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

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

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

The Queen

I just stumbled across this poem, thanks to the dad of one of my 6th graders. It came from the blog Just An Inquisitive Soul. Maybe Inquisitive is the author? When I googled The Queen poems a slew of different poems popped up. No time (or patience) to wade through them right now. I am not procrasti-googling (see procrasti-baking post) at the moment.

The Queen

As a woman in this world,

We’re told to behave.

Be in your limits,

Don’t dare to crave.

 

For centuries it has been,

Women treated less than men.

They were things to conquer

And humans to tame.

 

queen

They shouldn’t be seen,

Neither the skin nor hide

Taught to sit silent,

And let anger pass as a tide.

 

But there was someone

A different woman, Oh yes.

Who knew her boundaries,

But couldn’t care less

 

She made her rules,

And broke many of the others.

She set sails to her destiny,

Not caring for the chatters.

 

A young boy, mesmerized

Asked her once.

You’re not ordinary,

Coz you act like a princess.

 

She looked at him and smiled,

Twirling her hair, she replied.

I’m not a princess mon chéri,

For I’m the Queen of my life.

***************************************************************************

The aforementioned 6th grade jeune homme is a talented young man. He is quite an accomplished musician already and he bakes very well! Last week, he made a cake for his classmates and we ate every crumb. Délicieux!

cake

Yogurt cake is a French go-to dessert recipe. I have seen many variations of it and made a few myself. This one features the addition of Nutella. Hard to go wrong there (unless you are allergic to hazelnuts or chocolate).

James’ Gâteau au yaourt

1-1/8 sticks butter (9 tablespoons)
1-1/2 cups  flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup Nutella
Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Spray or butter a spring form pan.
Melt the butter.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until it thickens and becomes lighter in color.
Beat the flour mixture, yogurt and melted butter into the egg mixture. Beat until smooth.
Pour 2/3 of the batter into the spring form pan.
Mix the Nutella into the rest of the batter. Pour evenly over the first batter.
Bake until cake tests done, about 40-45 minutes.
Bon appétit! Let everyone eat cake! Happy almost end of the school year. Bring on the Grandes Vacances!! Mesdames, may we all feel like The Queens of our Lives.

Procrasti-baking and the Power of Love

baking

Yes, it’s a thing. I saw it on Facebook and, frankly, I was relieved. The article, from the New York Times on-line, entitled Why Work When You Can Procrastibake? starts this way:

All procrastibakers do not bake alike.

Procrastibaking — the practice of baking something completely unnecessary, with the intention of avoiding “real” work — is a surprisingly common habit that has only recently acquired a name. Medical students, romance writers, freelance web designers: Almost anyone who works at home and has a cookie sheet in the cupboard can try it.

“I started procrastibaking in college as a way to feel productive while also avoiding my schoolwork,” said Wesley Straton, a graduate student in Brooklyn. “Baking feels like a low-stakes artistic outlet.”

 Hooked me pretty quick. There is a name for what I do to put off doing other stuff. As I said before, relief.

I have projects to grade, quizzes to mark, letters to write to 8th graders, lessons to plan and placement tests to score. So, how did I spend my afternoon? Making strawberry shortcakes. And just why not?  I have heard that some suffer from procrasti-cleaning. Thank God I don’t have that affliction.

I found the recipe on Two Peas and their Pod.  They are really just sweet biscuits. Some of mine turned out lop-sided, but that’s okay. I am not a perfectionist. Just don’t have it in me.

baked biscuits

Our final Supper Club “meeting” at Dear Friend’s house was a lot of fun. And crazy delicious. Beck’s Mom made her signature appetizers, Brie Bites. Phyllo dough “cups” with a piece of double creme Brie, some raspberry-jalapeño jam, and pecans baked in the oven, then a sprinkle of (French) sea salt added and baked a bit longer. (I ate two, showing great restraint, because I could have eaten every single one of them.)

brie bites

Miss Molly brought Caprese salad- another of my all-time favorites. I took two of these as well. Symmetry?

caprese

Dear Friend and Hubby provided roasted potatoes,

potatoes

salmon cooked in his outdoor smoker and very tender roast beef.

salmon and beef

I had a very special helper when it came time for dessert. Dear Friend’s oldest granddaughter, who is the spitting image of her mom at this age, helped me make the whipped cream and was my taste-tester par excellence.  She also served everyone their dessert. Not that I want my Darling Granddaughter to grow up too fast, but I cannot wait to give her her first apron and a stepping stool for my kitchen!

B

Et voilà! Our strawberry shortcakes.

strawberry shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake and I go way back. Growing up, I always asked Mama Mildred to make this for my birthday. You can use Angel food cake, regular yellow or white cake or real shortbread. I opted for sweet biscuits. Strawberries are in season. Go for it!

I need to get this post done or I will start suffering from procrasti-blogging… The stack of work is staring me in the face right this moment.

Strawberry Shortcakes

makes 8

for the strawberries:

  • 1 1/2 pounds strawberries, stemmed and sliced or quartered
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

for the shortcakes:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/3 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, for brushing on shortcakes
  • Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on shortcakes

for the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  1.  Hull and slice the strawberries and place them into a large bowl. (I saved a few whole ones to use as garnish.) Cover with granulated sugar and stir. Cover and refrigerate the strawberries while you make the shortcakes so they can get juicy.
  2. Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Mix in the salt. Add the small pieces of cold butter and use a pastry blender, fork, or your clean hands to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Mix until you have pieces that are the size of peas.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the cold heavy cream and vanilla extract. Pour the mixture over the flour mixture and stir until just combined. You may need to add a bit more cream, if the mixture is too dry. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead the dough together to incorporate all of the crumbly dough pieces.  Do not over mix or your biscuits will not be as tender.
  5. Press the dough into a circle, about 1-inch thick and cut into rounds, using a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Place the pan in the refrigerator and chill the biscuits for 20 minutes before baking.
  6. Using a pastry brush, brush the chilled biscuit tops with heavy cream. Sprinkle tops generously with turbinado sugar.
  7. Bake the biscuits until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool completely.
  8. While the biscuits are cooling, make the whipped cream. Using an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and pinch of salt together until the cream reaches stiff peaks.
  9. To assemble the shortcakes, cut the biscuits in half horizontally. Spoon the strawberries over the bottom of the biscuit and add a dollop of whipped cream. Top with the other biscuit half. Add more strawberries and whipped cream on top, if desired. You can also break up the biscuits and top them with strawberries and whipped cream or leave them whole and add strawberries and whipped cream on top.

Make Ahead-if you want to make the shortcake biscuits ahead of time, you can. Place unbaked biscuits on a lined baking sheet and freeze. When frozen, transfer the biscuits to a freezer bag and freeze for up to one month. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake for 23-26 minutes. You can also freeze baked shortcakes in a freezer bag for up to one month. Defrost before serving. You can warm them up in the oven, if desired.

Bon appétit to all strawberry lovers out there. I am deeply sorry for you if you are allergic to these heavenly delights. Substitute juicy ripe peaches or blackberries. If you didn’t watch The Wedding (I didn’t), at least listen to or read Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon. Amen, Reverend. Let’s spread the message of LOVE. There is power in love.

 

Getting along

hand in love

So, I have not always been a Kenny Chesney fan. (Sorry, Kenny.) Just for the past few years. Welcome to the Fishbowl, released in 2012, was the first album by him that I bought. And I still listen to it all the way through. The BFF saw him in concert a few years back and started trying to convince me of his talent. It took me a while to come around. Thanks to Daddy, I grew up listening to country music. Then I went through a phase when I swore that I would never, ever listen to that stuff. What goes around comes around, right? I rediscovered country music in the ’80’s. It’s changed since the Johnny Cash days. I like songs that tell a story. Sad songs. Real songs. Songs with a message. Songs that just make me feel something. It was a good day on my way home from school yesterday when a new song came on 93.9. I immediately took to it. I loved the lyrics.

A man wearin’ a t-shirt, says “Virginia is for lovers”
Had a Bible in his left hand and a bottle in the other
He says “All you’re really given is the sunshine and your name”
We both started laughin’ when the sky started to rain

Get along, on down the road
We’ve got a long long way to go
Scared to live, scared to die
We ain’t perfect but we try
Get along while we can
Always give love the upper hand
Paint a wall, learn to dance
Call your mom, buy a boat
Drink a beer, sing a song
Make a friend, can’t we all get along

Saw a model on a billboard, 1-800 get to know me
Wondered was she photoshopped, or were her eyes really that lonely?
Did she leave her hometown thinkin’ she’d end up in L.A.?
Did she break down in the desert and get stuck beside the highway?

Get along, on down the road
We’ve got a long long way to go
Scared to live, scared to die
We ain’t perfect but we try
Get along while we can
Always give love the upper hand
Paint a wall, learn to dance
Call your mom, buy a boat
Drink a beer, sing a song
Make a friend, can’t we all get along

We find out when you die the keys to heaven can’t be bought
We still don’t know what love is but we sure know what it’s not
Sometimes you got to

Get along, on down the road
We’ve got a long long way to go
Scared to live, scared to die
We ain’t perfect but we try
Get along while we can
Always give love the upper hand
Paint a wall, learn to dance
Call your mom, buy a boat
Drink a beer, sing a song
Make a friend, can’t we all get along

(lyrics from genius.com)

It sounds too simple. Can’t we all get along? Sometimes these days and times it doesn’t feel like it.

On Mother’s Day, I went to school and picked strawberries out of our garden.

strawberries

I decided to make strawberry bread for my colleagues. It was a hit.

strawberry bread

Fresh Strawberry Quick Bread

from An Italian in My Kitchen

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup butter softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries

Topping (optional)

  • 3 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Simple glaze (optional)
  • 1/2 cup powdered / icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon cream
Instructions
Pre-heat oven to 350°F  (180°C Celisius).  Grease and flour a 9 – 9 1/2 inch (24 centimeter) loaf pan.
In a medium bowl cream butter and sugar add egg and combine.
n a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
With a wooden spoon add flour mixture alternately with the milk to the creamed mixture in three parts, then add vanilla, mix just until combined. Gently fold in the strawberries.
Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan, if desired sprinkle with topping, if desired. Bake for approximately 50 minutes.  Let cool completely before drizzling with simple glaze, if desired.
Glaze
In a small bowl, mix together until smooth: icing sugar, vanilla, cream and milk. Mixture should be quite thick.
Bon appétit, Kenny Chesney. Sorry I missed you last weekend in Raleigh. Maybe next time? Let’s try to get along. We’ve got a long long way to go. Call your mom. We ain’t perfect but we try. Make a friend. Get along.

One day at a time

lotta love.jpg

Today a very dear friend of mine taught me a very valuable lesson. She probably won’t take credit for it. That’s just how she is. We have taught together for 30+ years.  We can finish each other’s sentences. Kind of like an old married couple. We sponsor a club for 7th and 8th grade girls at our school. Our pet project this year is helping decorate rooms in homeless shelters with A Lotta Love, an organization started by Lotta Sjoelin. We decorated a room in February and have been raising money to decorate another one. We have taken up money at basketball games, sold concessions, had neighborhood lemonade, popsicle, and bake sales and today we sold coffee, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, granola bars, popsicles, and Gatorade at a lacrosse tournament. Fund-raising isn’t easy, especially on a 90˚ day. Our girls are very busy with their own activities and families, but they passionately believe in this cause. One 8th grade girlie said “I love lacrosse and I love fundraisers- what a great day!” That made me realize that I needed to stop internally complaining about giving up my morning and my frustrations with trying to raise money. (It wasn’t totally internal– I complained to Dear Friend…) That was one lesson that I needed to learn. Stop complaining. Period.

Dear Friend and I were discussing health issues today while at the lacrosse tournament. We are almost the same age. She never lets me forget that I am 3 months older. She has recently been diagnosed with thyroid issues and I have been dealing with the same for about 12 years or so. If you have a normal thyroid you are lucky. This butterfly-shaped gland in your neck affects an awful lot of the body’s functions, including:

  • Breathing
  • Heart rate
  • Central and peripheral nervous systems
  • Body weight
  • Muscle strength
  • Body temperature
  • Cholesterol levels

Mine was hyperactive when I was first diagnosed. I was exhausted all the time, my hair was falling out, I had heart palpitations, and my nails were very brittle. My hands were very shaky and I was either freezing cold or sweating. (The BFF actually forced me to make a doctor’s appointment even though just the thought of picking up the phone and calling made me tired.) It came on quite suddenly since I always ask my doctor to test for it when I have a physical exam. My mom and both sisters have thyroid issues. I thought that I had escaped it and even felt quite smug about it. Big mistake. I started seeing an endocrinologist and we tried to regulate it with medication, but that only worked for a little while. I decided to swallow a dose of radioactive iodine to gradually kill my gland. I now take a daily dose of Synthroid to keep me from suffering from hypothyroidism. Finding the proper dose is tricky. The levels of T3 and T4 are measured by a blood test and what are considered “normal” levels vary from doctor to doctor. I have learned to trust how I feel and push for the dosage of Synthroid that makes me feel the most “normal.” (I also check my comb every morning for hair loss.)

Dear Friend commented today that perhaps having an overactive thyroid isn’t a bad thing. Yes, she did. And the reason is that an overactive gland can help you control your weight because it revs up your metabolism. But it has other, much more serious side effects, including heart problems. I gave her my honest opinion and told her that she needs to get the thyroid under control. Period. Mine only caused me to lose weight when I suffered from a thyroid “storm.” She then told me that she is trying to go carb-free for the day in order to eat more healthily. We later had this text conversation–

Me: Every time I want a cookie today I am going to think of you. To keep me honest.

DF: You’ve got to have something better to think about that that! We’ll work on it together… but remember, it’s no carbs just for today! I can’t last more than that.

Me: One day at a time.

DF: Amen, sister.

Me: My new motto!

DF: Works for me!

Today’s recipe is one I tried about a month ago. If you are giving up carbs for one day, leave out the pasta. This is really good and easy. Pesto and Parmesan cheese are two of my weaknesses. I also added roasted chicken, torn into bite-sized pieces to make it a non-vegetarian dish for the Ex-Ex. Grilled andouille sausage cut into bite-sized pieces would also be really good.

roasted vegs with ravioli

Ravioli with Roasted Vegetables

from Jaclyn Bell of cookingclassy.com

serves 6

2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced into half moons

2 medium yellow squash, ends trimmed, sliced into half moons

1 red bell pepper, diced into 3/4-inch squares

1/2 large red onion, diced into 3/4-inch squares

8 oz button mushrooms, sliced thick

2 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 (10.5 oz) package of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups fresh baby spinach

1 (20 oz) package refrigerated cheese ravioli

2/3-cup pesto

Finely shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
  2. Place zucchini, squash, bell pepper, onion and mushrooms on a rimmed 18×13-inch baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast 10 minutes, then remove from oven. Add tomatoes and garlic to pan, and toss. Roast 10-15 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Add spinach to pan and toss. Roast 1 minute longer or until spinach has wilted.
  3. Cook ravioli according to package directions; drain. Pour ravioli into a large bowl. Stir in roasted vegetables and pesto (I let everyone add their own pesto after serving). Season with salt and pepper to taste then toss to evenly coat. Serve warm topped with cheese.

Bon appétit. Remember– one day at a time. Every day is a new day. A chance to start again. 

A new day

31131278_2063285063698757_6019967908879269888_n

(from Positive Thoughts Facebook page)

Maybe I am just a simple person. Maybe I was born under a lucky star. Certainly not with a silver spoon in my mouth or already on second or third base. I’ve worked hard all of my life. I have had good role models and mentors. Maybe sometimes I’ve just been in the right place at the right time. I haven’t cured cancer. I won’t leave a great sum of money to someone trying to cure cancer or to feed all the homeless people in the world. I get stuck worrying about the mistakes I’ve made in the past and how I would do things differently if given the chance. But that’s not the way it works. Living in the land of guilt doesn’t get me very far. It only produces anxiety and the occasional panic attack or long, sleepless night. I’ve seen a therapist a few times, one that I chose because her bio said  “I enjoy using humor in my work to create an interactive dialogue with my clients that is nurturing, informative and positive.” And she hasn’t let me down. She even told me in our first session that she curses and if that bothers me then maybe I need to reconsider. She sold me there. I think that I am rambling. No, I know I am.

I try to start my day with something positive. I read Sean Dietrich‘s latest Facebook post. It either makes me laugh or cry. Sometimes both. At the same time. I look at Facebook to see what my buddies are up to (two of my gals are in France right now- one in Paris, one in Nice; another one is in Switzerland). I gave up all of the negative crap out there and I don’t worry too much about the Russians hacking into my account, truth be told.  I know that sometimes the positive stuff seems trite. But sometimes it hits home. The above post was what I needed this morning. Along with this To-Do list in French:

31855218_1650766535037196_8587168804860067840_n

(from Santé Nutrition’s FB page)

I had a good day. Of course it helps that it was a beautiful, sunny 75˚ spring day. I love my job, even in May when dreaming of summer is how more than a few middle schoolers spend their time. But I also tried to remember to check off the items on this list:

  • Smile.
  • Take advantage of the sun.
  • Say thank you.
  • Remain positive.
  • Don’t judge.
  • Pay someone a compliment.
  • Help someone.
  • Say I love you.
  • Be happy.

I smiled and made goo-goo eyes at this cutie pie.

cutie

I was sitting outside Tutti Frutti enjoying a cup of frozen yogurt after school.

tutti frutti

He was with his mom. She told me he is 18 months old. I told her about my 14-month old granddaughter and how much I look forward to sharing frozen yogurt with her one of these days soon. He made me smile. And I made him smile, too. I told the mom what a darling he is. And I meant it.

One of my colleagues brought me coffee this morning. I thanked him profusely. I also thanked JB from our business office who came to my classroom to help me finally reconcile my receipts from the March France trip. I thanked her as well for taking care of all those pesky French bits of paper.

I sat outside in the sun, on a bench in the garden right outside my classroom, to eat my lunch.

I tried to be helpful to our administrative assistant and find some pictures of a couple of colleagues. I did not succeed. But I pointed her to someone else who might be more helpful than I was. I kept my patience with (almost) all of my students and helped them as they worked on presentations, projects, and we checked homework. (Maybe the really good cup of coffee helped…)

I told Sister Moo that I love her and that I hope she feels better. She suffers from arthritis and Arthur, as she calls it, tries to get the best of her. We have made plans for a girls’ week at the beach with Niece in June. I hope that helps keep Arthur at bay. It always help me to have a trip to look forward to.

I didn’t do too well in the Don’t judge category. But you know what, tomorrow is a new day. I will try to do better. Not perfect, just better.

I made a delicious loaf of quick bread this weekend. I couldn’t bear to see the blueberries and raspberries in my refrigerator go to waste.

bread

Blueberry Lemon Quick Bread

(fromChezSpice at All Recipes)

  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup white sugar (I reduced this to 2/3 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I didn’t use)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I also added raspberries)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (I didn’t glaze mine, but it sounds good!)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8×4 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat together butter, 1 cup sugar, juice and eggs. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into egg mixture alternately with milk. Fold in lemon zest, nuts, and blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool bread in pan for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Remove bread from pan and drizzle with glaze. Cool on a wire rack.
Bon appétit to all! Don’t be too hard on yourself. Most of us just do the best we can on a daily basis and strive to do a bit better tomorrow. Heed the above advice and I will try to do the same.  Much love and many thanks to all of my readers out there. My heart skips a bit every time I get a notification that I have a new subscriber. 

The right place at the right time

JLAP

It has only been a little over a month since I returned from France. It was an amazing trip with my co-chaperone and 13 of my eighth grade students. While planning the trip, I discovered that there would be a guided tour in English at the Mémorial de la Shoah. My students and I discuss the Holocaust and La Rafle, the round-up of the Jews in Paris in July of 1942. I show them the movie Sarah’s Key, based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mme de Rosnay twice, once by design, once purely by chance. Being in the right place at the right time. In front of the Paris Hôtel de Ville during a rally for women in 2013. She was the guest of honor. All of the women were on motorcycles, including Mme de Rosnay.

tatiana

I’ve been to the Mémorial de la Shoah several times in the past few years. While in Paris in January of this year, I decided to visit Drancy, the site of one of the deportation camps used during the Holocaust. I have read stories of women who survived the camps or who were hidden children during the Holocaust. I have also read fictionalized accounts of the occupation of France by the Nazis such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. My high school French teacher, Mme Christiane Roze Buchanan, lived in occupied France.

IG

On this particular March Sunday afternoon, I arrived with my crew in time for one young lady, who became a Bat Mitzvah in November of 2018, to make a presentation about the Mémorial. (I ask all of the students to sign up for one of the places we will visit and prepare a short presentation about it.) We also had time to take a look at the Wall of Names before our guided tour began (see first two photos). We found a place to sit inside the Mémorial to wait on our guide. There weren’t many places to sit and when another woman came over to join our group, I gave one young man a look that meant “Get up and give your seat to this woman. Now.” He read me well and got up. This woman struck up a conversation with the students she was sitting next to– Where are you from? Why are you in Paris? What have you seen so far? Then the tour began and we took a two-hour journey through the history of anti-semitism and anti-Judaism in France. The tour ended in a relatively small room, with just a few glass benches, and black and white photos of children on the walls. Photos of children taken from their families during the Holocaust. By this time, I was in tears. Just thinking of having my children or granddaughter taken from me is almost more than I can stand. As I sat there, I heard a voice behind me say in French to the guide “J’étais un enfant caché.” I was a hidden child. The voice came from the woman who had joined our tour. The guide asked her in French if she would be willing to share her story. The right place at the right time.

(I am taking this from Monique’s bio- she tells the story much better than I could.)

monique's book

A “hidden child” of the Holocaust taken in France in 1942, Monique Saigal dedicates the new edition of her book to her grandmother Rivka Leiba pictured on the cover, gassed at Auschwitz September 30th, 1942. A month earlier, on August 24th fearing for Monique’s life she threw her on a train carrying non-Jewish children whose fathers like Monique’s had died. An organization called “the house of the prisoners” helped war widows by sending their children to spend a one month vacation with a host family in Southwest France. Scared and alone, Monique arrived at the train station but there was no one to pick her up. However, a young lady Jacqueline Baleste, waiting for a little boy who did not come off the train, saw the little girl with no name-tag crying in the corner. She embraced her and brought her home where Monique lived with the Baleste family for 8 years in a small village. She was baptized and raised Catholic for fear of surrounding Nazis in this occupied zone.

monique photo

After she spoke with the group, Monique gave me a postcard-sized card with her bio. And her email address. I attempted to wipe away my tears and hugged her. Later that evening, I emailed Monique to thank her for sharing her story with us. She quickly emailed back and told me that she would be happy to meet us and share more of her story if we had the time. We settled on a time, she came to our hotel with her power point presentation on her computer, and told us more of her story. Several of my students bought a copy of her book. When she ran out of copies, she told me that she would send some more to me as soon as she got back to California. (She was in Paris to visit her uncle, her mother’s brother.)

monique's inscription

Monique’s book, French Heroines, 1940-1945, available in both French and English, contains the stories of women “who are little known yet who stand out because of their extraordinary courage during the German occupation in World War II, when they risked their lives, engaging in clandestine activities to overcome the Nazis.” There are eighteen stories because in Hebrew “chai” or the number 18 stands for life. I read these eighteen stories and have even reread most of them because their acts of bravery seem unbelievable to someone who spends most of her time worrying about “first world problems.”  I want to believe that I would have been one of those brave women. But I hope that I never have to find out the limits of my bravery and courage.

Merci, Monique. I will never forget our chance encounter. Thank you for being so very brave. God bless your grandmother and the Baleste family.

The right place at the right time. How very fortunate I am.

As I read about the people who were starving during the war, I realized that although my family didn’t have very much money when I was growing up, Mama Mildred always managed to put food on the table for her four children. I made a very simple soup today and I will pass that recipe on. My recipes such as this one are always a guess-timate, as we say in English. Soups do not have to be exact. That’s probably one of the reasons I enjoy creating them. Someone left a bag of Wegman’s Salt Potatoes in the faculty lounge this week and I claimed them. A 5-pound bag of potatoes with a small bag of salt inside. Go figure!

soup

Potato Sausage Soup

Andouille sausage, cut in bite-sized pieces

1 medium or large onion, diced

Minced garlic, optional

Olive oil

Thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed (and peeled, if you wish), cut into bite-sized pieces

Chicken stock or broth (you could also use vegetable stock or even water)

Herbs (I used Weber’s Roasted Garlic and Herb Seasoning)

Salt and pepper, if desired

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the sausage on both sides. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Using the same pot and oil, sauté the onions until soft. If using minced garlic, add it at the end, for about 2 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Put the potatoes in the pot with the onions. Cover the potatoes with chicken stock, broth or water. Add back the sausage. Sprinkle in herbs. Stir. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

Bon appétit to heroes from all walks of life. Big and small. Rich and poor. Old and young. Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or non-believers. And all in-between. To all who perform intentional and/or random acts of kindness in this world. And remember, everyone has a story. We just need to open our hearts and ears and listen. Really listen.

 

Searching for serenity

serenity-prayer-journal

http://www.actsstore.org/

It’s been one of those weeks. I am lucky that I have the Ex-Ex, some very good friends who love me, listen to me, and make me laugh (google tarantula burger and you will see what my BFF has been up to- hearing about that made me guffaw during our walk/therapy session this morning). I spend a great deal of time telling myself that all families have “stuff” and that our “stuff” isn’t as bad as what many are dealing with. I have said before that I am not a particularly religious person (Sorry, Mama Mildred and Best Mother-in-law). I do, however consider myself to be a deeply spiritual person. One friend recommended that I recite the Serenity Prayer over and over to myself. I’ve added it to the Lord is My Shepherd and Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. And today, at the BFF’s suggestion, I decided to go over to Duke Gardens for an hour or so.

duke plaque

First, some wise advice–

garden path

Let’s start with the tulips… I love them. In all shapes, sizes, and colors.

tulip1tulip2tulip3tulip6

Up close and personal

I found a few critters. A very elusive cardinal. Maybe he was just teasing me, flitting from tree to tree.

One of the ponds-

Another sign to respect… but I saw no frogs. And I looked very hard. Is it too early?

frog sign

frog

The azaleas are stunning here right now.

A squirrel… and a bird. Didn’t see the bird until just now!

squirrel

My Daddy loved pink dogwoods. So do I.

I found a quiet spot in the section devoted to native plants to sit and listen to the wind in the pine trees.

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pine trees

And check out the NC plants. No mountain laurel or rhododendrons quite yet.

Yes, the trip to Duke Gardens was just the right recipe for the afternoon.

bird fountain

When I got home, after a stop at Harris Teeter, I decided to try a recipe that I found on a cooking/eating website last week. My boys have always loved rice pudding. I discovered riz au lait a few years ago in France. Kind of the same, but different. In March, I ate it at Odile’s apartment in Paris. I asked her what kind of rice she uses. She told me dessert rice, as if I would know what that is. When I told her that we don’t have that (at least I haven’t found it), she suggested arborio rice, the same one I use to make risotto. Voilà!

coconut rice pudding

Coconut Riz au Lait

from The Novice Chef (Coconut Rice Pudding: Disney Copycat Recipe)

6 servings

1 cup Arborio rice

1-1/4 cups whole milk

13.5 ounce can of coconut milk (not in the dairy section- this is really thick, more like cream)

1 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

In a large heavy pot, mix the rice, whole milk and coconut milk/cream together. Place over high heat.

When the mixture starts to boil, place the lid on top and reduce to low heat. Cook for 13-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is completely cooked.

While the rice is cooking, place the shredded coconut in a pan and toast it over low heat, stirring constantly.

When the rice is cooked, add the condensed milk, heavy cream and cinnamon. Stir well to combine.

Cook on low heat, until the rice has thickened and the mixture is creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat, stir in most of the shredded coconut, saving some to sprinkle on top. Serve warm or chilled.

Bon appétit to all! I wish you all serenity and a beautiful spring, filled with flowers and critters. Take a picnic and enjoy the outdoors. It helps put life into perspective. Even with all of the yellow dust covering everything at the moment!

Early mornings and muffins

cookbook

I am an early riser. Mostly by choice. I love my quiet house. It’s me and the cat- sometimes. Unless she has decided to go back to bed. Right now the heat is on because it’s decided to go down into the 30’s here again. I can hear birds chirping in the trees right outside the window where I am sitting, so I know it is spring. But sometimes I wake up even too early for me. I start worrying about things over which I have no control or can’t change, and sleep is gone. Even the BFF’s trick of counting random numbers doesn’t work. The best thing to do is get up. The Ex-Ex says he gets his best sleep right about the time that I am tossing and turning and I don’t want to wake him up yet. So, here I am. With muffins in the oven. Today it’s Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins. I have a whole army of muffin recipes, but the one I come back to time after time is found in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It’s simple, I can change up the ingredients depending upon what’s in the cupboard, and the Ex-Ex likes them. And my kitchen smells heavenly right now. That helps.

muffins

Early Morning Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins

from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition Pink Plaid, 2006

Makes 12

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup sugar (I used half granulated white and half light brown)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 beaten egg

3/4 cup milk

1/4 cup cooking oil

Streusel Topping (optional)

Combine 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Cut in 2 tablespoons cold butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped nuts, if desired.

  1. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin pan. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the center of flour mixture. Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, combine beaten egg, milk, and oil. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture all at once and stir just until moistened. Batter should be a bit lumpy.
  5. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin pan. If desired, sprinkle with Streusel Topping. (I sometimes just sprinkle Turbinado sugar on the top. Today they are just plain.)
  6. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until done when tested with a toothpick inserted into the center. Cool in muffin cups for 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Serve warm.

Bon appétit and Happy Monday to all of my readers. I wish that I could bake muffins for all of you. In my sleep deprived state I am even thinking “What if I made a different variation of this recipe every morning for a month? Coconut? Carrots? Craisins? Oh boy. Bisous! 

Feeders

I am stealing from Sean Dietrich again today. Can’t help it. I am head over heels in love with this man, his writing, his wife, Jamie, his hound dog, Ellie Mae, and his drawings. I will confess to him that I am using him as my guest blogger once again. I can’t help it with this morning’s story that popped up first thing in Facebook. Even FB knows of my love for Sean. He takes me back to my small town childhood. Sends me right up 1-40, takes the Bakersville Spruce Pine Burnsville exit and points me up the “mountain.” He conjures up Mama Mildred, my Granny, my Grandma Christine, my aunt Jeannette, my mutt Poochie Pie Bell, the church ladies who are still cooking for funerals at Liberty Hill Baptist Church and First Baptist Church. He recently wrote about the death of Rev. Billy Graham and made me realize that the Crusades that I attended and watched on TV sitting on the sofa with Grandma Christine were not just for us North Carolina mountain folk. They even knew him in Alabama? Whoa. Really? Anyway, a while back I wrote about cookers and eaters. Sean made me realize that there is a third category– feeders. (There are also lookers in there somewhere, but I am leery of people who just look…) So without further ado, friends, here are Sean’s musings for today. After this, I will set out the butter and eggs to come to room temperature to concoct my own pound cake. Pound cake is known to cure just about anything. Seriously. Sending you hugs, Mama Mildred. Wish I could do it in person. With a big slice of pound cake just for you.

 

I am in the kitchen with an elderly woman named Pauline. And, dear Lord, can she cook.
Her son, Don, brought me here. He tells me his mother’s downhome fare is good enough to coax even the most depraved human being into behaving like a Pentecostal.
This is Pauline’s old home. She raised a family here. She doesn’t live here anymore, she’s too old. She’s in the retirement home.
This house sits vacant most of the time. Old photos line the walls. Bed sheets cover furniture. The last time they used this place was for a family reunion last year.
I arrive at eight in the morning. The smell of bacon hits me like a freight train. Crackling eggs. Biscuits. Grits. Holy Chet Atkins, I’m home.
Pauline is wearing 1962—red polka-dot apron, pearls. She’s all business. The woman is a feeder. If you don’t know what that is, have a seat at her table.
Her food is breathtaking. Her grits contain so much butter I need to say three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers when I’m finished.
After breakfast, she takes a breather. We wash dishes.
“Now,” she announces. “Let the REAL cooking begin.”
Class is in session.
I’m here as an observer, watching a feeder teach her son to make pound cake. It’s a private moment. I feel privileged to see it.
Don is beside her, paying attention. She uses no recipes. She goes by feel.
“See,” Don tells me, “I always wanted to learn Mama’s poundcake. It’s the best there is, ask anyone, I just wanna carry on her legacy.”
You’ve never met her, but you already know her legacy. She represents every kitchen queen there ever was.
She is frilly aprons, Thursday-night Civic League, pear salad with cherries and shredded cheese on top, and an accent that makes your heart sore.
She cooks by handfuls, gut feelings, intuition, and can cure broken hearts with enough bacon grease.
Pauline learned to cook when she was ten. As a girl, she fed six brothers. As a married woman; three sons and a husband. Her whole life has been behind a stove.
“It’s what I am,” she says. “I feed folks.”
Her hands don’t work like they used to, and she gets winded after talking too much. She is not just an old woman. She is old America.
Her husband was a pipe welder—the backbone of this country. Pauline was his lumbar muscles.
Every day, another elderly woman like her crosses The River and the world loses another recipe index.
Pillsbury tube-biscuits are taking over the universe. Shoot me.
After a full day of baking, Don is testing his pound cake. His mother samples bites like a county-fair judge.
It’s impossible not to smile in this kitchen.
The old woman chews slow. “You DID it,” she says. “I’m so proud of you, Donnie.”
Don becomes “Donnie” again. I see it on his face. Even though he’s old enough to file for AARP, Mama’s pride reduces all grown men into little boys.
She kisses him. The day is over. They send two cakes home with me. They shut the lights off to a vacant house.
I’m eating cake while writing you. My lap is littered with crumbs. I’m no expert, but this cake has a familiar taste. I can’t pinpoint the flavor. It hits the gut first. It’s sweet.
I know what it is.
This cake was made with the same ingredient all feeders use. The only ingredient that matters in this life.
Hug your mother today, if you have one.
Thank you, Sean!
Mama Mildred recently passed on this well-worn cookbook to me. She worked at Baxter’s for several years and we used this cookbook extensively when I was growing up. My sister and I hand wrote quite a few recipes in it on blank pages, including this one:
Mahogany Pound Cake
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, room temperature, separated
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon bkaing soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift flour and cocoa together. Combine sour cream and baking soda. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. Mix just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Spoon into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 325˚ for 1 hour and 15 minutes for until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Bon appétit to all feeders out there. There is a special place in heaven for you. With a tricked out kitchen and a never-ending supply of butter and eggs.