Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The tastes of summer

So, today's riddle... What do you get when you cross fresh from the garden tomatoes, Duke's mayonnaise, and white (or light) bread?
The answer... my 10:00 am snack.
There are few things better than a "mater sammich" in the summer.  I only ate one.  It was, after all, break, not lunch.
We grilled steaks last night on the deck at Son #2's request.
Mine had this mysterious marking... not the Virgin Mary or Jesus, but cute nonetheless.
The Ex-Ex's grilling station, complete with a chilled glass of Italian Vermentino.

I made a strawberry salad to go with the steaks.  Spring mix lettuce, baby spinach, strawberries, goat cheese, and almonds dressed with sweet and sour poppyseed.
Today, on my desk, I found some supplies left by my "dealers"--
Yellow squash
and blueberries.

A couple of days ago, cherry tomatoes appeared.  I've eaten most of them...

Last week, I found a bag full of green beans, but I didn't photograph them before eating them.
And here's the best summer advice I've seen in a while-- this from a bag holding the second two books in the Hunger Games series (from Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill)-- gifts for Mme P when I see her July 7 in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon.
I shall now take that advice, along with my cup of blueberries, and get comfy.  Flyleaf has used books, too,  and I picked up one by Ruth Reichl, Tender at the Bone:  Growing Up at the Table.  Perfect for a hot, summer afternoon.

Bon appétit, snackers, nappers, and readers! 

Monday, June 25, 2012

T + 7

Me voici!  Sipping a little Côtes du Rhône rouge while enjoying a picnic after roaming the market in Uzès this past March.  Note the twinkle in my eyes.  A little wind blown from fighting with M. Mistral, the wind that didn't stop for 7 solid days.
My BFF group and I take off for France in one week.  I have an itinerary that gets tweaked daily... Paris and all the usual wonderful sights to see, then off to Provence for markets in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, St. Rémy de Provence, and Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, a visit to a goat farm (courtesy of Mme P and her brother), Tavel rosé tasting, dinner with the Allemand family,  lavender fields near Gordes, canoeing under the Pont du Gard, perhaps a visit to meet Kristin Espinasse and Chief Grape at their home, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the beach in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and dinner at Chef Érick's cousin's restaurant, Le Mazet du Vaccarès, in the Camargue.

La France, je t'attends avec impatience!

Bon appétit et bon voyage!  Pack those bags, ladies!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Book Doctors, Algonquin, and Pitchapalooza 2012

Friends, fans, followers, I DID IT!  In front of a panel of judges and a room full of strangers, I pitched The Sabbatical Chef.  Oui, oui et oui!  Last weekend, I saw an article in the Durham Herald-Sun about  an event to be held at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.

Come, buy The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published:  How to Write, Sell It, and Market It... Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, aka The Book Doctors, and possibly get the chance to pitch your idea for a book to a panel of judges.

My ticket was #35 and halfway through the two-hour event, I started to lose hope.  I was disappointed big time at the thought that my name might not be called.  They were only going to call 20 would-be writers at the most to make a one minute pitch.  But it happened for me.  Now, truth be told, when I was in school, I was the nerd who wanted to go first and get it over with.  No worrying, no comparisons, just over and done.  But it wasn't a volunteer kind of thing.   And all of a sudden, I realized that my number had been called and I was to wait "on deck" for my chance.  I was sure that the judges could see my heart pounding through my bright pink Target sweater.  The three judges rounding out the panel were from Algonquin Books.  Truth be told, I was just thrilled to be in the same room as the staff from Algonquin.  Thrilled and shaking in my new Teva sandals that I bought a couple of days ago for my trip to France.  When it was my turn, I read my pitch, calmed by the knowledge that the Ex-Ex was in the room for moral support, received some great feedback from the panel...  a genre with lots of entries, who is The Sabbatical Chef?, is this fiction or non-fiction.  I had a really hard time admitting that it is non-fiction (please, who wants to read about my life?  Really?) but loved getting feedback from the pros.  French Dirt by Richard Goodman was mentioned by an Algonquin judge.  I read it several years ago and loved it.  Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes were also mentioned.  Just hearing their names when my book was critiqued was pretty cool.  I read everything in this genre I can get my hands on.  I walked out of the room with a date to talk to the Book Doctors for a personal 20 minute session and the promise of help to get this book out of my head and on paper.  Thank you-- merci mille fois-- I will get back to work on my book.  The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published will be a big help.  It's easy to read, funny, yet serious about the book writing and publishing business.  I am currently on the section devoted to the importance of social networking on the internet.  Here I am.  Tell your friends.  Send my link.  Read on, s'il vous plaît!

Here's the pitch--

The Sabbatical Chef is the story of a seemingly sensible woman who fantasizes about living in France, what happens when that fantasy becomes a six month reality, and the unexpected aftermath.  It's the mixture of a 40 year long love affair with anything French, the end of a 22 year marriage, two children who don't seem to need their mom anymore, an invitation to assist a chef in Provence with his cooking vacation business, a semester's leave of absence from the job where she works with a very angry ex, a postcard hinting at romance, a round-trip ticket to Marseille, and one suitcase.  It's giving up little league baseball for pétanque, sipping (or guzzling) rosé in place of sweet iced tea, and cooking with olive oil, mussels, and eggplant instead of Crisco, ground beef, and Hamburger Helper.  It's also the hard hitting realization that she'll never look or sound French (the best she can hope for is Canadian), that she desperately needs her children, and that she isn't as angry at her ex as she thought she was.  It's a cast of characters, a collection of recipes, and the (mostly) delicious adventures behind them.

And here's the celebratory glass of rosé and goat cheese salad enjoyed afterwards at Top of the Hill--
The Ex-Ex had beer and nachos.

Bon appétit, writers everywhere!  Write on!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Random Thursday night thoughts...

I ate my first peach of the season yesterday.  It was juicy and sweet.  Ah, summer has arrived.

My suitcase has been eagerly dragged downstairs and is ready to be packed for the trip to France.

I am trying to work up my nerve to attend an event called Pitchapalooza on Saturday at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill to pitch The Sabbatical Chef to a panel of editors.

I actually bought two new pairs of really comfortable shoes today.  I hate to shop, but desperately need new shoes for the trip.   Both black.  Not a big surprise here.

My sister-in-law really wants to try pastis when we get to Provence.  I intend to aid and abet her in this quest.

Son #1 was officially offered a contract from the school he has been working at for the past year.  Full-time and benefits.  I am so proud of him.  One of his college roommates is getting married in a couple of weeks.  How is that possible?

Today I watched kids just sitting around reading, totally engrossed in their books, at Student U.  One middle school age young man was picked up early by his mom and couldn't stop talking about the book he was reading.  I  had tears in my eyes.

While on the subject of reading, I remember summertime trips to the public library in Spruce Pine with my mom.  Thanks for passing on your love of reading, Mildred.  I love you.

My sister, Moo, has a wicked sense of humor.  Her emails make me laugh out loud.  She is ready to fight me for Johnny Depp since he is now single.  She says she wins because she paid good money to see Dark Shadows at the movie theatre and I didn't.

I have some really bizarre dreams.  A couple of nights ago, I dreamed that the guy who works on my car is in a gang whose symbol is Lifesavers and he was coming after me, but Officer Larry, one of the ex-policeman security guards at school, was on to him and was going to protect me.  The Camargue Cross, made up of a heart, a cross, and an anchor, was also in the dream.  I had a necklace made up of those three charms when I lived in Arles, but I lost it while leaning out the second story window hanging out clothes.   Chef Érick gave me another one, but it accidentally went down the drain after I returned to Durham.  I bought yet another one in Arles last year and so far so good.  Maybe that's what my mechanic is after.  I'll offer to give him one of his own.

I keep thinking about Lisa Pickles and Cheese and her strawberry-candied almond salad.  I really need to make that tomorrow.  I have everything I need.  Check out her beautiful photo... you will want to make one, too.

I am actually beginning to really look forward to my morning walks.  The BFF can't go tomorrow and I am going to go by myself.  That's a big step for me.  Quasimodo and the Notre Dame bell tower awaits me...  I do not want to die climbing the steps.

I am proud of Son #2 and the fact that he works hard at his summer job in hot, humid weather.

I am grateful for all farmers who labor in the hot sun and are at the mercy of the elements in order to bring me all of the fresh fruit and vegetables I can buy at the local farmers' market.  God bless you all.  I wish that everyone had access to good, healthy food and all the clean water they need and want.

Today, June 21, was the Fête de la Musique in France.  It was started in 1982 by Jack Lang, the Minister of Culture.  All types of music is played in cities and towns all over the country.  I've been in Bordeaux, Paris, and Arles to enjoy this free outdoor festival to welcome in summer.

 Bon appétit à tous et à toutes!  Happy First Day of Summer!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Provence A-Z Part Trois

I started this project months ago... and wrote two whole blogs about it and made it about a third of the way through the A's.
(In case you want to catch up-  Provence A-Z and Provence A-Z Part Deux)
It's time for the third installment now.  Past time, really.

This is donkey in French.  I had no donkey photos or stories until I was Chez Fanny in Pujaut back in January.
(Of course, this placemat has nothing to do with donkeys.  We found it while roaming around in Uzès in March and couldn't resist it.)
Revenons à nos ânes...
In January, the French celebrate Epiphany with many, many king's cakes.  Some are puff pastry filled with almond paste

and some are a brioche-type, covered in candied fruit and sugar.

I, being the world-renowned gourmande (well, at least in France and the US), needed to sample both types.  Bakers bake a little figurine into the cakes.  Ceramic usually.  They can be most anything-  monuments, famous people religious figures, etc. I got one in the form of the Tour Philippe le Bel, which I plan to climb again in July.

Now, to the theme of the entry... Mme P's son got a donkey and shepherd in his slice of cake and a little light bulb went off in my head.  I knew even then that I needed a photo of a Provençal âne.  So, he and I set up a photo shoot on the ledge of "my" bedroom window.
Adorable, non?
No donkey recipes today.

Anglais, Les
The English.  Peter Mayle is the authority on this one, pas moi.  I have met a few, am probably somehow descended from one or two, and speak their language.  Some of their English expressions are funny.  (Hoovering for vacuuming is one of the funniest to me.)  My English-teaching French friends have English accents.  They teach from books that use English English, not American English.  Anyway, when I saw this entry, I immediately thought of a man who met the Arles 6 for dinner when we were in southwest France in 2008.
(left to right: Pat, Arles Lucy, Betty, Dr. Rich, me, the Anglais, Joan)
We had a lovely dinner at a little local auberge that night.  Pat had met the Anglais through a friend by email when we were looking for a house to rent.  He, along with many other Anglais, have homes in France.  (And I would, too, if I could.)  Anyway, he was on his way down to his house and stopped in to have dinner with us, les Américains.  The only part of the conversation I remember is his comment during dessert that we were a very nice group even if we were Americans.  Really.  He meant it in the nicest possible way, I'm sure.

Antiquités et Antiquaires
Mayle wonders why we have this urge to acquire old stuff that belonged to others.  Bonne question, monsieur.  I only have a few things like that.  My favorite is a footstool that belonged to my grandmother.
It was made for her by a man who made grandfather clocks in Spruce Pine, Mr. Stroup.  My grandmother cleaned his house.
In France, brocanteries are everywhere.  These are antique/secondhand shops where you can find just about anything.  My friend Didier has one in Arles on rue de Quatre Septembre.  My theory on why there are so many shops in France is that there is a lot of stuff since people have been collecting stuff there for thousands of years.  Makes sense to me.  The antique market that Mayle describes in detail is the one in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  He advises against looking like a rich tourist (I will have no trouble with that).  I have that on the BFF itinerary on July 8.  I promise to take lots and lots of photos and search for a little trinket.  Who knows what I might find?

Apothicaires, Rose des
Roses are red, violets are blue...
Do the Frenchies have a version of that little rhyme?  I must remember to ask.  I love roses.  The smell, the colors, the petals strewn everywhere after a French wedding.  I know nothing about apothecary roses, though.  Obviously, medicinal qualities have been found in them or they wouldn't be named that, would they?  Mayle writes about the Mas de la Brune and its rose gardens.  So, I googled it and found that it is a beautiful château where one can go for cooking seminars, alchemy seminars (not sure at all what this is), music festivals, and other cultural events.  It is in Eygalières, a little village south of Avignon.
Here are my favorite Provence rose photos, taken at Mme P's house back in January--

Trop belles, ces roses provençales...

Apta Julia
This was the old Roman name for the town of Apt.  Evidently, Apt is the capital of the aforementioned and photographed candied fruit.  I have never been there, but I have tasted the fruit of their labors.  And it is delicious, believe me.  Just sweet enough and absolutely beautiful.
Not a great photo, unfortunately...

Artichauts à la Barigoule
A special recipe for artichokes.  A barigoule is was a mushroom back in the day, but now extinct although the word is still used in recipes.  There are plenty of other mushrooms available, though-

I do not have a lot of experience with artichauts except in dips and taking photos of them at the outdoor markets.

And to finish the A's- enfin -
I was lucky enough to spend an entire autumn in Provence in 2008.  While there were not many trees in Arles to change colors the way they do in my Appalachian Mountains, we did go for a drive one afternoon in October and I got some fall photos in the Ardèche.  This is my favorite one.

I brought home both a French and English version of this cookbook.  It features 280 recipes gathered from cooks throughout Provence.  It is published by Editions Fleurines, 2006.
It features several of Chef Érick's recipes.  Sometimes I just pull it off the shelf and flip through it.  Lo and behold, mes amis, I found a recipe for...

Artichokes à la barrigoule
Cachofle à la barigoulo (in Provençal)
 "This traditional recipe is the recipe of artichokes in barrigoule!  Other recipes say they cook artichokes as mushrooms à la barigoulo cut in 2 on a grill with olive oil."

serves 6

6 artichokes
2 carrots
250 g ( 1 3/4 cups) sliced mushrooms
8 long slices of bacon
2 garlic cloves
2 onions
1 parsley bunch
1 branch of thyme
1 cup of white wine
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cut off the stems of the artichokes, and cut off the sharp leaf tops.  Blanch the artichokes in boiling water for 10 minutes, drain and let cool.
Chop finely 2 bacon slices, the mushrooms, the parsley and garlic.  Salt and pepper this mixture, then add to a large casserole with olive oil and sauté until wilted.
Scoop out the center of each artichoke and stuff with the mushroom mixture.  Wrap each artichoke with a slice of bacon and tie to fix.
Mince the onions, cut the carrots in sticks, and in a pan with olive oil sauté both, add the thyme, then the artichokes, then the wine and as much water.
Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes over a low flame, stirring from time to time.  The sauce should reduce to half its quantity.
To serve, untie the bacon and ladle the sauce atop.

Bon appétit, Provence A's!

Summer Vacation: Day Douze

So, this morning no 5k walk at the crack of dawn because the BFF couldn't and I am basically too lazy to go alone. I still got up early, though, to make coffee and make sure Son #2 got out of the house in time to get to work at 7:00 am (I do derive a small amount of evil pleasure out of waking him up at 6:30, I must confess). That left time for making blueberry muffins for the boys (the Ex-Ex + Son #2 - Son #1 who is now mostly on his own = the boys). Mme P has asked me to bring blueberry muffin mix to her and her family when I come to visit chez elle, her lovely home, in just a few days. 13 days until Paris, 17 until Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, but who's counting??

I tested this mix by Duncan Hines this morning.

I like the nothing artificial billing --

My house smelled wonderful. The cat, Rusty, sure didn't seem to mind me rattling around in the kitchen either. He had already settled back down for his first nap of the day. One of many, I'm sure.

Bon appétit, blueberries!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Reading 2012

Those two words strike fear in some middle schoolers' hearts just one week into summer vacation, but not mine. I look forward to summer so that I can stay up too late finishing a chapter or even a whole book if I want to. For Christmas, Son #1 gave the Ex-Ex and me a Kindle, just the basic model. I was convinced that I wouldn't like it, but I really, really do. I can download samples, read a few pages, and decide if I want to purchase the book or not. It is very lightweight -- perfect for sticking in my purse during the upcoming trip to France. Unfortunately for the Ex-Ex, he hasn't gotten his hands on it very much since December. But now, fortunately for him, there is a Kindle app on my lovely little iPad. So, my books are downloaded on both.  I suppose showing what's on my Kindle is a glimpse into my private life, n'est-ce pas?

At the moment, I am reading a book I picked up at The Dollar Tree for yes, you guessed it, $1.00.

I am learning about Drancy where Jews were held before being loaded onto train cars and taken to death camps during WWII. When I picked up the book, I did not realize that would be the focus. The story just looked interesting-- a middle-aged woman, scarred by the time she spent in a Nazi camp when she was a child. She is reunited with the boy-turned-man who was there with her as well as the older man who tried to look after the two children.

Then today, Head Butler, Jesse Kornbluth, hooked me with his description of Mission to Paris by Alan Furst. Paris in the late 1930's. Nazis. Spies.  Now downloaded on the Kindle.

I also plan to reread a book I read a few years ago.

This is one of the summer reading books for our sixth graders. A colleague gave me a copy because she said she recognized me in the story of Dovey, a mountain girl in North Carolina. I was very surprised (and secretly thrilled) when I realized that Frances Dowell is the mom of one of my advisees. We even talked about her writing a couple of times. She and her family head up to Bakersville, the county seat of Mitchell county, where Spruce Pine, my hometown, is located. I do not usually reread books, but it's been a while since I read this one and I miss the little mountain girl I used to be.

Mme P, MLQ, ma très chère amie française, whom I will see very soon, has asked for the second and third books in the Hunger Games series. She bought Hunger Games when she was here in April. I read all three of them, too, in a very short period of time at the suggestion of one of my eighth grade girls.  I haven't seen the movie yet (filmed totally in North Carolina).  That's on my summer to-do list.

Ah, les grandes vacances... And more free time to read (and to take an afternoon nap in case I stay up too late reading).

Bon appétit et bonne lecture, mes amis!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Optimists and pessimists

(This is really my Saturday post, day 9 of vacation.  I am just posting 6 1/2 hours late...)

The Ex-Ex and I stopped in at the Family Fare just up the street from our house yesterday evening.  We  took what we needed to purchase up to the counter and the friendly young fellow asked if we wanted to buy a Powerball ticket.  The drawings are on Saturday nights and the jackpot was up to 40 million.  I promptly said we would take two.  And then I actually start daydreaming about what I would do with the money.  The Ex-Ex just says it's a waste of $4, that we will never win.  And yes, I know the odds are a bazillion to one, but my heart starts beating a little faster anyway because I am thinking that someone has to win... Why not me?
Let's see...

  • Pay off Son #1's student loans.
  • Put away enough for the next three years of Son #2's college expenses.
  • Figure out how much I can legally give my mom without her needing to pay taxes on it.  (Guess one needs a good attorney when one wins the lottery, n'est-ce pas?)
  • Set up a scholarship fund at my school.
  • Make a contribution to the Durham Rescue Mission or TROSA, local programs I strongly believe in.
  • Start the search for my little house in the south of France.
That's my short list.

Oh!  David Lebovitz is giving away a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker on his website.  I am sure I will win that, too.  But you can go ahead and enter, too, if you want.  The contest is open until Tuesday, June 19th.

Guess I will go check those numbers now.

Bon appétit et bonne chance!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer Vacation- Jour Huit

Pont des Arts.
Padlocks of Love.
Are you a romantic soul?  In March, I discovered that romance is alive and well in the world of 8th graders.  We had been to the Louvre and were ready to head somewhere else when I discovered we were getting ready to cross the Pont des Arts.  Non, I had not warned the kids or told them to bring their locks with them.  Non, non, I had not even told Best Guide in the World that we wanted to do this.  So, I got fussed at a little bit.  But there was an enterprising young woman selling both locks and Sharpies so we were in luck.
This is a tradition for sweethearts.  Lock the lock on the bridge and throw the key in the Seine to seal the deal.  I think that they are mysteriously removed periodically, but someone starts it up again and before you know it, the bridge is covered in them once more.
Some locks were dedicated to friends--
Some even engraved beforehand--
Some to a special someone (who says middle school boys aren't romantic??)--

And then some just for fun (also a middle school boy!)--
But definitely for BFFs--
I've already told the BFF group that we will indeed stroll across this bridge and to be sure to bring a lock if they would like to.
17 days to go, but who's counting?
Can't wait!

If you can't go to Paris and snap on a lock to pledge your undying love, whip up some cream puffs or éclairs.  They will do the trick.

Chou Pastry for Cream Puffs,  Éclairs or Profiteroles

1 c. water
1/2 c. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. sifted all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400˚F.
In medium saucepan, slowly bring to boil one cup of water with butter and salt.
Remove from heat, beat in flour all at once with a wooden spoon.
Return to low heat.  Continue beating until mixture forms ball and leaves side of pan.
Remove from heat.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating hard after each addition until mixture is smooth.
Continue beating until dough is shiny and satiny and breaks into strands.
For cream puffs, drop by rounded teaspoonful on ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
For éclairs, drop by rounded teaspoonful three inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and spread each ball of dough into a four-inch strip.
Bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.
Let cool completely on wire rack.
Slice off tops (lengthwise for éclairs), scoop out any filaments of soft dough.
Fill with sweetened whipped cream or custard for cream puffs or éclairs or ice cream for profiteroles.  Glaze with melted chocolate, if desired.  Or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Bon appétit, sweethearts everywhere!