Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Tribute to Mme Buchanan

In the fall of 1973, I signed up for French I at Harris High School in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. My aunt Sandi, 11 years older than me, had studied French and I pretty much worshiped her and wanted to be just like her. I was also a big fan of Pepe Le Pew, to be perfectly honest, of Looney Tunes fame. That smooth-talking bumbling French skunk. He never really got the female cat (he thought she was a skunk...). I even dressed up like him one Halloween. French was not particularly easy for me at first. And to be honest, I probably did not quite see the value in learning to conjugate verbs. However, by Christmas of that year, I had fallen in love. I was head over heels in love with a country that was 4212.9 miles or 6780 kilometers from my home in the Appalachian Mountains. I had never been on an airplane and the farthest I had ever been from home was to the Gulf Coast of Florida with my grandfather. By my junior year of high school, I was determined to go to France. I remember asking Mme Buchanan if any of her students had ever studied in France. She named one person and then and there I vowed I would be the next.
With Mme Buchanan's help, I went to Appalachian State University to study French. She actually took me to campus one day (only about an hour's drive from Spruce Pine) and marched me into the office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to introduce me. We also visited the language lab where she managed to get me an on-campus job. I was a full scholarship student and needed the work-study job so that I would have some spending money.
I worked hard and saved my money, determined to go to France after my sophomore year at ASU. I went with two friends who were also French majors. We were accepted as foreign students at the Université de Dijon. However, when we arrived we couldn't find a place to live. Diana, one of my friends, found a family to live with and be the family's au pair. Melody and I headed to the south of France, to Cannes, to enroll at an international school and find a place to live. I lived with the dad of a friend we had made. The dad worked at the Hôtel Martinez and took me under his wing, teaching me to cook and to play squash. He made me watch game shows so that my French would improve.
At one point, before heading back to the States, Melody and I decided to visit the city of Soissons, hometown of Mme Buchanan. We had dinner with her sister's family and stayed with her niece, Claudie and her husband. Claudie had spent time with Mme Buchanan during my senior year in high school so I already knew her.
Mme Buchanan told me that she would be ready to retire when I graduated from ASU. I, however, had other plans. I was briefly tempted to become a flight attendant and filled out forms for Pan Am. My senior year, I heard about Durham Academy and decided to apply for a teaching job. Lo and behold, I got the job even before graduating and never looked back. My former chemistry teacher told me that he would give me one year in the "big city" and then I'd be ready to come home to Spruce Pine. While I do miss the mountains, I love living in Durham and am still at DA, 29 years later.
I stayed in touch with Mme Buchanan over the years, sporadically sending Christmas cards and postcards from Paris. I regret that I did not get to know her as an adult. I am sure that she had amazing stories to tell about France during WWII. She did as General Charles de Gaulle told the French young women to do at the end of the war. She married her American soldier and moved to the mountains of North Carolina. Her mother, Mme Roze, moved in with them at some point. Mme Roze would come to French class once in a while and we would practice our French on her. The poor woman. I imagine we all said the same thing... "Bonjour, madame. Comment allez-vous?" She was very patient, as I remember. Mme Buchanan told us that her husband spoke no French and her mom spoke no English. Hmmm... maybe that's the secret to getting along with your belle-mère.
Every time I go to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris I light a candle for Mme Buchanan. I am not Catholic. She, however, was very devout. I light a candle, as a small token of my gratitude for the woman who took such a strong interest in me and my future. In November 2008, I was in Paris with Steve, my soon to be un-ex husband. On Sunday, November 16 we went to Notre Dame. Steve was uncomfortable since there was an evening service going on, but tourists were walking around the cathedral. I assured him that it was okay to do this, just be quiet and respectful. The cathedral is a pilgrimage place for Catholics, with hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors every day. As usual, I paused at one of the altars to light a candle and say a quick prayer of gratitude for my French teacher.
The following Tuesday my sister called me on my cell phone to let me know that Mme Buchanan had passed away. She knew that I would want to know. As tears came to my eyes, I thought to ask Marsha when Madame had died. She said she thought it was Sunday, but she wasn't sure. She later called me back to let me know that it was indeed Sunday, November 16. I only hope that my little candle, lit in the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame, Our Lady, helped light Christiane Roze Buchanan's way to heaven. I am sure she is there and I will want her to visit my heaven when I get there so that we can get caught up!

Note: The top photo is of my students lighting a candle for Mme Buchanan in Notre Dame during our spring break trip to Paris. I told them the story of my annual candle-lighting before we left Durham. I came down with the flu the second day of our trip, the day they went with Chappell, my co-chaperon, and Béatrice, our Parisian guide, to Notre Dame. They kept up my tradition. I was able to light at candle at the church of La Madeleine later in the week.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It is what it is...

It is what it is has become a popular saying as of late with my friends. It came in handy last week when the 7th grade teachers and I loaded our 93 students onto charter buses to go to Washington, DC for our annual class trip and the windshield wipers on one bus stopped working. We had to go about 1 1/2 hours out of our way to get a new bus. Therefore, we were late arriving in DC and missed our lunch stop at the Old Post Office. It is what it is. It has also come in handy for my BFF Martha as she and her family deal with her brother's illness. Ben, the smartest kid in the family according to Martha's mom, had surgery to remove a brain tumor last week. He is at home recovering, waiting for more test results. Helen, Martha's mom, came up with another very wise saying. It is very simple, but it pretty much covers most of life's unpleasantness. Upon learning that Ben was scheduled for surgery, Helen said, "Well, sometimes you just have to live with life." In my world, I choose to believe that God doesn't send bad things down to punish us. I am a reformed Southern Baptist and I chose to believe that bad things just happen. That's the way life goes. It is what it is. It is how we choose to deal with what happens to us that makes or breaks us. So, Helen's philosophical pearl fits with my own way of looking at life. Martha gave me permission to quote her mom. Thanks, BFF, you are pretty smart yourself! Ben didn't get all the brains. You are all in my prayers.
I continue to try desperately to get myself back into the American world of multi-tasking. In France, I vowed to give up that bad habit. And, admittedly, it was much easier not to multi-task in Provence. Real life was not knocking on my door there. Deadlines and schedules really didn't concern me too much. I could wake up each morning and play it minute by minute or hour by hour. I didn't have to worry about forgetting meetings or preparing the test for tomorrow. Now that I have returned to real life, I find myself in charge again. In charge of 7th grade team meetings, in charge of planning lessons for my eager-to-learn 7th and 8th graders, in charge of making sure everything is ready for our trip to France next week, in charge of the business meeting on March 14 for the NC American Association of Teachers of French. I love my job. I love my students. I love my family. But I do wistfully think back on my six months of adventure and not being in charge of much of anything.
I try to take a few minutes each day to transport myself back... I have thousands of photos on my computer to look at. The one in today's posting was taken by Chef Érick on our trip to the Gorges de l'Ardêche. Très beau, n'est-ce pas? It was a beautiful fall day. Fall is my favorite season. Jeans and long-sleeve t-shirt weather, my favorite weather. The leaves were changing colors and I was so excited to see them. There weren't many trees in Arles that changed into the reds, oranges and yellows I am used to, so seeing those yellow leaves through the rock formation made me feel a bit at home. If you've ever been to Linville Gorge in the fall, you know what I mean.
I listen to music. Chef Érick introduced me to Buena Vista Social Club. Even though they are Cuban and the music is in Spanish, it takes me back to Arles and the music we would listen to at dinner.
I read Kristin Espinasse's Word-A-Day posts and look at her incredible photos of Provence. I turn green with envy as I read about her life and her husband's vineyard.
This morning, my colleagues Daniela (she speaks Italian, French, Spanish and English) and Marianne (Spanish, French and English) and I got together in my classroom and spent about 10 minutes speaking French. This comes in very handy when you do not want to be understood by very curious little ears! But it also gives me such immense pleasure and reminds me of how much more proficient I became while I was in France.
Alex Goolsby sent me a live webcam website from Paris so that I can gaze at the Eiffel Tower and watch it sparkle every hour in anticipation of my visit in just a few days.
I pick up my current book, I'll Never Be French (no matter how hard I try), and laugh at the author's descriptions of his life in Brittany.
I chose a recipe that calls for herbes de provence and olive oil for dinner for Grant and Steve.
I am very lucky that my daily job supports and indulges my French habit!
I continue to promise stories from Paris in the very near future. I will be there in one week with my students! Quelle chance! However, Anna, a friend and colleague, informed me today that I have just about used up my "fun quota." I beg to differ, Ms. Tabor- I still have quite a bit of fun left in me! And I firmly believe there are more adventures just waiting out there! Right around the corner...
Today's recipe comes from Kristin's website. She credits her Uncle Jacques. Elizabeth, one of my 8th grade students, made it for her classmates a couple of weeks ago and not a crumb was left at the end of class.

Bon appétit!

Gâteau au Yaourt

One small container of plain yogurt
vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 tsp baking soda

Fill the empty yogurt container with:
3 x flour
2 x sugar
1 x vegetable oil (Elizabeth says you do not need this much...)

Combine the yogurt, beaten eggs and sugar. Add the flour and baking soda. Stir. Add a pinch of salt. Pour in oil and mix well. (Uncle Jacques recommends using a fouet or whip to mix the batter.) Pour into a cake pan and bake 45 minutes at 300F.

Uncle Jacques also suggests adding canned, drained pears to the top of the cake before baking.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Life Resumed

The Sabbatical Chef has returned to "real life." As of today, February 15, I have been home for two months. I have resumed teaching at Durham Academy and have finally learned the names of my students. I have worked with Dorette at C'est si bon! (I continue to stress the fact that I am an assistant, not a chef!) I have taken over as president of the North Carolina Association of Teachers of French and survived my first board meeting. I moved in with my sixteen year old son and my ex-husband. (Steve got his passport, came to Paris, finally, and proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. What can I say? That story deserves its own entry and I will try to get it all in words soon. The headmaster at DA is taking full credit for our reconciliation since he gave Steve the time off to come visit me.) I have unpacked almost all the boxes and found most of my belongings, thank goodness. Grant's two cats seem to like me and Rusty has stopped hiding from me. I went to Spruce Pine to visit my family in the mountains. They are very happy to have me home safe and sound but still do not understand what I was doing over there in the first place. I have a meeting tomorrow with the features editor at the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper to talk about the possibility of a new column. Life goes on, almost as if it was never interrupted. Life has a way of doing that, I have discovered. My six months in France seem dream-like now. I bring up iPhoto on my MacBook daily to look at a few photos, however, to remind myself that it really happened.
Life in Arles goes on without me, too, of course. Wally has returned to Lisbon. Didier and Monique have closed their brocanterie on Rue de 4 Septembre. Business had not been good, unfortunately, for a while. They hope to open a tea room, if they can find a suitable space. Or Didier said he can always go back to work as a stock trader in Paris. (I was shocked to find out he had done this at one time- I told him he seemed much too nice for that line of work!) Business at Gilles' bookshop has been slow, too. Although Christian Lacroix told the newspapers and magazines that he thought his exhibit at the Musée Réattu would be good for the local businesses, it didn't really help much. The exhibit was a grand success, however, and was extended until December. The B&B is up for sale. No offers have been made, though, so Chef Érick continues to rent out rooms. He plans to continue offering his cooking classes and visits around Provence but is looking for someone who is computer savvy to help him set up a website and blog, as well as an English-speaking assistant for the spring and summer. Provence experienced its largest snowstorm in 21 years. I begged Érick to go out in it with his camera so that he could send me some photos of Arles covered in snow. The posted photo is of the front door to the B&B.
At one point in the summer, probably mid-July or early August, I thought seriously about making Arles my home. I wasn't sure how to do that and didn't even have a long-stay visa for the six months I was there (another story involving red-tape and passports). A guest joked that I could find a French man to marry. The pace of life suited me perfectly. I loved the guests and meeting new people every day. I could walk wherever I needed to go. I could feel my French improving daily. I ate like a queen- all the shrimp and mussels I wanted. Nice chilled rosé and Picpoul de Pinet. Lovely reds from Pic St. Loup. Moussu T e lei Jovents music. Drinks at dusk in the Place du Forum, gazing at the Van Gogh café (now painted to match his famous painting of Le Café la Nuit- but do not eat there. Lousy food and questionable owners.) But waves of homesickness would hit me like a ton of bricks every time I thought about my two sons. And I finally realized that I missed my life, my real life. When I put Martha and Monette on the plane in Marseille in mid-September and drove myself back to Arles on that early Sunday morning, I knew that I would be ready to fly home myself in three months. At that point in time, I still had no idea that I would come back to Durham and resume, in many ways, my life of four years earlier, before Arles ever happened to me in 2005. Only the new and improved version. Older and wiser but still young enough to appreciate and enjoy the changes that can happen if you are open and can let go of the past.
I am asked repeatedly if I miss France. The answer is a most definite oui. How could I not miss speaking the beautiful language, enjoying long lunches and amazing conversation in that language, staring history in the face every time I walked down a street past a monument built over 2,000 years ago, walking through the market and smelling roasting chickens, herbs and spices sitting in open baskets, fragrant goat cheese, freshly cut lavender and lavender scented soaps. The scenery is a work of art and most of it has indeed been painted and photographed many times over the years, from the abbeys and churches to the fields of sunflowers and lavender to the Roman arenas and aqueducts. Provence is a feast for the senses.
I have indeed brought some of it home with me. I have made lamb and tarte Tatin for friends (I couldn't have made the tarte without Martha's help and pan!). I have turned Grant on to the joy of freshly grated parmesan cheese on his pasta instead of the stuff in the green can. I have made French toast for him from my orange brioche. I sprinkle my chicken recipes liberally with herbes de provence as they cook in olive oil. I have shown a video clip of Moussu T et lei Jovents to my students and taught them the song "Forever Polida," as well as "Le Tube de Toilette" by Boby Lapointe, a song that goes along with the vocabulary we are learning. I made a presentation to our middle school students on truffle hunting and showed a short video that I took with my camera. Martha and I are going to cook with the boys from the Durham Nativity School in March and teach them to make tarte Tatin. I am reading Death in the Truffle Wood by Pierre Magnan, a murder mystery that takes place in Provence. I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside, The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo, A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan and Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow are on the nightstand waiting for me. I consult Bistro Chicken by Mary Ellen Evans and French Woman Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano for new recipes once in a while. I check out Kristin Espinasse's French Word-A-Day website two or three times a week for photos of Provence. In less than three weeks I head to Paris, Normandy and Senlis with 21 8th graders for our spring break trip. I continue to be a very lucky woman.

My (Nearly) Perfect Orange Brioche Recipe
(found on the back of a package of yeast in France and slightly modified...)

1/4 lb (one stick) of softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs (at room temperature)
1/4 c. warm water
one package active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm milk
orange flavoring
2-3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
apricot or strawberry preserves

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
Mix the butter, eggs, sugar, warm milk and orange flavoring. I have sweet orange essential oil that I bought at Florame ( and I use 4-5 drops of it. I know that you can find orange flavoring at the supermarket.
Add the yeast mixture and mix.
Add the combined flour and salt. Add enough flour to have a dough that you can knead (not too sticky).
Turn onto a flour covered surface and knead for about 5 minutes or so.
Place in a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place to rise. My microwave is above the stove and is a great place. Allow to rise for 2 hours.
Turn onto a flour covered surface again and knead for another 5 minutes. Shape however you wish-- into rolls, two small loaves or one large one. Place in pans.
Cover again and allow to rise for 2 more hours.
After the second rising, you can bake or you can put it in the refrigerator overnight and bake the next morning (allow the dough to come to room temperature before baking).
Brush with the egg yolk and bake at 400F for about 20-30 minutes. Baking time will depend upon the shape of your brioche. Rolls take a shorter time. Adjust the oven, if necessary, lowering the temperature a bit if it seems to be baking too fast or if your oven tends to be on the hot side.
After baking, while still warm, brush with preserves (you can warm them in the microwave so that they brush easily- I have also used orange juice at this point, when I didn't have any preserves) and then sprinkle lightly with sugar. I have mixed orange essence in with the sugar before sprinkling to give it more orange flavor. As you can see, I have played around with this recipe. It is wonderful hot from the oven. It makes really good French toast when it is a couple of days old and a bit stale. It is also good sliced and toasted. It is not very sweet. French pastries and desserts are not as sweet as American ones.
Enjoy! And please let me know if you make it and something just doesn't work or you make a modification that helps! It isn't perfect yet! A work in progress!

Érick's Rice and Tuna Salad
(with my modifications!)

2 cups rice, cooked and drained (I use whole grain)
2 cans of tuna (I use tuna packed in olive oil- big difference in taste!)
1 can chick peas
1 jar (about a cup) of artichoke hearts, if desired
1 Tbsp capers (or more to taste)
Chopped green or red bell pepper, if desired
Juice of 1/2-1 lemon
Olive oil- enough to moisten the salad or to taste
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp tarragon

Mix everything together. If desired, however, you can mix the "dressing" ingredients separately- lemon juice, olive oil and mustard- and pour over the salad. This is good warm or cold. I like it at room temperature so that the olive oil warms up. I sprinkle on the sea salt just before eating.

Sometimes I use leftover pasta instead of the rice. I leave out the chick peas when I use pasta.

Bon appétit, mes amis!