I spent the past two days with eight middle schoolers, two boys and six girls, and another teacher from DA, Kim Aitken, cooking up Provençal goodies at C'est si bon! cooking school in Chapel Hill. Or is it in Carrboro? The address is Chapel Hill, but I think Dorette's house and the cooking school are actually zoned as Carrboro. Yes, a bit confusing. I just know how to get there. I'm not as good at getting back-- I am the queen of wrong turns. I was not blessed with a strong sense of direction. Getting turned around and taking wrong turns is just a part of the adventure of going on a trip with me. One time I didn't make it to one of my son's basketball games in north Raleigh until half-time because I could not find the road. I think I was actually in Wake Forest before I realized I had missed the turn.
Back to cooking. At DA, our Parents Association sets aside money for seminars. For the past three years, I have offered a two-day cooking class at C'est si bon! with Dorette Snover, her husband Rich and assistant Renee. Dorette is an amazing chef and an extremely patient teacher. Her sense of humor keeps me on my toes! I feel it is very important to get kids out of the classroom once in a while and out and about in the world.
When I was in high school in Spruce Pine, all freshman girls had to take Home Economics. I do not think it is still called that. I don't even know if high school students take this course any more. I'll bet it is no longer required for freshman girls. We aren't in the '70's anymore after all, are we? And I can spill all the flour I want to on the counter without putting my Home Ec grade in jeopardy. Nowadays, at least at DA, kids learn to cook on their own or from their parents, schedule permitting. Kids are really busy these days-- school, homework, sports practices and games, tutoring, music lessons, lessons of all kinds, actually. Do kids spend much time in the kitchen watching mom and/or dad cook? Do they help chop and measure? Do they wash dishes? Load the dishwasher? I spent hours next door in my grandparents' kitchen watching my grandfather cook. As a young man he was a chef in a hotel in High Point. That's how he met my grandmother who was a waitress. Or so the Bell family legend goes. My grandmother was the breakfast cook in their house. I learned to scramble eggs from her. She was well-known in First Baptist Church for her coconut cakes. She kept the preachers happy with those little gifts. They were often lop-sided, but they were so incredibly good. The homemade frosting was kind of crunchy and she did not skimp on the coconut. And her banana fritters-- oh my gosh. My grandfather cooked the "real" food-- stuffed peppers and beef stew are the two dishes I remember the best. I now wish I'd asked more questions and paid more attention while in his kitchen.
Dorette teaches kids to cook. She also teaches the importance of teamwork. Much of life consists of teamwork, to tell you the truth. Families are teams. A group of friends is a team. A class, an advisory group, clubs we belong to, all of these are teams. At cooking school, the kids didn't get dessert the second day. There wasn't enough time. After thinking about that on the drive back to DA, I realized that it was because they didn't work together to get dishes cleaned up in between courses. The kids were divided into four teams of two. Each team was responsible for a dish or course for our meal. After each course, the two team members cleaned up their serving dishes and put the leftovers away. The rest of the kids didn't realize that if they got up to help things would move more quickly. We tried to warn them an hour before departure time. At that point we still had one course to go and clean-up. That didn't motivate them. I guess an hour is a lifetime to middle schoolers. It probably is when you are sitting in class on a sunny Friday afternoon in May waiting for the 3:02 bell to ring and end the school day and week! In the kitchen, however, 60 minutes passes very quickly. I hope they learned that lesson, as well as the difference between an herb and a spice!
The chicken pictured above is one of Dorette's flock. They are Carrboro "free range" chickens. They get to eat all the yummy bugs and worms in her yard and around the amazing garden she and Rich have beside the cooking school. There is, I believe, one rooster and about 15 hens. One of the boys participating in the seminar expressed sympathy for the lone male because he has no other male buddies to hang out with on Brace Lane. Dorette and I decided not to get too far into a birds and bees lesson with him. She did ask him if he knows how eggs get fertilized and he assured us he does. So we let it go at that. I am sure he was quite relieved.
One of the lessons Dorette and Rich gave the kids was on the difference between the eggs from their hens and store bought eggs. They cracked open both kinds, examined the color of the yolks and the amount of whites in both before we scrambled them up. We used very well-seasoned pans, added olive oil and let the pans get quite hot before adding the beaten eggs. The secret to good scrambled eggs is to cook them quickly. We added salt and pepper at the end and let the kids taste the difference. Dorette's hens' eggs were described as "egg-ier." She told them that chefs decide which type to use depending upon whether or not they want an "egg-ier" taste in their dish.
We had fun going out to the hen house to look for eggs. That brought back memories of doing the same with my maternal grandmother who lived on a farm on top of a mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just outside of Spruce Pine in the area known as Penland, famous for the Penland School of Arts. Once again, I now wish I had enjoyed those times on the farm more and learned more from my grandparents. Is youth wasted on the young who are usually so eager to grow up and get away?
Enough philosophy for the week. Back to food. The recipe this time is a speciality of Nice, a large city found on the Côte d'Azur, the beautiful French Riviera, bordered by the brilliantly blue Mediterranean Sea. We filled these chick-pea crêpes with caramelized onions and rolled them. We served them with cut up sorrel, freshly picked from Dorette's garden, sprinkled on top as a garnish.
Socca crêpes make a wonderful appetizer. Serve with a nice bottle of chilled rosé. Either of the Domaine Pinchinat rosés in stock at Wine Authorities, the 2008 Venus or 2008 Côtes de Provence would be an excellent choice on a hot summer evening. Sip in the shade on the back deck and sample the socca.
And speaking of Wine Authorities, I ran into Seth, at the Durham Farmers' Market this morning. He was wearing a really cool hat while out shopping with his wife and daughter. I have now added mint to my herb garden and I have a pot of sunflowers to watch grow and bloom this summer. If I can't be in Provence this summer, I will bring some of it to my back deck in the form of sunflowers, lavender and rosé!
Socca de Nice
300 g (2 1/3 c) chick-pea flour
500 ml (2 c) cold water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Pour the cold water into a bowl and use a whisk to mix in the olive oil and salt. Add the flour and whisk thoroughly to remove any lumps. The batter should be thinner than typical crêpe batter (significantly thinner than pancake batter).
Lightly oil a non-stick pan with olive oil. The pan should be quite hot before pouring in batter. Pour in a ladle-full of the batter, quickly spreading the batter around in the pan by rotating it. Place on the flame and allow to cook for a couple of minutes, until you can flip it or turn it. Cook very briefly on the second side. Slide out of the pan and keep it warm until you have made all the socca and are ready to serve them.