Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wine 101

For Christmas, the BFF gave me an evening class at Wine Authorities.  From Bud Break to Bottle.  We've taken a couple of classes there already, but not the basics.  So HO HO HO and off we went last Thursday night.  I have never been one to sit in the back of the class and this was no exception.  We were the first in line and got front row seats.  (Sadly, no one recognized us as Lucy #1 and Lucy #2 from the Grove Winery trip video.  We were not asked for autographs.)  The class was sold out, with 40 eager participants.  We were asked to hold off on the perfumes and lotions that day.  No odors to compete with the wine, please.  I do remember that from my Chatham Hill days.  Winemaker Marek was not happy when one of us arrived for work smelling like eau de whatever or hairspray.
The tables were set with six wineglasses at each place.  I am very fond of their glasses- Spiegelau.  I have a few Riedel of my own and like both brands.  The stems are slender and the rims are thin.  Oui, I fear I have indeed become a wineglass snob.  There were also four little black cups at each place, filled with what appeared to be water.   In order to get in touch with our sense of taste, we drank from each cup and tried to tell the difference between sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  After that, we focused on our sense of smell.  We sniffed four different scents and tried to determine what they were.  Being a good taster mean practicing smelling, to quote Seth and Craig, the gurus of Wine Authorities.
We then went on to practice looking at the wine in our glasses.  Color and viscosity give clues to the wine's age and alcohol level.  Next came swirling the glass in large circles.  Believe it or not, there is a good reason to do this.  Not just because it looks cool to be able to do it without sloshing, although that is a plus, in my book.  You do this so that air mixes with the wine.  Tip:  Don't do it with a full glass.  Then you stick your nose in the glass and smell the wine.  Short little sniffs to try to identify what you smell in that glass.  No wrong answers here.  A good thing for me since I am not highly in tune with my sense of smell.  (Lucy #3, Monette, who couldn't be with us, is really good at this part of the experience.  She smelled us under the table in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.)  Last, but certainly not least, sipping.  Little sips, trying to breath in at the same time.  Tricky and needs lots of practice.  This is where I got a little nervous about having worn my son's white button-down shirt... especially when it was time to try the reds.  
Having said all of this, do you have to go through this process every time you want a glass of wine?  Certainly not, but I do know that an awareness of what is in the glass adds to the pleasure of the experience.
We made our way through wine terms such as tannins, acidity, maceration, brix, racking, fining and oxidation.  Not to mention corked wine, screw tops and corkscrews.  Is your head spinning yet?
So, what will I remember?  What did I take away from the class and come home to recount to the un-ex?  
  • Wine is to be enjoyed.  The Europeans are way ahead of us on this one.
  • Choose it to match your food.  It should not compete, it should complement.
  • You do not have to spend a fortune to find a good bottle of wine.  One of my favorites at the moment, Château Bolchet, a Costière de Nîmes red, costs $8.99.
  • Sulfites do not cause headaches.  Over 200 different additives may be added to a bottle of wine and the winemaker doesn't have to list it on the label.  Scary, huh?  Did you think it was just grape juice and yeast in there?  Maybe not...
  • 97% of wine is meant to be consumed within 2 years of being bottled. 
  • Acidity is good.
  • Just because a wine smells "sweet" doesn't mean it will taste sweet.  You cannot smell sweetness in wine.  You can smell fruitiness, but that doesn't equal sweetness in taste.
  • Support small estate winemakers.  Your chances are greater of only finding grape juice in the glass that way.  These are the folks who are growing the grapes and making the wine.  It is their passion.  Know your winemaker or if not the winemaker, know your wine seller or exporter.
  • Veuve Clicquot no longer owns her champagne house.  It is now part of one of the big conglomerates... 
We had no cheese to taste at this class.  Just wine to sip.  But this is one of my favorite photos of a cheese from the Wine Authorities and I just had to include it.  I may very well dream about it tonight.  The cheese is followed by a photo of the wine we enjoyed with it.

Bon appétit, BFF, et merci!

Hi y'all... did ya eat?


One of the best movies I have seen in a very long time is The Blind Side.  It's the true story of Michael Oher, now a Baltimore Raven in the NFL, but at one time a homeless boy from a broken home who was adopted by Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy in Tennessee.  Because of his size and football potential, Michael ended up at the same private school as the Touhy children and when Leigh Anne learns he is homeless, they take him in and eventually adopt him.  Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Anne and plays  a private school mom very well.  Her accent is pretty good, too, most of the time.  (I admit to being a bit sensitive to this in movies made about Southerners.)   Tim McGraw plays Sean Touhy.  I have long been a fan of his music and he sings the theme song for the movie, Southern Voice.
One of the lines from the song captures the South...  "Hi y'all.  Did ya eat?  Well, come on in, I'm sure glad to know ya."  That's what Southerners do for you no matter what the situation.  They feed you.  When someone is sick or a family member dies, the food just stacks up on the counter and in the freezer.   Celebrating a birthday?  Most of us have a favorite pound cake recipe that's been handed down.  Tragedy strikes and we heat up the oven.  We just do not feel right going to visit someone empty-handed.  I have had a few weird looks from non-Southerners when I've shown up to dinner or a party with a plate of something.  My sweet potato pie did not go over well a few years back at a dinner with former Long Islanders.  Oh well.  Better to stick with my own kind, maybe.  Before I offend anyone, I will just say that I have only lived in two places in my whole life- North Carolina and France.  So I can only speak for those two places and food is the favorite topic of conversation in both.  If we aren't eating, we are talking about what we've just eaten or what we are planning to eat or even just what we are thinking about eating.   C'est comme ça.  That's the way it is.
This past week, four of us decided to provide lunch for the middle school faculty.  We made soup, bread and dessert.  We told everyone to bring their mugs or bowls and come hungry.  No one I work with needs to be told twice when food is involved.  At the official lunch time, I took my big pot of soup down to the board room only to find the other two pots already empty.  At 11:35 am.  I was speechless and terribly disappointed since I have had my own soup plenty of times but hadn't tasted the other two.  Oh well.  I did manage to get some dessert and bread, though, so it wasn't a total loss.  We received many thank yous and I have even offered to be the middle school faculty chef.  Somehow I do not think my headmaster will go for that, but it's a nice thought, n'est-ce pas?

Marianne's Lentil Soup

Cook 3 c. lentils in 6 c. vegetable stock or water (more may be necessary as the soup cooks) with 4 bay leaves and crushed garlic cloves.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat.  Add 2- 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Sauté the following chopped vegetables in 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil until tender: one onion, celery, carrots, and fresh or frozen (thawed) spinach.  Add 1-2 tsp. cumin and coriander and a pinch or two cayenne pepper. Stir.
Add the vegetables to the lentils and stir.  Add salt, pepper, fresh lemon or lime juice, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to taste.  Add more cumin and/or coriander to taste.  Add water, as needed.  Cook until lentils and vegetables are soft.

Taco Soup

1 lb. ground beef
1 15-oz. can of each of the following (maybe substitute or change):
  •  yellow corn, drained
  • petite diced or rotelle tomatoes
  • black beans
  • light red kidney beans
  • pinto beans
  • black-eyed peas
1 envelope taco seasoning

Brown ground beef and drain.  Drain all ingredients except tomatoes and put in large pot.  Add ground beef.  Add taco seasoning and stir well.  Add enough water to mostly cover all ingredients.  Cover.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer at least 15-20 minutes for flavors to meld and heat.
Serve with shredded cheese, if you wish.

Bon appétit, y'all!  Stay warm.

Ah, winter...

I never really believe it is going to do it.  There are too many false alarms here in the North Carolina Piedmont (from the French for at the foot of the mountain although we are about 3 hours away from there).  Friday, though, the weather guys really sounded serious.  I even ran out to the grocery store during my free period to get a few things- just in case.  The un-ex (who just happens to be our school's athletic director) canceled some basketball games and moved the start time for others up by a few hours.  And lo and behold, just as the final buzzer sounded signaling the end of the varsity boys' game, the snow began.  
I think we need one good snow every winter.  It's beautiful.  The photo above was taken from one of my upstairs windows.  It reminds me of the mountains.  Everyone slows down the pace because you can't (or you really shouldn't) get the car out to go run all those errands.  The younger son went out to play in it with his buddies who luckily live within walking distance.  The boys got snowed in at one house and, wouldn't you know, the girls did the same at a nearby house.  Quelle coincidence, n'est-ce pas?  The older son had planned to come home with his girlfriend to watch Friday night's game, but he got snowed in at school, an hour's drive away.  He did call to report that the nearby Pizza Hut was making deliveries so all was well.  He wouldn't starve.  I've read one novel, Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (the pen name for two Parisian sisters who are secondhand book sellers and history buffs).  It is set in 1889 during the World Exposition when Eiffel's tower was opened to the world.  I started another, Long Ago In France, by M.F.K. Fisher, about her years in Dijon in the 1920's.  I started working on my February article for the newspaper (chocolate- tough research, huh?).  I watched, along with President Obama and Vice President Biden, Duke lose to Georgetown.  They had better seats, sitting courtside.  We watched a heartwarming Hallmark movie on TV starring Keri Russell.  Sometimes it is just good to know there will be a happy ending and no one will get shot.

Mildred the Mixer and I have also been busy.  We've made scones and banana bread.  I am now out of butter and vanilla so I guess I'll stop baking.  The house smells heavenly, though.   

Here's my view as I washed the measuring cups and mixing bowls.  My glass bird collection was given to me by a student a few years back.  Aren't they beautiful?

Can you find the snow dog in this one?  I was looking out the upstairs window this morning (trying to see if the Sunday paper had arrived so that the un-ex could go fetch it when he woke up) and saw this little fellow wandering around.  The snow is quite frozen so he was just running around on top of the three inches or so that fell Friday and Saturday.
Time to make pancakes and hot chocolate for the eaters. 

Bon appétit, petit chien!  Stay warm!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good days and bad days...

You know how it is, some days are good and all is well with the world and then there are those days when just one thing happens and you feel like bursting into tears.  Right?  We all have those? It's not just me?
At my school, all the teachers sponsor a club that meets once every seven days for 45 minutes.  The 7th grade science teacher and I sponsored GRO Club during the first semester.  We had about 20 girls and one boy who signed up.  We decided we wanted a middle school garden.  We planned, talked, planned some more, met with consultants from Bountiful Backyards, begged our middle school director for money, chose a spot, asked permission and finally broke ground last Saturday.

We dug a three meter deep hole for our rain garden (thank goodness for Gary and the back-hoe!) in the good old NC clay soil, then turned right around and filled it back up again with gravel and sand.  We also made the base for what will be our herb spiral.  Our crew worked from 9 am to about 4 pm.  We had beautiful weather, unbelievably mild for January.  The plants will go in the ground in March.  I really look forward to herbs and fresh vegetables.

It was a great day.  I needed a nice, long hot shower afterwards, but there is a lot to be said for a day of physical labor.
One of my advisees celebrated his 12th birthday this week and the OnlyBurger truck pulled up in the school parking lot, invited by his mom, and the tantalizing smell of grilling burgers filled the air.  I had a nice chat with Brian, the co-owner and head OB chef, and then savored my burger and fries with my advisees.  We even put a candle in his burger and sang "Happy Birthday."  We were the envy of the middle school.

My advisees planned a pizza sale for the end of the week, with proceeds to go towards our community service projects (Thanksgiving turkeys for Orange Congregations in Mission and Durham Social Services' Share Your Christmas) and the relief efforts in Haiti.  Once again, a lot of work but well worth it at the end of the day.  We raised over $600.  The Student Council pitched in and baked chocolate chip cookies and my Science teacher colleague and GRO Club cohort convinced her advisory group to help out, too.  The middle school director, Dr. D., was hauling pizzas to my room as quickly as he could.  Tim, security guard extraordinaire (and retired Durham police officer) and Pete, part of our grounds crew, threw their backs out helping me get all of the sodas to my room at 7:15 am.  (I do not think that is covered by workman's comp...).  I work with amazing people.  This is my 30th year at Durham Academy.  I love my job and the people I surround myself with everyday.  We got the pizzas from Domino's.  The delivery guys arrived on time, the pizzas were hot and everyone ate well.
So, a good week, all in all.  Oui?  Throw in French lessons on weather, vocabulary for leisure time and sports, and direct object pronouns.   (Truth be told, I probably enjoy the object pronouns more than my 8th graders...  I love grammar.)  I am busy with details for the spring break trip I will take with 16 DA students in March.  Sweet anticipation.  40 days and counting.
Most of my weeks look like the last one.  I have a very good life.  One little blip occurred this week, though.  My feelings were hurt by an email I received and I came dangerously close to letting it ruin my day and week.  Perspective is crucial.  Maybe that is one of the blessings of growing older and wiser.  Those of us who have running water, food in our pantry and a roof over our heads need to thank the stars above that we are so fortunate and then do whatever we can to help those who do not.  No one deserves to see family members and friends die in an earthquake or to be displaced, hungry, or caught underneath rubble for days waiting for rescuers.  The God I believe in doesn't punish people that way.  Natural disasters happen.  They've happened since time began.  Those of us who can need to pitch in and help in whatever way we can.  And remember to say thanks for the blessings we have in our lives.  Keep it in perspective.
Today's recipe, a Southern tradition if ever there was one, goes out to my neighbor at school, Señor Glass.  At Christmas, he wrote on his facebook page that he had made a traditional Southern breakfast for his parents in Ohio.  With everything except biscuits-- pardon?  He confessed that he's never made them.  This opera-loving Spanish teacher is an amazing cook.  But no biscuits?  And exactly how long have you been living in the South, Señor? 
There are, of course, as many different recipes as there are Southern cooks, grandmas and aunts.  My aunt Jeanette makes the world's best biscuits and gravy, but I do not have her recipe.  It has been way too long since I've eaten breakfast at her house, come to think of it.  When I was growing up, we would beg mama to let us sprinkle sugar on a few of her biscuits before they went in the oven.  That was such a treat.  And warm biscuits with honey and butter at my grandmother's house on Sunday morning or Sunday lunch after church.  Homemade biscuits covered with fresh strawberries (or blackberries or blueberries or raspberries) and topped with whipped cream for Berry Shortcake in the summer.  My birthday is in July and that was always my birthday cake request.  You get the picture.
This summer, while working with the pastry chef at the Umstead Hotel in Cary, I learned not to over work the biscuit dough.  That can make them tough.  A great trait in a police officer, but not in a biscuit.  Another secret I have discovered in my baking-- always, always line the baking sheets with parchment paper.  No more burned bottoms!  We used this all the time in France, but I had just never paid any attention to it at home.  Now my cookies, scones and biscuits come out of the oven just right.  

Biscuits Supreme
(From Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition supporting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation)

Cut out as many biscuits as possible from a single rolling of the dough because a second rolling (and additional flour) will result in biscuits that are a bit tougher than the first batch.

3 c. all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 c. butter
1 1/4 c. buttermilk or 1 c. milk
(if you do not have buttermilk on hand, add one tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to enough milk to make one cup and let it stand for 5 minutes before adding to the recipe)

Preheat oven to 450F.
In a large bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar.  Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Add buttermilk all at once.  Using a fork, stir just until moistened.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead dough by folding and gently pressing dough for 4 to 6 strokes or just until dough holds together.   Pat or lightly roll dough until 3/4 inch thick.  Cut the dough with a floured 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter.
Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet (remember the parchment paper?  this is where it comes in!).  Bake in 450F oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove biscuits from baking sheet and serve immediately.
Makes 10 biscuits.

Drop Biscuits Supreme:  Prepare as above, except add 1/4 c. whipping cream with the buttermilk.  Do not knead, roll or cut dough.  Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto a greased (parchment paper) baking sheet.  Bake as directed.  Makes 12 biscuits.

Bread Spreads
These stir together in about 5 minutes.  Let them to chill at least 1 hour before serving to allow flavors to blend.
Nut Butter:  Combine 1/2 c. finely chopped almonds or walnuts; 1/4 c. butter, softened; and 1/4 c. apricot or peach preserves.
Citrus Butter:  Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened; 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar; and 1 tsp. finely shredded orange or lemon peel.
Breakfast Butter:  Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened and 2 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup.
Onion-Parmesan Butter: Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened; 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese; and 2 tsp. sliced green onion.
Herb Butter: Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened and 1/2 tsp. each dried thyme and marjoram, crushed, or 1 tsp. dried basil, crushed.
Pimiento Butter:  In a blender container or a food processor bowl combine one 4-oz jar sliced pimientos, drained; 1 Tbsp. anchovy paste; and 1 clove garlic, minced.  Cover and blend or process until pimientos are pureed and mixture is smooth.  Stir pimiento mixture into 1/2 c. butter, softened.

Bon appétit, to all at the DA middle school!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cookers and eaters

The following is my December 16, 2009 article for the Durham Herald-Sun.

Dinner is not a foe to be faced

It seems that humans can be divided into "cookers" and "eaters."  Or at least that's the way it is at my house.  One cooker and three eaters.  My eaters have no desire, at this point, to become cookers.  Even the one who is in college and lives in an on-campus apartment doesn't feel the need to become a cooker yet because his two of his roommates do indeed know how to cook, at least enough to survive.  So my college-age eater still has a university meal plan and enough leftovers in the refrigerator to see him through until vacation.
My high school-age eater has a great sense of taste and loves good food but doesn't see the necessity in learning to make anything more than microwave noodles for himself.  When he was much younger, he told me that he was sorry that I did not get to eat popcorn, one of his favorites, when I was his age.  Puzzled, I asked him what he meant by that.  His reply was that microwaves hadn't been invented then.  I promptly bought Jiffy Pop and showed him how we did it back in the olden days.
Since I came home from spending six months working with a chef in France, food has become intensely more interesting for me.  I found such pleasure there in shopping at the outdoor markets, trying new foods, and sharing meals with friends and clients.  Preparing dinner was no longer the foe to be faced and conquered at the end of the workday.
I now read cookbooks and books about chefs and kitchens.  I visit the local farmers' markets and gaze longingly at the cheeses and fish at Whole Foods and Weaver Street Market.  But, at the end of the day, I am still a cooker and it just isn't always easy.  My eaters are quick to ask, "Where's the meat?" when I serve up an onion quiche or tomato tart.  At the risk of sounding a bit sexist, I will confess here that all of my eaters are men.
I decided to ask my 17-year-old eater for some help with this column.  He, like most of his friends, loves Bojangles' egg biscuits and he has had his share of Chick-Fil-A on Mondays when the vendor comes to his school at lunch.  He and his buddies like to eat at Bali Hai, a Mongolian grill on Ninth Street in Durham.  He says he likes it because it is "different."  He recently took his girlfriend to dinner at Piazza Italia at Brightleaf Square.  His favorite dish is lasagna.  He reported back that their lasagna is made with sausage and is quite good.  He even came home smelling like garlic.
Not long ago, I decided to stage a taste-test of three lasagnas to see which one he likes best.  I bought a Stouffer's frozen one from the supermarket, made another using a recipe I learned from Chef Vedel in France and then used my old stand-by, which had undergone a renovation of sorts since my return.  I didn't tell him which was which and even carefully removed the Stouffer's from its pan and put it in one of my own.  It came in last and I must admit that I was quite relieved.  Chef Vedel's came in second and my own recipe won.  He didn't hesitate when I asked him which recipe I should include in this column, voting lasagna as No. 1.
His second favorite dish is shrimp and grits.  It has long been one of my favorites, but I hadn't attempted to make it myself in many years.  Dorette Snover and I made it for our French friends in Arles.  We couldn't find grits, but we were able to find polenta and made the substitution.  It was quite a hit (along with the eggnog laced with bourbon in mid-August).  Of course, finding Madagascar shrimp at the market, straight off the boat was helpful.  After eating Bill Smith's version at Crook's Corner this past summer, I decided to try it all on my own for my eaters.  It went over very well and now they ask for it regularly.
I do indeed ask my eaters to critique each new recipe I try.  I continue to be hopeful that one day they might ask for lamb or that they will try my caramelized onion and goat cheese tart.  The look of shock on my college-age eater's face when I offered him a piece at Thanksgiving made me realize that he is not quite there yet, however.  "Tarts should be sweet, mom!  And goat cheese?  Are you serious?"  My eaters are a work in progress.
At least my father-in-law loved Elodie Farms' honey and goat cheese spread and has promised to buy a leg of lamb if I will cook it for him the next time he visits.
There is hope.

Serves 8-10

8-9 oz. lasagna noodles (I like to use Barilla's no-boil flat noodles- I get them at Target)
1 lb. Italian sausage or ground beef
1/2 c. diced onions (optional)
15 oz. ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2-4 c. mozzarella cheese
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
52 oz. spaghetti or marinara sauce
OR-- I make my own:
Cook the following in a large saucepan for 20-30 minutes before assembling the lasagna:
32 oz. can crushed tomatoes
15 oz. can petit-diced tomatoes
Small can of tomato paste (then fill it with wwater to add as needed to the sauce)
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
2 cloves crushed garlic (optional)
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Taste after 10-15 minutes and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Preheat oven to 350F.
Crumble the sausage or ground beef into hot pan, add onions and brown.  Drain.
In medium bowl, mix beaten eggs, ricotta, half of mozzarella, and the Parmesan.
(The number of layers will depend upon the depth of your pan.  I usually make three layers, but if your pan is deeper, you can make four.)
Spread one cup of tomato sauce in bottom of 13 x 9 baking pan.  Layer noodles on top of sauce, spread 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture on noodles, layer 1/3 of browned meat and 1/3 remaining mozzarella.  Repeat twice, ending with mozzarella.
Cover with foil and bake until bubbly, 50-60 minutes.  Uncover and continue cooking until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.  Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

Bon appétit, eaters of the world!  Bon courage to all the cookers!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Murdering the Eiffel Tower?

Ah well.  Another clumsy day.  This time the poor Tour Eiffel has paid the price.  Tim, one of my 7th graders, put together an Eiffel Tower for class.  La Grande Dame  has been sitting quietly on my desk for a couple of months.  I had managed to only cause minor damage a couple of times... until today.  I was getting ready to set up a "photo shoot."  Alex, an 8th grade student, brought in a book for me this morning, Murder on the Eiffel Tower, by Claude Izner.  His mom read it with her book club and sent it in for me.  Here's the blurb on the back...

The brand-new, shiny Eiffel Tower is the pride and glory of the 1889 World Exposition.  But one sunny afternoon, as visitors are crowding the viewing platforms, a woman collapses and dies on this great Paris landmark.  Can a bee sting really be the cause of death?  Or is there a more sinister explanation?  Enter young bookseller Victor Legris.  Present on the tower at the time of the incident, and appalled by the media coverage of the occurrence, he is determined to find out what actually happened.  In this dazzling evocation of late nineteenth-century Paris, we follow Victor as his investigation takes him all over the city.  He suspects an ever-changing list of possible perpetrators:  Could mysterious Kenji Mori, his surrogate father and business partner at the bookstore Victor operates, be involved in the crime?  Why are beautiful Russian illustrator Tasha and her colleagues at the newly launched sensationalist newspaper "Passepartout" always up-to-date in their reporting?  And what will Victor do when the deaths begin to multiply and he is caught in a race against time? 

What is there not to like about a storyline such as this one??  Anyway, always looking for a photo-op for the blog, I thought about taking a photo of my model and the book for a future entry.  Good idea up until when I tried to pick her up and knocked her to the floor.  Oops.  (That wasn't quite what I said, but at least I said it in French and no students were in the room...)
So, Elmer's glue in hand, I will get to work now and try to get her reglued before Tim comes back and sees what I've done.  I'll keep you posted on the book.
On another note, if you haven't seen the movie Les Choristes, you should rent it.  We are watching it in French 7.  Besides the fact that the young lead is "hot" according to my girls, it is an inspiring story set in post-WWII France in a boarding school for boys, Fond de l'etang (bottom of the pond).  Everyone has basically given up on these boys and the headmaster cares nothing about them.  Enter M. Mathieu, a former music teacher hired to be the surveillant or prefect.
And here is a nice little treat to eat while watching...  In French style, there is not much sugar used so they are not too sweet.

Petits Pains au Chocolat

1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. cold butter (1 stick)
2-3 Tbsp. cold water
3- 1 1/2 oz. thin chocolate bars (think Hershey-type bars-- milk or dark chocolate works)

Sift flour, salt and sugar together.
Cut in butter until particles are the same size as small peas.
Sprinkle in cold water over mixture tossing lightly with fork until dough holds together.  Chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out dough on floured cloth or board to 12 x 6- inch rectangle.  Fold ends to overlap in center.  Turn half way around on the board and repeat the rolling and folding.
Roll out to 16 x 10 - inch rectangle.   Cut in half to form two 10 x 8 rectangles.
Arrange pieces of chocolate about 1/4-inch apart on one rectangle of dough.  Use 1-inch squares of the chocolate bars.
Brush dough with water or with slightly beaten egg whites.  Cover with second rectangle of dough.  Press together.  Cut between chocolate pieces with sharp knife to make individual pastries.  Brush tops with egg whites.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 425F for 10-12 minutes.

Servings:  12-24 cookies.

Bon appétit, ma pauvre Tour Eiffel.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday morning

This is my Monday morning desk.  (I should at this very minute be grading papers during my free period...).  The 2010 Rick Steves' France book is now in my possession (thanks for the gift card, Amanda!), complete with a very nice entry about Chef Érick on p. 572:

$$ A Bed and Breakfast in Arles, run by gentle chef Érick Vedel, combines a laid-back B&B experience with five spacious and funky-but-comfy rooms with optional cooking workshops.  Breakfast includes home-made crêpes, jams, and fresh-squeezed orange juice...

No mention, of course, of the French-speaking American assistant who cleaned those rooms and made those crêpes and ran out to the little épicerie around the corner to buy those oranges to freshly squeeze that juice and who capped thousands of strawberries from the market to make that jam.  Oh well.  I know I was there and did all of that!
Back to the desk pictured above.  While at Barnes and Noble picking up the book, I grabbed a cup of coffee (whatever the weird size is, with plenty of room for cream, merci) to go with the little treat that Claire brought in to share with her fellow advisees and advisor this morning.  Oatmeal butterscotch bars.  I pronounced them délicieux!  Especially with a nice hot cup of coffee. 
Okay, now where are those quizzes I am supposed to be grading?

Claire's Oatmeal Butterscotch Bars
(makes 4 dozen or less, depending on how you cut them!)

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract or grated peel of one orange
3 c. quick or old-fashioned oats
1 2/3 c. (11-oz. package) butterscotch flavored morsels

Preheat oven to 375F.
Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract (or orange peel) in large mixer bowl.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in oats and morsels. 
Spread into a greased 15x10 inch jelly roll pan (or line it with parchment paper).  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
To make cookies, prepare as above and drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.  Bake for 7-8 minutes for chewy cookies or 9-10 minutes for crisp cookies.  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Bon appétit, Monday morning and Claire!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Luckily for me, bartering is alive and well.  Friends of mine, Seth and Jessica, are selling their house now that they have two children and need a bigger place.  The BFF is their realtor.  Since Jessica has her hands full with the two children, both under the age of 3, and Seth has his hands full co-owning and running a very successful wine store (yes, the Wine Authorities Seth), I volunteered to help with cleaning.  Actually, the way it all came to pass was me talking about how much I'd love to have a Kitchen-Aid mixer, but that they are way out of my budget range.  Seth said that he and Jessica have two of them since they both owned one when they married and combined households.  One was just sitting in a box he said.  Oh mon dieu.  A Kitchen-Aid collecting dust.  My grandmother had one.  Unfortunately, I did not inherit it.  Who did?  Who knows.  Anyway, Seth discussed the idea of bartering with Jessica.  The K-A for a day of my house cleaning services.  A very fair trade, in my opinion.  I am a professional, after all, since my B&B days in Arles.  A date was settled upon and the cleaning took place.  I must admit that never in my life have I been served a glass of wine while scrubbing a bath tub.  I could get used to that.
I was told that the mixer needed a name.  I quickly settled on Mildred, my mother's name.  Growing up, we all assured her that she would not have a granddaughter named for her.  I have two boys anyway so it was a moot point for me.
Mildred was inaugurated tonight.  Chocolate chips, butter and brown sugar went into her stainless steel bowl and were mixed by her beautiful attachment.  My kitchen smells divine.  Mildred is now all clean again and safely nestled in the cabinet next to her new friend, the Cuisinart bread maker.   I think it is the beginning of a lovely friendship!

Chocolate Chip Cookies or Cookie Bars

(makes about 60 cookies or 48 bars)

1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 12-oz. package (2 c.) semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini-chips)
1/2 c. wheatgerm, optional

In a large mixing bowl beat shortening and butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Add brown sugar, granulated sugar and baking soda.  Beat until mixture is combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.  Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in any remaining flour.  Stir in chocolate chips and, if desired, wheatgerm.  (You can also add 1 1/2 c. pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts, if you wish.)
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet (or sheet lined with parchment paper).  Bake in 375 F oven for 8-10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
For cookie bars-  Prepare as above, except press dough into an ungreased 15x10x1 inch baking pan (or line it with parchment paper first).  Bake in 375 F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden.  Cool on a wire rack.

Bon appétit, Mildred, Seth and Jessica!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...

For some reason, I am feeling a little blue today.  Vacation is over.  It's cold outside.  I haven't had any time to write.  Or I haven't made the time.  I've cooked lately out of necessity, not just to try something new.  (The eaters have not complained, though.)  So, what popped into my head?  Julie Andrews' voice singing to the Von Trapp kiddies, so I went through my sabbatical photos and pulled out a few...
The house above is a great place to start...  A little Provence villa with a view.  Pas mal, hein? 
Olives being pressed into that lovely green liquid at Les Baux de Provence in late November.  The owner grabbed my hand and stuck my right index finger into the vat so that I could taste it.  The very same gentleman gave me my first fresh fig, plucked right off his tree, on a hot June day in 2005...  I can still remember biting into it- a bit of a crunch and the taste of summer.

This tiny little lamb in the pasture looking at me.  I had never seen such small ones before, nor had I ever seen older ones- I think they must have been teenagers!-  running around the pasture, playing follow the leader, randomly leaping into the air.

Sunlight on the shutters in a house in Arles.  I love French window boxes, almost always filled with flowers.  The French have such a simple sense of style.  Accessorize!  Even your house can be prettied up with just the right accessory.

The Abbaye de Sénanque with the lavender in bloom.  Heaven on earth.  Imagine a hot dusty day, the sun beating down on fields filled with lavender and the scent all around you.   A picnic under the shade of a pine tree complete with a blanket and a chilled bottle of white from Languedoc. 

Real shutters in my favorite shade of green, opened during the day to warm the house, closed at night for privacy and to keep the warmth in. 

The market in Arles.  Sausages-- oui, le taureau, bien sûr.  We are near the Camargue, with all its wild bulls, remember.  Taste it first, then decide how many you would like to buy.  There is always a deal to be made.  5 euros each or 3 for 12, madame.

A vineyard in Pic St. Loup.  Harvest time approaches and the leaves are changing.  Soon they will be crushed and become a lovely bottle of wine for someone to sip with their favorite someone else as they share a simple meal.

Or as they celebrate the end of another wonderful week spent seeing Italy and Provence.   Where would we be without our friends?  Too sad to contemplate.

The Venus of Arles.  Safely tucked away in the town hall to be admired by passers-by on their way to conduct official business or by tourists who just wander in off the street seeking a little spot of shelter from the summer sun or the ravages of the Mistral.

Only to emerge on the other side in front of this fountain.  These lions have guarded Arles for centuries, sitting at the base of an obelisk.  Benches surround the fountain, providing a place to write a letter or postcard home or spend a few quiet minutes reading or people watching on a sunny day.

Pink flamingos in the Camargue, being admired by a couple of ducks.  I, too, could watch them all day.

My first taste of shaved truffles, served over homemade pasta with a walnut sauce.  I was quite a gourmande and could not get enough of the earthy taste and smell of these black diamonds from the market in Carpentras.  Merci, René.

And a fruity red Chateauneuf-du-Pape to accompany the pasta and truffles.  I do not have the words to describe this meal...  I will just have to let my photos do the talking for me this time.
A perfect vacation.  Sometimes fate just brings the most wonderful people into your life and gives you the opportunity to do take extraordinary adventures with them.

The Sabbatical Chef in action.  Oh yes, in addition to all of the eating, drinking and sightseeing, I did indeed work.  Not exactly singing for my supper, but close enough.

I simply remember my favorite things and then I don't feel so bad...

Bon appétit, mes amis!  
I dedicate this one to all my friends who have shared Provence with me...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bienvenue 2010

This is what was waiting for Santa at my house on Christmas eve.  We've always left cookies for Santa and even though I am now the only one who really cares if he gets fed or not, sugar cookies (merci Pillsbury Doughboy, that's right, they are not homemade...), with sprinkles no less, are always waiting for him when he arrives.  The boys are too old to really be concerned with Santa's tummy, but I am sure in this mother's heart that they will carry on the tradition one of these days (in the distant future, please) with their own little ones.

For Christmas, one of my sisters gave me this photo that she found and framed.  I (on the right) am probably five years old.  That's my best guess anyway.  There are really four of us, but the youngest is out of the picture, sitting in the yard screaming at the top of her lungs as my mom snaps this photo.  At least that is how the family legend goes.  Bless her heart-- my mom's, not the screamer's.  My mom got married at the age of 15, gave birth to me at 17 and had her last child at 21.  I truly believe that I would not have survived.  Or I would have the corner padded room in a nice quiet hospital for the mentally challenged.  But I am so glad she made it.  I do not see her as much as I would like, but I do resolve promise to see my mama more often in 2010.

This is the gift my family gave the un-ex.   The screamer sister loves thrift and secondhand shops and she found him in Crossnore.  The Châteauneuf-du-Pape is our addition, though.  He is quite cute, n'est-ce pas?

New Year's Eve was celebrated by the BFF, the un-ex and I rather quietly.  Both boys were out and about so we had the house to ourselves and could play our favorite music without moans and groans.  (Will their music survive as well as the '70's stuff has??)  This lovely bottle of 2009 Bukettraube from the Cederberg Winery in South Africa came from Wine Authorities.  I stirred up a little caramelized onions for a quick tart and we sipped this white.  The write up on this one describes it as big and friendly, super exotic, floral, off dry, and rich.  The BFF's husband plays in a band, The Fabulous Hot Dog Daddy-Os (, so he was out playing for another group of revelers, hopefully a full house, not just three partiers d'un certain âge, as the French say,  hoping to make it to midnight without falling asleep.
We enjoyed some Piggy Popcorn (and I don't share-- sing it to the tune of Jimmy Crack Corn), bacon-flavored popcorn which is sold at Wine Authorities.

I do not remember what tune was playing, maybe Brick House by the Commodores since I do not believe any party is complete without hearing that song at least once.  You just cannot sit still while that song is playing, unless you are in the car, of course.  Or comatose.
It is hard to believe that 2010 has already arrived.  2009 passed in a blur.  I can no longer tell people that I just got back from my six month sabbatical in France.  That was in 2008, for goodness sake.  I do not really make resolutions any more.  They are just too hard to keep.  I make myself little promises.  The top one this year, to quote Jill Connor Browne, the Sweet Potato Queen herself, is "Be Particular."  I intend to be particular about what I put into my mouth.  Good things in moderation.  I do not really practice self-denial when it comes to food.  Once your taste buds have been awakened, eating is such a pleasurable experience.  There is too much out there, however, which just isn't real.  All package, no true taste as nature intended it.  More fresh ingredients, more seasonal fare, more exploration of herbs and spices, a more discerning palate.  Hamburgers should taste the way OnlyBurgers taste.  Goat's milk is just a God-given delicacy when made into fresh chèvre by Elodie Farms.  Crusty loaves of just-baked Guglhupf bread.  Fresh fish grilled, flavored with herbs.  Homemade soups and stews from my own kitchen.
And my second resolution is to write more.  Practice is necessary.  Jessica, a friend, lent me her copy Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob.  I've already read three chapters of this handbook for aspiring food writers and have even ordered my own copy so I won't be tempted to mark up hers.  So, somehow I will find a few extra minutes (which can easily turn into two hours when I am blogging away or working on my monthly column for the Durham Herald-Sun) each day to get some words down on the proverbial paper.  I do always have my little notebook in my purse.

So even if it is just a few lines jotted down in here, I will try to keep that promise to myself.
I made macaroni and cheese for my Spruce Pine family, after shopping at Ingles, using a new recipe I found in Our State magazine.  Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, in my humble opinion.

Macaroni and Cheese
Charlotte Fekete, Marshall, NC, Our State, January 2010

1 lb. elbow macaroni
5 c. shredded cheddar cheese
4 oz. cream cheese, diced
3 large eggs
1 c. whole milk
1/3 c. sour cream
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375F.  Cook macaroni and drain.  Immediately place in large bowl (I just put it back into the still warm pot I cooked it in).  Stir 4 cups of the cheddar cheese and the cream cheese into hot macaroni until thoroughly combined and cheeses are beginning to melt; set aside.  In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sour cream and melted butter.  Add egg mixture to macaroni mixture, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.  Transfer to 13x9 baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup of cheddar cheese.  Bake for about 50 minutes or until set.  Serve hot.
Serves 6-8.
(Note:  Next time I will cover the macaroni with foil, bake it and add the last cup of cheese when there is about 10 minutes of cooking time left.  I do not really like mine to have a well-baked, crunchy top.)

Bon appétit, 2010!