Monday, June 20, 2016

Weekend baking

I am a creature of habit.  I have morning routines.  Even on Saturdays and Sundays.  Even during summer vacation. I like to get up, make the coffee, feed and water the cat, and bake.  The house is quiet.  It’s just Callie Cat and me, although she isn’t always quiet.  I think she really misses Rusty, her brother, who died a month or so ago.  She meows a lot more now.  Muffins are my favorite to bake because they are quick and the Ex-Ex likes to eat them for breakfast.  Scones are fun, too.  So is banana bread, but it takes a lot longer to bake, therefore I usually do that at night.
I like to make things from scratch.  I kind of hate to admit that I have become a mix snob, but I have.  Baking mixes were all the rage when I was growing up.  New and exciting.  And a lot of unpronounceable stuff added in, as we all now know.  I succumb once in a while, but I read labels now.  A chef friend of mine swears that high fructose corn syrup is the devil’s elixir, so I avoid that like the plague.  I use King Arthur‘s all-purpose flour.  I have fallen in love with that company.  It’s 100% employee owned and their motto is “Try it once, trust it always.”  Check out their recipes and company story and you will, too, I bet.
I am an amateur and I have been baking for as long as I can remember.  Cookies, pound cakes, pies, cupcakes, biscuits, bread. I’ve taken a few baking classes. Macaron-making with Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery here in Durham (my city is an eating destination these days- I don’t really like the word foodie, so I don’t use it, but google Durham, NC and see what you get).  I taught Amy’s daughter and she helped her mom with the class which made it twice as much fun.
lizzie macs
I took a macaron-making class in Paris this past March with my students at L’Atelier des Gâteaux.  Several of the kiddies wanted to do this and, well, truth be told, they did not have to twist my arm.
My most recent baking class actually turned out to be two classes (the ovens weren’t working properly the first time so we were invited back to try again) taught at Sur la Table at Southpoint Mall.  Judy C suggested learning how to make croissants and I took her up on the invitation.  I love croissants.  Is there anything better than starting the day with a warm croissant, preferably eaten in France, with a cup of hot café au lait, people watching?
arles croissant
Non. Well, unless it’s a pain aux raisins
I digress.
Back to the croissant-making.  It’s not as hard as I thought.  Time-consuming, oui.  You must plan ahead.  Jane Bobroff, a professional baker, was our teacher for Croissants from Scratch.  A woman who loves butter as much as I do.  Maybe even more.  King Arthur is one of Sur la Table’s sponsors, so I was quite happy.  Some of the baking vocabulary was in French since these little darlings are iconically as français as Maurice Chevalier.  Détrempe and beurrage. The dough block and the butter block.  Lessons in activating yeast, incorporating the beurrage, folding properly- letter and book folds, proofing the dough, egg wash, baking for longer than you think you should.  The class was a bit backwards since it takes a while to get the dough from yeast to oven.  We started with dough already prepared for us,
croissant dough
made our croissants,
set them to rise,
and while we were waiting for them to double in size, we prepared dough for the next class.  We made Classic Croissants, Pain au chocolat, and Parisian Ham and Gruyère Croissants.
croissants slatable
Chef Jane also uses this dough for Morning Buns, croissant dough rolled with cinnamon and sugar and baked in muffin tins.
I will try this at home, now that I have taken the class twice, but I advise you to find a class or, if you follow directions well and are patient, to devote a Saturday morning to the process.  Planning backwards is a good idea.  Figure out when you want thesepâtisseries to come out of the oven and work back from there.
For a much quicker breakfast treat, I will share my favorite, foolproof muffin recipe.  I have made many variations of this recipe since finding it in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition (in support of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).  It is the 12th edition of this well-known and well-loved American bible of cooking, originally published in 1930.  This edition was published in 2003.  The muffin recipe page came loose long ago and is held in place with a paperclip.
Prep: 10 minutes.  Bake: 15-18 minutes.  Oven: 400˚F.  Makes: 12 medium-sized muffins
1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. granulated sugar (or sometimes I use turbinado sugar)
2 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. cooking oil
1 recipe Streusel Topping (optional- I rarely make it)
  1. Grease twelve medium muffin cups (2-1/2 in.) or line with paper baking cups.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the mixture; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together egg, milk and oil.  Add egg mixture to flour mixture.  Stir just until moistened.  Do not overmix- batter should be lumpy.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.  If desired, sprinkle Streusel Topping over batter in cups.  Bake in a 400˚F preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove muffins from pan.
Streusel Topping
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. cold butter
2 Tbsp. chopped nuts, if desired
Combine the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumb.  Stir in nuts, if using.
Add-ins I’ve tried-  don’t be afraid to be creative here
Note:  Gently fold in fruit and peels at the end.  Extracts or flavorings should be added to the egg-milk mixture.  Spices, such as cinnamon, should be added to the flour mixture.
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries, 1 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1 c. coarsely chopped cranberries and 2 Tbsp. additional sugar
Reduce flour to 1-1/3 c. and add 3/4 c. rolled oats to flour mixture (mini-chocolate chips maybe?)
Increase sugar to 1/2 c. and add 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds to flour mixture.
Reduce milk to 1/2 c. and stir in 3/4 c. mashed banana and 1/2 c. chopped nuts into the flour mixture along with the egg mixture. (best not to use paper cups for this one- they really stick to the paper)
1 c. Craisins ( any flavor)
1 medium-sized apple, peeled, cored and diced (Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp work well) plus 1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup of chopped, pitted cherries, fresh or frozen, plus 1 tsp. almond extract
Bon appétit and happy baking!  Your eaters will love you and your kitchen will smell heavenly.  Sip your coffee while they bake, as I do, and read Sean Dietrich‘s daily posts about life in the South.  I follow him on Facebook and he is always amazing.  We are yet-to-meet-in-person best friends.  His wife, Jamie, is a killer cook.  I beg her for recipes.  I have no shame.  Check out what I’ve written about them here and here

Sunday, June 19, 2016


Father’s Day 2016.  Daddy Tommy when he was no more than a kid.  Sons #1 and #2 are older than he was in this photo.  I keep this one on my refrigerator.  I love to look into his smiling eyes.  I wonder what he was thinking?  I don’t know where this was taken.  Daddy joined the Army and left my mom and Spruce Pine around the age of 19, I think.  Mama left Spruce Pine to join him in Louisiana at not quite 16 years of age.
My BFF’s house was robbed not long ago and the one thing that she wants back is a card from her dad.  It accompanied a string of pearls that she was given on her wedding day.  “I love you, Dad.”  He was a victim of Alzheimer’s. She says it was clear that he had a great deal of difficulty writing those four words on that card.  It is probably the last thing he wrote.  She knows that she will never see it again, but it meant more to her than the jewelry that was taken.
I have a letter that my dad wrote back home to my Grandma Bell.  I promised Mama I would take good care of it when she gave it to me last year.  It is a big part of our family story.  It is the only thing that I have in my dad’s handwriting.  Hand-written letters are very personal and prized possessions.  The postmark is 1956, the year my dad turned 20.

Although he wrote it to my grandmother, he mentions my grandfather several times.  We lived next door to my grandparents for all but two of my first 18 years.  My dad and grandfather did not get along very well for many of those years, as I remember it.  That still makes me profoundly sad.  I loved them both so very much.  Parenting isn’t easy.  It is the toughest job out there.  Bar none.  My dad was hardheaded, as we say in the South, and I am pretty sure that he bucked all of my grandfather’s advice.  20-year olds are pretty sure they know everything and that they do not need parental intervention.  I wish that I could sit them both down right now and ask them all of the questions that have been swirling around in my head all these years.  They will both be in my Heaven, so I know that someday I will have the chance for a heart-to-heart talk with these two men who played such a prominent role in my childhood.
Daddy’s letter ends this way–

Did he ever call Papa?  I have no idea.  When he was discharged from the Army, he built a house next door to my grandparents and I was born in 1958.
Daddy loved country music, watching police serial shows, gangster movies and golf on TV, the Washington Redskins, Duke basketball, eating pimiento cheese and bologna sandwiches, camping and taking his boat out on Lake James in the summer.  He loved to 
tease me.  I hated it, of course.  He loved his dog Bowser, although that dog chewed through the bathroom door.  He loved Kentucky Fried Chicken and we would often stop in Marion on the way to the lake to buy some to take with us.  He loved my mom and his crumbcrushers, as he called us.
Life with Tommy wasn’t easy, though.  He was an alcoholic.  And not a funny or laid back one.  Quite the opposite.  It took me a long time to talk about this part of my childhood and to forgive him.  I wrote a letter to him towards the end of his life and I hope that I conveyed my love and the beginning of forgiveness.
Parenting is a tough job.  You want the very best for your children.  You don’t want them to hurt, either physically or emotionally.  However, although there are shelves and shelves of how-to books out there, parenting does not come with a fool-proof manual.  It is a combination of trial and error and doing the best you can.  It’s not about being perfect or making life perfect for your child.  Life is tough.  It’s not always fair.  It’s about trying to provide for all of your children’s needs and a few of their wants.  It’s about listening and admitting when you are wrong.  It’s the purest form of love.
This quote is also on our refrigerator–

It has been there for 26 years.  Son #1 recently used it when he spoke about his dad at his dad’s induction into our school’s Sports Hall of Fame.  Hopefully, someday it will be on Son #1’s refrigerator.  Hasdai Ibn Shaprut was a Spanish-Jewish physician and poet/writer (915-975 A.D.).
I found this recipe and plan to make it for the Ex-Ex and Son #1 today.  Unfortunately, Son #2 can’t be here with us.  Tommy Bell would have liked this sandwich, I’m sure.
Patty Melt Sandwich
from Leite’s Culinaria
(Go to his website to read the recipe in his much more interesting words!)
Makes 4 sandwiches (you know your eaters, though, and how much they eat, so adjust quantities, if necessary!)
For the onions:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium Vidalia onions
  • 3 pinches salt
  • 1/4 cup white wine (SB note:  I didn't have any white so I used rosé!)
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
For the patty melt:
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 pound ground beef 
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • 8 to 10 slices crusty bakery bread  (if you want to make a traditional patty melt, rye bread); SB note:  I used potato hamburger rolls, flattened
  • Sliced American cheese


1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.
2. Slice the onions into fairly thin rings or half rings and add them to the skillet, stirring to coat with oil and continuing to stir  around until onions become limp, about 7 minutes.
3. Add salt and stir.
4. Add the wine and raise heat to high for 1 minute, stirring constantly until liquid evaporates, then return to medium, add butter and stir until melted.
5. Cook, stirring the onions in the pan frequently for another 15 minutes or until they are nicely golden brown. [Leite's Note: Just to be clear, the onions are not going to be caramelized after this short amount of time. And that’s okay. Although if you really want caramelized onions, be our guest and let them cook at least another 30 minutes or so.) Remove the pan from the heat.
Make the patty melt
6. Preheat another skillet over medium heat and add cooking oil to coat the surface.
7. Make  4  balls of ground beef.
8. When the skillet with the oil gets hot, place the balls of beef into the pan, one or two at a time. Season with salt and mash them flat with a spatula so that each patty is just smaller than the slice of bread. Cook the patties, without touching them, for 3 to 5 minutes. Flip them and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more for medium-rare, more for medium or well-done. Place the burgers on a wire rack placed over a plate.
9. Heat skillet to medium heat.  Butter 1 side of each slice of bread. Place 1 slice of bread in the skillet, butter side down. Add a slice of cheese on top of the bread, followed by a cooked patty, some of the onions, followed by another slice of cheese and a second slice of bread, butter side up. Cook for 2 1/2 minutes. Keep an eye on the sandwich so that the bread doesn’t burn. Then flip the sandwich and cook for 1 minute more. Using a spatula, remove the sandwich from the skillet and place it it on a plate. Repeat with the remaining patties, buttered bread, cheese, and onions. Serve hot.
 Bon appétit and Happy Father’s Day to all!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Letting go

I've probably already used this title.  It's my theme for early June.  Another school year has come and gone.  My 36th.  And as excited as I am for summer, it is difficult to let go.  Oh, the 8th graders are ready for high school, whether they know it or not.  Some are nervous, some are excited, some are just plain oblivious because a two month break from homework, tests, quizzes, and projects is all they can see at the moment.  Exams have been studied for and taken.  They've been graded, recorded and the grades have gone home to mom and dad.  I've had Alice Cooper's School's Out for the Summer running through my head for a few days.  Do any of my students even know who Alice Cooper is??

I am especially close to this particular class.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps it is because they needed me in some way that others haven't?  Perhaps it's because they let me get close to them and I let them get to know a different side of me?  I taught them for two years and advised twelve of them in 7th grade.  I've watched them fall down, scrape their knees and elbows, literally and figuratively. I've cried with them over the loss of a grandparent or a pet or as they have tried to make sense of a divorce.  I've let them know if they have disappointed me, with thoughtless behavior or by not working up to their potential in class.  I've celebrated their successes, winning essay contests, having the nerve to get up in front of their peers and visitors to recite their spoken word poems, sing with the chorus, dance with their movement class or act out a Goth version of Shakespeare.   Some of them shared what they wrote in response to watching the movie Sarah's Key based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.  They shared these thoughts in the school literary magazine but also with the author herself when we met her in Paris.  This is Mlle Mer.  Her grandmother left Europe as a young girl in wake of the Holocaust.

I will miss her accidentally calling me Mom.

We've gotten dirty in the school gardens, planting, weeding, and picking strawberries.  We've traveled to Foster's and Guglhupf cafés just down the street for baguettes, fromage, and macarons, to Washington, DC for the 7th grade class trip, and 23 of us jetted across the Atlantic Ocean so that I could show them "my" France.

The one pictured at the top of the post, Miss Issy, is heading to France this summer to spend two weeks with her pen friend.  Paris with her Mum first, then Senlis, Toulouse (or Toulon?), the Riviera and Corsica.  She is leaving DA for a nearby public school and I will miss her and her really cool English accent.  I can't wait to read the book she gave me.

Not sure what the bad habits are, but I look forward to finding out.  Probably won't share that information with next year's 8th graders, though.

What to say about these two?

Monsieur drove me nuts, but I will genuinely miss him.  He will grow up to do amazing things when he learns to focus and control his brain.  His pal, on the other arm, bought him a planner to help him get through the end of the year with all of his homework assignments completed (and probably so that she wouldn't have to listen to me nag him every single day, truth be told).  He should read or watch Le Petit Nicolas.  Mademoiselle has become my Pretend Daughter.  Unbeknownst to me, she and another girlie had a project this year whose code name was Apples.  They kept up with the dates of days when I wore a black dress to school.  The sheet of paper I have as evidence only dates from January 26 and there are 28 dates marked, including the one above, June 9.  What can I say?  I love black dresses.  I suppose I am more clueless than I care to believe.  And 8th graders can be pretty clever.

It was a very good year.  Quite a few tears and many waterproof mascara days. So many laughs and really good hugs.

I love you all.  I will miss you, but it is time to move on.  I hope that I have taught you a little about life, perseverance, hard work, and the importance of being your best self as well as how to conjugate and use the imparfait.  I hope that you have many days when you think "This is the best day of my life!"  And that you remember those days when a lousy one comes along.

This sums it up pretty well, n'est-ce pas?

Bonnes vacances!  Ne m'oubliez pas, s'il vous plaît.

Mme E

Today's recipe is one 8th graders would appreciate (well, except for the unfortunate ones who can't eat chocolate- I had four of those, les pauvres).  It's from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  I am addicted to her blog.  And the mention of sea salt reminds me of our visit to Aigues Mortes and seeing the enormous piles of salt at La Baleine.

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes approximately 18-24

1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. (25 g) granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. (25 g) Turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw- you can use more brown or white if you have this, but the subtle crunch it adds is delightful)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (165 g) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. baking soda
Heaped 1/4 tsp. (technically 1/4 + 1/8 tsp.) fine sea salt or table salt
1-3/4 cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 pound (225 g) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
Flaky sea salt, to finish

Heat oven to 360˚F (180˚C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated and scraping down the bowl as needed.  Beat in fine sea or table salt and baking soda until combined, then the flour on low speed until just mixed.  The dough will look crumbly at this point.  With a spatula, fold/stir in the chocolate chunks.

Scoop cookies into 1-1/2 Tbsp. (#40 scoop) mounds, spacing them apart on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt.  Bake 11 to 12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft on the inside.  Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

From Deb:
Extra dough- I know, what's that?!- can be formed into scoops and frozen on a sheet until solid, then transferred to a freezer bag.  I've baked these right from the freezer; they need, at most, 1 minute more baking time.  You could also from them into a 2-inch log, freeze it, and slice and bake the cookies off as desired.  The only difference I've note between cookies baked right away and those baked a day or more later is that the older cookie dough is less puffy when baked.

Bon appétit and happy summer to all, students and teachers alike!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Back to baking

So, what happens when the student exceed the teacher?  Not just in conjugating French verbs or writing poetry.  Something more serious... baking.  One of the little darlings, a 7th grade girlie, brought this in to share with her classmates a couple of weeks ago.  Quite honestly, it was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.  Galette Rustique.  Rustic Apple-Cinnamon Tart.

The 7th graders in her class wolfed theirs down.  Pas moi!  I saved mine until I had a free period and a cup of tea.  I don't eat very much in the way of desserts these days, but I savored every bite of this. It is hard to go wrong with a handmade crust, apples, cinnamon, and sugar.

Mine is now in the oven and my house is starting to smell like heaven, let me tell you.  The Ex-Ex and I have been invited to have dinner with JC, her hubby and another couple and this is my contribution.  I hope it turns out half as well as my 7th grader's tart.

Elle's Rustic Apple-Cinnamon Tart
Serves 8

Cream Cheese Pie Crust

2 teaspoons cold water
1 teaspoon cold cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces

  1. Combine water and vinegar in a small bowl.  Combine flour and salt in another bowl.  Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut butter and cream cheese into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces still remaining.
  2. Add water mixture to dough in a slow, steady stream, stirring, until mixture just begins to hold together. (I added about 2 more tablespoons of cold water because there was not enough liquid to hold it together.)  Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap, and wrap.  Press dough into a disk using a rolling pin.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hours or overnight.  (Dough can be frozen for up to 1 month; thaw before using.)

4 cups peeled, thinly sliced apples (I used Pink Lady apples)  Elle has one of those really cool contraptions that peels, cores, and slices the apples- she said that she loved using that!
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Big pinch salt
1 large egg, well-beaten
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

  1. Put the applies in a large bowl.  Toss the fruit with the granulated sugar.  Taste the fruit, if it's more tart than you like, add up to 2 tablespoons more sugar.  Add the flour, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt and toss until everything is evenly mixed.
  2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn it out of the plastic wrap onto a floured work surface.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes to warm up a bit and become pliable enough to roll.
  3. Heat oven to 350˚F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Working on the floured surface, roll the dough into a round that's about 13-14 inches in diameter.  It's all right if the edges are a little ragged.  Transfer the dough to the baking sheet.
  5. Heap the apple mixture in the center of the dough round.  Using your fingertips, fold the edges of the dough over some of the apples to create a rim about 2 inches wide.  Work your way all around, pleating the dough as you go.
  6. Using a pastry brush, brush the pleated dough evenly with the beaten egg.  Sprinkle the turbinado sugar directly on the dough and fruit.
  7. Bake the tart until the pleats of dough are completely golden brown with a trace of pale, unbaked dough, about 55 minutes.  (It's all right if some of the juices escape from the tart and seep onto the pan.)  Transfer to a rack and let cool.  The tart may be baked up to six hours ahead of serving.
  8. When cool it enough to handle, use a spatula to transfer the tart to a serving plate or cutting board.  Slice it (I used a pizza cutter to make it easy) and serve it warm or at room temperature.
It's good with ice cream, too, of course...

Bon appétit!  Happy spring and the arrival of all kinds of fruit to make tarts, muffins, cakes, etc. Yum!!  Cook on, cookers and feeders!  Eat on, eaters!  Don't just sit on the sidelines, lookers, when there is something this delicious!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

28 Mother's Days

I became a mother in 1987.  Son #1 came into the world as a perfect textbook baby, according to his pediatrician.  I had no other frame of reference.  He ate every four hours, rarely cried, slept through the night at four weeks, and made me feel like the perfect mother.  I actually had very little to do with it.  Other than the feeding and changing diapers.  The first thing the Ex-Ex and I did when we brought him home was to take him upstairs and change his diaper.  We were scared to death and really didn't know what else to do.  I had zero to no experience with baby boys and their parts.  I managed to let him pee all over himself before I could get the diaper back on.  Live and learn.  I learned to always keep a diaper in place so that wouldn't happen again.  I've come to the side of the camp that believes we are born with a certain personality and temperament.  If we are lucky, we have a spouse who loves us and helps us and understands that the bond between a mother and child has nine months to take hold and that it never lets go.  We are also lucky if we have enough resources to provide for all of this little bundle's needs and a few of his wants.

I became a mother for the second time in 1992.  Son #2 was completely different.  He seemed hungry all of the time (my parts hurt just remembering that).  He cried with a gusto I didn't know a little bundle could muster.  He rarely napped (anything under an hour doesn't count, in my book).  And he suffered from night terrors off and on for a few years.  Our pediatrician, Dr. Will London, informed me that he was a "normal" baby.  Now he is as calm as can be.  A couple of years ago he asked me if he was an accident since there is almost a five year difference between him and his big brother.  No, he was planned.  We were thinking ahead to college tuition probably.

Mothers want their children to be happy.  It is as simple as that.  When they are heartbroken, so are we.  I am not a hover mother or any of the other titles that have been given to mothers who want to fix everything and make their child's world perfect.  I know that you cannot do that.  Mama Mildred taught me that.  There will be some stumbles and probably some falls.  That's how you learn self-confidence and resiliency.  Life comes with happy and sad.  You have to learn not to get too high on the happy or too low on the sad.  Balance.  It isn't always fair.  Asking for help when you need it is not a sign of weakness.  Each of us is a work in progress.  For our entire lives.  Not everyone is meant to be a doctor, a five-star general or the head of a corporation.  As Abraham Lincoln said "Whatever you are, be a good one."  Abe knew adversity.

There are no perfect mothers.  We are human.  We cry.  We stumble.  We take detours.  But we never stop loving our babies or wanting the very best for them.  Our worst fear is that our babies will leave us before we leave them.  That's not the natural order of things.  We will always feel the need to fix things, even though we know we can't.  That's when we pull out a frying pan or a mixer and try to feed them something we know they love or at least they used to when they were little.

Someone gave me us the children's book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch when the boys were little. This became their favorite bedtime story because it always made me cry.  (I am tearing up just thinking about it.)  On his website, the author says the book started out as a song.

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

I know that somewhere I still have that book.  It's in a box of treasures in a closet, I am guessing, with the Batmans and Thomas the Tank Engines.  It's the story of a little boy and all the stuff he gets into (as you can see from the cover).  It ends, however, with the grown up little boy taking care of his mother and singing:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living
my mommy you'll be.

Click on the link above and listen to the author read the story.  You will understand why Love You Forever is a best seller in retirement communities.  I am not just tearing up at this point.  I am a lucky mother.  Dripping tears and all.

Son #1 was (and still is) a big fan of Chili's Boneless Buffalo Wings back in 2002.  The internet was around at that point and he found the recipe on the Top Secret Recipe website.  I found the recipe yesterday while straightening out my cookbook shelf.  It's actually a bookcase-- I have a lot of cookbooks.

Top Secret Recipes version of Chili's Boneless Buffalo Wings 
by Todd Wilbur

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 chicken breast fillets
4-6 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup Crystal or Frank's Louisiana hot sauce
1 tablespoon butter (the recipe calls for margarine, but I am a purist and only use butter!)

On the side:
bleu cheese dressing (for dipping)-- we prefer ranch
celery sticks

  1. Combine flour, salt, peppers and paprika in a medium bowl.
  2. In another small bowl, whisk together egg and milk.
  3. Slice each chicken breast into 6 pieces.  Preheat 4-6 cups of vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 375˚ F.  (I use my deep cast iron frying pan.)
  4. One or two at a time, dip each piece of chicken into the egg mixture, then into the breading blend; then repeat the process so that each piece of chicken is double-coated.
  5. When all chicken pieces have been breaded, arrange them on a plate and chill for 15 minutes.
  6. When the chicken is done resting, drop each piece into the hot oil and fry for 5-6 minutes or until each piece is browned.
  7. As chicken fries, combine the hot sauce and butter in a small bowl.  Microwave sauce for 20-30 seconds or just until the butter is melted, then stir to combine.  You can also use a small saucepan for this step.  Just combine the hot sauce and margarine in the saucepan over low heat and still until the butter is melted and ingredients are blended.
  8. When chicken pieces are done frying, remove them to a plate lined with a couple of paper towels.
  9. Place the chicken pieces in a covered container such as a large jar with a lid (a tupperware-type bowl will work just fine).  Pour the sauce over the chicken in the container, cover, and then shake gently until each piece of chicken is coated with sauce.  Pour the chicken onto a plate and serve the dish with bleu cheese dressing (or ranch or whatever you like) and sliced celery on the side.

I also found a cookbook that Son #2's fourth grade teacher and class put together.  The Comet's Cafeteria.  Son #2 was (and still is) a fan of cheese sticks.  I remember searching for a recipe and having occasional success with it.

Fried Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 quart oil for deep frying
1 (16 ounce) package of mozzarella cheese sticks

In a small bowl, mix the eggs and water.  Mix the bread crumbs and garlic salt in a medium bowl.  In another medium bowl, blend the flour and cornstarch.
In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil to 375˚F.  One at a time, moisten each mozzarella stick in the egg mixture.  Then dip into the bread crumbs, and finally into the flour mixture.  Then fry until golden brown, about 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.

photo:  Rick Bland

Bon appétit to all mothers.  Happy Mother's Day!  Our babies might not be able to be with us, but they are in our hearts and souls.  Now and always.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

You can take the girl out of the mountains...

I've written before about who I am.  The age old question.  The one I started contemplating around 6th or 7th grade.  Who am I?  But more importantly, what makes me me?  That question.  After spending a couple of days with my family last week, I've given more thought to where I am from.  I am from the Appalachian Mountains.  Western North Carolina.  The Blue Ridge Mountains.  I was born there and I spent my first 22 years living there.  I love the city I live in now, but I will always be a mountain girl at heart.

I was born in Spruce Pine Community Hospital.  The hospital was built some time between 1950 and 1958.  I know this because Roy Williams, the men's basketball coach at UNC-Chapel Hill, is from Spruce Pine, too, but he was born in Marion because Spruce Pine didn't have a hospital in 1950. It was built by the time I came along in July 1958.  Roy only spent 6 months in Spruce Pine, though, before moving on to Asheville. (I know this because when he was up for the Carolina job the first time, the sportscasters said he was from Spruce Pine.  I did not know that, so I called his secretary at Kansas and asked. Coach Williams was at the NCAA tournament she politely told me, but she would get back to me. And she did.) I lived there for 18 years, before moving on to Boone and then to Durham.  (Roy and I are practically neighbors, but we haven't run into each other at the grocery store or post office yet.)


I digress.  As usual.

I forget how much I miss the mountains until I go back to visit.  There is just something soothing about the views.  

After exiting Interstate 40 and driving around Marion, this is the stretch of mountain that you have to climb to get to Spruce Pine.  I don't really like this road.  Trucks can lose their brakes.  One of my cousins and her husband died that way about 30 years ago.  

The view at the top is pretty spectacular, though.  And worth the drive.

On the way out of town, before heading down the mountain, I took a little detour to visit with Miss Vicky at Big Lynn Lodge in Little Switzerland.  

In less than two months, my graduating class from Harris High School will hold our 40th Reunion at Big Lynn.  One of my classmates, PW, who lives in Texas and I are frantically trying to find the other 88 names on the back of the program from our Commencement Exercises held on May 28, 1976. 

We know that we have already lost at least six of our classmates, including my cousin, Kathy.  It is past time for a get-together.  It was nice to meet Miss Vicky and put a face to a name.

I was in the mountains to take my baby sister Moo to the hospital in Boone for sinus surgery.  I would post the photo she asked me to take post-surgery, but I think she would stop speaking to me.  And I do not want that to happen.  I am the only one of my siblings to leave Spruce Pine.  As a matter of fact, Mama Mildred, Sister Cindy, and Moo all live on the same street, Bell Street, named for my Papa.  On the way home from the hospital the day after the surgery, I couldn't resist pulling off in Linville for a couple of photos.  Moo was still pretty drugged, so she didn't object.  I spent three summers working in Linville at Eseeola Lodge as a waitress.

It is much fancier now, featuring a spa and an updated pool, as well as the golf course.  It also stays open longer, not just Memorial Day through Labor Day the way it did back in the '70's.  It was a great place to work and live.

One of my Lodge buddies, The Honorable JR, has a family home next to the Lodge.  I had to take a photo.

And my old friend, The Grandfather, is still lying there watching the clouds roll by and allowing hikers to climb all over him.

Although I have no photos to prove it, I don't think I've ever seen so many shades of green. The trees covering the mountains are leafing out.  Spring has hit the Appalachians.  Spring and fall put on magnificent shows of color up there.

I physically left 36 years ago, but my heart is and always will be there.  I hope that I appreciated the beauty that surrounded me for those 22 years, even while I dreamed of taking airplanes to faraway places.  I knew that I wanted a different life than I could have there. Marrying The Mailman (who, by the way, just happened to be bringing mail to my mom as I was leaving... bit unsettling to run into him after all these years) would not have been a good idea.  I needed a bigger world, a world where I could teach middle school French and make my own way.  Daddy didn't understand, but I think that he was proud of me.  Mama Mildred has always encouraged me to follow my dreams, even if that meant leaving the mountains.  I've never regretted the decision to leave, but I sure miss the views and my family.

While sitting around the table at Mama Mildred's house, I remembered to look through her tattered cookbook- the one she and Sister Cindy fight over- and find her favorite pound cake recipe.  I wrote it out in that cookbook for her, copying it from Southern Living magazine, she says.  I do not remember where she found it.  So, my kitchen smells like chocolate cake.  It just came out of the oven...

 (I took a croissant-making class yesterday at Sur La Table and was told that my goodies will bake better if they are not just placed on the wire rack in the oven, but on a "platform."  Thus the pizza stone. That is supposed to make them bake more evenly.  We shall see.)

The Ex-Ex will be eating chocolate cake for breakfast this week.

Mama Mildred's Mahogany Pound Cake

1 c. butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur's)
1/2 cup cocoa (the last of the box of Van Houten I brought home from France in January)
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan.  Set aside.
Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Sift flour and cocoa together. 
Combine sour cream and baking soda.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down the bowl often. Mix just until blended after each addition.
Stir in vanilla.
Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form.  Fold into the cake batter.
Spoon into the pan.
Place in cold oven, set the temperature to 325˚F and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. (I had to add 12 extra minutes.)
Cool in pan 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

Bon appétit to all my fellow mountaineers!  Enjoy the views wherever you are.  And eat more chocolate cake.  Life is short.