Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ceci et cela

Wise words, don't you think? 
I suppose I was feeling a bit philosophical the day I took this one.  I was wandering around in our GRO Club garden here at school.  The kids made signs out of clay.
Lots of flowers blooming--
Some figs-
(I eat all the ripe ones I can get my greedy little fingers on-- I admit it.)

I cannot resist a college student selling Cutco knives during summer vacation.  My newest ones just arrived and are table knives.  I was reminded of how sharp a new little knife can be when you rub up against it.
It bled quite a bit but has almost healed now.  I kind of hope I have a little scar.  I will wear it proudly. 

I made chocolate cupcakes to celebrate college-age son's birthday and to share them with this year's new "crop" of advisees.   I also brought some to my fellow teachers.  (I thoroughly enjoyed watching the new middle school director wolf one down on his way to a meeting!)
They went over very well.  Want to know how a 7th grade boy tells you he likes the icing?

"That's the kind of icing that doesn't make you feel like you want to puke."
That is actually a compliment.  Really.  I wasn't at all offended (32 years with 7th grade boys gives you a great appreciation for them).

I concocted a great fritatta for dinner with some leftover brown rice, a bag of mixed vegetables, some cheddar cheese, and eggs.  Since I am home alone for a few days, I can cook a meal like this and not worry about hearing "Where's the meat?"

Rusty Cat spends a lot of time downstairs now that college-age son isn't sleeping upstairs anymore. 
Let sleeping cats lie, I guess.
That's usually my chair, but as I said, I am alone this week, so I took over the sofa and Rusty took over the chair.

We empty-nesters, the Ex-Ex, BFF and her husband and I, decided to go out for dinner one night (to celebrate?) at Bocci here in Durham.  I love calamari.  The little critters look so interesting.
And their mussels are really, really, really good--
They are in a salty, lemony wine sauce, served up with two nice chunks of housemade bread.  Perfect for dipping and getting all of the sauce.  Mussels Bianca from the antipasti menu.  Just right size portion after having several of the calamari.  Gavi was the wine of choice for this dish. 

And many thanks to Ms. Arizona for sharing her beautiful sunflowers with me.  Once again, wouldn't Vincent be proud?  He'd paint them!  Maybe I'll try...

So, just a little of this and that this week.  I am so exhausted after teaching all day that I am sleeping well.  That's for sure.

Bon appétit à tous!

Arles on my mind

I assigned my 8th grade students a Yabla video to watch this week about Arles.  Can you imagine how thrilled I was when I looked at the new videos for this school year and there was one featuring Catherine giving a tour of La Roquette, one of the neighborhoods in Arles?  I probably shrieked.  (They probably shrieked inside when I passed out the quiz this morning...) Yabla crews have filmed several short videos in Arles... one about the market and one about breakfast (at a bed and breakfast in La Roquette).  These students of mine are very lucky.  I hope they realize it.  At least to some extent.  As much as 8th graders can, anyway.
I also watched the slide show that my students and I put together after our March trip.  Paris and Provence, Arles featured prominently.  And I have photos from my friends' trip to Arles this summer on my desktop.
They cooked with Chef Érick in my his kitchen this summer, preparing a dinner of millefeuilles de légumes, poulet apicius, and chocolate hazelnut tartes.  To their credit, I did receive a text message from Érick while they were sitting at the table partaking of the fruits of their labors.  When they returned, they invited me to dinner at their house.  I wrote about the dinner for the Durham Herald-Sun for my August article.  It was such a pleasure to hear about their adventures and look at all of their pictures.  I taught Young Man and Young Lady when they were in the middle school so I was thrilled to know that they practiced their French while in the kitchen and at the table with Érick!  (They went to France with me when they were in 8th grade, but we didn't go to Arles back in those days so it was a first for them.)  The day of the cooking lesson was Mom and Dad's 21st wedding anniversary.  A lovely way to celebrate, n'est-ce pas?  They told me how much they loved Arles, wandering around through town, getting lost and stopping at a café for a drink, renting bikes and riding out to Van Gogh's bridge on the outskirts of town, finding themselves face-to-face with field of sunflowers. 
Dinner was so very good.  Even Young Man stayed at the table all evening telling me all about his trip.
I think I will let the pictures finish the story--
What's a Provence-themed dinner with sunflowers?  Vincent would be so proud.

Rosé and olives comme apératif (I nibbled and sipped while they cooked)
Preparing the sauce for the green beans-
And for the lamb-
Drizzling l'huile d'olive-
Green beans with ratatouille vegetables and a vinaigrette sauce-
Grilled lamb chops with rosemary and mustard sauce-
À table!

Jeanne's Steamed Green Beans with Ratatouille Vegetables

Steam enough fresh, trimmed green beans for your guests.  Sauté diced onion, minced garlic, and sliced mushrooms in olive oil.  Whisk together pureed garlic (Chef Érick's method:  Peel garlic clove.  Squeeze juice of half a lemon onto a saucer.  Rub the garlic against the ends of a fork's tines held flat on the saucer.  You should get a nice puree this way.  The lemon juice makes the raw garlic more digestible.), lemon juice, Dijon mustard, cumin, honey, salt and pepper.  Add the sautéd mixture to the green beans.  Toss lightly with the dressing.

Brian's Grilled Lamb Chops with Provence Seasoning

Prepare the rack of lamb by smothering it in sea salt or kosher salt and pepper.  Put on grill and sear on each side for a couple of minutes.  Lower heat or move to a cooler side of grill to allow the meat to cook more slowly.  After about 25 minutes, take the lamb off the grill and smother with Dijon mustard and rosemary.  Put back on grill and cook for another five minutes or so for medium rare, longer for medium or medium well.  Slice into chops and serve.

Bon appétit, mes amis et merci pour un excellent dîner!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Happy Birth Day

Non, it is not my birthday again.  It is my youngest's 19th, with him approximately 350 miles away from his mama on the day he was born.  I sent him a text message about 6:30 am (so I wouldn't forget), but I didn't even bake a birthday cake.  But I will bake cuppie cakes tonight for my advisees to celebrate their first Friday back in school. And to celebrate the day that that adorable boy came into the world.  The photo was taken at a family reunion at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where the Ex-Ex and in-laws lived.  Sometimes birthday boy thinks he was actually born there, too.  His cowboy roots are deep.  His great-great grandfather was a homesteader in Nebraska.  And the Ex-Ex's dad was a cattle rancher, working for the state of Nebraska at Fort Robinson.  We've been out there many times for family vacations.  Until I went out there with them for the first time in 1984, I had never been further west than Johnson City, Tennessee.  It was pretty darned exciting.  And you know, it still is.  I hope we go back out there next summer.  Birthday boy and one of his buddies are talking about a camping trip with Fort Robinson as the final destination.  I think that's a great idea.
My how he's grown!

Chocolate Cake (or Cupcakes)
makes 30 cupcakes
3 c. flour
2 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. cocoa
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 c. oil
2 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Sift together the dry ingredients.
In separate bowl, mix together the vanilla, vinegar, oil, and cold water.  Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and beat well.
Pour into two greased, floured and parchment paper lined 8-inch cake pans (or into lined muffin tins).  For the cake, bake for 40 minutes in the middle of the oven.  For cupcakes, test after 15 minutes and continue to add time in small increments, if needed.  When finished baking, remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Then invert cakes on a rack, carefully remove the parchment paper, and cool to room temperature.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
(from Domestic Sensualist)

6 Tbsp. flour
2 c. milk
2 c. butter, softened
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk until smooth.  Place over medium heat and, while stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes thick and begins to bubble (10-15 minutes).  Cover with waxed paper placed directly on surface and cool to room temperature (about 30 minutes).  Using an electric mixer, beat butter for 3 minutes until creamy and smooth.  Gradually add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add vanilla and beat well.  Add cooled, cooked milk mixture and continue to beat for 5 minutes until very smooth and noticeably whiter in color.  Cover.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Frost cake or cupcakes.

Bon appétit et bon anniversaire, mon fils!  Je t'aime!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

La Rentrée

I have been ridiculously busy the last few days preparing for today-- La Rentrée-- the first day of school.  (See, those efficient Frenchies have one word that does the trick!)  So, this morning I am stealing a post from David Lebovitz.  I love tomato-basil pizza and his latest blog post has me salivating and wanting a slice for breakfast.  Isn't it gorgeous?  A work of art?  A true testament to summer and the last of the juicy, ripe tomatoes?  This is on my to-do list for the week.  It will be a great way to relax now that I will be back to my "real" work.  There will be a lot of French spoken today in room 204.  Hope the kiddies are ready!!

David's post:


Bon appétit, David and all teachers! Bon courage!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August Herald-Sun article

Here's this month's article!  Read about the Arles adventures of the Murray family, Jeanne, Brian, Claire and Evan. 


They prepared Poulet Apicius with Chef Érick.

Bon appétit, la famille Murray!

Monday, August 15, 2011

This and that

1.  I don't really have a theme today, so I will start with a photo of what I want my hair to look like.  (A big shout out to the woman at Office Depot who said I look like Meg Ryan.  I hope she gets her eyesight checked soon, but she made my day.)  This is a shot from French Kiss, one of my favorite movies.  I've watched it many times and never get tired of it.  I love the Paris pics, Kevin Kline's French accent, and the Cannes connection (while we were living in France, my best friend dated a Frenchie who worked in that very same Cartier store... until the manager discovered he was stealing money and he got fired; I was living with his parents, watching their apartment in Le Cannet while they were on vacation; she was living with him; I had to find a new place to live after the crime was discovered and his parents had to return from vacation to clean up their son's mess; she got bounced, too, and gave back the beautiful ring he gave her-- she had principles, I suppose, although he said that he didn't buy the ring with stolen money.)  Anyway, I discovered (by Googling, bien sûr) that Meg is dating John "Cougar" Mellencamp.

I am not usually so taken with Hollywood-type gossip, but I am happy to get that piece of news.  I love him, too, and have seen him in concert a couple of times. 

2.  Happy Birthday, Julia Child!  Thank you for the inspiration and for letting Americans know that good food is wonderful and should not come from a box or can.  I will continue to visit your "shrine" at the American History Museum in DC every time I am in town.

3.  Happy Birthday tomorrow to Sister Moo!  Yep, you are indeed still younger than me.  Amazing how that never changes. 

4.  And tomorrow is the 34th anniversary of the death of Elvis

I was in college when it happened.  A girl on my hall was very, very upset.  I almost got to see him in concert in Asheville when I was in high school, but Daddy Tommy decided that his baby girl shouldn't be in such a place seeing such a sight.  I realize now that I shouldn't have been such a goody-goody and I should've gone anyway.  Hindsight.

5.  I had lunch today at Foster's Market with a new friend.  She came to the Alain de Welle Provence wine tasting at Wine Authorities a couple of weeks ago and then started reading my blog.  It was a very nice lunch until my college-grad son interrupted it with a dead car and I had to talk him down from that and point out the usefulness of the AAA card his dad I provide him with just for such calamities.  Hopefully, it is just a dead battery.

6.  To get through the first empty nest day, I headed straight up the stairs and cleaned.  Amazing how therapeutic cleaning can be.  We went from
He is now safely moved into his dorm room and his brother helped hook up the TV and XBox while his dad and I made sure he had his books. 
He let me know that he "got food with a kid I met" on his first night.  I was happy-- he ate and he had actually had a conversation with another boy in the same boat as him.  I think "man date" is the term he used telling one of his buddies about it. 
7.  The Ex-Ex and I went to Foster's and celebrated in the middle of the afternoon.
A nice glass of French viognier for moi and Sweetwater IPA for him.  Some birds were having a fine time stealing figs.
I didn't think it was my place to shoo them away (so that I could steal the figs myself).

8.  Bath and Body Works is now filled with pink Eiffel Towers and a promotion for their new fragrance Paris Amour.  My name is officially on the list for one when the promotion is over.  It will look très belle in my classroom! 
And it doesn't smell half bad, either.  I bought Moo some of the lip gloss... shhhh!  I will get it in the mail tomorrow.  Mieux vaut tard que jamais.  Better late than never. 

I think that about does it for today.  Faculty meetings for the rest of the week.  Guess summer is officially over for me.  Seems to go by faster and faster with each passing year.  Funny how that happens.

Bon appétit, and happy birthday, Moo!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Les tomates

I am a townhouse dwelling city slicker.  No garden except for some herbs and lavender growing in my little patch at the side of our home.  BUT I have farmer friends!  Farmer friends who have supplied me with lovely tomatoes this summer.  GB, BC, and KS.  I love these guys.   I feel kind of like they are my dealers.  I also occasionally score okra, peppers, cucumbers, and garlic.
I love this stuff.  And the smell.  Oh là là.  The grocery store stuff doesn't smell until you smash, grate or chop it.  But these little babies smell just the way garlic should.  KS evidently has a bumper crop this year.  A good year for the garlic crop.  He is the one who gave me the tomatoes with a note to work some magic with them.  Well, I have to confess that I worked my kind of magic with the big tomato... I sliced it up and had a big juicy tomato sandwich for lunch.  I took no photos.  I ate it way too fast.  Juice was dripping down my chin and I was making little groaning noises.  Luckily, I was home alone.  Except for the cats and Rusty groans all the time, too, so he didn't even notice.
I was all alone for dinner a couple of nights ago so I decided to make some pasta sauce all for myself.  The Ex-Ex isn't crazy about what he calls "hot tomatoes."  College-bound son always fusses if there are too many tomatoes in anything.  They love the little ones for snacking-- they just reach in the refrigerator and eat away.  So, while they were gone for the evening, I made penne pasta with popped tomato sauce.  I had quite a few little grape tomatoes, courtesy of GB and BC.
I threw them into my favorite pan with some olive oil and let them cook for about 10 minutes or so.  They started steaming and hissing.  I stirred them up once in a while.  I thinly sliced a medium-sized onion and diced up 3 or 4 cloves of the garlic while the tomatoes were cooking.  They started popping open and I also helped the process along with a wooden spoon.  After they'd cooked for the first 10 minutes, I added the onions and stirred in some salt and pepper, to taste, and some red pepper flakes, also to taste.  I then covered the pan and let them cook for about 5 more minutes.  I then uncovered the pan and added the garlic and a handful of pitted black olives and some black olive tapenade.  Once again, to taste.  Anchovy filets are also a nice addition, but I didn't have any on hand.
I really wish photos were scratch and sniff.  Wonder when someone will invent that for the computer or whatever device we will be using in 10 years...  This really smelled heavenly.  If you like hot tomatoes and garlic, that is.
I cooked the penne pasta al dente, grated some fresh parmesan and voilà!  A lovely dinner for moi.  Served up with a glass of my new friend Alain de Welle's Venus rosé-- parfaitVraiment délicieux.
I threw in La Tour Eiffel for effect, as I often do, and listened to the soundtrack to Something's Gotta Give and enjoyed my dinner tremendously.

Enjoy Louis yourself, if you wish, and dream of Paris...

A more precise version of this recipe, along with where I found it, can be found on this blog entry: 

Bon appétit, my tomato dealers! Merci beaucoup!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


While sitting at the kitchen table this morning, stressing out about the piles and piles of clothing on the floor of college-bound son's room and the fact that he doesn't have a navy blue blazer, I came up with a genius of an idea, if I do say so myself.  He is out golfing today with a buddy, so he isn't stressing.  Why on earth should I?  Why am I even thinking of counting how many pairs of underwear he has and wondering if he has enough to get through a couple of weeks without the comforts of his home washing machine just downstairs?  (He does do most of his own laundry, grâce à Dieu.  He already knows how to sort and load the machine.)  I have a rare day with nothing to do.  I do not have to report to school, either to the middle school office where I have been working this summer or to my classroom.  All of my laundry is done and put away.  The dishes are washed.  My bed is made up.  We are, admittedly, the Ex-Ex and I, pretty neat people. 
But college-bound son's room looks like this--
The clothes are clean.  And more or less folded.
The computer room looks like this--
It is the holding space for the stuff he plans to take with him.  There are boxes of office supplies, a small coffee maker, filters, and Dunkin Donuts coffee, a box of bathroom stuff and band-aids, and a box of bed linens and towels, topped by the Vols hat. 
If I play amateur psychologist (I did minor in Psychology back in the Dark Ages, after all), then I know that I am stressing over underwear instead of focusing on how much I am going to miss the boy when I return to an empty upstairs on Sunday after we drop him off.  All normal emotions.  His older brother is now gainfully employed, living in Greensboro and sweating in the hot summer sun while lining fields for high school soccer and field hockey practices and games.  So, we will join the empty nest households, living under the watchful eye of Rusty, who will miss college-bound son as much as we will.
Rusty is guarding the door to son's room.  This cat actually cries when c-b son leaves the house.  Hopefully, he has a short memory.  Or he may become an outdoor cat.
So, my solution, my way to escape?  Load up my "stuff"
and head to the nearest Panera Bread.  I received a gift card from Jacques, one of my 7th graders, at the end of the school year.  I have my summer reading book, The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers, by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D. (I will suggest to all of my middle school parents that they read this one... it is just what I need to read as I obsess about underwear.)  I have my trusty MacBook Pro (obviously), my calendar, in case I want to scribble in dates, and Panera has WiFi. 
I walked in the door after spotting the delivery truck
and used my gift card to buy a low fat black cherry smoothie to start my stake-out.  Merci, Jacques!  C'est délicieux!
Stephani, who waited on me, offered me my very own MyPanera member card (which I promptly registered and discovered I am entitled to a free goodie) and I claimed a table for two with a very comfy cushioned seat with a back rest that faces the window, and I am all set.  I plan to finish this blog entry, work on my August article for the Durham Herald-Sun about friends from here in Durham who went to Arles in June and cooked with Chef Érick, read my book, and stay cool in the 100˚F weather we are enjoying here in the Piedmont as August wears on.  I will treat myself to lunch, people watch, eavesdrop on conversations (the only one I can really hear is a discussion about whether the 4-year old should have a Hello Kitty, Bratz or Justin Bieber birthday party, which makes me grateful for 18 year olds and college), and forget underwear for just a little while.  A good plan, n'est-ce pas?

Bon appétit, to all my fellow empty-nesters. 

If you haven't seen the two TV commercials about kids who think their parents have no life, enjoy!