Sunday, October 4, 2015

What I've been reading

Isn't this a beautiful book?  My friend Virginia Jones took the cover photo.  Virginia and I are internet/Facebook friends.  But I honestly feel as if I know her and that we have sipped wine in a Parisian café together.  Maybe someday...

I loved this book.  I bought it because of Virginia's photo, but a book about Paris?  How could I go wrong?  It is a wonderful story of families, secrets, and starting over.  In Paris.

A couple of nights ago, I finished The Memory Thief  by Emily Colin.  Another great read.  It is on my Kindle.  I get daily book deals from BookBub.  That's where I discovered this one.  Another story that is hard to put down.  Set in Colorado and North Carolina, it is about death, dealing with loss, and picking up the pieces.  With an eerie twist to it.  The title says it all.

I zipped through two of Laura Florand's novels-- All For You first.  Chocolate, hunky Frenchmen, allowing love to happen through past hurt.  A Wish Upon Jasmine second.  Perfume, the south of France, and more handsome Frenchmen.  Cousins.  Lots of romance, of course.

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland about love and art in Paris and the south of France.  Set back in the day with Marc Chagall and his wife as minor characters.  I am a huge Chagall fan.  A print of this painting, The Betrothed and the Eiffel Towel, hangs behind my desk at school (Merci, Mme Verte)--

And there is lots of talk of food in it, too.  Provençal specialities.

I read, Murder in Nice, the sixth novel in the series by Susan Kiernan-Lewis, starring Maggie Newberry.  In this one, Maggie sets out to help solve the murder of a high school friend as she struggles with motherhood and leaving her husband and baby for sleuthing.

Paris, He Said by Christine Sneed is another good, quick read.  Young twenty-something falls for older handsome wealthy Frenchman and moves to Paris to be with him.  She has to figure out who she is along the way and if she can be truly happy with him and his lifestyle.

I hadn't read a John Grisham novel in ages and a friend recently lent me Gray Mountain.  I couldn't put it down.  My grandfather worked at one time as a coal miner and I can identify with people in small towns in the Appalachian Mountains.  This one features a hotshot NYC lawyer who loses her job in the 2008 recession and takes a job in a clinic in a small town in Virginia doing pro bono work.  Murder, nasty coal companies, and small town people dying from black lung make for an interesting story.

Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl is a book I will never forget.  This is the second installment of her memoir.  She definitely is up there in the food world, but this book makes her so human.  Tender At The Bone is her first memoir.  Ruth was editor of Gourmet magazine.  She is going to be at Fearrington Village, not far from chez moi, with McIntyre Books on October 15.  A lunch time appearance, though, on a school day.  I suppose I will be lunching with 7th graders instead.  Big sigh.

At the moment, I am reading David Lebovitz' The Sweet Life in Paris.  I admit to being a fan and to being perhaps a touch envious that he lives and bakes in Paris.  He is a rock star.  IMHO.  He tells stories of his move to Paris after working for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in California.  I recently was given a copy of his latest book, My Paris Kitchen, and I drool over it, too.

On my to-read list:  
  • Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie
  • Married Sex: A Love Story by Jesse Kornbluth (HeadButler-- I follow him faithfully)
  • Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes (she now lives in nearby Hillsborough, not Tuscany!)
  • The Queen's Lover by Vanora Bennett about Catherine de Valois and French royal intrigue
  • Transforming Paris: The Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann by David P. Jordan given to me by the mom of a former student
  • And I really need to get back to and finish Metronome by Lorànt Deutsch-- I actually have two copies of it, one of which is illustrated, given to me by two of my favorite Frenchies.  It is the story of Paris told by métro stops.  The pictures are amazing.  This fellow is a genius.
My favorite saint/martyr, Saint Denis, and his namesake basilica, are featured.  My Favorite Parisien took me there, along with my group of students, a few years ago.  It was my first visit.  I still get chills thinking of seeing Louis XVII's heart in a glass jar.  So cool.

I read a lot.  It has always been my (guilty) pleasure and escape.  If you have any recommendations, send them on!

Merci to M. Lebovitz and Mme Thérèse Pellas for today's recipe.  Can you stand another recipe for chocolate cake?  My Paris, Je t'aime Club meets tomorrow.  Eight 8th graders planning an imaginary trip to Paris (not imaginary for 22 of them come March!), watching videos of La Ville Lumière, etc. The cake will be their treat.

Gâteau Thérèse
Chocolate Cake
 makes 8-10 servings

9 ounces (250 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons (120 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (65 g) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
2 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C).  Butter a 9-inch (23-cm) loaf pan and line the bottom with a strip of parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water, heat the chocolate and butter together just until melted and smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in half the sugar, then the egg yolks, and the flour. (You don't need to measure the half-quantity of sugar exactly.  Just pretend you're a Frenchwoman cooking in her home kitchen and don't worry about it.)
  4. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, begin whipping the egg whites with the salt.  Keep whipping until they start to form soft, droopy peaks.  Gradually whip in the remaining sugar until the whites are smooth and hold their shape when the whisk is lifted.
  5. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until the mixture is smooth and no visible white streaks remain.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smooth the tip, and bake for 35 minutes, just until the cake feels slightly firm in the center.  Do not overbake.
  7. Let the cake cool in the pan before serving.
Storage:  The cake can be stored for up to three days.  Madame Pellas keeps it in her cabinet, but you may wish to put it under a cake dome.  It can be frozen, well wrapped in plastic, for up to one month.

Bon appétit to all readers out there!  Read on!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Migraines (and chocolate cake)

What do migraines and chocolate cake have in common?  Absolutely nothing, rien du tout.  But this week, I have suffered through a migraine.  I do not have them often, but as anyone who does have migraine headaches knows, you will do anything, anything at all, to get rid of one as quickly as possible.  Exedrin Migraine is my first go-to.  Sometimes that cuts it off before it gets too bad.  It's a mixture of caffeine, aspirin, and acetaminophen.  If the headache comes on full-blown, a dark room and sleep are in order.  This week, those two remedies didn't do the job.  What do I do when I don't know what else to do?  Google.  One of my advisees last year found a remedy for his mom involving limes so I decided to try to find that.  Instead, I came up with lemon juice, hot water and Himalayan salt.  Oui, I do actually have pink Himalayan salt in my cupboard.  Remember, I worked with a French chef in Provence for eight months.  Salt is his idea of a gift.  I can still see the absoute delight on his face when my Arles 6 group came down to cook our last night before heading on to Aix-en-Provence.  Chef Érick had placed a bag of Camargue salt at everyone's place at the work space along with the evening's recipes.  I have about six different types of salt in my house.  (I replenish my supplies when I go back to France. This makes for heavy suitcases, but it is well worth it.)  

I drank the salty, lemon hot water and it really did seem to take the edge off.  I made it through the school week, along with a school-wide Homecoming pep rally. (Games cancelled due to Hurricane Joaquin)  My middle school director suggested sacrificing chickens, but I drew the line at that.  Too messy.  I didn't make it to the alumni BBQ last night, but am hoping to make it to the party tonight.  I love seeing my former students.  I decided that maybe a massage would help.  Carly at Massage Envy worked me over.  I slept well, but this morning the headache has moved over to the left side of my head.  I am back to the lemon salt water.  I did slice up a lime and rub it on my forehead (thanks, JD!) and I have rubbed Provence lavender oil into my temple.

I am now kind of sticky, but I smell good.

Going back to bed hasn't figured into my Saturday morning plans.  Washing clothes, sweeping up cat food (my cats are really messy eaters-- for some strange reason they take the food out of the bowl sometimes), and putting away dishes needed to be done.  Then I got to thinking about the chocolate cake that Senora made this week.  She makes birthday cakes for members of the middle school foreign language department.  She is the kindest, most thoughtful person I know.  And a fabulous baker.  So, I assembled the necessary ingredients and set about making my Migraine Chocolate Cake.  My head still aches, but my kitchen smells good.

It just came out of the oven.  Senora's cake, pictured at the top, with one bite gone, has a Nutella glaze on it.  She didn't use as much sugar as the recipe calls for, tested it on her husband, and decided it needed a little something-something.  Nutella to the rescue.

Mme M gave me a box of really good cocoa powder during my last visit to her home in Montépilloy, France.  Using the best possible ingredients when baking is important.  Merci, mon amie!

Many thanks to Senora and Yammie's Noshery for the recipe.  Yammie calls it Secretly Healthy Chocolate Cake.

Migraine Chocolate Cake

1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (I put in one full teaspoon- chocolate and cinnamon are a great combo)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup applesauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded zucchini (I used carrots because I didn't have zucchini on hand)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional-- I did not use them)

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Combine flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and salt.  Stir with a whisk until well mixed.
Add applesauce, egg, vanilla and zucchini/carrots and mix just until combined.  The batter is very thick.
Spoon into well greased and floured bundt pan.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Glaze (if desired):
1/4 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon milk, drizzled over warm cake.
A few tablespoons warmed up Nutella drizzled over  warm cake.
Or dust with powdered sugar.
Or serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Or serve plain.  Maybe with a cup of coffee or cold milk?

Bon appétit et bon samedi to all from rainy, soggy, will we ever see the sun again North Carolina...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rice salad and a rerun

I love Érick's Rice Salad and I make it for lunch now and then.  I am making it this afternoon for lunch tomorrow.  I am out of riz du Camargue, but I will make do with Uncle Ben's.  It takes me right back to Arles and the kitchen on Rue Pierre Euzéby...  I usually just jump to the recipe, but today I decided to actually read the post I wrote on August 5, 2008.  It is, after all, Sunday.  And I do love pink flamingoes.  I take my students to Arles during our annual March trip and we usually see the flamingoes when we drive through the Camargue.  They are a glorious sight to behold.

Bon appétit et bon dimanche, mes amis!


Pink Flamingoes and Sunday Picnics

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I am a stalker

Merci, AH!  J'adore cette tasse!

Yes, you read it right.  I am coming out of the shadows.  I am a stalker.  I even admitted it in public on Saturday.  I feel so much better.  And, by the way, when did stalking get such a negative connotation?  That's what I want to know.  My students say the word as if it is un gros mot- a dirty word.  And no wonder.  I looked up stalk and stalker on the Merriam-Webster website.
For word nerds:  The word comes from Middle English and its first use was in the 14th century.
This is the time of year when hunters are stalking the woods for deer. 
Okay.  Not too bad unless you hate hunters and are a vegetarian or you had nightmares after watching Bambi as a kid.
She called the police because her ex-boyfriend was stalking her.
Um.  Not good.
to stalk:  to pursue obsessively and to the point of harassment 
In French, from Webster's New French Dictionary:
stalker:  un admirateur obsessionnel qui harcèle une célébrité
              an obsessed admirer who harasses a celebrity
At least Webster is consistent in the two languages I speak.

The lovely photo mug of Johnny and me in Paris is a gift from an 8th grade girlie.  She worked some Photoshop magic and made this for me.  The pen in the mug has the same photo on it.  My students know about my love for Johnny.  I have to have someone to use in my class examples, n'est-ce pas?
No, I have not stalked him.  But I make no promises should I ever encounter him strolling the streets of Paris, mes amis.  (Hmmm... should I post this blog on his Facebook page?  Is that stalking?  Oh, who cares?)

This past Saturday, I attended a workshop for aspiring writers.  I met with a publisher who listened to my book pitch and gave me some great advice.  She publishes romance novels, mine is a memoir. But I am considering becoming a romance novelist now.   47-49% of books purchased are romance novels. There were a couple of publishers there, along with a couple of agents, some bloggers, reviewers, authors, and fans of the novelists.  Let's just say that there was an "Amen corner" for the Stallion brothers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, created by Deborah Fletcher Mello.   I made my public confession at this workshop.

A few years back, I read a novel called Blame it on Paris.  I stumbled upon it at Barnes and Noble.  It was signed by the author and about Paris.  A no-brainer for moi.

Romance, memoir, Paris, handsome Frenchie.  After reading it, I googled Laura and sent an email.  I discovered that she lives right here in Durham, too.  Even better.  We exchanged a few emails and then I went to one of her book signings at The Regulator.  I was thrilled to meet her in person.  Her signing involved chocolate, too, really good handmade chocolates because her subsequent books are all about handsome chocolatiers and falling in love and Paris, with an occasional foray into Provence. And some steamy scenes.  Oh là là.  In one of them, there is a scene set in the snow in Paris.  When Arles Lucy and I were there three years ago in March, it started snowing and that novel is all we could think about.  Well, that and keeping warm.  And wishing we had a handsome chocolatier to keep us warm on the Ile Saint Louis and make chocolat chaud for us.  Gros sigh...

Anyway, Laura was on the panel at this workshop that was held at the Durham Public Library's Southwest branch.

(I took Laura and her book photos from the internet.  I took some photos on Saturday, but they didn't turn out very well.)

She, Katharine Ashe, and Jennifer Lohmann were part of a panel discussion about balancing a "real" job and writing novels.  Laura and Katharine are professors at Duke and Jennifer is a librarian.  (I discovered I need to plan time to write and set myself a schedule. Oui.)  

During a discussion about authors' relationships with their readers, I confessed to more or less stalking Laura.  I thought that she had left the room but, to my embarrassment, she was in the back listening in.  She graciously accepted my hero worship and gave me a gift!  Another awesome mug!

I am sleep deprived today because I stayed up too late last night (and the night before) reading All For You.  Perfectly normal behavior for me when I cannot put a novel down.  Merci, Laura, Joss et Célie.

One of the 7th grade girlies made very appropriately timed chocolate treats for her class.  

She wrapped them beautifully.  Très français!  Her classmates were very happy, needless to say.

Elizabeth's Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe


1/2 c. water
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. white sugar
18- 1 ounce squares bittersweet chocolate
1 c. unsalted butter
6 eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 300˚F (150˚C).  Grease one 10-inch round cake pan with butter and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, salt, and sugar.  Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.
  3. Either in the top half of a double boiler or in a microwave oven, melt the bittersweet chocolate.  Pour the chocolate into the bowl of an electric mixer.
  4. Cut the butter into pieces and beat the butter into the chocolate, 1 piece at a time.  Beat in the hot sugar-water.  Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Have a pan larger than the cake pan ready, put the cake pan in the larger pan and fill the bottom pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan.
  6. Bake cake in the water bath for 45 minutes.  The center will still look wet.  Chill cake overnight in the pan.  To unmold, dip the bottom of the cake pan in hot water for 10 seconds and invert onto a serving plate.
All the talk about novels, reminded me of The Beatles and their song Paperback Writer.  I hope the link works.  Paul was probably my first crush...  Well, other than the cute boy in my first grade reading circle.

Bon appétit, to all writers and their loyal readers!  And to those of us who stalk ever so innocently.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Who am I?

When you were twelve or so, did you sit around and wonder why you are you and how you got to be you?  I did.  But maybe I was a weird kid and I was the only one lying in bed at night looking up at the ceiling doing all that wondering.  I remember asking myself "What makes me me?"  I studied genetics in a college biology course and I found it fascinating, but it didn't answer my question. And I was indeed still asking myself that very same question, even after learning about DNA and chromosomes.  All these years later, I am still wondering.

So, what makes me me?
  • I am the only one in my family with green eyes.  Weird fact-- they've become greener with age.
  • I am an optimistic extrovert.  
  • Pale pink is my favorite color.  (I love the scarf pictured above.  I bought it at a great stall at the Arles Saturday market last March.)
  • Fall is my favorite season.
  • I am proud to be from the Appalachian Mountains.
  • I cry very easily.
  • I have very vivid dreams, usually in color.
  • I love to hum, whistle, and sing.
  • I am messy, but I hate wrinkled clothes.  
  • I love to read and often am so immersed in my book that I dream about the characters.  I think they are my new best friends.
  • I love trivia.
  • My secret (or not so secret, maybe) dream is to be a writer. 
  • I am very slow to anger, but when I am angry I get over it quickly.
  • I have an abundance of common sense.
  • I do not like being photographed.
  • I have no idea what my IQ is, but I do know that I am a hard worker.
  • I am a spiritual person.  
  • I am still ashamed of being mean to my 7th grade best friend. 
  • I am a procrastinator.
  • I am a terrible joke teller.  I almost always mess up the punch line.
  • I love me and I know that I am a work in progress.
My new favorite quote--

"Nobody can be exactly like me.  Sometimes even I have trouble doing it."
                                                                                    --Tallulah Bankhead

But enough about me.  How about a yummy it's-almost-fall recipe from Deb at  Smitten Kitchen.  I love her.  I wish I could hang out with her in her tiny little New York City kitchen.  I could be her sous-chef. 

The Ex-Ex and I were invited to dinner at a friend's house this past weekend.  I was asked to bring dessert.  I already had this cake in mind after seeing it on Deb's blog.  And I had all the ingredients.  I used Honeycrisp apples because I love them and I know they bake well.  They don't get all mushy.  I did add the optional walnuts, sprinkling them on top of the apple-cinnamon layers.  I decided to take talenti gelato to go with the cake.  The stuff is like crack to me.  Especially the Sea Salt Caramel flavor.  The BFF introduced me to it a couple of years ago.  I chose Tahitian vanilla and Caramel Apple Pie flavors to go with the cake.

Kind of flopped over on its side, but you get the idea of the apple layers.

Mom’s Apple Cake
6 apples, Mom uses McIntosh apples
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.
Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.

Bon appétit, to all.  "Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken."  Another quote I love. Merci, Oscar Wilde et Deb!

Thursday, September 3, 2015


So, I am supposed to be grading papers, planning next week's lessons, and just generally being industrious right now.  But instead I am thinking about my friends.  I am very lucky to have the friends I have.  They have seen me through good and not so good times.  In another life, the Ex-Ex said that he had enough friends and didn't need anymore.  In his current life, I think that he has changed his tune.  He doesn't say that anymore.  It isn't possible to have too many, but you do need a few really good ones.  The kind who love you warts and all, as Mama Mildred says.  The kind who help you pick up the pieces.  The kind who make you laugh out loud or, in my case, guffaw. Laugh until you are in tears even when you aren't wearing waterproof mascara.  The kind who can tell silly stories about goofy things you've done and you don't mind.  You actually enjoy it in a weird kind of way.  The kind who hug you so tightly that you never want them to let go.

I teach 7th grade, so I have spent 37 years in 7th grade. I think I remember 7th grade so vividly because of friends.  I fell in love for the first time as a 7th grader. And so I know to never, ever take 7th grade love lightly.  My sons were there once upon a time and never did I say when their hearts were breaking "Oh, you'll get over it."  At the time, you don't think you ever will.  But if you are lucky, you can look back and smile.

My love was the new kid in town.  (Yep, every time I hear the Eagles sing that song I think of him.) Dark brown, almost black hair, handsome- cute, we said back in 1970- athletic, great smile.  (the photo is from our senior yearbook) My best friend's cousin.  I got the inside track and he asked me to "go with him."  Our talk for going out, going steady.  We couldn't really go anywhere as Mama Mildred would constantly remind me.  We did go to the same church and our church had a very active youth group so we did go roller-skating, to football games, swimming, to summer camp.  My dad mispronounced his name on purpose to irritate me.  My siblings would spy on us from the the window when we were sitting on the porch or talking at the tire swing in the back yard.  He broke up with me one month into the romance.  I was crushed and all my friends and classmates knew it.  And, as 7th graders will do, I was teased.  I remember the cafeteria as being the worst place.  Boyfriend #1 moved on to a much cuter blonde.  We remained friends, but he was probably wishing I would stop mooning over him.  In 8th grade, we reunited for a month.  A whole month, before I broke up with him on one of those church youth group outings.  For a 9th grade older guy.  But I never got over him.  I wanted to date him in high school and I think we did go out on one date.  I think.  I did dance with him at our junior prom.  Much to my date's dismay.  I still probably had goo-goo eyes for him. We went to the same university, but we never dated there.  Just occasional sightings across campus.  He moved back to our hometown, got married, and the last time I saw him was at my dad's funeral. That's what a friend does.  He shows up years later just to be there for you.  I will be forever grateful to him for that. The above-mentioned sister, who still lives in SP, the hometown, always lets me know when she sees Boyfriend #1.  And that he is still good-looking.  (I can write all of this because I doubt he will ever see it.  But what's a little embarrassment at my age anyway?)

His cousin is still one of my dear friends.  We rarely see each other, but whenever we do, we pick right up where we left off.  I love her.  She saved me in middle school.  I remember sleepovers at her house, watching the Partridge Family.  Listening to music.  Admiring her beautiful oh-so-worldly older sister.  She had the coolest clothes.  I never invited friends over to my house.  A no-no if you have an alcoholic parent.  Can't take the chance. But she never stopped inviting me over.  Until she moved to South Carolina after 8th grade.  Not a good photo but the best I could do.  Me, brunette, LC, blonde.

My college best friend was also a French major.  We met at freshman orientation.  I thought that we were so different and I wasn't sure we would have enough in common to become friends.  She was beautiful, she seemed so much like a debutante Southern Belle and I certainly was not that.  But we did become incredible friends.  We decided to move to France together after our sophomore year. We worked that summer at Eseeola Lodge, a golf resort in Linville.  Great times.  The adventure in France still continues to amaze me.  I had never even been on a plane before that trip to Paris.  I had very limited funds so I had to really try to stretch them.  I learned that she really wasn't all that different from me.  She lived with her grandparents because she had two alcoholic parents.  We discovered a lot about each other one night while playing Truth or Dare in Chantilly, France, my first trip there.  The only time I have ever smoked cigarettes.  She went out to get dinner for us on a very foggy chilly night and came back with American cigarettes and a bottle of something that I am quite sure would make me horribly nauseous if I ever even saw or smelled it again.  (We were of legal drinking age, kids.)  We bonded.  She was maid of honor at my wedding and I was one of the two witnesses at hers.  She died when we were in our 30's, I think.  I tend to block out when people die and I can never remember the years.  I still miss her.

Now I have very good friends spread out all over the place.  A real honest-to-God ex-debutante, traveling buddies extraordinaire, artists, Iron Woman athletes, a crazy lady in Arizona, incredible French women, former students, a sister who means everything to me, the best sister-in-law in the world, women who have reinvented themselves and their careers when they had to, and more.  I recently saw a quote that reminds me of this group:

"If all my friends were to jump off a bridge, I wouldn't jump with them, I'd be at the bottom to catch them."

My real friends know that I hate edges, so no way am I jumping off a bridge on purpose.  I am not a strong swimmer and am scared of deep water.  And I do have friends who would indeed jump off that bridge.  And I would be at the bottom screaming and trying to catch their shoes  them.

Boyfriend #1 gave me a poem in the 8th grade phase of our relationship.  I committed it to memory and kept the hand-written note in my wallet.  Unfortunately, right before I moved to Durham in 1980, my purse was stolen and the poem was lost forever.  Or it would still be in my wallet.   I might not be able to remember what I had for dinner two nights ago (last night I do remember-- steak and scallops chez Iron Woman), but I can remember this poem after 44 years.

I googled it to see if I could find the author.  (I secretly wanted to believe Boyfriend wrote it...)  I continue to be amazed by Google and the internet.

A Priceless Gift
by Helen Steiner Rice

Friendship is a priceless gift 
That cannot be bought or sold,
And its value is far greater 
Than a mountain made of gold.

For gold is cold and lifeless
It can neither see nor hear
And in times of trouble
It is powerless to cheer.

It has no ears to listen, 
No heart to understand.
It cannot bring you comfort 
Or reach out a helping hand.

So when you ask God for a gift, 
Be thankful is he sends
Not diamonds, pearls or riches
But the love of real, true friends.

One such friend, Iron Woman, recently made blueberry jam and gave me not one but two jars!!

I am going to call it Friendship Jam.  She even made a batch with lavender essence.

Friendship Blueberry Jam
from Taste of Home
yield: 4 cups

1/3 c. thawed apple juice concentrate
1 envelope plain gelatin
5 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Pour the apple juice concentrate into a saucepan; sprinkle with gelatin and allow to soften for several minutes.

Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, finely chop blueberries, 1 cup at a time.  Add lemon juice, spices, and 2 cups of chopped blueberries to gelatin; heat over medium-low until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from the heat; stir in remaining berries and mix well.

Pour into jars or plastic containers; store in the refrigerator up to three weeks.

Some classic Eagles from the 1976 Hotel California album. (Hope it doesn't get taken down. Copyright stuff?)

Bon appétit, all friends past, present, and future!  Je vous aime!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Teacher Heaven

Heaven is a fascinating subject.  I think that it is one of those ideas that, no matter what religion you do or do not follow, you hope it is out there.  The land of milk and honey.  The Champs-Élysées.  A mansion and a throne right next to God.  Fields of lavender.  All of your favorite people.  Maybe you've read (or seen the movie) The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom?  Or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold?  I do not sit around and plan my funeral/death celebration nor do I spend hours thinking about what's next.  But it sure crosses my mind from time to time, particularly when I hear about a friend or loved one who is ill or when I get the news that someone I know and love has died.  I like to think that my heaven will be a collection of the people who helped me along the way.  Those who taught me a lesson, challenged me, made me laugh, helped me become the person I am today.  Champagne and chocolate will always be on hand in a field of Provence lavender.

One such very dear friend is near the end of her battle with cancer.  I've known her for 36 years.  She mentored and mothered me when I was a just-turned-22-year-old teacher who had no idea what she was doing.  I knew that I could go to this woman for advice.  Not just sugar-coated pats on the back but real advice.  She made me believe in myself.  "You are a natural born teacher, Terese."  We all kept off the grass and stayed on sidewalks because we lived in fear of being caught by Mrs. Bugg. She would make the kids apologize to the grass and I didn't want to find out what she would make an adult do!  I still do not walk on the grass at school.  Or anywhere else if I can help it.  Another teacher told me today that she didn't really get MCB's obsession with grass until she started gardening a few years ago.  I inadvertently stepped where I should not last year when we were working on our school garden while working with this teacher.  Mrs. Bugg would have been proud of the scolding she gave me.

MCB also passed on unforgettable nuggets of wisdom when Son #1 was born.  "Do not become a short order cook."  And I didn't.

MCB invited "the girls" to her beach house annually on Mother's Day because she thought we deserved to get away.  I wasn't even a mother yet, but she let me come along anyway.  She also had little get togethers, such as the one pictured above.  I found that photo a couple of years ago and sent it to MCB.  I took a photo of it so that I would have it as well.  What a wonderful crew of friends.

A year or so ago, MCB threw herself a party.  Oh my gosh.  It was so much fun to see so many former colleagues and parents.  We looked at photos, shared memories and stories and watched her daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren help her make the party a success.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all had the chance to do this?

I heard from MCB's daughter today that she has a few hours left.  I sent back a message that I had dedicated today, the first day of school 2015-16, to her mom.  I added that her mom is one of God's Angels on Earth and that I know that she will always be smiling on us and sending us her wisdom.

So, to return to the subject of heaven.  What would a teacher's heaven look like?  Desks in straight rows?  No chewing gum?  Where all girls follow the dress code?  Homework always done and legible? Never a worry about bullying?  No chocolate milk spilled on the brand new carpet?  Pencils always sharp and ready to go?  Students chomping at the bit to learn long lists of French verbs and vocabulary words?  Supportive parents who do not question our ability to lead their children down this path? A huge pay raise?  No more snide comments about how we have two months of vacation every year? Or... maybe the ability to look in the teacher crystal ball and see that each and every one of our students will arrive safely to adulthood and be happy, moral, and productive human beings? (I borrowed that from Durham Academy's mission statement.)  I choose the last one hands down. Luckily, I am able to keep up with many of my former students and follow their path to adulthood, bumps, bruises, successes included.

I needed comfort food tonight and decided to make risotto.  A good choice.

Easy Parmesan Risotto
Ina Garten (Food Network)

1-1/2 c. Arborio rice
5 c. simmering chicken stock
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. dry white wine
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, diced
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. frozen peas

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Place rice and 4 cups of hot stock in a Dutch oven, cover and bake 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente.  Remove from oven, add remaining cup of stock, Parmesan cheese, wine, butter, salt, and pepper.  Stir vigorously 2-3 minutes until rice is thick and creamy. Add peas and stir until heated through.  Serve hot.

Bon appétit, mes amis.  Be sure to tell your friends (and family) how much you love them.