Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My first visit to Arles...

I dedicate this one to Libby Lang. She will probably be mad at me for using this photo in an article I wrote for the DA magazine that will come out this summer! But, hey, I have a PERM in this photo. Love you, Libby!!

The year was 1987. I organized my first student trip to France during our spring break in early March. We had planned to go to Paris, but after some trashcan bombs, the headmaster asked me to please change my plans (these days and times there would've been wide spread panic among the administration and parents and the whole trip would have been canned, I'm afraid). No Paris, so I decided to offer a trip to the south of France. Pourquoi pas? We flew into Milan, Italy and drove across the border to France. We stopped for lunch along the way and I can still remember the absolutely fabulous melt-in-your-mouth lasagna we ate as an appetizer. Yes, it has stayed with me for 22 years! Such memories. We spent a week touring Roman Provence visiting various towns -- I remember Nîmes, Orange, Les Aigues Mortes, Arles and Avignon. The second week was spent in Nice. The students stayed with families arranged by ACIS, our tour company, and they took classes at a language school.
My co-chaperon and I stayed in a cute hotel (it reminded me of the interiors of hotel rooms painted by Matisse with the patterns of the carpets and wallpapers). We wandered around, visiting the Matisse and Chagall museums, walking on the beach and picking up the smooth stones that are found there instead of sand, and checking in with the kids at their language school. We took the train to Cannes so that I could go back and see the places I knew so well when I lived there in 1978 while still in college. We also took the train to Antibes to visit the Picasso museum there. It was beautiful. On that particular day, there was a class of elementary school children sitting on the floor in one of the rooms painting and drawing. I was so jealous, imagining that if I'd had that kind of inspiration and instruction at the age of 7 or 8 I might be able to draw more than stick figures today... Hélas.
Leigh, my colleague and co-chaperon, and I went to Monaco one day and searched for a restaurant where locals were having lunch. We ended up in a restaurant with long tables, seated next to some guys who were more than happy to give us all the gossip on the royal family, Prince Ranier and his children by his deceased wife, American actress Grace Kelly. I seem to remember having bouillabaisse, a spicy fish stew that is a speciality of southern France. We visited Princess Grace's tomb in the cathedral in Monte Carlo. Prince Ranier placed fresh flowers on it every day. A fairytale for us young American women. We strolled through a couple of casinos, looking totally out of place, of course, in our jeans and tennis shoes. (I've always dressed for comfort, I must confess here and now. Je ne suis pas très chic comme les Françaises...) It was a wonderful trip.
During the second week, I began to suspect that I was pregnant. I was a bit queasy and didn't have my usual appetite. We'd been trying for almost a year. Leigh bought champagne and we celebrated. I brought home a Cuban cigar (not illegal to purchase in France!) for Steve and broke the news to him that way. Jake was born in November.
I started thinking about that trip because I was recently asked to write an article for our school magazine about my sabbatical. I called up one of the "girls" who was on the trip and asked her to verify some of my memories. (That "girl" is a second grade teacher at DA now... she taught both of my sons and was Jake's first babysitter!) We had a great time reminiscing about the trip and she sent over the above photo. Just the fact that she could immediately put her hands on it is most impressive, n'est-ce pas? It was taken in Arles, in front of the fountain at Place de la République. The church of St. Trophîme is nearby, along with the hôtel de ville. I spent quite a bit of time sitting on a bench facing that fountain reading or writing letters home during my sabbatical. I also passed through there frequently on my way to the bureau de tourisme or la poste. On Saturdays I would go there sometimes to see if anyone was getting married. The French must marry at the mayor's office in the hôtel de ville to be married legally. They then go to a church for a second ceremony, if they wish. We went to a couple of photo exhibits and concerts in the courtyard of the cloisters adjacent to the church. It is very interesting to look at that photo taken 22 years ago and now be so familiar with the setting.
I can name all of the students in that photo, too! That is very impressive, in my opinion, considering my memory or lack thereof sometimes...
My new column appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun today. Exciting stuff for me. The last of it was cut off unfortunately, but it is supposed to be in tomorrow's paper. I wrote about the farmers' markets in Durham, Carrboro and Hillsborough. I even got an email from someone I don't know! I choose to consider that my first piece of fan mail!! He has a booth at the Eno River Farmers' Market in downtown Hillsborough and invited me to stop by and say hello next weekend. I think I will.
It's been a busy week and I haven't done much in the way of cooking. I did make Chef Érick's rice salad, one of my favorites since I tasted it for the first time in 2005.

Érick's Rice Salad

400 grams (2 cups) rice cooked and drained (in Arles we used red rice from the Camargue- it gives a nutty taste; white or wholegrain works well, too)

2 cans of tuna (I use the type packed in olive oil, undrained)

1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained

1 jar (about a cup) of artichoke hearts, optional

1 tablespoon capers

the lemon juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons mustard


Mix together the cooked rice, the tuna, the chickpeas and the capers. In a separate small bowl, blend the sauce of lemon juice, olive oil and mustard. Pour over the rice mixture, sprinkle a bit of sea salt. Serve warm or cold.
You can cut the recipe in half if you don't want to make quite as much. Add in chopped green and/or red peppers, if you like them.

Bon appétit!

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!

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Chicken Crows in Carrboro

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!

Bon appétit!

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.