Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Counting my blessings

It is that time of year.  To look around and take stock of all that I am thankful for.  And there is so much.  As I sit here at my kitchen table on Christmas Eve, listening to the boys laughing upstairs as they get ready to head to the mall (God bless them) to finish (or start in Son #2's case) their shopping and have lunch together.  We have taken in another boy so we have a Son #3 for the holidays.  Son #3 is a joyful eater.  I am thankful for that.  And he makes Son #2 laugh.  Having a best buddy simply cannot be underestimated.  Son #1's best buddy just moved back to Maine. But he is as happy as I have ever seen him.   Which means I should get to my blessings.

  • My family.  My boys.  The Ex-Ex.  Mama Mildred.  Moo.  Cindy and David.  Best Niece and her boys.  Best In-Laws, including Best Sister-in-law.  Her hubby and son and his new fiancée.  The wedding that will happen in June which will be a family reunion in the mountains. Brother-in-law and his family.  Reconnecting with my Cousin K. 
  • My good health.  If a whack-o thyroid is as bad as it gets, I am in great shape.
  • Amazing friends.  Friends I would do anything for and who would do the same for me.  Friends who are here in good times and bad.  My BFF.  My French sister, La Brune, otherwise known here as Mme P.  Arles Lucy.  La Signora.  Friends who share my belly laughs, tears and occasional tirades.
  • A job I love.  Even after 33 years.  Even with a stack of exams waiting to be graded.  Even with the occasional nightmares where I have no control of the kiddies.  **See note at bottom of page
  • Enough money for all my needs and some of my wants.
  • Travel.  Between January and March 2014, I will travel to France twice and Washington, DC once.  Not bad.  (I've asked Santa for a new suitcase!)  Are you ready, IronWoman??
  • A beautiful home.  And two cats to keep us company when there are no boys upstairs.
  • Son #1's new job.  His dream job in a boarding school in the mountains.  It happened fast.  I am happy he will live in my mountains.  Might seem silly, but that's important to me.
  • Son #2's drive, ambition and hard work at the University of Tennessee.  He has three semesters left.  He survived football season and even attended the game against South Carolina.
  • Books.  So many books to read and new ones recommended by friends that keep coming my way.  (My Christmas break reading list follows the blessings.)
  • Music and art.  They make life so much more beautiful.
  • Good food.  Shared with the Ex-Ex, family and friends.  Always new recipes to try and new restaurants to discover.
  • French wine.  And cheese.  And foie gras.
  • Technology.  The ability to meet new people and read about their adventures. This morning a post from Heather at Lost in Arles popped up.  Huge sigh.  (Merci, Heather, for giving me an Arles Christmas fix.  I long to roam those streets, but since I can't, thank you for allowing me to do it through your pictures and descriptions.)  The ability to keep up with my Frenchies easily even though they are 3000 miles away.  Literally having the world at my touch with this laptop and my iPad.
Since I have a thing about the number 14 for some weird reason, I will stop there. 

My Stack of Books Waiting to be Read:

  • Village in the Vaucluse, Third Edition by Laurence Wylie (Wylie's account of living in Roussillon, France in 1950-51) 
  • Paris, Paris:  Journey into the City of Light by David Downie  ("an irreverent, witty romp featuring thirty-one prose sketches of people, places, and daily life")
  • Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (the story of a German woman and her three year old daughter who were liberated by an American soldier at the end of WWII and moved to Minnesota with him)
  • Crossing On The Paris by Dana Gynther (the story of a woman traveling back to New York on the SS Paris in 1921 after 30 years abroad)
  • A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller  by Frances Mayes (with her Under the Tuscan Sun house as home base, the author travels all over Europe and North Africa)
  • Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah (Mah, a journalist, is left alone in Paris when her diplomat husband is sent to Iraq and she finds comfort in French food; Ann's website)
  • The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. and  Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe  by Sandra Gulland (parts one and two in a trilogy about Josephine Beauharnais Bonaparte, Empress of France)
  • Guests on Earth by Lee Smith (Smith's latest novel about Evalina, a patient at Highland Hospital, a mental hospital in Asheville, NC, set in 1936- Zelda Fitzgerald was a patient here, dying while a patient in a fire in 1948- read this short account)
And back to family, we visited the In-Laws yesterday, will head up to the mountains at the end of the week to visit Sister-in-Law, Mama Mildred, and the rest of the clan.  Nephew came to visit over the weekend with his lovely fiancée.  A great chance to cook for more than just the Ex-Ex and me.

Sausage and Egg Bake
Serves 8

1 1/2- 2 pounds pork sausage 
1 small onion, diced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
4 1/2 cups cubed day old bread
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
10 eggs, slightly beaten
4 cups whole milk
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, if desired.

In a skillet on medium high heat, cook the sausage, breaking it into pieces and working in batches, if necessary.  Do not crowd the pan or the sausage will not brown properly.  Add onions and mushrooms. Remove the cooked sausage from the pan and let sit on some paper towels on a plate to soak up the fat. 

Place bread cubes in a well-buttered 9x13-inch baking pan.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Combine eggs, milk, dry mustard, salt and pepper.  Pour evenly over the bread and cheese.  Sprinkle sausage over the top.  Add a few drops of hot sauce to top, if desired.  Add more cheese on top, if desired.

At this stage, you can cover it and place in the refrigerator overnight if you want to prepare ahead.  If not, let it sit for 10- 15 minutes before putting in the oven.  Preheat oven to 325˚F and bake uncovered for one hour.  Tent with foil after 30 minutes if top begins to brown too quickly.  Check doneness before taking out of the oven-- do the eggs look set in the middle?  Let sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving. 

Katie's Muffins
Makes 12

Basic recipe (from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook) -- variations at end

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 beaten egg
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. cooking oil

Preheat oven to 400˚F.
Grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper cups.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Make a well in the center of flour mixture; set aside.
In another bowl, combine egg, milk, and oil.  Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture.  Stir just until moistened-- batter will be lumpy.
Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling 2/3 full.
Bake in 400˚F oven for 15-18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove from muffin cups.  Serve warm.


Add one teaspoon of ground cinnamon to flour mixture.  Peel, core and chop one apple.  Add apple to batter at end, stirring as little as possible.  (overstirring will cause muffins to be a bit "tough")

Fold in 3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries and one teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel into batter at the end.  

Add one teaspoon almond extract to egg-milk mixture and fold one cup pitted and coarsely chopped cherries to the batter.  Sprinkle sliced almonds on top before baking, if you wish.

Reduce flour to 1 1/3 cups and add 3/4 cup rolled oats to flour mixture.  Apples and cinnamon are good to add to this one.

Combine 1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries and 2 tablespoons additional sugar; fold into batter.

Poppy Seed
Increase sugar to 1/2 cup and add 1 tablespoon poppy seeds to flour mixture.

Streusel Topping
Combine 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.  Cut in 2 tablespoons butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped nuts, if desired.  Sprinkle evenly on top of muffin batter before baking.

Dried Fruit
Add one cup of Craisins (any flavor),  raisins or any dried fruit to the batter.  If using cherries, add the almond extract or almonds to top.  With blueberries, add the lemon peel.

Make up your own combinations!

**One of the math teachers at school gives his students extra credit on their mid-term exam if they write a thank you note.  Here is one that I received, written only as an 8th grade boy could write--

Thank you for putting up with me for another semester.  I know I may be annoying at times but somehow you see threw that unlike a lot of my teachers who just end up getting plain annoyed with me.  When I don't turn in something and you give me that look like, "I know you can do better" thats the kind of thing that no other teacher can do.  From the moment my sister told me about you, I knew I was going to like you.  Throughout the last year and a half you had made me like the class that everyone had told me horror stories about, the final exam is sooooooo hard, she gives sooo much homework.  And if this year and a half has taught me one thing, it's that the only reason that you give us that hard of homework and quizzes is that you want us to succeed.  Not just in the Upper School but in the real world.  Thanks Mrs. E.

No, thank you, DH.  You make it fun and challenging every single day.  We will be in France in 70 days!!

Bon appétit et Joyeux Noël to all!

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