Thursday, July 30, 2009


left to right: Martha, Steve, Moi, Chef Ben
Just look at the steam coming off the bowls of Frogmore Stew!!

I've been working on my August column for the Durham Herald-Sun for the past couple of days. I am just about ready to send it to my editor-- after I head over to the Wine Authorities and ask a couple more questions. (Important to get my facts straight, I guess, since they are the subject of the story-- and I wouldn't dare get on their bad side since I expect to continue drinking there for a long time to come.) The research that I must do for this writing! Imagine.
Anyway, I spent last week lounging on the beach at Sunset. It is actually an island. Nothing but houses, one fishing pier, a couple of shops for necessities (like beer, ice cream and pink cowboy hats) and lots of sand. A new bridge is being built to replace the ancient one that, although it is a landmark, is very outdated and causes traffic to snarl. Evacuating during a hurricane would be scary. We discovered Sunset about 25 years ago and love going there with our boys. My mom went with us a couple of months after my dad died and I hope it was a healing place for her. Last week, I read three books, ate lots of shrimp, walked each morning with my BFF (who just happened to be there, too, with her family), walked each afternoon with Steve, found some sand dollars (ok, Steve found them, not me), got sunburned and relaxed with my boys.
The last night we were there, we ate dinner with BFF Martha's family. They go to Sunset each year (her late father loved it there) with her brother, Ben, his family and Helen, Martha and Ben's mom. Ben and his wife, Deirdre, made Frogmore Stew for all 14 of us. Martha and I went to the grocery store to buy small red potatoes, fresh corn on the cob, Old Bay seasoning, sausage, lemons and limes. We bought the shrimp at Captain Jack's on Beach Street. I knew the ingredients since I was helping pick them out, but I had no idea what a feast I was in for.
To say that it was delicious is an understatement. But I just can't come up with a better word. We served ourselves paper plates full and sat down around a huge table to eat. Forks optional. Peeling shrimp and popping them in my mouth, then licking the seasoning off my fingers, one by one, is the taste of the beach, in my humble opinion. Every single ingredient was cooked to perfection. No mushy potatoes. Corn still with that crunch when you bite into it. (Steve popped a lemon rind into his mouth before I could stop him-- he hadn't been shopping for the ingredients and thought it was squash. James King and I saw the whole thing, so he couldn't deny it.)
The conversation was great, the laughter was loud, teasing among family members and reminiscing about past beach trips was shared and enjoyed by all. There is much to celebrate in life. Marriages (and remarriages!), a year's worth of birthdays, memories of loved ones who have left us behind and and an unspoken, yet shared knowledge (at least by the adults present) that in a year's time the group around the table could change. Life has a way of doing that in a 12-month period. To quote Helen, once again... Sometimes you just have to live with life.
It's context that makes these meals enjoyable. It's who you are with and where you are that you remember when you think of a certain memorable meal or glass of wine. Isn't it wonderful that you can simply let your mind wander back and recall vivid images, tastes and smells?
Maybe I am just being nostalgic since my 51st birthday has now come and gone, but the past year has been an amazing one for me. I finally realized, as I wrote a thank you note yesterday to the generous benefactors who made my sabbatical experience possible, that my six months in France will never end as long as I have my memories. Life moves on at a fast pace and either you choose to live it, with the fun and not-so-fun parts or you get stuck and can't move on. I choose to live today and anticipate what's just around the bend.

Uncle Beano's Frogmore Stew
New Potatoes
Sausage (Chorizo, Andouille, hot Italian or some other spicy grind)
Red Onion
Old Bay Seasoning
Hot Sauce
Minced Garlic
Allow 1/3 to ½ lbs of shrimp and one ear of corn per person. Cut corn in halves. Chop sausages to half inch or so. Cut potatoes in quarters.
Bring big pot of water to boil with slices of lime, lemon, and onion. Add minced garlic and a few jabbers of hot sauce (also some beer, if you like), and a few shakes of Old Bay. Add potatoes, corn and sausage. When potatoes are on verge of being done, add shrimp and cook for about 3-4 minutes until shrimps are done.
Spread on newspapers (the cooked food, that is), dust heavily with Old Bay, and serve with cocktail sauce, butter, or whatever moves you.
Merci, Ben!
Bon appétit, y'all!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Food quiz

I recently saw a food quiz in the Raleigh newspaper (NOT the newspaper that publishes my column...). It was written by James A. Fussell of McClatchy Newspapers. I give him full credit for it. Have fun!

25 Fancy Food Words Used on 'Top Chef'

1. ganache
2. ceviche
3. risotto
4. carpaccio
5. hamachi
6. remoulade
7. chiffonade
8. panna cotta
9. hearts of palm
10. geoduck
11. aioli
12. pain perdu
13. frisée
14. tostones
15. roulade
16. pancetta
17. paella
18. pommes dauphine
19. halloumi
20. fleur de sel
21. cavolo nero
22. amuse-bouche
23. radicchio
24. sweetbreads
25. sashimi

a. an Italian dessert consisting of flavored cream set with gelatin
b. a mayonnaise flavored with garlic or other ingredients
c. short-grained arborio rice cooked in meat or seafood stock,
then seasoned
d. tender inner portion of a palm tree; eaten as a vegetable or
used as a garnish for salads
e. a large edible clam typically weighing 2-3 pounds
f. French toast
g. fried plantains, smashed and served with garlic sauce
h. deep-fried crispy potato puffs
i. unsmoked Italian bacon
j. thinly sliced raw meat or fish served with a sauce
k. traditional Greek cheese from Cyprus made with sheep's
milk or goat's milk
l. delicate and fluffy hand-harvested French sea salt
m. a sweet, creamy chocolate mixture, typically used as a filling
or a frosting
n. a saffron-flavored dish containing rice, meat seafood and
o. a thin slice of meat rolled around a filling
p. yellowtail fish, often used for sushi
q. a strong flavored cabbage with dark green leaves
r. pungent sauce or dressing resembling mayonnaise
s. a small complimentary appetizer offered mostly at high-end
t. a red variety of chicory with variegated leaves used as a
salad green
u. shredded or finely cut vegetables or herbs, sometimes used
as a garnish
v. the edible glands of an animal, often thymus glands of veal,
young beef, lamb or pork
w. very thinly sliced raw fish
x. raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice, often with oil,
onion, peppers and seasonings and served as an appetizer
y. curly leaves of endive with finely dissected edges used in

1. m 2. x 3. c 4. j 5. p 6. r 7. u 8. a
9. d 10. e 11. b 12. f 13. y 14. g 15. o 16. i
17. n 18. h 19. k 20. l 21. q 22. s 23. t 24. v
25. w

So, how did you do?? I missed most of the fish ones, I confess. I've never watched Top Chef, to tell the truth. Speaking French and eating A LOT in France helped me tremendously, though. Quelle surprise.

I have been craving seafood risotto lately (I cannot get enough shrimp, it seems) and put out a call for a good recipe. I cannot find Chef Érick's, although he probably doesn't even have one written down. He just seems to effortlessly throw it all together. After cooking the shrimp heads, though- that's where all the flavor is- he would make the stock. We even fried shrimp heads several times and I must admit that they were vraiment délicieuses, ces petites têtes de crevettes! (How cool- that even rhymes!!) In Arles, we usually had some fresh mussels to throw in it, too. And I was known to eat it out of the pan pictured above, if it was just Monsieur le Chef et moi at the dinner table. With a nicely chilled dry white wine from Languedoc...
Anyway, Dorette came to the rescue and sent the following recipe. I plan to try it very soon. Since it comes from Do, I know it's good!

risotto with pesto and shrimp à la dorette

serves 4 as a first course or 3 as a main course

for stock:
shells from 1 pound shrimp
6 cups water
2 cups dry white wine
onion peels
1 lemon, sliced

for risotto:
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium-large shrimp, shelled and coarsely chopped
3 anchovies, smashed
1 1/4 cup arborio rice

5-8 cups of the above stock, kept warm in the pot next to the risotto pot

for finishing the risotto

1 tablespoon pesto
chiffonaded fresh basil
fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter

first, peel the shrimp. place these in a medium saucepan along with the garlic and onion and lemon. cover the shells and such with the wine and cold water. place on medium high heat and bring to a boil. reduce to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes. strain out shells and seasonings using a bamboo strainer or a colander. Place stock in pot again over low heat to keep warm.

to make the risotto pull out a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the olive oil. place over medium heat and heat till hot, about 5 minutes. add the shallots, onion, parsley, and garlic. saute together for about 2 minutes. now stir in the rice, coating with the oil and vegetables, and cook till partly translucent, about 1-2 minutes.
keep stirring, and add the shrimp stock, ladle by ladle, being sure that each one is fully absorbed before adding the next one. along with the last ladle of stock, add the partially cooked shrimp, and stir well. cook until the rice is al dente. stir in the finishing elements and transfer to serving bowls.

Bon appétit, mes amis!

2007 Tour de France

As the riders approach Paris to end the 2009 race, I decided to go back to my photos from the summer of 2007. I was so excited that the Tour de France was coming through Arles. I walked the short distance from the house on rue Pierre Euzeby down through Place Voltaire to Place Lamartine and found what I hoped would be a good place to watch as the riders circled the sparkling fountain. Unfortunately, there would be no Lance Armstrong because of his retirement. But I just couldn't pass up the chance to watch the riders zoom by. And that is exactly what they did. I am lucky that I got this photo on July 19 during the stage from Marseille to Montpellier. I did see the maillot jaune whiz by, just an arm's length away from where I was standing. A few days later, though, the holder of that yellow jersey, Michael Rasmussen, was disqualified.
I am not a rider nor am I very knowledgeable about the Tour. I mostly just watch the race to see all the beautiful views of the French countryside. I loved watching them climb Mont Ventoux yesterday in stage 20. Regrettably, I didn't climb to the top of that lovely mountain last year. I gazed at it in the distance many times, though, my last views of it covered with snow in December.
Now, back to the riders as they get nearer and nearer to the Champs-Élysées...
Go, Lance!!

Here's a nice treat for a Sunday morning. Enjoy it with a cup of café au lait as the sun shines in Durham, NC and Paris, France.

Banana Bread

3-4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 c. melted butter
1 c. sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Mix melted butter and smashed bananas together with a wooden spoon. Mix in sugar, egg and vanilla. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over mixture and mix in. Add flour last and mix. Pour into buttered loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes.

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lost in books

For as long as I can remember, I've loved books. My maternal grandmother worked at Harris Elementary School, at the time the only elementary school in my hometown. She would bring home discarded books for us. I used one of those books to teach my sister Cindy to read. My mom always read stories to us kids in the evenings. She is seldom without a book. The first brand new book I remember receiving was one in the Bobbsey Twins series, a Christmas gift from my cousin, Jeff. I don't know how old I was, maybe eight or nine. I do know that I loved that book. Since then, I've spent more money than I care to think about on books, new and used. I have shelves full of my favorites. I have given away many to the Durham Academy annual book fair. I've lent ones I love to friends and students, sometimes returned, sometimes not. And to be honest, I have probably borrowed a few that I have not returned to their rightful owners. I've read assigned books- middle school, high school, college, faculty summer reading books. I remember a few of those assigned books that had an impact on my life and way of thinking-- Les Misérables by Hugo in high school for an independent English class (Jean Valjean is my hero), Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton for my freshman history course in college, All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque for the same history class, Lust for Life by Irving Stone (the beginning of my love affair with Vincent Van Gogh which lead to my desire to visit Arles). Students always seem to dread assigned books, my own children and my advisees at school telling me that they do not want to read books that they have to read, books that are chosen for them. I always read or reread the 7th grade summer reading book so that I can talk to my advisees intelligently about it (The Little Prince is this year's choice- I own a 1946 edition of Le Petit Prince autographed by Saint Exupéry's sister). I try to convince them to give the books that are chosen a chance... they will probably be more interesting than they think.
We have had very interesting authors come talk to our students about their books. I've met Gloria Huston, a writer from Western North Carolina and author of the Little Jim series, in particular The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree set in Spruce Pine and Ji-li Jiang, author of Red Scarf Girl about her life in China during the Cultural Revolution at Durham Academy. I've been to readings given by Doug Marlette (I proudly own autographed copies of both of his novels), Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton and Jill Connor Browne. I recently missed one by David Sedaris at a bookstore in Raleigh and am still whining about that.
Books have long been a very important part of my life. I even convinced the BFF to haul a duffle bag full of them to me across the ocean last September because I didn't have anything interesting to read in English. (She has since informed me that she will never do that again!) Having friends who can personally select a book for me and take great pleasure in presenting it to me is one of the joys of my life. Martha truly excels at that. So did Gail Walker, my late friend and colleague. Until her funeral, I thought I was the only one she bestowed paper grocery store bags full of used books upon! Silly me. She just had a knack for selecting exactly what I liked to read, even if I didn't even know the author yet. When my dad died of cancer, she brought over carefully selected books to get me through the sadness by helping me escape it.
And for the most part, that is what reading has always been for me- my greatest form of escape. The drawback to this, other than many nights of lost sleep reading in bed until the wee hours of the morning, is that I tend to get wrapped up in the lives of the characters whose life I am following. Case in point is the book I almost finished last night/this morning. (I finally shut the light off at 2:00 am, willing myself to go to sleep and leave the last chapter until today.) On the surface, I have nothing in common with Kim Sunée, the author of
Trail of Crumbs. She was an orphan in Korea, abandoned at the age of three and adopted by a couple from New Orleans. She never felt as if she belonged there, however, and escaped as soon as she could, leaving the U.S. for Europe, landing in France and becoming the mistress to the founder of L'Occitane en Provence, the company based in Manosque.
I suppose this is where our lives intersect, mine and Kim's. She moves to Provence. In an early chapter of the book, she writes about stopping in Cassis, the village pictured above, for lunch and a glass of Cassis blanc. I had the incredible luck to do the same on a beautiful day late last fall. Kim is quite an accomplished chef, having learned from her New Orleans grandfather. I, too, spent hours in my grandfather's kitchen as a child. I can still summon the smell of his beef stew. Kim is searching for her own identity. She only truly feels at home in the kitchen. I feel her pain and want her to find herself and her own sense of self-worth, apart from the men she meets and depends upon to take care of her. At the end of the book, she is on her own. I now feel the need to google her to see what she is doing.
Characters in good books do that to you. They become friends. They "tame" you, to quote the fox in
Le Petit Prince. Therefore, you are responsible for them forever. "Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé."

While at the beach, I saw a huge fig tree, with the figs just beginning to ripen. It made me think of this wonderful dish we made several times in Arles.
Bon appétit!

Muget en Papillottes de Feuilles de Figuier
Grey Mullet in a Packet of Fig Leaves
(from Chef Érick Vedel)

For 6 people

Preparation time : 20 minutes ; cooking time : 25 minutes

This dish can be made as one large fish, or, you can chop the fish into individual serving sized slices/steaks and make individual papillotes. – adapt the cooking time as necessary.


1 grey mullet or another firm-fleshed whole fish of approx. 1.5 Kilo, (3 lbs) from the sea (I’ve also done this with already cleaned, fileted fish from the market- no worry about bones that way!)
3 large onions
8 fig leaves
8 leaves of fresh sage
1 tsp of anise grains
olive oil
sea salt

Clean and scale the fish, wash it under running water, tap it dry and remove the filets, if necessary. Depending upon the size of your fish, you can do this as one long filet, placing half the ingredients on the bottom and the other half on top following the directions below. Otherwise, make two layers, using the following method.
Cut the onions in rounds. Wash the fig leaves under cold water and pat dry.
Take a large pan (a cookie sheet works) that can hold the filets. Cover the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil double its width. Lay 4 of the fig leaves in the middle of the foil, place half the onion rounds neatly spread out on the leaves, place 4 of the sage leaves evenly spread out, sprinkle a few of the anise seeds on the savory bed and then lay the fish filets, skin side down, on it. Lightly salt the filet, drizzle olive oil on it, sprinkle a few more anise seeds on its flesh, and lay 3 of your sage leaves there. Then place the second filet, flesh side down, on top of the first. Sprinkle the rest of the anise seeds, the last of the sage leaves, the rest of the onions on top, cover with the fig leaves, and wrap well in the aluminum foil to seal.

If working with the whole fish, place in the oven and bake at 375F/180C for 45 minutes, till the flesh is just done, still tender and moist. If working with individual sized portions, then reduce the time by half to a third, to 15-20 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Article for the DA Record

(This is the article I wrote for the Durham Academy Record, our bi-annual magazine that was just mailed home to our families, faculty, alumni friends. My photo of lavender was used on the cover! This is quite an honor for me. I dedicate this blog to Dr. and Mrs. Keith Brodie, our generous benefactors who make the sabbatical program a reality for the DA faculty. I am forever changed because of this experience.)

Little did I know in 1987, when I took my first group of Durham Academy students to Arles, France that I would return twenty-one years later to spend six months living as an Arlésienne. That March, we spent two weeks in the south of France and Arles was one of our stops. Libby Lang was with me on that trip as a student and recently provided details that I had long forgotten (she may never forgive me for using it in this article). I do remember visiting Roman ruins and imagining that I was standing in the same exact spot as Julius Caesar himself. I have quite an imagination sometimes, but history came alive before my very eyes. Quite an adventure for a girl from the Appalachian Mountains.
In 2005, I returned to Arles courtesy of a DA summer grant. I spent two weeks wandering around town, visiting museums, following in Van Gogh’s footsteps (he lived there for 15 months), picnicking in various parks where he painted and taking a cooking course. Érick Vedel has offered Provençal cooking courses in his home since 1995. He is a native of Arles and a self-taught chef. The other amateur chefs and I spent our days visiting local artisans and our evenings in the kitchen preparing dinner. I began the new school year invigorated and full of stories about Roman ruins and the sights, smells and tastes of Provence.
In the summer of 2006, I returned to Arles, this time with a group of adults. I offered a trip to Paris and Provence through DA’s Academy Nights. For the first time, I celebrated Bastille Day in Paris, watching the military parade on the Champs-Élysées before heading to Arles on the TGV. Chef Érick took us to visit wineries, lavender fields, a goat cheese maker, a chocolatier in St. Rémy de Provence, and a potter in the village of Séguret. We named ourselves the Arles 6. Once again, renewed by a visit to France and an extended opportunity to speak French, I returned to the classroom even more enthusiastic and ready to share my experiences with my students.
In the fall of 2006, I was offered the chance to spend the following summer working as Érick’s assistant, translating for guests who did not speak French and working in his five-room bed and breakfast in exchange for room and board. I had not spent longer than two weeks in France since 1979 when I was in still a student at Appalachian State University. I accepted the offer and left for Provence as soon as school was out in June.
Those two months went by in a blur of cooking classes, outings with guests, cleaning rooms, and handling reservations. August came quickly and I said good-bye to my new friends and returned to Durham in time for opening meetings and the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. I felt as if I had taken an intense two-month course in the language and culture of southern France. If master’s degrees were given in cooking, eating and learning kitchen vocabulary under fire, I had certainly earned one. I felt like a student all over again when Chef Érick asked me to fetch une louche during one of the first classes in June. I had never heard the word. I considered faking it and handing him anything, hoping that he would think I just misunderstood. After a few seconds hesitation, though, I decided to come clean and confess that I had no idea what he wanted. He demonstrated its use and I realized he needed a ladle.
I returned to DA for the 2007-08 school year a much more confidant French teacher. For our annual 8th grade trip to France, I decided to take my students to Paris and Arles. My students cooked with Chef Érick, went horseback riding in the Camargue, home to pink flamingoes and black bulls, and roamed around Arles with much more freedom than is possible in Paris. Very little English is spoken in this town of 50,000 residents; therefore they had to practice their French. It was a joy to share “my” Arles with my students.
Feeling that I was now ready for my doctorate in Provençal life, I applied for and received the Durham Academy faculty sabbatical. Chef Érick needed an assistant and I felt I needed to spend more time in France. Coleman Birgel Whittier, a DA grad, was hired to take my place during the first semester of the 2008-09 school year. As soon as I turned in my grades and comments, I bid my family and friends a tearful good-bye and departed for six months this time.
My sabbatical began with a reunion of the Arles 6 in the Dordogne region, in southwest France. We visited prehistoric caves where I gazed in amazement at the drawings of bison and horses. We shopped at a different local outdoor market each morning and prepared meals together. After ten days, I left my friends and headed to Arles to begin work.
My days began at 6:00 am in the kitchen preparing breakfast for guests in the B&B. Homemade preserves, seasonal fruit, my own orange brioche, crêpes, baguettes and croissants were on the table, waiting to be enjoyed with freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee or tea. If a cooking course was going on, a picnic needed to be put together for our daily outings. Salads, quiche, locally made sausages, fresh goat cheese and wine from a nearby organic vineyard were added to the basket. We would return in time for the clients to rest for a couple of hours or take a stroll through town. The clients, under the supervision of Chef Érick, prepared the evening meal. He has developed approximately 1,000 recipes using only ingredients found in the area around Arles, some of them researched from texts dating back to Roman times. During the weeks when no cooking courses were scheduled, I cleaned rooms after guests checked out and attended to the never-ending pile of laundry.
There is no clothes dryer within the 10th century walls of the house I was living in. I hung sheets, towels, pillowcases and dishtowels on lines strung outside a second story window on the family side of the house. Luckily, it rarely rains from June to October in Provence. There is also no dishwasher, at least not an electric one! I did dream of manicures and hand massages at the end of a five course meal, each with a different plate, attended by as many as 18 guests. A large kitchen that was at one time a stable for lambs joins Chef Érick’s home and the B&B. It is a very welcoming, comfortable room, decorated with maps of the region, copper pots and cupboards full of beautifully decorated serving platters and handmade dishes.
I spent part of each day answering e-mail requests for rooms and information about cooking courses. The majority of the clients do not speak French. I worked with Chef Érick, putting together recipes for the cooking weeks, arranging outings based on the clients’ interests, and creating brochures about the cooking school for the Arles tourist office and local hotels.
Not all of my time was spent working, however. I took long walks along the Rhône River. I would sit in a café located at the foot of the Roman Arena (a two minute walk from the house) and write long letters home while watching tourists catch their first glimpse of this amazing monument and locals breeze past it on their way to or from work. I quickly learned never to leave the house without my camera after missing a parade of Roman soldiers marching through the center of town during one of the many summer festivals.
In mid-August, I came to terms with the fact that the 2008-09 school year would begin without me. I wrote an article for the Durham Herald-Sun about missing my first opening day of school since 1964 and they took me on as an occasional columnist. Although I had already been in France for two months, I felt as if my sabbatical was now truly beginning. The new friends I had made now felt comfortable correcting my French. I was greeted as the assistante américaine at the open-air market. A chef friend from Carrboro stayed with us for a month while working on her novel. Friends from home met me in Italy for a week. I spent two weeks in northern France with my friend, Ghislaine Mauduit, visiting her school, Collège Anne-Marie Javouhey, in Senlis. She and I went to Reims for a glorious fall weekend, visiting champagne cellars. In November, I traveled to Paris to spend a week visiting museums, finally surrounding myself with Monet paintings at the Musée Marmottan. In early December, I went truffle hunting in the Vaucluse with René, a seasoned hunter, and his dog, Sony. I visited the walled city of Carcassonne and the Pyrénées Mountains. I came home in mid- December with thousands of photographs of vineyards, festivals, friends and food. I am still not a chef, just an excellent assistante, with much improved cooking skills and a bit of a Provençal accent!
Although I was not enrolled in a formal degree program during my sabbatical, I learned several valuable lessons. These are lessons I hope that I pass on to my students. Be adventurous. Take chances. Leave your comfort zone. You are truly never too old to learn. Experience is the best teacher. Never turn down a road trip (but always take along a toothbrush and contact lens solution in case it turns into an overnight trip). Never refuse anything edible (even if it is boudin or blood sausage). Do not worry about sounding like a native; just speak French. I could never pass for a French woman and have finally come to terms with that. This was truly the experience of a lifetime.

This recipe is from Chef Érick's file. I have almost used all of my lavender honey, sad to say. If anyone out there knows where I can find more around the Triangle, I'd love to know! I plan to experiment with the recipe soon to see if I can infuse it with lavender grains, as in the lavender ice cream recipe I posted earlier here on the blog.

Fresh Ricotta/Brousse Cheesecake
w/ Lavender Honey and Orange zest

Fresh Ricotta, or Brousse as it is known in French, is a delight. If you’re unable to obtain a fresh ricotta or brousse (cow or goat milk works), find a good ricotta at the grocery store, and most definitely avoid a “skim milk” ricotta.

For 6-8:

500grams – 17oz Fresh Ricotta/Brousse
1/2 cup lavender honey
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
the zest of one orange
the zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons lemon juice (or a bit more to taste).

In a mixer, or with a wooden spoon, blend the honey into the ricotta, then the sugar, the eggs one at a time, and then the lemon juice and zest.

Pour into a lightly greased spring-form pan, and bake at 175C/350F for 45 minutes or until just about set, with the center still a bit wobbly. A bit of light browning along the edges is fine.

Remove from the oven, place in the refrigerator to cool and set. Serve the next day if possible. Fresh berries along side are wonderful. Just choose whatever is in season.

Relaxation and responsibility

Sunset Beach is still an amazing place, just as I remembered it. We've been coming here since our early days at Durham Academy, courtesy of our friends Lyn and Dave Gould who bought a weekend stay here at the DA auction. Several couples piled into cars and we spent a few days just hanging out together and playing Gould's made-up game called sand tennis. We continued coming here with friends, eventually bringing our own boys down for a week nearly every summer. I haven't been here since the summer of 2004. We have a great house on the 4th row and I can see the Atlantic Ocean from the rooftop deck.
Last night, our 21 year old son decided to make drinks for us. He fancies himself a budding bartender and asked if I'd ever had a mojito. I am not a big fan of mixed drinks, but it sounded good. I mean, how can you possibly go wrong with fresh mint leaves, lime, sugar syrup and club soda? The only drawback, as far as I could tell, would be that he was adding rum to it. The result was a very refreshing, not at all sweet drink. I sipped mine on the rooftop "veranda" and enjoyed every drop. The BFF, who just happens to be a 20 minute stroll down the beach with her family, came over and Jake took great pleasure in making a drink for her, too.
So, now for the question of the week. This is Jake's first summer of drinking with his parents since he turned 21 last November. We did not allow him to drink around us before he turned 21. How do you teach your children how to drink responsibly? I grew up a good Southern Baptist where drinking is not allowed. I distinctly remember a framed document on the wall of my grandmother's church forbidding the consumption of alcohol. It was right next to the Ten Commandments and my grandmother, Granny, took it very seriously. The legal drinking age was 18 at that time and I did not drink until the spring of my freshman year in college (well, with the exception of a couple of glasses of hard cider during the French Club trip to Québec during my senior year in high school- with my French teacher's approval). One March evening at Appalachian State, a couple of my friends thought it would be funny to initiate me with gin and 7-Up and I have not had gin since. And that was in 1977.
You see, my dad was an alcoholic. I loved him dearly but did not understand why he couldn't just stop. Couldn't he see what he was doing to his young family? Did he not have any willpower at all? Since first talking about my dad's problem in my early 30's (I only admitted it to two people, my college roommate and my husband, before that), I've learned quite a bit about alcoholism. I've talked to others who have or had alcoholic parents or family members and even some friends who are recovering alcoholics, all in an attempt to understand and make sense of my childhood. Memories of those years kept me from even wanting to try alcohol and then when I did begin to drink occasionally I had "rules" to live by-- no drinking alone, no drinking when upset, etc. My overriding concern is that there is a genetic propensity to alcoholism. I have talked to my boys about their grandfather and about other family members with addictive personalities and my fear for them. Our school has alcohol awareness programs, as do most schools. Just telling your kids to say no and to wait until they are legal simply isn't enough, as most parents and teachers would agree. They do need to know about consequences, how drinking and driving is a lethal combination, how research shows that the younger one drinks the more likely one is to have a drinking problem, that drinking, within limits, is okay.
So, back to my original question-- how do you teach your children to drink responsibly? Why do young Europeans seem more responsible? Because there is no taboo in Europe concerning drinking? Because parents teach their children about pairing wine and food? I did try to ask questions and gather information while in France during my sabbatical. There were a few magazine articles about university students binge drinking in France. I must admit that I was very grateful that England was referenced as being a bad influence and not the U.S.
I do not mind if Jake drinks with us now that he is 21. I just want him to be smart and be responsible. Isn't that what all parents want for their children? We do all we can to try and keep them safe, but we have to turn them loose eventually. All we can do is hope that we have taught them well. And take deep breaths.
My current beach read: Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, love and the Search For Home by Kim Sunée. This is the story of a Korean orphan adopted by an American couple and her search for where she belongs. She is most comfortable in the kitchen. Ms. Sunée is very generous with her recipes, too!

Jake's Mojito
Take a tall transparent glass. Pick 8-10 mint leaves off the stem and place them in the bottom of the glass. Cut a lime into quarters and put it in the glass on top of the mint. Crush the lime and the mint. Fill the glass with ice. Add two shots of Bacardi Superior Rum. Add three tablespoons of simple syrup (boiled sugar water). Fill the glass to the top with club soda and stir thoroughly.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Summer vacation- how sweet it is!

Summer isn't over yet. I've only been on vacation for one month. I still have about six more weeks to go. But I've already had some kind of fun! Here's a list of what I've been up to:

-spent time cooking for my boys and hanging out with them
-been to the Durham Farmers' Market every Saturday I've been in town and once on a Wednesday
-sipped rosé on the sofa at Wine Authorities with Martha and Jill a few times
-walked the trail at Duke early in the morning
-grilled - ok, truthfully- watched Steve grill on the deck
-eaten my patio tomatoes and herbs
-met 11 awesome teen chefs who came to NC for Carolina On My Plate cooking camp (Jeremy, Shannon, Aaron, Ryan, Zach, Ian, Rocky, Samantha, Shelia, Katie and Anna)
-written two articles for the Herald-Sun (and gotten paid-- still owe you lunch, MK)
-watched my son play basketball (I'm ready to see you dunk, Grant)
-made shrimp and grits for the first time (not as good as Crook's Corner, Bill)
-fell in love with a herd of goats (thanks, Dave at Elodie Farms)
-woke up to roosters crowing and someone else making coffee and breakfast (thanks, Ben, Noah, teen chefs and the French press coffeemaker)
-started my novel (one chapter down...)
-joined a network of French speakers and made some new penpals (bonjour, mes amis!)
-learned how to make amazing grilled cheese sandwiches with cheddar and goat cheeses (thanks, Colin at Fearrington Inn)
-improved my biscuit-making skills (thanks, Chef Daniel at the Umstead)
-got the new David Sedaris book and laughed my way through the whole thing (thanks, bff!)
-learned how to Moodle and have a new school website (more help needed, Karl...)
-worked out with my older son in the weight room (need more sessions, Jake)
-set up a visit for a DA grad with my favorite French chef (merci, Érick et Natalie)
-ate at Panciuto in Hillsborough (unbelievably good, Aaron)
-had dinner with Nancy (my treat next time!)
-met an amazing man who keeps bees (thanks, Jack- you are my hero)
-watched Lonesome Dove again and fell in love with Gus- again- and cried when he died- again
-watched two Durham Bull games (1-1)
-hit a couple of thrift shops and found a few cute sweaters
-set up Facebook and Twitter accounts- kind of scary, all this technology!
-listened to Jackson 5 tunes that I've always loved (May you rest in peace, Michael)
-finally found a copy of the Junior League cookbook Even More Special at a used bookstore on Franklin St. (still haven't found a used copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

I am sure I've done more... and there is so much more to do. A visit to Pennsylvania Dutch country this weekend, Sunset Beach and a remarriage, a visit to my in-laws and my own family before they disown me, making dinner for friends, tasting Chatham Hill's first rosé, watching Julie and Julia on the big screen, a visit from Tammy, a guest in Arles who has become a friend, more books to read and friends to catch up with, just hanging around the house with my family and our two cats... Summer is good!

If you've never eaten shrimp and grits, you haven't lived! Get in the kitchen and get busy! I plan to try it at the beach with fresh shrimp in a couple of weeks.

Southern Shrimp and Grits
There are many recipes for shrimp and grits, but this version is similar to that served at the Crossroads Restaurant in the Carolina Inn. Thanks for sharing, Dorette.

1 cup grits
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup extra sharp grated cheddar (white will keep the grits white, I didn't have white but it still looked good)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I didn't use)
1 1/2 tablespoon paprika (I didn't use)
tabasco (I used several generous dashed of Texas Pete hot sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
Cook grits according to instructions on package. As grits are finishing, whisk in butter, cheddar, parmesan cheese, cayenne, paprika and tabasco.

3 tablespoons each olive oil and butter (next time I will just use olive oil- grits have enough butter)
2 cup sliced leeks (didn't have any)
½ cup chopped shallots
3 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon chipotles (nope)
1-1/2 pound 20-30 count shrimp (I used Harris Teeter frozen, peeled uncooked medium-sized)
salt and black pepper
½ cup vegetable stock, or as needed (I didn't need it)
½ cup cream, or as needed (didn't use)
1 cup chopped roma tomatoes (my guys do not really like warm or hot tomatoes so I left them out)
fresh chopped parsley for garnish
cooked crumbled bacon

Heat large skillet until hot, add olive oil and butter. As oil begins to smoke, add the leeks and shallots. Sauté till translucent. Toss in shrimp to cover bottom of pan. Before stirring, season with salt and pepper (brown shrimp but things will go very fast from now on, so have everything ready once you add the shrimp!). Stir until shrimp just begin to turn pink all over (let pan return to original hot temperature). Stir in minced garlic and chipotles (be careful not to burn the garlic). Deglaze with vegetable stock and let reduce, stir for 30 seconds or so until everything is well coated and incorporated. assuming that you are ready to serve, toss in chopped romas for about 20 seconds (if these hold too long before serving they will begin to turn soggy and lose their appeal). Serve over hot grits. Sprinkle crumbled bacon on top. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Bon appétit, y'all!