I miss Mayberry

Okay, if you are a Rascal Flatts fan then you know I stole borrowed the title of one of their songs. I don’t think they will get upset when they read today’s blogpost. I think they will be honored. I have been in a bit of a blue mood the past few days. I’ve recently read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. (more about those book in a later post- they deserve their own) I’ve been very bothered by the news that the CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC earned $3.5 million in compensation in 2016. I am trying not worry too much about things that I cannot control. Really I am. Therefore, I am going to a happy place and taking you along for the ride.

The Ex-Ex and I decided to take a couple of days to explore Mount Airy, the town that inspired the Andy Griffith Show’s fictional town of Mayberry. I read an article about hiking at Pilot Mountain (or Mount Pilot in TV-land) and we thought that sounded like fun. It was amazing.

pilot mtn

You can’t hike all the way to the top- that’s for climbers.  But you can hike all around the base.

We did it early in the morning before the 90˚F+ temperature set in.

Back to Mayberry.  As a young’un, I thought that the Andy Griffith Show was only shown in North Carolina.  This was back in the days of three TV stations, television programming signed off after the 11:00 news and the national anthem played, and a TV set was a real piece of furniture.

old tv

And shows were in black and white.  Yep, that’s how old I am.  I now know that New Yorkers, Nebraskans and Delawareans were also watching. I wonder what they thought of us in North Carolinians. Not that I care, truthfully. Sheriff Andy Taylor, played by Mr. Griffith, always taught a lesson, mostly to son Opie, played by Ron Howard, and to his deputy, Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts. All in a 30 minute time slot. Add in a few other characters:

  • Aunt Bea, who showed up in the first episode to help take care of Andy and Opie. There was never much mention of Opie’s ma, except to say that she had died.
  • Floyd, the ditzy barber (I saw this t-shirt at a wine festival)

pink floyd

  • Otis Campbell, the lovable town drunk who would just lock himself in his cell after he got loaded

otis' cell

  • Howard Sprague, the county clerk, a mama’s boy

hsprague

  • Gomer, a gas station attendant with an amazing singing voice (Grandma Christine loved him and had fantasy lunches with him) who later went on to have his own show after he joined the Marines
  • Goober, Gomer’s cousin who also worked at Wally’s
  • Miss Crump, a school teacher who later married Andy
  • Thelma Lou, Barney’s main squeeze (she is still alive and was signing autographs the day we were at the Andy Griffith Museum- we didn’t want to wait in line or pay to get one but later saw a lady who had an autograph on her pink purse)

andyhelenbarneythelmalou

  • The Darlins, a musical family of hillbillies who periodically came to town, usually bringing moonshine with them as I recall

darlin truck

  • Ernest T. Bass, a wiry little hillbilly who had a penchant for throwing rocks and climbing trees (I have a second cousin who reminds me of Ernest T)

ernestt brick

There were others, but these are the ones I remember the most.

Andy Griffith lived in Mount Airy until he left to attend the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. You can even rent out his family home and spend the night there.

andy's house.jpg

At his recently renovated museum, I learned that he was a teacher at Goldsboro High School for a few years.  Who knew? Not me. Quite a few of his personal belongings were donated to the museum.  His guitar-

andy'sguitar

Some evenings after supper, Sheriff Taylor would sit on the porch and play.

There are also quite a few things from the set of the show. The doors to the courthouse/jail-

courthouse doors

Barney’s sidecar-

sidecar

The one artifact that I found especially touching is the white suit that Andy Griffith wore for his part in Brad Paisley’s video for the song Waitin’ on a Woman. The video was filmed in 2008, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where Andy spent his final years.

waitingonawoman

Paisley’s 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times tells the story of how it came about. Andy passed away four years after the video was made.  I double dog dare you not to shed at least one tear watching it.  Rest in peace, Mr. Griffiths.

While we were in Mayberry Mount Airy, we had breakfast at Snappy Lunch, made famous in the TV show.  It is the only real place in Mount Airy mentioned on the show.

snappy sign

According to the fellow sharing the lunch counter with us at Snappy, a local, Snappy was delivering lunches to the local high school, which was just up the street back in the day, for years before the school got a cafeteria.  It is quite famous for its pork chop sandwich, which Our State magazine has written about, even suggesting it should be our State Sandwich.

ourstate

So, I had one for breakfast.

I didn’t expect to be wowed. Just a fried boneless pork chop, with slaw, a tomato slice, chili and mustard on a regular old hamburger bun, right? I loved every bite.  Truly.  I would go back just to have another one.  And I vote YES!  A young guy stands in the window and cooks the pork chops for all the passers-by to watch. Snappy keeps short hours, opening around 6:00 am and closing around 2:00 pm, it isn’t open on Sundays and it isn’t very big. It has two rooms for eaters, the front room filled mostly with locals (and us at the counter) and tourists in the room to the side, it seemed. The Pork Chop Sandwich costs $4.20. I got a bag of chips with mine- no fries that day.

snappywindow

I love the Appalachian State hat! Go Mountaineers!

I found a blog, Happy Hodgepodge Home, with a recipe for the sandwich.  Try it if you would like. I don’t think I am going to try it myself.  I want the memory of the sandwich to be unsullied by my own feeble attempts at reproducing it. If you try it, let me know how it turns out.  Might be best to have it with a Cheerwine, a drink concocted in Salisbury, NC in 1917. (I’ve seen advertisements for a Krispy Kreme Cheerwine doughnut, but I haven’t had one. Yet.) I did find a recipe for a Cheerwine Pound Cake in an article in Our State.  This might be worth a try! Who doesn’t love pound cake?

Cheerwine Pound Cake

Makes one 10-inch cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Cheerwine soft drink
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Red food coloring gel, as desired (optional)
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch, light-colored metal tube (angel food) pan, tapping out any excess flour. (A dark metal or heavy Bundt pan will make the crust too dark and thick and will interfere with the baking time.)

2. Beat the butter, shortening, and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer set to high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Whisk together the flour and salt in another large bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in thirds, alternating with half of the Cheerwine, beating only until the batter is smooth after each addition. Quickly beat in the lemon and almond extract.

5. If you want the cake to have a deep pink color that suggests Cheerwine, tint the batter with the gel. Start with a little and work up to the desired shade, keeping in mind that a large amount of food coloring can make the cake taste bitter.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Gently tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.

7. Cool the cake in the pan set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out the cake onto the rack and let cool to room temperature. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if you wish.

Maybe you could make a drizzled sort of icing with confectioners’ sugar and Cheerwine? Just thinking here.  Haven’t tried it.

biscuitsandgravy

Bon appétit to all!  If you’ve never been to Mount Airy or Pilot Mountain, go!  I bet it is beautiful in the fall, when the leaves change color.  Be ready for a charming small town and very nice Southern folk.  But before you go, watch a few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.  Goober says Hey! If you are lucky and it’s a Saturday morning, maybe these guys will be sitting around playing some old songs.

menplaying music

 

Once a mom…

sleeping in chair

…always a mom. These two little critters are now 29 and 24. When I look at photos like this one I want to turn the clock back. Please? Just for a little while? What would I do differently? Nag more? Worry less? Check homework more often? Read more stories at bedtime? Feed them more vegetables? Make more of their favorite cookies?

I try not to second guess myself too much.  They have turned into amazing young men and I am very proud of them. They both graduated from Durham Academy, where I teach, an academically demanding school.  Each had to be in my French classes in the middle school, one for three years, the other for two. They were lifers, attending DA for 14 years each. They were very good athletes, balancing homework, practices and games. Both won awards and were team captains in their respective sports. One had to play basketball for his dad. Both graduated from college, one from Guilford College, the other from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Go Quakers. Go Vols. Son #1 played college basketball, the equivalent of working a demanding part-time job. He is now a dad (hence my previous posts about the joys of grandmotherhood). And a very good one. He is moving into a new job in his chosen field of school administration and teaching. He has brought EB into our life, my chance to finally have a daughter. Buddha dog is pretty cool, too. Son #2 is in law school and has successfully interned with a real estate law firm for the past year. He has moved twice since his Knoxville days, now settling into Charleston, SC, a city I plan to visit soon. He has a girlfriend and we are already quite fond of her and her sweet pup. They recently adopted a kitten they named Charlotte after the city where they met (Charlie for short).

These darlings aren’t perfect. Neither am I. Not by a long shot. We’ve laughed, cried, yelled, played hours of UNO, SkipBo, and now Cards Against Humanity games, eaten many, many breakfast-for-dinner meals, hugged, covered thousands of miles on family road trips to Nebraska, Québec, DC and to the NC mountains and beach, watched countless sporting events together whether on TV or in person, laughed at silly sitcoms and game shows such as Whose Line Is It Anyway, learned to count in español with the Sesame Street gang, sung along with Barney while wearing Barney bedroom slippers, tried to figure out the ending to several seasons of CSI, watched Disney movies from the late ’80’s to the mid-2000’s, including The Little Mermaid about a million times, eaten more than our fair share of popsicles and bags of microwave popcorn, read every single Berenstain Bears book multiple times, built lego spaceships and castles… I could go on and on, but I risk making myself cry if I keep this up. Right now, the eyes are just a bit misty. I just hope that they know that I have done my best.  (Now, I am crying.)

Some favorite photos–

 

2009beach

Jakes grad 11

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I love you, Son #1 and Son #2.  You are all I could ever have hoped for in the mom department.

Son #1’s Sausage and Brie Bites

Son #1 loves to make these at the beach and on our back deck. Buy whatever kind of sausage you like- we usually buy andouille. Cut it into bite-sized pieces (but not too small). Choose a good creamy French Brie cheese and leave it out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. We usually use Triscuit crackers for our feast. Fire up the grill. Cook the sausages, being careful not to lose any to the coals! Sprinkle with red pepper flakes or any other seasonings or sauces you like.  Voilà.  Let the party begin.

Son’s #2’s Shrimp and Grits with Sausage

peeling shrimp

Grits
1 c. grits
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 c. cheese (extra sharp white cheddar or Gouda)
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Cayenne pepper, paprika, Tabasco, salt and pepper, to taste (usually better to start with small amounts, taste and adjust)

Cook grits according to instructions on package.  As grits are finishing, whisk in butter, cheeses and seasonings.  Cover and keep warm.

Shrimp
3 Tbsp. each butter and olive oil
2 c. sliced leeks
1/2 c. chopped shallots
3 tsp. minced garlic
1-1/2 lbs. 20-30 count shrimp
4-5 grilled andouille sausages, cut into bite-sized slices
1/2 dry white wine or vegetable stock
Chopped roma tomatoes, if desired
4-5 strips of bacon fried crisp
Salt and pepper
Fresh parsley, for garnish, if desired

This cooks very quickly.  Be sure to have everything ready and easy to reach before beginning.
Heat large skillet until hot.  Add olive oil and butter.  As oil begins to smoke, add leeks and shallots.  Sauté until translucent.  Toss in shrimp to cover bottom of pan.  Before stirring, add salt and pepper.  Stir until shrimp just begin to turn pink all over.  Let pan return to original hot temperature.  Stir in garlic and be careful not to burn it.  Add sausages.  Deglaze pan by adding wine or vegetable stock.  Stir for about 30 seconds or until everything is well-coated.  Add tomatoes, if using, and toss for about 20 seconds.  Serve immediately.

To serve:
Spoon grits on to plate.  Spoon shrimp/sausage mixture on top of grits.  Crumble bacon on top.   Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Bon appétit to all moms and sons. To all families in all shapes and sizes. Hug each other as often as possible.

 

Another trip around the sun

kenn&mejly26

It has been quite a year. And here is the best thing that happened during my 58th year on this earth.  The birth of this darling nugget. It snuck up on me. It wasn’t something that I gave a lot of thought to– after all, it wasn’t up to me! But what happiness my granddaughter has brought to my heart in the past five months. Oh, the places we will go and the things we will do, my Little Pumpkin.

The rest of the year in numbers. In no particular order (that would take too much organization on my part):

2 Brad Paisley concerts, thanks to the BFF and her Boss, pit passes no less.

3 Wine and Design classes, with friends, colleagues, and students.

3 trips to the mountains.  Boone, Brevard, Blowing Rock, Table Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Spruce Pine.

Too many macarons to count. Made by me, my students, local bakeries, bakers in Paris.

 

1 visit to the grotto of St. Bernadette near Linville, NC to pray for Mama Mildred’s health.

stbernadette

1 hug from Buddy Melton during intermission at a Balsam Range concert in Cary with Arles Lucy. I kind of snuck up on him during intermission. To quote Childhood Friend, who plays guitar, “Damn fiddlers get all the hot girls…” Flattery.

If you are interested, here is their latest video for “Something ‘Bout That Suitcase” one of my favorites from the Mountain Voodoo CD.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/225107197″>Something 'Bout That Suitcase &ndash;Dedication to Fans</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user4482073″>Mark Skoultchi</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

2 trips to France with ACIS. January and March. On the new non-stop flight from RDU-CDG. I love this, Delta.  Please, please, please keep it around.

ET1

1 dinner at La Tour Eiffel 58.

2 visits with Vincent at le Musée d’Orsay.

2 Duke football games. I didn’t bring them luck.  They lost both.  Sorry, Coach Cut.

2 trips to the beach. Sunset and Carolina.

2 sons, 2 women, 2 dogs.

Many, many beautiful roses.

2 outings to the Rooftop Bar at the Durham Hotel.

A few glasses of North Carolina cider, even a visit to Appalachian Mountain Brewery in Boone.

1 cemetery visit in Paris to find Lafayette and pay my respects (with a beautiful rose bought at an outdoor flower market near La Madeleine).

lafayette

1 North Carolina flag delivered to a French school, Collège Anne-Marie Javouhey in Senlis.

ncflag

5 friends, French and American, in France with me. Actually, there were 6, but AP isn’t pictured with me. Oops. I experimented with making memes just for him…

AP meme

1 Christmas.

christmas

Way too many baked goodies.  Is there such a thing as too many?? Ask the Ex-Ex.

3 reunions.  One with my 2016 France trip group, one with 4 classmates from high school– Harris High Class of ’76, one with my first class of 7th graders, celebrating their 30th reunion (the same night, Son #1 celebrated his 10th and Son #2 his 5th).

There is so much more I could add. I had a very full year. New friends made. Old friendships strengthened. A few friends and relatives lost. Adventures. Family love and a bit of heartbreak. All of the intangibles that make another trip around the sun so very worthwhile. Here’s to the beginning of year 59.

For Son #1’s senior chorus performance, he asked me to perform a song with him.  We chose the Jimmy Buffet / Martina McBride duet Trip Around the Sun. Enjoy.

I made Blueberry Skillet Cake last week.  A good use for my iron skillet (it will be the subject of an upcoming blogpost) and the fresh blueberries I had in the refrigerator.

bleuberry pie

Cowboy Skillet Blueberry Cake

from a tea towel purchased at Fort Robinson State Park Nebraska

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Combine in a bowl and stir a little to mix:

1-1/4 c. all-purpose flour

1 c. granulated white sugar (I cut this down to 1/2 cup)

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

In a separate bowl, whisk, then set aside:

2 large eggs

1-1/4 c. milk (I used buttermilk)

In a 10″ iron skillet, melt:

8 Tbsp. of butter

When butter has cooled, add to egg mixture and stir.  Add this to dry ingredients and mix well.

Stir in:

1/4 tsp. lemon extract

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Fold in:

1-1/2 blueberries (you can use any kind of fruit and change up the flavorings, if you feel like it- depending on what is in season or what’s in the freezer; I’ve used apples & cinnamon, cherries & almonds, peaches)

Pour into cast iron skillet.

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

1/4 c. sugar

zest of 1 small lemon

Bake 25-30 minutes or until cake tests done.

Bon appétit!  Here’s to many more trips around the sun for my friends, family, and moi!  Keep breathing! Grabbing my toes like this would be fun… but I think that I will leave that to Nugget.

kennupsidedown

 

 

 

Lucky and Crippled Crow

Today’s guest blogger is the Ex-Ex.  I will let him tell the tale of our sixth day at the beach.

star2

So, when you walk on the beach with Sabbatical Chef you’re supposed to keep your head down – looking for the perfect shell.  I try.  But I often get distracted by the waves, the sand castles, the red, white and blue swim suits……of all shapes and sizes.  I really try to keep my eyes on the sand because I do want to find that perfect shell or sand dollar for her. But it’s hard. Sunset Beach is beautiful, but not full of shells…it’s hard to pay attention to the sand.  Mostly all you see are “bits and pieces.” It’s hard for me to stay focused.

Well, today as we’re walking, I spot a “crippled crow”.  An ordinary black crow that is generally a nuisance at the beach. But he’s hard to not like….he’s lame, mostly hopping on one foot along the sand. Then I see what he sees and why he’s hopping near the surf. He’s found a four-armed starfish.  A starfish on the beach is a rare sight and a major find for beachcombers like Sabbatical Chef and me….when I’m paying attention.  My interest  and concern immediately leave Crippled Crow.  I’m sure he’ll be OK.  He seems fine hopping and, after all, he can still fly.  Now I’m worried about the starfish that Crippled Crow was about to eat and, if he’s not alive, then he’s the perfect beach find.  Either way I’m going to save him from Crippled Crow.  Sabbatical Chef will love it if I can deliver a starfish to her collection….even if it only has four arms!  “Lucky” the four-armed starfish is already a goner….so he’s better off in Sabbatical Chef’s beach week shell collection than being picked over by Crippled Crow.  Lucky, I’m sure, had a good life at sea.  Even if somehow he lost an arm, I bet he had some stories to tell.  So, being rescued by me and becoming the crown jewel in Sabbatical Chef’s 2017 “bits and pieces” collection is a fitting and deserving way for him to spend his summer of 2017….and help us remember ours……

Bon appétit to all beachcombers.  Thanks for reading the Ex-Ex’s story.  Actually, I think that Lucky will become a part of the little collection of bits and pieces that I will put in a jar and save for Adorable Granddaughter to one day remind her of her first trip to Sunset Beach.

Bits and pieces

shells

I used to roam the beach looking for whole, perfect shells and sand dollars. I spent more time looking down than looking up. Now I just pick up whatever I happen to see that strikes my fancy.  Bits and pieces. Odds and ends.  Kind of like last night’s dinner here at the house we are renting for the week.  Cheese and crackers, blackened sausage, hummus, carrots, peppers, cucumbers and broccoli with ranch dip and leftover Frogmore Stew. Really good at the end of a long day spent sitting in the sun and trying to hit 10,000 steps on the Fitbit by walking to the end of the island.

Cooper, the Wonder Dog, was relaxing and hoping for a bit or piece of something tasty to come his way. Cooper belongs to Son #2’s girlfriend.

cooper

There has been some great first-thing-in-the-morning play time with the Cutest Baby in the World for both Granddad and Gramma.

kennedy steve

kennedy

Some fireworks in the distance, at Ocean Isle, on July 3.  All the beauty, none of the noise.

fireworks

Fireworks are illegal on Sunset Beach due to fire hazard, but that didn’t stop some of our neighbors. The police cruised by multiple times trying to find the culprits. The Ex-Ex and Brother-in-law were questioned when they decided to go out and check out what was happening, but they didn’t come home in handcuffs in the back of a squad car so I guess they were believable.

The Ex-Ex captured a lovely shot during a moonlit walk towards the pier.  Sort of Starry Night Over The Rhône-ish with the reflections on the water, I think.

pier

Son #1 and his two beautiful girls had to go back home because he has a follow up job interview this morning.  Fingers crossed. They will return in a few hours.

At this very moment, the Ex-Ex is still sleeping, as are Son #2, Cooper and his owner. Best Sister-in-law-in-the-World is checking out what’s happening on her iPad. Brother-in-law has gone out for a long bike ride.  When he comes back, he will turn on the TV to check out Stage 4 of the Tour de France. Vittel to La Planche des Belles Filles.

route17

I have to admit that I don’t care who wins.  I watch for the scenery.

I am an early riser, even when on vacation. I have been washing clothes, turning on the dishwasher, pitting cherries and making muffins, and reading my beach week book, See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I am getting attached to Colin, one of the main characters, and I am afraid that something bad is going to happen to him. I will hope for the best.  It is set in Wilmington, a city in North Carolina only about 50 miles from where I sit right now.

Life comes in bits and pieces.  Not perfect, but sometimes perfect for me. My week at the beach is just that. Surrounded by the people I love, my family once again under one roof, no plans, nothing that has to be done, the smell of warm muffins filling the house. And a view of the Atlantic Ocean from where I sit writing this.  Life is good. Every bit and piece of it right now.

muffins batter

Cherry Vanilla Muffins

makes 12

1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/3 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, beaten

1/4 c. oil or melted butter

3/4 c. milk (this time I used a mixture of vanilla Greek yogurt and milk)

1-1/2 c. pitted, chopped cherries

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top, if desired, for a nice crunch

Prepare the muffin tin by lining with paper cups or spraying with non-stick spray. Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the middle.

Add the beaten egg, milk (and yogurt, if using), oil (or melted butter). Stir just until combined. Fold in cherries. Sprinkle sugar on top, if using.

Spoon the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups. Bake for about 15 minutes or until muffins test done.

muffin

Sister-in-law said spreading butter on top of a warm muffin was pretty tasty.

Bon appétit and have a lovely day.  If you can’t be with your favorite people, let them know you are thinking about them. The beach is calling and I must answer.

 

 

 

 

#frenchproblems

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Image: Lina Nordin

Social media could take over a person’s life.  Am I right?  Tweets, Instagram, Facebook posts and private messages just to name the ones I actually have on my phone.  Lord only knows how many more there are and how many more are either in the works or in someone’s head about to pop out. I tweet once in a blue moon, I post photos on Instagram just about as often. Facebook and I are buddies. I mean, how amazing that I can “talk” to my French friends in real time. Back in the olden days, way before the internet and cell phones, when regular phone calls to and from France cost a small fortune (not to mention that in 1978 I had to give Mama Mildred’s phone number to a woman at la poste, who would pretend not to understand my French thus reducing me to tears, and ask her to dial it for me, I would go to a bank of phones, talk to Mama for 30 seconds or so, then give the woman however many French francs she demanded, hoping that I understood her number and didn’t give her 10 times more than she asked for). Ah, the good old days.  Damn traumatic is more like it.  At least that first time in Paris. And letters? They took (and still take, by the way) 7-10 days to arrive, if they arrived at all. I’ve watched postal workers take my postcards, stick them up on a shelf, then assure me that they will get to my friends, Mama, husband and/or children in the U.S. But for all of that, I do not allow my students to randomly use their cell phones except to take photos and check the time.  No text messaging, snapchatting, instragramming, or whatever kids do these days. They may most certainly check in with their parents and pals once we are back at the hotel and checked in for the night. I am careful to follow my own rules as well.  It’s called living in the moment.  And having something to show and tell everyone when you get home.

I digress un peu. I came across a very funny article in The Local this morning.  Tell me that this would not pique your interest if you are at all interested in France.

Twitter reveals 25 everyday ‘problems’ about life in France

I could not not read that, could I?  And then try to locate my Twitter password (I couldn’t so I had to change it), log on, and follow this group (or whatever a group is called on Twitter). #franceproblems

Here’s the run-down on the list with my experiences noted.

  1. Waiters giving women their phone numbers.  Even as a femme d’un certain âge, I have to admit this is rather flattering.  Harmless really. It happened to me about three years ago during a solo January trip, but it wasn’t a waiter,  but a museum guard at Le Grand Palais.  I had just seen an exhibit about Gertrude Stein and her art collection and was exiting the exhibit when a guard stopped me. Of course, the first thing that popped into my head is that I swear I did not touch a painting. Did I take photos? No flash? Was it even allowed? No, he just wanted to tell me how beautiful I am, ask me my name (that day I became Isabella) and give me his phone number on a slip of paper.
  2. Kiss vs handshake.  Okay, this can be a bit worrisome.  Kiss your friends.  How many times?  Twice? Three times? Depends on where you are in France. In Paris and northern France I’ve found that two times suffices.  With my friends in the south of France, it’s usually three.  Total strangers? A very quick handshake will do. Not the pumping thing that Americans tend to do sometimes.  I practice with my students. Not les bises, just the handshake. I call in a nearby teacher to help me with the kissing thing. But no hugs. At least not unless they are very good friends and grab you first.
  3. Somewhere to eat in the late afternoon. The French eat at meal times, my American friends. They are not a nation of snackers and eat anytime you please people.  Look around you next time you are there. They are not obese. Plan your meals a little more carefully when you are there.  Or find a café that is open all day. No, it won’t be a Michelin star restaurant, but it will tide you over. And dinner before 6:00 pm? Never. Apéritifs, the after work drinks with a friend, but even dinner at 6:00 is a ridiculous idea.  Usually around 8:00-8:30 pm for families.  Later in Paris on a night out perhaps or the weekend.
  4. Resisting the temptations of French cuisine. Ha! I do not do that. Why? Moderation and the knowledge that you are walking many kilometers a day help. Resist a chocolate dessert?  A pretty pink macaron from Pierre Hermé?  An éclair at Christophe Adam’s shop? Jamais. Now, granted when living there, you really have to practice that moderation thing. But I found that the food at meals was so incredibly satisfying that I didn’t really need to overindulge. Sweets aren’t as sugary there either. (Dare I say sugar is the downfall of the American diet?)
  5. Baguettes.  No preservatives are used so you must consume the whole thing within a few hours and buy a new one tonight or tomorrow. Otherwise you are looking at a baseball bat not fit to consume unless you are going to toast it a bit, throw on some gruyère cheese and add it to the top of your soupe à l’oignon. The government controls the price of basic baguettes so that everyone can afford them.  There is also a yearly baguette competition in Paris with the winner supplying baguettes to M. Le Président for a year.  How cool is that? I try to remember to check the list, write down the address of the top finishers and try one.  Well worth it.
  6. Planning Sunday meal in advance. Or buying anything much on Sunday. If grocery stores are open on Sunday, it is for a short period of time in the early morning.  Day of rest. Time with families. Think and plan ahead. Period. I learned that when I thought I would run over to Monoprix in Arles one Sunday afternoon to pick up a few things I needed.  Guess again. I sat down at a café for a glass of rosé instead, wrote some postcards and people-watched instead.  Much more fun.
  7. French hobbies- striking and smoking. It does seem that a lot of French people smoke.  The crowd I hang with at home does not. When I go home to my little mountain town in NC, there is still plenty of evidence of smokers. French cigarette packages are not pretty– they carry the words Fumer Tuer or something to that effect in big black letters.  Smoking kills. Strikes?  Yes, they can be very inconvenient for visitors.  No trash pick up.  No train. No public transportation. No museum guards. No postal service. No air traffic controllers. It seems to be a part of the way they get things done… better pay, better benefits.  Maybe it all dates back to the Revolution, what do I know of such things.  There are unions for teachers in the US, but not in my state.  It’s illegal.
  8. Filling out forms- French bureaucracy.  I have heard horror stories, but I have no firsthand knowledge of this one.  You are on your own if you decide to move over, buy a house or even apply for a visa. Talk to someone who has lived through it and get some sound advice (from an American, not a Frenchman- you will probably just get a Gallic shoulder shrug and a C’est comme ça or C’est normal.)
  9. Red wine, smelly cheese and kissing your boyfriend afterwards.  Seriously? This is a problem? Not in my book. I have nothing to add. Except maybe eat some of the cheese yourself and slurp some Côtes du Rhône with him and then you won’t notice.
  10. Face cream that smells like Camembert and has to be kept in the fridge.  Never heard of it.  Désolée.  I just use a basic American brand, nothing fancy or smelly. In Arles, we did have a small refrigerator just for the cheese, though.  Smelly?  Oh yeah.  Délicieux aussi.
  11. Watch where you walk- dog poop.  Very real danger. And smelly to boot. Yes, everyone is supposed to carry plastic baggies and clean up after Fifi when she does her business, but does it always happen in any city?  Non. And one day in Paris, I did overhear an older monsieur berating a jeune homme for not cleaning up after his chien. A real tongue-lashing.  The French love their dogs and there are many mostly well-behaved ones.  They take them almost everywhere they go- with the exception of museums and supermarkets.
  12. Looking chic- no sweatpants in public.  It’s a thing. I did not wear mine outside of the house. I don’t take any with me when I go. You do not have to look like you stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, Elle, for instance, but watch the jogging and yoga clothes in public unless you really are going running.  Yoga clothes would probably be changed into in the studio. If you want to wear sneakers, Converse and Vans are popular. When my feet are killing me and I must wear mine, I have black ones that don’t scream tourist. I already wear a lot of black.  And scarves. Casual is fine- meaning jeans. Put together, I guess you’d say.
  13. Fiscal stamps needed for visas.  Once again, no experience here.  Take a good book to read and just don’t be in a rush.  Won’t help.  Will only make you très mad and trop frustrated. Have a nice drink  and people watch at a café afterwards to calm down.
  14. Good meat pie. Seriously? You miss that? Try Québec and their lovely tourtière next vacation.  If you are living there, make one yourself. Feed it to a Frenchie to gauge their interest. That’s always fun. You will know if they don’t like it. And you will know if they do. And then maybe you will start the next food fad.
  15. Frenchmen find their next love on the street.  Well… one lovely January Sunday afternoon I was strolling (flâner– I love this word) along the Seine making my way towards Notre Dame. I felt as if someone was following me, well, not really following, just walking along parallel to me.  Sure enough. A nicely dressed Frenchman struck up a conversation. He even asked if he could buy me a souvenir at one of the bouquinistes stands.  Mais oui, merci, monsieur. When he asked if I’d like to stop somewhere for a coffee or a drink, I declined and told him that I was meeting friends at Notre Dame.  Was I? Non. But he didn’t press the issue and got lost, perhaps looking for another single woman to buy a salt and pepper shaker for. I didn’t feel threatened or harassed. It was broad daylight, there were a million other people strolling the same as we were, I speak French well.
  16. Breakfast- no eggs and bacon.  The French do not eat eggs before lunch and then they will be in an omelette, quiche or hard-boiled with a lovely house made mayonnaise spread on top.  Bread, butter, jam, yogurt, fruit, coffee, tea or hot chocolate for le petit déj.  Voilà. Who am I to argue with a baguette or croissant or pain aux raisins.
  17. Train strikes.  A pain in the neck. They are usually announced beforehand so that you are warned. See #7. I’ve missed a side trip or two due to this. C’est la vie.
  18. Finding an open food store after work or a late class. Check times for the corner grocery store.  Plan ahead.  What else can I say? The French like to go home to dinner, too. Easier to find an open one in Paris than in smaller towns.
  19. Banks and businesses that close for lunch.  Mealtimes are sacred, in case you haven’t caught on, even for bank employees and shop clerks. Sacred. An hour and a half usually.  No running errands during lunch.  Barbarians do that. Eat. Have a nice lunch break. Don’t eat in the car or at your desk. A picnic outside if the weather is nice.
  20. Becoming addicted to French cheese.  This is a problem?? Only if you have to go home and you can’t find your favorite kind(s) or you have to pay a small fortune for it. I don’t think you will find a recovery group for this. I dream about fresh chèvre and Camembert or Brie served at just the right temperature. But remember, it is NOT eaten as an hors-d’oeuvre in France. Cheese has it’s own course, after the main course and green leaf salad dressed with house made vinaigrette. Three choices usually suffice. A cow’s milk, sheep perhaps, and a goat. Mon dieu, I miss the cheese.  Or as the French say– Le fromage me manque.  The cheese is lacking to me.
  21. Obtaining a French visa for non-EU citizens.  I am a non-EU citizen, but I have never tried to apply for a visa.  When my dream school or company hires me, I am sure they will take of that for me. Right?
  22. Drinking coffee. Well, I drink it with lots of hot milk for breakfast, but I never adapted to the custom of little cups of espresso after lunch and dinner and at a coffee break in between.  I do get disbelieving stares sometimes in restaurants, but I imagine they are thinking — Eh, l’Américaine. With the Gallic shrug. That explains it.
  23. Listening to neighbors have sex.  No comment. Not touching that one.
  24. Having your French corrected. It happens. Take it for what it’s worth. A quick smile and apology for butchering their lovely language will usually get the corrector off your back.  Once again, you may get the Eh, l’Américaine look. After all, the corrector probably does not speak English and is not aware that we do not have that guttural R thing in our language nor do we care about all words flowing together nicely. Most Frenchies are very nice to me and think that I have un accent charmant. I have learned to take that as a compliment. I try. It took me a while to accept the fact that I will never sound like a Française.  Pas possible. I started learning French at the age of 14 or 15.  Too late. But I will keep trying until I draw my last breath.
  25. Shower curtains and hand-held shower heads.  The shower curtain thing puzzles me, too. Some hotels have half glass doors. That, mes amis, does not protect against water all over the floor.  And I am very careful. Imagine the angst I suffer when taking 14 year-olds to stay in French hotels.  I am lucky we have never had to pay for a flooded room below. I pray to the shower gods about this every March. The hand-held things sometimes attach to the wall, sometimes not. I just sit and take a shower-bath, if necessary.  After all, I AM IN FRANCE.  What is there really to complain about?

The blue and yellow salt and pepper shakers hugging are my souvenir from the Random French Man day.  On my shelf of do-dads in my classroom!

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Bon appétit!  Hope you learned something! 

Got Gratitude?

gratitude board

I am not especially fond of photos of myself, but this is the only one I could find of my Got Gratitude? classroom bulletin board.  I do not and I repeat, emphatically, do not like creating bulletin boards.  I have only one in my classroom. I come up with an idea at the beginning of the year and I do not change it. For the past few years, I’ve gone with the gratitude theme and I add every thank you note that I receive during the year. Today I came across an article called Why Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life. I started reading because this is something that I am very interested in. I obviously love to write. I would write this blog even if no one showed up to read it (but I am very grateful to those of you who do- trust me). When I was younger, I kept a diary.  I have no earthly idea where those little books filled with teen-age angst are, but I wish that I did. I also kept one when I got married 35 years ago.  No idea where that one is either unfortunately. I used to write letters when I was upset, pouring out my feelings on paper. I would reread them, my anger usually dissipating, and then burn the letters in our fireplace. When and why did I stop doing that?  Probably when I went away to college.

So, what does keeping a journal have to do with gratitude? Benjamin P. Hardy, the author of the article, had already hooked me, but about halfway through the article he hit upon the subject near and dear to my heart:

Journaling Increases Your Gratitude

Even if you start a journal session in a bad mood, the insight writing brings has a subtle way of shifting your mind towards gratitude.

When you start writing what you’re grateful for, new chambers of thought open in the palace of your mind. You’ll often need to put your pen down and take a few overwhelming breathes. You’ll be captivated not only by the amazing things in your life, but by the awe and brilliance of life in general.

As part of your morning and post-work journaling sessions, be sure to include some gratitude in your writing. It will change your entire life orientation from scarcity to abundance. The world will increasingly become your oyster.

Gratitude journaling is a scientifically proven way to overcome several psychological challenges. The benefits are seemingly endless. Here are just a few:

  • Gratitude makes you happier
  • Gratitude makes other people like you
  • Gratitude makes you healthier
  • Gratitude boosts your career
  • Gratitude strengthens your emotions
  • Gratitude develops your personality
  • Gratitude makes you more optimistic
  • Gratitude reduces materialism
  • Gratitude increases spirituality
  • Gratitude makes you less self-centered
  • Gratitude increases your self-esteem
  • Gratitude improves your sleep
  • Gratitude keeps you away from the doctor by strengthening physiological functioning
  • Gratitude lets you live longer
  • Gratitude increases your energy levels
  • Gratitude makes you more likely to exercise
  • Gratitude helps you bounce back from challenges
  • Gratitude makes you feel good
  • Gratitude makes your memories happier (think of Pixar’s Inside Out)
  • Gratitude reduces feelings of envy
  • Gratitude helps you relax
  • Gratitude makes you friendlier
  • Gratitude helps your marriage
  • Gratitude makes you look good
  • Gratitude deepens your friendships
  • Gratitude makes you a more effective manager
  • Gratitude helps you network
  • Gratitude increases your goal achievement
  • Gratitude improves your decision making
  • Gratitude increases your productivity

Mr. Hardy’s list is much longer than the ones I have come up with on my own, but I truly believe every single one of them. I believe that focusing on what I am thankful for keeps my mind from wandering to the past and all of the things that I wish that I had done differently or the words that I wish I could take back. I try to practice what I preach with my students. We write thank you notes at Thanksgiving, during several of our advisory sessions, and my 8th graders have to write a thank you letter- en français bien sûr, for the writing section of their final exam in my French 2 class.  I give them guidelines and they can write it in advance and bring it to the exam. I promise that I will mail them. I just put letters addressed to Kobe Bryant, Zinedine Zidane, Paul Van Haver (aka Stromae), several sets of grandparents, a dog named Norman, Bertrand, the tour manager for our March France trip (if you ever need a tour guide in Paris or other parts of Paris, check out My Private Paris), three faculty members, one brother, and two sisters in the mail today, keeping a few for myself.

I will begin a journal. Not an on-line one. An old-fashioned one in a notebook, using a favorite pen. (I am truly obsessed with pens. It’s insane.) I will collect quotes and follow guidelines that I set for myself, using some from the article on journaling. I will Dream Big, Have fun, Share (some of what I write), Try new things, Always tell the truth, and do my best.

mat

I think I may even start with this:

Note to self

What do you think? Do you keep a journal or diary? If so, do you share it with anyone or is it strictly for your eyes only?

Here’s a recipe to be grateful for… JC made these the other night for a potluck dinner.  I ate mine so fast that there was no time for a photo.

Judy’s Cream Cheese Brownies

from Taste of Home

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces German sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
  • FILLING:
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate and butter on high until butter is melted; stir until smooth. Whisk in sugar until blended. Whisk in extracts and eggs, one at a time. Stir in flour mixture. Pour half of the batter into a greased 8-in. square baking dish. Beat together filling ingredients until blended; spoon over batter in pan. Spoon remaining batter over top. Swirl gently with a knife. Bake until filling is set, 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Cut into bars. Refrigerate leftovers.

Yield: 2 dozen.

Bon appétit, my grateful friends and family! Make a gratitude list.  Make it an experiment and see if it makes you feel better.  Tell someone that you are grateful for them. Send a note, an email, a text or call them.  

Labels

Intelligent Extrovert
Most defining characteristics: You are lively, outgoing and emotionally open. You are a leader. 

As you probably already know, you are a born leader. You are a very charismatic, passionate, mature and calculated person. You are always there when people need you, you always know the right thing to say, and you are always able to help.
You have a great career, amazing family and lifelong friends, but you are no stranger to hard times as well.
You’ve had more than enough struggles through life, and although it seemed very daunting at the time, your good spirit and amazing set of skills has always helped you to overcome them.

Okay, I confess.  I am kind of addicted to these personality-type quizzes that pop up on Facebook.  This one showed up today.  Of course, I was already pretty sure that extrovert would be the end result.  I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test a couple of times during faculty development workshops.  I can never remember all those letters, but I know that there is an E in there.  And that the Ex-Ex and I are complete opposites.  As for this morning’s revelation, I am not sure which photos I chose to lead to that conclusion, but it is pretty spot on.  I am bossy… is that a leadership quality?  Hope so.  Over the years, I’ve learned to be a better listener and not be as defensive as I was in my younger days.  That helps when talking to students and/or parents about their children and sometimes righting wrongs. Thank goodness wisdom comes with age.
Maybe everyone does this, but since age 11 or 12, I’ve wondered about what makes me me. Why am I the way I am? I still think about it. Genetics? Environment? A combination of both? Most likely the latter. But since having my own two children, I never discount the personality that humans come into the world already owning. It is fascinating to now watch my granddaughter’s personality develop. (Grandparents have the luxury of worrying less and observing more!)
How would I describe myself? What adjectives or traits would I assign to me?
  • common sense
  • perseverance
  • hard worker
  • extrovert
  • emotional
  • worrier
  • talkative
  • optimist
  • stubborn
  • independent
  • spiritual
  • judgmental
  • loyal
  • cynical

The two traits I am working on are worrier and judgmental. Mindfulness practice, a lot of deep breathing and my summer reading book, Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, are helping. I know that mindfulness has become a catchword, but what I am working on is wrapping my mind around being in the present. A few sentences/phrases I have highlighted:

…it often seems as if we are preoccupied with the past, with what has already happened, or with a future that hasn’t arrived yet. We look for someplace else to stand, where we hope things will be better, happier, more the way we want them to be, or the way they used to be.

To find our way, we will need to pay more attention to this moment.  It is the only time that we have in which to live, grow, feel, and change.

… there are many things in life over which we have little or no control.

It is about not taking life for granted.  Because, seriously, the present is all we have.  Think about it. The past? Done. Over. Fini. The future? Not here. Will get here when it gets here. Or not. I saw another quote the other day that hit home.

Never be a prisoner of your past, it was just a lesson not a life sentence.

I don’t know who said it. But, yep, that sums it up.

It’s also about realizing that we have to let others make their own mistakes, learn their own lessons, chart their own course. I wouldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t want to help others, but everyone has to find his/her own way. We can help guide, but we can’t control.  Boy, as a parent, is that a hard one. I struggle daily with that. That’s where my worrier personality takes over. And where the deep breathing is saving me.

I do my best thinking in the shower and while baking.  Kneading dough is very conducive to thinking. And I have often wished for a waterproof idea board to tack up in the shower so I can actually write down and remember the great ideas I come up with in there. But then again, maybe I think too much.  Maybe I just need to let go, take some deep breaths and enjoy the hot water or the feel of the dough under the heel of my palm. Live in the moment. Take that feeling of pleasure and revel in it. Enjoy the smell of lavender goat’s milk soap or vanilla sugar. Marvel at the juicy ripe cherries as I fold them into the dough. Be thankful for a seemingly limitless supply of indoor, hot, running water. Think less, feel more.

I found cherries for $1.99 a pound at Aldi.  (On my summer to-do list, I finally went to the one here in Durham.) And I love using the cherry pitter do-dad I found last summer.

cherries

I baked them into scones. The Ex-Ex’s breakfast for the week.  I am a big fan of cherry and vanilla.  I am pretty sure that dates back to my childhood love of Biltmore Cherry-Vanilla ice cream.  The milkman made deliveries to Bell Street and when Mama Mildred could afford it, she would give us money for a half-gallon of ice cream in the summer. Pure bliss. What I wouldn’t give for a Winky Bar. I promise that I would enjoy every second of eating it.

Cherry Vanilla Scones

makes 12 small-ish scones; this is a variation of Quick Scones, a recipe I have posted several times in the past

2 c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. granulated sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ c. cold butter
1-1/2 c. fresh pitted cherries, cut in half or chopped smaller, if desired
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/3 c. vanilla yogurt (I used Greek yogurt this time)
1 egg yolk for brushing tops
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top, if desired
In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut in until crumbly. Make a well in the center.
In small bowl, beat egg until frothy. Add vanilla and whisk together. Pour into well. Add yogurt, stirring slowly until a soft dough forms. Turn out on lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal parts. Knead each part about 5 times, by folding it over, spreading it out with the palm of your hand, folding over again. After spreading it out for the final time, place cherries on the dough, fold it over again, trying not to smash the cherries too much and keeping them inside the dough as much as possible. Pat each into a 6-inch circle. Transfer to greased baking sheet or a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush tops with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Score each top into 6 pie-shaped markings (or you can go ahead and cut them, if you wish). Bake in 425F oven for 15-18 minutes until risen and browned slightly, making sure that the center is baked with over-baking them.
Bon appétit and Happy Monday!  Keep breathing.  Enjoy the moments of your day. Merci to my friends and family who put up with me.

Sean of the South

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(photo courtesy of Jackie Thompson Reagan)

AKA Sean Dietrich.  One of my heroes.  I feel as if we are long lost cousins or I am his long lost aunt.  I consider him and his wife, Jamie, my dear friends although I have never met them.  We send messages.  I’ve begged Jamie for recipes and she has grudgingly given me a couple.  I’ve written about him before.  And here. I kind of accidentally stumbled across his writing a couple of years ago and I used him (with his permission) as a guest blogger. Sean gets to the heart of people. He champions the underdog. The people who aren’t glamorous, who live in trailers, who work two or three jobs just to provide (barely) a living for their kids. My people. Someone recently was ugly to him in the comment section after one of his Facebook posts. Seems the fellow did not believe what Sean had written. Sean’s rebuttal was priceless.  As were the faithful followers who called the jerk out. Me included. Sean is a writer (although he was told by a teacher once that he his writing would never amount to much- I am paraphrasing here), a musician, a dog-lover, a real human being. This article in an Alabama newspaper gave me more of an insight into his life. He routinely gives his books away for free on Amazon. I have been known to fuss at him for this. (And I have downloaded them… and bought a couple as well.)  He overtips waitresses. He admits to having a soft spot for them and if you read about his mom you will understand.  I fell for him when I read a column he wrote about women.  He did it again today, so I am sharing it. We are all beautiful in our own way. As a middle school teacher, I worry about girls and the pressure they are under to be perfect physically. There is no perfect. We all come in different shapes, sizes, and hair colors. How boring life would be if we all looked the same.  Thank you, Sean, for reminding me. Even at my age, I need it most days.

If you don’t fall in love with him, well, I am not sure you would like me much either.

Image may contain: one or more people

I’m sorry. That’s what I want to say to any woman reading this. I’m just flat-out sorry.

The world is trying to squash you like an albino cockroach, and you deserve an apology.

Today’s modern female is expected to be a walking-talking industrialized domestic machine.

If she’s not busy bathing toddlers, dropping kids at soccer, or changing her own transmission fluid, she’s supposed to be planning a three-course supper, scrubbing dirty underwear, learning a foreign language, or making her living room fit for HGTV.

She must be a certain size, weight, width, she must have a gym membership, a midsection stronger than most outboard motors, tight underarms, young-looking hands, perfect teeth, slender necks, soft-spoken voices, no gray hairs, no eye wrinkles, and the amiable disposition of Princess Grace of Monaco.

I’m even sorrier for young girls.

Not that it matters what I think, but I believe television and magazines are trying to ruin females.

Take a gander at the magazine racks in the Piggly Wiggly. Half-naked bodies on magazine covers. Pop-stars dressed like senators from Planet Krypton. Reality television hosts with plastic hindparts.

Anyway, the reason I am writing this is because of my friend’s daughter. Her name is not important. But let’s call her, Little Miss Alabama.

She is in seventh grade, top of her class. An athlete, a social butterfly, a horseback rider, fluent in Spanish, math wiz, funny, kindhearted, and well-loved.

Miss Alabama has dreams of attending Auburn University, she wants to study zoology, she is pretty, has brown hair, blue eyes, flawless health.

She has aided in the birth of exactly three colts. She can spit farther than any boy, and cook just as well as granny alive. I know this; I have eaten her biscuits.

And she hates herself.

Well, not her SELF, exactly. But she hates her body. She thinks she’s too fat, and she’s disgusted with her own reflection.

Well son of a biscuit.

Who told females they had to be USDA-approved and ninety-eight percent lean? Who in the H-E-Double-Cuss said beauty had anything to do with dress sizes?

Look, I have no right to talk about things I don’t understand. I’m not a woman—you might’ve noticed. But do I cry at “Steel Magnolias” so hard I have to pause it after Shelby’s funeral. And that counts for something.

And, I am a person, by God. I don’t like what people are doing to other people.

I don’t like underwear commercials. I don’t care for celebrities that People Magazine says I should care about.

And when I hear about my friend’s thirteen-year-old girl who believes herself to be—in her own words—“ugly, and fat,” it is an affront to my human-hood.

The voices on TV are too loud. They tell girls who they should be, what they should do, how they should think, what their den should look like, how their waistline should appear, what they should eat, and what they should feel.

There are too many voices talking to our women.

So here’s one more:

This world owes you an apology.

Jamie’s Pound Cake
makes 2 loaves or one bundt cake, but Jamie recommends the loaves
I have blogged about this cake before and made it a couple of times, playing around with the flavors each time. In the South, we sure do love our pound cake.
For the cake:
3 c. sugar (this time, I used 2 cups granulated white sugar and 1 cup Turbinado cane sugar)
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 sticks + 2 T. butter, room temperature (2 T. are for buttering the pans)
3 c. all purpose flour
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 t. each: vanilla extract (this go around, I used 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tsp. coconut extract, 3 tsp. Praline Pecan Liqueur -sent to me by Ms. Tammy in Arizona who spoils me)
coconut extract
almond extract
brandy
sherry
For the glaze:
1 cup sugar
1/2 T. each: vanilla extract
coconut extract
1 t. each: brandy
sherry
Prepare 2 loaf pans by generously coating them with soft butter and then coating them with sugar.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar, butter and cream cheese.
Gradually alternate adding the flour and eggs, stopping to scrap down the bowl as needed. Mix just until blended.
Add the extracts and the wines until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans.
Place the pans in a cold oven and then set the oven to 300 degrees.  (I think my oven is a bit off so I set it to 325˚F for the first 40 minutes and then turned it down to 315˚F)
Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Sometimes mine need a little longer. However, you want this cake super moist–like a butter cake.)
Once you remove the cakes from the oven, let them cool in the pan on a wire rack.
In the meantime, melt one cup of sugar in half a cup of water in a pot on the stove. Once the sugar is melted, remove the pot from the heat and add the extracts and wines.
Spoon the glaze over the top of each cake–do not remove the cakes from their pans. Continue to let the cakes cool and absorb the glaze for a couple of hours before serving. ***This can be made in a bundt pan. However, you will need to invert the cake before adding the glaze. I feel that you do not get as much glaze absorption on a bundt cake as a loaf cake.

 

Bon appétit, y’all! Make a pound cake and take it to a friend.  Or make it and invite a friend over. Pound cake is a gift no matter what.  It has healed many a broken heart. Calories? Yes. Sugar? Yes. Moderation, people. A little pound cake once in a while never killed anyone. Thank you, Sean and Jamie!

Paris has to wait (for me)

PCW

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

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

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

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

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

Hazelnut Sablée Crust and Chocolate Ganache Tarts

recipe from Érick Vedel and Madeleine Vedel

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

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

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

For the chocolate ganache:

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

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

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

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my lavendar

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