Sunday, August 30, 2009
It's tempting to say that life has returned to normal. But what is normal? Maybe what I mean is routine has found its way back in our lives after the long summer break. Our older son has gone back to college and has one week of classes under his junior belt. He is living in an on-campus apartment with three buddies from the basketball team. He says he is running and working out. I say "Good!" Classes started at Durham Academy on Tuesday so the rest of us head there everyday. Our younger son went to school last Sunday to get his locker settled and his heavy load of textbooks, binders and novels stacked away. He turned 17 on the first day of school. Steve's days now do not end until the last student athlete has left the locker room and the lights have been turned out. Games have begun at the upper school, practices at the middle school. As for moi, I have a new group of 12 seventh grade advisees, four classes of French to plan for and teach (and papers to check already!), agendas to set for my 7th grade team meetings, and after school study hall to supervise until 5:00 pm every day except Friday. I have a class of new-to-DA 6th graders who are also new to French. We begin teaching French in 5th grade and, although I have taught that level, it's been a while. So, we've started with the basics of pronunciation, the alphabet. My 7th graders have already had two years of French and I taught my 8th graders for half a year last year. The 8th graders are already asking about the spring trip. This is "normal" in my household. We've re-established our routines, grudgingly to tell the truth, and we are trying to let go of summer. When the heat subsides maybe it will be easier?
I finally went to see Julie and Julia last night. Rarely one to jump in and read a novel when it first comes out or see a movie on opening day, I waited a couple of weeks to see it although I'd been looking forward to it for months. I read both books it is based upon, Julie Powell's book by the same name and Julia Child's My Life in France. I looked at Julie Powell's blog. I read reviews of the movie, some good, some bad. I thought I was ready. But I wasn't. From the opening scenes in which Julia and Paul arrive in France in 1949, drive to Paris along the narrow, tree-lined roads from Normandy, stop to have sole meunière, see the bigger-than-life Eiffel Tower and Julia greets everyone with a booming Bonjour! to the end in Julia and Paul's kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts (now an exhibit in the Museum of American History in Washington, DC) when she receives her first copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the mail and when Julie becomes a celebrity after an article is written about her in the New York Times, I was mesmerized. Meryl Streep was a genius. I've always admired her talent. She becomes her characters. Amy Adams played neurotic Julie very well. A normal 30 year old, bored with her job answering phones who takes on a monumental project and succeeds. She worships Julia, making her into a saint in her head, only to discover, after the Times article, that Julia did not think much of her project. The husbands figured prominently in the successes of Julia and Julie. For some reason I've yet to figure out, I was in tears at the end. Joy at seeing two women work so hard for something they believe in finally succeed (in Julia's case at least eight years of her life went into that cookbook, for Julie 365 days of cooking 524 recipes)? Being transported back to France for Julia's segments (the Eiffel Tower views, the cafés, restaurants and food markets)? Watching people eat wonderful food and drink good wine with unbridled pleasure (friends sharing their meals, birthday and Valentine's Day celebrations)? The ups and downs of life (Julia's sadness at being unable to have children, Julie's all-consuming obsession with her project that threatens her marriage)? Perhaps a touch (okay, more than a touch) of jealousy when Julie's blog brings about her fame (everyone on the subway was reading the article about her in the Times, I watched a lady and a man in the waiting room at the Nissan place skip over my last article in the Herald-Sun). I doubt that I will analyze it all beyond the time it takes me to write this. I plan to go to Costco to buy a copy of MTAOFC today for a mere $25 (thanks for the tip, Anna!). I will not cook my way through it. I really do not use much butter in my cooking, opting for olive oil instead. I do not have a whole lot of interest in sauces, but I think that I will try some out. I think I will attempt hollandaise and beurre blanc. Just to say I did it. Pourquoi pas?
Before I begin my Sunday chores (grocery shopping with Steve, grading a few homework papers, planning lessons for the week), I will finish this with my lasagne recipe. It was Grant's request for his birthday dinner and he has told me it is okay with him if I make it once a week. It is his favorite dish. We did a (blind to everyone but me) taste-testing of various lasagnes last winter after my return from France. I bought a Stouffer's lasagne with meat, I made Chef Érick's recipe and I made the one using the recipe I'd used for years, probably found long ago on the back of a package of Mueller's lasagne noodles. The last one won hands down. I've tweaked it and think I have it just about right. I finally found the kind of noodles that Érick used in Arles (Leo and Jonas, his sons, love lasagna, too) at Target. They are made by Barilla and they're flat rectangles, shorter than standard noodles, without the curly edges. You don't have to cook them first, a step I am thrilled about because I can never get the others to fit in the only large pot I have to boil them in. The Barilla ones are not as thick either. Anyway, I know that I will continue to perfect the sauce. My recipes are always a work in progress. And come to think of it, so am I.
Grant's Favorite Lasagne
(basically found on the back of Barilla's box of lasagne noodles)
1 box (9 oz) Barilla lasagne, uncooked
15 oz. ricotta cheese
4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. bulk Italian sausage or ground beef
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
15 oz. can tomato sauce
Oregano to taste (fresh, if possible)
Salt and pepper to taste
*You do not have to make your own sauce. You can use two jars of your favorite baking sauce or marinara sauce. Or you could use fresh tomatoes and make it chunkier. My guys are not crazy about what they call "warm tomatoes" - what is the matter with them??? -- so I use crushed tomatoes instead.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray 13 x 9 x 2 or 3 baking pan with non-stick spray. Remove 16 Barilla sheets from box (12 if using a 2-inch deep pan). Once again, do not boil them. In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Stir in ricotta, 2 cups of mozzarella and the Parmesan. Combine crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, salt and pepper in a pan and heat, allowing it to simmer gently. Crumble, cook and drain the sausage and/or ground beef (I sometimes use a mixture of the two- the spices in the sausage add a nice extra "bite" to the dish).
When layering lasagne, slightly overlap sheets. The noodles will expand to the edges during cooking. Spread fillings to edges to seal in and cook the lasagne during baking. Layer in the following order:
1. Spread about a cup of sauce on bottom of pan.
2. Layer 4 uncooked sheets of noodles, 1/3 of ricotta mixture, 1/3 of browned meat, 1 c. mozzarella and 1 c. of sauce.
3. Repeat three times if using a 3-in. deep pan, twice for a 2-in. deep one, ending with mozzarella.
Bake, covered with foil, 50-60 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until cheese is melted, about 5-7 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.
Personally, I think that lasagne is even better the next day, after the flavors have more time to mingle.
Chef Érick's lasagne is creamier. He makes his own sauce using crushed tomatoes and spices. He doesn't brown the ground beef in advance, just crumbles into the layers. If doing this, use very lean ground beef so that you do not have too much excess fat. Instead of the ricotta-egg-Parmesan mixture, he uses cream, pouring a small amount over the sauce as he layers it, ending with mozzarella and Parmesan on the top. I really like this version, too.