This has been a summer of memories for me. My high school class held a long overdue reunion in June. We didn’t track everyone down, but we tried. The 35 or so of us who attended had a great time. At one point, I just sat back and watched everyone hugging, talking, laughing, and sharing 40+ year old memories.
Harris High School Class of 1976
I don’t have the “official” photo yet, but the Ex-Ex took this one. (Sorry for chopping you in two, Bobby!) What a crew. What fun. What great new memories we made atBlind Squirrel Lodge and Brewery in Plumtree, NC. Thank you, Edie and Will, for the great food, beer, cider, accommodations, and ambiance. I now want to get together with this group every year and I will still keep searching for classmates. We’ve already lost 11 of our classmates, one just a couple of weeks ago. Life is short, mes amis.
I had the chance to talk to Middle School Boyfriend (I have blogged about him beforealthough he doesn’t know it– at least not as I write this. Should I let him in on the secret?). I told the Ex-Ex that I had to have a photo to show the middle school girlies next year. I have not always been so old, you know, kiddos.
I went zip-lining with some friends. Yes, I did.
And I got a chance to really catch up with my across-the-creek neighbor and freshman year in college roommate.
The two friends I spent the most time with in high school attended. We did a lot of things together way back when and even took driver’s ed class together– and survived!
That’s us in the middle of the front row- BH, FB and TB, me, in the flowered skirt. I love this photo because so many people are smiling and laughing.
The Ex-Ex also had his class reunion. I had only met a couple of his classmates before, but I already felt as if I knew several of them from the stories that have been told over the years. He went to high school near the coast, I am from the mountains. We met in Durham, in the middle.
Here’s his crew. The three ladies in the middle are the teachers who attended.
Aurora High School Class of 1976
And these characters? Even the 90 year old Mrs. Long (in blue above) remembered their names. I told them I cannot imagine having them in class in 7th grade.
William, in the hat, has the same last name as me. We decided we are long lost cousins. We’re people.
The Ex-Ex got props for vividly remembering the sordid details of losing a play-off football game in 1974 based on yardage since the score was tied. Back in the day, they hadn’t come up with a different way to break a tie, I guess.
Some of his teammates-
I had fun just sitting back and watching there, too. Watching and listening to the laughter.
We are lucky that we have these memories and these friends. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen someone in 20, 30 or even 40 years. You still knoweach other. Personalities do not change. Hair color and waistlines, yes, but who cares? Those are minor details in the scheme of things.
I hope to make more memories with these old and new friends.
Edie, at Blind Squirrel, is an excellent baker and possibly the nicest human being on the planet. She was always smiling, even at almost midnight as a few of us were still sipping beer and swapping stories.
Will, her husband, cooked amazing breakfasts for us during our stay. The buffet dinner for our reunion meal was outstanding. The Po’boy Trout Sandwich that I had for lunch after zip-lining was excellent. I asked Edie for a recipe and she said she gets the most requests for her Vinegar Pie. It is a recipe passed down from her grandmother. My own beloved Grandma Bell was a first class pie lover. Whenever we took her out to lunch in downtown Spruce Pine, her first question walking in the door was “Do you have pie today?” If there was no pie on the menu, lunch was a disappointment from the get-go. She was a pie connoisseur. To the best of my knowledge, though, I have never had vinegar pie. I needed to know a little bit more because, to tell the truth, vinegar pie sounded a bit strange. And this is from a girl whose mama was raised on a farm with a very frugal Granny who could make anything from scratch and memory. Seems that vinegar pie is about as old as our country and falls into the category of “desperation pies.” Make do or do without. The pioneer spirit. Lemons would have been the preferred fruit for this pie, but those were not readily available in the 1800’s to folks out on the prairie, up in the mountains, or out on the farm, needless to say. Apple cider vinegar was, however, so it was used to give the pie acidity and to fool the tastebuds. I found several variations on Edie’s grandma’s recipe, some with maple flavoring, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon extract, or brown sugar. Most add about 2-3 tablespoons of flour and boil to make a custard before filling the shell and baking. Some use quite a bit less sugar. Even Martha Stewart is in on the action. This version is very sweet. Grandma Bell would have approved.
Edie’s Vinegar Pie
makes two 9-inch pies
Your favorite pie crust recipe (or store bought if you wish)- Edie uses Never Fail Amish Crust recipe (recipe follows)
4-1/2 cups white sugar
10 whole eggs
1 stick butter, melted
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325˚F.
Lightly spray the bottom of two 9-inch pie plates with non-stick spray and lay out your crusts; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients; mix until well-blended.
Pour into prepared crusts and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until crust has formed and is lightly golden.
Cool completely and chill before serving.
Amish Never Fail Pie Crust
makes two 9-inch crusts
4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 cup water
Blend flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
Cut in Crisco to pea-sized pieces.
Mix together egg, water, and vinegar. Add to flour. Mix until moistened and a soft dough forms.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.
This dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and will be easy to roll.
Blind Squirrel is located on the banks of the North Toe River in Avery County, North Carolina, in a little bend in the road. Very spotty cell phone service and internet, fishermen standing out in the river at any given time, hummingbirds checking out the feeders and butterflies flitting around all of the flowers. There are five rooms in the Lodge and cabins and camping sites about a mile away where the zip-lining happens. Winter People, a movie starring Kelly McGillis and Kurt Russell, based on a novel by John Ehle, was filmed next door to Blind Squirrel and released in 1989.
Bon appétit, friends. Here’s to making more memories! Merci, Edie. I look forward to my next visit. Maybe I can come help you bake next summer. As I have said many times, I can even clean toilets in French, too, and have B&B experience!
I love this man. I am not sure the Ex-Ex knows, but he will soon enough. If he liked for me to read to him first thing in the morning, he most assuredly would know him. But while I am reading Sean’s daily Facebook post, the Ex-Ex is still blessedly asleep. I am the early riser in the family. Oh, Callie the Cat gets up, meows a few times and the next thing I know she is curled up on his feet sound asleep and doesn’t even bother to look up when I tiptoe into the bedroom searching for something like my Kindle or my glasses.
So, back to the Bearded Man of the Hour. He is Southern through and through. But you do not have to be a Southerner to love him. Just ask Ms. Arizona aka Tammy. I have never met him, yet I feel as if I have known him forever or at least my whole entire life, whichever is longer. Some of my Frenchie friends are now reading his FB posts and that just plain makes me happy. Everyone should start the day with a healthy dose of his prose. I have blogged about him before and I am pretty sure I will again. Today’s reason? He is giving away, yes, that’s right, giving away five of his books on Kindle today. He did this once before and I downloaded them all. I confess to feeling ever so guilty about that. Sean deserves to get paid for his writing. Therefore, today I bought a sixth one, The Other Side of the Bay.
Sean reminds us that we are all human, capable of lending a helping hand to those in need, whether we know them or not. Even better if we don’t know them. He is a keen observer of people. I imagine him to be like the old (they probably weren’t as old as I am now, though) mountain men I visited when I was little. Relatives that we would just drop in on because Mama Mildred said we did not need to call ahead. Chances are good they didn’t have phones anyway. These men were overall-wearing, front porch sitters. Didn’t always say much. Some couldn’t get a word in edge-wise considering the apron-wearing women presiding over the stove. But when they did, you listened. Well, unless you had already run off to play in the creek… I don’t think that any of those men from my past are still alive. Such a shame. However, Sean has stepped up to the plate. He is old for his age. Which means he is wise beyond his years. And he shares that hard fought wisdom with us, his loyal readers. I cry and/or laugh when reading his stories.
I’ve also become pen pals with his wife, Jamie. She is a chef-turned-teacher. I have managed to talk her out of two of her recipes. I won’t ask for more, just hope that she will toss one out once in a while. I plan to make her Pimiento Cheese recipe this week to take to the beach with Sister Moo. Sean carried on and on about her pound cake in one of his posts so I was brave and asked for the recipe. I keep making it and messing around with the flavorings. Hers is the best. (But switching it up and using Ms. Arizona’s gift of Praline Pecan liqueur gives me an excuse to have a little sample while mixing it all up.)
So, download some of his books and read on. Lyla is probably my favorite. Whenever I read the stories of people he has met, I imagine climbing into the passenger side of his old pick-up truck and going along for the ride. Food is almost always involved, too, which makes it even better.
I do not advertise for Amazon, nor do I receive anything for my links. I just happen to own a Kindle, given to me for Christmas a few years back by Son #1. (Technically, he gave it to the Ex-Ex and me, but let’s just say the Ex-Ex has yet to read anything on it.)
I think that I have coined a new phrase. Oui, moi. Just a few minutes ago. Baker’s Reward. Definition: What the baker deserves after measuring, mixing, putting something delicious in the oven, and cleaning up. And as I sit and type and wonderful smells start coming out of my oven, I am sipping my reward.
I started my day very early by taking photos of the full moon. I went out hunting for it last night but couldn’t find it and gave up. Too many trees in this part of the city. I must have snapped 50 of them, using an iPad, an iPhone, a Canon Rebel T5 and a Canon PowerShot SX700. The PowerShot took the best ones. It has a great zoom- 30x. There is just something about the full moon. The last time a full moon met the Summer Solstice was in 1948, before my time, and the next one will be June 21, 2062. It’s called a Strawberry Moon, it seems, based on the Algonquin tribe collecting the lovely little red fruit. So, a once in my lifetime occurence. Worth getting up really early to observe, in my humble opinion.
Since I was up, I decided to get out the butter, cream cheese, and eggs in order to revisit Jamie’s Pound Cake. I made a couple of changes. And in a couple of hours we will see how it turns out. I can tell you right now that my glass is almost empty and my kitchen smells heavenly.
Here is where I first blogged about Jamie’s cake. (Still The Sabbatical Chef- I am just trying to learn WordPress and its ins and outs with the idea of moving the blog over to this platform.)
And here is the recipe.
Jamie’s Pound Cake makes 2 loaves or one bundt cake, but Jamie recommends the loaves
For the cake:
3 c. sugar (this time, I used 2 cups granulated white sugar and 1 cup Turbinado cane sugar)
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 sticks + 2 T. butter, room temperature (2 T. are for buttering the pans)
3 c. all purpose flour
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 t. each: vanilla extract (this go around, I used 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tsp. coconut extract, 3 tsp. Praline Pecan Liqueur -sent to me by Ms. Tammy in Arizona who spoils me)
For the glaze:
1 cup sugar
1/2 T. each: vanilla extract
1 t. each: brandy
Prepare 2 loaf pans by generously coating them with soft butter and then coating them with sugar.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar, butter and cream cheese.
Gradually alternate adding the flour and eggs, stopping to scrap down the bowl as needed. Mix just until blended.
Add the extracts and the wines until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans.
Place the pans in a cold oven and then set the oven to 300 degrees. (I think my oven is a bit off so I set it to 325˚F for the first 40 minutes and then turned it down to 315˚F)
Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Sometimes mine need a little longer. However, you want this cake super moist–like a butter cake.)
Once you remove the cakes from the oven, let them cool in the pan on a wire rack.
In the meantime, melt one cup of sugar in half a cup of water in a pot on the stove. Once the sugar is melted, remove the pot from the heat and add the extracts and wines.
Spoon the glaze over the top of each cake–do not remove the cakes from their pans. Continue to let the cakes cool and absorb the glaze for a couple of hours before serving. ***This can be made in a bundt pan. However, you will need to invert the cake before adding the glaze. I feel that you do not get as much glaze absorption on a bundt cake as a loaf cake.
Bon appétit and bon baking! And happy rewards to all you bakers out there! Here’s to Strawberry Moons and once in a lifetime happenings. Merci, Jamie et Tammy!
I love to go out for lunch. I spend mid-August through early June eating lunch five days a week with my group of 10-12 seventh graders, my advisees. In my classroom. For 20 minutes. Seems barbaric in so many ways. When I tried to explain this to a group of French friends during my first summer in Arles in 2007, they were appalled. That did not improve what they think of Americans as eaters. At my school, we do not have a cafeteria and, truthfully, I am grateful for that. We all bring our lunch and eat in our classrooms. I have a small refrigerator and a microwave so that we can keep things cold and warm up leftovers. Once a month we are more civilized, however, because parents volunteer to bring in hot lunch for us. We live for this. Sometimes it is from a local restaurant or fastfood joint, but often it is homemade. This past year, we enjoyed homemade soups and bread, pasta with homemade sauce, and lemon-chicken with rice. I know that not everyone likes to cook nor do they have time to prepare lunch for us, but I sure look forward to “real” food. So do the kiddies.
Our final treat of the year, while not a complete lunch, is pictured above. One of the moms is a master bread baker and she brought in two loaves of her bread, real butter, cheeses, jams, and desserts for us. She is Finnish and an excellent cook. She treated us to soup earlier in the year, with her bread.
Once school ended this summer, I posted on Facebook that I would be beginning my Summer Lunch Project and that I would love company. Several of my friends have taken me up on it and the fun is well under way. To date–
I ate the Trout Po’Boy sandwich and sipped a glass of their cider (made with apples from The Orchard at Altapass in my hometown of Spruce Pine). I didn’t take a photo. Guess I was too hungry to even think of that detail after zip-lining. Beer-battered North Carolina trout, house-made remoulade sauce. I heard that their pizzas are really good, too. Next time. We held the Harris High School Class of 1976 40th reunion there. Dinner was really, seriously good. I sampled everything on the buffet. I felt it was my duty. Thank you, Edie and Will!
Pompieri Pizza, Durham, NC (first with Miss Hulka, then with Arles Lucy and Arles Betty)
I’ve actually had lunch here twice. Just cannot help myself. The BFF works there and it is my mission to introduce everyone I know to the Zeppino sandwich which is served from 11:12am-3:00pm. Pompieri’s pizza dough fashioned into bread for the sandwich, baked, and then filled with deliciousness.
This is The Classic. House-made mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, fresh basil leaves, salad greens, vinegar and lemon olive oil. I also had a bowl of tomato and basil soup served with fresh focaccia bread.
I chose The Mighty Melanzana for my second lunch at Pompieri.
Lovely, isn’t it? Pan-seared eggplant, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, roasted peppers, salad greens, vinegar and basil olive oil. Before living in Provence and working with Chef Érick, I really didn’t eat eggplant. I learned to love it and prepare it in many different ways.
For dessert, the BFF offered up a flight of gelato. Perfect ending.
Son #2 has talked about Dulce for years. Great coffee, Mom. Great pastries, Mom. Great food, Mom. So, I was on that side of town running errands around lunch time and stopped in. The pastries are beautiful- all sweetly lined up. Gelato as well. I chose a macaron for my treat. But lunch first. Although after seeing this sign in the ladies room, I almost devoured the macaron while waiting. But I didn’t.
I chose the daily special- a chipotle chicken wrap with guacamole. I love, love, love avocados. The Ex-Ex is very allergic to them so I don’t have them around the house as often as I would like.
A lime macaron.
I plan to go back for coffee one day soon since I didn’t try it this time.
We had plans to go to a restaurant in Carrboro but decided to stay in Durham. Bull Street Gourmet is in a little strip shopping center best known for housing my zip code’s post office. Locally owned, fresh ingredients.
I chose The Drunken — salad greens, prosciutto, pine nuts, drunken goat cheese, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Really good light lunch. I’ve had coffee here before when dashing to the post office, but this was a first for lunch.
The Ex-Ex and I went to his 40th high school class reunion in Aurora, NC and spent the night with The World’s Best In-Laws in Washington, NC. We left his parents’ house to head home right around brunch time, shall we say. Sheetz fascinates me, I must admit. I’ve stopped in for water and a quick snack in the past and we stopped at one in Pennsylvania once several years ago and ate hot dogs. This time, I opted for a breakfast sandwich. It’s ordered by touchscreen and custom made behind the counter. I watched the guy assemble it.
Double bacon, caramelized onions, fried egg, gooey melted American cheese on toasted bread. I ate every crumb. The coffee was pretty good, too. Real half and half and not in those annoying little cup things. I always squirt the cream all over the place when opening them. I offered the Ex-Ex a bite of my sandwich, but he had chosen a Banana Peanut Butter fritter so he declined. Disappointing from my perspective. No evidence of a real banana and no peanut butter oozing out. I thought maybe he was trying to channel his inner Elvis by choosing this one.
It’s been a very tasty summer so far. I have a couple more lunch dates on my calendar and hopefully more to come before mid-August rolls in.
Bon appétit to all of my lunch buddies, past, present and future! Eat on!
Walking on the beach gives one a lot of time to think, contemplate, reminisce, philosophize, etc. We had Son #2 with us for a couple of days here at Sunset Beach. He has an internship at a Charlotte real estate law firm this summer, but he was able to take a couple of days off due to the July 4th holiday. Son #1 couldn’t make it at all due to his job. So, the family vacation is a bit different this year. But it gets the Ex-Ex out of the office and relaxed and I am very happy listening to the sound of the waves, getting a little sunburned around the edges, and taking long walks on the beach. Oh, and eating shrimp. On any given day if you ask me what I would like to have for my final meal on this Earth, I would give you a different answer. Today? Shrimp. And a crisp, dry, chilled white wine. Picpoul de Pinet perhaps? Something from the south of France, my preferred wine region.
While strolling along the beach with Son #2, we started talking about me. He wanted to know how I worked up the courage to go to France for the very first time. Looking back, I am not really sure, truth be told. I had just turned 20, had saved every penny I made from my summer job at Eseeola Lodge in Linville, NC, had been admitted to the University of Dijon, France, got a passport, bought a cheap seat on a charter flight, taking me from Johnson City, Tennessee to New York, where I met up with my college roommate and traveling companion, and caught a flight to Paris-Orly. Did I mention this was the first time I had set foot on an airplane? Oui, it was. I had never been far from the mountains of North Carolina. We spent a week in Paris roaming around. I was prepared for the size of the Eiffel Tower but not for the grandeur of the Arc de Triomphe. We got lost and wandered past this huge box of a building that looked unfinished with multi-colored pipes. Oh, the new Centre Pompidou. Mme Buchanan didn’t tell me about this one. But she hadn’t seen it. It had just opened. We went to Sète for some beach time, up to Dijon only to find out that there were no more families who needed American au pairs, no chance for room and board in exchange for living quarters, so we ended up near Cannes, my friend with one family, me with another. (I got the best end of that deal.) We took classes at an international school, became the best of friends, swapping life stories (I learned to never judge a book by its cover after hearing hers), and had a few adventures over the course of the next several months.
Anyway, revenons à nos moutons, let’s get back to our sheep, as the French say. I said something about how lucky I have been in my life and Son #2 said he isn’t sure that luck has much to do with it. We make our own luck, he says. He’s a quiet young man and a darned smart one, in my humble opinion as his mother. I still can feel overwhelming guilt about the divorce from the Ex-Ex and what might appear as abandoning my boys. However, when I pull back from the guilt, I realize that those four years made me into who I am today. A stronger, wiser, more grateful woman with many friends and experiences that shaped me in ways that cannot be put into words. Did luck have anything to do with that? Or was I selfish and only looking out for me? Son #2 doesn’t think so. I will go with that for today.
Back to shrimp. I am not sure when I ate my first one. Growing up in Spruce Pine, I remember eating frozen, breaded ones. I do remember fresh ones eaten in a restaurant somewhere along the way on my family’s only vacation, a trip to Punta Gorda, Florida, to spend two weeks in my Papa Bell’s house there. Sister #1 ate the tails and we laughed at her. I am not sure she has eaten shrimp since then. My best shrimp memories are from my months in Arles, France and here at Sunset Beach. I photograph them at the markets in France, as you can see from the first photo. I feel like that fish, mouth open, ready to gobble up the little unsuspecting crustaceans. A few more photos from my past shrimp experiences–
Ok, so technically is a gamba a shrimp? It’s a large prawn. According to Cook’s Illustrated, my favorite cooking magazine, there is a difference in gill structure, in case you care. I don’t. We grilled those babies in Arles, heads and all. Chef Érick loved to fry up shrimp heads as an appetizer. Yum. I also found this saying on a website while googling, makes no sense to me, but make of it what you will… (If one of my Frenchies can explain this to me, I will be very grateful.)
You’re a jumbo shrimp and one day some corn goes floating by.
Tu es une gamba et un jour, tu vois flotter du maïs.
Seafood risotto eaten in Italy with the BFF and Mo in 2008. Big sigh…
Shrimp, oysters and Picpoul de Pinet shared with Fanny, Betty and Chef Érick at Les Halles in Avignon. If you go to this food mecca, there is a little corner seafood seller- you can buy to take home or eat sur place, if you wish. This was our little pre-lunch snack. Hors-d’oeuvres, I suppose.
A pan of deliciousness whipped up in Arles for me on my birthday. Mussels, shrimps, risotto.
But even with all of that, I must say that my favorite is preparing Shrimp and Grits at Sunset with my boys all around. Sometimes I put them to work, sometimes they just sip their cold beer and watch, most times it’s a combination of the two. I usually change the recipe around to suit myself, simplifying it each year. This year, the Ex-Ex was put to work peeling the shrimp (he asked what he could do to help…)
Son #2 was in charge of the grits and frying the bacon.
Et voilà. The 2016 version of Sunset Shrimp and Grits.
This is our favorite Sunset Beach dish. We get our shrimp at Bill’s Seafood.
All of this cooks up fairly quickly, so be sure to measure out and have everything ready before you start. Serves 4.
For the grits:
1 c. grits (use whatever kind you want- instant or stone ground- I found Palmetto Farms Stone Ground ones and they are really good)
4 Tbsp. butter
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese (or you can mix in Gouda if you like the taste)
1-1/2 tsp. Paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. white pepper
Salt, to taste
(Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste, start small, though and then add, if you wish)
A dash or two of hot sauce- Texas Pete or whatever brand you like, optional
All the spices are optional, however; salt and freshly ground pepper are good alone
Cook the grits according to the package directions. Pay attention not to burn them. I had to add more water to mine about 15 minutes into the cooking time. When they are 5 minutes from being ready, whisk in the butter and seasonings. Stir in the cheese until melted. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if desired. Cover the pot and keep warm.
For the shrimp:
2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined (I count on ½ lb. per person- I like medium-sized ones but it doesn’t matter)
8 slices of bacon, fried crisp, drained on paper towels (more if the people around you insist upon eating the bacon before you are ready to serve the dish!)
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Butter, olive oil, some of the bacon grease—the equivalent of about 4 Tbsp. of one or a combination of all- I use the same pan that I cook the bacon in, draining out most of the grease but leaving the pan drippings
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place butter/oil in pan and bring to medium high heat. Sauté the shallots until translucent. Add the shrimp and stir, cook, continuing to stir and turning the shrimp over individually until all the shrimp turn pink. Do not overcook, though, this will make the shrimp tough. Just before you think the shrimp are done, add the minced garlic and stir. You do not want the garlic to burn.
Some people add chopped Roma tomatoes to the shrimp at this point. My guys are not fans of that so I leave them out. Sometimes I add andouille sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces, to the mix, after sautéeing them or asking someone to grill them for me. You can use Parmesan cheese, if you wish. This is not a fancy dish or one that is difficult to prepare. Make it your own according to what your eaters like!
Bon appétit et bonnes vacances wherever you are! I am grateful for all who have helped make me who I am today. Luck? I still consider myself a very lucky girl.