am notoriously known as a tough, strict teacher. Oui, moi!  I tell everyone that I would not have survived 37 years in middle school otherwise.  I do set high standards, give nightly homework assignments, and expect them to practice in class what they are learning (learning a second language is not a spectator sport), but I temper it with care and respect. And fun. And food. To paraphrase the girlies…

From Girlie #1:

On my first day of French in 6th grade, I walked into class wanting to be in Spanish & pronouncing “bonjour” wrong. Now, I am proud to say that I can carry on a meaningful conversation in French and that French has become, by far, one of my favorite classes.  Even though it has been a lot of hard work and practice, taking French with you has taught me about overcoming challenges… I have been doing some thinking. And I have no idea where I would be without French & you as my teacher.  Not only have I learned French, I have been able to grow, bond, and make friendships outside of my normal friend group… So, madame, in conclusion, thank you. I don’t know if you knew how much you have done for me but I wanted to let you know before I left the middle school.

From Girlie #2:

I have come to realize that there are not enough words or phrases (in French or English) to describe and show how much you have influenced me.  French is, to say the least, one of the hardest classes I have had. You made me look forward to learning it though. It will always confuse me how much I loved the hardest class, but your passion for the language rubs off. You made the class seem like a love letter to the language that you just read out loud. I have heard around 540 love letters. Honestly, I’m very excited for high school, but the thought of you not teaching me is one of the only things I can’t let go of… Thank you for showing us all tough love because while in sixth grade I was slightly terrified, it showed us how much you cared about all of us. You care, and I would like to think that most people in my life do but the truth is there are only a handful that do…  This is my first fan letter.

They know that I write thank you notes and fan letters. From a note of appreciation to our computer guru (and my personal garlic dealer) to Pierre Hermé in Paris to thank him for making such delicious macarons. (I’ve yet to meet him, but there is always the next trip.) I feel honored that these two amazing young women took the time to write to me.  (And now that I have copied some of what they wrote here, it will be less traumatic if I misplace the letters, just as Claribel Cone lost a $15,000 check sent to her by one of her brothers by placing it in the pocket of one of her skirts, according to the article in Forbes!)

Today was also a day for wildflowers.  Much to my friend KR’s dismay if she sees this post, I do not know the names of but one or two of them.  Some are even considered weeds, I guess.

The purple rhododendron are my favorite.  I only found a couple of bushes in bloom.  A bit too early yet.

Can you see the face??

treewithaface

And what does this rock, collected for the BFF, look like?

nc rock

North Carolina, of course!

I made it to Moses’ grave.  He is buried with his wife, Bertha.

grave

The view from his final resting place isn’t shabby.

cemetery view

If you are out driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a stop at Moses Cone Memorial Park would be well worth your time.

And last but by no means last… on my way to the cemetery, I walked by a cow pasture. I am overly fond of cows. And I don’t mind the smell of cow patties.

cow pasture

Now, with that in mind (or maybe not), I will leave you with a recipe for something delicious that is sometimes called a Cow Patty. Many thanks to my mother-in-law for sharing this recipe with me 30+ years ago.  I would love to make some right now, but it will have to wait. I am not in my own kitchen.

Chocolate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies
(recipe from my mother-in-law)

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. butter
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. peanut butter
3 c. oatmeal

Combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa.  Bring to boil and boil for one minute.  Add vanilla and peanut butter.  Stir until peanut butter is melted.  Add oatmeal and stir until it is well-coated.  Drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper and place in refrigerator until cooled. (Lick the bowl just to make clean up easy.)
Makes about 3 dozen.

Bon appétit to all!  Write someone a genuine, heartfelt thank you note.  Heck, even write one to yourself.  You deserve it.

Critters

pigeon

I started looking through my photos from the January and March trips to France (yet once again) and found an theme:  critters.  I did not realize I had so many until I started looking for them.  Of course, what would it be like in Paris without pigeons?  Bertrand, our guide par excellence, said that you can be fined for feeding them in parks.  I threaten my students with horrible punishments if they do it.  They are very annoying.  (The pigeons, not the kids.) But I decided to start with a picture of one anyway.

I love lions on the other hand.  At the Musee d’Orsay–

The lion is the symbol of Arles–

How about seven three swans a-swimming in the Seine?

swans in Seine

Or “un loup qui voit?” In the courtyard at Les Invalides, there is an interesting critter carved up high.  Supposedly, Louvois, the minister of war under Louis XIV, who later was in charge of buildings, asked if he could sign his name somewhere in the Invalides.  Louis said no, so the cunning Louvois commissioned this lucarne:–

louvoit

Loup (wolf) + voit (sees) = Louvois (same pronunciation).  Clever, non?

How about a salamander in the Opéra Garnier?  I don’t know… the more I look at it, the less it looks like a salamander.  A gila monster?

salamander opera

Another one?  Spotted while walking along the Seine (on what used to be a busy expressway that it now a pedestrian walkway thanks to Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris)–

salamander2

The fountain at St. Michel–

St Michel

Dog lover?  The French sure love them.  Canines can follow their owners almost anywhere (not museums as I found out while living there in 2008).  Suggestion: always look where you are stepping.

At the market–

market dog

In a diorama-type scene about the building of Notre Dame–

creche dog

In the Marriage at Cana painting at the Louvre (the largest painting in the museum, opposite Mona)–

A dog was here- evidence near the Eiffel– at least I hope it was a dog and not a loup

pawprint

How about the mythical critters atop Notre Dame cathedral, seen from the bell tower walkway?

This guy is my favorite…

ND5

A whimsical elephant at Beaubourg/Centre Pompidou– (in the summer he squirts water)

elephant

No montage would be complete with a king on a horse– Louis XIII in Place des Vosges

king on horse

A former horse butcher shop in the Marais–

chevaux marais

The window of the Disney Store on the Champs-Élysées–

belle bete

The rooster is the symbol of France (dates back to the days of Gaul)– Le Coq Sportif shop:

le coq sportif

A black cat in Montmartre (always makes me think of Lautrec’s Chat Noir)–

montmartre black cat

Back to the Marriage at Cana

cat

Death by snakebite at the Musée d’Orsay (my title, not the real one)–

snake arm

I am very fond of les flamants roses

flamants

I prefer looking at them in the Camargue, though–

A cicada in the window in Arles (music to my ears in the summer)–

arles cicada

A piggy spotted in Arles as well–

arles pig

Also spotted in Arles… in town above one of the buildings–

arles critter

Can’t leave out the bulls and cows–

Nor the lambs in the Christmas crèche (santons from Arles) at Notre Dame–

creche lambs

The huntress and her buddy in the park in Senlis–

senlis huntress

And last but not least, can you find the pet bunny seen in the rooftop garden of a home in Aigues Mortes?

bunny in AM

And my 2017 group of “critters” who made the trip an unforgettable one–

group

Today’s recipes are brought on by my longing for lemon after my friend Mme M posted a photo of lemon cookies on Facebook last week.

lemon tree

I love lemon anything.  Daughter-in-law loves Chicken Piccata and I must confess that I had never made it before last week when she, Son #1, and Granddaughter came for dinner. Easy!  No idea why I didn’t discover this dish sooner.

Chicken Piccata

from Simply Recipes

Serves 4

  • 2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 pound total), or 4-8 chicken cutlets
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or dry white wine (such as a Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup brined capers
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley

1 Slice the chicken breast halves horizontally. If the breast pieces you are working with are large, you may want to cut them each into two pieces. If the pieces are still a bit thick, put them between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound them to 1/4-inch thickness.

2 Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Rinse the chicken pieces in water. Dredge them thoroughly in the flour mixture, until well coated.

3 Heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add half of the chicken pieces, do not crowd the pan. Brown well on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a plate. Cook the other breasts in the same manner, remove from pan. Keep them warm in a 225°F oven while you prepare the sauce.

4 Add the chicken stock or white wine, lemon juice, and capers to the pan. Use a spatula to scrape up the browned bits. Reduce the sauce by half.

Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Serve with the sauce poured over the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley, if you wish.
lemon cookies

Lemon Cookies

adapted from Chef in Training

makes 4 dozen (depending on the size, of course!)

For the cookies:

1 c. butter, softened

1-1/4 c. granulated sugar (next time I might use only 1 cup)

1 egg, room temperature

2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp. lemon zest (one med. sized lemon gave me enough juice and zest)

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. lemon flavoring (I wanted them very lemony)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour

Glaze:

1-1/2 c. powdered sugar

1 Tbsp. lemon juice (a bit more in case glaze is too thick and needs to be thinned)

1 Tbsp. milk (a bit more can be used to thin the glaze if it is too thick)

1/4 tsp. vanilla

To make cookies:

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In large bowl, cream butter and sugar together.  Add egg and beat well.  Add lemon juice, zest, lemon flavoring, and vanilla and mix until well blended.

In a small bowl, whisk together salt, baking powder and flour.  Add to butter-sugar mixture until well incorporated.

Roll or scoop (I use a small melon baller) cookies into 1-inch balls.  Place on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350˚F for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Combine glaze ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until smooth.  Drizzle or spread as much or as little as you would like over the still warm cookies.

Bon appétit, mes amis.  I hope you enjoyed the menagerie!  Happy Easter!  Joyeuses Pâques!  Or just Happy Spring!

 

 

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.

So many books…

books

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

the-bear-ate-your-sandwich

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

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

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

A few of the recently read:

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

Currently reading:

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

On the to-read list:

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

Well, that’s it for tonight, readers.

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

 

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

MacKenna’s Meringues

Prep: 25 min Bake: 40 min + cooling

Yield: 32 cookies

2 egg whites

⅛ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar

⅛ teaspoon peppermint extract

½ cup of sugar

⅓ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

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

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

Searching for Aimée Leduc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

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

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

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

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

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

Financiers
recipe from Dorie Greenspan

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

Who am I?

This popped up on Facebook as my post (on the old blog) from a year ago…  I am still wondering who I am!  A work in progress, I like to say.  I can even add a few more facts to the list.

When you were twelve or so, did you sit around and wonder why you are you and how you got to be you?  I did.  But maybe I was a weird kid and I was the only one lying in bed at night looking up at the ceiling doing all that wondering.  I remember asking myself “What makes me me?”  I studied genetics in a college biology course and I found it fascinating, but it didn’t answer my question. And I was indeed still asking myself that very same question, even after learning about DNA and chromosomes.  All these years later, I am still wondering.

So, what makes me me?

  • I am the only one in my family with green eyes.  Weird fact– they’ve become greener with age.
  • I am an optimistic extrovert.
  • Pale pink is my favorite color although my standard outfit is black- dress/pants/skirt.  (I love the scarf pictured above.  I bought it at a great stall at the Arles Saturday market in March 2015. I went back last March and bought a couple more! )
  • Fall is my favorite season.
  • I am proud to be from the Appalachian Mountains.
  • I cry very easily.
  • I have very vivid dreams, usually in color.
  • I love to hum, whistle, and sing.
  • I am messy, but I hate wrinkled clothes.  I make my bed every morning.  I rarely leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight.  Maybe I am as messy as I think?
  • I love to read and often am so immersed in my book that I dream about the characters.  I think they are my new best friends.
  • I have been known to stalk writers.  It has lead to some very nice friendships, though.
  • I love trivia.
  • My secret (or not so secret, maybe) dream is to be a writer.
  • I am very slow to anger, but when I am angry I get over it quickly.
  • I have an abundance of common sense.
  • I do not like being photographed.  I would much rather be the photographer!
  • I have no idea what my IQ is, but I do know that I am a hard worker.  So, I really don’t care.
  • I love pink lipstick and have way too much of it.
  • I am a spiritual person.
  • I love my two boys beyond reason.
  • I do not leave my house without mascara.
  • I am still ashamed of being mean to my 7th grade best friend. I wrote a very ugly note about her.  Someone showed it to her.
  • I am a procrastinator.
  • I love to dress up in costumes.  Ball gowns and evening dresses preferably.  I have two tiaras.
  • I am a terrible joke teller.  I almost always mess up the punch line.
  • I am going to be a grandmother in February 2017.  Excited doesn’t begin to cover it.  A girl!
  • I am resilient.
  • I am grateful for my life.  Every single day.
  • I love me and I know that I am a work in progress.
My new favorite quote–
“Nobody can be exactly like me.  Sometimes even I have trouble doing it.”
                                                                                    –Tallulah Bankhead
But enough about me.  How about a yummy it’s-almost-fall recipe from Deb at  Smitten Kitchen.  I love her.  I wish I could hang out with her in her tiny little New York City kitchen.  I could be her sous-chef. I would peel the apples.  Wash the pots, pans and measuring cups.
The Ex-Ex and I were invited to dinner at a friend’s house this past weekend.  I was asked to bring dessert.  I already had this cake in mind after seeing it on Deb’s blog.  And I had all the ingredients.  I used Honeycrisp apples because I love them and I know they bake well.  They don’t get all mushy.  I did add the optional walnuts, sprinkling them on top of the apple-cinnamon layers.  I decided to take talenti gelato to go with the cake.  The stuff is like crack to me.  Especially the Sea Salt Caramel flavor.  The BFF introduced me to it a couple of years ago.  I chose Tahitian vanilla and Caramel Apple Pie flavors to go with the cake.
Kind of flopped over on its side, but you get the idea of the apple layers.
Mom’s Apple Cake
6 apples, Mom uses McIntosh apples
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.
Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.
Bon appétit, to all.  “Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken.”  Another quote I love. Merci, Oscar Wilde et Deb!

Good Women by Sean Dietrich

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

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

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

September 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only that.

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

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

And my mouth.

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

I’m just getting warmed up.

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

Anyway, what I’m driving at is:

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

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

Mother of fatback.

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

Thanks for these sugar cookies, ma’am.

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

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

We will begin with Sistine Chapel.
The dough–

In a stack–

Top view–

Sistine Chapel Sugar Cookies

makes about 30 cookies

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

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

Now for Foolproof Chewy
The dough–

The stack–

Foolproof Chewy Sugar Cookies
makes 2 dozen

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

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

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

Heroes

doug-marlette-cartoon

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

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

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

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

abe-with-words

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

mlk-face

i-have-a-dream

mlk-speech

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

washington-mem

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

greensboro-sit-in

greensboro-counter

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

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

john-lewis

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

hero-quote-normandy

french-and-american-flags

Koreakorean-memorial

Vietnam.  My uncle Charles at age 18.

vietnam

at-the-vietnam-wall

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

fdr

We are still fighting the fight.

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

doug-m

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

mohammed

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

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

the-power-of-the-pen

power-of-pen

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

newseum-911

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

marlette-eagle

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

 

Cowboy Skillet Cake

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

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Combine in a bowl and stir a little to mix:

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, whisk and set aside:

2 large eggs

1-1/4 cups milk

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

Stir into the cake batter:

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pour into the cast iron skillet.

Finishing touch:

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

1/4 cup of sugar

the zest of one small lemon

a dash of cinnamon

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

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

 

 

The BFF Hometown Tour

 

with Helen

I would love to say that I will make  Hometown Tour a regular feature of The Sabbatical Chef, but, well, I think that it would go the way of most of my best of intentions.  As Mama Mildred has said to me more than once “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Is that a Bible verse?  Who knows?  (Mama Mildred probably does but since she is at Sunday School right this minute I can’t ask her.)

Back to my story.  We are often asked if we are sisters.  Did we always look alike?  I don’t think so.  But as they say about old married couples and people and their dogs, we have spent so much time together that it has happened over the years.

I met my BFF almost exactly 25 years ago.  OMG.  It’s our Silver Anniversary.  I just realized that.  Our oldest sons found each other on the first day of preschool.  Then she had another and then we both had one more who are the same age.  Here’s the gang in 2009.

goofy boys

Our own basketball team.  They have all graduated from college now.  Praise the Lord.

Here’s some scientific research about friends.

friends have genetic sim

“Our” psychic told us that we were siblings in another life.  We like that idea so much that we believe it. Wholeheartedly.

We have had some adventures and plenty of fun.  France, Italy, Sunset Beach, all around Durham, and Lexington, NC, her hometown.  I’ve been several times.  I even took Sister Moo there a couple of summers ago to spend a week at High Rock Lake.  The BFF introduced to me to both Lexington and The Lake.  She was born and grew up in Lexington and her family had a house at High Rock.  I never had the chance to meet her dad.  He died when she was pregnant with her first son.  I did get to know her mom.  She is pictured between the two of us above during a Second Wedding Dinner at Sunset Beach in 2009 when the Ex-Ex and I renewed our vows.  Helen and I hit it off immediately the first time we met.  I loved her.  (Don’t mean to make you cry, BFF.  Sorry.)  Her brother was quite a character as well.  Same party.  He was the master of Frogmore Stew. (Head over to the old blog for the recipe and a couple of stories.)

with Ben

Mom and Bro are up in heaven smiling down on the BFF right this very minute.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the BFF had to go to Lexington for a meeting so she invited me to go along.  Just for a day and night.

overnight bag

Lexington is in the piedmont section of North Carolina, a short detour off I-40/I-85, near Greensboro and High Point.

lexington map

http://www.city-data.com

It is famous for honest-to-God REAL barbecue and Richard Childress, of NASCAR fame.  It used to be known around the world for its furniture businesses.  Unfortunately, most of them went the way of most of our businesses in North Carolina– somewhere else. Downtown Lexington is the way downtowns used to be and I wish they still were.  Malls took care of that, though.

The BFF and I got to town early so we went driving around and that’s when I got the idea for this post.  We cruised past her childhood home.

MPK house

The football stadium where she went to high school (she still cannot tell me why if their mascot is a yellow jacket their school colors are purple and orange… have you ever seen a purple YELLOW jacket?)  She was a champion tennis player, BTW.

stadium

We saw where her family’s business used to be and some of the old factories.  The train ran right behind the factories, of course.

She told me how much she loved this little spot.  Who wouldn’t growing up in a small town? I bet she asked her daddy to drive through this and honk the horn more than once.

bridge

Mo, the BFF’s hometown BFF, took me on a walking tour in town while the meeting took place.

paris

Oops.  She’s not in this picture taken in Paris in 2012.  She was taking the picture.  **Editorial note from the BFF:  Mo did not take the picture.  She had to miss the trip because her daddy was sick.  That was wishful thinking on my part.  Summer of 2017??

The BFF and I make cute bookends, n’est-ce pas?

Here is a photo of Mo recently taken at her son’s wedding.  (lifted from her FB page- thanks to whoever took it!)

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Mo knows everyone in town.  She is a physical therapist with magic hands. Or at least so I have heard from people in North Carolina and the South of France…

In Lexington, they love their pigs.  This is the kingdom of pork barbecue, people. Pig sculptures are everywhere.

back to school pig

Conrad and Hinkle is an old-fashioned grocery store– real butchers even.  They sell local produce and products, the best of which, in my humble opinion (and Sister Moo’s) is their pimiento cheese.  It was featured on NPR in 2007 and they (gasp) gave out the recipe.

conrad hinkle

I got a sample.  (And a container to bring home.)

PC sample

Bull City Ciderworks has moved its operation from Durham to Lexington.  They have opened up a great little spot on Main Street as well.

bullcity cider

The Candy Factory is probably the best known spot, though.  It was recently featured (again) in Our State magazine.

our state

You name it, they have it.  I bet there has been more than one temper tantrum thrown in this shop.  One of the BFF’s cousins works here.  She wasn’t around during our visit unfortunately.

For some reason I can’t fathom, I didn’t take a picture of the old Courthouse.  It is a beautiful building.  The sign will have to do this time.

courthouse sign

After the meeting was over, our first order of business was lunch.  At Lexington Barbecue. Or The Monk, as the folks there know it.  Another mystery that was explained but really didn’t make much sense to me.  What do I know?  I am a mountain girl.  (**Ok– the website says it was built by Wayne Monk.)  Got it.  They even still have curb service. Another thing of the past. The precursor to the drive-up window. I was a touch offended when the BFF started to explain what curb service is.  (She didn’t know Don’s Drive-In in Spruce Pine back in the day so I forgave her.)

Hushpuppies and a messy BBQ sandwich with slaw.  Slap your mama good, as the BFF has been known to say.

After lunch, we headed to The Lake.  Mo and her husband have a house there.  I could sit on the deck for hours.

Mo's deck

We were joined by T and K and sat in The Island, sharing a red Solo cup of wine.

Côtes de Gascogne brings back lovely memories.  I introduced the BFF to it when she and Mo came to visit me in Arles, France during the summer of 2007.

This one was taken the morning they discovered viennoiseries, little French breakfast pastries.

pastries

Mo and her hubby also have a boat.

mo's boat

My toes were happy as we zipped around The Lake.

happy toes

So were the pups we took with us! Lola looks sad, but trust me, she was not.

We spent a lovely day and evening.  Thank you for having us, Mo.

Thank you, BFF, for so many, many things.  For being your best self and always being just a text or phone call away.  For being my soul sister, the Thelma to my Louise.  For all of your love, support and miles of walking therapy through this 25-year journey.  For having the chutzpah to reinvent yourself at an age when many are thinking of retiring. For loving white t-shirts and black pants almost as much as I do. For always looking for the silver lining and inspiring me to do the same.  For making me laugh. I love you.

A few years ago, the BFF gave me this recipe which she makes every Thanksgiving/Christmas.  It was passed down from her mother.

Helen’s Cranberry-Apple Casserole

3 cups tart, peeled apples, diced (Granny Smith)

2 cups fresh whole cranberries

1 cup granulated sugar

Mix above ingredients and put in 10 x 13 pan.

Top with:

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

1-1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup melted butter

Mix topping together.  Sprinkle over fruit.  Bake 1 hour at 325˚F.

Bon appétit to all BFFs.  Here’s to adventures.  May we have many, many more and be those little old ladies who go kicking and screaming and laughing wearing pink scarves and just the right shade of pink lipstick.  Keep that twinkle.