Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dear Laura Florand

Chère Laura,

Merci beaucoup, yes, thank you very much... because of you I spent more than a couple of hours yesterday and last night with my nose in my Kindle.  I just read your latest, The Chocolate Touch.

photo courtesy of

Set in Paris.  Chocolate.  Steamy.  Bad boy chocolatier.  My favorite of the three chocolate makers you have made me drool over so far.  I learned a few new ways to string together gros mots in French.  I doubt that I will ever use them, but hey, you never know when the ability to cuss like a French sailor might come in very handy. 
However, if that is supposed to be Dominique Richard on the cover of the book, though, definitely not. Bigger.  Broader.  Longer hair needed.  I just spent quite a bit of time looking at photos of Frenchmen (it's research-- just like you and all those chocolates and caramels you must eat in order to be able to really make us taste them as we read).  I was trying to figure out who should be photographed as monsieur. After googling "handsome Frenchmen," I found a website with someone's top 10.  Olivier Giroud is a possibility.  

Footballeur, big guy, very physical style of playing.
Jean Dujardin is maybe too pretty-handsome, if you know what I mean... but he is wearing a leather jacket in his photo on the website. He is 6'0 according to his website.  That's a plus.  He is Parisian.  He did use the P-word when accepting the Oscar so we know he can curse.

A younger Jean Reno?  I looked for photos of him when he was younger but couldn't find any.  He fits the leather jacket image for me.  I love the glasses.  I bet he can recite poetry.

I know, I know, Dominique is only 28 years old.  I give up.  Just suggestions.  I have an easier time drooling over older men than younger ones.  Call me crazy.  Which brings me to my next suggestion... how about a 50-something bad boy chocolatier-pâtissier in the future?  Just a thought from une femme d'un certain âge
Oh!  I found my copy of Paroles by Jacques Prévert, given to me by my friend Mme M.  He has been my favorite poet since college when I was introduced to his work.  I had to memorize Paris At Night for one of my classes.

Paris At Night  

Trois allumettes une à une allumées dans la nuit
La première pour voir ton visage tout entier
La seconde pour voir tes yeux
La dernière pour voir ta bouche
Et l'obscurité tout entière pour me rappeler tout cela
En te serrant dans mes bras.

Paris At Night**

Three matches one by one lit in the night
The first to see your whole face
The second to see your eyes
The last to see your mouth
And then complete darkness so that I can remember all that
As I hold you in my arms.

** My translation... I apologize to M. Prévert and to readers if I made mistakes.

This isn't one of the poems that Dominique and Jaime find on the placemats in the café.  Cet Amour and Je Suis Comme Je Suis are the ones.  
I will now go back and read all the poems.  And sigh a lot.  And savor chocolates from Miel Bon Bons. Her move to Durham should be about complete by now.  Thank you for allowing us to sample her work at your reading last fall at The Regulator.  The contest to figure out the flavors was fun (but not as fun as tasting).  

Now you see them

Now you don't.  (I did eat the macaron, though, trust me!)  I didn't win the contest, but who cares? 

My advisees gave me a Miel Bon Bons thank you gift certificate at the end of the school year and I look forward to spending it!  Want to meet me there?  I'll buy you any chocolate your little heart desires.

Bisous, mon amie--
The Sabbatical Chef 

PS- Can't wait for the next one in December!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Blog stats

I am goofing off yet again.  I did clean the bathroom yesterday and I ran the dishwasher.  I folded a load of laundry and worked in my classroom for a couple of hours today.

I had really gone over to school to pick figs, but that didn't work out. They aren't ripe yet.  So, disappointed, hot, and sweaty, I went back home and wrote about figs while the Ex-Ex watches golf.  I can be really lazy when I want to be.  A pro, actually.
Anyway, back to blog statistics.  I can check them.  Somedays, I check them 10 times, somedays I don't check at all.  The Sabbatical Chef had a big day yesterday with 198 readers.  That might not be big to some, but it's huge for me.  I can even check where the readers live, as noted in the top photo.   The Frenchies have fallen behind.  They are usually second to the U.S.  But where is Latvia?  Google to the rescue yet again.  I was guessing somewhere near Russia.  I love geography, really I do.  But I have never met a Latvian.  At least, I don't think so.  I really want to now.

The capital and largest city is Riga.  The population of Latvia is approximately 2 million.  It is 24,938 square miles large.   North Carolina's population is about 9.7 million and its area is 53,819 square miles. Funny to think that my state is larger than a country.

 Latvia was founded in 1918, became a part of the Soviet Union in 1940, was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, and once again came under Soviet rule in 1944.  It declared its independence again in 1991.  Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004.
I was also curious about Latvian food.  I found what was called "peasant" or "serf" food-- good, stick-to-your-ribs fare which I am intimately acquainted with having grown up in the mountains of North Carolina with a granny who lived on a farm.
Recipes can be found at  Bacon buns and pâté caught my eye...

Bon appétit, my Latvian readers!

Fig season has arrived

At least I've heard that figs are ripe in some parts of my neck of the woods.  One of the first things I saw on Facebook this morning was this photo, posted by my friend and colleague, Señor.  Bragging (oh yes, I am using that word) that his figs are ripening.
Then he posted another, just to really rub it in.

I promptly headed to the middle school and the only fig tree I can pick from to see if the figs are as far along as Señor's.  They aren't.  I had a little basket and was ready to pick, but it will be a few days yet.
I have a recipe that I have been anxious to use for about two months now.  I tried it once, using dried figs and have even considered making it with fig jam.  That's how good it is and how desperate I am.

Figs, other than Fig Newton cookies,

photo:  wikipedia.en

and I have not been acquainted all that long.  I met my first one back in 2005 while cooking class in Arles with Chef Érick Vedel for the first time.  We went to visit an olive oil producer,  Le Mas des Barres, near Les Baux de Provence.  We were treated to a tour of the facilities and a tasting of their wonderful olive oil.

I have since been back several times to visit the Quenin family and taste their oil.  In the fall of 2008, I was able to actually watch the olives being pressed.

And to taste the fresh oil.

Back to my fig story.  
In July of 2005, I was talking to M. Quenin outside while the others in my group were shopping when he reached up and pulled something from a tree and handed it to me.  I had no idea what I was looking at.  I am quite sure it was the first time he had met someone who had never eaten a fresh fig.  He tore the fruit in two with his hands and told me to taste it.  It was love at first bite.  The warm juices ran down my chin and I was sure I had never tasted anything so delicious.  I wish I had a photo of that first fig... but I ate it much too quickly.  And some things are imprinted on your memory and you will never forget them.  Know what I mean?
Here is a picture of M. Quenin and Chef Érick from 2008--  quite the characters.

The Goolsby Clan was visiting me in Arles and I snapped a photo of them.  A beautiful place.  An unforgettable day.

I need figs...

Fig Pizza

1 tsp. and 1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of sugar
12 oz. thin pizza crust
2 Tbsp. orange marmelade
4 oz. figs, sliced into thirds
2 oz. prosciutto, cut into pieces
1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tsp. dried rosemary leaves, optional

In a small non-stick skillet, heat 1 tsp. olive oil and sauté the onion, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until it starts to turn golden.  Add the sugar and continue to cook until the onion takes on a caramel color.  Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 450˚F.  On the crust, spread 1 Tbsp. olive oil and cover with orange marmalade. Arrange cooled onions, figs, prosciutto, goat cheese, and mozzarella on top.  Sprinkle with rosemary, if desired.
Bake 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is crisp.

Bon appétit, figs and fig lovers!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Life in the Middle Ages

This post is not my own work.   It is an article by Connie Schultz.  It was published in Parade Magazine, an insert in the Charlotte Observer newspaper, on July 21, 2013.  I hope that the author doesn't mind that I am using it.  It came out just a few days before my birthday and the message hit home.  I am now following Connie's posts on Facebook at
I do indeed realize that I could have just posted the link to the on-line article.  But I chose to re-type it. Goes along with the idea that by writing something down you remember it better.  You know, note-taking skills you were taught in school, right? And Connie's message is worth remembering and rereading from time to time.
Bon appétit and enjoy, all my friends of a certain age!  If you aren't there yet, I hope that someday you are and that you remember this advice!

The moment of mid-life clarity unfolded at 7:12 p.m. on March 7, 2013.  I was fanning my face with a plane ticket after racing to the gate for a flight at Chicago's O'Hare airport, oblivious to the young man running to catch up with me.  He leapt in front of me and, in a breathless stage whisper, said, "Excuse me.  Do I know you?"

Oh, how easily we succumb to the tug of vanity.  My writer's heart fluttered with gratitude for this, a loyal reader.  I smiled and rested a palm on my collarbone.

"Well," I said, "who do you think I am?"


The soundtrack in my head screeched to a halt.

I shook my head.  "Connie."

"Oh," he said, his shoulders sinking.  His eyes darted from the top of my head to the toes of my Tevas.  "It's your hair," he said.  "You look younger from behind."

Silence, except for the gasps from fellow travelers who forgot to pretend they weren't listening.

At the precise moment when I hoped exactly no one knew who I was, a woman from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, leaned in and said, for all to hear. "I look forward to reading this essay, Connie."

Had this happened right after I turned 50, I might have spent the entire flight slumped in my seat clutching a compact mirror and weeding chin hairs.  Five years into this adventure, I laughed and posted the man's observation on Facebook.

So what changed for me in the past five years?


It takes a little time to accept that the world is onto us.  Nobel laureate Toni Morrison said in a speech at Oberlin College last year that each of us sees ourselves at a certain age, frozen in time, which may explain why my hair still brushes my shoulders.  Inside, I am 27.  Outside, I am the woman of a certain age who missed the helmet-hair memo.

I admit to occasional handwringing in front of the mirror, but most of the time I'm having fun reinventing myself.  Magical thinking helps, as was duly noted by one of my wise-cracking kids, who will remain nameless because he is my only son.

"Really," he said.  "You're middle-aged?  Planning to live to 110, are you?"


When I was 30, I read Gail Godwin's novel The Finishing School.  One particular passage, in which 44-year-old Ursula advises 14-year-old Justin about aging, scared me so much that I wrote it down and carried it in my wallet for years:

There are two kinds of people... One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves.  It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it.  Whereas, the other kind keeps moving, changing. With these people, you can never say, "X stops here," or "Now I know all there is to know about Y."  That doesn't mean they are unstable.  Ah, no, far from it.  They are fluid.  They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young.  In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive.

Yikes.  I vowed to grow like the weed you can't kill.   This year, I'm an American water willow.  Last year, I was a hairy bittercress.

Memories tumble out and sustain me.  The other day I was dusting a crisscross of Popsicle sticks my daughter had made in first grade.  "The best mother," the faded ink reads.

Immediately, I am a newly single mom, walking into her elementary school for open house.  A flock of parents giggle as they lean in to read something on the bulletin board.  One of them spots me, and off they go.

Slowly, I approach the board and recognize my daughter's drawing of me.  "My mother is a bit eccentric," her essay begins.  "She has longer hair than other mothers.  She is getting a divorce, but we don't call it that.  Mom says she is having a growth spurt."

What tugged at my heart then fills it with hope now.  Life was hard, and then it got better.  Repeat.  Fifty was tough, but 55 feels just right.

"I look forward to that essay," the woman at the airport said to me after the case of mistaken identity.  My, how she egged me on.  A dozen essays are bubbling up for a blog I'm calling "Life in the Middle Ages."  Every Friday I'll post a new piece at

We have so much to talk about.  Reading glasses and puppies.  Exercise and falling in love.  Grandchildren and high heels.  Juicing and social media.  Solitude and activism.  Food, too.  We have to exchange recipes at some point, don't you think?

Add to this list-- you, dear readers.  Because aging is a team sport, and I can't win this game without you.  And being a baby boomer, I believe everyone should get the chance to play.

Double Nickels

The sun rose beautifully on my birthday last week.  I was very proud of myself for getting up in time to see the sight from the roof deck of the house we rented at Sunset Beach.  It was check out day and we were hoping to beat most of the other families off the island and avoid the traffic jams around Wilmington.  We accomplished that and celebrated with a biscuit at Bojangle's.  Yoo hoo!  My first biscuit of the summer and it was really good.

A package from Mme P had been patiently waiting at home for me for over a week with the instructions Ne Pas Ouvrir Avant le 27 Juillet.  So I did not ouvrir before July 27.  Can't risk making my dear Frenchie friend mad at me.  And she is a middle school teacher with beautiful, piercing blue eyes that see everything, even across the Atlantic Ocean.  Trust me on that.

I promptly got out the butter and went to work making financiers with my new moule and Dorie Greenspan's recipe.

The Ex-Ex and I went to dinner at Pizzeria Toro, one of my favorite spots.  I chose Orange County potatoes, bagna cauda (I had to ask... it is a sauce made with garlic and anchovies), and pecorino.

The Ex-Ex needed his meat so he chose House pepperoni, vidalia onions, and Rustico B.P. (the cheese, I am assuming).

With a red Italian Montepulciano.

I can spend hours there just watching the guys operate the pizza oven and watching the kitchen staff put it all together.

We then ventured up the street to Bull City Burger and Brewery.  The BFF was on duty, managing a crowd that was practically lined up out the door.  But she took the time to bring me birthday ice cream with a candle!

My first ice cream of the summer, too.  Double yoo hoo!

My gift from the BFF came the next day.  BCBB closed its doors to the public Sunday evening for a Hog and Beer Dinner.  The BFF invited me, Arles Lucy, and Ironwoman for the five course, plus amuse bouche, plus dessert dinner.  (I invited the Ex-Ex to go with me but he didn't think that he could eat some of the offerings so I took back the invite.  I hold to my Arles pledge to try anything that is offered to me by a chef I trust.  Seth Gross and his staff definitely deserve my trust.  The Ex-Ex was just fine with that.  He enjoys a break from my food adventures and photo-taking, I think.)

Amuse-bouche:  Pork Belly "Corn Dog" paired with Bryant Bridge Gateway Golden Ale.

It did indeed tickle my mouth.

First Course:  "Skin on Skin or Piel con Piel" Crispy Pork Skins- Chicharron, Pickled Pork Skin- Cueritos paired with Viola Weiss.

Very spicy delight.

Second Course:  "Head and Hash"  Pig Head Torchon breaded and deep fried, South Carolina Pork Hash paired with Parrish Street Pale Ale

(No photos taken... too busy eating, I guess.  I was very curious about this one.  The BFF texted me late one night a few days before the dinner to say she had just helped prepare it.  Yes, she did.  She has come a long way in the past couple of years...)

Third Course: "Kimchee vs. Kraut"  Weisswürst with our House Sauerkraut, Asian Five Spice Sausage with House Kimchee paired with Malbourne Maiboch.

I had been warned that the kimchee was spicy, but it was no where near the heat level of the first course which had left my lips tingling.

Fourth Course: (We were warned at the beginning by Seth, Grandé Burger Flipper,  to eat small portions... I listened because I knew this course was coming!):  "Of Course there's Salad"  Pork Rillettes with House Croutons, Local Greens Salad with Lardon, Hard Boiled Farm Fresh Eggs and Bacon Vinaigrette accompanied by Bull's IPA.

Oh mon dieu.  I could have dined on this course alone and been a very satisfied woman.  I am a big rillettes fan (a kind of pork paté).  The little toasts were perfect... crunchy yet chewy.  I ate two, I confess.  If I could've stashed the little pot of leftovers in my purse, I would have.  Trust me on that one.

The salad was perfect.  The vinaigrette delicious.
Scroll back up and take a look at the BFF's candle creation.  A mason jar filled with water and fresh mint with a floating candle.  I was very impressed!  The perfect touch.

Fifth Course:  "You've got the whole pork in your hand"  Pulled Pork Carnitas with House Made Tortillas, Cilantro, Red Onion, Salsa Verde and Lime paired with Pigmeat Markham Smoked Rye.

Since I had eaten two rillettes, I only had room for one of these.  But I wanted a second one.

Dessert:  House Made Vanilla Ice Cream with Bacon, Caramelized Sugar, and NC Peanuts with Bacon Tuile paired with HsaWaknoW (try spelling Wonka Wash backwards-- not easy) made with cacao nibs.  No kidding.  Very, very good.  Before dinner started, I was asked by the girls if I knew what tuile meant (we tend to zero in on dessert pretty quickly) and the only translation I know for the word is tile, like the lovely red tiles on roofs in the south of France.

Eager to impress Seth, I shared that little fact with him.  He grinned and told me that they had taught him that in culinary school.  So much for showing off.  The man knows everything.

It was a lovely evening and I enjoyed every minute (and bite).
Thank you, BFF!

I have such good friends who know me well.  Arles Lucy found beautiful sticky notes and wrapped them in a box with the Eiffel Tower on it.  My Sabbatical Chef photo notecards have already filled it up. (More about those one of these days.)

Ironwoman found Eiffel Tower goodies, too.  Cookie cutters that I have been coveting for a while--

Mildred the Mixer and I made cookies yesterday using a recipe for rolled sugar cookies that I have had for many years.  Oui, mine are pink, bien sûr!

Ironwoman also found Eiffel Tower chocolate molds, so I made some chocolate lollipops, too.  (The Ex-Ex is the taste-tester...)

Trop mignonnes, ces sucettes, n'est-ce pas?
She also found lavender infused balsamic vinaigrette at Blue Sky Oil and Vinegar.  We are lucky enough to have two of these stores near by.  One in Durham and one in Chapel Hill.

Another envelope arrived France, from French Frog.  He is very thoughtful, too, and has helped me grow my library of books about Provence. 

This one is full of photos, recipes, and decorating ideas, among other Provence specialities.  Such as this pot made from broken dishes--

Could we do this, Arles Lucy?

I treated myself to a bottle of my favorite French perfume.

Mme M gave me my first bottle quite a while back, when Cacharel first introduced it.  It is not available in stores in the U.S. (as far as I know), but I ordered it from Perfume Spot.  I had stopped wearing it for several years, but I missed it.  I hope they never stop making it.

It was a lovely birthday.  I received many happy wishes from friends on Facebook.  I am known to stretch the celebration out as long as I can, but now that it is August, it is time to call it a year.  I have moved on to "Double Nickels" as the guy who helped with the financing for our new car called it.  I was in total denial, thinking that I would be 54... until he and the Ex-Ex made me do the math.  Oh well.  (This post will be followed by an article I found that puts age in perspective.)  As Tommy Bell was fond of saying "It beats the alternative."  Very true.  Thanks for the advice, Daddy.  Sister Moo Moo has been teasing me with pictures of earrings that she bought for me, but I don't get them until I get up to Spruce Pine to see her.  I'm coming, I promise.  In time for a swim in the cement pond.

Bon appétit et merci to all my family and friends who helped make it a great day (and year!).