Tuesday, August 25, 2015
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.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
In April, I won a trip to NYC. Am I a lucky girl or what? We decided to take the trip in late July, celebrating our second 6th anniversary and my birthday. I had not planned to be standing in Times Square with thousands of my new best friends, but the Ex-Ex turned off the TV at 11:11 pm and announced that we were heading out. Our hotel, the mid-town Hilton, was only a couple of blocks from the Square that evidently never sleeps. We wandered around, checking out the crowd and the bright lights of Broadway as well as Times Square. The Ex-Ex snapped this photo as the iPhone announced midnight. Then I realized that I had not had a food truck hotdog even though we had been there for 3 days. Seriously? So, I stood in line for my dog.
Now, the guy didn't know it was my birthday, but he gave me a double dog, mustard and ketchup, if you please. It wasn't the best dog I've ever eaten, but you can't beat the location on a Sunday night.
We had a great trip. The weather was in the mid-80's, just a few sprinkles of rain a couple of times, low humidity.
What we did:
The Statue of Liberty became my Eiffel Tower-- which means I took more photos of it than anything else. But it was my first time to visit her and I was in complete awe! We climbed the stairs to the top of the pedestal. We couldn't get tickets to the top unfortunately.
I love the quote in the museum--
C'est vrai, n'est-ce pas? We do like things big, but are our peas really bigger? I must figure that out.
We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art--
Maybe I am just really weird, but when I walked into the room and saw this painting by Vincent Van Gogh, one that I've never seen before, I teared up. The colors. The brushstrokes. Not the usual bright yellow vase of sunflowers that you normally think of when you think of Vincent, but these are so much more appealing to me. Soul of a Sunflower is what I would name it. Vincent did this in Paris in 1887.
I love Degas' Little Dancer, too. I read a book about Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas this summer so I knew more about Dancer than I had before. I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. He originally made Little Dancer of Fourteen Years out of wax, using real hair, a real tutu, satin ribbons, and real slippers. When he worked up the courage to exhibit her at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibit in 1881, the critics were relentless in their criticism of her so he took her away and stashed her in a corner of his studio. After his death, his heirs gave permission for bronze castings to be made of her. I've seen them in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, the Musée d'Orsay, and now the Met.
We went to the 9/11 Museum and Memorial. The Ex-Ex and I both love to read, but we do not read the same books. The only fiction I have ever convinced him to read is Pat Conroy's novels. He finally convinced me to read one of his recent favorite books, The Heart of A Soldier by James B. Stewart. It is the story of Rick Rescorla, one of the heroes of 9/11. I highly recommend this book. It is an adventure story, a romance novel, and it gives an account of the events of 9/11, a day Americans will never forget. The friendship between Rescorla and his best friend, as well as the love he shared with his wife of only a few years is recounted with so much feeling that I came away thinking that I intimately know this man. We wanted to visit the Memorial to pay our respects to him, as well as the thousands of other innocent victims of that horrible day.
We strolled through and by a bit of Central Park. Llamas and goats were the stars of the show for me.
You never know who (or what) you will see on the streets of NYC... Can you name the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Thanks to Son #1 I can.
The Ex-Ex recently read David McCullough's book The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. So, at the top of his list was walking across the bridge. We took the subway to Brooklyn, got off at the first stop, found ourselves near the entrance to the bike/walk/run path across the bridge.
It was a beautiful day and a great walk! I stayed out of the way of the bikers and there were no accidents involving me.
The locks of love are only few and far between here and I hope that it stays that way. An important lesson on locks has been learned at the Pont des Arts in Paris, friends.
Part of our trip was tickets to a Broadway show. I chose An American in Paris at The Palace Theatre. No surprise there. I watched the 1951 movie with Gene Kelly again earlier in the summer to get into the mood.
We had great seats. Steven Van Zandt and his wife were a few rows ahead of us. She was getting her photo taken with people before the play and during intermission, but Steve kept a low profile. I like and respect that.
We had dinner at Tribeca Grill, also part of the weekend package. Once again, we found our way there by subway (I am no longer terrified of the NYC subway, I am happy to report) and had a delicious dinner. It was Restaurant Week in NYC and participating restaurants had 3-course prix fixe menus for a discounted price. We do that here in the Triangle, too. Robert De Niro wasn't around, unfortunately, but his artwork was all over the walls. He drew the cover for the menu.
My lentil salad was excellent.
The Ex-Ex needed meat.
Our dessert came decorated! Key lime cheesecake.
I had a couple of glasses of excellent Costières de Nîmes rosé. Tribeca Grill has an impressive wine list (more like a wine catalogue).
I decided, though, that I have a real thing for Irish pubs and there must be at least four on every city block of Manhattan. We found The Three Monkeys near our hotel. When we were in NYC in 2013, we spent a few hours there while waiting to be admitted to the taping of The Letterman Show.
The flatbread pizza at Three Monkey is delicious. It was our first meal. We had a long morning just trying to get to LaGuardia airport. First flight at 7:00 am cancelled. Second flight at 8:30 am delayed. Change of flight, different gate, what about the checked bag? Third flight sat on tarmac for about an hour while maintenance was performed. At least the pilot was funny. He looked like he was 12 years old. Finally arrived at LGA. No suitcase. Filed a claim. Told it was on next plane out of RDU to LGA. SuperShuttle tickets bought. Traffic. Shuttle driver without a pass for the toll so we sat in long cash line. Ex-Ex ready to jump out and walk after that. Dropped off three other passengers and finally our turn. Couldn't check into room yet. Left small bag with the baggage guy and hit the streets. Starving by now. Found The Three Monkeys by accident. Felt like an episode of Cheers-- you wanna go where everyone knows your name and all that. Of course, no one there had any idea who we were but we felt at home in some weird way. And relieved to be at our destination. (The suitcase did finally arrive in the middle of the night.)
After our morning at the Met, we found Sean, the bartender at Luke's on Third Avenue. He mixed up three birthday shots (perfectly respectable day shots, he called them)-- one for the Ex-Ex, one for himself, and one for the birthday girl. I cannot remember what he put in them but they tasted faintly of cantaloupe.
We discovered McGee's, the inspiration for the hangout on the TV show How I Met Your Mother. I had a couple of glasses of cider and some pub appetizers with Neil Patrick Harris staring at me. He will always be Dougie Howser to me, though.
It may seem strange coming from someone who writes about food all the time and posts so many recipes for cakes and cookies that her friends get sick and tired of it, but we weren't in NYC for the food. We walked past Daniel accidentally and I stood there in amazement because I have indeed read about Daniel Boulud and his famous cuisine. But I doubt that I will ever sample it. I do not think that my tastebuds merit that much money quite honestly.
It was a wonderful long weekend, one that I will always remember. And to circle back to midnight July 27 in Times Square, it is probably the only time I will celebrate my birthday there. Thank you, Ex-Ex, for getting me out of my pajamas and down to Times Square in order to welcome in my new year. Here's to a great one!
And thank you for the ice cream cake when we got home.
After I got home and started looking at blogs again, I saw one from Ciao Chow Linda and the featured recipe was flatbread pizza. Dated July 27. Perfect timing. N'est-ce pas? You know what they say about timing...
Linda gives great suggestions, but the sky's the limit here. I am a huge fan of just diced tomatoes, ribbon-thin sliced basil and cheese. Linda uses Flatout Flatbread Artisan Thin Pizza Crust.
Flatbread Pizzas -
each recipe is enough for two flatbreads
Bake the flatbreads plain, in a 375 degree oven for four minutes; top with the following, then bake another six to eight minutes or until crispy on bottom, if that's how you like it. (Some people preferred the non-crispy bottoms)
Or place them on your outdoor grill, carefully keeping an eye on them so they don't burn.
1. Zucchini and Cheese - Mix 1 cup ricotta cheese with 1/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Chop up a bunch of herbs (I used parsley, basil and thyme) and mix with the cheese. Spread on a flatbread that's been baked a few minutes. Then thinly slice some zucchini (I used a mandoline to slice but if you don't have one, just slice as thinly as you can.) Break up some zucchini blossoms and scatter them on the top, then sprinkle everything with grated mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.
2. Corn and Tomatoes - Boil two ears of corn for two minutes. Drain, let cool, then slice off "planks" of corn. Use cherry tomatoes, as I did, or thinly slice regular tomatoes. Layer the flatbread with the corn and tomatoes. Thinly slice shishito peppers (or whatever kind of peppers you have). Scatter them across the top, along with some mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.
3. Caramelized Onions, anchovies and olives - This is nearly the same as making a pissaladière, a Provençal pizza. I used two large sweet onions, sliced and sautéed in about 2 T. olive oil at slow to medium heat. It took an hour and a half to get the nice, rich brown caramelization. If you hurry the process, they're likely to burn or cook unevenly. Spread the onions over the flatbread, layer with slivers of anchovy, then slice some pitted green olives in half and place on top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bits of fresh thyme.
Check out Ciao Chow Linda for more inspiration. Her latest recipe, for Cherry Almond Cake, looks amazing. And I do have some cherries.
Bon appétit, birthdays, NYC and new adventures!
Friday, August 7, 2015
As all of my readers know, I LOVE to read. I would read all day and/or all night if I could get away with it. I am thrilled to be included in a new book's cover reveal! All because of my friendship with Heather Webb. So, here you go.
Want a quick taste of what's coming? Of course you do!
Want a quick taste of what's coming? Of course you do!
Excerpt from “Hour of the Bells”
A short story included in Fall of Poppies
Beatrix whisked around the showroom, feather duster in hand. Not a speck of dirt could remain or Joseph would be disappointed. The hour struck noon. A chorus of clocks whirred, their birds popping out from hiding to announce midday. Maidens twirled in their frocks with braids down their backs, woodcutters clacked their axes against pine, and the odd sawmill wheel spun in tune to the melody of a nursery rhyme. Two dozen cuckoos warbled and dinged, each crafted with loving detail by the same pair of hands—those with thick fingers and a steady grip.
Beatrix paused in her cleaning. One clock chimed to its own rhythm, apart from the others.
She could turn them off—the tinkling melodies, the incessant clatter of pendulums, wheels, and cogs, with the levers located near the weights—just as their creator had done before bed each evening, but she could not bring herself to do the same. To silence their music was to silence him, her husband, Joseph. The Great War had already done that; ravaged his gentle nature, stolen his final breath, and silenced him forever.
In a rush, Beatrix scurried from one clock to the next, assessing which needed oiling. With the final stroke of twelve, she found the offending clock. Its walnut face, less ornate than the others, had been her favorite, always. A winter scene displayed a cluster of snow-topped evergreens; rabbits and fawns danced in the drifts when the music began, and a scarlet cardinal dipped its head and opened its beak to the beauty of the music. The animals’ simplicity appealed to her now more than ever. With care, she removed the weights and pendulum, and unscrewed the back of the clock. She was grateful she had watched her husband tend to them so often. She could still see Joseph, blue eyes peering over his spectacles, focused on a figurine as he painted detailing on the linden wood. His patient hands had caressed the figures lovingly, as he had caressed her.
The memory of him sliced her open. She laid her head on the table as black pain stole over her body, pooling in every hidden pocket and filling her up until she could scarcely breathe.
“Give it time,” her friend Adelaide had said, as she set a basket of jam and dried sausages on the table; treasures in these times of rations, yet meager condolence for what Beatrix had lost.
“Time?” Beatrix had laughed, a hollow sound, and moved to the window overlooking the grassy patch of yard. The Vosges mountains rose in the distance, lording over the line between France and Germany along the battle front. Time’s passage never escaped her—not for a moment. The clocks made sure of it. There weren’t enough minutes, enough hours, to erase her loss.
As quickly as the grief came, it fled. Though always powerful, its timing perplexed her. Pain stole through the night, or erupted at unlikely moments, until she feared its onslaught the way others feared death. Death felt easier, somehow.
Beatrix raised her head and pushed herself up from the table to finish her task. Joseph would not want her to mourn, after two long years. He would want to see her strength, her resilience, especially for their son. She pretended Adrien was away at school, though he had enlisted, too. His enlistment had been her fault. A vision of her son cutting barbed wire, sleeping in trenches, and pointing a gun at another man reignited the pain and it began to pool again. She suppressed the horrid thoughts quickly, and locked them away in a corner of her mind.
With a light touch she cleaned the clock’s bellows and dials, and anointed its oil bath with a few glistening drops. Once satisfied with her work, she hung the clock in its rightful place above the phonograph, where a disk waited patiently on the spool. She spun the disk once and watched the printed words on its center blur. Adrien had played Quand Madelon over and over, belting out the patriotic lyrics in time with the music. To him, it was a show of his support for his country. To Beatrix it had been a siren, a warning her only son would soon join the fight. His father’s death was the final push he had needed. The lure of patrimoine, of country, throbbed inside of him as it did in other men. They talked of war as women spoke of tea sets and linens, yearned for it as women yearned for children. Now, the war had seduced her Adrien. She stopped the spinning disk and plucked it from its wheel, the urge to destroy it pulsing in her hands.
She must try to be more optimistic. Surely God would not take all she had left.
Reprinted Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
Curious now? How do I pre-order it, you ask?
Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War
William Morrow Trade Paperback; March 1, 2016; $14.99; ISBN: 9780062418548
/ / /
Top voices in historical fiction deliver an intensely moving collection of short stories about loss, longing, and hope in the aftermath of World War I—featuring bestselling authors such as Hazel Gaynor, Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig and edited by Heather Webb.
A squadron commander searches for meaning in the tattered photo of a girl he’s never met…
A Belgian rebel hides from the world, only to find herself nursing the enemy…
A young airman marries a stranger to save her honor—and prays to survive long enough to love her…The peace treaty signed on November 11, 1918, may herald the end of the Great War but for its survivors, the smoke is only beginning to clear. Picking up the pieces of shattered lives will take courage, resilience, and trust.
Within crumbled city walls and scarred souls, war’s echoes linger. But when the fighting ceases, renewal begins…and hope takes root in a fall of poppies.
Bon appétit, mes amis et mes amies. Keep reading!!
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Of course, I know that the official ending isn't until September 22 or 23 (merci, Google). But once August 1 rolls around, summer vacation starts receding into memories. It's quiet again around my house. Son #2 has packed up and moved to Charlotte. And taken the most adorable dog in the world with him. Law school begins soon for him. Pretend Son #3 and he are roommates in a pet-friendly apartment near the light rail that will take them downtown (or uptown?) for work and school without being stuck in traffic. #3 got a job with a company that markets NASCAR video games. What could be more perfect for a 23-year old boy?
The floors have been mopped. The carpets have been cleaned. The upstairs bedrooms are dusted. Closets are reorganized. Clothing no longer worn has been taken to a nearby thrift store. Postcards to my new crop of advisees have been written. Dates for the 2015-16 school year have been added to my new Passion Planner. I bought two academic ones, one for law school boy and one for moi. I LOVE this planner. Lots of space to write. For all that I love technology, a paper and pen planner works best for me if I have any hope of making it to meetings and doctor/dentist appointments.
I have started my school summer reading book but am already missing my novels. I've read two Ann Patchett books, The Magician's Assistant and State of Wonder, Jodi Picoult's latest, Leaving Time, Heart of a Soldier by James B. Stewart (more about this one later when I write about our trip to NYC and our visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum), Provence 1970 by Luke Barr about his aunt M.F.K. Fisher and foodie friends in France, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (historical fiction set in Scotland with some romance- winning combination every time), A Paris Affair by Tatiana de Rosnay, short stories about, well, Parisians having affairs, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go by Marcia DeSanctis (I've only been to 31- better get busy), just to name a few. Still waiting for me... Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum about WWII and the Holocaust, French Toast, A Memoir by Harriet Welty Rochefort (yet another American who tries to figure out the French- what's with us??), Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach, Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl, and Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes.
I've watched a few movies. Not as many as I would like. Honestly, where does time go? My Old Lady, set in Paris with Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith, The Longest Ride, a movie based on the Nicholas Sparks book by the same name, Renoir about the famous painter and his son who became a famous film maker, The Imposter, a documentary about a young French man who poses as an American boy who disappeared (recommended by Son #2), several 30 for 30 episodes, such as I Hate Christian Laettner (which I don't), and more Hallmark movies than I care to admit. What can I say? I love happy endings. I want to see Southpaw and Ricki and the Flash.
We traveled more this summer than we usually do. San Antonio in June. Sunset Beach with the boys, a girlfriend, sister- and brother-in-law and dogs in early July. New York City in late July. I am going up to the mountains next weekend to spend a couple of days with my family. I am taking my sister to the North Carolina Bluegrass Festival to hear Balsam Range. Her birthday present! We are both huge fans.
I reconnected with a couple of high school friends via Facebook. I hope to see them one day soon. I've talked on the phone a couple of times with Childhood Friend. He keeps me entertained. I have forgiven him for challenging one of my high school boyfriends to a sword fight. Or maybe it was a duel. I can't really remember. Today's recipe was inspired by him. He has a cousin who is French and has just opened a restaurant near Bordeaux. Childhood Friend should go over and be the lovable American busboy. He speaks French and there are many unmarried French women living there. Just saying. CF asked me if I had ever tried le gâteau aux pruneaux. I had to say non, even though I am a fan of both gâteau and pruneaux. He promised to look for the French recipe he claims to have, but I have not found it in my gmail inbox yet so I was left to Google and my own cookbooks. I found two English versions of it -- one by Pioneer Woman and one in Even More Special, the 1986 Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties cookbook. Both recipes are basically the same. Pioneer Woman, one of the French versions I found on-line, and CF all warned NOT to tell anyone what the secret ingredient is. It's in the name so it's kind of hard to keep it a secret, people. I made the cake, though, but didn't tell the Ex-Ex what I put in it. A sort of don't ask, don't tell policy. But as Pioneer Woman says at the end of her recipe:
NOTE: There is absolutely zero “prune effect” associated with this cake. The end.
Click on the Pioneer Woman's link for her grandmother's version, if you wish. She always tells good stories about her recipes and includes great step-by-step instructions and photos.
Fan's Prune Cake
Even More Special, 1986
1 cup prunes, pitted
1 cup oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans (I left this out because I didn't have any)
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons white corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease an 11x13-inch baking dish.
Boil 1 cup of prunes in enough water to cover until they have plumped up and are soft (8-10 minutes). Drain and mash the prunes on a plate with a fork. (This recipe says to reserve the liquid and add it at the same time as the mashed prunes. I went with Pioneer Woman's recipe at this stage and did not add the liquid. It turned out fine.)
Mix oil and sugar. While mixing, add eggs one at a time.
Sift dry ingredients together. Add to batter alternately with buttermilk. Do not overmix.
Stir in vanilla, chopped pecans, if using, and prunes. Do not overmix.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes.
When cake is almost done, start making the glaze. In a medium saucepan, combine glaze ingredients, except vanilla. Cook to a soft ball stage, 240˚F on candy thermometer. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, try drizzling some of the mixture into a cup of cold water. Test it by trying to make a soft ball of it with your fingers.) I followed Pioneer Woman's recipe again at this stage. I don't have a candy thermometer and her instructions were easier for me.
Stir in the vanilla and pour on warm cake. Cool in pan.
A sample of Balsam Range music--
Bon appétit et au revoir, summer! It's been fun.