Friday, November 29, 2013

Overwhelming grief and unspeakable love

I generally keep this blog light and fluffy.  On purpose.  But sometimes life intervenes and brings us to our knees.  Recently, very dear friends lost one of their sons.  I know my darling friend reads this blog and I know that she will see this.  I do not want to make her sad, but I want her to know that I think of her and her husband every hour of every day.  Our children bring us so much joy.  And humility. And unconditional love.  And joy.  And sometimes, unfortunately, grief that knows no bounds and grips our hearts and seemingly won't let go.
A friend (and as it turns out, my recently discovered second cousin) quoted Washington Irving on a Facebook post this week.  This touched me in a way that most writing does not.  I want to remember it forever because as long as there is life, there will be loss.  

There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not a mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.

I "borrowed" your photos, my dears.  I hope you won't mind.  I love you.  I am here to cry with you and to dry your tears.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Geezer's Journal

I am basically a lazy bum and today, Thanksgiving Day 2013, I am going to prove it.  Son #2 and I arrived at Grandma and Granddad's house last night (after finding the Washington ABC store to stock up on Jim Beam for his Maple View Farm's egg nog).  The Ex-Ex and Son #1 will arrive around noon today. Son #1 now works in the world of retail and his store, Omega Sports, opens at 6:00 am Black Friday, the shopping day near and dear to some Americans, the day after Thanksgiving.  He is an assistant manager now.  (I am thankful for his salary and benefits.) He worked until closing last night and has to set up a display or something this morning before picking up his dad and heading down here.
As I was setting up to start writing, my mother-in-law served me a warm home made cinnamon bun to go with my coffee.  I didn't even have to get my own breakfast.  (Are you reading this, Sister-in-law?)

Mother-in-law is a self-taught cook.  She credits her faithful Betty Crocker cookbook that has seen her through more than 50 years of meals and, in her words, probably saved her marriage to a hungry cattle rancher.

And since I am still being lazy, instead of telling a story of my own, I am going to link you up with A Geezer's Journal, written by Richard Goodman and let you read about his kitchen adventures, learning how to cook at the hands of a French chef.  Richard's book, French Dirt, is one of my favorites.  When I read this entry, I felt as if I was in that kitchen with him.  Read his blog and then come back for Mother-in-law's cinnamon bun recipe.  You'll have to make your own coffee.  My father-in-law is busy making more for me.  See how lazy I am?

Bertie's Cinnamon Rolls
makes two 9x13 pans of rolls

2 cups warm water
2 packages dry granular yeast
1/4- 1/2 tsp. sugar
Sprinkle the yeast on the water, add sugar and let set until bubbly, about 10 minutes.

4 cups all-purpose flour

Gradually stir in flour in 2 additions, using the amount necessary to make it easy to handle.  Use a spoon and then hands to mix in flour.  When the dough begins to leave the side of the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured board to knead.

To knead:  Fold dough over toward you.  Then press down away from you with heel of hand.  Give dough quarter turn, repeat until it's smooth, elastic, and doesn't stick to board.  Place in greased bowl, turning once to bring greased side up.  Cover with damp cloth and let rise in warm, draft-free spot (80-85˚) until double, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours).  Press two fingers into dough.  It will leave indentations when dough is doubled.  Punch down and divide in half.  Flatten dough and shape into rectangle.  Dot the dough with butter and then sprinkle with a cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Roll it up into a log shape and, using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 1-inch slices.  Repeat with second dough.  Make cinnamon topping.

Boil for one minute-
2 cups brown sugar
4 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup butter
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
** recipe also calls for 4 Tbsp. Karo syrup, but Bertie didn't use it

Cool and pour into two 9x13 pans.  Put cinnamon rolls on top of topping, sides of rolls touching.  Let rise again until double (30-45 minutes).
Bake at 375˚F for 20-25 minutes.

Bon appétit!  Happy Thanksgiving!  I am thankful for my family and friends, old and new.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Turkey Day 2013

Just a few hours are standing between this middle school teacher and Thanksgiving Break.  One of my advisees just took off for Paris, and no, I am not headed there, but I am excited nonetheless.  My thoughts have turned from grading papers and planning lessons to recipes, cooking, and eating.  Well, truth be told, they are never far from there. Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good from Dorie Greenspan is on my to-do list.  (The Ex-Ex has approved it.  I think.  Did I even ask?  Probably not. Oh well.)  I sent out that recipe to my colleagues and one answered back that she loves Dorie's recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits.  (Merci, Ellen!)  Well, bless my Southern heart, but those sound right up my alley (one of my 7th graders actually used that phrase not long ago when writing up a critique of the movie Haute Cuisine for extra credit.  I think she's got my number only three months into the school year.  I didn't get to see it when it was playing at the Chelsea, but I fully intend to rent it during the break.)

Good luck with your Thanksgiving feast, Mme P!  Take photos!

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Dorie Greenspan's Baking:  From My Home To Yours

Using canned sweet potatoes makes them easy to prepare at a moment's notice.  I use canned sweet potatoes packed in light syrup-- I just drain the potatoes and mash them with a fork.  If you've got leftover cooked sweet potatoes or yams, give them a good mashing, measure out 3/4 - 1 cup and you're good to go.

Makes about 18 biscuits

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. (packed) light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 stick (6 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 15-ounce cans sweet potatoes in light syrup, drained and mashed
Pinch of ground cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425˚F.

Get out a sharp 2 - 2 1/4-inch diameter biscuit cutter, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and spice, if you're using it, together in a bowl.  Add the brown sugar and stir to incorporate it, making sure there are no lumps.  Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat it with the flour.  Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.  You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between -- and that's just right.

Add the sweet potatoes to the bowl, grab a fork, and toss and gently turn the ingredients until you've got a nice soft dough.  Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick, gentle kneading -- 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough.  Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hands or roll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even -- a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can.  Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of this first round.  By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet.  Gather together the scraps, working them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet.  (The biscuits can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting -- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown.  Transfer them to a cooling rack -- cooled a bit, they're more sweet potatoey.  Give them 10-15 minutes on the rack before popping them into a basket and serving.

Unlike most biscuits, there are best served after they've had a little time to cool.  They are as good at brunch (they're great with salty ham and bacon) as they are at tea (try them with a light cheese spread and / or marmalade.)   Or have them with butter or jam, fruit butter or fruit compote.

You can keep the biscuits in a plastic bag overnight and give them a quick warm-up in the oven the next day, but you won't recapture their freshly made flakiness.

Bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving to all!  A little gratitude goes a long way towards happiness. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Twenty-six years ago, as of 1:08 pm today, I became a mother.  Son #1 arrived one week past his due date.  To celebrate, he came to spend the day with us (and to visit his friend who recently became a dad and to go to the Duke basketball game) so we took a stroll down memory lane.  I pulled out the baby book that the Ex-Ex and I kept for him.

We kept all kinds of stuff in here.  And I think that today may have been the first time that Son #1 has looked through it.

and his first room.  We didn't know if he would be a boy or a girl so we went with primary colors and Sandra Boynton cartoon characters.

His darling friend LD sent photos.

We went to our favorite breakfast spot, Foster's, where Son #1 and I had the Grits Bowl.  He swears he will learn to make this.  I won't hold my breath until that happens, though.

The Ex-Ex had a breakfast biscuit with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and bacon.
I didn't make a birthday cake.  We will wait and have cherry pie at Grandma's house on Thanksgiving Day.  Son #2 will be home and, hopefully, the rest of us will get a slice of the pie.

Happy Birthday, Snake.  Dad and I are very proud of you and we love you very much.  Here's to many more birthdays and hours spent tossing the football to your brother at Sunset Beach.

Foster's Grits Bowl

Cheddar cheese
Black beans
Salsa (we asked them to hold the salsa)
Fried eggs
Bacon, sausage or baked ham

Bon appétit and bon anniversaire!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mama Mildred

Today is my mama's birthday.  I love this photo of her.  I think she had it taken at church just a few months ago.  I seriously have more wrinkles than she does.  My mom is my hero.  Not because she has won the Nobel Peace Prize, written a best-selling novel, found the cure for the common cold or worked with orphans in a third world country. She is my hero because she is the best person I know.
Mildred's life has never been an easy one.  She was born in Spruce Pine, to Tennie and Jess Gillespie. She was raised on top of a mountain on a farm in the Estatoe / Penland section of Mitchell County.  I didn't know my grandfather very well.  He was very quiet.  He had been a coal miner and he always wore overalls.  I think he died of emphysema.  Coal dust and cigarette smoke.

I did spend more time with my granny. She could be tough.  I remember being sent to the farm when I came down with German measles. Mama didn't want the younger ones to catch them.  Granny made sassafras tea for me and made me stay in a dark room with no books to read.  The measles could ruin my eyesight, I was told.  I also remember going blackberry picking with her.  What I wouldn't give for some of her blackberry cobbler.   She worked for a while at my elementary school selling ice cream and cleaning.  She would bring home books for us.  I taught my sister Cindy to read using those books.  I wish that she could see me now.  I did make something out of myself, Granny.

At Granny's we weren't allowed to listen to music other than church hymns or play card games.  We spent most of our time out playing in the woods, warned to stay away from mine holes and not get mica in our eyes.  Granny and Pa had a wood cookstove and no indoor plumbing until I was in middle school.  I can even remember taking baths in a metal tub in the kitchen of their house with water heated on the cookstove.  It was really tough on her when her son was sent to Vietnam at the tender age of 18.
Mama ran away when she was 15 years old to join my dad in Louisiana.

He had joined the Army and was stationed there.  They got married on the base, by the chaplain, I think.  (I actually asked to see their marriage license once during a suspicious phase of my life- just making sure they really were married when I was born!)  My sister has a letter that Daddy wrote to Papa, his dad, explaining the whole elopement thing.  After Daddy was discharged, they moved back to Spruce Pine and my dad built our house on land right next door to his parents, Christine and George Bell, Sr.  On Bell Street.  Tommy and me.

They had four children in the space of four years, beginning with me in 1958 and ending with my sister Moo in 1962.  With a son, David, and another daughter, Cindy, in the middle.  Four children by the time she was 21 years old.  Lord have mercy.

Moo is crying.  Cindy probably pinched her from behind.  The bald-headed kid in front of me is my cousin, Scooter, I think.  At least David and I are smiling for Ma's little Brownie camera.
My dad was a plumber and could build anything with his hands.  He remodeled bathrooms and kitchens and built furniture.  My mom worked in factories mostly.  And raised four children, five if you count my dad.  He was an alcoholic.  Ma left him a couple of times and took us kids to live with my grandparents on the farm.  She always went back, though.  With four little kids and no high school diploma, there weren't a lot of options.  My dad had cancer and she cared for him for four years.  I realized today that she was my age when he died.
Ma remarried a couple of years after Daddy died.  Bruce, bless his heart, had never been married.  I tried to warn him about what he was getting into, but he wanted to do it anyway.  My sister Moo, Mama and Bruce live together, still on Bell Street, but not in the same house.  Someone else bought my grandparents' house and the house I grew up in.  I never go out there.  It all looks different.  They built a highway that took the backyard and our garden.  Papa's shop is gone.  So is his hosiery mill.  Gone are the strawberry patch, cherry tree, apple trees and rhubarb plants.  And the creek I used to cross to get to the Blevins' house.  I used to fall in regularly trying to jump over it.
Mama got her GED, high school equivalency diploma, a few years back.  She was very proud of that. She now works at Ingles grocery store, in the deli.  Yes, at the age of 73 she is still going strong.  She helps care for her sister, Marcella, her only surviving sister, who was recently moved to an assisted living place.  Sadly, I don't think that Marcella recognizes her baby sister anymore.  Mama has two brothers who are still living, but her other four siblings have passed on.
I have always felt unconditional love and support from my mother.  She shaped my life in more ways than she knows.  I know that my love of books and reading comes from her.  She read to us a lot when we were little and took us to the public library to check out books.  When I was a junior in high school and trying to make up mind about going to college, Mildred got me a summer job working at Blue Bell, a factory that made Wrangler blue jeans.  She worked there for several years and they hired high school kids in the summer.  I had spent previous summers working as a waitress at a restaurant in town, named Baker's, and running the gift shop next door to it.  I could make more money at the factory and spend more time with my mom.  Boy, was that a wake up call.  Hot, hard, repetitive work.   I learned to attach belt loops, put in zippers, bar-tac, and put in rivets.  Women were paid by the hour and were paid more when they earned production, which I think was completing a certain number of pieces in an hour or a day.  If I remember correctly, too, it was standard procedure to change a woman to another task once she hit production.  Think Norma Rae, if you've ever seen that movie.  I ate lunch with my mom every day and we would stop for an ice cream cone on the way home sometimes.  I decided to apply to college.  If that was Mildred's evil plan, it sure worked.  I decided that I wanted out.  Even if it meant paying for the whole thing myself, I would do it.  I worked there the summer after high school graduation, too. I didn't venture very far from home for college, but it was a world away.  Mildred would come to visit me in Boone, at Appalachian State University, sometimes.  She would always come get me when I wanted to come home.  She supported me when I took off for France for the first time in 1978.

I never lived at home again, though, after my freshman year in college.  I got a job at a golf resort in Linville, once again not far from home, but a world away.  After I graduated and got my job teaching French in Durham, Ma would introduce me to everyone as her daughter the schoolteacher.  She came to stay with us after the birth of Son #1 (she thought I would never have kids-- I was 29 when he was born, the day after her 47th birthday) and again almost five years later after the birth of Son #2.  I don't see her nearly often enough, but I think about her many times during the course of a day.  I hope she has a wonderful birthday and that she knows how much I love her.  There is an extra bedroom upstairs waiting for a visit from you, Mildred!

This is one my favorite cakes that Mama used to make for us, her little crumb-crushers, as Daddy called us.

(I am just eating them out of the box, Ma.  I didn't make the cake.  I would have made it for you, though.)

Vanilla Wafer Cake

2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 c. milk
6 eggs
1 box (11 oz) Nilla wafers, crushed (easy to do if you put them in a ziploc bag and roll a rolling pin over the cookies)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped pecans
7 oz. shredded coconut (2 2/3 cups)
2 c. sugar

Butter and flour a tube or Bundt cake pan.  Preheat oven to 300˚F.
Combine butter, sugar and eggs until creamy.  Add vanilla wafers and milk.  Mix well.  Add nuts, vanilla extract, and coconut.  Continue beating until all is combined.  Pour into pan.  Bake at 300˚F for 1 1/2 hours.

Bon appétit and bon anniversaire, Mama Mildred!  I hope I got all my facts straight.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

La vie est belle

The fact that life is beautiful, la vie est belle, boils down to way more than Lancôme's latest perfume. My earlier post might have suggested otherwise.  In fact, I find beauty most everywhere.  This rose was on a bush just outside of my classroom.
Beautiful sunsets undo me.  They bring tears to my eyes.  I have to be careful when driving at sunset.  I want to just stop in the middle of a road.  A camera simply cannot capture the colors, but I keep trying.

Full moons are pretty awesome, too.

The lone fall bloom on my lavender bush against a North Carolina November sky.

Maple trees in the fall.

And since winter is fast approaching, my favorite Paris photo from 2013, one I've entitled Montmartre Neige.

Oui, la vie est belle.  Très belle.

Bon appétit, Mother Nature!  Et merci beaucoup.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I am definitely not an artist.  I gave up trying to draw pine trees in middle school when my language arts teacher (who also gave us art lessons) critiqued mine and it came up short.  I still try once in a while, but usually with lousy results.  However, the BFF talked me into taking a class offered by Wine & Design at Bull City Burger and Brewery.  Et pourquoi pas?  Maybe having a glass of wine would help.  It sure couldn't hurt.
We started with this.

And this.

Christy was our teacher.  She is a real artist with a studio in Raleigh.

Photo #1
Christy walked us through the process of putting paint on the canvas.  That's the scary part for me.  Where to start??

Photo #2

Kind of funky colors for a bull, but orange is my new favorite color.  (Although I always think of Sandra Bullock/Leanne Tuohy in The Blind Side saying that orange is not is her color wheel and she will not wear that god-awful color should Michael decide to go to Tennessee.  That was before I became a UT mom and started wearing orange T's on my own clothing and accessories.)
The BFF and I had a blast.
And they turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.

Érick, le Taureau, is hanging in my classroom (on the orange wall) for the time being.  My 8th grade students and I will now take on the Eiffel in a couple of weeks.  They have admired my chef d'oeuvre and I thought it would be fun to paint together and eat burgers afterwards.  No wine, though.  Just design.
My first encounter with the black bulls of the Camargue was during my first trip to Arles in 2005 when I took a jeep ride with Safari Robert.

Later in the week, I went to the arena for the bull races, les courses Camarguaises.

Is it cruel to now post a recipe for beef stew?  Sorry, vegetarians.  It just seems fitting and it is going to be cold here for the next few days.  There's a new butcher shop in town, Rose's Meat Market and Sweet Shop.  Sounds like a good place to find some local beef.  Maybe even taureau.


This recipe comes from Frenchie Olivier.  If you are the kind of cook who likes exact measurements, this is perhaps not the recipe for you.  Break bad-- just jump in there.  You can't mess it up.  (Note the secret ingredient at the end.)

La Daube Provençale


Beef, hearty red wine (Gigondas or Vacqueyras), black olives, mushrooms (sliced or left whole), onions (sliced), thick-sliced smoked bacon (cut into pieces), flour, cognac, pepper, bay leaves, thyme

Place the cut up pieces meat in a bowl.  Add the olives, mushrooms, bay leaves, thyme and pepper.  Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Take out the pieces of meat and roll them in flour.
Pour the leftover marinade in a dutch oven.
Brown the meat in a pan with sunflower oil then flambé them with the cognac.
Remove the meat from the pan once browned, then sauté the onions and bacon.
When this is all ready, pour it all into the dutch oven with the marinade.
Cover with the red wine and gently simmer for 4 hour,s uncovered.
The wine will slowly evaporate.  Stir once in a while.
Towards the end of the cooking time, mix a tablespoon of flour and cold water, stir it well, and add it to the stew and stir.
Final touch-- secret ingredient-- add 2 squares of chocolate and mix well!

La Daube est prête!  Your stew is ready!

My ideas--
Turn on the Gipsy Kings music.
Serve your daube with potatoes or rice (I have used all of my Camargue rice, unfortunately).  Some good crusty bread.  More red wine.  A little cheese at the end of the meal.  The rest of the chocolate.

Bon appétit from Provence!  Merci, Olivier, for sharing your recipe with moi and now with all my readers!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Photo of the Day- My friend Gail

This maple tree is right outside the door of my classroom.  It was planted in memory of my dear friend and colleague Gail Walker.  Gail was a force to be reckoned with and well-loved.  She passed away 10 years ago and rarely a day goes by that I don't think of her.  There is a certain stretch of sidewalk at school, between the office and the library, where I still expect to encounter her and stop for a bit of gossip.  Gail knew everything and could always be counted on to share a tidbit or two in passing.  She was easily one of the most creative people I have ever met.  I often wondered if she slept at night ... I could picture her getting up in the middle of the night with an idea for a lesson for her 8th grade language arts classes and scribbling it down in her notebook.
I give full credit to Gail and several other mentors for taking me under their wings and helping me become the teacher I am today.  A group of us girls used to get together for lunch every summer, thanks to MCB, who was the hostess.  I am so glad that I kept this photo.  I am now the only one in the photo still working at DA.   Gail is sitting on the sofa, on the right, in the bright blue dress.  (Arles Lucy is there too, on the other end of the sofa!)

Back in the day, we always had a faculty Christmas party.  At the middle school, we played Secret Santa as a faculty, too.  Gail drew my name one year.  She gave me recipes.  Luckily, I was able to find a couple of them in my old, rarely used recipe box this morning.

Just looking at her handwriting brings a smile to my face.   Will technology completely erase handwritten notes, letters, and recipes?  I hope not...
Gail always brought her special punch to our faculty parties.  I've written about her before and shared the punch recipe in this post.
Gail may be gone in body, but our dearly loved ones never leave us in spirit.  Even something as simple as a brilliant red-orange maple leaf on a clear November day can bring them back in the blink of an eye.
I will share her recipe for bread pudding, a favorite dish of mine since childhood.  Mama Mildred used to make it often for her four little crumb-crushers.  She didn't use chocolate chips, but she did add cinnamon and raisins.

Gail's Bread Pudding

5 slices Pepperidge Farm Original bread (thickly sliced bread), broken up
1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 quart milk
1/2 c. mini chocolate bits

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Place bread in baking dish.
Beat eggs and add vanilla and milk.  Beat and pour over bread.
Dot with butter.
Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.
Bake for 45 minutes.

Bon appétit, to beautiful fall days, maple trees that change colors, and friends that are never forgotten!

Sunday, November 17, 2013


I have fallen in love with yet another book.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio was the summer reading common book for our 5th graders.  Two faculty members have talked about it during our weekly Friday afternoon community meetings.  Signora passed it on to me a couple of months ago and I finally picked it up.  Once I started it, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  And by the time I finished it Saturday morning, tears were streaming down my face.  I was sopping them up with the sleeves of the old sweatshirt I was wearing.  (My baby sister Moo gave it to me a few years ago-- or maybe I "borrowed" it from her...)  Later, while taking my shower-- where I tend to do my best thinking for some bizarre reason-- I came up with an idea for my advisees.  I advise 7th graders and this was not the common book when they were in 5th grade.  I plan to read it to them at lunch over the next few weeks.  I also plan to launch what I am calling The Wonder Project tomorrow.  It will be top secret, just for my twelve advisees and me.   But, hopefully, many will benefit from it.

Read the book.  It begins this way, with Auggie, August Pullman, narrating:

    I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  I mean, sure, I do ordinary things.  I eat ice cream.  I ride my bike.  I play ball.  I have an XBox.  Stuff like that makes me ordinary.  I guess.  And I feel ordinary.  Inside.  But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go.
    If I found a magic lamp and I could have one wish, I would wish that I had a normal face that no one ever noticed at all.  I would wish that I could walk down the street without people seeing me and then doing that look-away thing.  Here's what I think:  the only reason I'm not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

Precepts, principles to live your life by, are given to the kids at Beecher Prep by Mr. Browne.  Here are a couple of examples--

When given the choice between bring right or being kind, choose kind.
                                                    -- Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Kind words do not cost much.  Yet they accomplish much.
                                                    -- Blaise Pascal

You've hit a homerun, Ms. Palacio.  I will let you know how The Wonder Project goes.

Bon appétit and a healthy dose of kindness for all!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Three little words

Non, I am not taking about the I Love You three little words today.  No hearts and flowers.  Wherever you may find hearts (even in your roasts).

(Honest to goodness, I did not do that-- it was like that when I unwrapped it and flipped it over.)

Non, my three little words are found here, on the label of a bottle of perfume I just bought and am totally addicted to now (Merci, Volga, at the Macy's counter).  Can you find them?

They are also here on the little sample she gave me.

(Which caused me to become addicted to the scent which in turn caused me to spend an hour's tutoring wages to buy my own larger bottle.)

Found the three little words yet?  I know, very small print.  One more try--

Give up?


I confess.  I fall for those three little words every time.  It makes no difference where they are written.  Food, clothing, make-up, perfume, notecards, calendars, cooking trucs or do-dads, whatever, n'importe quoi.  And my Frenchie friends, of course!!  They are the best of what is made in France.

Read the description of Lancôme's La vie est belle:

It even sounds delicious.
And the bottle is beautiful, too.

Reading the perfume description and seeing the words "Fleurs d'Oranger" sent me right back to Arles and my attempts at making orange brioche.  For some reason, I decided that I would attempt to master making these rolls while I was on sabbatical in 2008.  If you wish, read about my adventures here and here.

My (Nearly) Perfect Orange Brioche Recipe
(found on the back of a package of yeast in France and slightly modified...)

1/4 lb (one stick) of softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs (at room temperature)
1/4 c. warm water
one package active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm milk
orange flavoring
2-3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
apricot or strawberry preserves

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
Mix the butter, eggs, sugar, warm milk and orange flavoring. I have sweet orange essential oil that I bought at Florame ( and I use 4-5 drops of it. I know that you can find orange flavoring at the supermarket.
Add the yeast mixture and mix.
Add the combined flour and salt. Add enough flour to have a dough that you can knead (not too sticky).
Turn onto a flour covered surface and knead for about 5 minutes or so.
Place in a bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place to rise. My microwave is above the stove and is a great place. Allow to rise for 2 hours.
Turn onto a flour covered surface again and knead for another 5 minutes. Shape however you wish-- into rolls, two small loaves or one large one. Place in pans.
Cover again and allow to rise for 2 more hours.
After the second rising, you can bake or you can put it in the refrigerator overnight and bake the next morning (allow the dough to come to room temperature before baking).
Brush with the egg yolk and bake at 400F for about 20-30 minutes. Baking time will depend upon the shape of your brioche. Rolls take a shorter time. Adjust the oven, if necessary, lowering the temperature a bit if it seems to be baking too fast or if your oven tends to be on the hot side.
After baking, while still warm, brush with preserves (you can warm them in the microwave so that they brush easily- I have also used orange juice at this point, when I didn't have any preserves) and then sprinkle lightly with sugar. I have mixed orange essence in with the sugar before sprinkling to give it more orange flavor. As you can see, I have played around with this recipe. It is wonderful hot from the oven. It makes really good French toast when it is a couple of days old and a bit stale. It is also good sliced and toasted. It is not very sweet. French pastries and desserts are not as sweet as American ones.

Bon appétit, to all things that smell good, wherever they are found!