Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eating adventures in the mountains

The un-ex and I ventured up to the Appalachian mountains to see my family in Spruce Pine for a couple of days after Christmas.  One son is in Florida playing in a basketball tournament and the other had a wedding to attend in Greensboro so we made the trip alone (visions of an empty nest, I imagine, running through our heads).
Spruce Pine is a town of about 2,000 people, located in Mitchell County, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  When people ask me where it is, I just usually tell them that it is in between Boone and Asheville.  It is a mountain town, struggling mightily with unemployment, but well-known for its mineral and gem deposits and for the Penland School of Crafts, a community of artists.  The biggest news since my last visit is that the town folks finally voted in the sale of alcohol.  Although alcohol was not consumed in my household as I was growing up (well, not where anyone could actually see it, but that's another story), my dad would go on and on about Buncombe county (the closest county at the time with legal alcohol sales) receiving all the tax dollars from the good citizens of SP who were buying their alcohol over there. Made sense to me.  Anyway, while in SP, I had to check it out for myself so we went down to the Ingles, the only grocery store other than the super Wal-Mart, and spent a few minutes checking out their wine selection.  They carry a pretty impressive assortment of domestic and imported wine.  My mom gave us a bottle of Biltmore House Christmas White.  I was disappointed not to see any Chatham Hill selections in the section devoted to North Carolina wines, though.
There is a new restaurant in town that I plan to try on the next visit, Knife and Fork (  I heard about it from a friend who has retired and moved to SP.  We found it while driving on Lower Street.  Downtown SP is divided into Upper Street and Lower Street- they do have actual names, but no one ever uses them...
Chef Nathan Allen is a Johnson & Wales trained chef.  This could be a first in SP.  He and his wife opened the restaurant in July 2009.  The menu selections are impressive.  They believe in using local products and changing the menu to reflect what is in season.  Next visit for sure.

This is my elementary school, Harris Elementary, which has been turned into a hotel, Pinebridge.  Beautiful with all the snow, n'est-ce pas? There is a footbridge that connects it to Lower Street, crossing the North Toe River.  That is one scary bridge for a first grader to cross with her class, believe me.  After walking across that bridge, I had dreams about dropping my little purse into it and losing it forever.  I have since realized that I am not afraid of heights, I am terrified of edges. 
This is a shop on Upper Street, based on a children's book by the same name written by Gloria Houston (  They sell various crafts, from handmade wooden rockers (is this the Bobby Dayton I knew at Harris High School??) to lamps made from railroad spikes to pottery Christmas Tree plates and mugs, all fashioned by local artisans.  According to the booklet I picked up there "The non-profit project was founded as a way to marry the rich craft tradition of the region with the skills of an able workforce to create jobs and income that could never be outsourced."  A portion of every sale at the shop is used to fund a scholarship program at Mitchell High School, the only high school in the county. I found a little purple lavender cookbook "A Taste of Lavender: Culinary Delights from Mountain Farm Celo, NC" by Linda Thompson (  I didn't even know that lavender grows up there.  What a pleasant surprise.  The cookbook has about 20 recipes and even comes with a little packet of dried lavender flowers stapled onto the back page.  Not everyone has their own stash, I suppose, brought back from Provence...
After leaving Spruce Pine, we drove to Asheville on the way to visit my sister-in-law and brother-in-law in Brevard.  Since it was lunch time, we decided to stop in downtown Asheville and check out the options.  We found Bistro 1896 ( on Pack Square and I am so glad we did.  They bill themselves as a restaurant that "offers innovative American cuisine with a decidedly chic twist."  Amen.  I chose what could be called a BLT sandwich.  All the basics where there... bacon, lettuce and tomato.  But it was way more than that...  toasted sourdough bread, pesto, caramelized onions, tomatoes (looked like an heirloom), fried mozzarella cheese, three strips of thick crispy bacon, and field greens.  This was the best BLT I've ever eaten, maybe the best sandwich I've ever eaten period.  We chose a half bottle of Parallèle 45 2006 red Côtes du Rhône (we do have a weakness for that wine) and enjoyed every sip.  (I have since found it at Harris Teeter, in my under $10 price range.)
After lunch, we headed to Brevard to spend the night.  Brevard is such a cool town.  It is rumored that Steve Martin is moving there and he has been sighted a few times.  He plays the banjo quite well, according to my brother-in-law who went to see him perform last summer.  Dinner in Brevard was at Dugan's Pub, "Irish to the Last Pint."  We were told that their french fries were really good so naturally we had to see for ourselves.  I had very good French onion soup (yes, in an Irish pub) and a Stella from the tap.  And french fries... research is important, after all.
Now I am back home, in my own kitchen.  My sister offered me her Dutch oven and I snatched it up pretty quickly and loaded it into the car.  A bean and sausage soup will be my first dinner prepared in it.

It is simmering this very minute, bringing a spicy smell to my house.  College-aged son has already lifted the lid once or twice, asking when it will be ready.  The recipe is a work in progress, but here is what is in the pot right now:

2 19-oz cans of cannellini beans, drained
2 15.5-oz cans of light red kidney beans, drained
16 oz sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used Johnsonville New Orleans Brand andouille recipe spicy smoked sausage-- we've grilled it in the past to throw in the soup and that gives it a smoky flavor)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup water

Bon appétit, Spruce Pine!
PS-  Yes, BFF, one of these days I will take you there...  I know, promises, promises.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merci, Pillsbury

On my kitchen counter, at this very moment, there is banana bread, scones, cookies and carrot cake, all homemade.   But guess what the sons really wanted for breakfast today?  Oui, as pictured above, Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.  They love them.   I haven't conducted a taste test of these versus my own, but I have with my homemade oatmeal raisin cookies vs Pillsbury's and mine did not win.  So, I guess I won't bother with the cinnamon buns.  I'll just pop the can, bake 'em up and slather on the icing.  They downed the buns with mugs of Land O'Lakes hot chocolate.  Heavenly smells.
I received a beautiful new baking pan for Christmas from one of my advisees.  And it gets better- it was filled with homemade banana bread and the recipe was attached. 

 I've already made it once, as you can see from the photo.  It didn't last very long.  As a matter of fact, I only got one piece of it.  The un-ex loves banana bread.  It went well with his coffee and crossword puzzle on a couple of pre-Christmas mornings.  Okay, it may have lasted three mornings...
The cute snowman and Santa are actually wine corks sent to me by Tammy in Arizona.  Too cute, n'est-ce pas?  Merci, mon amie!

The Maxfield's Banana Bread Recipe

1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
3-5 bananas, (3 large, 4 medium or 5 small)

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and beat for 30 seconds after each one.  Sift in flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Add vanilla and beat for 30 seconds.  In a separate bowl, mash bananas.  Add bananas to batter and beat for 30 seconds.  Pour batter into pan sprayed with Pam.  Sprinkle sugar over top.  Bake at 350F for 60 minutes or until bread tests done.

Bon appétit, Maxfield Family and Pillsbury Dough Boy!

Friday, December 25, 2009

M.F.K. Fisher


“People ask me: "Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do?" . . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.” 

“When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and it is all one.”
                                                                 --M.F.K. Fisher

Since it is vacation and I have quite a bit of time on my hands, I decided to leave Durham, drive a few miles up the road and revisit a secondhand bookstore I went into for the first time last summer.  The Bookshop is located at 400 West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.  While assisting Dorette Snover this past summer during her Carolina On My Plate teen chef course, we ate dinner at Crook's Corner and then wandered aimlessly up Franklin Street on a warm July evening.  Upon seeing the bookstore, the teens all wanted to go in and browse.  The first one in managed to quickly find the cookbook section and we all rummaged around, each finding a treasure.
This was a serious group of chefs-to-be... five boys and one girl, three of the boys enrolled in high schools with culinary programs in Florida.  I spotted an impossible-to-find copy of Even More Special, a cookbook produced by the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties in the '80's.  I had a copy when it first came out and had given copies to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for Christmas.  I gave away my own copy to a former student who came to have dinner with us each Christmas when he was home from college or from his stint in Japan.  I figured I would easily find another copy for myself.  Wrong.  That book is pure gold.  So, when I found it last summer, I snatched it right off the shelf.  Now I don't have to contemplate stealing my mother-in-law's copy of it anymore.  That thought has crossed my mind more times than I care to admit.

The Bookshop kind of reminds me of Shakespeare and Co. in Paris because it is filled, floor to ceiling, with all kinds of books, in little rooms off a narrow hallway.  It has the same smell.  This time, I checked out the cookbooks and then moved to what is really my favorite genre of books- travel writing.  This past summer, the BFF's brother told me about a food writer, M.F.K. Fisher.  I hadn't thought too much more about her until I entered the doors of The Bookshop.   I found three of her books (all for under $20, I might add), A Considerable Town:  MF.K. Fisher celebrates Marseille, published in 1964, Long Ago in France, The Years in Dijon, 1991, and the one I chose to read first, Map of Another Town, A Memoir of Provence, 1964.  The latter is about her time in Aix-en-Provence, a town I have visited three times, for only a couple of days or a couple of hours at a time.  Oui, I googled and read about her on wikipedia and on
No doubt about it-- the woman led a very interesting life.  She wrote many books, with France and food as the theme.  She moved to Dijon, after marrying in 1929, and stayed there for three years. Bourgogne, Burgundy, is very well-known for its food and wine and those were formative years for her.
Ms. Fisher's style is, of course, quite different from Anthony Bourdain's in Kitchen Confidential which I just finished.  It has taken me a while to adjust.  While engrossed in a book, I feel as if I am living it.  I do not know if others do this or if I am just a bit weird (I know what my children would say if I asked them that question-- they do not read for pleasure yet).  So, I have taken myself out of the hard-living kitchens of New York, packed my mental bags, and headed across the ocean to Aix-en-Provence, the Cours Mirabeau and Deux Garçons café.  This is what vacation is all about for me.

Tarragon Chicken
From Even More Special

"Tarragon has a mild anise flavor, and the French call it the King of Herbs.  This chicken is a favorite because it is easy to prepare and makes an excellent party dish."

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour, for dredging
1 chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 - 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
Salt, to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. dried tarragon or 8-10 sprigs fresh tarragon
3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
3/4 c. dry white wine

1.  Preheat skillet to medium-high and melt butter.
2.  Dust chicken lightly with flour and brown in butter.
3.  Add onions and mushrooms, and cook until vegetables are tender, but not browned.
4.  Add salt, pepper, tarragon, parsley, and wine.
5.  Cover and cook over medium heat 15-20 minutes or until chicken is tender.

4 servings

I love to serve this with rice and a salad.  And good French bread, of course.  Wonder what wine the guys at Wine Authorities would recommend?  Seth?  Craig?  Randy? Mic?  Got any suggestions?

Bon appétit, Mme Fisher!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter break

 Hillsborough snowman

I am officially only two days into my winter break, but it already seems longer.  I have already Christmas shopped, baked, cleaned house, watched a couple of movies, stayed up late reading and slept in a little bit, still making sure the college-aged son gets up in time for work, though.
I am reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.  The descriptions of food are amazing and the crazy stories of life on the edge are exhausting.  He wants to hate the French but just can't.  He owes the awakening of his food senses to a summer spent in France with his family as a young boy.  As his last name implies, he is of French ancestry.  To get back at his parents, who loved food and who, during their stay in France, left him and his brother in the car once while they had dinner at a well-known restaurant because the little rats bickered constantly about eating weird stuff, he decided to eat any and everything offered to him.  Lo and behold, what started out as revenge took on new meaning as he found he actually loved the stuff he was eating.  Knowing next to nothing about famous chefs and restaurants, I am not easily wowed by the names he throws out.  But knowing just enough about the ingredients and dishes he serves up at Brasserie Les Halles in New York makes me keep reading.   I, of course, googled the restaurant and found their official website and their slogan  "American Beef French Style."  Bourdain chronicles his crazy, drug and alcohol-filled lifestyle and if you find cursing offensive, this book is not for you.
Having spent summers working as a waitress (waitron in Bourdain's jargon) in a kitchen run by a Swiss chef, I experienced just the tiniest fraction of craziness in a kitchen.  I clearly remember the one and only plate I ever dropped while waiting tables.  It was fresh, pan-fried trout with the head still on.  There was a lake on the golf resort property and the chef and some of his kitchen staff loved to fish.  I took the trout out to my customer and somehow the plate crashed to the floor.  The trout slid across the polished wood floor with me running after it to retrieve it, apologizing to my customer, grabbing the errant fish and heading back for another.  After explaining to Chef Jean what had happened, I asked for another one only to be told that I was holding the last one.  Chef dusted him off a bit, threw him back on the grill and replated.  I dutifully took the plate to my customer and handed it over with a smile.
I enjoyed that job tremendously.  It kept me from spending my college summers in Spruce Pine, the pay was decent with free room and board, I met lots of other college students from around the country, and we could go to Blowing Rock every night after work.  We hosted our own parties, wearing formal clothes purchased at the local thrift shop (great stuff to be found with the summer residents casting off their hand-me-downs for the locals), with the "real" bartender mixing up drinks for us... my first daquiri, made with fresh peaches.  My buddies threw a surprise party for me for my 21st birthday- my first real birthday party. 
I also met sous-chefs who spoke French and were from New York.  They actually wore white jackets and checkered pants.  This was a big deal for a girl from the Appalachian Mountains who hadn't even been on an airplane until the first time she went to France, at the age of 20.  The cooking part didn't really interest me, though, beyond eating good food.  The maître d' was a jerk to us waitresses, in my youthful recollection.  I doubt he really was- he just expected a level of service in his dining room that we didn't really appreciate.  And then I, in turn, was a jerk to some of the busboys, expecting them to do my bidding as quickly as possible.  I worked as a waitress from age 14 until I graduated from college to begin teaching.  From time to time, I still think that I would love to do it again, in one of the really nice restaurants around here.
I talked the un-ex, the BFF and her husband into watching a French movie a couple of nights ago.  Our two children were invited, but they declined with loud laughs and shakes of their heads as they headed out the door for a Wendy's or Burger King run (after having eaten lasagna just a couple of hours earlier).  I endured the comments about how it is weird to invite people over only to sit in the dark and watch a movie and about needing reading glasses for this one (it's subtitled, not dubbed).  I am a fan of Harlan Coben novels.  The French are, too, it seems.  Tell No One was made into a movie by the French becoming Ne le dis à personne.  Kristen Scott Thomas stars in it and speaks French like a native (more than a little jealousy here on my part, I confess).  It is a good movie, but the characters were a bit hard to follow by my fellow movie watchers since they had not read the book.  Anyway, I do love Netflix and the great selection of French movies they offer.  (I also convinced the un-ex to watch Ratatouille with me.  He hadn't seen it before.  His only comment was "I can see why you like that one..."  and no, we were not joined by the sons for that one, either, in case you are wondering.)

Anyway, I did serve up a cheese spread, some rosemary pecans (a gift from a student-- I need to figure out how to do them myself) and some very tasty wine we bought at Wine Authorities.  We chose, at Craig's suggestion, a 2008 Marcillac Rouge-- Lo Sang del Païs (blood of the country)-- "perfumed spice, herbal, very French" made from the Mansois grape in a region bordering Auvergne and the South West.  Hopefully, that made reading the subtitles a little more enjoyable.

Oh, by the way, Les Halles is currently hiring waitrons...  maybe in my next life?

Cheddar Cheese Spread
(recipe from A Southern Season)

1 lb. (2 pkg.) cream cheese, softened
1 lb. cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. seasoning salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 c. cream

Blend the cream cheese in a food processor (or beat, using a mixer) until light and fluffy.  Add the cheddar cheese, spices and half of the cream.  Beat until smooth.  Add additional cream, if necessary.  Put in serving container and cover.  Refrigerate until serving. The mixture will tighten up in the refrigerator.

Note:  I decided to use some couscous spice that I brought home from my last trip to France instead of the spices listed.  As best I can tell, the package contains curry, coriander, cumin, salt, curcuma, caryl (?), cayenne and red pepper.  It worked very well.

Bon appétit!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The most beautiful pictures of Paris...

Oui, mes amis, les plus belles photos de Paris are by my cyber-pal Peter (no, we haven't met and may never meet, but that doesn't keep me from commenting on his blog).  They are absolutely délicieuses!  I have "borrowed" one or two of his photos from time to time, always letting him know when I do it, of course, although secretly wishing I could take credit for them myself. 
Just click and check them out!

Merci, Peter, quel beau cadeau de Noël!
Bon voyage en Suède et bon appétit!
The Sabbatical Chef

Abbaye de Frigolet

It's funny sometimes how the mind works.  I woke up this morning thinking about my visit to the Abbaye de Frigolet in September of 2008 with Chef Érick.    It was a beautiful day and we were clientless so we decided (well, he decided, I just went along for the ride, as usual) to take advantage of the weather and get out and about.
The abbey is located between Avignon and Tarascon, not a far drive from Arles.  It was founded in about 960 by Conrad the Pacific, King of Arles, and dedicated to Saint Michel.  It is a Premonstratenian monastery.  There is more history, of course, but as I am not Catholic or French, it just doesn't make too much sense to me.  If you are interested, here is the official link:  There is a restaurant, rooms to stay in, and a gift shop.  I think it is a retreat center, too.
We wandered around the grounds for a bit, hiking around and checking out the herbs and berries growing wild everywhere.

We went into the church, where sunlight was streaming through the windows.

And we checked out the little village that is set up behind glass, kind of crèche style.  To tell the truth, that is probably why I started thinking of this place to begin with.  Christmas, manger scenes, etc. on the brain.


It is very elaborate, filled with all kinds of characters from the village, the Bible and local stories, but I was fascinated by the monk and his still.  He is having some of his liqueur and his nose is quite red, meaning he has had quite a bit of this lovely liquid that even Alphonse Daudet wrote about in his Lettres de Mon Moulin.  We probably spent 30 minutes in front of this display, laughing and pointing at all the various figurines.
I did indeed taste this drink, Liqueur des Prémontrés, as Chef Érick bought some to take home.

Unfortunately, I did not bring any home with me.  I am quite sure he still has the bottle stashed in the secret cabinet in the dining room...  This drink is also known by the name L'Elixir du Révérend Père Gaucher.
Having grown up in a very strict Baptist church ("Thou shalt not partake of anything even resembling alcohol" or something to that effect was on the wall of my grandmother's church), I find this fascinating.  Dom Perignon and his champagne is another example of enterprising monks finding ways to support their monastery. The fact that Catholics could consume alcohol made us Baptists very, very suspicious of them.  Oh, it was being consumed (and probably made) by members of my family, we just did not talk about it.
I found several links to the Frigolet Liqueur by googling the name, but not too much information.  I did find this lovely poster--

Isn't it beautiful?

À votre santé, les Prémontrés! 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Half of the Arles 6

The Sabbatical Chef, Betty and Yolanda

Here we are!  Half of the Arles 6 gang.  At the Piedmont restaurant in downtown Durham, just right up the street from where our Farmers' Market is held every Saturday.  Yolanda was the photographer, holding my camera out at arm's length to snap the photo.

Betty's melted Brie and fig chutney sandwich

Yolanda's house made pastrami, caramelized onions and gruyère sandwich
(she pronounced this the best pastrami she's ever eaten)

my trout, pickled red onion and caper aïoli sandwich

The sandwiches at the Piedmont come with pommes frites or salad.  I cannot believe I turned down frites, but I also love house made vinaigrette dressing and this one did not disappoint. It's amazing what one can do with olive oil and vinegar.
While we were eating and talking (quite a bit of the latter), it started to snow.  The Piedmont's front is entirely glass so we could see the flakes falling.  It didn't last long and we didn't get much, just a dusting, but it was appropriate on the last day of school before our break.
Betty came bearing gifts for Yolanda and me.  The woman has excellent taste.  I know this firsthand, having observed her shopping in Paris!

She brought handmade chocolates by François for Yolanda and a French flag tree ornament for me. 

What thoughtful cadeaux.  She certainly knows us both very well.
Here's to a hopeful Arles 6 reunion in 2010!

Bon appétit, mes amies!

PS- Yolanda did not share the chocolat...  But that's ok, I doubt I would've either.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mary's Menagerie

It is Friday, December 18.  Most of the middle school mid-term exams have been taken and my French 7 and 8 ones are sitting in my bag ready to go home and be graded at some point during the break.  (I have actually started my 8th grade ones... go me!).   The kiddies are happy and the teachers are happier.  Breaks are good.  Snow is predicted for this afternoon.  The grocery stores are probably out of bread and milk by now.  My college-aged son arrived home yesterday, his truck loaded down with dirty laundry.  He is working today to earn some money for second semester.  I did indeed love waking him up at 6:45 am, in some sick mom kind of way.
I told my 6th graders all about the Christmas crèche or manger scene and santons figures.  A.C. Moore was generous enough to put a half-off coupon in the paper a couple of weeks ago so I went there to buy Sculpey clay for our project.  Everyone decided which animal they would make for the crèche.  I encouraged farm animals but didn't insist.  I tried to keep away from religious overtones, too, since we are an independent, non-religious school.  We kneaded, rolled, shaped, ate éclairs and listened to Yannick Noah while we worked.  For inspiration, you know.  I love his upbeat music!
So here is what we managed to come up with in about an hour's time--


One girl did fashion a Mary out of clay so I've titled our work "Mary's Menagerie."
We have a giraffe, a duck, a pig, a bunny, a snail, a rooster, a snake, a goat, a cat, two sheep, a jelly fish, a puppy, two Christmas-colored mice, Mary and a bearded dragon ("NOT a gila monster, madame," to quote the young man who made that one).
Up close views of a few of them--

Oui, my chèvre is pink... a lot of good things are, you know!

Les souris not yet being chased away by the cat...

Just wouldn't be French without an escargot, now would it?

And, bien sûr, the most Gallic of them all, le coq, symbol of France.

Once again, I thank my friend Daniela for her artistic help and input.  It pays to surround oneself with talented people.

Yolanda, of the infamous Arles 6, and I are heading off to lunch at Piedmont in downtown Durham in just a little bit.  Betty, also a member of my Arles gang, is coming to town and we are meeting her.  I've only been to Piedmont once and I can't wait.  I googled them, of course, and my tummy is growling as I salivate over the menu.  Take a look and you'll understand.
Sandwiches:  melted brie, beef meatballs with marinara and mozzarella, fried trout with caper aïoli (I LOVE this stuff), housemade pastrami with caramelized onions (if you know me or have read this blog before you KNOW how I feel about caramelized onions); other stuff: soup and pizza of the day, vegetable risotto, charcuterie (a recent French 8 vocab word) plate with pâté...  How on earth will I choose?  At a Wine Authorities Saturday tasting, Seth and Craig served up some of Piedmont's housemade sausages while we sampled wines.  The boudin blanc was far better than any I tasted in France.
J'ai faim, j'ai très faim...  je meurs de faim... j'ai une faim de loup.  Lovely sayings to express hunger.
I am hungry, I am very hungry (literally I have hunger)... I am dying of hunger... I am hungry as a wolf.  Sounds better in le français.

Chef Érick's Classic Aïoli

1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 c. or so olive oil (preferably a fruity and not highly acidic oil)
2 garlic cloves, pureed

Prepare the garlic:
On a small plate, squeeze juice from half a lemon, take a sharp-pronged fork and place the prongs flat on the plate, take a peeled garlic clove (the larger the easier to handle) and scrape it back and forth on the tips of the prongs.  The puree will be fine and lightly cured by the acid of the lemon juice, making it more digestible and perfect for cold sauces and salad dressings.

Prepare the mayonnaise:
In a bowl, start stirring with a whisk or a fork the egg yolk, another squirt or two of lemon juice, the pinch of salt and the mustard; pour in olive oil in a steady, thin stream, carefully whisking it into the yolk mixture, stop when you reach a good and relatively solid texture (this takes a while-- it is nice to have a partner to help pour the olive oil for you and to take turns when your arm gets tired!).
Pour the pureed garlic into the mayonnaise, whip up stiff and put aside.   (Ok, you can use a blender, if you want!)

My friend Tammy in Arizona recently tried to whip some up and it never became mayonnaise consistency.  I hope she will try again sometime.  I met Tammy in Arles when she and her husband Chuck came for a cooking week.  We've stayed in touch and even saw each other last summer when she came to Raleigh to visit a friend.

This is pure gold... very good with steamed vegetables (carrots, potatoes , cauliflower, turnips), fresh vegetables (tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, carrots, etc), fish (salmon, shrimp, tuna, poached de-salted salt cod), hard-boiled eggs, crusty French bread to name a few of the ways I've eaten it.
In Provence, there are aïoli-making contests, much like we Southerners have BBQ sauce cook-offs.  I believe that generous amounts of rosé are necessary, however.  Keep that in mind and drink pink!

Bon appétit, mes animaux!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gifts 2

Today, Jim,  one of my former students (known as Jimmy when he was a student in my very first 7th grade homeroom in 1980-81) sent me a little gift-- two jars of his very own barbecue sauce.  I didn't even know he was making it!  His daughter comes to the after school study hall I supervise every day.  His wife made the delivery.   Quelle bonne service, n'est-ce pas?
For those of you who do not live in Durham, North Carolina, I will explain the name.  Durham is known as The Bull City because we were home to the Bull Durham Tobacco Factory.  Yep, we had a thriving tobacco industry going on here in the not so distant past.  When I first moved here in 1980, on a day when the wind was blowing just right I could smell tobacco being turned into cigarettes by just stepping outside my classroom.  The tobacco and cigarette industries are gone now, but the nickname, The Bull City, has stuck with us.  Our AAA baseball team is the Durham Bulls.  Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon made us famous in the movie Bull Durham.  We were single A then, owned by the Atlanta Braves.  We are now owned by the Tampa Bay  Marlins Rays (merci mille fois to Betty who caught my goof-up here-- where is my un-ex sports expert editor when I need him??).  There is talk of a sequel... I will be on the set for that one, if there is any way possible.  I will not allow Kevin to come to town a second time without meeting me.  (I missed it the first go-around... I was pregnant in 1987.  The film was released in 1988.)
But I digress here.  Back to the BBQ sauce.  I plan to try it out on my eaters tonight and see what they think.  Here's the website: WWW.BULLCITYBBQ.COM

To read about my eaters, check out today's Durham Herald-Sun article at:
I'll let you know how the taste test goes!

Bon appétit, Bull City!

Note:  We tried the sauce with poulet rôti, (Harris Teeter roasted chicken) and it was really good!  Go, Jimmy!  Bravo!  When the weather warms up a bit, I plan to try something on the grill and use it.


Le Père Noël is here in my classroom with some beautifully wrapped gifts.  My advisees and I decided we would draw names and play "Secret Snowflake" -- our version of Secret Santa.  We brought in little gifts for each other for 5 days.  One of my advisees brought in the little French Père Noël and he kept watch over the gifts.
Choosing just the right gift for someone is one of life's greatest pleasures.  I am lucky if I am able to do that once or twice a year.  You know, the AH HA! moment when you see something that you just know is the perfect fit for a friend or relative.  I gave my Secret Snowflake some bubblegum shaped like coal and she loved it.  It turned her tongue and teeth black when she chewed it.  Just a little thing but right up a 7th grader's alley.
My friend Daniela came in one day this fall with a gift for me.  She is like that-- always very thoughtful.  I am the recipient of her generous nature more times than I deserve.  She loves thrift and secondhand shops as much as I do.  Just one of the things we have in common.  This is what she found for me:

This, mes amis, is the Bible of French cooking-- Larousse Gastronomique.  She found this tome, formerly on the shelf of the Muscle Shoals Regional Library, while she was out and about one day.  It is the English version,  printed in 1961.  It includes prefaces to the original version written by Auguste Escoffier and Philéas Gilbert.   It is 1101 pages thick and has 8500 recipes and 1000 illustrations.  It is known as the "Encyclopedia of Food, Wine and Cookery."  I must admit that it scares me a bit.  Or maybe overwhelms me is more appropriate.  However, I pull it out once in a while and just randomly open it to a page and read. 
Potatoes is the heading I am looking at right now.  Parmentier potatoes (Oh, Julia!), parsley potatoes, potatoes à la paysanne (made with sorrel, butter, chervil, garlic, salt pepper and meat stock), potato purée (otherwise known as mashed potatoes), potato purée à la crème (is there any other way??), potato purée au gratin (with some grated cheese on top and baked), potato purée soup, potato quenelles à l'alsacienne (mashed potatoes with eggs, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg added to make a paste, quenelled or shaped into balls and then poached in salted water, drained, placed in a buttered dish and drizzled with hot noisette butter mixed with freshly grated lightly fried breadcrumbs), potato quenelles with Parmesan cheese, etc etc etc.  Since it is now noon and I am starving, I think I will stop right here.  Hmmm... wonder where I can find some potatoes for lunch?

Parmentier potatoes are named for Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813) a fascinating fellow who is remembered as a "vocal promoter of the potato as a food source for humans in France and throughout Europe" according to Wikipedia.  Here is the recipe found in Larousse--

Parmentier Potatoes
Pommes de terre parmentier

Cut potatoes into pieces about 1/3 inch square.  Cook them in butter.  Serve in a vegetable dish and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Note:  These potatoes are more often cooked with the meat with which they are served.

Here is another version, with specific ingredient amounts... Julia loved them and they are so simple!

Parmentier Potatoes

Serves 4
1 1/2 lb. potatoes
1 c. butter
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped for garnish
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.
Peel and cut the potatoes into small pieces, about 1/2 inch square.  Season the diced potatoes with salt and pepper.
Cook in melted butter in the oven for about 25 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown.
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley as a garnish.

Bon appétit, Larousse Gastronomique!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas and cookies

Look who is climbing La Tour Eiffel on my Christmas tree, mon sapin de Noël.  That's right,  Santa himself.  Le Père Noël.  I hope that he will be the only one climbing the tree and not Rusty or Callie, the cats.
But, yes, the tree is up, the front porch is strung with lights and there are two presents under the tree, thanks to my in-laws.  First and foremost this week, though, is not Christmas, but surviving exams.  Both sons are taking them and I am writing them.  A bit of stress.
So what does one do when one is stressed?  One bakes.


I made scones yesterday morning and even sent some to the head of my school.  He has taken to stopping me on the sidewalk to discuss cooking, even going so far as tell me all about the homemade apple pie he made a couple of weeks ago.  There are no photos, he says, so I guess I just have to take his word for it.  His daughter helped him so I could ask her if I wanted to, but I suppose I believe him.  He was quite proud of himself for making this pie.  He did tell a story on himself, though.  It seems that when he was first married, his wife made an apple pie for him.  He made the all-too-familiar newlywed mistake of telling his lovely bride that it didn't taste as good as his mother's.  I think he didn't appreciate her crust.  Well, twenty plus years of marriage later, he has not tasted another of her apple pies because she never made another one.  He made the same mistake with her macaroni and cheese, too.  You guessed it, he hasn't had homemade mac and cheese since. 
I also made cookies.  I love to bake cookies.  (I also love to eat cookies, of course.  I'm afraid that one day I will look in the mirror and I'll be blue and have googly eyes...)
But the cookies and accompanying hot chocolate did help with the studying and writing.

makes 6 dozen cookies
1 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 c. sifted flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
Sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 400F.  Mix shortening, sugar and eggs thoroughly.  Blend flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt.  Stir into shortening mixture.  Shape dough into 1 inch balls.  Roll in mixture of 1/4 c. sugar and cinnamon.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes.

Bon appétit, Cookie Monster!

Friday, December 11, 2009

La Tour d'Argent


Isn't this photo lovely?  Doesn't it make you want to cruise along the Seine?  If you've ever taken the bateau ride you've passed by the famous restaurant La Tour d'Argent whether you knew it or not.  It's the tallestl building pictured here, all lit up.  The view from the restaurant is of the back of Notre Dame cathedral on the Ile de la Cité (check out their website -  It's been in the news of late because a wine auction was held this week, selling off 18,000 bottles from their 450,000 bottle cellar.  A 1788 bottle of cognac sold for 25,000 euros, about $37,000, these days and times.  The proceeds of that bottle went to a children's charity, Association Petits Princes.  A London-based French entrepreneur bought it.  Collectors and investors from France, Japan, the U.S. and Russia bought up the bottles, spending approximately 1.54 million euros (about 2.3 million dollars).  Evidently, room is needed for new bottles and money is needed to redo the kitchen in order to try to earn back the lost Michelin stars.  I am quite sure that I will never grace the dining room of La Tour d'Argent, but I will continue to admire it from the Seine on my annual cruise down the river.  I am equally as sure that my taste buds would not know the difference between a $37,000 dollar bottle of cognac and, say, one that cost $30 (I do not think I've ever bought a bottle... I've sampled it, though).
Note:  I did some research after first posting this-- I asked Seth at Wine Authorities what one should expect to pay for a "decent" bottle of cognac.  He came back with $200.  Okay then.  Next, I asked the bartender at Nantucket Grill at Sutton Station where I was sipping a glass of Pinot Noir and he said to  never go under $30, $50-$60 is more like it, but that there are bottles of the stuff that go for about $3000.  Evidently they are in beautiful crystal bottles that are collectors' items.

Did you know that the restaurant in the movie Ratatouille is based on La Tour d'Argent?  Now you do!  I love that movie-- the scene when the rats are on the roof roasting their cheese and they get hit by lightening is too funny.
It is Friday.  I do not have after school study hall duty so I am able to leave school at the "normal" time, around 3:30.  I think a civilized celebration is in order.  A celebration of another good week, chilly weather signaling the approach of Christmas, the fact that one of my all-time favorite students (I know, I know, I am not supposed to have favorites) is home from his tour in Afghanistan safe and sound, the ASU Mountaineers are in the play-offs, traveling to Montana to play tomorrow on their way to another possible national championship, Durham Academy's varsity basketball teams traveling to Charlotte to play two games (the boys' team won in overtime against Hickory Grove), and the Guilford College men's JV basketball team will play in the Dean Dome Saturday afternoon.
Anyway, here is what a civilized afternoon looks like...

 Tomorrow I am taking a group of my students and the BFF to the Saturday afternoon performance of "Phantom of the Opera" at the DPAC, Durham's fabulous new performing arts facility.  I cannot wait.  I've never seen the stage production.  I've watched the 1943 film version with Claude Rains several times, though, because my son was obsessed with it when he was around 8 or 9 years old.
Hmmm, as for dinner, a nice warm pot of ratatouille would taste good tonight, n'est-ce pas?  I don't know if they serve this at La Tour d'Argent or not.  Pressed duck is their speciality.  They even have a farm where they raise their own ducks and when you order one, you receive a card with its number.  At least that's what I read.

(from My French Kitchen by Joanne Harris - author of Chocolat- & Fran Warde)
Serves 6

9 Tbsp. olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into chunks
2 eggplants, cut into chunks
4 zucchini, cut into chunks
3 (14 1/2 oz) cans chopped tomatoes in juice, or 2 lbs ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled
Bunch of oregano, chopped
Bunch of marjoram, chopped
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat 3 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic, and sauté for 3 minutes.  Add the peppers, eggplants, and zucchini; mix well and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have gained a little color.  The add the tomatoes, 1 2/3 cups water, the oregano, marjoram, parsley, salt and pepper; mix well and simmer gently over medium-low heat for 1 hour, stirring from time to time.  Stir in the remaining 6 Tbsp olive oil and check the seasoning.  Serve hot or at room temperature.
For variations, try using red wine instead of water, or chilies for extra bite.

Anouchka's Chile Garlic Bread
Serves 6

1 medium-hot fresh red chile, such as jalapeno or red cherry
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 tsp coarse sea salt
12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 baguette

Heat the oven to 375F.
Cut the chile in half lengthways, remove the seeds, and dice the flesh.  (Keep the seeds in if you like the heat.)  Put the chile, garlic, thyme leaves (stripped from the stalks), and salt in a mortar and pestle, and pound until it forms a paste.  Put the butter in a bowl, add the paste, and mix well.
Slice the bread almost to the bottow every 1 1/4 inches or so, then put some of the butter into each incision, spreading it over the inner surfaces.  Put the bread on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Serve hot.

(If the strength of the garlic seems a little overpowering to you, roast it in the over for a sweeter, more delicate taste before blending it with the other ingredients in a mortar and pestle.)

Bon appétit et bon weekend, Paris!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Le shopping

Oui,  Pinky and I are always ready to go back to Paris.  If I were in Paris right now, though, I would not be shopping.  (Well, maybe for les petits cadeaux de Noël-- Christmas gifts.)  I do not like to shop.  At least not in the way that most people do or should I say not in the way that we women have a reputation for doing.  I do like looking.  As Carol of Paris Breakfasts fame posted today, the French saying is faire du lèche-vitrine- window-shopping or licking the windows.  The French do up their windows right.  They are works of art.
(See, I only have photos of food shops...)

Once in a while, I ask myself if I think I would enjoy shopping if I had an unlimited budget, could just breeze into a store, pick up what I want/need, pay for it and then breeze right out.  Good question. 
I am not really into fashion.  I tend to wear the same type of clothes-- for school, a black skirt or pants, a white shirt of some sort and a sweater, preferably pink.  I love jeans.  Since the stretch material became popular, I am really happy.  And comfortable, I might add.  I love scarves, though.  That's about as trendy as I get.  Boring?  Peut-être.
But I do not spend much money on my clothes.  I can't remember the last time I paid full, non-sale price for some piece of clothing for myself.  In Arles, I discovered that on Wednesday mornings there was a section of the market devoted to secondhand clothing and I was in heaven.  I found several sweaters there to keep me warm when the weather turned chilly in October.  One in cashmere even.  For 2 euros each- about $3 at the current exchange rate.  So, I confess right here that I am a thrift store shopper.
My last adventure out and about to see what I could find delivered two treasures.  My new favorite  sweater, pale pink, of course, never-been-worn-before-because-it-still-has-the-tags-on-it Talbot's-- here's a sleeve.
I just love it.  All cotton, too, and quite warm today.
And my other treasure--

A beautifully framed drawing of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris.  It is named the Brand New Bridge although it is the oldest standing bridge crossing the Seine.  It was brand new in 1607,  inaugurated by King Henri IV (1553-1610).  It links the Right Bank to the Left Bank, but even more importantly, it spans the Ile de la Cité, the medieval heart of Paris.  There is a lovely statue of Henri on the bridge, too.   It was commissioned by his widow, Marie de Médecis in 1614, destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution and rebuilt in 1818.  This chef d'oeuvre of it now hangs on my wall.  A very big merci to whomever donated it to Goodwill so that it could find its way to me, lover of all things French and Parisian.
I look forward to my trip up to Spruce Pine to see my family at Christmas and to hunting for bargains with my little sister.  She loves thrift shopping, too.

Looking at the cheese shop window made me think of an egg dish from Ben and Noah of Fickle Creek Farm.  So, here you are!  A quick dinner... add a warm baguette, some bacon or sausage, a nice glass of - well, I am not sure what would be totally proper with this-- I usually have a bottle of young red Côtes du Rhône on hand, so that is my go-to wine.  Some help here?

The BEST Quick Eggs

6 eggs
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 oz arugula
4 oz feta cheese

Sauté arugula (yes, use leaf stems) in oil.  Crack eggs into arugula and soft scramble.  Place into serving dish.  Crumble cheese on top.
Makes 2-3 servings.

Bon appétit, les pulls roses!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bon anniversaire à la Tour Eiffel

In French class today, we paid homage to La Tour Eiffel.  She is 120 years old this year.  We made a display, some students colored pictures I gave them or found their own.  And of course, a party just isn't a party without cakes and cookies, n'est-ce pas?  I took photos --one young darling asked me "Do you always take pictures of your food, madame??" Eh, oui...  My little Canon PowerShot is always nearby with an extra battery all charged and ready to go.  (The BFF just got a really nice shiny new camera- un appareil-photo- an early Christmas gift and I admit to being a little bit green with envy.)

So here is what was lovingly prepared by some of my students in honor of La Tour Eiffel--

A lovely pink Tour!  My favorite color!  Merci, Christen!

Cookies with sparkly yellow icing for the lights at night!  Merci, Celia!

A cookie cake decorated and colored blue in honor of my visit last November (they've seen loads of my photos, of course)!  Merci, Tim!

A yummy sugar cookie cut out in the appropriate shape being guarded by my pink flamingo!  Merci, Bonnie!

And the pièce de la résistance... this is a cake put together and decorated with fondant and then decorated with piped icing.  Merci, Maggie (and Sydney who doesn't even take French)!

There were also cupcakes, chocolate truffles and donuts with sprinkles consumed today in her honor.  We watched a keynote presentation put together by one of my 7th graders and learned quite a bit of trivia.  Don't we all just love that kind of stuff?  How many tons of metal, rivets, steps, visitors, light bulbs, gallons of paint, suicide attempts and daredevil feats?  I take my students to the top every year.  This coming March we will have lunch in the newly opened Restaurant 58 on the first level.  The writer Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) supposedly ate lunch at one of the restaurants there every day although he claimed to hate la Tour Eiffel.  He said it was the only place in Paris where he could eat and not have to look at it.  I am not sure I believe that story.

And I even decided to bring in my "leaning Tower of Eiffel" for the classroom shrine.  I will not be giving up my day job any time soon to pursue a career in painting.

Marshmallow Fondant Icing
I haven't tried this yet, but Maggie used this recipe to make the fondant for her cake.  It looks like a lot of fun, so I will give it a whirl soon. (I did taste it and it's really good... but how can you go wrong with marshmallows and powdered sugar??  Impossible!)

Bon anniversaire, La Tour Eiffel!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Noël en France

 Arles, Place de la République, December 2008

As usual, I should be doing something constructive.  I honestly started out that way this morning.  Really I did.  I made coffee, read the ever-shrinking Durham Herald-Sun and started on some school work.  Grading the last of my 7th graders' Paris Projects.  And that's where the trouble started.  I googled (oui, my favorite internet invention) Paris black and white photos so that I could add one to the evaluation sheet I decided to use and well, I stumbled upon this photo by Peter, one of my cyber blog pals--

I love his blog and his wonderful photos.  Well, that lead to looking at his most recent posts, one of which is about the Paris department stores Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette and how they've decked out their windows this year for Christmas or Le Noël.  Next thing I know, I am wandering down memory lane, remembering last November and December and the decorations I saw before leaving France.  So, off I went to iPhoto and started wading through the 20,135 pictures I have downloaded on this lovely little MacBook Pro.  I did zero in on Paris in November and Arles in December, just to give myself a little bit of credit.

This is what one of the windows of Galeries Lafayette looked like last year.  The theme was les flamants roses, pink flamingoes.  I sincerely believe that they did that just for moi.  I love these birds and cannot wait to get back to the Camargue for another close up of them.  They put little steps in front of the windows so that the little ones can get a better view.
Visit Peter's blog to see what they look like this year

This is a view of the beautiful ceiling of Galeries Lafayette with a bit of the huge tree they put up under the dome every year.
One of the last things I did before leaving Arles last December was to wander around town and check out the Christmas window displays.  I was desperately trying to see it all just one more time and take pictures so that I could do exactly what I have been doing this morning-- look at the pictures and bring it back one year later.

I loved this one in a shop that sells Provence souvenirs in Arles... the crèche scene and the animals.   My students and I are going to try to make our own santons or crèche figures before the break by using sculpey clay (which I sincerely hope is on sale at Michael's or A.C. Moore this week).  I am not at all artistic, but my students are very creative so I am excited about this project.  On va voir.  I will take photos, bien sûr.  You can count on that.

This was the decoration hanging across street just outside the Arles house on Rue Pierre Euzeby.  I feel certain he is sitting there again this year, looking out at the Rhône.  Maybe Père Noël arrives by boat in Arles?

And this is the wreath I bought at Leo and Jonas' school Christmas fair.  The parents and students make all kinds of crafts, invite local artisans and have a Saturday fair so that everyone can do their Christmas shopping.  We spent an entire morning there last year, shopping and even having lunch in the school cafeteria.  Chef Érick gave the boys money to shop for their gifts and off they went.  Leo gave me a pair of earrings.  I brought home some gifts for friends.  This wreath was my favorite.  At first I thought it was for the door, American-style.  After we got it back to the house, Chef Érick found a candle and showed me that it is for the table.   I plan to have one similar to this on my table soon.  The smell of a frasher fir (voted the #1 Christmas tree, named for Scot botanist John Fraser who explored my home, the southern Appalachian Mountains, in the late 1700's; it has excellent needle retention, not a small factor according to the un-ex-- the top three factors in choosing a Christmas tree according to him are shape, scent and needle retention)... that's the smell of home for me (Spruce Pine!), as well as Christmas.

This cookie recipe came to me about 25 years ago from my friend Jean Sartain.  I make them every Christmas.  Just looking at the stained recipe card makes me smile.

Molasses Crinkles
(makes 4 dozen cookies)
3/4 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. molasses
2 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
Granulated sugar

Cream butter and sugar together.  Add egg and molasses and beat until well-blended.  Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture and mix thoroughly.  Chill dough for at least one hour.  Shape the dough in one-inch balls (rolling it between your hands works really well if the dough is well chilled).  Roll balls in granulated sugar and place two inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 F for 10-12 minutes.  Adjust baking times to the style of cookie you prefer-- I like mine soft so I bake them for about 9 minutes.  Baking them longer makes them more like ginger snaps.

Bon appétit, Noël en France!