Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stressed? Moi?

Oui, it is that time of year when I don't have much fun.  I grade papers, procrastinate profusely, and whine.  So, I have these little helpers on my desk.  Note the theme.  All lavender products.  They de-stress me.  Therefore, I squeeze the sachet, sniff the soap, soothe my temples with the oil, and slather my hands with the cream. 
If I had lavender ice cream or truffles, I would scarf them down, I am sure.  Luckily, I have none.  Especially since I am trying to take off a few kilos before the summer trip to France.  I plan to swish my skirts and sashay down the streets of Paris and Provence and will feel better if I am a bit lighter on my feet.  Arizona Tammy and I made a bet.  Go figure.  She is one of the 7 of girls heading to France in early July with me.  Whoever loses the most will get a box of Pierre Hermé macarons. 
Arles Lucy

bought a box for me back in March.  There is a little boutique inside Galeries Lafayette...
Cute, n'est-ce pas?
I saved a pink one to eat on the TGV as were zipping down to Avignon.
One of the 8th grade girlies has been officially brainwashed by her French teacher.  For the writing section of their final exam, my 8th graders have to write a thank you letter (it can be done in advance).  Oui, en français.  At least 25 sentences, using the présent, passé composé, et imparfait, the verb tenses they have learned so far.  This particular girlie went to France with me in March and bought herself a couple of M. Herme's little delicacies while other girls were shopping for girlie stuff.  I believe it was love at first bite.  So, she has written a lovely thank you letter to him.  It's a wonderful letter.  And she did what any good stalker would do, she googled him and gave me the details of his life.  He has very impressive credentials- apprenticing to Lenôtre, pastry cheffing at Fauchon and at Ladurée before opening his own shop.  I will visit the Rue Bonaparte shop in July.  He evidently lives near Parc Monceau in the 17e.  Maybe I shouldn't tell Arizona Tammy that?
Okay, I feel better.
Back to work.  It's kind of hard to type while holding a lavender sachet hostage in one's right hand.

Bon appétit, Pierre Hermé and lavender!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tomato tart

Today's riddle--
So, what do you get when you cross a homemade pie crust, Dijon-style mustard, Gruyère cheese, tomatoes, and some herbes de Provence? Oh, and subtract men who want to know "Where's the meat?"
My dinner, that's what! The Ex-Ex is at a school function and Son #2 is having dinner with a friend and watching NBA play-offs. That leaves little old me and the cats to feed and amuse ourselves.
Rusty is really good at doing that all by himself-

Callie eats much less frequently-

And now it is my dinner time!

Make your own tart and eat it all by your very own self, if you wish. Of course you can share it, too, with people you really like. A nice chilled glass of rosé from Provence, please.

Tomato tart

One pie crust (see my vinegar crust recipe) or store bought one you roll out
Dijon-style mustard
Grated gruyere or Swiss cheese
Sliced tomatoes
Herbes de Provence
Coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place the crust in a pie plate. Prick the bottom and sides and use pie weights, if you wish. Bake crust for about 10 minutes.
Brush the bottom of the warm crust with the mustard. Layer shredded cheese on top of mustard. Place sliced tomatoes on top of cheese, overlapping them just a bit. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence. (One friend makes a second layer of cheese and tomatoes.) Bake for about 20 minutes or until tomatoes start to shrivel and crust turns golden brown. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with salt.

Bon appétit, tarts and cats!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Google Paris

Dear Google,
First let me say thank you, merci, for the Mother's Day doodle.
It's adorable.  And you even went so far to make a different one for England, l'Angleterre.

Again, adorable.
It's not Mother's Day in France yet or I am sure you would've made one for la Fête des Mères also.  I look forward to it on le 27 mai
Now, to the real point of my letter. 
Yesterday, I went to my  mailbox and found a letter from you.

I was so excited.  My mind and heart were racing.  My imagination was running wild.  All I could come up with was that you had read my blog, you had learned how much I love to google, you had even found out that I teach my middle school French students to conjugate the verb googler (je google, tu googles, il google, etc.  passé composé:  nous avons googlé, futur: vous googlerez, imparfait:  ils googlaient) and you were writing to offer me a job.  And not just any job, a job in your Paris office.
The one that you opened on Avénue de l'Opéra.  You know, Sarko was there.  You probably celebrated with a bottle of champagne.
Reading some of my blog posts, you picked up on the fact that I not only love to google, but I would love to be a professional googleuse in France. 
But alas, when I opened the envelope, I found a very nice gift card for $100 in free advertising for my business and a letter explaining how registering my business on Google would bring me loads of customers.  The catch is, my dear Google, is that I do not have a business to advertise.  I've thought about turning The Sabbatical Chef into a business.  A book, notecards, travel tours, kitchen do-dads, cookbooks, aprons, kitchen towels.  However, I already have a day job, teaching French, to support my blogging and traveling to France habits.  And to pay Son #2's college tuition.  And I do love my students.  But, please, s'il vous plaît, do not let that stop you from recruiting me for your Paris office.  I could do any number of jobs-- kitchen manager or snack chef or team mom (I have lots of experience here) or office blogger (how cool would it be to have a blog dedicated to how great it is to work in the Paris Google office-- maybe you already have one?  I didn't see it.  Maybe I should google it...) or receptionist or cleaning lady (I do know how to clean les toilettes in French after my experience in Arles) or tour guide for visitors.  I love food, cheese in particular, I am happy, I would love to get paid to have fun, I know how to work hard and play hard, I am fluent in French, love Paris and know it pretty well, I am a team player but also self-motivated, and I truly believe that Google has made my life much more interesting.  (What on earth did I do before I could googler?) 
Oh, by the way, I love the guy's cow photos!  I bet they are les vaches normandes whose delicious milk is used to make that yummy Camembert on your cheese tray.
Anyway, I'm just saying.  You couldn't go wrong hiring moi.  The Ex-Ex would love to become a professional Parisian boules player.  I would support him wholeheartedly.  
Think about it and get back to me here on the blog or at my gmail account.  Send me an application by Google apps, if you wish. 
À bientôt!

Bon appétit, Google!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dear Abby

If you are an American of a certain age, you know Dear Abby and think of her as a wise aunt.  Growing up, I read her columns in the Asheville Citizen-Times as often as I possibly could.  I searched her words of wisdom for something that I could apply to my life.  I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I wrote letters to her.  I am not sure whether or not I ever mailed any of them.  Just writing them made me feel better.

Sixth grade--
Dear Abby,
How do I deal with a dad who is the best when he isn't drinking, but not so nice when he comes home drunk.  I don't want my friends to know that I can't invite them to my house for sleepovers because I never know which dad will come home.  I just pretend that everything is normal.  What can Mama and I do to make it better?

Seventh grade--

She answered that letter about my dad and he stopped drinking from my 7th grade year until I was in college.  Now my biggest problem was my first crush.  The cousin of my best friend.  New to my school.  We "went out" (stop asking me where we are going, Mama) for a month before he dumped me.  My very strict dad wouldn't let me walk to school and watch Handsome Boy play little league football. I was heartbroken. (He is still handsome.  He came to visit my family when my dad died.  I will always love him for that alone.)
Dear Abby,
What can I do to make him like me again?  Why doesn't he see that I am perfect for him?

8th grade--
This time I dumped Handsome Boy after a month.  (We still weren't allowed to "go" anywhere.  We saw each other at school, at church, and at my best friend's house.)  Oh well.  I remember there was another, older boy involved.  Did I break his heart the way he broke mine?  Oh, the perils of middle school and first loves.
Dear Abby,
I really blew it this time.  Is there any hope that I can win him back?  That he will ask me to the prom someday?
(He didn't... but he did ask me to dance.  I went to Senior Prom dateless.)

After my sophomore year in college, on the eve of my first trip to France (my first experience flying!), with Mama Mildred--
Dear Abby,
I am scared to death and excited at the same time.  What if I can't do this?  What if no one understands me?  What if I don't find a place to live?  What if I run out of money?  What if this country doesn't live up to my dreams?  My mom is the best.  She is so happy for me.  My dad won't speak to me.  He wishes I would never leave home.

Mildred was only 37 years old in this photo!  Just a baby.  I now wish that I could've taken her with me!

My wedding--
Dear Abby,
I am so happy.  It's been a beautiful day.  My dad walked me down the aisle.  We were surrounded by everyone who loves us and it was a lovely, simple ceremony.  No more nightmares about not being able to find my shoes!  Mama wore a navy blue suit she bought just for the occasion.

Visiting Nebraska for an in-law family reunion, the mom of two wonderful little boys--
Dear Abby,
I had no idea I could love anyone this much.  Please help me keep them safe.  How do we share the wisdom of our years with them?  Will they think we are old the way we believed our parents were?  Now I understand why Mama always asked me to call her and let her know I had made it back to Durham safe and sound.

Those two little boys are now 24 and 19 years old.  I still read Dear Abby, only now in the Durham Herald-Sun.  I still look for advice.  I suppose we never stop looking for wisdom.  I still want to protect my boys and keep them out of harm's way.
I still have my mom.  She continues to support me and give me good advice.  She's been my biggest cheerleader my whole life.  She's my Dear Abby.

While looking through pictures, I came across a Mother's Day card I made for her at some point.  It isn't dated.  An appropriate find on the eve of Mother's Day 2012. 

I even wrote a poem--

To A Loving Mother

My Mother is good to me,
I want to please her, too,
So I'll try to be real good
And act as she would have me do.
I'm glad we have a special day
Set aside when we may say,
I Love you, and hope you have
A Happy Mothers Day!

I love you, Mildred!  I know that I do not tell you that often enough.

In a recent Dear Abby column, she printed her favorite brownie recipe.  She warns chocolate lovers to prepare to start swooning.  I decided to give it a try since both boys are home tonight and like late night snacks.

Dear Abby's Brownies
makes 4 1/2 dozen

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped walnuts (I omitted these)
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Line the bottom of an 18x12x2 (or 1)-inch baking pan with baking parchment paper and spray generously with butter-flavored cooking spray.
In the top of a double-boiler, over medium heat, melt better and 4 ounces chocolate.  Reserve.
In a large bowl, beat sugar and eggs until fluffy.  Add flour and salt, mixing well.  Add chocolate mixture, blending thoroughly.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.
Pour into prepared pan.  Batter should be about 1/2 inch thick, not more.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until top is crisp and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool before pouring frosting on top.
For the frosting:
Bring cream to a boil, stirring constantly.  Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl; pour boiling cream over the chocolate and stir to blend well.  Spread thin layer of warm frosting over top of brownies in pan.  When cool, cut into 2-inch squares.

Bon appétit, Dear Abby and Mama Mildred!  My wise women.  Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A random day in the life

This is the color of today's scarf.  Not really pink, coral or red.  But it is my splash of color against the background of a black dress.  Black dress, black skirt or black pants.  My "uniform" of choice for school days.  I love this scarf.  I found it at an outdoor market in Sarlat, in southwestern France, back in 2008.  The reunion trip of the Arles 6.  A lovely week spent visiting a different market everyday and preparing wonderful meals together.
Our house--
The Three Mousquetaires (we were near Bergerac, by the way)
I tend to always look confused.  Even when I'm not.  Arles Lucy and I are holding on tight to Pat.
Anyway, I always tend to head down memory lane even when I don't set out to.  I love looking at my photos.
Here's what I look at on my desk as I sit at my computer.
My inspiration, I guess.  Eiffel Towers, gargoyles, Charles de Gaulle, dry erase markers...
I wear inspiration around my wrist, too.

Since it's so close to Mother's Day, I am wearing the charm bracelet my boys gave me when they were little.  A baseball glove, a basketball, a Hershey's Kiss, a football, an Eiffel Tower, a J, a G, a smiley face.  Precious souvenirs. 
Lunch at school today was provided by parents in appreciation for our work with their children.  It was delicious and I got to sit and talk to my colleagues/friends as I ate.  I didn't take photos.  But I brought a little container of strawberries back with me.  (I ate vanilla pound cake with a bunch of strawberries topped with whipped cream for dessert!)
I love these lovely red little darlings.  The taste of summer.  We had a strawberry patch when I was growing up.  I always asked for strawberry shortcake for my birthday cake (in July).
Try it for yourself since the berries are in season now.  Make the cake yourself or buy it if you don't have the time or inclination to bake.  Get the ripest berries you can find.  Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Your choice.  You'll feel closer to summertime.  I promise.  14 more teaching days.

All good Southern cooks worth their salt have a favorite pound cake recipe.  It's a staple.  Trotted out for potlucks, deaths, sicknesses, faculty meetings, book club get togethers, any number of social occasions.  Or just to show off.  And say "Oh, it's just something I threw together when I got the news."  Mine comes from the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties' Even More Special.

Pound Cake

2 cups butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 8-ounce carton sour cream, at room temperature

1.  Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan and set aside.
2.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar well.  Add 2 eggs, beating well.
3.  Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a separate bowl.
4.  Add the flour mixture to the butter alternately with the 4 eggs until all is added.
5.  Stir in vanilla extract and sour cream.  Spoon batter into prepared pan.
6.  Place pan in the middle of a cold oven.  Set temperature at 325˚F and bake for 1 1/2 hours.  Do not open oven door for the first hour of cooking time.
7.  Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing from pan.

16 servings

This cake freezes well and may be kept for a month in an airtight container.
You may substitute almond or lemon extract for vanilla.

Bon appétit, all my hardworking colleagues!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seeing Pink

I love pink.  My motto is "You can't have a bad day while wearing pink."  I own multiple pink sweaters and t-shirts in many shades of the color.  I bought the above pictured pile of pink while in Paris in March.  Arles Lucy and I were strolling the Champs-Élysées, letting the kiddies shop, when we happened by H&M.

I know there is one in Raleigh, but I don't get over to the Capital City very often and I've never been there.  But we just couldn't help but go in to take a look at the happening colors for spring and summer.  Orange.  And pink.
Aren't these beautiful enough to eat?
While on the TGV heading to Avignon, I did eat this pink Pierre Hermé macaron Arles Lucy bought for me at Galeries Lafayette.  Délicieux!
My eye is just drawn to pink.  I can't help it.
At the Marché d'Aligre--
Tea anyone?  Guess which cup I chose.
The pink pillows give just the right splash to the room, don't you think?   (Two lucky women in my BFF group will stay in this room during our summer trip.)

My messy bed in the Hôtel Princesse Caroline in Paris--
The pink evening sky from "my" window in Mme MLQ's house in Provence.  Maybe a little orange mixed in, too, n'est-ce pas?  Très chic.
Quelle heure est-il?  I don't know.  Let me check.
Time for a glass of pink?

Enough reminiscing about the last trip to France.  I do have a story to tell.  Lest I forget it in all this pink haze.
While in Paris with the kiddies in March, we decided to take them to the movies-- au ciné.
The Artist had just won Best Picture and that dashing Jean Dujardin took home the Best Actor Oscar.  None of the little darlings had seen the movie.  So, we strolled down the Champs-Élysées, got in line, and I bought a round of tickets for everyone.  Arles Lucy and I had already seen it, but we were eager to see it again.  The Best Guide in Paris, Thierry, had not seen it yet.  We got settled into our seats, the lights went down, the movie trailers came on, and one of the girlies came down with a nose bleed.  It happens all the time, she said, and off she went to les toilettes with one of the other girlies to fix it.  When they hadn't returned after about 10 minutes, I leaned over to Arles Lucy and told her I was going to go check on them.  I headed out the door, only to have it slam behind me before I realized I didn't go out the same door I came in.  Mince!  I thought to myself (or worse).  I was locked out of the theater.  Oui.  Not completely, but enough so that I couldn't get back into the room where the movie was actually playing by this time.  I banged and banged on the door, slowly realizing that no one knew or cared that I could not get back in.  I didn't have my ticket, coat or cell phone.  Not that any of those except the ticket would have done me any good.  I finally decided to just go on down the little hallway and exit the building, walk around the block and re-enter the theater, hoping the ticket seller would remember the woman who bought 23 tickets.  He did.  So, up the stairs I went, stopping at the bathroom to make sure the girls weren't there (they weren't) and that there wasn't blood everywhere (there wasn't) before going back in to watch the movie.  The group was sitting towards the front of the theater, but I didn't want to crawl all over everyone to get back to my original seat, so I just found a seat on the aisle, a couple of rows down from Arles Lucy.  I wanted to make sure she knew I had (finally) returned.
Now, I need to back up a minute and tell you that I was wearing a cute dark gray dress, black tights, black Paris suede boots, and the H&M scarf in the first picture.  Actually, it is much larger than a normal scarf, but I am not sure what else to call it.  For me, jeans lover that I am, that was pretty stylin' for a night out in the City of Light.  I am not a young chick.  I have passed the half-century mark.  I do not think that adventure is lurking in a dark cinéma in Paris.  I am (usually) okay with that.
Anyway, back to my story.  I hadn't been in that aisle seat five minutes before some random man sat down right next to me.  The row was empty.  What's up with that?  I thought to myself.  Personal space?  Seriously.  Oh well.  I was engrossed in the movie.  And Jean Dujardin.  And that cute little dog.  All of a sudden, I realized that there was a hand in my lap and it wasn't mine.  But for a few seconds/minutes, I was afraid to touch it and thought to myself that there was no way that this was really happening to me.  I hadn't felt its arrival.  How long had it been there?  Did Random French Man REALLY put his hand on my leg??  Really?  As it was, I was practically sitting on the arm of my seat.  The side next to the aisle, that is.  After a few minutes, that felt like a few hours, I took the hand and flung it back at its owner.  I will bet that he thought for a split second that I was going to actually hold it.  I stayed in my seat, wrapping my pinkness tightly around me, edging even closer to the arm of the seat, and enjoyed the rest of the movie.  Random French Man didn't move either.  But he didn't mess with me again.  I did not feel threatened in any way.  I knew that Best Guide in Paris would beat the merde out of him, if need be.  After the film ended, I headed back to Arles Lucy and RFM left, I guess.
I had to laugh, though, telling the story to Arles Lucy later.  I knew what the Ex-Ex would say when I relayed the tale to him.  You can't blame a guy for trying, can you?  And that's exactly what he said.
I couldn't make this stuff up, you know.
Let's drink to that.  Make mine a kir royale with a view of the Sacré Coeur, s'il vous plaît!

Kir Royale

Crème de cassis (black currant liqueur)

Pour the crème de cassis in a champagne glass.  Start with a tablespoon and add more if you want a stronger flavor.
Add well-chilled champagne (or any dry bubbly wine).
Sip and enjoy!
Bon appétit, pink and RFM.  Hope you have more luck the next time!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Over the French Broad River...

And through the Pisgah Forest to fetch College Son's stuff we go.
Yes, he has made it through one year. One year of out-of-state college tuition down and three to go. He didn't have a car this year until the last month of school. He presented a good case for one-- mainly a big fraternity dance in Hilton Head and the need to pick up his date in Athens, Georgia on the way. So, we made a quick trip across the state line

And through a tunnel or two

To get some of his belongings since they all wouldn't fit in the truck he would be coming home in (didn't want to take a chance on rain).
Ever wonder what the light at the end of the tunnel really looks like?

Well, that's what I saw, anyway.
Going to see him and help him out gave us a good excuse to visit the mountains. The rhododendrons are blooming.

This bush is in the in-laws' yard in Brevard. Aren't they just about the most beautiful flowers you've ever seen?
Sister-in-law even made a little centerpiece out of them.

Trop belles, ces fleurs.
And breakfast wasn't bad either!

Crumbled up cake, fresh peaches, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream.
The nest is half full again for a couple of months.
Bon appétit, summer vacation!
Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Meet M. le Président

Photo:  Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images
It's being called a "humiliating" defeat.  Nicolas Sarkozy lost the election today to François Gérard Georges Hollande.  Hollande becomes France's first Socialist president in 17 years, since François Mitterrand left office.  He won with 51.9% of the votes to Sarkozy's 48.1%.  The French vote on Sundays and voter turnout was almost 80% in the first round of voting on April 22.  I will be very curious to see the numbers for the final vote when they are published.  That puts us Americans to shame, quite frankly.
A few personal facts (I can't speak much to his politics yet)-- He was born in 1954 in Rouen; lived in US during the summer of 1974, while a university student; Ségolène Royal, Sarkozy's competition in the 2007 election, was his domestic partner from 1973-2007; he is now with Valérie Trierweiler; he has four children.  He will be the Co-Prince of Andorra, as well Président de la République Française, for the next five years, taking office on May 17.  He will live in the Palais de l'Elysée, the official residence of the president in Paris.  I have no photos.  You can't leisurely stroll by and take them.  There are really grouchy guards at the gate who hurry you along and growl Pas de photos, madame!  It's not far from the American Embassy (where you can't take photos either), very close to the Place de la Concorde.
So, in the spirit of eating, I am posting a video I found about French state dinners held at the Elysée.  Much more interesting than meetings anyway.
I do wonder who furnished the celebratory champagne?  After the research I conducted in Reims in 2008, I can tell you firsthand that there are some lovely champagnes there.
Sarko chose Taittinger for a state dinner--

Who knows?  More research is required!

Bon appétit et félicitations, M. Hollande!  Should you wish to invite moi, The Sabbatical Chef, to one of your little dinner parties, I would gladly accept!