Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mama

My mom, Mildred, celebrated her 70th birthday last week.  The Ex-Ex and I drove up to Spruce Pine to celebrate (and to have a second Thanksgiving dinner) with her and my siblings, their children, one aunt and one cousin.  My mom's very patient and very quiet husband was also there.  Poor guy, he never gets a word in edgewise when we are all around.  Oh- my mom also has great-grandchildren.  I am a great aunt.  One of the little boys is quite fond of me, it seems.  When my sister asked him if he thinks his aunt Teresa is the best, he answered "Probably."  I take that as quite a compliment, coming from an 8 year old.  He and his brothers named their 4-month old black lab puppy after college age-son.  He likes that.
One of the great-nephews is learning to cook.  He made deviled eggs for our lunch.

I baked Dorie Greenspan's apple cake to take to the celebration and we headed up to the mountains.  I admire my mom more than she knows.  She was a few months short of her 18th birthday when I arrived.  We kind of grew up together.  She has always been my greatest cheerleader.  I am sure that I do not tell her enough how much I love her.
My two sisters and my brother still live in Spruce Pine.  They all actually live on the same street, Bell Street, named for my grandfather, George Bell.  Mama married into the Bell clan, transplants from High Point, NC, when she ran off to Louisiana to join my dad who was in the army.  She was 15 years old.  She grew up in Spruce Pine, in the Penland community (most famous for Penland School of Crafts).  Her parents, always known as Granny and Pa, lived on a farm up on a hill.  They died when I was in high school, back in the '70's.
Anyway, quite a few of us were on hand to sing Happy Birthday and watch Mama blow out the candles on her cake.
We didn't use 70, only 36 (that's how many were in the package and the aforementioned great-nephews thought we should put them all!).  My nephew's wife made the cake and decorated it with yellow roses, Mama's favorite flower.
I hope your wish comes true, Mama!

Bon appétit, my dear mother!

Happy Thanksgiving

The turkey has been eaten.  (Not this one, of course. My mother-in-law always has cool decorations so I snapped a few photos!) The pumpkin pie was almost single-handedly (mouthedly??) consumed by high school-age son.  With whipped cream, merci.  College age-son did not eat all of the cherry pie that his grandmother made him for his 23rd birthday.  He did that one year.  It has been a long-standing tradition that he have a cherry pie instead of a birthday cake when we visit there for Thanksgiving.  I am not sure how it started, but one year she decided not to make one (not realizing how much it would be missed) and although I do not think tears were shed, he was a sad, letdown boy.  That son is a stickler for tradition.  I will need to warn a future wife about that.  I just realized we forgot to pull the wishbone...  Zut alors.
This cartoon was on the editorial page of the Washington, NC newspaper.
Obviously, I have not been keeping up with the news from Florida.  I had to resort to google.  Seems that the outgoing governor of the Sunshine State is hoping to pardon Jim for exposing himself during a concert in Miami in 1969.  (I suppose he has no more important things to worry about down there as he leaves office?)  In French class, I had just explained to my students who Jim is because we were talking about Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris where he is buried.  He died there in 1971, probably of a drug overdose.  I went to his gravesite once while in Paris.  I'd never been there and I decided to get up very early while my students and co-chaperone were still sleeping.  The cemetery opens at 8:00 am. Very interesting place.  All day vigils are held there.  The police arrived on the scene while I was there.  It appeared that a couple of Jim's fans were indulging in an illegal activity.  I just kind of stood back and watched.  You never know what you might see when you are in a cemetery, I guess.

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving.  My mother-in-law makes great stuffing for the turkey.  Sauteed onions and celery and sage are the flavors she uses.
I contributed Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good from Dorie Greenspan's new book, Around My French Table.  I thought it turned out well.  (Ms. Arizona reported that she made it, too, and stuffed her pumpkin with spinach, rice and craisins.  Sounds heavenly.)
I stuck with the original recipe.

It was a lovely day.  We missed seeing the Ex-Ex's sister, her husband and their son.  Nephew recently picked up and moved to Colorado to look for a job.  Sister and Brother-in-law were home nursing a cat with a broken jaw.  I had no idea that cats could break their jaws, but evidently it can happen although they do not know how it occurred in this particular case.  Hopefully, we will see them at Christmas, which is just around the corner.
Oops!  I shouldn't forget to tell about my mother-in-law's cinnamon rolls...

They are vraiment bon.  With a cup of hot coffee.  The smell of baking turkey in the background.  Ahhh...

Bon appétit, Pilgrims everywhere!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A delicious week

It was a real food lover's week...

Last Sunday, there was a panel discussion at the Durham County Library's Southwest branch with local chefs.  Alice Sharpe made the introductions for "Durham:  Culinary Hot Spot."  It was part of the Humanities Programs at the library.  Ann Prospero, author of Chefs of the Triangle, moderated.  On hand were Amy Tournquist of Watts Grocery, Marco Shaw of Piedmont, Seth Gross, formerly of Wine Authorities and soon opening Bull City Burger and Brewery, Jim Anile of Revolution, Chris Stinnett of Rue Cler and Pop's, and Andy Magowan, former owner of Piedmont and soon opening a new restaurant-beer garden in downtown Durham.  We are very lucky eaters here in Durham.  I was struck by the sense of camaraderie among these chefs.  They were all very funny, too.  Someone in the audience commented that there is "so much personality behind such good food."  Very true.  Parking in downtown Durham was a hot topic of discussion.  Revolution offers valet parking.  Someone asked how the residents of Durham could support the chefs and their restaurants.  The responses -- "Keep eating."  "Eat early and often."  "Stop going on vacation all summer."  One woman commented that she frequents their restaurants too often, to which they responded that that isn't possible!
Then, on Monday, it was crêpe-making day with my 6th graders.
I can still do it, Chef Érick!
A very happy jeune homme.  I hope they will make crêpes at home for their families.  This is the same group of kids who ate escargots first thing in the morning a couple of months ago.  Great eaters!  On their way to becoming gourmands et gourmets. One of the girls came in with a menu from Vin Rouge, one of my favorites.  She and her mom went there for dinner. 
The preferred fillings for the crêpes--
And, of course--
Some of my advisees had never tasted Maple View Farm chocolate milk.  I had to remedy that tout de suite!  This is absolutely the best chocolate milk ever.  Even better than a chocolate milk shake.  When my children were in pre-school, one of their field trips was to Maple View to feed the calves and taste milk and ice cream.  Yes, I chaperoned that trip- twice!
We also had gingerbread with whipped cream.  What a wonderful treat.
Anna T. celebrated her birthday this week and no birthday is complete without a cake and candles.  The cake was gone by the end of the day!
The third Thursday of November is the release date for Beaujolais Nouveau, so I dashed out to Wine Authorities for a bottle.  Homemade chili was on our evening's menu.  I've had some Beaujolais that wasn't much to write about, but I can always trust WA to come through with a good one. 
In Avignon, France, they celebrated the new Côtes du Rhône wines, as well as the Beaujolais.  Ahhh.  The Frenchies do love a reason for a celebration.  I am sure there were some wonderful wines and nibbles.

Friday, I decided to have a few girlfriends over for un apéro after school.  I am thankful for my friends and wanted to show them.  My guys were busy with basketball and I do not have after school study hall duty on Fridays.  Arles Lucy and the BFF stayed for a while and we shared stories and laughed a lot.  We ate lovely little snacks--
--bread from  Guglhupf (interesting shape, n'est-ce pas?)
--Giacomo Reserve Toscana Salami (Wine Authorities)

-- cheese spread from Hillsborough Cheese Company (Wine Authorities)
--olives (yep, Wine Authorities)
-- tapenade

-- and chocolate (none left to photograph...).
And my final project of the weekend was to make Dorie Greenspan's French apple cake from her new cookbook, Around My French Table.  I found it on David Lebovitz' blog (and then bought the book for myself!).  It is truly delicious.   (Both the book and the cake.)
I made it first thing Sunday morning.  That is my favorite time to bake-- the house is quiet, boys and cats are still asleep.  I love to fill up the air with great smells.  I chose four different kinds of apples, just as Dorie suggests,  Granny Smith, Braeburn, Jonagold and Mountaineer.
Butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, rum, flour and voilà!
An hour later, cake for breakfast.

Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake
(from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan)
Makes 8 servings

3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. dark rum
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper and put the springform pan on it.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.
Peel the apples, cut them in half, and remove the cores.  Cut the apples into 1- to 2- inch chunks.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they're foamy.  Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend.  Whisk in the rum and vanilla.  Whisk in half the flour and, when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter.  Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter.  Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it's evenish.
Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan.
Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it's fully opened, make sure there aren't any apples stuck to it.)  Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature.  If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack.  Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.
The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream.  Marie-Hélène served her cake with cinnamon ice cream, and it was a terrific combination.
The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature and, according to my husband, gets more comforting with each passing day.  However long you keep the cake, it's best not to cover it-- it's too moist.  Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.

P.S.  I just noticed that today's French word of the day (on the side of the blog) is régime-- diet.  Ha!  And the sentence--  Après les excès des fêtes, il veut se mettre au régime. After the holiday excess, he wants to go on a diet.

Bon appétit, to Dorie and all my eaters!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A friend and colleague

I was afraid that we were not going to have the brilliant fall colors I love so much.  Twenty-two years spent in the mountains conditioned me to the changing of leaves in October.  The image of a fall afternoon with a bluer than blue sky and my mountains dressed in orange, yellow and red will always be what I remember about football games at Appalachian State University.  (The really cold nights under the lights are another story!)  But for the past week, my drive to school has been such a pleasure.  The road is lined with bright trees.  I came close to just stopping my car and jumping out this morning to take a photo of one.  With the sun shining through its branches, it looked as if it were on fire.  I came to my senses, though, and just kept going, but slowly.  The tree pictured above is right outside my classroom.  It is dedicated to a woman who was a very dear friend and colleague.
I sit on that bench often and eat my lunch, grade papers or chat with a fellow teacher.  Gail was a Language Arts teacher and one-of-a-kind.  She was a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, a world traveler, a pied piper, a friend who could commiserate with me and make me laugh.  I have several books in my collection that she gave me.  She had a knack for finding just the right one.  There were many times over the years when she would come to me during our school's annual Used Book Fair and tell me she had stashed a bag of books for me under the table.  I thought she was only doing this for me until her funeral when another teacher talked about how Gail would find just the right book for her!  She taught me how to interact better with my students.  Gail taught college-age son and he loved her.   We all still miss her.  But when I look at that tree, I feel as if she is still with us.

One Christmas, Gail gave me some handwritten recipes on index cards. The punch was Gail's contribution to any faculty party or get-together.  I am so glad that I came across this recipe the other day.

Gail's Punch

Mix together well:

6 cups boiling water
4 cups sugar


2 - 12 oz. cans undiluted frozen orange juice
1 - 12 oz. can undiluted frozen lemonade
1 - 46 oz. pineapple juice
5 ripe bananas that have been blended in the blender

Chill overnight.

Just before serving, add 6 quarts Tom Collins soda.

Bon appétit, Gail!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pumpkin stuffed with everything good

This weekend's cooking project was Dorie Greenspan's recipe called Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good.  Arizona Tammy sent it to me by way of npr.  Needing a nice pumpkin was a great excuse (as if one is needed) to head to the Durham Farmers' Market early Saturday morning (well, not too early since the proverbial frost is now on the proverbial pumpkins here in Durham and we decided to first make a stop at Rue Cler for egg and cheese sandwiches and coffee).
Ok, egg, cheese and bacon sandwiches.  This photo was taken in August.  Yesterday's sandwich wasn't as good because the yellow was cooked solid.  Just one Southern girl's opinion on how to cook a fried egg.  Still quite tasty, though.  Melted gruyère cheese is divine.  And they make their own bread at Rue Cler.
Anyway, I found the perfect pumpkin at Brinkley's Farm.
I brought him home and set about scooping out his seeds and innards.  Next came the cutting, chopping and grating.  First, stale bread leftover from my breadmaking last week.
Then cheese, thyme, nutmeg, green onions, and garlic.
After the bacon (I fried up extra for the Ex-Ex who always has to sample) was fried up crisp, I was ready to assemble and stuff.
Heavy cream is poured into the pumpkin to moisten the stuffing and then into the oven it goes for two hours.
After a few tastes along the way, I declared it done and scooped it out and served it up for dinner.
It was really good. 
Very nice with a glass of The Chancellor, a German wine, sold exclusively on our continent at Wine Authorities.  No kidding.
Schäfer, "The Chancellor", Rheinhessen, Germany, 2009

Kansler, Riesling, Kerner
The Schafer winery is dark, wet and cold. Perfect for creating crisp elegant whites of character. We tasted through the usual suspects like Riesling and Sylvaner, when they presented this odd white blend called Trivini (three grapes). Clearly it was a stunning value with elegant flavors, but oh that name. Turns out there are other wines in the US with similar names so the Schäfers have not done much with it here. We loved the wine and proposed a new name based on the main grape varietal, Kanzler. Meet the newly named Chancellor of white wine. This variety is a crossing of Müller-Thurgau x Silvaner in 1927 to produce floral, delicate aroma white wines. Success!

This recipe is a keeper.  Maybe it will show up on the Thanksgiving table...

The BFF showed up to borrow my DVD of Chocolat (another nice treat on a chilly evening) just as the pumpkin came out of the oven.  She has impeccable timing, n'est-ce pas?  She couldn't stay for dinner because she had needed to get groceries home (can't have melted ice cream in a puddle in the party van, can we?), so I sent her home with a nice warm bowl of it.  She approved, as did the Ex-Ex.  He had two helpings.  Always a good sign.  I may have leftovers for breakfast this morning...

Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good
(from Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook, Around My French Table)
This is copied straight from the transcript found on npr.  I think Dorie's directions are so easy to follow and I like the way she "talks."  My notes are in italics.)

Makes 2 very generous servings

1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (I used a combination of baby swiss and Gruyère-- Gruyère and Emmenthal are ridiculously expensive here)
2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained and chopped (I used more- can you have too much??)
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions (I used thinly sliced green onions)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 c. heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350˚F.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper or find a Dutch over with a diameter that's just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin.  If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it might stick to the casserole, so you'll have to serve it from the pot-- which is an appealingly homey way to serve it.  If you bake it on a baking sheet, you can present it freestanding, but maneuvering a heavy stuffed pumpkin with a softened shell isn't so easy.  However, since I love the way the unencumbered pumpkin looks in the center of the table, I've always taken my chances with the baked-on-a-sheet method, and so far, I've been lucky. (I baked it on a parchment-lined pan.  Less cleanup!)
Using a very sturdy knife- and caution- cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o'-lantern).  It's easiest to work your knife around the tip of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle.  You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin.  Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin.
Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot.  Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon and herbs together in a bowl.  Season with pepper- you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure - and pack the mix into the pumpkin.  The pumpkin should be well filled- you might have a little too much filling or you might need to add to it.  Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin.  Again, you might have too much or too little- you don't want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (But it's hard to go wrong here.)
Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours- check after 90 minutes- or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife.  Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.
When the pumpkin is ready, carefully, very carefully- it's heavy, hot and wobbly- bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you'll bring to the table.
You have choices:  you can cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; you can spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful; or you can dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pull the pumpkin meat into the filling, and then mix everything up.  I'm a fan of the pull-and-mix option.  Served in hearty portions followed by a salad, the pumpkin is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in generous spoonfuls or wedges, it's just right alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.
It's really best to eat this as soon as it's ready.  However, if you've got leftovers, you can scoop them out of the pumpkin, mix them up, cover and chill them; reheat them the next day.
Greenspan's Stuffing Ideas:
There are many ways to vary this arts-and-crafts project.  Instead of bread, I've filled the pumpkin with cooked rice (I am thinking red Camargue rice maybe)- when it's baked, it's almost risotto-like.  And, with either bread or rice, on different occasions I've added cooked spinach, kale, chard, or peas (the peas came straight from the freezer).  I've made it without bacon, and I've made and loved, loved, loved it with cooked sausage meat; cubes of ham are another good idea.  Nuts are a great addition, as are chunks of apple or pear or pieces of chestnut.

Bon appétit à tous!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Low level eater

(I've been playing with Skitch again.)

This guy's name is You Are A Lucky Eater But Not Smart Enough To Know It.  We will call him Doofus for short.  I found him today (Nov. 13, 2010) in Dear Abby's column in the Durham Herald-Sun.  Read on...

Dear Abby:
I have been married for a year and I am concerned about one issue.  Dinner is a constant source of contention.  I enjoy coming home and preparing a homecooked meal for him. He views this as too fancy and too expensive.
We are financially comfortable and our grocery bill is modest.  It frustrates me that he doesn't appreciate the thought and effort I put into our dinner.  That's the way I was raised.  My husband would die happy eating frozen pizza and salad out of a bag every night!  That may be fine for some people, but I prefer to eat better than that.  Any suggestions?
--Likes to Cook in St. Louis

Abby gave some of her usual common sense advice-- he needs to eat healthy food and a good diet, balanced meals are important, tell him it makes you happy and it helps you unwind after work, etc.
Well, the Sabbatical Chef just wants to slap him upside the head and try to knock some sense into him.  Not really.  I wouldn't hit him.  But I would indeed sit him down at the kitchen table and ask him what the problem is.  He is one lucky man.  He should be more than happy to try her recipes and then let her know what he thinks.  Open his mind and his taste buds.  Or he is free to buy the frozen pizza and bake it himself.  But that's not good for the marriage.  He would pay for that one way or the other.
I have three male eaters (well, usually just two now since college-age son is not here) and we love pizza, too.  Not the frozen stuff, though, but take-out from Pulcinella's.   But my eaters try my new recipes and let me know if they would like a repeat performance.  If they don't, it doesn't hurt my feelings (too much) and either I modify the recipe, drop it from my repertoire or make a small serving next time just for moi or I take it to school and try it out on my friends and colleagues.  Sometimes I find a new recipe and spend all afternoon making it just because I want to.  I have been married much longer, though, and am, I imagine, a bit older, wiser and thicker-skinned than St. Louis.  I just urge her to hang in there and keep cooking.  And if he is lucky, she will keep him around and cook for him for a long time to come.  The Ex-Ex, my main eater, labeled the guy a "low level eater" after I pushed the column under his nose and made him read it.  I totally agree.  I hope Doofus improves with age.

Bon appétit, Loves to Cook.  Hang in there!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dorie, NPR and pumpkin

It seems that I am not the only one craving pumpkin these days.  Arizona Tammy sent a link to a recent npr segment that is just plain old delicious to listen to.  No kidding.  It's an interview with Dorie Greenspan about a recipe in her new cookbook, Around My French Table.  The recipe is Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good.  The everything good includes bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and nutmeg. 
Give it a listen when you have about 6 minutes.  I plan to make it this coming weekend.  I haven't bought Dorie's cookbook yet, but I can hear the bookstore calling my name now.  It sounds wonderful.

Bon appétit, Dorie, npr and Arizona Tammy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

April's Angels

Last night, I was invited to a fundraiser for April's Angels in Raleigh.  It was held at Calm and Sense, a little boutique on Glenwood Avenue that specializes in natural products.  April's Angels is an organization founded in 2004 by a woman who wanted to give back to the community.  She decided to help chronically ill children in central North Carolina by giving them the bedroom of their dreams.  April's Angels relies solely on donations from individuals and corporations.  Last night's fundraiser was a Girlfriends' Game Night.  We purchased raffle tickets for cool prizes (wine baskets, Carolina Hurricane tickets and gear, restaurant gift certificates, jewelry, etc), mingled and made new friends, and ate yummy treats before playing games.  And speaking of raffle and games, look what I won!
A huge basket filled with games and snacks.  (That's our cat, Rusty, checking it out.)
My favorite game was Apples to Apples.  It involves red and green cards with random words on them, one person to throw out the green card and be the judge, and then everyone else throwing in a red card to describe the green card.  And being quick because the last red card thrown out goes back to its owner, sadly eliminated for being so slow.  Ms. R, pictured at the top, in the brown sweater, sitting next to our table captain, Mrs. Dan, kept trying to throw out her red my bedroom card.  Among the categories offered up were comical, dull and deranged.  Hmmm...  My version of the game probably sounds very confusing, but it is quite easy, trust me.  I am not a fan of games that require a lot of thinking.
And eating peanut M&M's, obviously, helped.  I only won one round.  But it was a lot of fun anyway.  And luckily, look what I found in my gift basket!
Some of the games will go to my little grand-nephews for Christmas, but I am keeping this one.
I now plan to check into how I can volunteer for April's Angels.  Check out the website.

Bon appétit, April's Angels and Girlfriends!