Therapy

runners

The BFF and I call our morning walks therapy sessions. And believe me, they are. We talk about just about anything and everything. This summer, we walked 3 miles every day that we could, usually beginning around 6:00 am. It gets hot and humid here in the North Carolina Piedmont and schvitzing (Yiddish for sweating- it sounds better to me) is not our favorite thing. The BFF is genetically predisposed to schvitz a lot. Now that the school year is well underway, unfortunately our sessions are limited to Saturday and Sunday mornings and the occasional day off. I go to school early, usually around 7:30 am, and she works late, usually until after 7:30 pm or later. I wish that I could say that I walk in the evenings every day by myself, but I do not. I cannot tell a lie. I walk around campus as much as I can during breaks and lunch usually to chase after a kiddo or track down a colleague, but once I get home, I get lazy and find a lot of other things I’d rather (or have to) do.

Today, I woke up to a cool, foggy, beautiful fall morning. My favorite. We walked on the American Tobacco Trail. According to Wikipedia–

The American Tobacco Trail (ATT) is a 22.6-mile (36.4 km) long Rails-to-Trails project located in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, running along an abandoned railroad bed originally built for the American Tobacco Company in the 1970s. The route crosses through the City of DurhamDurham CountyChatham County, and Wake County. The ATT is part of the East Coast Greenway and is open to pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians (in non-urban sections) and other non-motorized users.

bridge

We walk on a section that crosses over I-40 and this bridge takes us from one side to the other.  Pretty cool, huh?

Following in the tradition of the Parisian Locks of Love, a few folks have attached one here.

Probably not a great tradition to start. But there are only 4-5 of them now.

Squirrels are the most common critter we see on this trail. (Copperheads prevail on the Duke Trail…) Today there was a cardinal, our state bird, waiting for us. I have loved cardinals for as long as I can remember. I am not sure why, but that doesn’t even matter. I just know that it makes me very happy to see one.

cardinal

According to the BFF, seeing a cardinal means that someone who has passed on has come to bring you a message. I had never heard that before so I paid a visit to my friend Google for some info about bird superstitions.

From The Cardinal Experience:

small Red Birds – When you see a red bird in winter, you will prosper in spring. When you hear a Cardinal sing, your sadness will soon be lifted. When a red bird shows up, help is on the way.

According to California Psychics

Messages from Spirit can come in many forms, but the red cardinal has long been held as the most notable spiritual messenger. The male cardinals are certainly hard to ignore with their striking red feathers and melodic yet almost “pay-attention-to-me” chirps. And when they come to you almost insistently trying to gain your attention, it’s likely you’re receiving a message from Spirit.

When deceased loved ones want you to know that they’re around, one way they might do that is to send messengers from the animal kingdom: small, brightly-colored bugs, birds and butterflies are not an uncommon choice. Things with wings tend to get our attention, and if you allow yourself to get tuned in, you might even feel who has sent them to you in hopes you’ll receive their message—even if that message is a simple acknowledgement that your loved ones are always around. And if you’re pondering something and asking the Universe for guidance, seeing a cardinal or the like is telling you that you’re being heard and guidance is being offered.

I am not a particularly superstitious person. Spiritual, yes. I think that the Native Americans were way more in tune with nature than we are these days and times. I am fascinated by their beliefs. I really like the thought that this beautiful bird might be someone from my past who has come to visit me.

I’ve seen some photographs of cardinals in the snow that take my breath away. I found this one on Fan Pop, but couldn’t find out who took it.

Cardinals-image-cardinals-36122736-900-675

Or how about this pair from Dreams Time?

cardinals-snow-20034195

Maybe this winter I will even find some of my own to photograph. Who knows?

Thank you for the therapy sessions, BFF. You are indeed the best.

I am still on a pumpkin spice kick. While driving back from the grocery store yesterday, I thought “What about pumpkin spice sugar cookies?” I googled, settled on a recipe, took the butter out of the refrigerator to soften, the egg to get to room temperature and pulled Mildred the Mixer out of her hiding place.

pumpkin

unbaked

stack

cookies2

I got help from Wine and Glue. I read her heartfelt post about the loss of her son. Maybe Elliot will come back to visit her in the form of a cardinal?

I decided to name mine Snickerdoodles after a friend said they reminded him of his mom’s cookies.

Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles

makes 4 dozen (I used a small scoop to measure them out)

2-1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (plus more for rolling- about 1/2 tsp)

1/2 tsp cinnamon (plus another 1/2 tsp for rolling)

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar (plus about 1/2 cup more for rolling)

14 Tbsp softened unsalted butter

 

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 egg yolk, at room temperature

3/4 cup 100% pure pumpkin puree

  1. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg yolk, then the vanilla, and finally the pumpkin until well combined.
  4. In two batches, add in the flour mixture. Mix on low speed, just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle/beaters.
  5. Refrigerate the cookie dough for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  7. Roll the dough into one-inch sized balls (or whatever size you want your cookies to be). Roll in sugar-cinnamon mixture. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets and press down slightly with the bottom of a glass. If the dough gets sticky, dip the bottom of the glass in the sugar mixture. Space the cookies about two inches apart.
  8. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking.
  9. Let cool on the pan for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack. (Sample a warm one!)

Bon appétit! Happy Delicious Fall! Bake something yummy for those you love. Get outside for some nature therapy, with or without your BFF.

A really good day

spider donut

My morning started this way a couple of days ago. A spider donut left on my desk by an advisee.  Thank you, Girlie and Dunkin Donuts. One of my French friends commented–“Not Halloween yet.” The whole month of October is Halloween here in the good old U.S. of A, mon amie. C’est normal.

Then The Most Adorable Baby in the World got to make her Durham Academy debut and pay a visit to my classroom. Her mom needed to take a catering order to Duke, just down the road, and I volunteered to watch our little Nugget for an hour.

K and Gramma

She was a huge hit with my students, needless to say. A few colleagues stopped in to say hi as well. She is almost 8 months old. Wow. Le temps passe vite.

In my 6th grade class, one of the boys, M. New York, was caught with bulging pockets. Actually, I caught him after one of the items slipped from his pocket onto the floor. I asked him to empty those pockets and here is his stash.

williams pockets

We had adorable Kindergarteners here during our morning break, selling backed goods and treats to raise money for hurricane relief funds. I don’t know if he bought all this at the sale or if he came to school that way. The staples were a real curiosity. We all had a good laugh and he is a great kid- and he even laughed at himself. That is one of the most important personality traits to have as you navigate the often treacherous waters of middle school.

I supervise our after school study hall and during study hall the 3-D printer was whirring. I am always curious about that machine so I often watch the progress of what it is creating. Lo and behold, this is what I found behind the glass door.

3D ET

Oui, Mme La Tour Eiffel. I actually watched it from the bottom up. I had no idea who was printing it, but I was hoping it was one of my students and that I would be able to add it to my collection. (It was and I have!)

la tour 2

As I was walking to my car, I noticed this beautiful tree and had to stop long enough to take a photo. Fall is my favorite season. How can you not love this view?

fall leaves

Later, as I was finishing up with my date with Tom, the best manicurist in the entire world, at Posh Nails, his new salon, we noticed that the rain had stopped and the sky was an interesting color. It was pink!

sky1sky2

Then the Ex-Ex and I met at The Boot, our favorite watering hole, and shared this.

mozz

Made me think of Son #2. That boy loves mozzarella sticks. These were magnifico. (Grazie, Google) I tried making them a few times when he was growing up, but I never quite mastered it.

So, instead I will leave you with a tried and true recipe for mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches.

Mozzarella Grilled Cheese
Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence of The Food Network

Serves: 2 sandwiches
Ingredients:
4 slices thick-cut sourdough bread
1 ball (1 pound) fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 plum tomatoes, cut into thick slices
1 cup fresh basil pesto, recipe follows
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

Basil pesto:
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano
2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To make pesto:
Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still rough-textured.

To make sandwiches:
If you have a panini press, turn it on to warm up; otherwise, set a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto. Arrange a layer of sliced tomato and season with a few turns of fresh pepper. Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place another piece of bread on top to make the sandwich. Drizzle olive oil over skillet’s surface and place sandwiches on the hot skillet or panini press. If using a skillet, place another heavy skillet over the top to form a “press”. Turn after 2 to 3 minutes and replace weight. The sandwich is ready when golden brown and mozzarella has melted around the edges.

Copyright 2009 Television Food Network G.P., All Rights Reserved

Buon appetito!  Have a lovely weekend! Eat something delicious. Hug your loved ones. I sincerely hope you have a good day filled with simple pleasures.

 

 

Fall is calling

leaf2

My favorite season? Fall. No question about it. I look forward to cooler weather (I am a jeans and sweater kind of girl), nights with a nip in the air, college football games, and changing leaves. I have already spotted evidence around school that fall is on the way in. Knocking softly at the door. Not shoving summer out of the way yet, just patiently waiting her turn. (In French, the word season- saison– is feminine, so I am going with her as my pronoun of choice.)

According to my friend Google:

Autumn 2017 in Northern Hemisphere will begin on

Friday, September 22

and ends on Thursday, December 21

(All dates are in Eastern Time)

So, she is just around the corner.  Yippee!

leaf1

We have our fair share of squirrels around campus. They are bold little critters. We do not have a cafeteria. Everyone brings lunch to school. Our squirrels are fat and happy. But I hope they are gathering nuts anyway so they won’t go hungry over the weekends. Here’s a photo for my French friends who are always fascinated by our écureuils. (A very difficult word to pronounce in French, but squirrel isn’t easy for the Frenchies so we are even!) Can you find him?

squirrel

I searched for poems and found two that I really like.

Autumn Leaves

© Edel T. Copeland

Published: November 1, 2016

Golden, crisp leaves falling softly from almost bare trees,
Lifting and falling in a hushed gentle breeze,
Slowly dropping to the soft cushioned ground,
Whispering and rustling a soothing sound.

Coppers, golds, and rusted tones,
Mother Nature’s way of letting go.
They fall and gather one by one,
Autumn is here, summer has gone.

Crunching as I walk through their warm fiery glow,
Nature’s carpet rich and pure that again shall grow,
To protect and shield its majestic tree,
Standing tall and strong for the world to see.

They rise and fall in the cool, crisp air.
It’s a time of change in this world we share,
Nature’s importance reflecting our own lives,
Letting go of our fears and again, too, we shall thrive.

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/autumn-leaves-5

Sing To Me, Autumn

© Patricia L. Cisco

Published: September 27, 2016

Sing to me, Autumn, with the rustle of your leaves.
Breathe on me your spicy scents that flow within your breeze.

Dance with me, Autumn, your waltz that bends the boughs of trees.
Now tell me all the secrets you’ve whispered to the seas.

Sleep with me, Autumn, beneath your starlit skies.
Let your yellow harvest moon shimmer in our eyes.

Kiss me, Autumn, with your enchanting spellbound ways
That changes all you touch into crimson golden days.

Love me, Autumn, and behold this love so true
That I’ll be waiting faithfully each year to be with you.

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/sing-to-me-autumn

Last year, I drove up the mountains in October and around Linville, in Avery County, found some leaves left on the trees.

red trees

red tree

one red leaf

Magnifique, n’est-ce pas?

Today’s recipe comes from Jamie Dietrich, wife of Sean of the South Dietrich, and chef extraordinaire. A reader asked me to ask Jamie for this recipe and she kindly sent it to me. My original email caught her away from her cookbooks, caring for her mom. She has now taken on the role of manager and chauffeur to her red-haired guitar-picking story-writing husband. Bon courage, Jamie. Keep that man safe so he can continue to make me laugh and cry first thing every morning. Thank you for sharing your recipes with me. I look forward to meeting you someday. Point that truck towards North Carolina. Please?

Thank you, Dear Reader, for requesting this recipe. I made it last night. The Ex-Ex had two servings (as did I) and we will warm it up again tonight. In Jamie’s words:

This is not “gourmet” but is delicious and great to make ahead and serve for Sunday lunch or a special occasion… it’s from The Best Little Cookbook in Alabama with a couple of modifications from me.

I couldn’t wait to try it out. For Monday dinner. No special occasion. I made a few modifications of my own but nothing significant. The Ex-Ex just texted that he is hungry. He is on the athletic fields watching his teams play games and should be home in an hour or so. I texted back that there are some really good leftovers waiting for him here…

chick cass

Lemon Chicken Casserole
4 c. chopped chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken- removed meat and shredded/chopped it)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 c. celery chopped
1 c.  chopped fresh mushrooms (you could use canned sliced ones)
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
1 can cream of mushroom (with garlic) soup
1.5 c. chicken broth
1–6 oz. package Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice, cooked (I will add more tonight when we have it as leftovers- we love rice)
8 oz. can sliced water chestnuts
1 pint sour cream
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. parmesan cheese
Topping:
1 stick butter
Zest of 3 medium-sized lemons
Panko bread crumbs (probably about 1-1/2 cups but you could add more or less) or regular bread crumbs, if you prefer
Saute onion, celery and mushrooms in butter until soft and translucent (If you are using canned ones, add when you add the soup).  Stir in flour. Cook for one minute to remove the flour-y taste. Add mushroom soup and broth; cook until thickened.  Add rice, sour cream, water chestnuts, parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.  Place in buttered 9″x13″ (3 quart) casserole dish.
To make the topping, melt butter and add lemon zest.  Top casserole with bread crumbs and then drizzle melted butter-lemon mixture on top.   Bake in 350˚ oven for one hour. (Since I was using the already cooked chicken, I baked mine for about 40 minutes.)
Bon appétit to all. Take a moment, at least one, to enjoy the beauty around you. Read a beautiful poem. Listen to a song that makes you cry. Take a long walk with a friend. Follow the advice of the late Jim Valvano–
“If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Going back in time: A life resumed

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


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

My (Nearly) Perfect Orange Brioche Recipe
(found on the back of a package of yeast in France and slightly modified…)

1/4 lb (one stick) of softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs (at room temperature)
1/4 c. warm water
one package active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm milk
orange flavoring
2-3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
apricot or strawberry preserves
sugar

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
Mix the butter, eggs, sugar, warm milk and orange flavoring. I have sweet orange essential oil that I bought at Florame (www.florame.com) and I use 4-5 drops of it. I know that you can find orange flavoring at the supermarket.
Add the yeast mixture and mix.
Add the combined flour and salt. Add enough flour to have a dough that you can knead (not too sticky).
Turn onto a flour covered surface and knead for about 5 minutes or so.
Place in a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place to rise. My microwave is above the stove and is a great place. Allow to rise for 2 hours.
Turn onto a flour covered surface again and knead for another 5 minutes. Shape however you wish– into rolls, two small loaves or one large one. Place in pans.
Cover again and allow to rise for 2 more hours.
After the second rising, you can bake or you can put it in the refrigerator overnight and bake the next morning (allow the dough to come to room temperature before baking).
Brush with the egg yolk and bake at 400F for about 20-30 minutes. Baking time will depend upon the shape of your brioche. Rolls take a shorter time. Adjust the oven, if necessary, lowering the temperature a bit if it seems to be baking too fast or if your oven tends to be on the hot side.
After baking, while still warm, brush with preserves (you can warm them in the microwave so that they brush easily- I have also used orange juice at this point, when I didn’t have any preserves) and then sprinkle lightly with sugar. I have mixed orange essence in with the sugar before sprinkling to give it more orange flavor. As you can see, I have played around with this recipe. It is wonderful hot from the oven. It makes really good French toast when it is a couple of days old and a bit stale. It is also good sliced and toasted. It is not very sweet. French pastries and desserts are not as sweet as American ones.
Enjoy! And please let me know if you make it and something just doesn’t work or you make a modification that helps! It isn’t perfect yet! A work in progress!

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

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

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

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

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

http://thesabbaticalchef.blogspot.com/

Bon appétit, mes amis! 

Bleu Part Deux

As I was driving home from the mountains today, I realized that I left off some bleu/blue things that I love. (I could blame it on Moo and Mama Mildred for distracting me, I guess.)

Do you ever have the blues? In France, the saying is avoir le cafard– to have the cockroach. Where on earth does that come from, I wonder? It is depressing, even more so than having the blues. Google to the rescue.  According to Laura Lawless, writer of one of my go-to websites for French grammar help, Lawless French, poet Charles Baudelaire introduced the expression into the language through his work Les Fleurs du Mal.

avoir-le-cafard

Bluegrass music. My favorite is Balsam Range. Childhood Friend came over from Asheville for the Mitchel High School Homecoming football game Friday night. He brought me a Balsam Range CD that I didn’t have, Marching Home. When I opened up the CD case, I discovered that it is autographed by Marc Pruitt, the band’s banjo player. I am not sure that I deserve that… Merci, mon ami.

Sister Moo showed me a video of  Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton and his friend, songwriter Milan Miller. I want to make sure that Son #1 sees this one now that he is a daddy to an adorable little girl, just as Buddy is. I love listening to Buddy talk- the Appalachian mountain accent is very special to me.

The Blues. B.B. King and Taj Mahal. I saw B.B. King perform back in the day in Blowing Rock in a bar called PB Scott’s.  What an experience. Almost a religious one. My introduction to the blues.

Can you stand another video? B.B. King and Eric Clapton. This song makes me happy. What’s not to love about two handsome men riding in a Cadillac convertible singing? The song obviously makes them happy, too, since they are smiling and laughing quite a bit in the video.

And Taj Mahal. I’ve seen him once and I will be in the audience again October 4. TajMo’- The Taj Mahal and Keb’Mo’ Band. Click on the link if you are interested in listening to a PBS interview from July 2017. Taj has played in Paris. I saw a poster in the métro and I am pretty sure I shrieked.

thetajmahal2016_120x150

His sister, Carole Fredericks, lived in Paris and was quite famous for her beautiful voice. Her home bears this plaque.

carole plaque

His sister, Connie, is a friend and she too can sing. I’ve been lucky enough to hear her on a perfect summer evening chez O.

Connie singing

How about a Blue Ridge sunrise?

sunrise

sunrise 2

Pretty pretty, isn’t it?

Blueberries. I will borrow a recipe from an earlier blog post. Mama Mildred found a photo of a blueberry lemon pound cake and it made me think of one I’ve made in the past. But with lime. Served on one of my blue Fiestaware plates.

bleuberry cake

Blueberry Lime Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Yield: 1 Loaf Cake
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature (do not use whipped or low-fat)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lime zest
1 cup fresh blueberries
Cream cheese frosting:
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature (once again, not whipped or low-fat)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment paper as well. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, throughly mixing each time. Add vanilla extract and lime zest, mixing until combined.
Pour flour mixture over the batter mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour until it’s completely mixed in and there are no pockets of dry flour. Lastly, gently fold in the blueberries.
Transfer batter to prepared baking loaf pan. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let sit until cool, at least 30 minutes and then remove from pan.
In a stand mixer or large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth. Beat in vanilla extract.
Carefully frost on top of the cooled poundcake and store in fridge until ready to serve.
Bon appétit! Take the time to look at sunrises and to listen to good music. It’s good for your soul. So is delicious pound cake. “Life’s too short to say no to cake.” I have no idea who said it, but I agree.

If God’s not a Tar Heel fan…

sky

then why is the sky Carolina Blue?

That’s a question I’ve heard most of my life. Actually, I am pretty sure that God has a lot on his plate right about now… hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorists, people who feel so alone that they don’t know what to do or who to turn to. Who wins a Saturday afternoon college football game isn’t high on his list of worries, in my humble opinion. Probably not there at all. He might be keeping an eye on those young men off the field, trying to give them some guidance about keeping out of trouble, though.

But, back to Carolina Blue. Son #2, GF and I went to see UNC play Louisville yesterday.

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An absolutely perfect day. I now know who Lamar Jackson is- the defending Heisman trophy winner and the quarterback for the Cardinals. He had a record day yesterday, if you care about those things. I love college football. Particularly, the Tennessee Vols and the Duke Blue Devils. You can add the Appalachian State University Mountaineers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the list as well. A colleague gave us the tickets and a parking pass. The Ex-Ex couldn’t go because he was working. (He watched the second half on TV.) So, sorry for not really caring who won. I cried when the marching band played The Star-Spangled Banner. I am a sap that way.

SSB

Halftime was exciting.  Mo came to see me, trekking across the stadium from her seat to  mine.

mo

She’s a die hard Tar Heel fan (along with the BFF, my Favorite Niece, Andy P, who also came to find me, and the colleague who gave us the tickets). Check out the necklace!

The big deal at halftime was the presentation of the 2017 NCAA Championship Rings to the UNC Men’s basketball team. James Worthy, of the 1981-82 championship team, presented head coach Roy Williams with his ring.

roy and james

basketball team

I am a James Worthy fan as well as a fan of Roy Williams. That 1982 championship was legendary coach Dean Smith‘s first and Roy was an assistant coach then. Roy is one of my hometown boys. He lived in Spruce Pine for a while as a little boy. He is a few years older than me, so we didn’t live there at the same time, but that’s okay. It still counts.

It was a fun afternoon. Carolina didn’t end up winning. But what a day to be alive and outside. Eating hot dogs, people-watching, cheering for great plays made by both teams. A real slice of American life. And a few hours respite from worrying about Hurricane Irma and her path of destruction. That’s why Son #2 and GF (along with the way too cute and lovable Couper and his sidekick Charlie) were here.

couper and charlie

They left Charleston, not knowing if Irma was headed that way or not. GF hails from Texas so she knows football. She was a cheerleader for UT-San Antonio. I hope she was impressed with the Carolina cheerleaders. She has already heard of the Louisville squad.

Yesterday was also JC’s birthday! Duke won just for her, I am pretty sure. We went over to her house for a cook-out. I was in charge of dessert. She loves chocolate so I decided that little chocolate cakes would be a good way to go. I just happened to have three bars of European dark chocolate in the pantry.  A gift from Pretend Daughter #2. I made them in a muffin tin and wasn’t happy that they didn’t come out easily. So much for presentation. But they tasted good, with a little whipped cream on the side. Pas mal du tout.

choc cakes

Natalie’s Melting Chocolate Cakes

makes 12

200 g (7oz/ scant 3/4 c.) butter, cubed

200 g (7 oz/ 1 1/3 c. dark (bittersweet) chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces

200 g (7 oz/scant 3/4 c) castor sugar (superfine sugar)

4 eggs

1 tsp plain all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 180˚C (350 F˚/gas mark 4).

Place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate has melted.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl with the sugar, stir with a wooden spoon and leave to cool a little while.

Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Finally, stir in the flour and mix well.

Pour the cake batter into 12 mini-loaf pans (or buttered muffin tins) and bake for 12-15 minutes until the centers are set but still a little wobbly.  Turn the oven off but leave the cakes inside for another 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

You can store these covered, in the fridge, for up to 2-3 days.  Take out 30 minutes before serving.

Bon appétit et bisous! I hope that Hurricane Irma loses steam and there is minimum damage and no loss of life in Florida. Be safe. Stay dry. Hug your loved ones.

Courage

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Photo credit: Tasha Tolliver

So, what exactly is courage? I’ve just spent more than a few minutes looking at definitions of this noun. I believe that if I found just the right one it would have this woman’s photo next to it.

According to Oxford English Living Dictionaries on-line, courage is defined as:

  • the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery
  • strength in the face of pain or grief

Meet Lynda Harrison Hatcher. Because of Lynda I stayed up way too late last night. I could not stop reading her memoir until I had read the final words and then the acknowledgements.

mothering addiction

There is no ending to her story, at least not yet. And at the end of the book, she questions why she wrote it all in the first place. If it was hell for me to read every word of every paragraph of every chapter, I can’t imagine what kind of hell it was to write or to live, for that matter.

I might never have come across this book if not for the BFF. She and Ms. Hatcher were college friends. The BFF was in her seemingly fairytale wedding and she watched her sail off into the sunset of her imagined perfect life.

Not to be. Not in the cards. Not what the universe had in store for her.

If there is anyone in America whose life has not been touched by an addiction of some sort, I don’t know him/her. We can all put on a good face, pretend it hasn’t happened to us, throw disbelief and scorn at those who do admit it, all the while saying “Bless her heart.” And maybe even delivering a casserole, hoping to catch a glimpse of grief or heartbreak up close.  Kind of like watching a car wreck. How many of the people we interact with on a daily basis are either the victim of an addiction or the family member or close friend of an addict. I cannot imagine a worse hell than being the parent of an addict. With the all-consuming question “What did I do to cause this?” All the while trying to keep up the façade, keep a child out of prison and/or alive, protect the addict’s siblings, the other children who need their parents. What about having to give up on the dreams you have had for that child since he/she was handed to you just seconds after arriving in this world? A mother’s instinct is to try to create a Disney-like childhood, never yell, let alone have a complete screaming breakdown with the windows open, never be too disappointed or to disappoint your children. To protect him/her come hell or high water. To be a fierce fixer.

But what if we aren’t in control? How much is personality and /or genetic? The old nature vs nurture debate. What’s best? What will keep a child from becoming homeless, a dealer, needing an intervention involving his grandfather who used to take him fishing? If only I had… or If only I hadn’t…

I can’t even pretend to understand what Lynda Harrison Hatcher’s life must be like. Daughter of an alcoholic? Not the same. Aunt to a young man in prison for five years for dealing and possessing guns? Nope. It has to be a whole different level of hell when it is a child. And you are not in control and you can’t fix it.

While looking for a definition of courage, I came across this–

“We take so much of our strength and resilience for granted. Courage isn’t about being a battle-ready soldier; some days there is courage in saying, “tomorrow is another day”. We show courage on a daily basis because our lives and the lives of those we love matter to us. When we feel deeply passionate about something, we find courage easily — for example we find superhuman strength to protect our children. So let us find that same passion and courage for ourselves, trusting that whatever our circumstances are right now (and regardless of whether we feel courageous), we can find a valuable seam of courage if we dig just below the surface.”  –Rebecca Perkins, The Real Definition of Courage

I have nothing to offer. No advice. Just admiration for Ms. Hatcher. I would like to thank her from the bottom of my heart for having the courage write this book. Anything that I choose to read now will pale in comparison, I’m afraid.

Son #2 has sent me a couple of adorable photos lately of his and his GF’s pets. Need some cuteness? Well, I have some for you…

Meet Charlotte, Charlie for short. She was a stray in Charlotte where Son #2 lived for 2 years. And where he met GF.

charlie

“She is either very sweet and loving or possessed by a spawn of hell. Not much of an in between yet, Mom.”

I guffawed. Thank you for making me laugh, Son #2.

One more cute photo.  Of Couper and Charlie. What must Couper be thinking?

couper and charlie

I don’t know about you, but I need a recipe for comfort food. Mac and cheese is my go-to favorite.  This recipe has been on the blog before, in a 2015 post about resiliency.

 

Comforting Mac & Cheese

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack)
16-oz. macaroni
Salt, pepper (black or white), ground mustard or Texas Pete sauce can be added.  Or a combination of all.  Today, I decided to add bacon that had been cooked to crispy and then drained on paper towels.

Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water until it is al dente (for small elbows, about 9 minutes).
Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Melt butter in large pan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and combine well.  Cook for about a minute to remove the flour taste.  Gradually add milk and continue to whisk.  Cook until the mixture thickens into a creamy roux.  Add seasonings and whisk well.  Remove from heat.
Add 2-1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted and combined.
Put macaroni into a buttered baking pan.  (I cooked the bacon in the cast iron pan and left some of the drippings in for flavor, so I didn’t need to butter the pan.)  Pour cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir well.  (I added the crumbled bacon at this point, reserving some for the top.)
Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. (My grandmother always topped hers with bread crumbs or crushed crackers.)
Bake in pre-heated 350˚F oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.

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Bon appétit, Lynda. I have so much respect for you and the lessons you have learned and are trying to pass on to the rest of us. May you find peace and self-love. Thank you. Be courageous, mes amis. Seek help and find even just one or two friends who get it and will always be there for you. Everyone needs their own Book Club. And I think that this book is definitely worth reading, whether you are mothering an addict or not.

“Grateful for everything, entitled to nothing”

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This is Jim McIngvale.  A man I had never heard of until yesterday.  AKA Mattress Mack. The Clarion-Ledger ran an article about him yesterday and that’s where I found the quote that is the title of today’s post. In today’s Durham Herald-Sun newspaper, I read an editorial from the Charlotte Observer. It touched me, so I thought that I should share it with all of you. My thoughts and prayers are with all of the people dealing with Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath.

Let’s talk about the human chain in Houston

Let’s talk about the chain. It was a human chain, on Interstate 10 in Houston on Tuesday afternoon.  A black woman holding the hand of a white man holding the hand of a Latino man, then more than a dozen others.

Moments before, they were strangers, until an elderly man’s SUV got swept up in floodwaters on the highway. Somebody said: “Let’s form a chain.” So they did, finding strength together against the waters, then reaching the man’s vehicle, then opening the door to pull him to safety.

Let’s talk about the millennials. A couple of them, Joe Looke and Daniel Webb, were watching the early devastation from Hurricane Harvey when they decided they wanted to do more than watch. So they found a dry spot at a Houston shopping center and put up a sign asking for donations.

Soon, as the Houston Chronicle reported, people came by with toilet paper and bottles of water. One man brought an armful of pizzas. Within hours, they had filled more than 30 SUVs with items to take to local shelters.

Let’s not talk, for a few moments, about our disagreements. Let’s not talk about politics or hate or climate change policy or whether someone was enough of a leader this week. These are legitimate debates, and we will surely have them soon enough.

Let’s talk about those who did lead this week, in their own way, no matter what you expect of them, no matter when you think of them. Let’s talk about the mosques throughout the Houston area that opened their doors for shelter without anyone asking them to. Let’s talk about the businessmen who decided to look past their bottom line.

One of them, Jim McIngvale, opened the doors to his Houston-area furniture emporium so that the suddenly homeless could have a place to stay and sleep. When 400-plus people straggled in, the man named “Mattress Mack” told them they should use the furniture on display. He’s not sure what he’ll do with that furniture when everything gets back to normal. Maybe have a Harvey Sale, or maybe just take a loss.

“To hell with profits,” he said. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the law enforcement officers who risked their lives again and again for rescues. Let’s talk about the government officials turned shelter volunteers. And let’s also talk about the journalists- the supposed enemies of the people.

One of them, Brandi Smith of Houston’s KHOU, abandoned a live report to flag down sheriff’s deputies when she saw water filling the cab of a man’s tractor trailer. Another, from CNN, was preparing to go on air when he instead ran to a ravine with his cameraman to save a man floating in his truck. They, like so many others, rushed into danger with one thought in mind: help.

Yes, there were people who exploited this week’s tragedy. There were stores that gouged and scammers who preyed and looters who didn’t need the items they stole. There will always be those people among us- in tragedies and every other day- and many of them will get away with it. It’s up to us whether we want to spend our time worrying about being taken advantage of, or deciding that it’s worth the risk to help others who need it.

So let’s talk about the chain. The human chain. There were several of them this week- hands grabbing hands in floodwaters, because that’s what the moment demanded. No one asked if the hand they gripped was here illegally, or if that hand pushed a button to vote for Donald Trump. No one asked if the person needing saving could have avoided their situation in the first place.

It was simply people, kind and courageous and willing to sacrifice, because other people needed them.

Let’s talk about that this week. Let’s try to remember it when this week is over.

Can we do that? Can we just concentrate on helping and not criticizing? Is that too much to ask from Americans from North Carolina to Nebraska to New York? I don’t think so. I believe the vast majority of us have good hearts and want to help when we see our fellow human beings suffering. I am a glass-half-full kind of girl. Let’s donate if we can’t be there to help.

In searching for ways to help and where to send funds and donations, I found an article posted by NPR.  There are lists of organizations, broken into categories such as food banks, animals, elderly, medical, etc. Last week, I learned quite a bit about my local food bank, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. My advisees and I, along with all of our 7th graders, volunteered at the Food Bank and spent the morning bagging sweet potatoes donated by a local farmer. It was dirty, smelly, deeply satisfying work. I plan to do more of it.

In light of those sweet potatoes, I will repost a recipe I love and made for Thanksgiving 2013!

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Dorie Greenspan’s Baking:  From My Home To Yours

Using canned sweet potatoes makes them easy to prepare at a moment’s notice.  I use canned sweet potatoes packed in light syrup– I just drain the potatoes and mash them with a fork.  If you’ve got leftover cooked sweet potatoes or yams, give them a good mashing, measure out 3/4 – 1 cup and you’re good to go.

Makes about 18 biscuits

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. (packed) light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 15-ounce cans sweet potatoes in light syrup, drained and mashed
Pinch of ground cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425˚F.

Get out a sharp 2 – 2 1/4-inch diameter biscuit cutter, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and spice, if you’re using it, together in a bowl.  Add the brown sugar and stir to incorporate it, making sure there are no lumps.  Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat it with the flour.  Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.  You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between — and that’s just right.

Add the sweet potatoes to the bowl, grab a fork, and toss and gently turn the ingredients until you’ve got a nice soft dough.  Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick, gentle kneading — 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough.  Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hands or roll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even — a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can.  Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of this first round.  By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet.  Gather together the scraps, working them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet.  (The biscuits can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting — just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown.  Transfer them to a cooling rack — cooled a bit, they’re more sweet potatoey.  Give them 10-15 minutes on the rack before popping them into a basket and serving.

Serving:
Unlike most biscuits, there are best served after they’ve had a little time to cool.  They are as good at brunch (they’re great with salty ham and bacon) as they are at tea (try them with a light cheese spread and / or marmalade.)   Or have them with butter or jam, fruit butter or fruit compote.

Storing:
You can keep the biscuits in a plastic bag overnight and give them a quick warm-up in the oven the next day, but you won’t recapture their freshly made flakiness.

Bon appétit to all glass-half-fullers and helpers out there. I am indeed “grateful for everything, entitled to nothing,” too, Mattress Mack. Thank you to all who have and will lend a helping hand in whatever way they see fit and are able.

Small things, great things, great love

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

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

bravelet

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

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

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

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

Currently reading-

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

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

Waiting in the wings-

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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

Recently finished-

Dimestore by Lee Smith

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

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell.

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

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

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

Murder in Saint Germain by Cara Black

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

Play Dead by Harlan Coben

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

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

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

The One Thing More by Anne Perry

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

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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

From Picoult’s website–

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

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

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

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

It also reminds me of a Mother Teresa quote:

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

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

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

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

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

pimento cheese.jpg

 

Baked Pimento Cheese Hominy with Soul

by The Nutty Vegetarian at food52.com

4-6 servings

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

8 ounces Cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded

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

4 ounces Pimentos, diced into small bits

2- 15.5 ounce cans of Hominy, cooked

Crisply fried bacon

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

baked hominy

 

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

 

 

 

Being real

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image:  https://www.pinterest.com/explore/the-velveteen-rabbit/?lp=true

As Son #1 and Son #2 will tell you, I am a sap when it comes to children’s books. I loved reading to those two little critters.  The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams was my favorite. At the beginning of this school year, one of my colleagues quoted the Rabbit, using the short passage above. It makes me tear up every single time I read it. And the older I get the more I get the message. So, how about listening to the story? Get a tissue and enjoy. Mr. Le Mesurier has a very soothing voice and there is some lovely music interspersed between the chapters.

I need to get a copy of this book for Miss K. I want her to understand nursery magic and the importance of being real. Do Son #1 and Son #2 understand? I hope so. Or if not quite yet, I hope they understand soon. I am not sure when I finally understood. Luckily, though, right now I still have all my hair and eyes– even though some of my joints might be a bit wobbly. We are all a work in progress, aren’t we?

Here in North Carolina it’s been a bit cooler the last couple of days.  Just enough to make me start thinking of fall, my favorite season. Thinking about fall makes me think about pumpkin. Pumpkin muffins#1, pumpkin muffins#2pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin stuffed with everything good from Dorie Greenspan, pumpkin spiced coffee and tea. Here’s the latest pumpkin muffin recipe I’ve used… Let’s just call it Pumpkin muffins#3, I guess.  Or, as TGIF (this grandma is fun) calls it–

The Best Pumpkin Muffins {Ever}

makes 12 medium-sized muffins

1¾ cups all purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs, room temperature, if possible

1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin puree

½ cup vegetable oil or melted butter (TGIF uses coconut oil)

1 tablespoon whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*optional: Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top of the unbaked muffins, if desired.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners or spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, oil, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and fold to combine. The batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan. Sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar, if desired.  You can even mix in some extra ground cinnamon with the sugar before sprinkling.

Bake for 22-24 minutes, or until the muffins test done. Let cool for a few minutes then remove the muffins from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, if possible!

pump muff

 

Bon appétit!  It’s okay to be real because “once you are real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Son #1 if you are reading this, I promise to make you some of these muffins if you come to visit!  Bring the girls!