Sunday, May 17, 2009

How my garden grows

Time marches on... and at a very fast clip. The school year will be over in just a couple of weeks. All of my middle school colleagues and I are in a bit of panic, wondering how on earth we will cover the material that's left. I especially feel that way with my 8th graders. They will move on to the upper school and French 3 and leave me behind. Did I teach them as much as I could/should have? The 7th graders will be back next year. I had to solemnly promise three girls last week that I would not leave them again. I guess that is a good thing, but they may change their mind when they take my final exam...
Before I came home, friends promised me that I would not be disappointed this spring at the Durham Farmers' market. They were so right! I wake up every Saturday morning now, hoping for sun so that it will be a nice morning in downtown Durham at Central Park. Steve and I have gone several Saturdays, after stopping for coffee at Foster's Market (the very best coffee in all of Durham-- I admit to missing it while I was in France, even though Érick's Ethiopian coffee brewed in an Italian pot was really good). I now have basil, thyme, French tarragon, rosemary, mint, sage, two pots of lavender, a cute little pot of sunflowers and two tomato plants growing on my deck. They love the morning sun and are thriving. No, Martha, as you have seen with your very own two eyes, I have not killed them yet. One pot of lavender is already blooming, as are the mini-sunflowers. One of the tomato plants already had "babies" on it when I bought it, so I guess I can't take too much credit for that, can I?
This past Saturday, Steve was busy watching the DA women's lacrosse team win the state championship in Raleigh (Go, Lady Cavs!), so I called up Martha and took her with me to the market. It was her first visit. We were in heaven. It was a beautiful morning. Quite a crowd had already assembled by the time we arrived around 10:00 am. We stopped at a booth selling the "Soon-To-Be Best Pecan Pie" in the south. Trust me, it is good. Deep dish. Not too sweet. Very nice crust. I think the secret ingredient might be sweet potatoes. I will be back for more. We bought fresh mozzarella cheese from Chapel Hill Cremery to go with the tomatoes we found. Fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, basil from my little garden, sea salt and olive oil. My, oh my. We made the rounds of the craft booths-- stained glass, jewelry, recycled junk turned into very creative yard art and beautiful photos of Durham. We found someone selling more of the cute little sunflowers so I bought one for MK for her upcoming birthday. She needs a little Provence on her porch, too. You really haven't lived until you've seen them growing along side the road between Arles and St. Rémy de Provence. Such was Vincent's inspiration back in the 1880's. (Anyone out there want to go to Provence with me next summer??) Oh, and BTW, Salamanzar, those sunflowers will never be as tall as me so can you amend the rosé offer, s'il te plaît?
Back to our circuit of the market. We bought melt-in-your-mouth strawberries from Lyon Farms. We watched a competition between three local chefs, using radishes, the week's secret ingredient. Chris Stennant from Pop's and Rue Cler grilled sea scallops, placed them on a bed of greens and asparagus, then topped it with a beet and radish sauce. Absolutely stunning colors. We ran into Pat Fox, one of my favorite people in the whole entire world and a member of the Arles 6. I had the pleasure of introducing him to Martha.
Everyday after school I proctor study hall until 5:00 pm. Well, Monday through Thursday I do this. It forces me to get my work done and I do get paid extra for this duty. This past Friday afternoon Martha and I spent an hour sitting on the really comfy sofa at Wine Authorities with a nice glass of rosé. We sampled Giacomo's Black Label Limited Edition Salami with provolone cheese and calamati olives in it. A very nice start to the weekend, n'est-ce pas? Seth pushing his daughter around the store in a shopping cart was a sight to behold. Her giggle was music to our ears.
Saturday night, Steve suggested dinner out. Never one to turn down an invitation to go out and about, I immediately said yes. Both of our sons have their driver's licenses and were out with friends-- we are glad to be past the babysitter stage, trust me. We decided to try Watts Grocery without reservations. Steve had been there for lunch but not for dinner. I had heard great things about it from the Goolsby clan (Betty is also of Arles 6 fame) when they were in Arles with me at Thanksgiving. Chef Amy Tournquist's name has popped up in several articles I've read lately about Triangle dining. It was crowded when we arrived around 7pm, but we didn't have to wait long for a spot at the bar. We ordered glasses of Ponzi Pinot Gris from Oregon while we studied the menu and waited for a table. A delicious crisp white wine. They have nice wine glasses, too, just as WA does, with thin rims and delicate stems. Kind of has a ring to it, doesn't it? A table came open for us in about 30 minutes and we decided upon our order. Steve chose NC Gumbo with shrimp and house andouille sausage served with rice. He ate every little morsel (he did let me sample a bit of the sausage). I ordered a salad from the appetizer menu with a side order of hushpuppies. My salad was heavenly. Lovely new lettuces, strawberries, walnuts that seemed to have a little extra sweetness to them, fresh goat cheese and a Dijon mustard dressing. Oh my great goodness. I practiced putting my knife and fork down in between each bite in order not to gobble it down too quickly! The hushpuppies and dipping sauce brought back memories of the "Put the South in Your Mouth" meal that Dorette Snover and I prepared for our skeptical friends in Arles before she left to come home to Carrboro back in August. I did let Steve have one of them. Nice of me, I thought. We were also served squares of warm cornbread. What a wonderful meal!
And lest you think that it has been a perfect food weekend, I managed to ruin the spicy chicken strips I made for dinner tonight. I didn't have all the spices my recipe called for so I used a Cajun seasoning mix I found in the cupboard. Big mistake. They were so salty none of us could eat them. At least we also had bowtie pasta and Caesar salad. The boys have already been down stairs rummaging through the cupboards twice since dinner. Tomorrow night's dinner had better be good, I guess. Maybe Mexican lasagna, one of Jake's favorites. Not French, but good for satisfying hungry boys! I've also included Grant's favorite pork chops. Very easy and a big hit.

Mexican Lasagne

Flour tortillas
1 lb ground beef
1 c salsa
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 package taco seasoning mix
16 oz cottage or ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp oregano
Shredded monterey jack and cheddar cheese

Brown meat; drain fat. Stir in salsa, tomato sauce and taco seasoning. Simmer 5 minutes. Combine cottage/ricotta cheese, eggs and oregano. Layer tortillas, 1/ 2 meat, 1/2 cottage cheese and shredded cheese. Repeat. Bake in 375 F oven for 30-35 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting.

Pork Chops à la Provençal

(I thought that up all on my own!!)

4 center cut boneless pork chops, trimmed of any visible fat
1 egg
1 c breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp herbes de provence
Olive oil
(I am really guessing at the quantities here-- I just kind of make this up as I go along)

Put the breadcrumbs and herbes de provence in a ziploc bag and shake them up to mix.
Dip the pork chops in the egg and then place them in the bag, one at a time. Shake to coat well.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet. When it is nice and hot, put the chops in. The time will depend on the thickness. I brown them on both sides and then reduce the flame. Or you can put them in the oven to finish cooking. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake at about 325 for 20 minutes or until juices run clear. I've used this for boneless chicken breasts, too. Pound them a bit beforehand if they are thick. Quick and easy!

Bon appétit!

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