Black diamonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon appétit!

Fresh Pasta with Walnut Sauce and Truffles (or Mushrooms)

Pâtes Fraîches aux Champignons Sauvage avec un Sauce aux Noix –

Fresh Wild Mushroom Pasta with Walnut Sauce

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

Ingredients for the Pasta :

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

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

Pinch of salt

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

For the Sauce :

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

2 garlic cloves (good sized)

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

Salt to taste

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

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

For the pasta:

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

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

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

For the sauce :

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

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

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

Casseroles and cakes

mushrooms

When there is a death in the family of a friend, Southerners head to the kitchen. We don an apron and heat up the oven. We get out the cast iron skillet, casserole dishes and cake pans. We need to feel useful and we know that there will be people who need to be fed. Maybe it’s the same in the Midwest or North, but I have only lived in the South. I remember once when a Bell relative died and my cousin from Raleigh came for the funeral. Maybe my Uncle Buck? We were maybe in the fifth grade? Anyway, she and I ate a whole loaf of white bread, toasted, with butter and jam. Grandma Christine was a jelly/jam lover of the first order so we had many choices. We sat at the kitchen table, where the toaster was always plugged in. I have no idea why we chose toast because I am sure that there were a lot of “real” things to eat in that kitchen.

This past week, the BFF’s mother-in-law passed away. Sweet T’s mama. We’ve been friends for 26 years so I met Eleanor early on in the friendship. I remember driving over one summer day to pick up their Son #1 to come to play with our Son #1. Those two became fast friends on their first day of Pre-K. Anyway, the BFF had forgotten to tell Eleanor that I would be coming and she wouldn’t let me have her grandson. There was no use arguing. She was not going to let him leave without written permission. So, I loaded up a tearful 5 year old and his 10 month old brother into the mini-van and went home. The BFF and I had a good laugh over it at the end of the day. Just the thought of me actually kidnapping another boy to add to my collection was hilarious and not at all believable in the least.

Sweet T is a creative, talented man. He wrote his mama’s obituary. It is my all-time favorite. I’ve promised him that if he will write mine that I will cook for him until we are both called to great beauty parlor in the sky. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

You were the world’s best son, Sweet T. I hope that my boys take care of me the way you did Eleanor.

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Eleanor Daniels King

May 21, 1926 – November 26, 2017

Eleanor would like to inform everyone that King’s Beauty Shop is now officially CLOSED… stating, “It has truly been an honor and a pleasure to have helped make the world a prettier place by washing, cutting, setting, styling, and coloring the hair of so many wonderful women (and even a few men from time to time) in and around my second home, Durham NC.” 

So now, after 73 glorious years as a self-employed Beautician in the Bull City, she recently received a call — sort of an offer she couldn’t refuse — to travel to a wondrous place where she can “catch up on all the latest” with all of her Customers, Family and Friends who have gone before her… and there have been many. As she would say, “It’s impossible to do somebody’s hair for 40 years and not become a friend — even the ones that aggravate you.”

Eleanor Grey Daniels King was born in Orange County in 1926, when the average life expectancy for women in the US was 58 years old. She was the second child, but the first girl, for Rainey Samuel Daniels and Lola Harris Daniels. Raised on a farm, she quickly learned that “Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.” And while she was a good ol’ country girl at heart, the big city lights were also calling her.

Right after High School graduation, Eleanor moved to Durham to attend Beauty College in 1944. And by the end of the year, she graduated as one of the top hairdressers of her class… and the rest is history.

Sure, she’s had her ups and downs, but to borrow a line from the movie, Steel Magnolias (one of her all-time favorites); “…my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.” And that’s the way she rolled. She didn’t have time to stop and feel sorry for herself. She had her Customers, and they were depending on her, regardless of how she felt or what she was going through personally.

She’s also seen Customers come and go, but she was most proud of her “Regulars” — the ones that came to get beautiful again every week or so, year after year. But as her “Regulars” would one-by-one leave this earth, she would simply pack up her “Beauty Bag” and head off to the Funeral Home for one last “touch-up” (I still don’t know how she did that). 

And yet, with all that dedication to her Customers, she still found time to be the best Mom in the whole world.

But, now it’s time for her to put away her appointment book and finally close up shop here on earth. Eleanor, you done good, girl. 

Eleanor was preceded in death by her father, her mother, her older brother Wayne Daniels, her brother-in-law Cecil Isley, and her niece, Sheila. She is survived by her only son, Tracy King and his wife Martha, of Durham, NC, and 3 Grandsons who were her pride and joy – David King (and Lexi) of Wilmington, NC, James King of Greensboro, NC and Andrew King of Raleigh, NC. Eleanor is also survived by her younger brother Richard Daniels and his wife Bonnie, of Mebane NC, her younger sister Raynelle Isley, of Elon NC, and 10 nieces and nephews, Linda, Larry, Sam, Mike, Kay, Dianne, Kenneth, Deborah, Randy, and Rick.

There will be a graveside service for all of Eleanor’s Customers, Family and Friends on Wednesday, November 29th at 2:00pm at the Lebanon United Methodist Church cemetery, located down the road behind the church at 6101 Lebanon Road in Mebane, NC. Eleanor is returning home, to be buried on land that her father donated to the church many, many moons ago.

I decided to make one of my favorite casseroles. And a pound cake. We are in the South, after all.

pound cake

Chicken (or Turkey) Tetrazzini

adapted from Culinary Hill

Ingredients

For the topping:

  • 4 slices high-quality sandwich bread torn into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter melted

For the filling:

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pound spaghetti broken into thirds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 16 ounces sliced white mushrooms
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups cooked chicken or turkey cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I used a supermarket rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas

Instructions

 To make the topping:
In a food processor, process the bread and butter until coarsely ground, about 6 pulses. Set aside. (You can also just tear it into small pieces and mix in the melted butter.)

To make the casserole:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, bring 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well, keeping in colander, and toss with olive oil.

  3. Return same pot to medium-high heat and melt butter until foaming. Add mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid, about 7 to 10 minutes.

  4. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

  5. Stir in flour and cook until golden, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Whisk in broth and half and half.

  6. Bring to a simmer and continue to whisk until sauce thickens, about 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and whisk in Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  7. To the pot with sauce, add pasta, turkey/chicken and frozen peas, stirring to combine. Pour into a 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with crumb topping.

  8. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping has browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Cook’s Country Cookbook.

tetrazinni

Bon appétit to all, especially to Sweet T, the BFF and their boys. Thinking of you and am always ready to tie on the apron to keep you fed. Much love. Rest in peace, Eleanor. I hope you meet my Grandma Christine. I think that the two of you would get on quite well. I don’t know if you were a Jim Nabors fan like she was, but I can picture the three of you having lunch. With a big slice of pie or pound cake and a cup of coffee for dessert. And maybe a song.

What’s your favorite recipe?

Thanksgiving card

(Carlton Cards)

I found this card to send to my turkeys in SP since I will not be with them for Thanksgiving. Too funny. I miss those turkeys. I will visit them soon. I promise.

Today’s question of the day… “What’s your favorite recipe, madame?” Asked by one of my 6th graders after she told me that she had read some of my blog entries over the weekend. She is new to my school and a sweetheart. My favorite food/recipe/dish depends totally on the day/hour/minute that I am asked. If I had to decide on my last meal on earth at this very second, it would change by tomorrow morning. However, I did my best to answer LZ. Since it is (almost) Thanksgiving, I would have to vote for Dorie Greenspan’s Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. I plan to make it for my small crew in just a couple of days. Of course, I might change my mind…

stuffed pumpkincheese thyme nutmeg

It really is delicious.

It was fun to reread the post with the recipe. From November 2010. Can it really be seven years since that post? And funny thing is… I am waiting for the BFF to stop by tonight, too. Her mother-in-law is in hospice and I wanted to make something for her husband to eat whenever he gets to come home from being with his mama. Nothing fancy. Just chicken-pasta-vegetable soup. I hope it helps his aching heart. We are never ready to lose a loved one.

The best part of making soup? You can add whatever you want, as much or as little as you want, throw it all in a pot and voilà. Dinner is served. With lots of leftovers.

The Sabbatical Chef’s Chicken Soup

Olive oil – about 2 Tbsp.

1 onion, diced

4 stalks celery, chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

8 cups chicken broth

8 oz. pasta (elbows or whatever you want) or you could add rice instead

1 rotisserie chicken, meat pulled off the bone, chopped/shredded

1 bag frozen mixed vegetables

Torn baby spinach leaves, optional

Seasonings- salt, pepper, herbes de Provence, etc.

Parmesan cheese, for garnish, if desired

In a large pot/Dutch oven, sauté the onion, celery and garlic (if using) in olive oil until soft. Add the chicken broth and water, if needed, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes less than the cooking time on the package. Add the chicken and frozen vegetables. Season to taste. Bring to a second boil. Reduce heat. Add more water or chicken broth, if needed. Add spinach leaves. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Taste and add more seasonings, if needed/desired. Serve with grated Parmesan, if desired. (Spinach and Parmesan added at the suggestion of my lifelong across-the-creek neighbor Ms. Mary!)

soup

Bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving Week. Hold your loved ones near. Tell them how much you love them. Feed them good food. One of the highest forms of love, in my opinion. Keep asking questions, LZ!

 

 

Random thoughts on a chilly November night

helmet

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

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

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

K in my class

I have a sparkly Eiffel Tower that fascinates her.

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

k with bow

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

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

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

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

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

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

yo and me

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

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

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

nails

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

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

2017

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

looking at photos

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

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

a and k

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

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

cr

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

Cheese Fondue

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

 

 

Your Loving Vincent

When I first read about Loving Vincent, I was afraid that it would not come to Durham, NC. My fears were confirmed when I started seeing lists of cities where it would be playing on the film’s website and Facebook page. No Durham. The closest city listed was Fayetteville. Arles Lucy and I were ready to plan a road trip. Then, about a month ago, I saw that it would indeed come to our lovely downtown Carolina Theatre. I have now seen the movie twice, once with the Ex-Ex and once with my crew of girlfriends who have been to France with me. It is playing in Durham for an extra week so I may see it a third time. It IS that good, mes amis. If you have read my previous posts about Vincent (April 2014, May 2010, May 2010, November 2011) then you already know that I love him very much. Maybe a bit obsessively.

A team of 125 artists spent 6 years bringing Vincent’s paintings to life in 65,000 frames. The film is completely animated, with the scenes based on his paintings in color and the flashbacks to scenes of his life in black and white. The story comes to life as Armand Roulin, son of Postman Joseph Roulin of Arles, travels from Arles to Paris to give a letter to Theo, Vincent’s brother, a year after Vincent’s death. The letter had been found when Vincent’s landlord in Arles was cleaning out Vincent’s rooms in the Yellow House. However, upon finding Père Tanguy, Armand discovers that Theo died only six months after his brother. By this time, Armand wants to learn more about the last six weeks of Vincent’s life.

Vincent was a prolific letter writer. According to Mark Roskill in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, 670 of the letters Vincent wrote to Theo have survived to present day. The letters were gathered, transcribed and edited by Theo’s widow, Vincent’s sister-in-law, so that they could be published. The first batch of them was published only three years after Vincent’s death, in 1893. Johanna “Jo” van Gogh-Bonger spent years bringing the letters to light and was also instrumental in Vincent’s rise to fame as an artist. She inherited around 200 of his paintings upon the death of Theo and was seemingly relentless in her push to have Vincent’s talent recognized. Merci, madame.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has put together a touching tribute to Vincent and Theo. The museum’s website is very well done. Someday, I hope to visit it in person. In Noord Brabants Museum in Den Bosch (an hour from Amsterdam), there is an exhibit about Loving Vincent that will run until January 28, 2018. Paintings from the movie are on display. I believe that they will then be sold.

Without giving too much away in case you haven’t seen the film yet, let’s just say that the final scene with Roulin and his son is my favorite. Vincent was shot on July 27, my birthday. One scene in the movie revealed that July 27, 1890 was a Sunday. July 27, 1958 was also a Sunday. Perhaps my love for Vincent is fate.

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CBS This Morning recently paid tribute to the film.
This clip from Dr. Who pays hommage to Vincent and allows him to hear praise for his work while standing in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
It is written that Vincent did not eat well or very much. He gave away most of what he had during his stint as a missionary. One of his early paintings, The Potato Eaters, 1885, is dark and somber. He often forgot to eat, I imagine, as he painted for hours on end. According to Biography.com:
Vincent van Gogh completed more than 2,100 works, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings and sketches. Several of his paintings now rank among the most expensive in the world; “Irises” sold for a record $53.9 million, and his “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82.5 million.
Over the course of 10 years, van Gogh created more than 43 self-portraits as both paintings and drawings. “I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer,” he wrote to his sister. “People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation,” he later wrote to his brother. The works are now displayed in museums around the world, including in Washington, D.C., Paris, New York and Amsterdam.
vincent's eyes
Some believe that Wheatfield with Crows, July 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, was Vincent’s last painting. I’ve walked through that field on the way to Vincent’s grave in Auvers-sur-Oise.
wheatfield
No story of mine about Vincent would be complete with this one, Starry Night over the Rhône, painted in Arles, September 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
starry rhone
What would Vincent eat? Here is a recipe I hope that he would have liked. Potato soup was a staple in the Bell-Gillespie household when I was growing up. There is nothing fancy about it, but it is delicious.
Leek and Potato Soup
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped (or 1-2 more leeks, if you prefer)
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed and thinly sliced
(I also add 2 stalks of celery, chopped)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper (black pepper is fine)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced
2 large Idaho (russet) potatoes (I doubled this- Dorie calls for only one potato), peeled and cubed
6 thyme sprigs
2 sage leaves
4 cups chicken broth (or water but the broth gives it a richer taste)
3 cups whole milk
Optional toppings:
Minced parsley, sage, tarragon or marjoram, or a combination
Snipped fresh chives
Grated Parmesan, Gruyère or cheddar cheese
Croutons
Crispy bacon, crumbled
Corn kernels
Truffle oil
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they are coated with butter, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but not colored.
Add the remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the soup bubbles, turn the heat to low, mostly cover the pot, and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Taste the soup and season generously with salt and pepper.
You can ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve as is, mash the vegetables lightly with the  back of a spoon, or puree the soup through a food mill or with a blender (regular or immersion), or a food processor. (I leave mine with the potatoes in chunks.) If desired, garnish with the toppings of your choice.
You could also chill it and turn it into Vichyssoise, a fancy name for cold potato soup, which was invented in 1917 by French chef Louis Diat who ran the kitchens at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City, according to Dorie.
Bon appétit and thank you, BreakThru Films, Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and all the artists who re-created Vincent’s paintings. Thank you as well to all of my friends and students who have been to Paris and Arles with me and who have paid tribute to Vincent with me. In Vincent’s words:
Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.
Je t’aime, Vincent.

 

July 28, 2008

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

The Day After…


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

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

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

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

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

Bon appétit!

A really good day

spider donut

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

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

K and Gramma

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

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

williams pockets

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

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

3D ET

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

la tour 2

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

fall leaves

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

sky1sky2

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

mozz

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

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

Mozzarella Grilled Cheese
Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence of The Food Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Fall is calling

leaf2

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

According to my friend Google:

Autumn 2017 in Northern Hemisphere will begin on

Friday, September 22

and ends on Thursday, December 21

(All dates are in Eastern Time)

So, she is just around the corner.  Yippee!

leaf1

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

squirrel

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

Autumn Leaves

© Edel T. Copeland

Published: November 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Sing To Me, Autumn

© Patricia L. Cisco

Published: September 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

red trees

red tree

one red leaf

Magnifique, n’est-ce pas?

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

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

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

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

chick cass

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

Going back in time: A life resumed

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://thesabbaticalchef.blogspot.com/

Bon appétit, mes amis! 

Les photos de Fanny

fanny shoes

I would like for you to meet my French sister, Fanny.  We have been friends since we were introduced by Olivier in… let’s see, March 2010 (thank you, Google photos!). Fanny was Olivier’s son’s English teacher at the collège (middle school in France) in Villeneueve-lez-Avignon. Olivier and I became friends through a website called French in New York. Fanny came to stay with me here in Durham when we began our student exchange in 2011. Back then, I wrote about having Frenchies in my kitchen.  Olivier came along to help with the trip as well.

This morning, I started thinking about Fanny and missing her. So, I decided to ask her if I could use some of her photos in a post today. And if she would give me a new recipe. I love technology because I can instantly be in touch with her across the 4,268 miles between us.

durham-pujaut

(merci, Google)

Fanny is a very talented Française.  She is an amazing cook- we have this dream of writing a cookbook together as La Brune et la Blonde. It would require me living there through the different seasons so that we could visit the local marchés, cook, photograph and write down her recipes. Not what I would consider a problem.

Fanny is also an excellent photographer. She has an “eye” for beauty, as we say en anglais.  C’est la même expression en français, madame? She gave me permission to post photos. So, let’s go to the south of France, shall we?

First, chez Fanny. Pull up a chair and sit on the patio with Cookie.

Cookie

Sunset? Le couché du soleil?

More photos du chat? Pourquoi pas?
Lavender from her garden just for moi.
lavender
Cicada anyone?  These critters are not easy to find. They make quite a racket in Provence, but it’s hard to actually spot one. (And as I write this in my living room, I can hear the cicadas singing in the trees behind my house. It must be our “year” for them.)
cicada
Un beau papillon
butterfly
Now, let’s follow those shoes to Roussillon, the land of red dirt.
rousillon sign
This summer, she also went to Sète, a beach town I actually visited my first time in France, in 1978. Wow. Le temps passe vite… I remember eating eel in a spicy sauce the color of that dirt- la rouille à la sétoise it was called.  Rust from Sète. I didn’t photograph my food back in those days, the days of cameras, film and developing the pictures at the drugstore or mailing them off.
Fanny sent a photo of one of my favorite dishes, moules-frites. Merci, mon amie.  J’ai tellement faim.
moules
canal de sete sign
boats
Now, how about a little trip to the Camargue, a place that Fanny and I love. Oh! But first let’s stop by the Pont Van Gogh, as it in known around Arles. Vincent painted it in 1888.
pont van gogh
Then on to the white horses and pink flamingoes.
horses camargue
flamingoes
bird tracks in sand
camargue
Before we return to Chez Fanny, here are a few more of her photos.
And now, back to her lovely jardin at night. She recently hosted her daughter’s wedding here.  I so wish I could have been there. Félicitations, A et B! Happy New Year! (I haven’t forgotten.)
jardin la nuit
What a lovely day spent traipsing around with those red Converse shoes.
quelle belle journée
Now, for my new recipe à la Fanny.
 In her words–
Cet été j’ai créé un gratin de pommes de terre, légumes et poisson, ma foi délicieux.
This summer I created a baked dish of potatoes, vegetables and fish, my goodness delicious.
vegs
I am about to find out because it is baking in my oven this very minute.
Baked fish with potatoes and summer vegetables
serves 3
4 pommes de terre, épluchées et coupées en rondelles 
4 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 oignon
1 onion, minced
1 courgette
1 zucchini, sliced
1 fenouil
1 fennel, cut in 4 pieces (I couldn’t find this so I substituted dried fennel)
1 citron jaune
1 lemon, sliced
1 tomate
1 tomato, sliced
3 morceaux de poisson blanc type cabillaud
3 pieces of white fish, such as cod (had to google it… have forgotten my fish words)
Huile d’olive
Olive oil
Sel et poivre
Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Dans un plat à gratin profond tu mets une couche de patates, sel, poivre, l’oignon émincé et le fenouil coupé en 4, au four jusqu’à 3/4 cuisson à 200 degrés celcius (fais le calcul en Fahrenheit 😂) en couvrant de papier alu
In a deep baking dish, layer potatoes, salt, pepper, the minced onion and the fennel. Place in oven, preheated to 400˚F (calculate that – laughing face), covering with aluminum foil. Bake until about 3/4 done (I figured about 15 minutes).
Puis rondelles tomate, courgette, citron, sel poivre et huile d’olives et poisson on top. Re four avec toujours papier.
Then add slices of tomato, zucchini, lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil and fish on top. Cover with the aluminum and put back in the oven.  (About 10 minutes this time)
fish
Quand c’est presque cuit tu enlèves papier pour faire un peu dorer
Tu peux rajouter un filet d’huile si trop sec.
When it is almost done, remove the aluminum foil so that it will brown a bit. Add a few drops of olive oil if it is too dry. (I left it in for about 15 more minutes.)
Et tu sers avec un blanc bien frais! (Il y en a un nouveau à la Cave de Pujaut just fine!)
Serve with a nice chilled white wine! (There is a new one at the wine shop in Pujaut that is… just fine!)  She is teasing me again. Shame on you, Fanny. (Only kidding- I wouldn’t have it any other way!)
ferme
La Vieille Ferme is from the Southern Rhône Valley.  That works.
fini
Et voilà. À table!
Bon appétit!  Merci, Fanny.  Je t’embrasse très fort et je te dis à bientôt (j’espère). Keep up with your friends. It is so easy these days.