Wednesday, August 5, 2015

End of Summer

Of course, I know that the official ending isn't until September 22 or 23 (merci, Google).  But once August 1 rolls around, summer vacation starts receding into memories.  It's quiet again around my house. Son #2 has packed up and moved to Charlotte.  And taken the most adorable dog in the world with him.  Law school begins soon for him.  Pretend Son #3 and he are roommates in a pet-friendly apartment near the light rail that will take them downtown (or uptown?) for work and school without being stuck in traffic.  #3 got a job with a company that markets NASCAR video games.  What could be more perfect for a 23-year old boy?

The floors have been mopped.  The carpets have been cleaned.  The upstairs bedrooms are dusted. Closets are reorganized.  Clothing no longer worn has been taken to a nearby thrift store. Postcards to my new crop of advisees have been written.  Dates for the 2015-16 school year have been added to my new Passion Planner. I bought two academic ones, one for law school boy and one for moi.  I LOVE this planner.  Lots of space to write.  For all that I love technology, a paper and pen planner works best for me if I have any hope of making it to meetings and doctor/dentist appointments.

I have started my school summer reading book but am already missing my novels.  I've read two Ann Patchett books, The Magician's Assistant and State of Wonder, Jodi Picoult's latest, Leaving Time, Heart of a Soldier by James B. Stewart (more about this one later when I write about our trip to NYC and our visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum), Provence 1970 by Luke Barr about his aunt M.F.K. Fisher and foodie friends in France, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (historical fiction set in Scotland with some romance- winning combination every time),  A Paris Affair by Tatiana de Rosnay, short stories about, well, Parisians having affairs,  The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go by Marcia DeSanctis (I've only been to 31- better get busy), just to name a few.  Still waiting for me... Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum about WWII and the Holocaust, French Toast, A Memoir by Harriet Welty Rochefort (yet another American who tries to figure out the French- what's with us??), Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach, Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl, and Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes.

I've watched a few movies.  Not as many as I would like.  Honestly, where does time go?  My Old Lady, set in Paris with Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith, The Longest Ride, a movie based on the Nicholas Sparks book by the same name, Renoir about the famous painter and his son who became a famous film maker, The Imposter, a documentary about a young French man who poses as an American boy who disappeared (recommended by Son #2), several 30 for 30 episodes, such as I Hate Christian Laettner (which I don't), and more Hallmark movies than I care to admit. What can I say?  I love happy endings.  I want to see Southpaw and Ricki and the Flash.

We traveled more this summer than we usually do.  San Antonio in June.  Sunset Beach with the boys, a girlfriend, sister- and brother-in-law and dogs in early July.  New York City in late July.  I am going up to the mountains next weekend to spend a couple of days with my family.  I am taking my sister to the North Carolina Bluegrass Festival to hear Balsam Range.  Her birthday present!  We are both huge fans.

I reconnected with a couple of high school friends via Facebook.  I hope to see them one day soon. I've talked on the phone a couple of times with Childhood Friend.  He keeps me entertained.  I have forgiven him for challenging one of my high school boyfriends to a sword fight.  Or maybe it was a duel.  I can't really remember.  Today's recipe was inspired by him.  He has a cousin who is French and has just opened a restaurant near Bordeaux.  Childhood Friend should go over and be the lovable American busboy.  He speaks French and there are many unmarried French women living there.  Just saying.  CF asked me if I had ever tried le gâteau aux pruneaux.  I had to say non, even though I am a fan of both gâteau and pruneaux.  He promised to look for the French recipe he claims to have, but I have not found it in my gmail inbox yet so I was left to Google and my own cookbooks.  I found two English versions of it -- one by Pioneer Woman and one in Even More Special, the 1986 Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties cookbook. Both recipes are basically the same.  Pioneer Woman, one of the French versions I found on-line, and CF all warned NOT to tell anyone what the secret ingredient is.  It's in the name so it's kind of hard to keep it a secret, people.  I made the cake, though, but didn't tell the Ex-Ex what I put in it. A sort of don't ask, don't tell policy.  But as Pioneer Woman says at the end of her recipe:

NOTE: There is absolutely zero “prune effect” associated with this cake. The end.

Click on the Pioneer Woman's link for her grandmother's version, if you wish.  She always tells good stories about her recipes and includes great step-by-step instructions and photos.

Fan's Prune Cake
Even More Special, 1986
12-16 servings

1 cup prunes, pitted
1 cup oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans (I left this out because I didn't have any)

1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons white corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Grease an 11x13-inch baking dish.
Boil 1 cup of prunes in enough water to cover until they have plumped up and are soft (8-10 minutes).  Drain and mash the prunes on a plate with a fork.  (This recipe says to reserve the liquid and add it at the same time as the mashed prunes.  I went with Pioneer Woman's recipe at this stage and did not add the liquid.  It turned out fine.)
Mix oil and sugar.  While mixing, add eggs one at a time.
Sift dry ingredients together.  Add to batter alternately with buttermilk. Do not overmix.
Stir in vanilla, chopped pecans, if using, and prunes.  Do not overmix.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes.
When cake is almost done, start making the glaze.  In a medium saucepan, combine glaze ingredients, except vanilla.  Cook to a soft ball stage, 240˚F on candy thermometer. (If you don't have a candy thermometer, try drizzling some of the mixture into a cup of cold water.  Test it by trying to make a soft ball of it with your fingers.)  I followed Pioneer Woman's recipe again at this stage.  I don't have a candy thermometer and her instructions were easier for me.
Stir in the vanilla and pour on warm cake.  Cool in pan.

A sample of Balsam Range music--

Bon appétit et au revoir, summer!  It's been fun.

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