Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sunset Beach

In just a few hours, I will return to 31st Street.  My toes will be in the sand once again.  My family will be in one spot, under one roof.  Son #1 is under our roof at this very minute, snoring away.  He drove over last night after work.  Son #2 will only be with us for the weekend, driving down to Sunset from Wilmington, NC later this morning.

He is interning this summer in one of Sen. Richard Burr's offices.
I look forward to a lot of walking on the beach, searching for sand dollars and shells, reading, taking pictures, cooking shrimp and grits (the August edition of Our State magazine has grits on the cover), and sunburning my rather pale self in spite of slathering on a small fortune's worth of sunscreen.  The Ex-Ex and I will celebrate our second 4th anniversary on Wednesday and my birthday follows quickly on the heels of that.  The weather forecast for the week is the typical summer prediction in North Carolina... hot with a chance of thunderstorms.  No hurricanes in sight, thank goodness.

So, time to finish the packing and get out the door.  Oh, and wake up the snoring boy upstairs.

Bon appétit et bonnes vacances!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese

And olive oil.  Mustn't forget that.  My first Caprese Salad was made by a member of the Arles 6 gang during our 2008 reunion trip to southwest France.  We rented a house near Sarlat.  I found the house on the internet and it turned out to be just perfect.

Our house was part of an estate.

The owners invited us for drinks one night and told us the story of buying it.  Part of the deal was that the wife would rent out the "cottages" so that they could afford to live in the main house.  This was our neighbor across the street.

Pink roses were in bloom.

We ate very well.  Note the pot of basil decorating the table.

Arles Betty used the basil and olive oil for that caprese salad.  Why did it take me so long to discover such good eats?  Better late than never.  Mieux vaut tard que jamais as the Frenchies say.

Caprese Salad
from The Pioneer Woman (head over there for a real treat--  photos that look good enough to eat and Ree's commentary make it a very worthwhile read)

photo:  The Pioneer Woman
serves 8

2 c. balsamic vinegar
3 whole ripe tomatoes, sliced into slightly thick slices (see photo above)
12 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced the same thickness as tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Olive oil for drizzling
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, bring balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium-low heat.  (Keep an eye on it and stir so that it doesn't burn.)  Cook for 10-20 minutes, or until balsamic has reduced to a thicker glaze. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl or cruet.  Allow to cool.
Arrange tomato and mozzarella slices on a platter.  Arrange basil leaves in between the slices.  Drizzle olive oil on top of the salad, getting a little bit on each slice.  Do the same with the balsamic reduction. Store extra balsamic reduction in fridge for a later use.
End with a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper.

The leftover balsamic can be used with this recipe I just came across and couldn't wait to try.  It involves some of my favorite things--



and grape tomatoes.

The recipe came from The Novice Chef, a blog I've recently discovered.  I really must work on my food photography.  These ladies put me to shame!  Their photos make me drool because the colors are so crisp.  Natural light is best and mornings are the best time... but I am only cooking this stuff at night.

Caprese Chicken
serves 4

4 skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
10 large basil leaves, minced
8 oz. fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced in 1/2-inch thick slices
Balsamic vinegar, to taste (you could make Pioneer Woman's reduction from above)

Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken breasts and set aside.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbsp. olive oil.  Add chicken, cover pan, and cook for about 10 minutes.  Flip chicken breasts and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked thoroughly (internal temperature of 165˚F).
While the chicken is cooking, in medium sauté pan over medium-high, warm remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil.  Add garlic and cook for about one minute or until fragrant. (Be careful not to burn it.)  Add tomatoes and continue sautéing until tomato skins start to soften/wrinkle, 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in basil.
Once chicken has reached desired doneness, top each breast with 2 slices of mozzarella.  Pour tomato mixture on top.  Cover pan once more and let mozzarella melt.
Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.

With a chilled dry rosé peut-être?  The BFF and I enjoyed this one a couple of nights ago at Foster's Market.

Read the label!

Eh non, I cannot resist posting Edith Piaf and La Vie en Rose...

Bon appétit, summer eating!  Drink pink!  Santé!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guest storyteller: Scenes From Bachelor Life

Just a few months ago, I got back in touch with a friend who has known me forever.  From Bell Street in Spruce Pine, that long ago.  I haven't seen him in years, actually since our 20th high school reunion back in 1996.  He is a very funny guy, a fact that I am sure I did not appreciate in middle and high school.  He challenged one of my boyfriends to a sword fight once... I really didn't appreciate that at the time.  Now?  Scenes of Gérard Depardieu in Cyrano flash through my mind.   Not because of le grand nez...  non, non.  The sword fights.  I love this movie.  I even own it.  Son #1 was really into capes and sword fights when he was a little boy, so we watched it over and over and over.  He didn't care that it was in French.  

Childhood Friend sent me an email with a very funny story earlier this week.  I asked him if I could share it and was met with a "Why on earth would you want to do that?  Your blog is about food." Well, maybe I should branch out a bit.  Enjoy!

On Friday night I went to my favorite haunt, the Red Rhino in Mebane, where a Dixieland band was playing.  Under normal circumstances the bar would be sparsely populated with people my age and older, particularly when there are classical concerts.  To my amazement, however, Sal's Syncopators attracted a detachment of lovely women half my age, who decorated the dance floor, more often than not dancing with each other.  One of the more exuberant of their number was everywhere, but I only noticed her (and pitied her, after a fashion) when she tried to entice an aged-even-more-bucolic version of Larry the Cable Guy to dance.  It pained me to witness a terpsichorean mésalliance of that sort, so at the break I offered to buy her a drink if she would consent to dance the first slow one with me.  She was perfectly willing to dance, but had switched to water by that time.

Her name was Katie, and we danced the first slow one.  I don't know when our conversation turned to trivia, but turn it did.  Did she know Jelly Roll Morton's real name?  Yes, Ferdinand.  Did I know Louis Armstrong's wife's maiden name?  Yes, Hardin.  Katie was from Knoxville: "What classical composer wrote 'Knoxville, Summer of 1915'?"  I stumped her on that one, but she got it with the hint "he also wrote the Adagio for Strings."  Samuel Barber.  The slow one ended and we sat down together and did brief biographies.  She is thirty years old, I am fifty-five; she guessed forty-two, but the light was low and she claimed to have no aptitude for guessing age.

At that point Cable Guy, seated behind us and asleep, hit the floor, breaking his glass.  She was out of her chair as though it had an ejector seat, and Larry was on a nearby couch with his bleeding elbow elevated and a bar cloth on his wound in a matter of seconds.  She returned and I found, much to my unsurprise, that she was a nurse and that she worked in a retirement home, an instance of divine intervention, although Larry will never know it.  We talked more, and I learned that the string bass player in the band was her significant other.  We danced the last number together, "After You've Gone," both of us singing it until, alas, the tempo increased and I was compelled to dance--or whatever history may call what I do--at a pace that I didn't care for.  I soldiered on to the end, however, and we parted, foreseeing that we would again encounter each other sometime.

Needless to say I am smitten, but I got a sense that I too had made some kind of conquest.  I am becoming increasingly clear-headed about these matters, and it seemed as though I supplied an element that was missing from her relationship, especially since she had revealed to me that she had training as a classical soprano.  I doubt her boyfriend has ever recommended that she listen to Jessye Norman's version of Richard Strauss's "Four Last Songs," something I truly love.  And was it also divine intervention when she told me that she was Eliza Doolittle in her high school's "My Fair Lady"?  I own two versions of it, with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, who premiered the roles of Eliza and Higgins in the mid-fifties.  (I don't like the Freddie Eynesford Hill from the London version, and "Street Where You Live" is one of the showpieces of the whole production.)  Under ideal circumstances I could have sung "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" to my beloved, an easy part for a non-singer, which Rex Harrison and I were/are.  Mercifully, the opportunity failed to present itself.

No fool like an old fool, I suppose, but confirmed bachelors live for the thrill of the chase.  Sad to say, the prey tends to leave me in the dust most of the time.  Or maybe it isn't sad.

Merci, Childhood Friend, for allowing me to use your story.  Bon appétit!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer road trips: From sunflowers to pigs' ears to rhododendrons

I hate to admit this about myself... but I am already feeling that my summer vacation is slipping away from me.  I do indeed have a month left.  Faculty meetings begin in one month, classes in five weeks. Why do I do this?  I am a certified optimist, no doubt about that.  So why do I start counting down until something I am enjoying ends?  (I confess-- I do this in France, too.  I count down how many nights I have left on my trips.)  Je ne sais pas.  But I do know that it has been a good summer.
We flew up to NYC for four days/three nights-- not technically a road trip, I guess.  This excursion deserves its own blog.  And it will get one soon.

The view from the Empire State Building--
the really tall building is at the World Trade Center site.

We got this close to Lady Liberty.  She reopened on July 4, but we were there in June.

Pain aux raisins at Paris Baguette--

We spent a couple of days in Washington, NC at the Ex-Ex's parents.  They've been under the weather for the past few months, but happily, they are on the mend.  We went to the farmers' market on the waterfront and I saw the sunflowers pictured above.

We also went to Acre Station Meat Farm where Firsthand Foods has their pork butchered which ends up in the kitchen at Bull City Burger and Brewery and in the Pork Knox freezer at Wine Authorities.

My father-in-law loves this place and now I know why.  It is a butcher shop---

but also much, much more.  A great grocery store.  No animal piece or part is wasted.
From pig heads, snout and all--

to chicken feet.

Not at all sure what you do with them...  just like the pigs' ears I saw for sale in Arles once.  They have them at Acre Station, too.

And if ears aren't to your liking, how about pork butt?

The latest road trip took us to the mountains for a quick visit to see Best Sister-in-law in the World, her husband, and her son.  As an added bonus, well, two actually, we got to meet son's fiancée and the new mutt, Bridger.

We went for a one-night stay, bearing Bleuberry Pound Cake.

We roamed the streets of Brevard for an hour or so, had dinner downtown, watched the Tour de France Mt. Ventoux stage--

on Bastille Day, no less.'s doodle in honor of le 14 juillet--

This is Sister-in-law's bike collection.

We tried to catch an hour in between rain showers for a walk with Bridger and Arlo, the other black dog, in Pisgah Forest and it stopped raining for a few minutes.  Long enough to get a couple of shots--

Then a downpour forced us to return to the car and home and into dry clothes.
Nephew (by way of Fiancée) recommended a book, In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke-- I look forward to reading it.

I still have our beach week at Sunset to look forward to next week, as well as a quick trip to Washington, DC with Son #2 in early August. And to Spruce Pine to see my family sometime.
I will try to stop counting and carry on.  Shouldn't be too hard.  I won't even put my suitcase away until September.
Here is the Bleuberry Pound Cake, from The Novice Chef, a new blog I just discovered.  A great way to enjoy the summer bounty of blueberries.

Before frosting-- it would be good even without it.

Blueberry Lime Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Yield: 1 Loaf Cake


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz PHILADELPHIA cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lime zest
1 cup fresh blueberries
PHILADELPHIA cream cheese frosting:
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment paper as well. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In stand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, throughly mixing each time. Add vanilla extract and lime zest, mixing until combined.
Pour flour mixture over the batter mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour until it’s completely mixed in and there are no pockets of dry flour. Lastly, gently fold in the blueberries.
Transfer batter to prepared baking loaf pan. Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let sit until cool, at least 30 minutes and then remove from pan.
In a stand mixer or large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth. Beat in vanilla extract.
Carefully frost on top of the cooled poundcake and store in fridge until ready to serve.
Bon appétit, enjoy the rest of summer vacation, mes amis!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Quand le chat n'est pas là...

(image courtesy of

... les souris dansent.  Or as we say en anglais, When the cat's away, the mice will play.
The Ex-Ex is off with the other school administrators plotting out the school year.  They went to the coast for a couple of days.  Son #2 is here with me for the week, but even he disappeared to see Son #1 when I announced (24 hours notice) that I was having three friends over for dinner.  Two of the friends,  Iron Woman (the former Ms. Sunshine-- I can change names if I want... it's my blog) and Arles Lucy, are former teachers of his and the third, the BFF, is one of his best friend's mom.  He wouldn't have had to hang out downstairs with us, just put in an appearance to say hi, but he opted for hanging out with his brother.  Go figure.
The BFF had announced that she was in need of a Sabbatical Chef dinner-- (French) Southern Comfort Food and some girl time.  So, invites were sent out to the other two and the dinner party was on.  An emergency menu-planning meeting was called -- Foster's Market here in Durham was chosen and over a glass (or two) of lovely white Bordeaux

a shopping list was drawn up.  It has been a tough summer for the BFF, losing her brother to cancer, and for Arles Lucy, losing her house to a Texas-sized tree limb.  Iron Woman finished her little race in Kona, Hawaii with a medal, and I am still riding high on my teaching award.  So, a little party, some good food and wine, and plenty of laughter is just the thing, n'est-ce pas?  Just the girls, celebrating the good and the bad.  No ugly allowed.
I started the day with a shopping trip to Harris Teeter, where I ran into Iron Woman, mouth numb from a trip to the dentist.  She then ran into Arles Lucy at Wine Authorities.  They stocked up on Picpoul de Pinet and rosé, specifically Vénus de Pinchinat from (adorable) Alain de Welle of Domaine Pinchinat.

(I served as Alain's translator one Saturday at WA.  Quite a thrill for me!  I was paid in wine!!)

Iron Woman arrived early to help, bearing two loaves of still-warm-from-the-oven bread.  (See recipe below)

She also brought along Tigger, feeling that I had unjustly maligned him in one of my latest blog posts.

I let him stay.  I was afraid if I kicked him out she would leave, too.  Couldn't chance that.  She is an excellent sous-chef, peeler, chopper, and dishwasher.

The other girls arrived and we had a lovely, much needed evening.  We ate, we drank, we laughed, and just generally enjoyed each other's company.  That, my friends, is what makes a meal memorable.  Not necessarily the where or the what, but the who.

(If you click on the names of the recipes, it will take you to the blogpost where they are found.)

We ate tapenade à la Fanny (I think she would have been proud)--
(I made it in the KitchenAid mini food processor that Son #1 gave me for Christmas.  Worked like a charm!)

gratin dauphinois-- (I cannot find a photo of it!  Imagine thinly sliced potatoes cooked in cream and baked with gruyère cheese in a garlic-rubbed baking dish...)

Iron Woman's bread with Irish salted butter--

I had Brie and St. André cheeses, but no one wanted to risk not having room for... dessert.
However, I had to provide just a bit of comic relief before the dessert course, of course.  I had stashed the potatoes and tomato tart leftovers in the oven since counter space was now non-existent.  But... I forgot about them and turned on the oven to preheat it to bake the tarte tatin.  Until I smelled a strange (awful) odor--
This is what happens to a spatula with a plastic handle if you leave it in a 350˚F oven...

I started to throw it out, but Arles Lucy convinced me to keep it as either an objet d'art or a reminder to always check the oven before you turn it on.
Comedy over, we proceeded to have our dessert.  The BFF is very proficient at this recipe and she also has a pan and glass dish exactly the proper size.  She fell in love with this when she visited me in Arles in 2007.

It was a lovely evening.

Iron Woman brought her bread recipes.  She is thoughtful like that.  I am going to post the knotted one pictured above.

Garden Herb Bread
from Taste of Home
makes one loaf

4 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided
1 egg, beaten
Additional dried marjoram, thyme, and rosemary, optional

In a bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary.  In a saucepan over low heat, heat milk, water and 1/4 cup butter to 120˚-130˚.  Pour over the dry ingredients.  Add egg and blend well.  Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.  Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.  Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.  Punch dough down.  Divide into three equal portions.  Shape each into a 28-inch rope.  Braid ropes; pinch ends to seal.  Tie braid into a knot.  Place on a greased baking sheet.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.  Bake at 375˚F for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown; cover with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning.  Melt remaining butter; brush over bread.  Sprinkle with additional herbs if desired.  Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Bon appétit, mes amies! Je vous aime.  Bisous!