Sunday, March 5, 2017

This & That: The March 2017 Edition

dirty-dishes
Dirty dishes?  This is a great photo because this is all I had to dirty in order to make two loaves of banana bread this fine Sunday morning.  I found a new recipe, located the overripe bananas that the Ex-Ex had stashed on top of the refrigerator (the man detests messy countertops), and stirred up something that is still baking and smells heavenly.  Excuse me for a minute– the oven timer is beeping.
banana-bread
Voilà.
So, random stuff this morning.
Kennedy, the cutest baby in the world continues to grow.  She is almost two weeks old. Gramma and Granddad are totally in love.  As are Mommy and Daddy.  Seven pounds of perfection.  Pretend Daughter #1 just gave birth yesterday to a bundle of baby boy.  I am thinking arranged marriage.
kennedywaving
I am preparing for my annual student trip to France.  This will be my 30th anniversary trip. How the heck did that happen, I wonder?  Anyway, the checklists are growing, but I am crossing off as much as I am adding.  I think.  I have 22 kiddos and 2 other teachers going with me this year.  Delta began offering a non-stop flight to Paris from my hometown airport last May and, although this crop of kids cannot fully appreciate it, they are so lucky.  I will be a much happier traveler which means they will, too.  No running through airports to catch a connecting flight that may or may not have left already.  (I have been known to beg for the doors to be opened to let us on.)  We leave on Thursday.  Paris, Normandy D-Day sites, including a tour and wreath ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, a visit with our pen pals at the Collège Anne-Marie Javouhey in Senlis, a macaron-making lesson at L’Atelier des Gâteaux for part of the group, éclair-making at La Cuisine Paris for others, and a tour of the Stade de France for a small group of boys.  And the usual sites in Paris– the Louvre, Notre-Dame, the Musée d’Orsay, Sacré Coeur and Montmartre.  Throw in some crêpes, Berthillon ice cream, macarons from Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, and shopping at Galeries Lafayette and Monoprix while in Paris, course. Falafel in the Marais, strolling along the Seine, a boatride on the river, gliding under the Pont Alexandre III and Le Pont Neuf, making wishes under the Napoléon bridge,  finding at least a couple of passages to wander through, a trip to the top of the Eiffel, bien sûr. Then Avignon bound on the TGV.  The Palais des Papes and perhaps the Pont du Gard on the way to Arles, “my” French town.  Only two nights there unfortunately, but two is better than one or none.  A morning drive through the Camargue on the way to Aigues Mortes, a visit to a salt-harvesting facility (a first for me), and a few hours at the Arles Saturday market before heading back to Paris.  I will get to see all of my favorite Frenchies while I am in France.  My heart is happy at the thought of this.  Time to drag my suitcase out of the closet where it has been since January and start filling it. Sticking to my list, of course. Hahaha- I am a terrible packer.
What have I been reading lately?  I just finished this one.
swann
I am in love with Henry Swann.  This is Charles Salzberg‘s latest in a series featuring Swann.  Charles and I are email pals.  I hope/dream about/would love to attend his writers’ workshop in NYC someday.
I get daily emails from BookBub offering up inexpensive (and sometimes free) books for my Kindle.  I am reading Blackbird Fly by Lise McClendon right now.  It is the first in a series about the Bennett Sisters.  This one features Merle, whose husband has just died, leaving her a pile of debts, a unknown mistress and daughter, and a house in France.  I cannot put it down (translation:  I have stayed up way too late the last two nights reading) because Merle is a believable character.  A 50 year old, intelligent, non-glamourous woman whose life takes quite a turn after her husband dies of a heart attack at his desk. And before you even wonder, yes, I have downloaded the next three books in the series.  I am addicted to authors that way.
Quick coffee and banana bread break…
bread-and-coffee
Another book at the top of my list– dear darling Pat Conroy‘s final novel, published posthumously.  A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life.  Says Amazon:
Final words and heartfelt remembrances from bestselling author Pat Conroy take center stage in this winning nonfiction collection, supplemented by touching pieces from Conroy’s many friends.
I’ve loved Pat’s writing since I picked up The Great Santini years ago. I even talked the Ex-Ex into reading it and he never reads fiction.  However, so much of Pat’s life is wrapped up in his writing, that it’s not really fiction.  We have both read all of his novels, ending with The Death of Santini.  Santini was Pat’s dad.  Thank you for the recommendation, Miss Anna T!
I am not really a shopper.  I loathe trying on clothes.  This week, however, I happened upon two bargains.
#1
Pale pink linen from Chico’s.  My favorite color.  I was at The Stock Exchange, a consignment shop in Chapel Hill, and it caught my eye. It was already on sale, I had a $10 gift certificate from my last shopping adventure there, so I ended up spending $1.63. Can’t wait to wear it.
#2
Navy blue and white polka dots from Crown and Ivy at Belk’s.  I am normally a black dress/pants/skirt/sweater kind of girl, but this caught my eye.  I have a thing for polka dots.  Once again, on sale.  Around $10.  Go me.  I look forward to wearing it with jeans in Paris.  Très chic, n’est-ce pas?
Lo and behold, I just found out, thanks to a text from the BFF and CBS Sunday Morning, that berets are back in style!  I have never worn one, but I think I may change that. Being the snob that I can be, though, it will have to be one made in France, the traditional way.  Laulhere is the gold standard in France, it seems. Perhaps Bertrand, our French ACIS tour manager will be able to help and give advice…
beret-on-mannequin-head-620
(photo: CBS News)
My goal for Lent this year–  place one item of clothing into a bag for each day of Lent. This will be given to The Salvation Army after Easter.  Admit it.  Most of us have way too much.  There are many out there without enough.
Enough randomness for this morning.  I will leave you with yesterday’s photo of Granddad and Granddaughter.
granddad
As I wrote yesterday on my Facebook page:
I love this photo. The beginning of a very important bond. My Papa was a major influence in my life from my birth to his death. I was lucky to live next door and spend many hours with him.
New life.  New beginnings.  New love.
Easy Sunday Morning Banana Bread
adapted from Simply Recipes
makes 1 loaf, 4 x 8
  • 2 to 3 very ripe bananas, peeled
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I also used rum flavoring)
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the flour)
  • I sprinkled turbinado sugar on top to give it a crunchy finish
1 Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and butter a 4×8-inch loaf pan.
2 In a mixing bowl, mash the ripe bananas with a fork until completely smooth. Stir the melted butter into the mashed bananas.
3 Mix in the baking soda and salt. Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla extract. Mix in the flour.
4 Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour at 350°F (175°C), or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. (Mine was completely done at 50 minutes.  Be sure to test and not overbake.)
5 Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack. Remove the banana bread from the pan. Slice and serve.

Bon appétit.  Bon dimanche.  Have a lovely week.  Be kind.  Be brave. Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Or even better.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Love at first sight

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I can be a bit cynical.  Oui, moi.  But love at first sight does exist.  It’s the love you feel the first time you hold your child.  Actually, this may be the purest form of love.  I felt it twice. And I have now fallen totally in love with my beautiful granddaughter.  Yes, I am a grandmother/grand-mère/mamie/grandma/grammy/mimi/whatever she wants to call me. This little angel came into the world at 7lb 7oz not quite a week ago. And she has stolen our hearts.
Not many moms go into the hospital to deliver a baby knowing what’s in store. We all have a basic plan, be it breathing or epidurals, but it just doesn’t always go the way we plan. This bundle’s arrival ended in a C-section after her mommy labored, labored, and labored some more.  As a result, she has a perfectly shaped head.
sleeping
Mommy is mending, Daddy is doing all he can to keep his girls happy and comfortable, and I (to be named at a later date) am totally in love.  She is loved by many.  Can you be loved by too many people?  Absolutely not.
Life will never be the same.  That’s the wonderful news.
I plan to be a Cookie Jar Grand-mère.  My own Grandma Bell had a Humpty-Dumpty cookie jar.  It’s funny, I do not remember her ever baking cookies.  Coconut layer cakes and banana fritters… oh my goodness yes.  But I remember that cookie jar.  Papa Bell would buy what we Crumbcrushers called Fuzzy Cookies- coconut marshmallow concoctions.
stock-photo-coconut-and-colorful-marshmallow-cookies-245294632
This is the closest image I could find to match the memory in my head.  A cookie bottom, squishy marshmallow covered in coconut.  Pink and white.  I doubt these cookies ever made it into the cookie jar.  They were consumed too quickly.
I googled Humpty Dumpty cookie jars to find out if one is out there waiting for me.  Oh, one is, but at antique collector prices.  I don’t know who got Grandma’s after she gave up housekeeping.  Pas moi, sadly.  Maybe someday I will come across one (even a knock-off) in a thrift shop.  Once can hope, right?
18229-1l
I did make cookies for the now mom while she was still a mom-to-be.  She said there is no such thing as too many chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies.
dough
The dough was pretty tasty.
prebake-best
As were the finished products.
baked
Someday, I will have a little helper helping me make cookies…
Mimi’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes 4 dozen (depending on the size you want them!)
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur’s)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, if desired
Fleur de sel or other flaky salt, to finish, if desired
Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Whisk to combine. Set aside.
Beat butter and sugars at medium speed of mixer until creamy.  Add vanilla.  Add eggs, one at a time, on low speed until thoroughly combined.
Gradually mix in dry ingredients, in thirds, until combined.  (Towards the end, I usually switch over to a wooden spoon to finish the mixing because the dough is thick.)  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using).
Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least one hour.  (I often leave mine overnight.)
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375˚F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop by teaspoonfuls (I use a small scoop) onto the baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt, if desired.
Bake 8-1/2 to 11 minutes, depending on how soft or crunchy you like your cookies.  I find that cookies baked for about 9 minutes will be crunchy on the outside, but still soft on the inside.  Cool for about 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Eat a warm one, just to make sure they are pass the test, though.
Bon appétit!  Here’s to falling in love, babies, cookies, and all grandmothers!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Green with envy / Verte de jalousie

green-guy
I know, I know.  Red and pink are supposed to be the colors now.  Valentine’s Day approaches. And I love hearts, flowers, and good dark chocolate.  Oh!  And don’t forget champagne. However, I am seeing green.  First, an author sent me an email asking me to review his book about living in Provence.  I jumped at that chance and the book is in the mail as I type this up.  More about that very soon since I will devour the book tout de suite.  (And I am thinking about offering a giveaway…) Next, Mme P from Pujaut sent me a link to a very funny AMERICAN stand-up comedian speaking FRENCH like a Français and making JOKES in French.  My jokes in English aren’t all that funny (just ask my students), but joking around and making people laugh in French?  Pas moi.  Pas possible.  This character, Sebastian Marx, has been living in France for 10 years.  I’ve been studying the language for 40+ years.  Ah oui, I’ve lived there a couple of times for a few months.  Voilà la différence.  It is indeed what I tell the kiddos and their parents.  We teachers cannot make you fluent.  We can stuff/cram/beat vocabulary and verbs into your darling little heads, but you can only become fluent by living the language.  C’est vrai.  And I never stop dreaming of moving over and doing just that once again.  Am I just a big romantic?  Do I put France and French up on a pedestal the way some of my French friends claim?  While I contemplate that for a few more minutes, watch this video of Sebastian and see what you think.  Funny guy.
If you don’t understand, maybe it’s time for you to move to France and learn French…  Just a suggestion.  We could start a commune.  And pledge to only speak French.  And cook good food.  And listen to good music.  And grow lavender.  And drink rosé year round.  And invite all of our new Frenchie friends over for apéritif. And hang our laundry outside to dry.  To heck with clothes dryers.  And ask everyone we meet “Ça va?” 
It’s just a thought worth thinking and daydreaming about.  So, I think that I will go do just that while whipping up some tapenade à la Fanny.  Oui, chef!
tapenade
Tapenade à la Fanny

2 cans of black olives, pitted
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (remove the skin and the germ)
Olive oil
5-6 anchovy filets (without the oil)
2 tsp. capers
Put all ingredients in a food processor and mix. Do not over process.  Add enough olive oil to obtain the proper consistency.
If you want to read (or reread) about the wonderful time I had hosting Fanny and Olivier at my house, click here.
Bon appétit and Happy Février!  Keep eating and laughing. And daydreaming.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hearts Part Deux

goat-cheese
I was just going to go back and edit the last post.  Really, I was.  Why should I make you read a whole new post?  Hearts Part Deux?  Seriously?  What’s up with that? Well, here’s what.  What about all of the expressions that we use that have to do with hearts?
A huge heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to this list!  Someone I recently met (from Chicago aka a Yankee) asked if we (Southerners) really say “Bless your heart.”  Duh.  Of course.  We learn that one in the crib.
  • broken heart
  • heat of gold
  • absence makes the heart grow fonder
  • heartwarming
  • hearty meal
  • hard-hearted
  • good-hearted
  • warms the cockles of my heart
  • I don’t have the heart to…
  • bless his/her heart
  • heartless
  • heartache
  • home is where the heart is
  • cold hands, warm heart
  • emptier than a banker’s heart
  • blame it on my head and not on my heart
  • I wear my heart on my sleeve (oh, man, did Daddy ever accuse me of this!)
  • be there in a heartbeat
  • have a heart
  • young at heart
  • you will always be in my heart
  • heartfelt apologies
  • mal au coeur
  • loin des yeux, loin du coeur
My take on it?  Love begins with yourself.  After all, you are what you have left at the end of the day.  You have to be your own best friend.  Watch Hallmark movies all you want. Personally, I love the happy, heartwarming endings.  Who doesn’t?  Deep down inside. Bless your heart if you don’t.
I did indeed get up and make those sugar cookies.  I left the butter out to come to room temperature so that when I got up it would be soft.  What a satisfying feeling.  Rolling out the dough.  Dipping the cookie cutters into the soft sweetness.  Sprinkling some color onto the colorless dough.  Smelling sugar and vanilla all through the house.  Pulling the tray out of the oven and letting the cookies cool just a couple of minutes before transferring them to the cooling rack. The ladies at the retirement home loved them.  We left the extras on the table near the piano.  Enjoy them, ladies and gentlemen.  I will be back!  We will sing.  We will dance, partner or not.  We will look at photos of your youth and remember the amazing things you did.  The tennis championships you won.  The children you birthed and raised.  The trips you took. Or the ones that you couldn’t take because you had an unfortunate accident. Save me a corner room overlooking the lake and near the dining room and fireplace.  But, until then, I still have stuff I want (need?) to do.

girlies
chloe
Thanks for putting up with us, Chloe.  Take good care of your mistress. She needs you more than you know.
Need a song to sing along with?  How about Waylon Jennings’ Good Hearted Woman.
Bon appétit to all.  Live every single day as if it were your last.  You never know what’s around the corner. The dear sweet ladies at Golden Pond taught me that today. And the amazing I-cannot-put-it-down book I am currently reading, The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg.  And I am three years older than the heroine of the story…  Do you have a green bowl?