Sunday, December 26, 2010

A very merry

Rusty the cat will be sad when it is time to take down the tree.  He has enjoyed sitting on the gifts, playing with the bows and just hiding behind it.  He will even have to go back to drinking water from his bowl instead of the tree stand.  Berk!
We didn't wake up to a white Christmas as originally predicted, but the snow began in the late evening and we woke up to a white day after Christmas.

High school-age son will be ready to meet up with friends somewhere for sledding.  He loves snow.  Hence the desire to perhaps become a Nebraska Cornhusker next year, I guess.  He has been accepted but is still waiting to hear from a couple other schools before making a decision.
It has been a very low-key merry Christmas for us.  Just the kind I like.  But there is no breaking tradition around here... no "weird" food.  (Well, I did make pumpkin spice pancakes for breakfast.)  All must be done the way it has been for as long as the boys can remember.  There is comfort in that.  First, the Christmas Eve meal around 5:00 pm.
Yes, hamburgers, french fries and chocolate milkshakes.  The men prefer cheese, but I stick to Dijon mustard and ketchup.
Then the Moravian Lovefeast and Candlelight Service at Christ the King Moravian Church.  It is a beautiful service, filled with Christmas carols, buns, coffee, and beeswax candles.  This service has been celebrated by the Moravians since the 1700's.  On my to-do list is to go to Old Salem in nearby Winston-Salem for a Christmas Eve service some Christmas Eve.
This is our collection of candles from the past two years.
Instead of a sermon, the minister told the Christmas story from Mary's dad's perspective.  He told it so well that I could actually believe that he was Jesus' grandfather.  Storytelling is powerful.
After the service, we force the boys to look at Christmas lights.  (They are always anxious to get home to the gift-opening...)  This year, I chose downtown Durham.
Fifty trees were decorated by area non-profits as part of the Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge.  The Ex-Ex and I had already viewed them in the daylight (and in the rain) so that we could vote for our favorite.  Cash prizes were awarded to the top vote-getters.  In Strickland Lobby at American Tobacco, there is Home Makeover: Gingerbread Edition that I must get down to see before Januaray 2.
We then returned home for gifts, hot chocolate, and sugar cookies.
The boys tell me I am hard to shop for but I don't believe that.  Food and France.

Wonderful things came my way.  (Was I really this good all year??)
First a delivery on Christmas Eve morning by 3Cups in Chapel Hill, sent by AG.
Montagnieu White Sparkling Wine.  The very same sparkler we drank in Arles on November 27, 2008 when he, David, Tom and Betty came to visit me.

Here's the proof--
Merci, AG!  Your mama raised you so right.  What a wonderful time that was...
Wine-tasting at Châteauneuf-du-Pape

olive oil pressing at Les Baux

lambs frolicking in the field
the mysterious bags (clever cover-up with knitting needles!) at the truffle market in Carpentras
the chef scrambling up eggs and shaving truffles into them (my very first taste of truffles...)

the call to dinner by Chef Érick
and freshly made pasta with truffles and wine from Châteauneuf.

But I digress.
Back to the present. I've already finished the book my brother-in-law and sister-in-law gave me, A Literary Paris, edited by Jamie Cox Robertson.
It is a collection of excerpts from 19 stories set in, you guessed it, Paris.  Some I had read, David Sedaris from Me Talk Pretty One Day, Hugo's Les Misérables, and Madame Bovary by Flaubert.  Some were new.  Anna Gavalda's I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere (although I remembered that I do have one of her novels, Ensemble, C'est Tout, waiting to be read), A Woman's Life (Une Vie) written by Guy de Maupassant in 1883 and Peter Mayle's Chasing Cézanne (I cannot believe that I haven't read this one).  Some of the quotes at the beginning of the book are priceless--
To err is human.  To loaf is Parisian.    --Victor Hugo
France has neither winter nor summer nor morals-- apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.  -- Mark Twain
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.    --Ernest Hemingway

My sons ventured into Williams-Sonoma for the first time and came up with a new cookbook, Essentials of French Cooking:  Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Home-Cooked Meals (I did make high school-age son promise to try my creations).  There is a delicious-looking bowl of onion soup on the cover.  That will probably be the first recipe I try when someone ventures out into the snow to buy a bag of onions for me.  A real crock of Dijon mustard came my way.  I remember longingly looking at those crocks when I visited Dijon for the first (and only) time in 1978, but I didn't buy one because I had a very limited amount of francs to spend during my first stay in France.  Now I have one of my very own!  Also a little crock of Herbes de Provence.  College-age son wasn't sure what they were, but he figured I would love them.  So, he got a little pep talk about them and how great they are to cook with.  He is learning to cook and needs some of his own to experiment with, n'est-ce pas?
High school-age son's girlfriend always spoils me.  This year, a new wooden cutting board, a chocolate shaver and French preserves made from four fruits- quatre fruits: fraises, framboises (noires et rouges) et cerises.  I will be having some on toast as soon as I am finished here.  Don't want to risk getting jam on the keyboard.

And the Ex-Ex is taking me to dinner at Provence in Carrboro (also known as the Paris of the Piedmont!).  He is a very smart man.  I had sent him a link to an email I had received from the restaurant a couple of weeks ago.  Wild boar civet was on the menu and I am anxious to try sanglier.  I've only had sausage made from it.  I am sure we will be able to dig the car out and the roads will be clear by tomorrow night.  That will be worth going out into the snow for!
Our Christmas day meal is always Honey-Baked Ham.  High school-age son chose macaroni and cheese and college-age son chose mashed potatoes.  I chose green beans.  The Ex-Ex is such a good eater that he eats pretty much whatever is put in front of him.  I used some of my new Dijon moutarde with my ham.  Yum!  Pumpkin pie and homemade chocolate chip cookies from high school-age girlfriend.  (Hers are way better than mine-- I must get the recipe.)
And leftovers will be available today.

Bon appétit to my generous friends and family!  Merci beaucoup!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December Herald-Sun article

 (left to right:  Ann Prospero, Amy Tournquist, Marco Shaw, Seth Gross, Jim Anile, Chris Stinnett, and Andy Magowan)

The Herald-Sun reports that it added 631 new subscribers in the month of November.  In case you aren't one of them, here's the link to my latest article about the chefs pictured above.

Bon appétit, Durham!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Big Ed's

I actually ventured out of Durham yesterday.  Yes, I did.  High school-age son's basketball team is playing in a tournament in the city of Cary.  Just a few miles down I-40.  It was an exciting game.  Our team was down by about 12 points with around 2 minutes left to play and we won by 1.  I use the royal we here because other than giving birth to a boy who has grown to be 6'2 and is pretty quick and can shoot a mean 3-pointer now and then, I didn't have much to do with the outcome of the game.  As a matter of fact, I was so bad at playing basketball in PE class in middle school and high school that even my really good friend, the tallest girl in the class therefore always chosen to be a captain by the gym teacher, wouldn't choose me for her team unless she had to.  I survived with my ego in tact, though.  I love to watch the games and cheer for our boys.
Another game today.  And one or two tomorrow.
After the game, we were invited to lunch at Big Ed's at City Market in downtown Raleigh.  Yes, I even made it to the capital city yesterday!  The restaurant is owned by the parents of one of my son's teammates.  They bought it in 2006 from Big Ed himself.  Big Ed has a permanently reserved table and chair, though, and drops in whenever he is in town.  Being the lifelong Southerner that I am, I can really appreciate good Southern cooking and this is the real deal.  Big Ed's is open for breakfast and lunch.  They boys ate some of both, I think.
They were looking at a framed drawing on the wall of the stars of The Andy Griffith Show.  (Yes, Don Knotts played Barney.)  I can assure you that a hush fell over their table when the biscuits and cornbread arrived.  (I was lucky to sneak in this photo before I was given "the look.")
I love cornbread.  Big Ed's did not disappoint.  Very moist.  Just a little sweet.  Mrs. H was showing someone at the table how to make a hole in your biscuit and fill it up with molasses.  I hadn't done that in many, many years.  And I only watched it being done at lunch.  By the time I finished my cornbread, all the biscuits had disappeared!  One of my aunts on my mom's side was an amazing biscuit maker.  We would mix up molasses and butter and then spread it on her biscuits as they came out of the oven.
The BFF (her son is on the basketball team, too) chose country-style steak with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and deviled eggs.  Barfly aka Stud Muffin (this is what happens when you let someone choose their own alias for your blog-- beware!) gave me a bite (okay, two) of his fried pork chop.  I offered to share my chicken and dumplings with him but didn't have to since someone else did.  Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the chicken and dumplings.  Homemade dumplings are so good but hard to describe.  Not really pasta, but kind of the same idea.  Not really biscuits either.  Flour is involved, though.
I also had mashed potatoes and collard greens.  I often think that the vegetables served in southern-style restaurants are the best part.
But yesterday's top award goes to dessert.
This is, hands down, the best banana pudding I have ever eaten.  And I have eaten quite a bit of banana pudding in my life.  In the South, you cannot have a family gathering of any kind without it.  One year, no one brought it to my mom's family reunion and that is still an annual topic of conversation.  "Do you remember the year that Aunt Jeannette didn't make her banana pudding?" 
According to Mrs. H, the staff at Big Ed's had a competition to see who could make the best pudding.  I was not in on the judging unfortunately, but let me tell you, this pudding was amazing.  It was still warm, for one thing.  (My eaters like theirs cold.)  The pudding was thick and very vanilla-y.  The bananas were perfectly ripe.  They didn't over power the pudding, though.  And the meringue was heavenly.  Still crunchy, not soggy at all.  It was pure bliss.
If you find yourself in the area and want real Southern cooking, find Big Ed's and wait in line if you have to.  It's well worth the wait.
Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. H.

The four boys in our car were fast asleep before we got back on the interstate.  They enjoyed a well-earned nap all the way back to Durham.

Bon appétit, Big Ed's!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Today's horoscope

I have a widget on my dashboard (just using up my MacBook lingo here!) for my daily horoscope.  I read it most days for fun.  Well, sometimes it is just plain old eerie.  Like today, for example.  I've been told "using your hands could be a real stress reliever for you..."  And no, checking emails (and blogging, too, I guess) doesn't count.  So, finding a cool new blog, Girls With Guts, doesn't count.  Nor does catching up on Paris Christmas photos with Eye Prefer Paris.  It didn't say anything about eating Christmas cookies that high school-age son brought home last night from his girlfriend's house...  I've only had one so far.  With my café crème.  That's just coffee with half and half, but I like it better in French.  Sounds more glamorous as I sit here in my pajamas. 
Anyway, back to my latest project...
No, it is not making cat sweaters or berets.  I just love that photo (taken from a calender), though.  A couple of days ago I decided to take up knitting again.  I saw a cute pink knitted hat in Fossil at the mall when college-age son and I were shopping.
(We saw the big man himself, too, from the second floor of the mall.  My children NEVER wanted to sit on his lap.)
My teaching buddy, Señor, was also wearing one last week to keep his head warm in the very chilly weather we were having.  So, I decided to hit the craft store for a new set of needles and some yarn.  I turned out one hat, but it is way too small.  I'll find someone with a child I can give it to, I hope.  I used to knit back when college-age son was a baby.  I even made a couple of sweaters for him.  So, my hands will be kept busy working on a larger version (and out of the cookie jar, maybe...).
I have to be careful to keep the project well-hidden from our two cats, though, while not at work.  I've given them each some yarn, but somehow that's not the same.

These are the cookies we always leave for Santa.  Along with a glass of eggnog, of course.

Rolled Sugar Cookies
(from Springfield Cookery, Springfield Friends Meeting, High Point, NC;  my paternal grandfather's family is Quaker and this is their home church; the cookbook was a wedding gift; the first meeting at Springfield was held in1773)

Makes approximately 2-1/2 dozen

1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon milk
2-1/2 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter until soft; add vanilla.  Gradually add the sugar and cream until light and fluffy.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Combine the eggs and milk and stir into creamed mixture.  Add half the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Add the remaining and mix well.  Chill dough at least one hour.  Roll a little more than 1/8-inch thick on well floured surface.  Cut with floured 3/4-inch round cookie cutter.  Sprinkle with additional sugar.  Place on baking sheet and bake in hot oven (400˚F) until only lightly browned (6-8 minutes).  Remove from pan while warm.  Cook on rack.

Recipe contributed by Marilyn Hipps (Mrs. Richard)

Bon appétit, Cookie Monsters!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Unexpected Snow Day

We've already had two snowfalls in Durham.  This is rather unusual for us.  I missed the first falling snow.  I was in Charlotte watching high school-age son play basketball.  No snow there.  But it was still on the ground when I got home.
Snow #2 just happened this week.  We missed a day of school.  And lucky me, I had already given my exams and could goof off all day!!  Did I grade those exams?  Absolument pas!  I didn't even take them home.  One little angel (you know who you are!) asked if she could email me over the break and get her grade.  To which I sweetly replied (did I not, little angel?) -- "You may email me to wish me Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Have a Great Break, madame.  But do not email me to discuss grades, please.  I will ignore you."  I will grade those things at some point.  But not yet.  I want to have some fun.
I started my winter break fun early since there was no school following the snow.  I finished my next article for the Durham Herald-Sun (it will appear Wednesday, December 22, I've been told) and I baked the recipe included in the article, Chef Amy Tournquist's (of Watts Grocery) Pineapple Pecan Pound Cake with Rum.
The recipe makes enough for two cakes (at least!), so I brought one in for my buddies at school.  Thank you, Amy!  And Ann Prospero for writing about the great chefs we have in this area in your book Chefs of the Triangle.  The Ex-Ex has forbidden me from bringing home leftovers... so eat up, mes collègues! We have lots of goodies on our counter at home right now, including the second cake.
We also watched a French movie I had rented from Netflix, A Very Long Engagement or Un long dimanche de fiançailles with Audrey Tautou.  WWI war scenes.  Young woman searches for her fiancé who is court-martialed during the war.  The Ex-Ex likes war stories.  I like French stuff.  Jodie Foster was in it, speaking impeccable French.  We both thought we recognized her as an American actress but didn't know for sure until we watched the credits.  How cool is that??
And late in the afternoon, the BFF and I got caught up at Foster's Market.  A very nice day indeed.
To further put you in a good mood, watch Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock's latest video-- Good To Be Me. (It's like I've caught some crazy happy disease...) Just makes you a little nostalgic for high school days, even if you didn't ride a skateboard or drive a Cutlass Supreme (I did neither.  Nor did I hang out with boys who did.  I was what my own children would call boring... were skateboards even around in the '70's?)

The Ex-Ex and I shopped for cowboy boots one day with Kid.  Yes, we did.  The Ex-Ex comes from a line of real cowboys from out in Nebraska.  And he wanted a pair of boots for Valentine's Day.  We went to The Bull Chute in Raleigh to buy them.  When we got out of the car to go in the store, we thought it was kind of weird that a couple of guys wearing dark glasses (it was a cold, rainy February day, I think) were standing near the entrances to the store.  Lo and behold, we discovered they were guarding Kid who was in town for a concert and was doing some shopping himself.  I stood right next to him in the check-out line.  I tried hard not to stare, but couldn't really help myself.  Bless his heart, but he is no better looking in person than he is on TV or on YouTube. 

I just can't help liking some of his music, though.  Listening to his song All Summer Long takes me back to the Monoprix in Arles, of all places, because that's where I first heard the song!  True story.

Pineapple Pecan Pound Cake With Rum

(From Chefs Of The Triangle:  Their Lives, Recipes, and Restaurants by Ann Prospero; John F. Blair, Publisher; 2009)

Yields 2 9-inch round cakes or 2 tube pans (would also be good in loaf pans, I think)

Pound cake:
2-1/2 cups oil
4 cups sugar
6 eggs
1-1/4 cup fresh pineapple, finely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Myer's rum
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups North Carolina pecans, chopped

1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup cream
1 to 2 teaspoons rum

Preheat oven to 325˚F.  Prepare pans with butter or oil.   Cream oil and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.  Add pineapple, sour cream, and rum.  Blend until mixed.  In a separate bowl, add flour, salt, and baking soda, blending well.  Slowly add flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time to egg mixture, beating in each addition until thoroughly blended.  Stir in pecans, mixing by hand.  Pour into baking pans.  Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes until done (round cake pans will take less time than tube pans).  A tester should come out clean; sides of cake should be slightly away from pan.

For the glaze, mix all ingredients well.  Spread onto baked cakes (while warm!).

Bon appétit, Snow days!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Exam week

Okay, if any of my students are reading this before 10:30 am tomorrow morning they should be studying instead.  That's when they will take my exam.  Allez!   Conjuguez vos verbes!  No fun for you... yet.
I, on the other hand, am officially ready to relax.  My exams are done.  Written, edited, proofed, photocopied.  For better or for worse.  We've reviewed.  Conjugated verbs.  Discussed grammar and vocabulary.  I can now think about Christmas cookies and gifts.  I do not like to multi-task.  I discovered that about myself when I was living in Arles and didn't need to multi-task for six whole months.  Some people are proud of being able to do this well.  Pas moi.
But in order to get through the whole process, I needed some of this...
coffee with lots of cream from Foster's and this...
also from Foster's (thanks, AM!).
High school-age son is also taking exams.  He has consumed a lot of this...

and these...

and these...
and eggnog.  (no picture available because he drank it all...)
Goodies have been received from some of my students

in beautiful wrappings.
A colleague gave me a really yummy fruitcake from Southern Supreme in Bear Creek, NC.

It is filled with nuts and honey.
Our tree is decorated.
(Can you see the cat sitting on the gift box?  Silly cat.)
We even decorated a little tree upstairs for high school-age son.
We bought our trees from TROSA.  They are fraser firs from Sparta, NC.
Happy decorating from my house to yours!
Now on to the shopping...

When I was living in France, Chef Érick made gâteau de riz for me for breakfast once in a while.   My guys love rice pudding, basically the same thing.  So, I found this old cookbook and made some with leftover rice.  The smell of warm vanilla is so delicious on a cold evening.

Rice Pudding
(from Favorite Eastern Star Recipes:  Olde Family Favorites, 1972)

I received this cookbook as a wedding gift back in 1982...

1 c. cooked rice
1/2 c. butter, melted
1- 1 1/2 c. milk (I used 3/4 c. heavy cream and the rest 2% milk)
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine rice, butter, milk, sugar and egg yolks; mix well.  If mixture is too dry, add more milk.  Add vanilla; mix thoroughly.  Pour pudding mixture into 2-quart casserole.  Bake at 350 degrees until firm, approximately 45 minutes.  Top with meringue made with egg whites.
Yield:  8 servings

Bon appétit, students and teachers everywhere!