Sunday, February 25, 2018


I am stealing from Sean Dietrich again today. Can't help it. I am head over heels in love with this man, his writing, his wife, Jamie, his hound dog, Ellie Mae, and his drawings. I will confess to him that I am using him as my guest blogger once again. I can't help it with this morning's story that popped up first thing in Facebook. Even FB knows of my love for Sean. He takes me back to my small town childhood. Sends me right up 1-40, takes the Bakersville Spruce Pine Burnsville exit and points me up the "mountain." He conjures up Mama Mildred, my Granny, my Grandma Christine, my aunt Jeannette, my mutt Poochie Pie Bell, the church ladies who are still cooking for funerals at Liberty Hill Baptist Church and First Baptist Church. He recently wrote about the death of Rev. Billy Graham and made me realize that the Crusades that I attended and watched on TV sitting on the sofa with Grandma Christine were not just for us North Carolina mountain folk. They even knew him in Alabama? Whoa. Really? Anyway, a while back I wrote about cookers and eaters. Sean made me realize that there is a third category-- feeders. (There are also lookers in there somewhere, but I am leery of people who just look...) So without further ado, friends, here are Sean's musings for today. After this, I will set out the butter and eggs to come to room temperature to concoct my own pound cake. Pound cake is known to cure just about anything. Seriously. Sending you hugs, Mama Mildred. Wish I could do it in person. With a big slice of pound cake just for you.

I am in the kitchen with an elderly woman named Pauline. And, dear Lord, can she cook.
Her son, Don, brought me here. He tells me his mother’s downhome fare is good enough to coax even the most depraved human being into behaving like a Pentecostal.
This is Pauline’s old home. She raised a family here. She doesn’t live here anymore, she’s too old. She’s in the retirement home.
This house sits vacant most of the time. Old photos line the walls. Bed sheets cover furniture. The last time they used this place was for a family reunion last year.
I arrive at eight in the morning. The smell of bacon hits me like a freight train. Crackling eggs. Biscuits. Grits. Holy Chet Atkins, I’m home.
Pauline is wearing 1962—red polka-dot apron, pearls. She’s all business. The woman is a feeder. If you don’t know what that is, have a seat at her table.
Her food is breathtaking. Her grits contain so much butter I need to say three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers when I'm finished.
After breakfast, she takes a breather. We wash dishes.
“Now,” she announces. “Let the REAL cooking begin.”
Class is in session.
I’m here as an observer, watching a feeder teach her son to make pound cake. It's a private moment. I feel privileged to see it.
Don is beside her, paying attention. She uses no recipes. She goes by feel.
“See,” Don tells me, “I always wanted to learn Mama’s poundcake. It’s the best there is, ask anyone, I just wanna carry on her legacy.”
You’ve never met her, but you already know her legacy. She represents every kitchen queen there ever was.
She is frilly aprons, Thursday-night Civic League, pear salad with cherries and shredded cheese on top, and an accent that makes your heart sore.
She cooks by handfuls, gut feelings, intuition, and can cure broken hearts with enough bacon grease.
Pauline learned to cook when she was ten. As a girl, she fed six brothers. As a married woman; three sons and a husband. Her whole life has been behind a stove.
“It’s what I am,” she says. “I feed folks.”
Her hands don’t work like they used to, and she gets winded after talking too much. She is not just an old woman. She is old America.
Her husband was a pipe welder—the backbone of this country. Pauline was his lumbar muscles.
Every day, another elderly woman like her crosses The River and the world loses another recipe index.
Pillsbury tube-biscuits are taking over the universe. Shoot me.
After a full day of baking, Don is testing his pound cake. His mother samples bites like a county-fair judge.
It’s impossible not to smile in this kitchen.
The old woman chews slow. “You DID it,” she says. “I’m so proud of you, Donnie.”
Don becomes “Donnie” again. I see it on his face. Even though he’s old enough to file for AARP, Mama's pride reduces all grown men into little boys.
She kisses him. The day is over. They send two cakes home with me. They shut the lights off to a vacant house.
I’m eating cake while writing you. My lap is littered with crumbs. I’m no expert, but this cake has a familiar taste. I can’t pinpoint the flavor. It hits the gut first. It’s sweet.
I know what it is.
This cake was made with the same ingredient all feeders use. The only ingredient that matters in this life.
Hug your mother today, if you have one.

Thank you, Sean!

Mama Mildred recently passed on this well-worn cookbook to me. She worked at Baxter's for several years and we used this cookbook extensively when I was growing up. My sister and I hand wrote quite a few recipes in it on blank pages, including this one:

Mahogany Pound Cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, room temperature, separated
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon bkaing soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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. Mix just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Spoon into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 325˚ for 1 hour and 15 minutes for until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Bon appétit to all feeders out there. There is a special place in heaven for you. With a tricked out kitchen and a never-ending supply of butter and eggs. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Once in a blue moon

(photo: Sam Bland)

I've heard the old expression, once in a blue moon, all of my life, but only just recently found out where it comes from. A blue moon is when there is a second full moon in a given calendar month. It isn't really blue, of course. Although Sam Bland, an amazing photographer, one of the Ex-Ex's best friends, brother-in-law to my sister-in-law, and uncle to the Adorable Granddaughter's mom (have I confused you enough?) sent me a blue one recently, along with the other photos of the moon in this post.

He used it in an article he wrote for Our Coast Magazine. I, too, am fascinated by the moon. I run outside with my iPhone or camera every time it appears, but my photos aren't much to brag about.

(I started writing this blog about three weeks ago and I just have not been able to finish it until tonight. The passing of my mom's second husband and then the death of my father-in-law have been tough. Memories of my dad's death came rushing back. It has now been three years since my brother passed away. Death is a part of life. I know this in my mind, but it is tough on my heart. But... I think that I am ready to finish now.)

January 31 brought us the Blue Moon. And the day before that full moon brought the passing of the patriarch of our family. My father-in-law, Nelson Leonard Engebretsen, left us. I like to think that Nelson is somewhere on the other side of this moon looking down on us now. He would love the color of that blue moon because he was a die-hard Duke basketball fan. As a matter of fact, he watched Duke beat Notre Dame 88-66 from his hospital bed on January 29, his last night. 

Nelson was the kind of man you meet once in a blue moon. Ask my mother-in-law, his bride and best friend for 62 years. She told us yesterday that they met when she was 15 years old.

Nelson and one of his buddies gave her a ride to the July 4 Sioux County, Nebraska rodeo. She sat between the two 17-year-olds in the cab of a pick-up truck and, as the drive to the fairgrounds progressed, she scooted closer and closer to Nelson and the rest is history. Nelson was a real cowboy, not the drugstore variety. He worked as a rancher and herdsman for most of his life, first in Nebraska then in North Carolina. He was tending cattle for TexasGulf when I came into the family in 1981. He worked for the state of Nebraska at Fort Robinson until 1970 when they closed the cattle operation there. A friend convinced him to move to Aurora, NC to tend cattle on reclaimed land after phosphate had been mined from it. He moved his bride and their three children, 1,850 miles from the only home they had known, leaving behind relatives and friends. I watched him tag cattle, birth calves, and corral steers.

Nelson was an extraordinary ordinary man. He loved Nebraska Cornhusker football, Duke basketball, Nebraska wheat fields, the Black Hills, being outdoors, God, his cat Socks, grilling, a cold beer while mowing the grass, and his family. I am so lucky that I was able to call him my father-in-law.

The Ex-Ex gave an amazing eulogy at his dad's funeral service. I will let him take it from here.

I'm a bit like my father- I do not cry often - but when I do, I don't have much control over it, so bear with me.

I'm Steve, the middle child and oldest son in our blessed family, and I am here to represent my sister Cindy, my brother David, and their families, as well as my wife and children.

I am also here to represent my amazing mother, who along with Dad, provided us all with a loving, happy, fun, nurturing home. One that I wish every child could have growing up.

My father moved our family to Aurora in 1970, after living and working as a rancher and cattleman in Western Nebraska where he grew up. Dad then spent some of the best years of his life as the herdsman for the large cattle operation that TexasGulf included at the time. He became an important member of the TexasGulf and Aurora community- making friends, being involved in the lives of many people and getting to know just about everyone. Our family has often talked of the bravery it took to make that move in 1970. Moving three children ages 6-13 to a new land, a new job, a completely new way of life. But my Dad was wise and brave and turned this leap of faith into a great opportunity and a great life that we have all benefited from for the last 50 years. My Dad did a lot of things in his job over the years, but what he was best at and enjoyed the most was his time as a cattleman or, as his grandsons like to say, a cowboy, both in Nebraska and in North Carolina.

To use a sports analogy, my Dad was an all-star. He was an all-star husband, an all-star father, an all-star grandfather, and, just recently, he became an all-star great-grandfather.

He was also an all-star son and brother to his own family in Nebraska. He loved his own parents and two younger sisters very much. I think that many here would consider him an all-star friend or co-worker or community member- maybe one of the best any of us has ever known. My Dad was also any all-star "griller" throughout his 50's, 60's and 70's. His skill was so intimidating- to the point where I am still reluctant to grill anything for the family!

My Dad did not have a college education- but was perhaps the smartest man I know. He could be a man of few words at times- but when he spoke it was always best to listen- he was wise, and he was a great conversationalist. Dad was smart and he was talented. He could recall and loved to tell stories from the Nebraska days, his childhood, our teenage years, special times with his grandchildren, and all the more recent happenings of our family and special events in our lives. We all will always remember the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face when spending time just being with him and talking to him.

When his grandsons were younger we often found ourselves at Grandma and Grandad's house on holidays. Dad had a VERY large jar for collecting pennies. Aaron, Jake and Grant were always fascinated by it. One day, my Dad told them "When I'm gone all those pennies will be yours!" It think it was the youngest, Grant, who said "Where are you going and when are you leaving, Granddad?" Dad just laughed and said "Nowhere for a while... you'll have to wait a bit longer!" He retold that story dozens of times with a laugh.

We all know where you are now, Dad. And Aaron, Jake and Grant- Grandma says you can come get that big heavy thing our of the house anytime!

My mother told me the story of when they were first dating in the 1950's in Nebraska. She said to him once "I've never known a person named Nelson who wasn't rich or famous (Rockefeller, Mandela, Nellie Foxx, Ozzie Nelson). And my Dad said to her "Well, sweetie- just give me time!"

My Dad was famous, I think, to all of us here today.

My Dad was rich. You see, our dad measured that type of thing differently and I believe he felt like one of the most blessed people ever.

If my Dad could speak to all of us right now- and he is listening- he'd say to the great folks of this church and to all of his friends--

--Thank you for a lifetime of memories and for helping make my life full.

--Keep doing good work.

--Keep helping people- try not to let things get too complicated and when in doubt, be kind to people.

My Dad was, in my eyes, the ultimate example of how to be a good man.

So, to me, David, Rick, Aaron, Jake and Grant- We have had an example right before our eyes of how to be a great father, spouse, in-law, brother, son, friend. Let's all try to remember to follow that example and be better at all of those things. Living up to how he did it is some serious pressure, I know. But let's try.

To Cindy, Teresa, Kim, Katie, Elizabeth, Makayla and little Kennedy and Lily, my Dad has lived and shown you what you deserve from the men in your lives. Help the men in your lives live up to that- try to be the kind of mother, spouse, sister, friend that our mother has been in her nearly 62-year partnership with Dad. Sometimes it may take patience with this crowd of men!

Mom, I'm pretty sure you've felt and heard Dad's words of comfort and love to you in these past six days. Everyone in this room knows you were the light of his life. And that he was that to you. That will never change. And we all also know that he hopes-- and expects-- you to enjoy many more of those happy days with your family, friends and your church.

We all need that and look forward to that with you. And we all love you.

Thank you, Dad. We love you.

Bon appétit, mes amis. Love with all of your heart. Life and love are all too short.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

126,662 steps / 55.1 miles

These New Balance cross trainers were made for walking…
And that’s just what they did. For six full days in Paris. Wednesday with Ghislaine (21,017 steps, 9.3 miles). It’s no wonder that I have a sore muscle (or something) around my left ankle. No blisters, though, I am happy to report. One sore toenail, but Tom at Posh Nails will fix that. TMI? Probably! I did use the métro sometimes. It was a bit frustrating that the Châtelet station is closed right now and that messed me up while trying to get to the Ritz to have a drink with friends in Bar Hemingway. It would have been faster to walk from my hotel, I think.
It’s a good thing I walked so much because I ate exceptionally well on this trip. Bertrand of My Private Paris made a couple of recommendations and I found a café on Rue Saint Dominique that I’ve wanted to try for a couple of years (it deserves its own blogpost). And ACIS treated us to two great meals, one being the apéritif dînatoire at the Pullman Hotel from the last post and the other, our farewell dinner at Lapérouse, on the Quai des Grands Augustins. Not a place I would go on my own ($$$$) but what a thrill.
From the Mercier champagne to begin–
To the coffee and little coconut and jellied fruit bites to end.
And in between?
Appetizers served on the ground floor of the restaurant, with champagne.
I love the spoon. There were also gougères. And probably other delicious little bites. I always find myself talking too much to taste everything. Quelle surprise. I found Bill who shares my love of Van Gogh. Kristi and Angela and I had a great chat. Jeremy won for best tie (Starry Night). Scott and Cindy and I became fast friends and spent time together on the food tour and at Bar Hemingway, along with Kristi and Angela. Janel, my roommate. Luis from Texas (who shared his Angelina Mont Blanc with us at the hotel afterwards- yes, we ate more). Amber and Eric. Pamela and Phil. Kathy from Nebraska. Laurie and Sean. Jeannie, Morgan, Caroline Ann from ACIS U.S. offices. Claire, Isabelle, and Bouchara from the Paris office. Bertrand.
We were then ushered into a big room upstairs for dinner.
At first, my tablemates and I were a bit confused–
soup base
This was served in a rather large bowl. Hmmm. Some new fad in the starter courses, I wondered? But the handsome young man (pictured above first serving champagne) cautioned us to wait because the dish wasn’t finished. And sure enough, in just a few minutes, another waiter came to add to the bowl. Voilà! Velouté d’asperges. Cream of asparagus soup. Very, very good.
The main course was duck. Le canard. I am very fond of duck.
With sweet potato purée.
Dessert was a first for me. Soufflé. Oui, seriously. I’ve never eaten one nor tried to make one. Until this one. Caramel. Served with sorbet.
Heavenly. Fluffy. Airy. Cloud bites of caramel air.
It was a lovely, delicious evening, as always with ACIS. They treat their teachers like royalty.
Some random photos. If you read about the history of this place, you may be a bit shocked but amused as well, I think. There are lots of little rooms and I wasn’t brave enough to poke my head into many of them. Rumor has it that George Clooney has been spotted here. I wouldn’t doubt it.
I really hope to find a tried and true recipe for soufflé. Cindy from California is, from what I heard on the trip, quite a baker, and has promised to send a recipe when she returns home. She and Scott extended their stay until Saturday. They are even luckier than I am.
Bon appétit! I hope that you enjoyed my eating adventure. I think that I need to get out a map of Paris and highlight as many streets as I can that I walked on. Before I forget and my ankle heals! And before the student adventure in March. Eat something good with someone you love! Or eat solo. Or make new friends! Be adventurous!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Paris-- One more day

I was able to blog on Wordpress but not on Blogspot while away. I had a fabulous, amazing, delicious week in Paris. Here are two posts I did while on the road--

It has been an amazing trip. With only one more night to go. It always goes by so (too) quickly. I bought the macarons and chocolate today during a Montmartre food/art/history tour with the amazing Bertrand.
If you ever need a guide to show you around, Bertrand is your man. He knows Paris like the back of his hand. We learned about cheese, foie gras, bread, pastries, Picasso, other artists who lived in this wonderful neighborhood as well as the history of the quartier. My Private Paris.
I saw where my beloved Vincent Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo.
There is so much to see if you take the time to follow the winding streets, such as Rue Lepic, to the top, instead of just taking the metro to Abbesses and then the stairs or funicular to the Sacré Cœur Church.
We had blue skies (Bertrand says he has an app for that on his watch) and wind, but, hey, it’s January. Who cares anyway? There are two things I cannot control during my trips– the exchange rate and the weather. Right?
I ate lunch at a little café Bertrand recommended, Le Colibri. Excellent. Stéphane, the owner/server (?) suggested “farandole de légumes farcis” and I took him up on it.
Delicious. Yellow pepper, zucchini and tomato. Now you see it–
Now you don’t. It was that good. Stéphane asked me if I liked it, I nodded enthusiastically to which he replied “Si vous êtes contente, je suis content.” If you’re happy, I’m happy.
I love making desserts, but I really don’t eat them all that often. Tarte Normande is hard to pass up, though. I’ve tried to make it, but without a great deal of success. It is not like this…
I suppose I will keep trying!
I have made some wonderful new friends and I saw a few from last year and the year before. This type of experience feeds my soul (as well as my tummy) and makes me a much better teacher. I put my heart into teaching and I am so lucky that I get to experience France twice a year. I think I bring that enthusiasm back to my classroom. I certainly give it my all.
This trip will deserve a much longer blog post and a couple of new recipes when I get home. Until then, how about a photo of tonight’s souple à l’oignon gratinée? A great dish for a chilly rainy evening.
Bon appétit à tous!!
The view from the street just as I turn the corner to my hotel, the Hôtel de Senlis, just next to the Panthéon.
I am just next door to Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Louis Braille and Jean Moulin. Just to name four. I feel very safe! And smarter and more courageous.
Bonne nuit, dors bien. À demain.

Eating in Paris: Days 1 and 2

It is pretty glorious here in Paris. After walking all day, I decided to take a break in the shadow of Notre Dame. I went in to the cathedral to light a candle for Mme Christiane Buchanan, my high school French teacher.
I always do this when I am in Paris. Merci, madame.
There was delicious eating going on last night on the 10th floor of the Pullman Hotel (used to be the Hilton Paris). This was our view–
ACIS treated us to an apéritif dînatoire. Ready?
And looking at them now, I realize there were things I did not photograph before eating. Oops! My bad. Little bits of lots of goodness.
Check out this cute little eating utensil!
Très pratique!
Breakfast today at hotel —
Lunch at a café near Le Grand Palais just off the Champs-Élysées-
The was the perfect bite– cantal cheese, gésier and a fried potato-
When I put those three together, I felt kind of like the rat In Ratatouille before he gets electrocuted.
And now, lo and behold, it’s dinner time. Off to explore the neighborhood around my hotel to find something yummy.
Bon appétit et à plus!!