Sunday, May 3, 2015

8th Grade Great Macaron Throwdown

Happy Garçons Paris 2015

Tomorrow is the big day.  Our Macaron Throwdown.  Two of the young ladies in my B period class have organized a macaron competition.  It is strictly voluntary participation.  I think ten of us are competing.  Well, I am not really competing.  Everyone in the class will sample the macarons and vote for the best one.  There will also be a contest for figuring out flavors.  The girlies are putting it together and they will tally up all of the votes.  I will supply the prizes.

Many of my students love to bake.  We sample goodies all the time.  I love that they want to learn to cook and that they want to try French recipes.  They can earn some extra credit points doing this. They put together presentations on the school iPads of their efforts and show them to their classmates.  We then get to sample.  Some of them put me to shame.

Especially this weekend.  I HAVE made macarons before, several times, en fait.  Lemon, chocolate, vanilla.  I have photos to prove it.

This weekend, however, was one of epic flops.  Not once, but twice.

Attempt #1 (making Italian meringue)--

Batter too runny, but I baked them anyway just to see... I was expecting a miracle, peut-être?  Well, I didn't get one.  There was sticky, gooey macaron batter everywhere.  I finally got it all cleaned up (or so I thought until the next morning) and went to bed, after setting the alarm to get up at 6:00 am to run to Harris Teeter to get more eggs.

Attempt #2 (French meringue this time)

They looked great on the baking sheet.  I was certain success was mine.  Until I opened the oven door and saw that they had cracked, had gaping holes, the insides had spread out, etc.  I used cold egg whites.  Bad decision.

I decided to give it one last try.  I set out the egg whites to come to room temperature (they are supposed to "age" but the threshold for time wasn't going to allow for that this time).  The Ex-Ex and I headed to have lunch with his parents in Washington, NC.  While riding along, I realized that I did not want to try lemon ones again.  No more lime zest.  Sick of yellow.  And I found out that one of the girlies is bringing in lemon macaron.  I took that as a sign to try something new.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." -- Thomas H. Palmer
"Never, never, never give up."  --Winston Churchill
"After all, tomorrow is another day."  Scarlett O'Hara

I googled macarons and found a recipe for coffee ones.  Filled with Nutella.  A winning combination if I've even heard of one.  So, I dragged Mildred the Mixer out one last time, weighed and measured all the ingredients, fitted the pastry bag with the nozzle once again, and ripped off some parchment paper.

Voilà!  Success.  "Third time's the charm." (I tried to find the origins of this one but ran out of patience.  Sorry.)

Coffee Macarons with Nutella Filling
from Allie at

Makes about 36 macarons (I came out with 24- probably because I piped them larger)


120 grams almond flour
200 grams powdered sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso granules
100 grams egg whites (about 3 large), room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of kosher salt
30 grams granulated sugar
Nutella spread (about 1/3 cup)


  1. Measure the almond flour, powdered sugar, and espresso powder into the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse the mixture to a fine powder, and sift.  Re-process any large bits that remain, and sift again.  Discard any large bits that still remain.
  2. Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on medium speed until frothy.  Slowly add the granulated sugar (about a teaspoon at a time), while continuing to whip.  Once all the sugar has been incorporated, turn the speed up to high and whip until the meringue look glossy and holds stiff peaks.
  3. Dump all the almond flour mixture into the meringue at once.  Fold together until the batter falls from the spoon in one long, continuous ribbon.
  4. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip, and pipe rounds about 1-inch in diameter onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  Slam the baking sheet on the counter to force out any large air bubbles, and allow to dry for 30-45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 325˚F and bake for 15-16 minutes.  (I baked mine for 14 minutes.) Cool completely on the baking sheet, then peel off and sandwich with Nutella.
My little hints and confessions:
I also used the for advice. 
I have a small scale that measures in grams.  It is more accurate than cup measures and I am glad I use it.
I made a template for my macaron-piping by tracing the bottom of a spice container onto parchment paper with a Sharpie.  I then placed another sheet of parchment on top of the template and piped, saving my template for the next time (after I've recovered from this weekend).
I am lazy.  I did not sift as much as I should have.  By round 3, I didn't sift at all.  Shame on me.  I was just worn out.  I did use the food processor to eliminate some of the little lumps, though.
After filling the macarons, put them in the freezer.  This will help bring out the flavors and meld them.  Take them out an hour or so before serving, though, and let them come to room temperature.  If you don't have room in the freezer, put them in the refrigerator.

Bonne chance, bon courage and bon appétit to all macaron makers out there.  They are worth the effort.  Merci to Pierre Hermé and his fabulous little cookies for inspiration.  Je t'aime, Pierre!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pierre Hermé et moi

When I was in Paris last month (Don't you just love the way that rolls off my keyboard?  As if I am a big shot?  Actually, I am still in awe of the fact that I get to go to Paris at all, let alone two times in the space of two months-- but back to today's story...), I went into FNAC, kind of the French version of Barnes and Noble-- books, music, movies- but on a larger scale.  There is one right around the corner from the hotel my students and I will stay at next week.  This is the first book that caught my eye.  It is a delightful cookbook put together by Soledad Bravi, a cartoonist who wanted to learn some tricks for making better cakes, and Pierre Hermé, my macaron idol.  I couldn't resist it, even at 19.90 euros.  The drawings alone are enough to buy the book, but to have simplified recipes from M. Hermé?  Oui!  Here is one of Soledad's quotes:  "Je fais un livre avec Pierre Hermé, oui je sais, il a trop de chance."  "I am making a book with Pierre Hermé, yes I know, he is very lucky."

I decided to start with Riz au lait vanillé.  Vanilla rice pudding.  It is one of my favorites.  I wanted to see how Pierre would make it.

Infuse the milk with vanilla bean-- my kitchen smelled heavenly.  Will someone get to work on the camera that records smells as well as photos, please?

Cook the rice in the vanilla milk

Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to "rest"

Add in mascarpone

Experiment... add in some frozen cherries (fresh would be better, but not the season, alas)

Taste three versions- without mascarpone, with, with cherries

How would I eat it?  Which did I like best?  Truthfully, warm before it went into the refrigerator, no cheese or cherries mixed it.  (Yes, of course, I sampled it then, too!)  But all versions are good, and all are different.

I ate some for dessert when I was in Senlis in January.  We had dinner at Le Scaramouche.  The riz au lait was served with little bits of candied fruit.  Isn't it beautiful?

I am translating from the French recipe.

Riz au lait vanillé
Prepare the evening before

125 g of round grain rice (Arborio-- the same kind as for risotto-- this is about 3/4 cup)
600 g of whole milk (about 2 2/3 cup)
2 vanilla beans with the grains
1 pinch of fleur de sel salt (use sea salt, if you have it-- I just happen to have fleur de sel thanks to La Brune)
30 g of sugar (about 1/8 cup-- the French do not make their desserts as sweet as we Americans do... I guess you can add more sugar, if you wish, but don't overpower the dish by making it too sweet- you can serve it with fruit to sweeten- see Pierre's suggestions at the end of the recipe)
400 g of mascarpone (I found it in containers of 225 g each)

I cut the vanilla beans in two, longwise, I scrap the interior with a knife in order to get all the seeds.

I bring the milk, with the vanilla seeds and the pods, to a boil.  I take it off the heat and I cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap in order to let the vanilla infuse the milk for 30 minutes.

I strain the milk with a sieve (I used cheesecloth because I do not have a sieve that fine) in order to catch the fibers of the vanilla bean, I crush the pods in order not to lose any of the flavor and I leave the seeds.  I put the vanilla milk back into the pot.  I add the rice, the salt, and the sugar, I mix it all before bringing it to a boil.  As soon as it begins to boil, I lower the heat and gently cook it for about 20 minutes, stirring it regularly because it sticks quickly.  The rice should be "al dente."

I pour the mixture into a dish (it calls for a 20 cm one-- I have no clue what size that is!  I just chose one that looked like it would all fit into, leaving room for the addition of the mascarpone later.).  I put plastic film over it, making sure the film touches the surface of the rice mixture, and let it cool for 2 hours before placing it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day

I put the mascarpone in a bowl and stir it in order to make it smooth.  I add it to the rice (or add the rice to it) and I stir.  It's ready!

A little extra from Pierre Hermé

The rice pudding is not very sweet on purpose because this way one can add honey, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, cooked fruit or dates cooked in tea and lemon.  (I didn't try the dates but am including the recipe below. Afterwards, I thought that fruit preserves from Bonne Maman- maybe blueberries, would be delicious.)

Dates in tea
Prepare the evening before

200 g of dates
100 g of water
12 g of Earl Grey tea
5 g of sugar
10 g of lemon juice
1 drop of Tabasco

I heat the water to 80˚C.  I add the tea and allow it to infuse for 3 minutes, but no longer because that would make it too strong and bad; I filter it without pressing on the tea bag or leaves.

I put the whole dates (with pits) in a pot and cover them with the hot tea.  I add the sugar, the lemon juice and the Tabasco.

I put it on very low heat and let it cook for 15 minutes.  I pour it into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to soak overnight at room temperature.

The next day

I drain the dates, remove the pits, and cut them into 6-8 pieces lengthwise.  I put them in the refrigerator.

I can eat them with rice pudding or with plain yogurt.

Bon appétit and merci, Pierre Hermé and Soledad Bravi!  I love your book!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Comfort food

Here in the South (I have only lived in the South and in France, so I cannot speak for other regions), when there is a tragedy, we cook.  I made dozens and dozens of cookies when three of our basketball team members were injured in a car crash a month or so ago.  Many of my family memories revolve around food after a death.  Southerners bring casseroles, fried chicken, pies, cakes, biscuits, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and any number of other specialities.  Church families arrange dinners for the bereaved.  It is what we do when we don't know what else to do to help out.  We cook.  And we cook comfort food.  By the time I left my mom's house on Saturday, the food had started arriving.  My cousin made a delicious beef stew (and told me that her secret ingredient is dry onion soup mix), the mom of one of my brother's friends made a chicken casserole and a chocolate pie.  The funeral home sent over a tray of sandwiches.  My grand nephew, who is learning his way around the kitchen (I hope that he goes to culinary school one of these days), made chicken salad while waiting for us to come home after my brother died.  My sister and his mom, my favorite niece, fussed at him for messing up the kitchen, but it was only half-hearted fussing.  I shared with him that I clean up as I go along and then, after dinner, there isn't much to do.  One of my very good friends called today to ask if she could bring food over.  I told her that she and I can go out for dinner later in the week while her husband and the Ex-Ex are out of town.  No dishes to wash that way.  We both stay at school late anyway, so we can have a nice quiet evening after a not so quiet day with middle schoolers.

So what is in that beautiful blue pot?  A recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour website.  It screamed comfort food so I decided to make it for our dinner tonight.  The Ex-Ex ate two servings.  I think he liked it.

Turkey and Dumplings
8 servings

I made it all in my blue pot.  The recipe says to cook it in one pot, then transfer it to a baking dish.  My blue pot is ovenproof so I didn't see the need to dirty another dish!

  • 1 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley), or 2 tablespoons dried (optional)--I used herbes de Provence
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
pot pie filling
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 cups turkey stock, or a combination of stock and leftover gravy -- I used chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme-- herbes de Provence again here
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cups diced cooked turkey or chicken-- I stopped off at Harris Teeter and bought a rotisserie chicken to use
  • 2 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables-- I bought a mixture of frozen peas, carrots, and green beans
1. For the dumplings: Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Stir in the herbs, if using. Cover and refrigerate this mixture while you're making the pot pie filling.

2. For the pot pie filling: Melt the butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, whisking it into the roux to prevent lumps. When all the stock and/or gravy is added, season with the thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, then stir in the meat and vegetables.

4. Return the filling to a simmer, and transfer to a 4-quart baking dish with a lid. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

5. To assemble: Once the hot filling is in the dish, whisk the buttermilk and egg together, and add, all at once, to the dry mixture.

6. Stir together until evenly moistened.

7. Scoop the batter on top of the simmering liquid, leaving space between the dumplings (they'll almost double as the cook). Put the lid on top, and bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.  At least 30 minutes in order for the biscuits/dumplings to be cooked completely.

Bon appétit to my family and to all my very caring friends. I love you all.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saying good-bye

How do you say a final good-bye to someone who has been in your life for as long as you can remember?  Someone who has known you through the good, the bad and the ugly and loves you anyway just because?  Someone who shares the same parents, sisters, DNA, and early memories?

My little brother died yesterday.  I have trouble using "passed" or "passed on."  I don't know why.  I just do.  He was only 54 years old.  He was born June 27, 1960 in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, 23 months after me.  I didn't want him.  I wanted Mama to take him back to the hospital.  Supposedly, we can't remember things that happen to us before the age of 3.  Freud called that "childhood amnesia" and thought that around age 9 we erase or lose early memories. I read once that our earliest memories are usually something scary or traumatic.  (I am practicing amateur psychology here.)  And maybe I am confusing his birth with that of my sister who is three years younger than me.  I do remember sitting on a bed with him and letting him roll off into the floor.  He survived that, but I worried about it.  No, I did not push him.  By that time, I imagine he had grown on me.

I choose to remember him as he is in this photo.  That's when I knew him best.  I left Spruce Pine behind at the age of 19, never living at home again.  We were typical kids.  We played together a lot. Spent time at our grandparents' farm playing outside.  Weekends camping out at Lake James.  Eating foot-long hot dogs on Friday nights because Ma was too tired to cook after a long week of work. Throwing snowballs on days off from school. Fighting.  Saying mean things.  He had to put up with three sisters.  He was always getting stitches or a cast.  I decided one day that dropping Coke bottles out of the window of my grandparents' garage would be fun.  I didn't know he was under that window.  That scared me plenty.  Lots of blood and stitches.  I remember Daddy made me take him along with me to football games.  I didn't like that one bit and I am sure I let him know it.  David and I played with football trading cards.  We made forts in the woods.  Growing up in our house wasn't easy.  We all carry scars from our childhoods, but I am not going to remember those or dwell on that.
David's kidneys failed.  He was never really a candidate for a transplant.  He talked as if that was going to happen early in the diagnosis.  We all kind of went along with him, but we knew it wouldn't happen.  He didn't follow his doctors orders and his body seemed to be in no shape to fight it other than with dialysis three times a week.  I spent time with him at Christmas at my mom's house.  All of us kids were there.  I am the only one who left Spruce Pine, so they have spent a lot more time together over the years.  They may fuss about it, but they are always there for each other.  My mom and sister took good care of him.  As good as he would let them.  I am grateful that my sister called me and that I went to see him in the hospital and in the nursing facility where he spent his last 24 hours.  I am grateful to Hospice of the Blue Ridge for their support and for keeping him comfortable.  The nurses and caregivers at Brookside Rehabilitation and Care were amazing, too.

I think that he is now with Daddy.  They are sitting on a boat in the middle of a lake, talking about Duke's win over Carolina, about the start of a new NASCAR season, smoking a cigarette (if you are allowed to do that in heaven) and just hanging out.  The weather is hot, but not too hot.  They don't care about fishing, just about riding in the boat.  They have an endless supply of gas and a good motor that will always start.  There is also an endless supply of Kentucky Fried Chicken in their heaven.  The fat content and calories don't matter and there is no more special, bland diet to follow.  You see, I think that is what heaven is all about.  You are at your happiest time with the people you love.  There are no more worries or illness.  You can watch your loved ones who are still on Earth, knowing that they will join you someday.  They will stumble through life the best they can, much the same way you did, without your help.  And that it will all be okay in the end.

Rest in peace, David.  You were loved.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

J'aime... I love....

Bonjour, Février!

The month of hearts has arrived.  I feel more inspired.  I am happy to say au revoir to Janvier.  I don't dislike Janvier.  But it isn't as inspiring as Février, in my humble opinion.  Maybe it is simply because I love hearts and now they are everywhere.  I found this heart carved from Volterra Italian alabaster at Barnes and Noble last night while roaming around looking for ways to spend a gift card.  The Ex-Ex got a couple of books and I got a new heart.  The check-out guy was funny.  He asked me if I wanted a bag for my purchases.  I told him no.  And he said "So, you are going to walk out carrying your heart on your sleeve."  He said that he just couldn't resist saying that.  My dad always accused me of wearing my heart on my sleeve.  For years I thought that must be a bad thing.  I've decided it isn't.

What else am I loving at the moment?  Memories of my trip to Paris just a couple of weeks ago. (Okay, so January isn't so bad, after all, if you get to spend a week of it in France...)  I had lunch with My Favorite Parisien, who lives in Tel Aviv now, but still has his Paris apartment and remains a French citizen.  Having lunch with friends is the ultimate treat to me.  Five days a week, I eat in my classroom surrounded by my 13 7th grade advisees.  So, lunch with a friend makes me feel like a grown-up.  MFP and I made a date (via What'sApp-- free texting to Paris and Tel Aviv and anywhere in the world, mes amis- and the app is free) for Sunday brunch.  After checking out the Bastille market, I wandered to the Marais and made my way to the restaurant.

This restaurant is owned by one of MFP's friends.  We were offered glasses of champagne.

A very civilized way to start a 2-hour lunch, n'est-ce pas?  You know what I love best about eating in France?  Well, other than great food in beautiful places.  You are never rushed.  We arrived right as the restaurant opened, at 12:00, and there were two or three other tables already seated.  Within 45 minutes, there was a steady line of customers wanting tables.  They were told to come back in two hours.  I enjoyed our window table and didn't even consider hurrying.  Le Brunch du Dimanche specials were either bagels with Philadelphia (can you guess what is making a splash in France--  oui, cream cheese) or un hamburger sur buns.  I admit to getting tickled over the buns part.  Neither MFP nor the server understood what I was giggling about.  Of course, the buns was/were French-style and delicious.  In the middle of my plate is fromage blanc with raspberry coulis.  Isn't it beautiful?

My first Parisian burger.  It was very good.
Lunch with MFP was so much fun, as always.  Back in October, he agreed to take on this year's student group in March so I will see him again very soon.  And this time, he won't leave us at the train station.  Since we are not having a home stay this year, he will board the train with us for three days in Arles.

After lunch, we went to visit La Mémorial de la Shoah, the Holocaust Memorial.  I've walked past it before, but I've never visited.  In light of the tragedies that struck Paris in January, I decided to pay my respects by visiting this memorial.  It is featured in Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, the story of a young girl during La Rafle, the round-up of the Jews in July 1942 in Paris.  MFP stayed with me while we listened to a panel discussion of the liberation of the death camps (with two survivors in the audience) and then he headed off to take care of some things that needed his attention.  I wandered around through the exhibits.  At the end, there was a film playing and I listened to a couple talking about their experiences post camp.

They were separated in the camps and found each other again at the end in the Hotel Lutetia in Paris. This hotel played a central role in WWII, from a place of refuge for people seeking to escape the Germans in 1939, to a place used by the Nazi to entertain guests beginning in 1940 to finally the center for displaced persons after the liberation of Paris in 1944.  The hotel is currently closed, undergoing renovation.  Someday I will stroll through the lobby.  And I will think of this couple who made me laugh and cry as I listened to their story.

It was a wonderful trip.

Other things I love?

The book I am currently reading, a gift from MFP a couple of years ago.

It is a history of Paris told through selected métro stops.

I've just finished with Saint Denis, my favorite headless saint.  I even found a statue of him in Senlis while wandering around there with Mme M.

In keeping with the heart theme, I love this poster of a Matisse print that hangs in my stairwell.

I love the place I work.  It is a community, a family, of caring people.  After a recent car accident involving three of our basketball players, a mom made this quilt for one of the young men who is still hospitalized with brain injuries.  All of our upper schoolers are there.  At the moment, it is hanging in our gym.  I like to think of it hanging where #12 will be able to see it and know that he is loved.

After listening to a former student (from my first 6th grade class in 1980-81) read poems at his mom's memorial service, I started thinking about poetry.  I really do not know much about poetry and, truth be told, I haven't read a lot of it in my lifetime.  That needs to change.  (Send suggestions, s'il vous plaît.)  I do have one book, though, that was given to me in 1992 by the mom of one of my students.

She gave it to me to give to Son #1 and eventually he will get it.  But for now, it is in my bookcase. Thank you, Dianne Moss, mother of Ian.

Here is the title poem--

Honey, I Love
by Eloise Greenfield

I love
I love a lot of things, a whole lot of things
My cousin comes to visit and you know he's from the South
'Cause every word he says just kind of slides out of his mouth
I like the way he whistles and I like the way the walks
But honey, let me tell you that I LOVE the way he talks
I love the way my cousin talks
The day is hot and icky and the sun sticks to my skin
Mr. Davis turns the hose on, everybody jumps right in
The water stings my stomach and I feel so nice and cool
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE a flying pool
I love to feel a flying pool
Renee comes out to play and brings her doll without a dress
I make a dress with paper and that doll sure looks a mess
We laugh so loud and long and hard the doll falls to the ground
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE the laughing sound
I love to make the laughing sound
My uncle's car is crowded and there's lots of food to eat
We're going down the country where the church folks like to meet
I'm looking out the window at the cows and trees outside
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE to take a ride
I love to take a family ride
My mama's on the sofa sewing buttons on my coat
I go and sit beside her, I'm through playing with my boat
I hold her arm and kiss it 'cause it feels so soft and warm
Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE my mama's arm
I love to kiss my mama's arm
It's not so late at night, but still I'm lying in my bed
I guess I need my rest, at least that's what my mama said
She told me not to cry 'cause she don't want to hear a peep
Honey, let me tell you I DON'T love to go to sleep
I do not love to go to sleep
But I love
I love a lot of things, a whole lot of things
And honey,
I love you, too.

I just discovered The Hot Sardines.  Before Christmas, I was roaming the aisles of Barnes and Noble, looking for a book for a friend.  David Lebovitz' My Paris Kitchen.  A song about Paris started playing and I went to the music department to ask about it.  Wake Up In Paris.

Bon appétit, Février, and to all people and things loved.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My First Book Tour: Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb

Author Heather Webb

on Tour January 19-28 with

Rodin's Lover cover

Rodin's Lover

(historical fiction/ women's fiction) Release date: January 27, 2015 at Plume/Penguin 320 pages ISBN: 978-0142181751


A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Epoque France.  As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice and his muse, their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille's success is overshadowed by her lover's rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness. Rodin's Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era's greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape. [provided by the author]


"Dazzling!  In Rodin's Lover, author Heather Webb brings to life, with vivid detail, the story of brilliant and tormented sculptress Camille Claudel and the epic love affair with the legendary sculptor who worshiped her. Deeply moving and meticulously researched, this book will capture your heart, then hold it tightly long after the final page."  --Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso

"A rich, sensuous novel, [was] written with great empathy for the very human Rodin and his lover, this novel of the visceral world of the 19th century Paris ateliers, of clay-stained dresses and fingernails, lithe models who vow to remain and then go, family love which stays through all difficulties and talent which endures, comes vividly to life."--Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet


Rodin's Lover- Heather WebbHeather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and RODIN'S LOVER published by Plume/Penguin, a freelance editor, and blogger. You may also find her contributing to award-winning writing sites including WriterUnboxed and When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills and looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. Visit her website and her blog. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter Subscribe to her newsletter. Buy the book: Plume/Penguin | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

From moi, The Sabbatical Chef:

Okay, I THINK I have successfully inserted the information I should about Heather's new novel. When I heard that she had written a new book and that it was about to be released, I got so excited that I signed myself up for a "Book Tour" through the Sabbatical Chef blog.  The things I manage to get myself into... And then forget that I have done.  Anyway, I am more than happy- thrilled, actually- to do this for Heather and her newest work.

I have been interested in the story of Camille since seeing the 1988 movie, Camille Claudel, starring Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu.   I made my first visit to the Rodin Museum in Paris in 1987. In the years since, I have watched as more and more statues attributed to and signed by Auguste Rodin have now been identified as Camille's work.  Camille was born in 1864.  Her's is the story of a fiercely independent, extremely talented young woman at a time when a woman's place was not in an artist's studio sketching and sculpting nude models.  Art for women at that time was a mere past time until a suitable marriage could be arranged.  Camille wanted to be taken seriously by her family and her contemporaries.  This is the story of her struggle and her love (or obsession, perhaps) for a married man.  Heather takes the reader inside Camille's thoughts and shows us her tormented struggle to keep her thoughts to herself or blurt them out, no matter the consequences.  There are tensions between Camille and the other women in her life, first and foremost her mom, but also between her and her studio mates and fellow women students.  Camille holds them up to her own self-imposed standards, they fall short and the friendships die.

Historical fiction is at the top of my favorite genres of novels.  Becoming Josephine, Heather's first novel, made me feel as if I was one of Josephine de Beauharnais Bonaparte's intimate confidantes.  I completely lost myself in her story.  I couldn't tear myself away from Rodin's Lover, either. Although I already knew the fate of Camille, I wanted to know her feelings and feel her suffering.  That may sound strange to some, but for those of us who love to have an intimate peek into the lives of women who have been historically overshadowed by the men they attached themselves to, Heather does not disappoint.

Find out for yourself where the title Rodin's Lover comes from...  You may be surprised.  I was.  As a voracious reader (and, admittedly, a lover of everything French), I highly recommend this book.

Merci et bon appétit, Heather Webb et Camille Claudel.  Who is your next subject?

Auguste Rodin par Camille Claudel
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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Random Sunday Update

This post is long overdue.  I should be rechecking and editing my mid-term exams.  I should be cleaning the downstairs floors.  Or folding laundry. Or emptying the dishwasher.  Or even taking a shower.  But I need to send some tender loving care to The Sabbatical Chef.  Hopefully my faithful readers haven't deserted me.

The Christmas tree is up and my downstairs smells of pine.  My favorite wintertime smell (well, right up there with sugar cookies baking in the oven...).  The crèche made up of tiny figurines given to me by La Brune is in the kitchen window.  I put it there so that I can look at it when I am washing dishes and cooking.  My kitchen sink gets a lot of use.  The figurines come baked into la galette des rois or King's Cake and La Brune has been collecting them her whole life.  They are now one of my prized possessions.

I really do not do much decorating other than the tree and a few random Santas placed around the house.  I did put lights outside on our porch and I hung a wreath that the Best Mother-in-Law gave us. I love this little tableau, too, that is on our mantle.  The Lovefest candles make it Christmas-y.  My Arles lady (me in a former life), her goat, and the lavender she loves.  Sam the Dog has been added.  The Ex-Ex bought it.  He has stopped calling Sam The Damn Dog, so early Christmas miracles do happen, Virginia.

Son #2 is home from his next to last semester of undergraduate work.  But, hey, who is counting? More home cooking is happening.  Yesterday I made beef stew.  In my beautiful blue Dutch oven that I gave myself for an early Christmas gift.  Stove top or oven ready for soups and stews.

I used the last of my Beaujolais Nouveau to make the stew.  Big sigh.

I stopped in at our newest grocery store, Fresh Market.  It just opened this past week and yesterday was my first chance to go in and wander around.  It won't be my everyday store, but I love it.  I could spend some serious money in there.  I treated myself to a couple of things yesterday.

A ridiculously expensive coffee tin-- yes, there is coffee in it.  David Lebovitz posted this past week about making treats and putting them in the tins he has collected this year.  So, I will blame him.  I, however, will not be giving mine away.

French demi-sel butter.  I will make some bread just so I can spread this butter on it and close my eyes and pretend I am back in Arles, eating the last of a baguette as I clean the table from breakfast. If only I had some of Érick's home made confiture...  He makes the best apricot jam ever.

I also bought America's Test Kitchen's Best-Ever Christmas Cookies Special Collector's Edition magazine.  I love Cook's Illustrated.  It is hands down the very best for recipes that I might be reluctant to try otherwise.  They have tested and tested and re-tested their recipes until they are fool-proof.  I look forward to adding a couple of new cookie recipes to my repertoire.  Palmiers and Pistachio-Raspberry Financiers are included this year.  One of the 8th grade girlies made blueberry financiers for her classmates this past week.

According to America's Test Kitchen:

Technically cakes, financiers are the name for the French bankers who frequented the bakery where they were invented.  They are traditionally made with almond flour and baked in small rectangular molds that resemble gold bars.

La Brune sent me my very own mold so I make them sometimes, too.  They are so good.  And the 8th Grade Girlie did an excellent baking job.

I've done a bit of shopping and found a cute Paris jar at TJ Maxx.  I filled it with Lindt chocolates as a gift for a young lady I tutor every Sunday.

In an attempt to French-ify my Sunday morning breakfast, I put my sausage on sliced sourdough bread and added some Dijon mustard.  It tasted much better eaten off my Mikasa Parisian Scenes plate, of course.

I know, I know... I am hopeless.  Does everything have to be French?  In my life, oui.

However, once in a while my true roots show.  Not my hair.  I am over that since I have returned to my natural hair color (or the absence of that natural color for half of my head).  My small town mountain roots.  The music I am listening to --  Balsam Range.  Sister Moo and I heard Buddy Melton sing at a BBQ festival in Asheville a few years back.  We were hooked.  What a voice. Bluegrass music at its finest, folks.  Moo has seen Balsam Range live several times since then around Spruce Pine and Burnsville, but she fears those days are over as they have hit the big time. They are playing at Best of Our State at the Grove Park Inn in January.

Listen in--

Go ahead and tap your toes.  Get up and dance if the spirit moves you.  Makes me want to clog.

I was reading through blogs one day last week and came across a post from Stephanie at Plain Chicken.  White Trash.  Doesn't necessarily sound very politically correct, does it?  I wouldn't want anyone to describe me or my family that way, but I can do it if I want to since it's my family.  Right?  Right.  I stopped at Harris Teeter grocery store on the way home from school and bought the necessary ingredients and whipped up a batch.  I took little plastic baggies of it to school to my buddies the next day.  And to a couple of upper schoolers whom I tutor in French 3 and 4.  Pretty yummy.  Nice combination of sweet and salty.

White Trash Mix

3 cups corn Chex cereal
3 cups rice Chex cereal
3 1/2 cups Cheerios cereal
2 1/2 cups mixed nuts
1-12 oz. bag of M&M's
1 package of pretzel Goldfish crackers
3- 12 oz. packages of white chocolate chips

In a large bowl, toss together cereals, nuts, M&M's and pretzels.

Melt white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl on high for 1 minute.  Stir.  Continue heating chocolate in 30-second intervals until melted, stirring in between.

Pour melted white chocolate over cereal mixture.  Toss until fully coated.  Pour coated mixture on foil, parchment or waxed paper.  Allow chocolate to cool and set up.  Break mixture into pieces.

Bon appétit!  Happy shopping, happy baking, happy toe-tapping, happy decorating, happy getting ready for the holidays to all!