Friday, December 30, 2011

2012 and Paris: Here I Come!

The moment has come for my favorite past time... day dreaming about Paris.  2012 is about to begin and I am beyond excited.  I try hard to keep it at bay and not rattle on and on and on about my upcoming trips to anyone within earshot.  I really do.  But it just bubbles up and I can't help it.  In less than two weeks, I will be in the City of Light.  ACIS, the travel company I now use for my student trips, has invited me to Paris for three days. 
Mlle Artiste's backpack
 It's a Global Conference and there will be lots of new teachers for me to meet.  I went last January to a similar conference and met lots of great travelers.  I also had the freedom to explore new areas of Paris (without students in tow!), as well as attend meetings and learn how to make my student trips even better. 
I visited the memorial to the victims of the Vel d'Hiv after reading about this horrific event in Sarah's Key, a book written by Tatiana de Rosnay (it has also been made into a movie starring Kristin Scott Thomas).  It was a round-up of thousands of French Jews in Paris by French policemen on July 16 and 17, 1942.  They were held at the vélodrome, an indoor bicycle racing track and stadium (where the 1924 Summer Olympics were held), before being sent to Auschwitz.  I knew nothing about this event until I read the book.  The memorial is near the Eiffel Tower, along the Seine River, on Quai de Grenelle.  At Bir-Hakeim, the nearby métro station, there is a memorial plaque, also.  (Many thanks to Wikipedia and to a new blog I've discovered, Le Blog, for historical facts.)
The vélodrome no longer exists.  In 1995, former French Président Jacques Chirac apologized to his country for the whole horrid event.
Being wined and dined aboard a boat on the Seine at night was not a bad way to end the January trip.  While I always take the kiddies on a night time boat ride, a dinner cruise was a first for me.
Très élégant, n'est-ce pas?  Just a bit of kir royale left in my glass...
Foie gras and figs... pure heavenly delight
I feel very spoiled right now because I am hoping that another dinner cruise is planned and I am already mentally packing my little black dress and pearls.  And wondering what will be on the menu, bien sûr.  I am such a terrible gourmande.
My student trip will take place in March, 6 nights in Paris, followed by 6 nights with our exchange families in Provence.  I have 20 brave little darlings signed up.  This will be the first time we've had an exchange in several years.  I am very, very pleased about this.  A French teacher's dream-- to have her students speaking French with "real" French people and seeing firsthand how they live.  And I get to stay with Mme P (oui, chef!).  She stayed with me last spring and we had a grand time exploring Durham and cooking together. 
But back to the January trip...  I will leave Paris after three days, jump (maybe literally since I am so excited to be doing this!) on the TGV and head for Nîmes, then over to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, where I will spend four days with Mme P, visiting her school and meeting the students who will host mine in March (thank you, Durham Academy!!).  I plan to take my brand-spanking-new iPad 2 with me and skype with my 8th graders while there.  Trop cool, non?
And last, but certainly not least, the BFF and I have put together a trip for "girls" to Paris and Provence for 10 days in July 2012. This is something we have talked about for a couple of years.  She came over to visit me twice while I was living in Arles.  She and Mo are my grape-stomping buddies.  Mo came over, too, and has signed on for a third trip with us!
Wine Authorities trip to Grove Winery 2010
 We are planning to see the sights of Paris (yes, BFF, the Musée d'Orsay is actually in Paris!), rent a house in Provence for a week, and head back to Paris for Bastille Day before coming home.  We hope to have 6-8 low-maintenance women travel with us. 
So, I have much to dream about and plan.
2012 will be a good year!

Bon appétit, 2012 and Paris!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Provence A-Z part deux

Even though it is the day after Christmas, I have quite a few things that I could be doing.  Mainly grading exams.  But I'd rather go to Provence.  This is a view from the top of the hill at what remains of the Pope's summer home at Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  I took this in late June 2008.  I thought this would be a good photo to get us in the mood to explore more of Peter Mayle's Provence A-Z.  See, I haven't forgotten this project.

In this entry, Mayle talks about being told once that the air in Provence is very pure.  Later, he learned that several of the départments in the area are among the most polluted in Europe.  I am not sure I buy that.  I will have to agree, however, that perhaps the Mistral wind keeps the pollution at bay in this corner of paradise.

Alpes et Alpilles
Everyone knows about the big, bad Alpes if for no other reason than the skiing and maybe The Sound of Music.  I haven't spent much time there.  But I do love the Alpilles.  Between Fontvieille and St. Rémy de Provence runs a jagged, white range of "little Alpes," as they are called.  A great place to hike and picnic, peut-être? 

Malheureusement, I do not have any photos of the almond trees in bloom.  I'm never in Provence in very early spring to see them.  Maybe they will still be in bloom this March while I am there?  Almonds were introduced to Europe over 2,000 years ago by the Greeks.  In France, salty or roasted nuts are most often offered as a little something-something to go along with your before dinner apéritif of pastis, a chilled glass of dry rosé or kir.  Or whatever your little heart desires.  In Aix-en-Provence they make a wonderful sweet treat called Calissons d'Aix.  I have eaten many of them, but photographed none, so I "borrowed" a photo from

They are very good.  Take my word for it.  Or order some and find out for your very own self. 
Another almond treat I discovered while living in Arles is sirop d'orgeat.  This is a syrup made of almonds, sugar, rose water or orange flower water.  The name confused me and I had no idea what I was drinking for quite a while.  I just knew that, when mixed with cold water, it made a very refreshing drink during hot Provence summers in a kitchen with none of the air-conditioning we Americans think we cannot live without.  I discovered that the name comes from the French word for barley, orge, because it was originally made from an almond-barley blend.
Vincent Van Gogh painted the almond blossoms.  Perhaps he was startled by the blooms in what would have still been winter in 1888 or 1889.
This one, Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book, reminds me of the ikebana Japanese flower arrangement that Son #1 made when he was in elementary school art class.  Vincent painted it in 1888 and it is now part of some lucky person's private art collection.  Can you imagine looking at that every single day?  Being able to stand right up next to it and seeing Vincent's brushstrokes?

Peter Mayle uses this entry to talk about how his house in Provence is a draw for many of his so-called friends who want to escape England and come to the sunny south of France.  Since I do not own a house in Provence and can't speak to this from personal experience, I do know that I made some dear friends while living there.
The Arles 6 in 2008--
My "team" that I fed lunch to every day in 2007--
And one of the dinners in the house in Arles attended by the "gang" in 2008--
I did have visits from the BFF and Mo, one in 2007--
And again in 2008--
(At least I thought they were coming to see me... I only have pictures with them and Chef Érick.  Hmmm...)
And the Goolsby clan who came at Thanksgiving 2008--

I never thought much about anchovies before living in Provence.  I had no idea if I liked them or not.  I found out that I do.  Pissaladière, for example, a pizza-type treat made with anchovies.  You can just simply make an anchovy paste, anchoïade, however to serve on toasted baguette slices to go with the pastis apéritif or you can dip raw vegetables in the anchoïade.
I took these photos in Collioure in December 2008, just before returning home from sabbatical.
I think that it is time for a glass of rosé.  I've earned it with all this reminiscing, n'est-ce pas?


3 Tbsp. olive oil
10 anchovy fillets (rinsed in water, if salted)
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

Heat the olive oil.  Add the anchovy fillets and cook until melted and thickened into a paste.  Add the garlic and sizzle for 30 seconds.
Spread on toasted baguette slices or use as a dip for raw vegetables.

Bon appétit, Provence!  À bientôt!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas et Joyeux Noël 2011

Just pictures today...
I don't really decorate a lot for the holidays, but I have some things I've collected over the years.
And I suppose that when the Sons are on their own, with Christmas trees of their very own, I will give up a few of the ornaments that we've collected for them.
Our first married Christmas, we had no ornaments.  I cross-stitched some.
I also painted some little wooden ones and some with Peanuts characters on them. Those aren't used anymore. But here are some of my favorites...

This one was given to me my first year teaching.  Bell is my maiden name.
A few Santas are a must.
A windmill in honor of the Ex-Ex's Nebraska cattle ranching roots. 
We've had these since our second Christmas.    
And Santa or Père Noël climbing La Tour Eiffel.

Bon appétit et Joyeux Noël à tous et à toutes!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

These days I think Christmas Eve is even better than Christmas Day.  That is, if the shopping is done and no crazy mood strikes, whispering in my ear telling me to go to the mall.  Son #1 just left to finish his shopping.  But me, I am happily at home for the day.  We will go to a Moravian Love Feast this evening at Christ the King Moravian Church and then drive around looking at lights before coming home to the Ex-Ex family's traditional Christmas Eve dinner of hamburgers, French fries, and chocolate milkshakes.  We then open gifts.  It was early to bed to wait for Santa when the boys were little, now it's early to bed for mom and dad!  Santa still puts in an appearance, of course.
I chose to begin this Christmas Eve by making one of Mama Mildred's easy treats from the past.  Monkey Bread or Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread.  Whatever you want to call it.  A lot of American moms have probably made this one, thanks to Pillsbury. 

The Ex-Ex likes something warm from the oven to go with his coffee and morning paper.  However, after this was in the oven for a few minutes, I smelled smoke.  Uh-oh.  Well, it didn't take me long to figure out that I had used the wrong pan.  The tube pan I chose to fill with biscuits, cinnamon, brown sugar and three-fourths cup of melted butter has a removable bottom that allowed the butter to escape.  (Note to self:  When the recipe says to use a fluted pan, use a fluted pan.)  So, I stuck a cookie sheet under the mess, let it finish baking, cracked a few windows, and turned on the fan.  (Now the oven is self-cleaning and the fan is still going. And I think I need to change the batteries in the smoke detectors.  They didn't make a peep.)
When Son #1 was two years old, he really, really, really wanted an Ernie doll.  As you can see from the first photo, we found one and he still has it, 22 years later.  He loved Ernie.  He even had a striped turtleneck shirt much like Ernie's that he wore all the time.  I am not sure how many times we watched Sesame Street's Christmas Special.  A thousand might not be an exaggeration. We taped it (back in the VCR days) and now every time I hear Jose Feliciano sing Feliz Navidad I think of Big Bird ice skating. 

Monkey Bread

1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cans (16.3 oz each) Pillsbury Grands Homestyle Buttermilk refigerated biscuits
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
1/2 c. raisins, optional
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 c. melted butter

1.  Heat oven to 350˚F.  Lightly grease a 12-cup fluted pan.  In large plastic food storage bag, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon.
2.  Separate dough into 16 biscuits; cut each into quarters.  Shake in bag to coat.  Arrange in pan, adding nuts and raisins among biscuit pieces, if desired. 
3.  In small bowl, mix brown sugar, and melted butter; pour over biscuits pieces.  Bake 28-32 minutes until golden brown and no longer doughy in center.  Cool in pan 10 minutes.  Turn upside down onto a serving plate.  Pull apart to serve.  Serve warm.

Bon appétit, Christmas Eve and Ernie!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cookies, cookies, cookies

I've been busy with Mildred the Mixer, creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs, and baking to my little heart's delight.  It just wouldn't be the Christmas season without cookies.  These Molasses Crinkles are my favorite.  I make them every year.
My counter currently is filled with various bowls and platters.  The Molasses Crinkles are sitting next to the Carmelitas (not technically a cookie, but a bar). 

There are Mini-Cheesecakes in the refrigerator. 
And just out of the oven-- the newest recipe in my cookie repertoire, Brickle Drop Cookies.
While strolling the baking aisle of the grocery store a couple of weeks ago, I spotted a bag Heath English Toffee Bits made by Hershey.  The BFF loves Heath Bar cookies from Saladelia, a restaurant here in town, so I decided to give the cookies a try.  The recipe is on the bag.  Et voilà
I will make some deliveries tomorrow, sharing my baked goods with friends.
Happy Holiday Baking!

Brickle Drop Cookies
makes 6 dozen

1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/3 c. (8 oz.) Heath Bits O'Brickle Toffee Bits

1.  Heat oven to 350˚F.   Lightly grease cookie sheets (or line with parchment paper).
2.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until blended.  Add eggs; beat well.  Stir together flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until blended.  Stir in toffee bits.
3.  Drop by teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool slightly; remove to wire rack.  Cool completely (Sabbatical Chef note:  But taste a warm one just out of the oven just for the pure joy of it!).

I also stirred up some Spiced Tea after seeing the recipe on Plain Chicken.  I knew that I was saving my Bonne Maman jam jars, pots de confiture, for a reason this year!

Spiced Tea Mix

2 1/2 c. Tang (orange drink mix)
1 1/2 c. Country Time Lemonade mix
1 1/2 c. instant unsweetened tea mix
1/2 c. sugar
3 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Mix all together. 
To serve:  2 tablespoons of tea mix per cup of boiling water.

Hmmm... a nice cup of hot citrus-y spiced tea and a couple of warm cookies.  And the January Our State magazine that came in the mail today.  The cover is a stunning photo of one of our beautiful North Carolina beaches and inside waits an article on the seven prettiest places in my state.

Bon appétit, Christmas bakers everywhere!