Summer Vacation Day 3: Back to Boone

daniel statue

daniel plaque

I attended and graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.  It was really the only school I was interested in.  I applied to UNC-Greensboro but never had any intention of attending. Not sure why I even wasted my hard-earned money to apply. I was very happy at ASU. College life suited me. I met the girl who was to become my best friend during freshman orientation.  Rest in peace, Melody.  I still miss you. I embraced becoming a Mountaineer, wearing black and gold and attending football, basketball, field hockey, and baseball games.  I even went to one wrestling match because a friend asked me to come watch. The campus has changed so much since my days there.  That’s a good thing.  It shows progress.  I had classes in these two buildings.

I didn’t venture over to the part of campus where my dorm is or where I took French classes. Not sure why.  I did pay homage to Yosef, our mascot.

me and yosef

Needless to say, I did not see anyone I knew.  It was orientation for freshman so there were a lot of parents of Mountaineers-to-be roaming around.  I talked to a couple of them. I took both of my boys to their freshman orientation— UNC-Wilmington and UT-Knoxville. Sad and exciting all at the same time.  A parental rite of passage. (I am really not very good at this selfie thing.  I take them when no one is looking because I am mortified that I am actually doing it. And how the heck did I go from wide-eyed freshman to wrinkles so fast?? Someone explain that one to me. Please. And while you are at it, slow the clock way down.)

So.  Food is very important to the Sabbatical Chef, as you know. After the campus crawl, I set out to find a restaurant I had read about thanks to the BFF and Our State magazine. Proper.

proper

This used to be a jail.  How cool is that?? Yep. Circa 1896. If only the walls could talk.

proper front door

I had what I can only describe as an epic lunch.  Legendary. I had already made up my mind to try the Tomato Pie that was described in the magazine article. Then the waiter started reeling off the daily specials. He got as far as baked grits before I interrupted and said “I’ll have that.”

bakedgrits1

Grits, cheddar cheese, spinach, tomatoes and pimiento cheese baked in that bowl (hot!) for 12 minutes. Served with Granny Smith apple slices and flatbread sea salt crackers.  Slap your mama good, as the BFF says.

baked grits

I still ordered the tomato pie.  I knew that I would be offered a to-go box to take my leftovers home for dinner.

tomato pie

Sides of collards and succotash.  A biscuit for me, please.

lunch

A warm biscuit with melted, dripping salted butter.  Heaven in a little square.

biscuit

Dinner.

take out

Next on the tour, roaming around downtown. Lots of restaurants and shops now. Antiques/junk, consignment, Watsonatta is still selling the much coveted by me cowboy hats and boots. Still haven’t bought anything there, but I sure love to look.

Speaking of Watson, I met up with Doc Watson on the street corner.

Doc and me

A legend. I love this statue that was placed here in the town where he got his start.

doc

(photo: http://www.downtownboonenc.com/index.cfm/doc-watson-statue/)

Next up, a visit to Appalachian Mountain Brewery.  I recently tasted one of their ciders and wanted to drink one on the premises.  Keep in mind that back in the day ( meaning my college years) Boone was dry (meaning you could not buy alcohol). Carloads of stupid coeds drove the 8-mile stretch to Blowing Rock and back on Thursdays for happy hour (meaning there was no such thing as Uber). The drinking age was 18, but I thank my lucky stars every time I think about this. I didn’t know anyone who died on the way back to Boone. That’s a miracle. I didn’t have a car so I was never behind the wheel.

Anyhow, I enjoyed the afternoon sun and cool breeze and sipped a Mystic Cider. Strawberry, rhubarb and green tea. I took my writing to the great outdoors on their patio.

AMB

I talked to a couple from Charleston, SC whose son is considering Appalachian.  And they are considering buying a place up here. A great idea, in my humble opinion. And I saw one of the bartenders from Blind Squirrel Brewery in Plumtree.  I felt kind of like a local again.  Actually recognizing someone.

It was a lovely, delicious day.  I intend to try to replicate the tomato pie when I get home. Until then, my Provençal Tomato Tart will have to do.  Proper’s crust is made from biscuit dough…

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Tomato tart

One pie crust (see my vinegar crust recipe below) or store bought one you roll out
Dijon-style mustard
Grated gruyere or Swiss cheese
Sliced tomatoes
Herbes de Provence
Coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place the crust in a pie plate. Prick the bottom and sides and use pie weights, if you wish. Bake crust for about 10 minutes.
Brush the bottom of the warm crust with the mustard. Layer shredded cheese on top of mustard. Place sliced tomatoes on top of cheese, overlapping them just a bit. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence. (One friend makes a second layer of cheese and tomatoes.) Bake for about 20 minutes or until tomatoes start to shrivel and crust turns golden brown. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with salt.

Crust
(A great basic unsweetened crust for general pie-making.  It can be pre-baked for cream pies or used unbaked for filled pies.)
This recipe makes enough dough for four 9-inch pie shell bottowms or two pies with top and bottom crusts.

3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. shortening (or lard or butter or any combination– I use chilled butter)
1/3 to 1/2 c. cold water
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 egg, beaten

Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut the chilled butter into the dry mixture using a pastry blender or by pinching the fat into the mixture with your hands.  The resulting mixture should have lumps no smaller than peas.  Add the vinegar to the chilled water.  Slightly beat the egg and mix with the water/vinegar.  Pour the chilled water mixture into the dry mixture, a small amount at a time, mixing gently with a fork until the dough is wet enough to be packed into a ball.  The dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent the blending of all of the fat lumps.
Split the dough into 4 equal amounts, roll them into balls and wrap them in plastic before placing them in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.  Generously dust a clean, dry surface with flour and remove one of the packages of dough from the refrigerator.  Flatten the dough slightly and dust the dough’s top before rolling the dough out with a rolling pin.  Start rolling at the center of the dough and work outwards.  Quickly roll the dough into a circle 1/4 or 1/8 inch thick.  The size of the circle should be about 4 inches wider in diameter than the pie pan.  Carefully place the dough in the pan and press it into the pan, being careful not to press the dough too thin.   Cut the pie crust slightly larger than the pan and crimp the edges.
(Unused crust can be flattened a bit, wrapped in waxed paper, placed in ziploc bags and frozen.  When ready to use, remove from freezer, allow dough to come to room temperature and proceed with your recipe.)
Line the crust with a parchment paper circle and fill with pie weights, dried bean, or rice.  Place crust in a preheated 425˚ oven for 5-6 minutes, just until it begins to brown.

This little guy has been flirting with me and playing hard to get for a couple of days.  Finally snapped his photo!

hummingbird

Bon appétit, Yosef, Doc and Chef Angela Kelly! Eat good food. Support local businesses. Watch for the hummingbirds who cross your path.  Patience pays off.

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.

Puppies, kittens, and Paris

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I am tired of news.  I refuse to watch it or read it.  It only makes me grumpy and grouchy. And anyone who knows me knows that I am neither very often.  Life is too short.  And in the words of Jacques Prévert, my favorite French poet, “Later will be too late.  Our life is now.”  That’s my translation, not an “official” one.  It works for me.  I haven’t felt like blogging or being creative and I need to shake that.  So, I am back in the saddle.  A great way to start feeling happy is to look at puppies.

Let’s start with Buddha.  He is Son #1 and Daughter-in-Law’s pup.  The only dog I’ve ever met who pouts.  I admit that I am not really a dog person (much to the chagrin of every single relative of mine), but Buddha is a love.  He doesn’t smell stinky.  He loves my boy.  He doesn’t aggravate my cat.  He rarely barks.

buddha

And how about Max?  He belongs to my Cuz and I bet he is just a little bit spoiled! Adorable.

max

Finally, siblings recently adopted by friends…

Molly

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Maggie Mae

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Now, it’s time for kittens.  Callie is ours.  She is sleeping next to me right now.  Studiously ignoring me, of course.  We’ve had her for about 9 years.  Her brother passed away last spring.  She is good company, doesn’t make messes, sleeps on my feet, hides in the bathroom when we have company, especially those with dogs, and is generally pretty darned content.  This is her “I am bored with you” look.

callie

My French girlfriends love cats, too.  Madame M has Tao.  A very Zen cat.  Looks pretty comfy, n’est-ce pas?

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And Bigoudi.  We’ve spent a few nights together in the south of France Chez Fanny.  A loyal America-loving feline.  I like her choice in college basketball allegiances.  Of course, I may have played a small part in that…  BTW, a bigoudi is a hair curler in French.  In case you were wondering.

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For the Paris part.  This time last week, I had just returned from a six-day trip to La Ville Lumière made possible by ACIS, the company I use for my student trips.  It was cold.  The Siberian wind blew in one day.  It was a bit rainy.  I got lost a couple of times looking for Lafayette.  The heat didn’t work very well in my hotel room. But who cares about any of that?  I WAS IN PARIS.  I met some amazing teachers.  My roommate, from Venezuela by way of Wisconsin, was a bundle of energy.

I found three first-timers who allowed me to show them some of my favorite Parisian spots, including Place du Tertre in Montmartre. Merci, mes nouveaux amis!

montmartre

I ate some of my favorite foods– foie gras, fromage, soupe à l’oignon, croque madame

And some sweets, of course.  Pain perdu, macarons et chocolat.

A glass of wine at a couple of my favorite cafés, as well as champagne at the Eiffel Tower.

Speaking of La Grande Dame, I added a few more photos to the hundreds (thousands?) that I already have.

I climbed the steps of Notre Dame to say hello to the chimera and gargoyles.  I lit a candle for Mme Buchanan, my high school French teacher.

The crèche in Notre Dame was made with santons from Arles.  An unexpected blessing.

I visited with Vincent at the Musée d’Orsay. Sad to say, Starry Night over the Rhône is not there at the moment.  It must be out and about in another exhibit. Well, as a matter of fact, Google just told me that it is in Ontario until January 29 when it will make its way back to Paris.  By mid-March, I hope.

There are so many statues to admire at the Orsay, as well.

Just strolling the streets, I found beauty at every turn.  The Panthéon.  L’Opéra Garnier. Ile Saint Louis. Sacré Coeur. Sainte Chapelle. Trocadéro. A random rose still alive in winter.

A real highlight was to have dinner at Mary Claude’s apartment in the 16e arrondissement. This is a new addition to the ACIS offerings for travelers.  They work with VizEat, a company that pairs eaters with cookers/hosts and hostesses.  Mary Claude (in the white shirt) could not have been more gracious.

mc-claire-and-bouchra

She fed us exceptionally well.  Leek tart, charcuterie, soup for starters–

Risotto and chicken for our main dishes–

truffle-risotto

Du fromage?  But of course!  I took it upon myself to give the others a lesson in cheese cutting (always respect the form!)–

and Galette des Rois for dessert.

marie-claude

When I had a chance to talk to Mary Claude, in between courses, I asked about the soup (I didn’t take a photo…) and the risotto.  The soup was butternut, made with chestnuts.  I peeked in the kitchen to get a look at her food processor.

food-processor

I am very fond of risotto.  This was probably the best I’ve ever eaten.  I wanted to know her secret.  At first, she told me that it was “just” risotto.  But I knew better, so I brought the conversation back to the risotto after learning about the soup.  Look closely–

truffle-risotto

Those brown specks?  Truffles.  And truffle oil in the initial preparation stage.  Aha!  Not “just” risotto.  The earthiness of truffles + the creaminess of the rice = a perfect marriage of flavors.

It was a wonderful trip.  It will keep me going for the next few weeks.  I will return in six weeks with 22 8th graders.

La vie est belle.  

notre-dame

And, by the way, I finally found General Lafayette.  Tucked away in the back corner of the Picpus Cemetery.  Winter hours 2-4 pm.  12e arrondissement.  Did you know his real name was Gilbert de Motier?  I did not.

lafayette

Bon appétit, old and new friends.  May you see beauty wherever you are.  

“News is bad for you”

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photo credit:  Amanda Whitlock

“And giving up reading it will make you happier.”  The Guardian

I admit to being semi-addicted to Facebook.  I get up every morning, make my hot lemon tea water, start the coffee brewing, and open up the computer.  My day just doesn’t seem to start off right without reading Sean Dietrich‘s daily post.  I get up an hour earlier than I really need to so that I can have that cup of hot water, check emails and get all the morning news I need via emails from friends and Sean.  With a healthy dose of food porn, cute photos like the one above of Steve, a New Zealand cat, and his herd of lambs. Or this one of Major, the Durham bull, dressed as the Durham Academy Cavalier.

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photo credit:  Melody Butts, with help from Tim McKenna and Leslie King

But this past Monday night, thanks to Son #1 and the thought that I should be a better informed Américaine, I watched the first presidential debate.  Huge, major, God-awful mistake on my part.  I even sat with my trusty laptop on my lap following fact-checkers. Instead of looking at cat photos. Before the debate, Son #1 hooked up the Apple TV and brought up HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a show he is addicted to and has been nagging me to watch for a couple of months.  (This, my friends, is a great way to get the top news stories of the week and laugh at the same time.  Don’t watch it, though, if you object to cursing.  It is HBO after all and they say whatever they want to for those willing to pay less than Time Warner charges for cable and the ridiculous stuff on nightly primetime TV.)  Anyway, I should NEVER have watched that debate.  I should have respected my usual early bedtime (which allows me that extra hour to goof off in the morning) and called it a night.  Let’s just say that because I decided to stay up until 10:45 pm and be “better informed” my week did not start well.  Tuesday morning found me uncharacteristically grouchy.  A 9 on a scale of 0-10.  I am sure that my colleagues at the 7:25 am team meeting noticed.  I know that my advisees did because I walked away from our morning circle time.  They couldn’t come up with answers to whatever my question-of-the-day was and I didn’t feel up to cajoling them.  So I walked away without a word.  Took attendance instead.  All day long I just could not shake the “Our country is going to hell in a hand basket” feeling that had settled over me.  I posted on my FB page:

Trying to find calm this morning. I cannot control or fix the things I am most concerned about. I will not watch any more political debates or ads on TV. I do not want to discuss it either. Deep breaths.

Bless all of my friends who then commenced to worrying about me.  Iron Woman, my dear friend who loves France almost as much as I do and may have been Jeanne d’Arc in another life, brought me a Chai latte.  (She knows my weaknesses.)  We went to dinner on Tuesday and I was beginning to feel a bit better about the world after a dish of house made pasta at The Boot and a glass of Pinot Grigio.  Mostly it was the conversation and the chance to laugh with this dear girl.  We both desperately want to have our DNA tested and find out if we are any percentage French.

mont-saint-michel

Mont Saint Michel 2012

Another friend brought me an apple fritter– a sinfully delicious pastry with cinnamon and apples.  I didn’t even take a photo of it.  But I did manage to make it last for three days and I savored every crumb.

One other friend sent a private message to ask me if I am okay.  I answered back that I am, but that I have sworn off politics and debates.  I will vote.  I will volunteer to get folks here in Durham registered to vote, but other than that, I am done.  What will happen will happen, n’est-ce pas?  It is what it is.  C’est comme ça.

By Wednesday, I was less grouchy, maybe a 6 on the grouchy scale.  I had plans to go to a wine dinner at Pompieri Pizza with Arles Lucy.  We love the special dinners at PP and Bull City Burger and Brewery.

st-emilion

St. Emilion 2008

I have to admit, however, that I didn’t really feel up to it.  I thought about texting Arles Lucy (on the left above) and asking her to find a replacement to go with her.  I am so incredibly glad I didn’t.  You know how sometimes you don’t think that you are going to have fun at a party or whatever and you have an amazing time.  The San Marzano Wine Dinner was exactly what I needed.  Great food, great wine, even greater company.  Before I begin with the feast, I have to say that I know that I am a very lucky eater.  I am constantly amazed by how lucky I am.  And very grateful.

menu

To quote directly from the menu:

POMPIERI PIZZA welcomes Cantine San Marzano and special guest Salvatore Ricciardi, vineyard owner and sales and marketing manager for San Marzano winery. In 1962, nineteen vine growers from San Marzano, whose families had farmed the land for generations, combined their efforts to establish “Cantine San Marzano.” The winery is located in Apulia, in the heart of the acclaimed d.o.p. “Primitivo di Manduira” area.  This strip of land between two seas, the Ionian and the Adriatic, in the province of Taranto and Brindisi,  is where vines and olive trees flourish side by side on the red soil surface, much like North Carolina’s red clay.

sal-and-seth2

  1. Amuse-bouche

beet

Beet Cube with Jalapeño, House Made Honey Mascarpone and Monte Iblei Olive Oil  Frizzante Lambrusco

A certain someone sitting directly across from me was heard to say that she could easily eat seven of these.

And Seth, owner and punster, said “You can’t beat that first course.” hahaha

2. Anti Pasta

kale

Persimmons and Apples with Aged Cheese, Kale Salad  2014 San Marzano Savignon-Malvasia “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

3. Pasta

ravioli

Fall Butternut Squash Ravioli Pillow with Lemon Ash, Tiny Farm Arugula, and Salted Pecans in a Butternut Broth  2014 San Marzano Negroamaro “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

(Negroamaro means black and black- in Latin and Greek  Merci, Salvatore!)

I did not lick the bowl clean, but I thought about it…

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4. Fish

tuna

tomato

NC Coastline Caught Yellow Fin Tuna with a Fennel Crust, Smoked Pedach Jam, Roasted Tomato and Charred Carrot Ragú  2013 San Marzano Primitivo “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

5. Meat

lamb

Local Leg of Lamb with a Rich Red BBQ Sauce, Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Potatoes, and Mustard Greens   2013 San Marzano Primitivo di Manduria “Talò” DOP

There was another wine sampled served after this one.  A special anniversary wine?  A different vintage?  The details totally escape me at the moment.  It was an extra treat.  Grazie, Seth and Salvatore!

6. Dessert

dessert

Zeppole (fried dough) with Goat Cheese Granita  Americano Cocktail

As I was served my dessert, I was told that I got the one with the most chocolate.  I am special that way.

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I had fun sitting next to Salvatore.  Quite the charming, handsome Italian.  He told his daughter that Seth had closed the restaurant early because a celebrity was coming.  She texted back calling him the Italian Justin Bieber.  (We had to explain who that is.)  Jin served the wine impeccably.

Salvatore made the rounds and addressed the group, explaining his wines and the growing region.

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“Easy to drink.  Respect the characteristic of the grape.”

When we started trying to figure out which wine we liked the best and why (Do I really have to choose??), Salvatore said “When you can’t describe it, it’s love.”

I loved every bite and sip.  I also loved meeting Heather and Jill from Habitat for Humanity, who sat across from Arles Lucy and me.

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I love my BFF for being herself as well as a great server.  Doesn’t she look beautiful in her Villeneuve-lez-Avignon market ruffles?  I love Arles Lucy for always making me laugh and for always being up for an adventure.  We’ve had some great ones.

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What a delicious night.  Thank you, Seth and Chef Jeff (sadly no photo of him- we haven’t even been properly introduced yet.)

I solemnly swear to stay away from the news and to stick to uplifting activities involving my friends and family.  And good food, bien sûr.

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Bon appétit to all cookers, eaters, and wine makers!  

 

1958+58=2016

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I do not try to hide my age.  As a matter of fact, I make my new 7th graders practice their math skills in French during the first week of school by figuring out my age.  First, though, I ask them to guess how old I am.  A humbling experience, trust me.  Soixante-quinze??  Vraiment?  75?  There are always a couple of savvy young men (who have been taught well by their mères or grand-mères.  They guess vingt-cinq.  25.  That makes me laugh as I say Merci beaucoup, monsieur and move on. Then I make the little darlings figure out what year it will be when they are my age.  Something they cannot possibly comprehend, of course. They cannot even imagine their high school graduation yet.

So, last Wednesday was my 58th birthday.  I try to cram in as many celebrations as possible in order to make it last as long as possible.  The BFF and Arles Lucy kicked off big day by taking me to dinner on Birthday Eve at an Italian restaurant in town named Gocciolina.  I cannot for the life of me pronounce the name, but that did not stop me from enjoying every bite.  We toasted with glasses of Lambrusco while we waited.  Our server turned out to be one of my former students which made it even more enjoyable.  What a sweetheart.  And excellent server.  She brought me a delicious birthday gift– aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese drizzled with Modena Balsamic Vinegar.  I think I shared some with the BFF and Arles Lucy, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

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Merci, Madeleine!

We shared olives.  Eating these always reminds of l’heure de l’apéro (washed down with a glass or two of rosé) with my friends in Provence.  And shopping for them at the marché with La Brune.

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For my entrée, I chose hand cut noodles with pork ragu and more Parmigiano Reggiano.

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The BFF shared her roasted Brussel sprouts.  She’s nice like that.

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As a child, I hated those things.  But now?  Roast them and it’s magic.

My pre-birthday dessert?  Chocolate chip gelato.

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And that sweet BFF of mine let me have a bite of her panna cotta with figs.

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The celebrating didn’t end there.  Son #2 called me on his way to work the next morning. Then breakfast  with Mr. P and Pretend Daughter #2.  Pain au chocolat and a croissant at The French Corner Bakery.  With the added bonus of speaking French with a bonafide Frenchie, Chef Benjamin.

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I skipped lunch because Mme Gould invited me to Afternoon Tea at the Washington Duke Inn.  I had never been to Tea, with a capital T.  Nope, never eaten a cucumber sandwich or sampled clotted cream… until now.

Beautiful and delicious.

The evening’s entertainment and my gift from the Ex-Ex was tickets to see the Durham Bulls play the Toledo Mud Hens at the DBAP.  I am a huge fan of baseball and of our AAA team affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays.  They won and I have to admit to now having a crush on the short stop, Taylor Motter.  (The picture of him is from the game two nights later- he hit a homerun and the Bulls won against the Louisville Bats.)  Having pizza beforehand with Son #1 was an added bonus.

Since I was doing so much eating and no cooking, I have no recipe to share with this post. I did do a little research on clotted cream, though, because I was not at all sure what it is. (Making it involves heavy whipping cream and cooking it in the oven for 12 hours.)

I hope that I have made you hungry and that you look forward to your own birthday and to celebrating another trip around the sun with your friends and loved ones.  I am a very lucky girl.  I am surrounded by people who love me and who love to eat and have fun with me.  What more can a girl ask for?  PD#2 gave me a Gratitude Journal.  We’ve promised each other to keep our Gratitude Project  going even though I will stay in middle school and she will move on to high school.

Son #1 and I sang Jimmy Buffet and Martina McBride’s song, Trip Around The Sun, when he was a senior in high school for his final exam concert.  I was thrilled that he asked me to do this with him.  A special moment with my boy.  I hope to have many more trips around the sun.

Bon appétit, mes amis.  Stay grateful and celebrate!

Summer Lunch Project

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I love to go out for lunch.  I spend mid-August through early June eating lunch five days a week with my group of 10-12 seventh graders, my advisees.  In my classroom.  For 20 minutes.  Seems barbaric in so many ways.  When I tried to explain this to a group of French friends during my first summer in Arles in 2007, they were appalled.  That did not improve what they think of Americans as eaters.  At my school, we do not have a cafeteria and, truthfully, I am grateful for that.  We all bring our lunch and eat in our classrooms. I have a small refrigerator and a microwave so that we can keep things cold and warm up leftovers.  Once a month we are more civilized, however, because parents volunteer to bring in hot lunch for us.  We live for this.  Sometimes it is from a local restaurant or fastfood joint, but often it is homemade.  This past year, we enjoyed homemade soups and bread, pasta with homemade sauce, and lemon-chicken with rice. I know that not everyone likes to cook nor do they have time to prepare lunch for us, but I sure look forward to “real” food.  So do the kiddies.

Our final treat of the year, while not a complete lunch, is pictured above.  One of the moms is a master bread baker and she brought in two loaves of her bread, real butter, cheeses, jams, and desserts for us.  She is Finnish and an excellent cook.  She treated us to soup earlier in the year, with her bread.

Once school ended this summer, I posted on Facebook that I would be beginning my Summer Lunch Project and that I would love company.  Several of my friends have taken me up on it and the fun is well under way.  To date–

Blind Squirrel Brewery and Lodge, Plumtree, NC (with the Ex-Ex)

 

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I ate the Trout Po’Boy sandwich and sipped a glass of their cider (made with apples from The Orchard at Altapass in my hometown of Spruce Pine).  I didn’t take a photo.  Guess I was too hungry to even think of that detail after zip-lining.  Beer-battered North Carolina trout, house-made remoulade sauce.  I heard that their pizzas are really good, too.  Next time.  We held the Harris High School Class of 1976 40th reunion there.  Dinner was really, seriously good.  I sampled everything on the buffet.  I felt it was my duty.  Thank you, Edie and Will!

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Pompieri Pizza, Durham, NC (first with Miss Hulka, then with Arles Lucy and Arles Betty)

I’ve actually had lunch here twice.  Just cannot help myself.  The BFF works there and it is my mission to introduce everyone I know to the Zeppino sandwich which is served from 11:12am-3:00pm.  Pompieri’s pizza dough fashioned into bread for the sandwich, baked, and then filled with deliciousness.

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This is The Classic.  House-made mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, fresh basil leaves, salad greens, vinegar and lemon olive oil.  I also had a bowl of tomato and basil soup served with fresh focaccia bread.

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I chose The Mighty Melanzana for my second lunch at Pompieri.

IMG_4013 Lovely, isn’t it?  Pan-seared eggplant, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, roasted peppers, salad greens, vinegar and basil olive oil.  Before living in Provence and working with Chef Érick, I really didn’t eat eggplant.  I learned to love it and prepare it in many different ways.

For dessert, the BFF offered up a flight of gelato.  Perfect ending.

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Dulce Cafe, Durham, NC (by myself)

Son #2 has talked about Dulce for years.  Great coffee, Mom.  Great pastries, Mom.  Great food, Mom.  So, I was on that side of town running errands around lunch time and stopped in.  The pastries are beautiful- all sweetly lined up.  Gelato as well.  I chose a macaron for my treat.  But lunch first.  Although after seeing this sign in the ladies room, I almost devoured the macaron while waiting.  But I didn’t.

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I chose the daily special- a chipotle chicken wrap with guacamole.  I love, love, love avocados.  The Ex-Ex is very allergic to them so I don’t have them around the house as often as I would like.

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A lime macaron.

I plan to go back for coffee one day soon since I didn’t try it this time.

Bull Street Gourmet and Market, Durham, NC (with Ms. Judy)

We had plans to go to a restaurant in Carrboro but decided to stay in Durham.  Bull Street Gourmet is in a little strip shopping center best known for housing my zip code’s post office.  Locally owned, fresh ingredients.

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I chose The Drunken — salad greens, prosciutto, pine nuts, drunken goat cheese, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  Really good light lunch. I’ve had coffee here before when dashing to the post office, but this was a first for lunch.

Sheetz, Greenville, NC (with the Ex-Ex)

The Ex-Ex and I went to his 40th high school class reunion in Aurora, NC and spent the night with The World’s Best In-Laws in Washington, NC.  We left his parents’ house to head home right around brunch time, shall we say.  Sheetz fascinates me, I must admit. I’ve stopped in for water and a quick snack in the past and we stopped at one in Pennsylvania once several years ago and ate hot dogs.  This time, I opted for a breakfast sandwich.  It’s ordered by touchscreen and custom made behind the counter.  I watched the guy assemble it.

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Double bacon, caramelized onions, fried egg, gooey melted American cheese on toasted bread.  I ate every crumb.  The coffee was pretty good, too.  Real half and half and not in those annoying little cup things.  I always squirt the cream all over the place when opening them.  I offered the Ex-Ex a bite of my sandwich, but he had chosen a Banana Peanut Butter fritter so he declined.  Disappointing from my perspective.  No evidence of a real banana and no peanut butter oozing out.  I thought maybe he was trying to channel his inner Elvis by choosing this one.

It’s been a very tasty summer so far.  I have a couple more lunch dates on my calendar and hopefully more to come before mid-August rolls in.

Bon appétit to all of my lunch buddies, past, present and future!  Eat on!