Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Another ending

Year 31 ends tomorrow.  I try not to be sad.  The end means the beginning of summer vacation.  And I do love summer vacation.  I've always had summer vacation--since I started school at the age of 5 or 6 anyway.  But I get attached to the little darlings.  And then I send them off to big old high school.  Teaching middle school is fun.  It really is.  There is rarely a dull moment.  And this had been a very good year.  My 8th grade class, pictured above on DA Fashion Day in French class, has been magnifique.  Fourteen of them went to France with me.  We've written penpal letters, hosted Frenchies, conjugated verbs, taken vocabulary quizzes, watched movies, practiced restaurant skits, taken the National French Contest exam (eight of them placed in the top ten in the US on the level 2 test this year), shared crêpes, pains au chocolat, Orangina, and macarons.  I taught them for two years.  I hope I taught them more than just French.  I hope they are ready for high school.  But I will stop worrying about them.  They still have summer vacation to get through!
I would like to say a big thank you to the graduating seniors.  The Class of 2011.  High school-age son's class.  (I will have to stop calling him that in two days...)  They dedicated the yearbook to the Ex-Ex and me.  It was a complete and total surprise.  61 years of teaching between the two of us.  The faculty yearbook sponsor (and good friend) told us we could come to Senior Send-Off and watch the slide show up in the balcony.  Since I taught quite a few of them and know most of them, I wanted to see it.  I didn't catch on to the dedication until this photo showed up on screen...
July 1982, First Baptist Church, Spruce Pine, NC

(High school-age son's girlfriend and college-grad son gathered photos back in the fall for the tribute.)

College graduate son and his girlfriend were in the audience unbeknownst to us. 
A very special moment for my family--
Afterwards, the BFF surprised us with a little get-together at Carolina Ale House to celebrate.  She's a keeper.  And a good secret-keeper.  She was in on it, too.
Her baby is graduating, too.
Aren't they cute?  They just can't stay babies for very long.
They grow up fast.

Bon appétit, Class of 2011!

Monday, May 23, 2011


Envy is one of the big ones, one of the seven deadly sins.  One of the meanings I found for it is "sadness at another's good fortune."  Let's get this straight-- I am not sad at other people's good fortune.  I just wish I had a little more of it for myself sometimes.  (I am only human, after all.)  I am not trying to take it away from them.  Au contraire.  I wish to share!  And this time, envy brought me my very own chef's coat.  Pretty fancy, isn't it?  Chef Doug gave one to me and one to the BFF for cooking with him a couple of weeks ago.  He was wearing one in the kitchen and we expressed our admiration for it.  So now we have our own.  What a thoughtful gift!
It is has my name in red.

I didn't wear it Saturday night at my latest Sabbatical Chef dinner.  I don't want to get it dirty...  and I am a rather messy cook.  For now, I am just admiring it.
Saturday night's dinner was fun.  It was the second annual Sabbatical Chef dinner offered through the auction at Durham Academy.  Chef Amy, also known as the Nameless Chef, offered to host it at her home in Chapel Hill.  Three couples were dining with us.  I shopped the Durham farmers' market, Harris Teeter, Costco and Whole Foods to find my provisions.  I spent last week practicing crusts and variations on my tarte aux tomates (that was my dinner for three nights... I didn't even have to share because neither high school-age son nor the Ex-Ex are fond of "hot tomatoes").  I just hadn't been able to get the crust to hold up to the tomatoes.  But, thanks to Signora, I discovered a new crust recipe and it worked very well.  The tarte was un succès fou, a big hit.

And I have two more crusts in the freezer, just waiting for tomatoes or caramelized onions.
By all accounts, the evening was a success.  Chef Amy has a fabulous house and more importantly, a great kitchen.  Two ovens, one a convection oven.  Lots of counter space.  Several sinks.  A great Cuisinart food processor that dates back to 1982 (it is smart to buy quality appliances).  We served our guests on her porch, just off the kitchen.

We could hear them chatting and laughing.  That is a satisfying sound when you are working in the kitchen.  Our guests didn't know each other very well before, but I think they do now.  Chef Amy's husband played wine steward.  The wines, recommended by Craig, the Grand Poobah Wine Swami at Wine Authorities, were perfect.  I nibbled a bit -- a little tapenade, a few bites of lamb, but one of these days I am going to prepare this meal and actually sit down and eat it myself.

Here's our menu:
Tarte aux tomates

Gigot d'agneau
Gratin dauphinois 
Haricots verts à la persillade
Tomates provençales

Salade de chèvre chaud

Fromages assortis

Tarte tatin

And here are the happy chefs--
Chef Amy has published several cookbooks with a friend.  She gave me a copy-- she even autographed it.  I made her macaroni and cheese recipe yesterday.  I am always searching for new recipes for the men in my house who love this dish.  I think that high school-age son could live on it.  My imaginary chef's hat is off to my new friend, the Nameless Chef, because this is indeed great mac and cheese.  I ate some for dinner last night and I will have it for lunch today.

(I thought about having a bowl for breakfast... luckily, though, Señor, my next door neighbor at school took care of breakfast-- he brought me a lovely slice of the pavlova he made yesterday.  More about that later.  I didn't stop long enough to even take a photo.  Shame on hungry little old me.  Imagine a meringue crust filled with fluffy whipped cream, topped with fresh strawberries and blueberries.  Can you blame me?)

Chef Amy's Best Mac and Cheese

3 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
2 c. Colby Jack, shredded
2 c. Velveeta cheese, shredded
1 16-oz. box elbow macaroni noodles
4 c. half and half
4 eggs
1/4 c. melted butter
1 roll Ritz crackers, crushed
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Grease a 9x13 glass baking dish.  Cook noodles until al dente, drain and rinse.  Mix cheeses together in a large bowl.  Mix eggs and cream until well-blended.  Pour half the liquid mixture on bottom of baking dish.  Add a layer of 1/3 of the noodles.  Add a layer of the cheese and mix it up with the noodles.  Add another layer of noodles and cheese.  Repeat layers, ending with a cheese layer on top.  Pour the rest of the liquid mixture over the noodles and cheese, after poking holes in the top to let the mixture seep through.  Mix Ritz crackers with butter and sprinkle over top.  Cover dish with foil.  Bake for 45 minutes covered.  Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes or so until golden.  Remove and let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Vinegar Pie Crust
(from Even More Special, Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties)

Makes four 9- inch pie crusts

4 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. shortening (I used butter)
1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 egg

1.  Preheat oven to 425˚ if pie shells are to be baked.
2.  In large bowl, mix flour, salt, and sugar together.  Cut in shortening (butter) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
3.  Combine water, vinegar, and egg.  Beat mixture with a fork.  Gradually pour egg mixture into dry ingredients.  Mix until pastry holds together; dough will be slightly sticky (mine wasn't).
4.  Divide into four flat disks and dust lightly with flour.  Wrap in waxed paper.  Chill at least one hour.
5.  Roll out on floured surface to fit four 9-inch pie pans.
6.  Place dough in pans.  For baked shell, prick crust and bake for 10 minutes.  Leave unpricked for filled pies and bake as directed in recipes.

Unused crust may be frozen until ready for use.

Bon appétit, Chef Amy who is not Nameless!  It was a pleasure to cook with you!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Feast at the Beach

Here is my latest treasure.  I found it on Kristin Espinasse's French Word-A-Day website.  (Today's word is cheveux blancs because her 16 year old son has some-- gray hair, that is.  My 23 year old does, too.  Moms and sons... but I digress.)
This is the book to read if you want to be instantly transported to Provence.  A tale that gently takes you by the hand as you explore friendship, love, the joys of the French kitchen, and the beauty of life in Provence.  I am reading it very slowly, too, because it has a mere 141 pages.  M. Widmaier writes about the time he spent with his grandparents in St. Tropez.  And he includes recipes.  Last night, I read Chapter II The War Hero.  I won't give any of it away, though.  I will only say that at the end of this chapter are what he calls A Few Provençal Libations.  You know these have to be good.  A drink called Monaco, pale beer and grenadine syrup, another called Panaché, half pale beer and half limonade, French sparkling lemon soda or lemonade (this is good-- I've tried it), and, last but not least, Mauresque.  This one I've heard Provençal Frenchies speak fondly of-- it supposedly is divine for sipping on hot afternoons in Provence.  Preferably at a café while people watching.  This time I am not digressing, I am daydreaming... of hot Provence afternoons and cafés...

Hmmm... wonder where I can pick up a bottle of pastis in Durham?


1 large chilled glass
1 jug of chilled water
Plenty of ice
1 oz. Ricard (or your favorite pastis)
1 oz. orgeat syrup (a sweet syrup made from almonds)

Pour the pastis and orgeat into glass.  Fill with large ice cubes.  Add water.  Stir gently.  Sip slowly, feigning great languor, smiling as if you own the world, and sporting a fine pair of sunglasses.

Bon appétit et à votre santé, William Widmaier!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday's Child

Monday's Child
Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go.
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living.
And the child that is born on born on the Sabbath day,
Is bonny and blithe, good and gay.

 ** I admit that I looked up blithe.  I wasn't too sure what it meant so I went to the thesaurus.  Happy, carefree, lighthearted, joyous, cheerful, vivacious, sunny... you get the picture.

Sunday is my favorite day of the week.  I have very likely already said that at least once in a blog post.  I am a Sunday's Child.  Do you know what day of the week you were born on?  The Ex-Ex had no idea when I asked him so I googled.  He was born on a Monday.  College-grad son on a Tuesday and high school-age son on a Monday.  And yes, that is me above with Tommy, my 22 year old dad (born on a Saturday).  College-grad son is already older than that.  Wow.
I love to spend my Sunday mornings baking.  I have probably said that a few times, too.  Today's recipe was a French one from La Cuillère that showed up on facebook one day this week.   It is billed as an ideal recipe for beginners.  You have to love that.  Along with ingredients that you probably have on hand.  (I had to buy the almonds, but when I do this one again, I think I will leave them out.)
I happen to have rum on hand because I borrowed a bottle from my BFF a while back to make another recipe.  Neither she nor her husband have asked for it back.  I use it sparingly, but I do indeed use it.  But I don't drink it.
If I use it all and they want me to replace it, I am in trouble.  I have never been to the Cayman Islands and don't have a trip planned anytime soon, even for 12 year old rum.
The raisins soaked in it prior to being added to the batter--
Bet they were happy little raisins, plumping up in that sauce for an hour or so.
The batter, before adding apples, almonds and drunken raisins, was very tasty.  Hmmm... what's not to like about butter, flour, cinnamon and sugar?
Now it's all ready to go in the cold oven, not a preheated one.
Voilà!  The finished product.  Some good vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream would be a nice addition, n'est-ce pas?
I love the fact that the original recipe is in French.  I might not have a clue about how to solve an algebraic equation (I am not even sure I can spell it), but I can translate recipes from French to English. When I was living in France, I used a dictionary when I needed to find out what the mystery word was in a recipe.  Chef Érick had this one:  Dictionnaire Gastronomique Français/Anglais by Bernard Luce, published by Hippocrene Books.  I need to visit Amazon and buy my own copy. 
I also could not get along without my scale--

which came from Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I bought it as soon as I returned home from sabbatical.  It measures in grams and ounces.   I suppose the Biggest Loser people have to measure their food, but it works just fine for recipe measurements, too.

Another lovely May Sunday is coming to an end.

Gâteau moelleux aux pommes et à la cannelle /  Soft Apple Cinnamon Cake
(pour 8 personnes / serves 8)

150 g de farine  /  1 1/4 c. flour (I use unbleached all-purpose)
130 g de sucre en poudre  /  3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 sachet de levure chimique  /  1 tsp. baking powder  (I guessed- I have no idea how much is in a French packet!)
2 cuillères à café rases de cannelle en poudre  /  2 tsp. of ground cinnamon (exact, not heaping)
3 oeufs (ou 4 s'ils sont petits)  /  3 eggs (or 4 if they are small)  (I let my come to room temperature)
130 g de beurre fondu  /  9 Tbsp. of melted butter
2 pommes  /  2 apples
3 cuillères à soupe de raisins secs  /  3 Tbsp. of raisins  (I used golden ones)
3 cuillères à soupe de rhum  /  3 Tbsp. of rum
50 g. d'amandes effilées /  1/2 c. slivered almonds

1.  Beurrer et fariner un moule à manqué d'environ 26 cm.  Faire fondre doucement le beurre au bain marie ou au micro-ondes et mettre éventuellement les raisins à tremper dans le rhum.

Butter and flour a springform pan.  Gently melt the butter in a warm water bath or in the microwave.  Place the raisins in the rum to soak.

2.  Mélanger la farine, la cannelle, le sucre et la levure (et une pincée de sel si le beurre est doux).  Ajourter les oeufs un à un, puis le beurre fondu.  Dans une poêle ou un wok, sans matière grasse, faire légèrement griller les amandes effilées.  Attention:  remuer et surveiller attentivement car elles brûlent très vite.  Si vous êtes pressé, vous pouvez ajouter les amandes nature (ce sera juste un peu moins parfumé).

Mix the flour, cinnamon, sugar and the baking powder (and a pinch of salt if the butter is unsalted).  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the melted butter.  In a pan or wok, with no fat, lightly toast the almond slivers.  Be careful:  stir and watch them attentively because they burn very quickly.  If you are in a hurry, you can add them untoasted (they will just be a bit less fragrant).

3.  Eplucher les pommes, les couper en quatre et ôter le coeur et les pépins.  Découper les quartiers de pommes en petits dés d'environ 1 cm.  Les ajouter à la pâte ainsi que les amandes grillées et les raisins trempés dans le rhum et 3 cuillères du "jus" de trempage.  Bien mélanger.

Peel the apples, cut them in quarters and remove the core and seeds.  Dice the quarters in small pieces, around 1/4 inch.  (I didn't cut mine that small.)  Add the apples to the batter as well as the almonds and raisins, along with the "juice" they've been soaking in.  Mix well.

4.  Verser la pâte dans le moule et déposer dans un four froid.  Cuire environ 40 minutes, thermostat 6 (180˚C).  Au bout de 30 à 35 minutes, vérifier la cuisson en piquant le coeur du gâteau avec une lame:  si elle ressort sèche, c'est cuit.

Pour le batter into the pan and place it in a cold oven.  Bake it for about 40 minutes at 350˚F.  After 30-35 minutes, check it by sticking a toothpick in the middle of the cake.  If it comes out clean, the cake is done.  (I baked it for about 33 minutes.)

I allowed mine to cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing the sides of the springform pan.

Bon appétit, to all Sunday children!


It's harder to write about girls than it is about boys.  Maybe because I am one and I don't even know what makes us tick.  So, I will just make some generalizations about girls.
Girls like pretty food--
But are willing to try new things, even if they were recently slimy critters--
such as snails or frogs.
Girls will encourage you to buy your first pair of Converse sneakers at the age of 52-- and they understand why you chose the more practical blue pair over the cute pink ones.
They understand the urge to wear a tutu--
and some girls will even wear one!
Degas' dancer in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
and one of my girlies at school.
Girls like to read about girls and how to be one--
This is the latest book making the rounds with my 7th grader girls.  I've ordered one from Amazon to see what it's all about.
Girls like clothes, les fringues, and accessories--
Mrs. Obama's dress, now in the Museum of American History, in DC
Girls who have saved their allowances to buy Longchamp purses in France in the latest colors.

(Note the matching flowers)
And sometimes les fringues aren't necessary.

There are strong girls to admire--
Jeanne d'Arc, par exemple
and Mme S-C who is battling cancer in one of the extra parts that girls have.  She is amazing.
Girls give lots of hugs--
And bring you handmade chocolate truffles.
 It's good to be a girl.

I just discovered that fellow blogger Lisa at Pickles and Cheese, chose a girlie theme for her latest post, too.  Merci, Lisa!

Bon appétit, les filles!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Here's how 7th grade boys show they love you.  They bring you a great big cup of chocolate frozen yogurt from Tutti Frutti.  And just so they can be sure they get a topping that you like, they add blackberries, strawberries, cherries AND cut up pieces of Snickers bars.  (There might have been little pieces of pineapple in there, too...) Yes, sometimes they are smelly and messy and they have to be nagged a lot, but you just have to love boys this age.  Most days, anyway.
They are also incredibly sweet. This young man brings me macaron cookies from A Southern Season. They cost an arm and leg there, but, luckily, he still has all of his limbs.

This one read Dr. Seuss to four year olds today at a headstart school.

And all of them ran around the playground chasing the little ones, pushing them on the swings, sliding down the blue slide with them, and generally acting like kids.  They left their cell phones and iPods behind for a couple of hours and had fun the old-fashioned way.
Don't fret, girlies, I love you, too.  You'll get your turn.  I promise.

Bon appétit et merci, les garçons!