Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vincent Van Gogh

I have posted several times about my friend Vincent.  Recently 60 Minutes did a segment about a new book, Van Gogh:  The Life that has been written about him by two gentlemen from Aiken, South Carolina.  Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith have a new theory about his death, one that makes a lot of sense to me. 
Watch Morley Safer's interview and see what you think. I plan to ask Santa for the book.;storyMediaBox

Bon appétit, Vincent.  Rest in peace.

Cake pops and Halloween

I am never quite sure who or what will show up in my classroom on Halloween.  We celebrated it a few days early this year due to the fact that we don't have school on October 31.  Great timing for the end of the quarter and a faculty workday.  This guy came in the door.  As did this famous American.
A uni-tard kind of costume in various colors and patterns is big this year evidently.  I saw purple, camo, yellow
and black.
I have to admit that I miss the costume-making days.  I made lots of them over the years, most of the time some character who wore a cape, such as Batman, Robin Hood, and Power Rangers.  The Duke Blue Devil was my first.  Son #1 wore it everywhere when he was two years old.  Even to the annual Duke-UNC football game that year, 1989, I think.  A photographer spotted him and he made the front page of the Herald-Sun newspaper the next day.  (Duke lost unfortunately.)
Way cute, n'est-ce pas?
Anyway, back to 2011.  Yesterday we carved pumpkins and made haunted gingerbread houses for fun and to raise money for UNICEF.  Everyone votes for their favorites by placing money in the UNICEF boxes.
We delivered the decorations to two local retirement homes at the end of the day.

One enterprising young man sold jokes to raise money for his UNICEF box.
My advisory group decided to have a cupcake sale to raise money.  One of the girls really wanted to try to make cake pops.  And, not to be out done by a 7th grader, I decided to give it a try, too.  (I also found out that Pioneer Woman had whipped some up, so that was an added incentive, I must admit.)
They were fun to make.  And they sold quickly.  They were pronounced delicious by the middle schoolers.  (The Ex-Ex had one for breakfast and I didn't even make him pay for it.)

Cake Pops
one cake recipe makes about 20, depending on size
Supplies can be found at most any craft store-- Michael's, Jo-Ann's, etc.

1 cake recipe, any flavor or color, homemade or boxed
1 frosting recipe, any flavor or color, homemade or from a can  (I used vanilla)
1-2 10-oz. bags melting chocolate, any color (I put it on kind of thick)
1 bag lollipop sticks
Various tubes of gel icing and sprinkles for decorating

Bake the cake according to directions in a 9x13-inch pan.  Cover the cake with a dishtowel and allow it to cool completely.  (I baked the cake the night before.)
Once the cake has cooled, gently crumble it into a large bowl, about 1/4 of the cake at a time.  When finished, you should have fine cake crumbs.
Use two forks to work the icing into the cake.  Keep working until the icing is no longer visible. 
Roll the mixture into balls and place on parchment paper lined baking sheets (or whatever will fit into your freezer). 
Place them in the freezer, uncovered, for at least an hour.  They need to be very firm before coating them.
Place the melting chocolate pieces into the bowl of a double boiler and heat. (I just put them in a pot that fits into another pot with simmering water in it- just be careful not to get water in the chocolate.)  Stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and smooth.
Insert the sticks into the balls and coat the ball with the melted chocolate.  I did this using a spoon.  It was easier than trying to roll it.  Be sure to thoroughly coat the bottom of the ball where it meets the stick.
Roll the balls in sprinkles, if you wish.  Lay them back down onto waxed or parchment paper.  I stood mine up instead of laying them flat.  Do as you wish.
Decorate with icing or however you wish!  I had orange, white, and black melted candy to coat mine with and then just mostly drizzled different colors with a spoon.

Bon appétit, Halloween! Happy Trick or Treating!

Friday, October 28, 2011


I love these little treats.  I even love the name.  Chouquettes.   Shoo-kett for those of you unsure of the French pronunciation system.  These were brought in by Antoine to share with his classmates today.  He and his mom, a Frenchie, made them.  Last spring, two Frenchie friends met my students and me at the Avignon train station with a little bag of these for me.  I do not recall even sharing them with Arles Lucy, my co-chaperone.  Not very nice, was it?  I think that I ate them as quickly as Fanny Frog ate the beignets from Rue Cler when she was visiting last spring.

This recipe is courtesy of Chocolate & Zucchini, a website that I love!  She lives my fantasy life-- cooking and living in France.  And writing books!

makes about 40

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, diced
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
4 eggs, at room temperature
Pearl sugar

For the sugar syrup:
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. water

Combine butter, salt, sugar, and 1 cup fresh water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat, add the flour all at once, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until well blended.  Return the pan over medium-low heat and keep stirring until the mixture forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Let cool for 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to a day.  Félicitations!  You have just made choux pastry (for those éclairs or cream puffs you've been dying to make).
Make the sugar syrup-- combine the 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over high heat, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 1 minute.  Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400˚ (200˚C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Sprinkle pearl sugar evenly on the prepared sheet.  Remove the batter from the fridge and use two teaspoons or a piping bag fitted with a plain tip to form small balls of batter, about the size of a walnut, that you will plop on the prepared sheet, leaving an inch of space between them.  Brush with sugar syrup using a pastry brush, and sprinkle with pearl sugar.  (There will be some grains of unused sugar on the sheet, but don't worry about it; you can collect the grains after baking and reuse them in another batch.)
Bake for 20 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown (do not open the door during the first 10 minutes of baking).  Turn off the oven, open the door just a crack, and leave the chouquettes in for another 5 minutes to prevent a temperature shock, which would cause them to deflate.
Transfer to a rack and let cool completely before serving.  Keep any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature and reheat for 5 minutes in a 300˚F (150˚C) to restore the original texture.

Bon appétit, les petites pâtisseries françaises!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

La maman des poissons

Blogging is what I know.  I love this blog.  I love the student who helped me set it up in 2008 before I embarked on my grand adventure of living and working in France.  So, when I attended a session at a recent foreign language teachers' conference here in North Carolina about blogging the wheels started turning.  The session was led by two French professors at Duke.  I recognized the name of one because she wrote a book I love, Blame It On Paris.  I sent an email to our Computer Whisperer here at school and told him I want to start a class blog.  We've met and planned.  I am still excited about it.  The enthusiasm hasn't waned.  I opened up the naming of the blog to the 7th graders.  (I chose them because I will teach them again next year and we can track our progress.)  A brainstorming session ensued in one class and French Fish was thrown out.  Well, the more I thought about it the more I liked it.  Then an art contest came about.  Above is one of the entries.  We need a mascot, after all, don't we?  Here are a few more--

Berets and baguettes appear to be de rigeur for our little fishes, nos petits poissons.
Anyway, all the talk of fish, made me think about a song that I heard while living in France.  Chef Érick loves Boby Lapointe and his funny songs.  We even drove to his hometown, Pézenas, in southern France.  Boby was a brilliant man who knew how to use words and his songs are very funny.  Here is La maman des poissons (the fish mommy)--  Could this be me now???

Bon appétit, la maman des poissons!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Queen of Tarts

She is really calling her business Kathleen's Perfect Pies.  Some friends and I decided to call her the Queen of Tarts.  Kathleen is a retired French teacher, very recently retired.  I ran into her, almost literally, at a foreign language teachers' conference a couple of weekends ago.  She may be retired, but she is still making presentations for the rest of us.  And she is making pies!  The Ex-Ex and I drove out to the Hillsborough Farmers' Market Saturday morning to get one before they were all gone.  He chose apple, but she also had butternut squash and cherry.
I intend to have a slice with my evening cup of tea tonight.  I look forward to it.  Life's little pleasures.
My grandma Bell was a pie eater.  She loved to go out to lunch when we would come visit.  There weren't many choices in Spruce Pine, but one little restaurant on Lower Street named Cedar Crest served really good pie.  She was a happy woman when she could have a nice slice of coconut cream pie with her cup of coffee at the end of the meal.  She loved the Ex-Ex.  He would always eat pie with her.  (I don't remember ever turning it down, but Christine had a thing for handsome men.)  When she was in her 90's and fading kind of in and out, she would imagine that she was out to lunch, preferably with Jim Neighbors, aka Gomer Pyle.  And I will bet that she had pie for dessert.

Coconut Cream Pie
recipe from The Life & Times of NotQuiteJuneCleaver

(A great basic unsweetened crust for general pie-making.  It can be pre-baked for cream pies or used unbaked for filled pies.)
This recipe makes enough dough for four 9-inch pie shell bottowms or two pies with top and bottom crusts.

3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. shortening (or lard or butter or any combination-- I use chilled butter)
1/3 to 1/2 c. cold water
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 egg, beaten

Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Cut the chilled butter into the dry mixture using a pastry blender or by pinching the fat into the mixture with your hands.  The resulting mixture should have lumps no smaller than peas.  Add the vinegar to the chilled water.  Slightly beat the egg and mix with the water/vinegar.  Pour the chilled water mixture into the dry mixture, a small amount at a time, mixing gently with a fork until the dough is wet enough to be packed into a ball.  The dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent the blending of all of the fat lumps.
Split the dough into 4 equal amounts, roll them into balls and wrap them in plastic before placing them in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.  Generously dust a clean, dry surface with flour and remove one of the packages of dough from the refrigerator.  Flatten the dough slightly and dust the dough's top before rolling the dough out with a rolling pin.  Start rolling at the center of the dough and work outwards.  Quickly roll the dough into a circle 1/4 or 1/8 inch thick.  The size of the circle should be about 4 inches wider in diameter than the pie pan.  Carefully place the dough in the pan and press it into the pan, being careful not to press the dough too thin.   Cut the pie crust slightly larger than the pan and crimp the edges.
(Unused crust can be flattened a bit, wrapped in waxed paper, placed in ziploc bags and frozen.  When ready to use, remove from freezer, allow dough to come to room temperature and proceed with your recipe.)
Line the crust with a parchment paper circle and fill with pie weights, dried bean, or rice.  Place crust in a preheated 425˚ oven for 5-6 minutes, just until it begins to brown.

Coconut Cream Filling
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 c. milk, evaporated milk, half and half or any combination of these
3 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
7-8 oz. flaked coconut
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan until completely blended.  Add milk slowly and mix completely with a wire whisk.  Cook, stirring continuously, over low heat until it begins to thicken.  Take out a little warm filling and add to the egg yolks and mix well.  Pour this back into the saucepan and continue heating, still stirring continuously.  When filling gets thick, add butter and whip with the whisk until it is melted.  When the filling is sufficiently thick, add vanilla and coconut (reserving 1 Tbsp. coconut to sprinkle on top of meringue).  Pour filling into crust.

Use a clean, dry bowl, preferably glass, stainless steel, ceramic or copper.  Egg whites whip better when they are room temperature.

3 egg whites
3/8 tsp. cream of tartar
6 Tbsp. white sugar

Add cream of tartar to unbeaten egg whites.  Whip to medium soft peaks.  Beat in sugar, one teaspoon at a time.  Continue beating until egg whites are glossy and hold a firm peak.  Spread meringue over piping hot filling and spread to the edges to seal.  The hot filling will insure that the inside of the meringue cooks, preventing weeping.  Sprinkle with remaining coconut.  Bake at 425˚ until coconut is toasted and peaks of meringue are browning, about 4-5 minutes.

Bon appétit, Queen of Tarts, Grandma Christine and all pie lovers!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

North Carolina State Fair 2011

I love going to the State Fair.  I didn't get to go when I was young.  Spruce Pine was just too far away from the big city of Raleigh.  My city-dwelling cousin would invite me down every year and every year I would long to make that trip and see what it was all about.  But it just was never to be until I moved to Durham after college. 
This year, my advisees talked me into taking them after school.  We loaded up the mini-bus and away we went.  Signora decided to go with me so that I would have a buddy.  (The kids were worried about me.)  Never go to the State Fair with someone who doesn't like to eat.  That's my motto.  She was the perfect buddy!
So, roasted ears of corn were first.
Signora enjoyed hers tremendously... a little lemon salt and pepper sprinkled on, sticking to the melted butter. 

Next on our Fair food tour- sweet potato fries.
They were pretty good.  Not great.  Maybe if they had been cut thicker?
Amish fudge was irresistible.   The plain chocolate was way better than the chocolate peanut butter.
We only ate a bite.  Really.  We actually brought some home to share with our husbands.
When we first arrived, I spotted this guy bobbing in the breeze.
Skeptical?  Oh yes.  Sure, I thought.  After a couple of rounds, though, I had to check it out.

I crept a little closer...  Ok, just to see if he had a real crêpe maker, like the crêpe makers in Paris, you know.
Oui, it was authentic.  His little kitchen trailer was immaculate.  He offered Nutella crêpes.  How could I resist?  Ordering time.  Lo and behold, a real French-speaking Belge.  Who would've thought?  He is currently living in Charlotte (a city that doesn't allow food trucks... tsk tsk).  He insisted that I take his photo with his masterpiece.
Now, the taste-test.  Sure, looks matter, but it has to taste good, too.
A satisfied customer.
We ran across this sign next.
Which led to this one-
Which led us into a tent where Chef Benjamin was holding court.  Another Frenchie.  A Parigot this time.  I spoke one word, oui, and he pronounced me Québecoise.  No, I said, I spent a summer there, but most recently I lived in Arles and worked with a chef.  To which he replied that I certainly did not sound Provençale.  No kidding, Chef.  No one but a Provençal sounds Provençal.  We sampled his bread and moved on.
We met back up with the kiddies and sampled the latest craze in State Fair food.
Two of the boys had bought some.
Looks kind of like intestines, doesn't it?  Gross, Mme E.  It didn't go over too well with anyone in the group.  Most of it went into the trashcan.  Kool-Aid powder mixed with funnel cake dough, in case you're wondering how Kool-Aid can possibly be fried.
There were lots of other things to try, but I had had my fill.
But we got some exercise walking around the barn and checking out the cows.
We bought omelet bowls for each other from a Blowing Rock potter.
We strolled around admiring the vegetables and fruit, including a huge award-winning pumpkin weighing in at 522.8 pounds.
And another one decorated to look like a BBQ sandwich.
We all had fun and could've stayed longer than our allotted three hours.  It was a school night, though, and one young man had already won a stuffed Jamaican banana taller than him by tossing rings on beer bottles, so it was time to call it a night. 
Bon appétit, NC State Fair!  See you next year!