I am an eater

britts

I like to eat. No, scratch that. I love to eat. Most of the time, food that is really good for me, once in a while treats that are probably not so good for me but undeniably delicious. Just look at those beauties from Britts Donut Shop in Carolina Beach. Two donuts once every two years are not going to kill me or my waistline. They make those babies from scratch while you watch. Cash only. Each donut $1, including tax. Sister Moo, Favorite Niece and I decided to sit at the counter and eat ours this year (so we could watch them being made– all that lovely sugar coating dripping after they come out of the hot oil). Mercy me.

I have become quite picky, though, in my use of ingredients when I cook at home. No more cake mixes, very little in the way of prepackaged food. Bisquick is no longer found in my cupboard nor is Crisco. King Arthur’s all-purpose flour, aluminum-free baking powder, butter and whole-fat milk, cream or buttermilk are used to make my biscuits. Cooking for others is a labor of love. Eating really good food is one of life’s great pleasures, in my humble opinion. Homemade mac and cheese, pound cake, beef stew, vegetable soup, cornbread, rice and tuna salad… my favorite recipes tend to be rather eclectic. A mix of Appalachia, the South, and France. I have a ridiculous number of cook books. The only magazines I subscribe to are Our State and Cooks Illustrated. They test all of their recipes several times so I don’t have to! (I am also admittedly a bit lazy.) I don’t watch cooking shows on TV. I do sometimes watch a French series Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier? I have a thing for pastry chefs, I guess… especially French ones. What can I say?

Pierre Hermé is my favorite (if you read this blog, you already know that!)–

His macarons are divine. Seriously, he will be the macaron-maker for angels someday. Not any time soon, I hope, though. In January, I had a chocolate-foie gras one (why didn’t I buy at least a half dozen??) that was one of the best things I have ever eaten. I may not watch cooking TV shows, but I do watch chef movies. Pierre is one of the judges in Kings of Pastry. (My 7th graders LOVE this film!)

A second favorite is Christophe Adam, king of éclairs, in my heart.

In March, I sampled his lovely framboise and vanilla cream éclair while at Galeries Lafayette. Miam.

While at Carolina Beach last week, Sister Moo, Favorite Niece and I went on a mission. To find the best crab dip. Niece loves crab and, well, I love eating. We tried it at four different restaurants. Each was quite different, served on different types of bread.

#1 Michael’s Seafood– good, Dijon-mustard taste served with soft pita bread (the best thing on their menu is the Seafood Chowder)

crab1

#2 Sea Witch- nice melty cheese on top, served with buttery toasted pita (my favorite)

crab2

#3 Havana’s- least favorite bread- fried pita?- dip with a strong mayo taste

crab3

#4 The Deck House- good dip, served with garlic toast- not bad, dip baked with bread crumbs on top (I prefer the cheese), bit of a spicy after taste which I liked

crab4

I am now at Sunset Beach with the Ex-Ex. We tried the dip at Crabby Oddwaters night before last. Served in a bread bowl, with toasted baguette slices on the side. It is good- the crab taste comes through on this one.

crab sunset

So there you have it. I have no crab dip recipes. Maybe I will try one when the crowd arrives in a couple of days. Bill’s Seafood is just across the bridge and I will be going there to buy shrimp for Frogmore Stew (thanks Uncle Beano and BFF) and Shrimp and Grits (boy, looking at the posts and various renditions of this recipe brought back some memories!) later this week. Anyone have a crab dip recipe to share??

Bon appétit! I hope that you have something delicious to eat today with someone you love. Feed people good food. It is a sure fire way to show them that you love them. Everyone on this earth should have access to good, healthy food. If I were in charge of the world…

Projet Déjeuner 2018

Ken and Gma

Okay, so that bundle of cuteness has nothing to do with lunch, but I couldn’t resist. Babysitting for Mlle Adorable is my other summer project now that SCHOOL IS OUT!!

My official summer projet has begun, as of Thursday. I kicked off the Out-to-Lunch Series 2018 with a visit to Namu with Señora Verde. She has been grading language placement tests for me and we decided to take a break and have lunch. She had been to Namu one time already and I am always up for a new adventure when it comes to eating in any of the amazing new restaurants that are popping up all the time in Durham. (I will also probably hit Chapel Hill and Raleigh, just to venture out of my zip code.) I can’t find a regular website for the restaurant, only a Facebook page, but I did find a blog post by Bites of Bull City. It was written before the actual restaurant opened. It’s in the Straw Valley shopping center just off 15-501 between Durham and Chapel Hill, next to Walmart and Best Buy. It is billed as casual Korean food. I chose what Señora chose because she had the same dish with chicken on her previous visit. We chose beef this time and we were not disappointed. I think it was called Joe’s Special, named for one of the owners.

namu

There is lettuce, a few crispy-tender carrot and zucchini slices, rice, green onions, onions, beef and the star of the show, as far as I am concerned, sweet potato noodles. They were amazing. I love the “bowl” concept for meals and could eat like this every day. Mix it all up, attempt to use chopsticks, have a nice glass of chilled Sauvignon blanc and sit on the patio. Délicieux!

So, sweet potato noodles. A must try now. I have a vegetable spiralizer that Sister Moo gave me for Christmas. Time to dust it off.

spiralizer

Of course, I may scout out the noodle aisle at LiMing’s Global Mart just up the street. I promise to update after I have tried making my own bowl of deliciousness.

Bon appétit! Bonnes vacances! I have been dubbed “Mme la Vacancière” by a French friend. Oui, c’est moi! Eat more vegetables- make it fun and healthy. Voilà!

How a French teacher becomes l’assistante américaine to a French chef in Provence

As if the title isn’t long enough… It’s now been 10 years since The Sabbatical Chef was born. I am honestly afraid to read my first attempts at writing, but, well, here it is. My first post.

I am a Southern girl and grew up around good food, but my mom and grandmother never used recipes. I learned to make biscuits just by watching them. I couldn’t do it now if my life depended on it, though. Sorry, Mama. My grandmother lived on a farm and cooked on a wood cookstove for most of her life! I remember calling up my mom when I was in college to ask for her recipe for broccoli casserole and she wanted to know why I needed to use a recipe. Guess she figured I was getting above my raising! My fondest memories growing up involved sitting in my grandfather’s kitchen listening to him whistle and sharpen his knives. He tried to teach me about cuts of meat and fresh ingredients, but I was distracted by the smells and sounds he was producing. His beef stew was my favorite. Grandpa Bell had been a chef in a hotel in High Point when he was a young man and he loved to cook. I loved him and I loved to eat so it was a match made in heaven! And whenever a relative would pass away? Not that we weren’t sad, but we kids knew that the food that would be delivered by everyone we knew and a lot of people we didn’t know would be amazing. Especially the desserts. To this day, whenever someone needs cheering up I turn on the oven.
I went on to college, moved away from the mountains of North Carolina to what we call the piedmont (central NC), and have been here for 28 years now teaching middle school French in a private school. I have been asked many times where the obsession with France and all things French came from. My family thinks I am odd, to say the least. I am the only one to leave the small town we were born in. French people, of course, totally understand my obsession since they do believe they are the center of the universe and the mecca of all things cultural. And I would have to agree. Upon finding out that my ancestors are Scottish, one Frenchman declared that that explained it perfectly. The Scots have always loved France, he said matter of factly. Voilà! Mystery solved. Now we know why I am weird, although why it happened to me and not my sisters or brother, I am not sure. My high school French teacher should share the blame here! What a saint. I’ll save that story for later.
In 2005, I received a summer grant from my school to spend two weeks in Arles, France. I found out about a cooking school there from Dorette Snover of the C’est si Bon! cooking school in nearby Chapel Hill and decided to take a 5 day Mini-Gourmand course. Vincent Van Gogh spent his most productive period there painting so I figured it would be a good place for me. I had recently separated from my husband and had never taken a vacation alone. So, why not? Pourquoi pas?
I spent a week at the Hôtel Le Cloître in Arles, a wonderful family run place in a former cloister. I wandered around the streets of Arles, had picnics in the park, looked at the spots Vincent painted, visited Roman ruins and museums, and read a lot. For the first time in my life, it seemed, I was alone and didn’t need to talk. I was introduced to the music of Yannick Noah as he was in concert one evening right outside my bedroom window! Oh là là! My students know how I feel about him.
I moved to the bed and breakfast or chambres d’hôte, run by Madeleine and Érick Vedel. This is where I would stay and take the cooking course. I was a bit nervous because my cooking skills were fairly non-existent. I had spent the past several years making family meals, but certainly nothing French other than an occasional dessert! The week was spent visiting a goat cheese maker, an olive oil producer, an organic winemaker, shopping at the open air market, having lunchtime picnics in incredible spots, and taking an afternoon nap before rejoining the group in the kitchen around 5:30 pm. We all worked together to orchestrate our evening meal. Chef Érick speaks no English so Madeleine would translate for the ones who spoke no French. I went home with a handful of recipes and the determination to cook using herbs and fresh ingredients and to make meals more of an experience rather than just a necessity.
Of course, real life set back in, as it always does. I talked about those two weeks non-stop and showed pictures to whomever would look and a friend and colleague at school convinced me to offer a trip back to Arles for adults. We found 3 other brave souls who wanted to join us in the summer of 2006. I had travelled for years with my students but never with adults. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Sweet (and savory) memories

I’ve been MIA from my dear sweet blog. January brought the passing of my mom’s dear sweet husband and that of my dear sweet father-in-law. I still catch myself not believing that they are gone from us. February brought a three-day trip to Washington, DC and the usual whirlwind of classes, lesson plans and the like and the serious last minute preparations for the annual France Trip with my eighth graders. And now, that has come and gone as well. Thus the cartoon. In this post, I am going to focus on the delicious aspects of that trip. I hope you are hungry!

The 2018 Paris Delicious List

#1 Goat cheese crème brûlée eaten in a little restaurant near the Panthéon (listed on the menu as crème brûlée de chèvre cendré, oignons confits); the goat cheese salad I also had was noteworthy.

 

 

#2  Steak-frites and the “sauce” Charmélcia at Bistro Régent, our last dinner, near the Gare St. Lazare train station (all you can eat fries and bibb lettuce-vinaigrette salad included with your steak, duck or salmon- the only entrées on the menu)

#3  Hachis parmentier (think Shepard’s Pie) served at Odile’s apartment- we ate at the homes of Parisians through VizEat. Odile also gives cooking lessons in her home. The butternut squash soup with crème fraîche and riz au lait she served for dessert were also amazing.

 

 

#4  My darling Pierre Hermé’s creations- I tried a take on the Paris-Brest dessert from his new shop 86 Champs (a joint venture on the Champs-Élysées with L’Occitane but as much as I love that shop I only had eyes for Pierre)

 

I also had (at least one) macaron…

#5  German-style hot dog from  Le Stube– I would never have found this one on my own. Leave it to Bertrand Tour Guide to take us here. We got our dogs to go and ate them in the park at Palais Royal. Pique-nique!

#6  Rillettes de canard in a small café near the Marché d’Aligre— AP, my co-chaperone wouldn’t agree, but I love rillettes- slow-cooked meat similar to pâté- this one made from duck, eaten on bread with little cornichons. Another Bertrand find.

#7  My cheese plate (I often eat cheese instead of dessert) from the cafeteria/restaurant on the top floor of Galeries Lafayette; we sat next to the ladies from the Chanel counter in their cute t-shirts; the view of Paris (not of the Chanel ladies) was pretty spectacular too– la Tour Eiffel and le Grand Palais

 

Okay, full disclosure here– AP and I later opted for (and shared) an éclair made by Christophe Adam- after we shopped and before we took off on more walking adventures–we needed our strength, you know. The “food court” in the Galeries Lafayette Maison building is pretty spectacular as well. Pierre Hermé has a spot here, too.

 

 

 

#8  My daily half baguette spread with demi-sel butter and jam at our hotel- nothing fancy, but what a great way to start the day. They have a fancy coffee machine now- no more little pots of strong coffee and warm milk- but the coffee is really good and it’s much easier on the women who take such good care of us at breakfast.

#9  Mint tea and pastries at the Grand Mosquée de Paris– oui, another Bertrand idea. We took the kiddos to the Jardin des Plantes (zoo, dinosaurs, park) and as our little afternoon pause-café we ducked into the tea room for a treat; a first for me! The glass of sweet mint tea was amazing.

#10  Galette (savory crêpe made with buckwheat flour) of ham, cheese and an egg in the Marais for lunch- a lovely Sunday morning treat

We had eating adventures outside of Paris– Normandy, Senlis, Versailles– but I will leave that for another day. Today’s project is to try to duplicate the goat cheese crème brûlée. I have already made the hachis parmentier. It was not as good as Odile’s… but I will keep trying. The Ex-Ex and Niece liked it and gave it a thumb’s up.

Hachis Parmentier 
recipe from Genius Kitchen

SC’s notes: I did not use instant potatoes (quelle horreur!) nor did I add tomatoes. Odile said she used a bit of tomato paste so I did the same. She added mascarpone to her potatoes (I should have) and most importantly, she used leftover beef stew for the meat. I didn’t happen to have any in my refrigerator (beef stew doesn’t last long here) so I substituted the best ground beef I could find. I will keep working on the recipe, but this is a good base. Garlic mashed potatoes would be good as well. I sprinkled some gruyère cheese on the top of the potatoes before putting it in the oven. I think that next time I will bake it 15 minutes longer.

READY IN:

40mins

SERVES:

8

INGREDIENTS

  • onions, chopped
  • garlic cloves, minced (or pressed)
  • 1tablespoon butter
  • tablespoons olive oil
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • 1-1⁄2 lbs lean ground beef
  • tablespoon herbes de provence (or other herbs to your taste)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1egg yolk
  • tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 4 -5cups mashed potatoes (instant is fine)
  • 3⁄4 cup gruyere cheese, grated (can also use emmental or similar)
  1. In a large frying pan, cook the onions & garlic in the butter & olive oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, ground beef, herbs, salt & pepper. Cook until the meat is browned thoroughly. Turn off heat & add egg yolk & Parmesan cheese, stirring to mix completely.
  2. Spread the meat in the bottom of a lightly oiled oven proof dish (a 9×13 would be perfect). Spread the potatoes on top of the meat mixture. And finish by sprinkling the grated cheese on top.
  3. Bake in 400 deg oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted & the potatoes lightly browned.
 
Bon appétit, mes amis. Please keep reading! I promise to keep blogging, through good times and sad ones. Make good food and feed people. That’s a sure way to be have good times.

126,662 steps/ 55.1 miles

These New Balance cross trainers were made for walking…

shoes

And that’s just what they did. For six full days in Paris. Wednesday with Ghislaine (21,017 steps, 9.3 miles). It’s no wonder that I have a sore muscle (or something) around my left ankle. No blisters, though, I am happy to report. One sore toenail, but Tom at Posh Nails will fix that. TMI? Probably! I did use the métro sometimes. It was a bit frustrating that the Châtelet station is closed right now and that messed me up while trying to get to the Ritz to have a drink with friends in Bar Hemingway. It would have been faster to walk from my hotel, I think.

It’s a good thing I walked so much because I ate exceptionally well on this trip. Bertrand of My Private Paris made a couple of recommendations and I found a café on Rue Saint Dominique that I’ve wanted to try for a couple of years (it deserves its own blogpost). And ACIS treated us to two great meals, one being the apéritif dînatoire at the Pullman Hotel from the last post and the other, our farewell dinner at Lapérouse, on the Quai des Grands Augustins. Not a place I would go on my own ($$$$) but what a thrill.

From the Mercier champagne to begin–

To the coffee and little coconut and jellied fruit bites to end.

end

And in between?

Appetizers served on the ground floor of the restaurant, with champagne.

appetizer

I love the spoon. There were also gougères. And probably other delicious little bites. I always find myself talking too much to taste everything. Quelle surprise. I found Bill who shares my love of Van Gogh. Kristi and Angela and I had a great chat. Jeremy won for best tie (Starry Night). Scott and Cindy and I became fast friends and spent time together on the food tour and at Bar Hemingway, along with Kristi and Angela. Janel, my roommate. Luis from Texas (who shared his Angelina Mont Blanc with us at the hotel afterwards- yes, we ate more). Amber and Eric. Pamela and Phil. Kathy from Nebraska. Laurie and Sean. Jeannie, Morgan, Caroline Ann from ACIS U.S. offices. Claire, Isabelle, and Bouchara from the Paris office. Bertrand.

We were then ushered into a big room upstairs for dinner.

At first, my tablemates and I were a bit confused–

soup base

This was served in a rather large bowl. Hmmm. Some new fad in the starter courses, I wondered? But the handsome young man (pictured above first serving champagne) cautioned us to wait because the dish wasn’t finished. And sure enough, in just a few minutes, another waiter came to add to the bowl. Voilà! Velouté d’asperges. Cream of asparagus soup. Very, very good.

soup

The main course was duck. Le canard. I am very fond of duck.

duck

With sweet potato purée.

Dessert was a first for me. Soufflé. Oui, seriously. I’ve never eaten one nor tried to make one. Until this one. Caramel. Served with sorbet.

sorbet

Heavenly. Fluffy. Airy. Cloud bites of caramel air.

souffle

It was a lovely, delicious evening, as always with ACIS. They treat their teachers like royalty.

Some random photos. If you read about the history of this place, you may be a bit shocked but amused as well, I think. There are lots of little rooms and I wasn’t brave enough to poke my head into many of them. Rumor has it that George Clooney has been spotted here. I wouldn’t doubt it.

I really hope to find a tried and true recipe for soufflé. Cindy from California is, from what I heard on the trip, quite a baker, and has promised to send a recipe when she returns home. She and Scott extended their stay until Saturday. They are even luckier than I am.

Bon appétit! I hope that you enjoyed my eating adventure. I think that I need to get out a map of Paris and highlight as many streets as I can that I walked on. Before I forget and my ankle heals! And before the student adventure in March. Eat something good with someone you love! Or eat solo. Or make new friends! Be adventurous!

Entre les Bras update

An article written by Adam Nossiter for the New York Times partially republished in this morning’s Durham Herald-Sun immediately caught my attention. It is about French chef Jérôme Brochot, owner of Le France in Montceau-les-Mines, giving up his Michelin star.

This is practically unheard of. Those stars, however, drive up prices and bring a lot of pressure. It is very difficult and very expensive to maintain the stars and add more. Halfway through the article, Sébastien Bras’ name jumped out at me. My Sébastien Bras? I thought. Yes, indeed. Last fall, Sébastien, with his father Michel’s blessing, asked Michelin to remove his three stars. I googled and found this from the New York Times.

In 2013, I was asked to review a documentary film Entre les Bras (Step Up to the Plate is the English title), for The French Review, a publication of the American Association of Teachers of French. It is an excellent film. I actually know someone, a parent of one of my former students, who has eaten at Bras’ restaurant. That’s as close as I get in the grand scheme of degrees of separation to Michel and Sébastien. I did eventually send them a copy of the article and I received a very nice thank you note.

While googling Sébastien and Michel, I also found these videos of them preparing their signature dish Gargouillou.

After watching the film several times and reading all I could find about them in order to write my review, I felt as if I knew Michel and Sébastien. I got rather attached to them actually. I hope that Sébastien is happy and has found joy in cooking again. I still hope to visit Laguiole someday and meet les Bras. It’s on my to-do list.

Here’s my review of Entre les Bras. If you enjoy documentaries and food, this film is a great way to spend an hour and a half.

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Last year, I was asked to write about Entre les Bras for the French Review, the official publication of the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF).  The editor of the film section of the Review, Dr. Michèle Bissière, lives and teaches in North Carolina and is active in our chapter of the AATF.   She attended a presentation I made about my sabbatical or about cooking with my students.  Not sure which.  Anyway, she sent me a copy of the documentary, asked me to watch it, and write a review.  Wow.   Documentaries about French food and chefs are right up my alley after falling in love with Jacquy Pfeiffer in Kings of Pastry.  Durham, NC hosted the North American preview of the film as part of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival  and I wrote a review about it for our local newspaper.  Jacquy and his wife were in the audience, no less.

I watched Entre les Bras (Step Up To The Plate is its English title) several times and set about writing and daydreaming about actually eating there.  I am not sure that dream will ever come true, but I started thinking about it again after recently reading Ann Mah’s book Mastering the Art of French Eating.  Journalist Ann actually went to the Aveyron départment of France and interviewed Sébastien Bras.  And Papa Michel came in while she was talking to his son.

I realized that I haven’t posted my review.  I had grand plans to send it to Michel and Sébastien after it was published last spring, but either common sense got the better of me or I’ve been too shy to do so.  Silly me.  I need to mail it off with a fan letter.  Pourquoi pas?

Read the review and if you are in the mood for beautiful views of la France profonde, cows, and a glimpse into the life of a Michelin star chef, rent the film.

The parents of one of my 8th grade students have actually been to the restaurant in Laguiole…  Sigh.

Lacoste, Paul, réal.  Entre les Bras (Step Up To The Plate).  Michel Bras, Sébastien Bras. Cinéma Guild, 2012.

I recently read the story of Bernard Loiseau, a chef who committed suicide in 2003 at the age of 52, after rumors that his restaurant might lose one of its three Michelin stars.  Remembering that tragic story and considering that we have elevated chefs to rock star status in the United States, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a documentary about a three-star Michelin chef.  Would Michel Bras be a temperamental egomaniac?  Would he spend his time berating the wait staff in his restaurant or slamming pots and pans?   Or would he be riddled with self-doubt?  Or worse yet, would he have no confidence whatsoever in his son and heir-apparent, Sébastien, and belittle him?

Bras, père et fils, have a restaurant and hotel in Laguiole, in the Aveyron department in southern France, built on a hill with a breathtaking view of the valley below. Michel Bras is undoubtedly a perfectionist, as the viewer quickly finds out by watching him choose vegetables, herbs, and flowers for the restaurant.  His ties to the land where he has spent his entire life seem to be as deep as his family ties.  Michel is a slight, serious man, a runner, with round wire-rimmed glasses who looks more like a university professor than a chef.  He is, however, quite an entrepreneur and has built an empire based upon his expertise in the kitchen.

Food is the Bras family business.  Michel’s mother ran a restaurant and he followed her, taking over and earning Michelin stars.  He decided to build his current showpiece several years ago, secure in the knowledge that Sébastien would stay with him in the endeavor.  The premise of the movie is that Michel is ready to retire and hand over the reins to Séba, as he calls his son. I expected the movie to be mostly about Michel, but I found myself just as engrossed in the emotions of Sébastien and the idea of family duty.  There never seemed to be a question of what his life’s work would be. The photos of him at a very young age in a chef’s coat and toque made for him by his grandmother foreshadow his destiny. But is it easier to start from scratch as Michel did or to inherit an empire and try to stay on top?

Entre les Bras is divided into seasons, a fitting and logical setting for a movie about food and life.  The story comes full circle, in the course of a year, from spring to spring, watching four generations of family interact with one another around food.  Sébastien works on his own signature dishes, telling his own story, built on the time spent with his grandparents on their farm.  One touching scene shows Sébastien alone in the kitchen creating a dessert that he later calls his own chemin, or pathway, using elements from his childhood: bread (his dad), milk skin and chocolate (his mom), and blackberry jam and Laguiole cheese (his grandmother).  He seems truly at peace with the completion of this dish.  He must find his own way.  He knows this and his dad knows this.

The changing of the guard occurs as the viewer watches Michel take down his photos and mementos from the office bulletin board and put away his notebooks filled with recipes and drawings. Sébastien’s notebooks and a final scene of Alban, Sébastien’s son, cooking in the kitchen with his grandfather, wearing a miniature chef’s coat and toque, replace them.  Michel’s work isn’t finished yet.

From one of the first scenes, showing the plating of Michel Bras’ signature dish, Gargouillou, to the beauty of the Aubrac sunrises and sunsets, this is a stunningly beautiful and poignant story of the humans behind the creation of legendary food.

Resource:

www.bras.fr

Teresa Engebretsen

Durham Academy

Bon appétit, les Bras!

Searching for a recipe, I found Michel’s Coulant au chocolat. Have you ever eaten a molten lava cake aka fondant au chocolat aka moelleux au chocolat? Well, mon dieu bon dieu, I just discovered that Michel INVENTED it. I have attempted it several times, but mine never seems to coule… to flow. I even found a video produced by FR2, a French TV station, about French desserts that features Michel and his dessert. It’s in French and the photos are amazing. If you don’t like chocolate, don’t bother!

 

There are a lot of recipes out there for this amazing treat. Here’s the one I will try next. Maybe this afternoon? When I need a break from grading exams? Should La Table de Claire be on my Paris to-do list?  Well, malheureusement, that won’t be possible. It is fermé– permanently closed- now.

Fondant au chocolat recipe from La Table de Claire

From Complete France

With black-and-white floor tiles, a Formica bar, modern light fixtures and a sunny terrace, this is the little bistro everyone dreams of having around the corner. La Table de Claire in the 11th arrondissement made its name thanks to the ‘chef d’un soir’ nights, in which amateur chefs would take over the restaurant. Chef Claire Seban has moved on to other projects, but the current chef/owner, Lofti Sioud, continues to serve a spontaneous cuisine inspired 
by his travels and by seasonal produce. Because so many customers had a soft spot for Claire’s fondant au chocolat, it often appears on the menu.

Serves 8.

• 220g dark chocolate, the best you can afford

• 200g butter

• 100g white sugar

• 5 eggs

• 1 level tbsp flour

• A little butter for the mould

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

2. In a heavy saucepan, melt the dark chocolate and butter together over a low heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Let the mixture cool to lukewarm and add the eggs one by one. Finally, fold in the flour.

3. Pour the batter into eight buttered ring moulds placed on 
a baking sheet, or eight buttered shallow dishes (crème brûlée dishes would work well). Bake for eight minutes.

4. Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla or caramel ice cream.

Bon appétit, mes amis, near and far. As 2017 comes to a close, I wish you all happiness and good eatin’, surrounded by loved ones. I will be with my in-laws, celebrating my belle-mère’s birthday.

 

Black diamonds

This is a trip back in time. Back to December 4, 2008, to be exact. I am not sure why I woke up thinking about this adventure while I was on sabbatical. Coincidence? Who knows. But what I do know is that once I pulled up this blog entry, I was transported back to the woods on a chilly day, two Frenchmen, a dog and me. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had a truffle since I came home in 2008. Big sigh…

Enjoy. Bon appétit! Merci, René, Sonny et Érick. Je vous aime.

Yesterday I fell in love with a man, his dog and a mountain. After last Friday’s truffle market in Carpentras, Chef Érick and I were invited to have lunch with René, pictured above, and Françoise, his wife, at their home in Isle sur la Sorgue in the Vaucluse. René called on Tuesday of this week to confirm that we were coming. He asked me if I am afraid of walking in the mountains. He did not know he was talking to a mountain girl. And then he told me not to wear my high heels. Since I do not own any, that would be easy enough. He also reminded me that we needed to get there early. So, I dressed warmly, lacing up my tennis shoes, and we set out around 10:00 am. Isle sur la Sorgue is about an hour’s drive from Arles. We drove through fog for about 30 minutes and after it lifted, we could see Mont Ventoux in the distance, covered with snow.

When we arrived in the town well-known for its antique shops, Érick pulled off to the side of the road to phone René because he was unsure of how to find his house. René gave him directions and said he would come find us on his bicycle if we got lost. We set out again and, sure enough, at the turn to his neighborhood, there sat René on his vélo. We followed him home. We were greeted by the barking of Sonny, his white lab. Françoise had prepared a feast for us. We ate shrimp, paté de fois gras and smoked salmon on toast and radishes as appetizers. Then Françoise made omelets with truffles for the next course. René brought out a bottle of red Côtes du Ventoux wine and uncorked it. The omelets were followed by endives baked with ham and cheese with truffles sprinkled inside. Lunch conversation consisted of René telling me about his teaching days at the nearby high school and Érick instructing Françoise on the proper way to prepare truffles. He told her that truffles should not be cooked. They should be added to a dish after it has been cooked. Heating them causes them to lose their flavor. Françoise seemed very grateful for the advice. We had cheese, a little dish of ice cream and coffee before setting out on our adventure. Françoise elected not to go (probably because she had so many dishes to wash…) and she lent me her boots. René loaded Sonny into the truck and off we went.

I really had no idea what to expect. I did have a vague recollection of oak trees and roots after reading Peter Mayle’s books. We parked by the side of the road and found a little path up the mountain where René owns property and where he does his hunting. I followed behind René and Sonny, keeping a bit of distance between us so as not to distract her. I learned to walk in the grass or on the moss, not on the dirt path. Lesson #1: leave no tracks for others to see. Lesson #2: whisper so that your voice doesn’t carry. Others are probably around, hunting for truffles, too, poaching most likely. It is still a bit early in the truffle-hunting season and I had been warned not to expect too much. So, it was a pleasant surprise when Sonny started digging about 10 minutes into our walk. As soon as she begins to dig, René hurries over and scoots her out of the way. She has no interest in eating the truffle, however. I had read about hunting with pigs, but pigs like to eat the truffles. We did see lots of places where wild boar, sangliers, had beat us to the treasure. Once René finds the diamant noir, or black diamond as they are known in France, he rewards Sonny with several dog treats from the little bag he keeps in his pocket. He tells her what a great dog she is and pets her. It is obvious that he loves her dearly and she is fiercely loyal to him. She decided that she kind of liked me, but I think it was because I was wearing Françoise’s boots, to be truthful.

René then checks out his treasure, smelling it and carefully rubbing some of the dirt away in order to see if it is a good one. He can tell immediately if it is too wet or too dry. If so, it will not fetch much at the market. There are stories of fake smell being added to the truffles, lead pellets being inserted into them to make them weigh more, poachers who steal from the property owners, and so on. This seems to be a business based on trust, however, and René is a man of his word. He taught high school for about 30 years and loved it. He has hunted truffles for over 40 years. He took great pleasure in showing me how he goes about it. I am deeply grateful to him for the lesson.

We spent about two hours following Sonny’s nose and a little path up the mountain. René remembers where he has had success in the past and guides the dog towards those places. She, however, is guided by her nose and her knowledge that a treat awaits her should she find a truffle. We came out of the woods with 11 truffles of various sizes. René even let me dig one up. He carries a small screwdriver in his pocket for this purpose. He places his truffles in a small white plastic sack. His jacket has lots of pockets to hold all the tools of his trade.

At first glance, I thought his René’s mountain resembled the Appalachian Mountains, my home. However, once we started climbing up the path, I realized there was not very much resemblance at all. Snail shells are scattered everywhere. A wall made of stones winds up the mountain, built from the flat rocks that are found everywhere. Small stones huts, bories, are hidden away, built long ago by shepherds as shelters while they tended their flocks of sheep. I ventured into one of them, admittedly not very far as it was very dark and I am not too fond of spiders, even French ones. The oak trees are not large ones, as I had expected. They are small and different from any I have ever seen.

All in all, it was one of the best days of my life. René is a master storyteller and continued to tell me stories after we returned to his house. He pulled out his scales, a basic set, nothing fancy or digital for the truffle hunters here in the Vaucluse, and weighed the week’s findings, coming to almost a kilo or 2.2 pounds. He gave me two small ones. I just ate one of them grated on top of fresh pasta. To really get a taste of a fresh truffle, take a small piece of bread, dip it in olive oil, grate the truffle on top and sprinkle it with coarse sea salt. Heavenly. In one week’s time, I have become addicted to truffles. I just had dinner and am already thinking about tomorrow’s lunch. I plan to make an omelet from the fresh eggs we just bought, add some cheese while it is cooking and then grate my last truffle on top. I only have nine days to savor as much of Provence as possible, after all!

Here is the dish we made last week, after the market in Carpentras. This recipe is courtesy of Madeleine Vedel.

Bon appétit!

Fresh Pasta with Walnut Sauce and Truffles (or Mushrooms)

Pâtes Fraîches aux Champignons Sauvage avec un Sauce aux Noix –

Fresh Wild Mushroom Pasta with Walnut Sauce

This is rightly a recipe for the fall, but it can be made all year round with a stash of dried mushrooms.  The walnut sauce is a classic preparation that dates back to the time of the Etruscans. Walnuts are particularly present in the Cévennes, the hills of the Gard in Languedoc, just an hour or so from Arles. Fresh pasta is really quite easy to make. Anyone who’s made bread a few times, can easily start making pasta. From start to finish, this recipe can be on the table in an hour after a bit of practice.

Ingredients for the Pasta :

If served as a main course, one egg per person, if served as a side dish, then one egg per 2 people.

One cup (100-150g) flour to one whole egg.

Pinch of salt

Dried mushrooms ground to a powder – 1/4 cup to 4 cups of flour (30g to 450g) if you are not using truffles

For the Sauce :

300 grams of walnuts (this is about 2 cups chopped walnuts)

2 garlic cloves (good sized)

1/2 cup of olive oil (120ml)– not too bitter, extra-virgin cold pressed.

Salt to taste

A few fresh mint leaves (optional, or another herb you like…)

Grated cheese – we like a young sheep tome, or pecorino. A mild parmesan is fine, too.

For the pasta:

On a smooth work surface, such as a large counter space or marble slab, pile your flour in a well, in the middle of the well put your mushroom powder and your pinch of salt and your eggs. With your hands, gradually incorporate as much flour as the eggs are thirsty. If there is a bit of flour left over, you can add a tablespoon or so of water, as needed. You need to work the dough for at least 10 minutes, kneading it and stretching it, till it is smooth to the touch. Put aside covered to rest for 30 minutes.

Either with a pasta machine or by hand, continue rolling and folding the pasta dough. With the machine I pass a portion of the dough through, fold it in three and pass it again, always on the largest setting. I continue this at least 7 times, if not more, till the dough is very smooth and elastic and does not seem brittle and cracks stop appearing. When the dough is ready, then you can either roll out by hand, turning the dough in every direction, gradually increasing its elasticity and thinning it out, the pros use a bit of gravity letting the dough hang off the counter as then roll. Or, alternatively, use the pasta machine and gradually reduce the size of the setting to the desired thickness.

When the dough is the thickness you desire, cut it as you please, in large long noodles, in triangles, in thinner spaghetti lengths… to your preference. Lay the prepared pasta on floured cloths, – you can layer these – and let dry till you are ready to put them into the salted boiling water.

For the sauce :

In a mortar and pestle, grind your garlic cloves and walnuts to a fine paste, add the olive oil as you work to make it easier to form the paste, if you are adding the mint leaves, do so now, and salt to taste.

When your pasta is done, save some of the pasta water to add to the walnut sauce to lengthen it and thicken it. Toss the pasta with the walnut sauce, grate the cheese on top, and serve. If you are using truffles, grate them on top of the pasta, sauce and cheese.

Have fresh bread ready in order to wipe your plate clean so that you do not waste one bit of the sauce or truffles!

Random thoughts on a chilly November night

helmet

It’s Veteran’s Day. Armistice Day in France. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. I have visited the site of the signing of the Armistice, the replica of the train car tucked away into the forest near Compiègne in northern France. The original one was burned by Hitler. Merci, Ghislaine. Thank you to all who have and continue to put their lives on the line so that I can be free to do whatever I please whenever I please with whomever I please.

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It’s hard to believe that is almost Thanksgiving. It seems that once we survive Halloween in the middle school that the year is almost over.

I am a lucky Gramma! Miss K came to visit me in my classroom one day.

K in my class

I have a sparkly Eiffel Tower that fascinates her.

The Ex-Ex and I have had the opportunity to babysit a few times recently. So much fun!

k with bow

The intensity of the love that I feel for her surprises me every time I see her.

School is keeping me busier than I ever imagined it would at this stage of my career. If Son #1 and Son #2 were still at home I am not sure they would ever get fed. Luckily, the Ex-Ex can fend for himself. Curriculum mapping brought a two-day workshop in Atlanta, though. With an amazing meal at Miller Union. Our waiter was amazing. The oysters were amazing. The field peas were amazing. And the colleagues I shared the meal with were amazing.

“Steven Satterfield’s menu shows off the best of the South’s okra, field peas, turnips and tomatoes in a style that would make Alice Waters weak in the knees. Perfect for a date night or lunch at the counter, where one can explore an innovative wine list with pours by the glass.”     – The New York Times, 2016

The farm egg baked in celery cream was amazing. After the amazing pork roast with polenta, there was no room for dessert. I know. Kind of shocking.

Last week, Arles Lucy and I had a date for Pompieri Pizza‘s Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner. I tend to choose wine over beer, but the pairings between the food prepared by Chef Joe and the beer were perfect. I enjoyed every sip. I took lots of photos and a few notes.

Beer cheese bites, scallops, duck, duck, duck, ribs with a ginger soy glaze, dark chocolate parfait… Pale Ale, Nooner, Torpedo, Porter, Narwhal.

yo and me

To quote Arles Lucy when the chocolate parfait was placed before her:

“I don’t know whether to pray over this or not.”  Eat, pray or love?

The BFF asked Tom to do her nails in Sierra Nevada’s colors for the occasion.

nails

This one is for you, too, Best Sister-in-Law, since you told me the Porter is your favorite. Next time we come to visit, we need to take a field trip to visit Sierra Nevada’s Mills River facility. Ok?

Since it seems that all I do is eat, I might as well include the recent France 2017 reunion dinner. Each year, I offer a Sabbatical Chef dinner as part of our school auction and for the past two years the same family has bought it and we’ve had a France trip reunion. Two daughters down and two to go! Here’s part of the crew–

2017

It was a great trip. I miss these kiddos. They are all off being freshman now. We laughed a lot looking at photos of the trip.

looking at photos

KR was still doing her trip duty and photographing our every move! Merci beaucoup!

We made cheese fondue and had Fanny’s Mousse au chocolat with locally made macarons for dessert. And to any Frenchies reading this… I apologize. Yes, the kiddos were actually dipping those cheese puffs into the delicious melted Gruyère and Emmental fondue. Teenagers.

a and k

My co-chaperones love their dessert. And the guy in the back, licking the mousse bowl? Master of the House caught on camera.

The Ex-Ex and I attended the Celebration of Life for a former student. Chris Rosati passed away after living for several years with ALS. And the service was indeed a celebration. He planned it himself. I’ve been listening to his playlist for the past week and reflecting on kindness and how to keep his motto alive– Be kind and worry less.  Thank you, Chris, for the lessons you taught us. And for the Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme glazed donuts.

cr

Life continues to be good. I am blessed with a wonderful family, many friends, a job I love and beautiful fall weather here in North Carolina. As Thanksgiving comes galloping towards me, I realize just how lucky I am.

Cheese Fondue

  • 1/2 pound Emmentaler, grated
  • 1/2 pound Le Gruyère, grated
  • 1 package of Emmi Fondue Original (optional, I used it on the advice of the very helpful guy at Whole Foods, Durham- he also helped me choose the wine)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 1/2 cup white wine such as a Chenin Blanc (I used The Holy Snail, a French Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 loaves bread with thick crust, cut into 1-inch cubes
Combine cheeses with flour in a medium bowl and set aside. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with garlic. Heat wine in fondue pot over medium heat until warm. Add lemon juice. Add cheese mixture gradually, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until melted and cheese-wine mixture has the consistency of a creamy sauce. Open package of Emmi Fondue and add, stirring well to mix. Add pepper and nutmeg. Bring to boil. Adjust flame of burner so fondue continues bubbling lightly. Serve with bread cubes.
**Granny Smith apples are really good as well. Pears, maybe? Boiled potatoes for a raclette-type taste. Cheese puffs?
**Can be served with slices of ham and small pickles, if you wish.
sunflowers
Bon appétit, family and friends far and wide. Happy November. Live like you were dying. And to shamelessly steal, once again, from Sean Dietrich— Life is a gift. And people are beautiful. 
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July 28, 2008

The BFF asked me for “my” recipe for mussels- moules- during our Therapy Session this morning.  I have Chef Érick’s recipe. I can take no credit. Only credit for eating my weight in them!  So, down The Sabbatical Chef memory lane we go. To almost the beginning. I haven’t re-read it yet. I will. In a few minutes. After I finish the week’s lesson plans. Tonight.

The Day After…


As I sit here, ready to tell you all about my birthday dinner/feast, I have not decided which photo to post. The perfect one wasn’t taken. I should have taken one of the moules or mussels before they were consumed and nothing remained except a few drops of juice and one or two little bits of onion. Taking pictures just was not on my mind at the time, I must confess. (I have since added a photo I took at the market of mussels…)
The day started the way most of them do around here- breakfast on the table by 8:30 am, laundry to get off the line, fold and put away, more laundry to hang, breakfast dishes to do, kitchen to clean, two rooms to clean and prepare for the next guests, all of this accomplished by noon with the help of Dorette (she didn’t realize she would have to wash dishes either, Martha and Monette- it’s an evil trap we have here for people who stay on the family side of the house…). Chef Érick is really good at scrubbing showers. He did the green room while I did the yellow.
Lunch consisted of leftovers from the day before when we made lunch for two Japanese women who are visiting. On of them, Minae, was Madeleine Vedel’s boss when she lived in Japan. We had a salad of yellow, green and red tomatoes, raw oysters, shrimp, couscous salad and risotto rice cooked in the shrimp broth, followed by several different local goat cheeses and chocolate from Joël Durand, chocolatier in St. Rémy. The wine was a Costière de Nîmes white wine made by Jean-Paul Cabanis. Seth and Craig at the Wine Authorities need to check him out!
After lunch, I took my shower and put on one of what I like to call my “dresses from Christian Lacroix’s Saturday Market Line.” Dorette had given me a really pretty scarf at breakfast that I wanted to wear. That was so tiring that I decided I needed a little siesta and took a quick nap, wrote a letter to my mom and sister and went back down to the kitchen in time to find Chef Érick chopping vegetables. I thought maybe he was going to prepare an aïoli. He wouldn’t say. Then he chopped onions and tomatoes and put them on to cook. When he added a couple of bay leaves and some dry white wine, I became suspicious. Moules marinières provençales? I do love mussels from the Mediterranean Sea. Dorette and I opened a bottle of Jean-Paul’s rosé and helped debeard the mussels. There seemed to be a huge quantity for only the three of us. I asked if perhaps we were feeding the Russian Army? I had no idea how that would translate for a Frenchman. My mom always used that line. He just smiled and continued stirring. He steamed the mussels and then we arranged them in the tian. I love arranging them and saving some of the shells to use as eating utensils! This is when I should’ve gotten the camera ready. However, the baked pastry for a millefeuille appeared and he set about making the pastry cream. Then the sound of the doorbell distracted me further. I went to answer and found Marie-Christine and her dog waiting. Not the Russian Army, needless to say, but a very chic French woman who runs Le Pot au Tabac in town. I ushered her into the kitchen and offered her a glass of rosé. She gave me a beautiful china dish with a hand-painted Arlesienne woman on it. When the doorbell rang again, I found Gilles, Didier and Monique waiting. A few minutes later Gilbert (aka GBear) also showed up. So, the party started! I am so glad that my 50th birthday gave us all a chance to get together again. And this time with Dorette added. Monique and Didier gave me an original drawing of an Arlesienne. Their hair ornaments and dresses give them away. The woman of Arles have been painted by Picasso and Van Gogh, just to name two famous painters.
We feasted on the mussels and couscous, with more rosé supplied by Gilles and Gilbert. The millefeuille was greatly appreciated, too. We didn’t even bother to set the dining room table. We ate at the stainless steel work table that is in the kitchen. Have you ever noticed that the kitchen is the center of people’s homes? No matter how nice your living room is or what the set up is in your house, when friends come over to eat, the kitchen becomes the favorite place to hang out. It is definitely the case here. The kitchen used to be a stable- the feeding place for lambs. That gives the room a very comforting aura.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that eating is all about who you are sharing the food with. After I left Arles last summer and returned home, I found that I really wasn’t very hungry. Cooking for just myself was more of a chore than a pleasure. It’s the act of cooking for someone and then sharing the meal that makes eating a pleasurable experience. It’s an offering of sorts, a very personal one. In France, it is the social occasion, not just the prelude to going to the movies or a sporting event. Hours are spent talking, discussing the day’s happenings, telling jokes (I still don’t always get them and need them explained, as Dorette found out), as well as eating. A very nice way of life, n’est-ce pas?
Moules marinières provençalesFor 4 persons as a main course; 6-8 as an appetizer

2 kg. (1 kg = 2.2 pounds) mussels (in Arles, we use the Bouzigues variety, from the Mediterranean Sea- these are saltier than mussels from the Atlantic or Pacific so we do not add any extra salt)
one cup water

For the sauce:
1 onion, minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tomato, diced
1 cup dry white wine
4 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped

1. Debeard the mussels and set them to steam in a tall, covered pot with a cup of water. This will take 10-15 minutes. Once all the shells are open, remove from the flame and set aside. Do not throw away the mussel juice in the pot.
2. In a quart/liter size saucepan, pour the olive oil and add the minced onion. Simmer on a low flame until the onions have sweated and become simply translucent. Watch carefully and be sure that the onions do not brown. Add the chopped tomato and stir a moment, add the wine, the crushed garlic, the bay leaves and the mussel juice from the steaming pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer and reduce for 20-30 minutes.
3. To serve: Take a large rimmed platter and place the opened mussels in the half-shell in one layer throughout the platter. Extra mussels can be taken from their shells and added to the shells in the platter. Leave a few whole to be used as pinchers to eat the mussels. If you are making the mussels ahead of time, put them in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve, then take them out and gently reheat the serving dish, ladle the sauce over the mussels and serve. By ladling the piping hot sauce over the mussels, you reheat them without drying them out in the oven.

*Left over mussel juice is wonderful for a seafood risotto the next day, or as a base for a seafood chowder. Use it within a day or two at the most or freeze it for later use.

Bon appétit!