Thursday, January 23, 2014

Real life

I often think about the fact that when it comes to my work I do not really live in the "real world."   That point is certainly driven home when I come here to France and visit with the students at Le Mourion, a public middle school, serving about 950 students with about 60 teachers.  In France, cities and towns provide elementary schools for children.  Middle schools begin in the equivalent of our 6th grade and end in 9th grade.  The département  (kind of like our counties) take care of them.  High schools are supervised by the régions.  Students begin to specialize in high school and take a series of tests called le baccalauréat  at the end of their last year.  Some of the tests actually take place in the 11th grade.  If a student is successful on the bac, they have the right to go on to university.  All of their education is provided by the state, including university.

English is studied by practically everyone, beginning in 6th grade.  This week, I've attended probably 10 different classes at all three grade levels.  The students in the Euro section are the ones who will host my students in March and who will come to visit us in April.  The students chosen for this two-year class have two extra hours of English per week.  They are hand-picked for this class.

All of the students are eager to ask me lots of questions about life in the U.S. and what my school is like.  I worry that they will think that all American schools are like mine.  Au contraire.  I try to make the point that DA is an independent, non-religious school.  Private Catholic schools exist in France, but they must follow the national curriculum and parents pay according to their income.  There is religious instruction.  I used to have an exchange with a Catholic middle school north of Paris.   I know that my school is very special.  The buildings at the middle school may not be brand new or flashy, but what goes on in our classrooms is.  We choose our own materials and we are given quite a bit of freedom when it comes to what we teach and how we teach it.  We are supported by grants and professional development money that allow us to attend workshops, classes, conferences, and for me to spend a week here with my friend planning this year's exchange-- meeting the students and the parents.  Our middle school has a one-to-one iPad program.  Yes, each student has an iPad and we use them to teach.  It belongs to the school and parents pay insurance.  We have over 45 different athletic teams.  Running the program keeps the Ex-Ex very busy!  He doesn't get to go to France in January and March.  We are rarely told no when we have an idea that would enhance our students' learning.  It is expensive to attend my school.  As one student here in France said yesterday after learning how much it costs to attend DA, "You could buy a very nice house for the cost of going to your school for 10 years!"  She said it in French, of course, because she didn't wait to try to find the English for that.  It just popped out of her mouth.

I sat in on a meeting today of the middle school English teachers.  If I got it all straight, the administration is considering dropping a part-time post and/or cancelling one section of 6th grade and one of 8th grade.  (The classes are divided into sections of around 28 students each and they all travel together to their classes during the day.  There are between 7-9 sections per grade level.)  This means that the teachers would have to take on more hours per week and/or have larger classes.   In France, a full-time teacher is expected to teach 18 hours per week and spend at least one hour working outside of class, equaling 36 hours per week.  A full-time work week in France is 35 hours.  The schools do hire what they call surveillants or supervisors to cover study hall, lunch and break duties.  Somedays a teacher might have seven hours of class and on another only four.  Or none at all.  Wednesday is a halfday for everyone.  The school day lasts from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.   Being French, they have a longer lunch time- at least an hour.  No gobbling down their lunch in 20 minutes or less.  Even middle school students think that is horrible (gasps all around when I tell them that).

I didn't really know much about independent schools until I applied for a job at Durham Academy during my senior year in college.  One of my education professors assigned an article written by a teacher in a private school.  That article stuck with me because the teacher seemed to feel an enormous amount of guilt about teaching in a priviledged environment.  I am the product of public education, including college, where I paid my own way with the help of scholarships.  I wanted to teach, I wanted to teach French and I wanted to teach middle schoolers.  And, luckily, Rob Hershey, the head of school in 1980, took a chance on me.  I did feel quite a bit of guilt for quite a long time.  Until I realized that my students need me.   And I need them.   I have little patience for complainers.  Teachers at my school have no reason whatsoever to complain.  Oh, everyone has a bad day once in a while, even me!  But I hope that my colleagues and students realize just how lucky we are.  When the French kids ask me if I like my job and if I like my students, I truthfully tell them that I love both.

Lesson over!  Time for my apéritif  and I must make sure that the cats do not mess with dinner!

Bon appétit to teachers everywhere!

PS-- Yes, I figured out how to post photos!! Thank you, BlogPress!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Alive and well Chez Fanny

(I figured out how to add photos-- I write the blog entry with an app called BlogPress and I have access to photos from the iPad and from PhotoStream! You CAN teach old dogs new tricks.)

Okay, I will have to paint the picture with words because I am not iPad savvy enough at the moment to figure out how to post a photo without spending, oh, at least an hour and then I still probably would not be successful...

Paris was lovely.  No rain, no snow.  Lots of walking around.  Falafel in the Marais.  A visit to the Deportation Memorial near Notre Dame.  Candles lit in Notre Dame.  New friends.  Dinner with my Favorite Parisien and one of his friends who I think is now my Second Favorite Parisien.  Aligot and steak at Le Mistral.  A beautiful stroll through Belleville, a quartier  I had never visited.  A drink at the Rosa Bonheur in the Buttes Chaumont Park.  A view of Sacré Coeur in the distance, all lit up just for me.  And a view of Mme La Tour Eiffel in her sparkly evening gown.  Just for me, or least it seemed that way as I gazed at her while sipping my kir.  An apéritif dînatoire  (drinks with great snacks) at Fauchon near la Madeleine.  A view of the Champs Élysées from la Place de la Concorde.  The Arc de Triomphe all aglow, the red tail lights of cars on one side of the avenue and white ones from headlights on the other.  Dinner chez la Contesse at her home on the outskirts of Paris.  (That evening will get its own blog entry when I get home!  I did manage to get a recipe, too, for an Alsatian dessert-- la Croustillade de Pommes.  Merci, Butler!)  Sampling foie gras at a market in the Quartier latin.  Ah, Paris, la Ville Lumiere (can't find the accent grave on my new keyboard).  I didn't buy internet service at the Marriott Rive Gauche (a great hotel with very comfy beds, though).  19,95 euros for 24 hours seemed a bit outrageous for me and free wi-fi is hard to come by in Paris.  I did hear that McDonald's is the place to find it, but I just can't seem to bring myself to grace the doors of that place while in France.  And I thought my 19,95 euros would be better spent on a croque-monsieur, salad, and un pichet de rouge.  But that's just me.

I am now with Mme P in Pujaut.  Tuesday was spent at school with her students interviewing me.  They are so cute and so interested in the United States and in y school.  We also met with the parents of the students who will host us in March and who will send their little darlings to stay with us in April.  That went very well.  Reassuring for them to actually see the person who will make sure that their children have good families to stay with in the States.  Mme P has cooked up some delicious food for me, of course.  Brandade the first night and pot au feu today.  Last night, we went to dinner at La Strada in Les Angles with the two other teachers who will chaperone the trip in April.  Delicious  house made pasta with shaved truffles and a glass of red Lirac on the recommendation of Mlle de Tavel.  Steak tartare for Mme P.  Oh, and a salad of arugula and gooey fresh mozzarella for our appetizer.  A lazy day today.  No classes on Wednesday for Mme P.  A walk near the Rhône in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon this afternoon.  Tea and macarons from Marcellin bakery with Frenchie and his wife.  Mme P is cooking as I type.  Daughter #1 is setting the table and helping out.  Son is doing homework and listening to music.  Daughter #2 is upstairs.  Cats are wrestling under the table.  Dog is sleeping at my feet.  There is French chatter in the background and soft lights are casting shadows.

Life is good.  La vie est belle.

A table!

Bon appétit, mes amis!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bon voyage!

My suitcase is almost bouclée... I leave for the airport in a couple of hours.  My new suitcase is stuffed with pen pal letters from my students to Mme P's.  A few little gifts for Mme P's family.  Some Girl Scout cookies and graham crackers.  The latter for making cheesecake with Mlle A, Mme P's daughter.  An umbrella.  My new Totes rain boots (short ones that promise to be waterproof).  A couple of guide books.  One dress.  Black, of course.  Tights.  Three wool sweater.  Three turtlenecks.  A couple of Cuddle-Dud tops.  (Layers are important.) Gloves.  Headband.  My Favorite Parisien told me "couvre-toi bien car il fait un peu froid."  Two pairs of jeans.  One pair of black corduroys.  Voilà.  Les sous-vêtements. The toiletries go in last.  In the purse, iPad all charged and ready to go for blogging (I hope!), Becoming Josephine for reading at the airport and on the plane, as well as my Kindle all charged up and loaded with Village in the Vaucluse.  My camera.  My passport.  Some euros.  Earphones.
I have plans to roam around the city all day tomorrow.  A cocktail party at Fauchon tomorrow night, with the promise of canapés and wine.  A drop or two of champagne, too, peut-être?  A guided tour of the Marais and Montmartre with an ACIS guide.  Roaming around in the 20e and dinner with my Favorite Parisien at Le Mistral.  Steak and aligot, here I come!  Maybe check out a new Monoprix or two.  The January sales are on and, although I hate shopping for anything other than food and books, Sister Moo has asked for a new supply of Le Petit Marseillais Crème Mains, the hand cream I always buy for her at Monoprix.  I have never been inside Le Petit Palais and I hear they have lovely free exhibits.  My hotel is in the 14e, a neighborhood I don't know very well.  I will hunt for an outdoor market or two Saturday or Sunday morning.  Maybe both.  Pourquoi pas?  Photograph Pierre Hermés' windows and his galette des rois.  Voilà.
Maybe Mme M will be able to come down to Paris on Sunday to roam about with me.  We tried to get together last January but the snow storm hit northern France and that was out of the question.  I haven't seen her since 2008.  On Monday, I head south on the TGV.  Mme P has a meeting planned with the students and parents who will host us in March and who will come to stay with us in April (students only).  She plans to take me out and about in Villeneuve-lèz-Avignon on Wednesday afternoon.  I hope to meet Isabelle in the tourist office.  We are Facebook friends.  She posts beautiful pictures of the city.  I will meet with all of Mme P's students and classes and those of the other English teachers, if they want l'Américaine.  Mlle de Tavel's, for sure.
Ahhhh, France here I come.  Yes, I am lucky and I know it.

Bon appétit et bon voyage!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Once upon a time...

... I was a budding newspaper columnist.  It turned out to be a short-lived stint, though.  While I was in France on sabbatical in 2008, I got the idea that I would send back articles to the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper.  I sent a proposal and a column, they accepted and my career was off and running.  I sent stories periodically from France (thank goodness for the internet) and when I returned, I was offered my own monthly column.  But, as I said, it was short-lived.  However, I sure enjoyed going out to get the newspaper on certain Wednesday mornings and opening it up to see my picture and whatever headline the editor had decided to give my writing.

Here is how it all started...

August 14, 2008

     For as long as I can remember, August has signaled the beginning of a new school year for me.  August, 1964 brought me to Miss McBee's first grade class in Spruce Pine, NC. Since1980, I have been teaching French at Durham Academy Middle School.  Each new school year has brought excitement, anticipation and, to be honest, a fair dose of nervousness.
     This fall, however, I will not join my colleagues for the opening faculty meetings nor will I be there to greet my advisees and their parents.  After 28 years at Durham Academy, I am on sabbatical leave for the first semester of the 2008-09 school year. 
     I am in Arles, France, in Provence.  I have been here since mid-June.  I visited Arles for the first time in 1987 with a group of students and was fascinated by the Roman history and architecture.  In the summer of 2005, I came back to Arles for two weeks.  I had read quite a bit about Vincent Van Gogh's stay here and Dorette Snover of C'est si bon! cooking school in Chapel Hill told me about Chef Érick Vedel's cooking school, Atelier Cuisine et Traditions (  Food and art.  Perfect.  
     I returned once again to the cooking school in the summer of 2006 with a group of friends as their translator and guide.  Later that year, I was offered room and board for the summer of 2007 if I would be Chef Vedel's assistant.  That was an offer too good to refuse.  Now, with the sabbatical leave, I am back in Arles working once again, this time until December.
     My days here begin early since Chef Vedel also runs a five room bed and breakfast.  I have learned to make crêpes from scratch and am now perfecting my own orange brioche recipe.  I have developed a decent kitchen vocabulary.  Last summer, I was completely lost the first time I was asked to fetch une louche.  I dumbly stared at Chef Vedel while trying to make up my mind whether or not to fake it or to confess that I had no idea what he wanted.  Trust me, I will never forget the word for ladle!  I am still not very good with the names for the seemingly endless supply of fish and seafood found in the market that come from the Mediterranean Sea.  However, I now have a food dictionary and can look up morue, poulpe and daurade when need be. 
     I wash dishes, do laundry, clean rooms, and work with room reservations.  In short, I do whatever needs to be done, in addition to assisting the chef in the kitchen.  We have a washing machine, but no dryer.  Sheets, towels and clothing are hung from the second story living room window.  The B&B rooms are found on three upstairs levels, linked by a winding staircase, no elevator.  The family side of the house and the guest rooms are joined by a large kitchen.
     Shopping for food, preparing meals and eating have taken on a completely new meaning for me.  Each one is a pleasure in and of itself.  The Wednesday and Saturday markets in Arles are an explosion of colors and smells.  Listening to vendors and customers discuss how a particular item should be prepared and served is a joy.  Cooking is a continual experimentation and exploration to find the perfect combination of ingredients.  The French say that flavors se marier bien or marry well.  I love that!  Meals in France are an occasion to talk, share ideas, laugh and feed friends and loved ones.  Dinner can, and often does, take three hours here, ending near midnight.   I feel as if all I do is think about what I will have for my next meal!  Provençale cuisine is amazing, yet so simple. 
     My students should know that I am indeed once again on their side of the fence.  Friends correct my pronunciation and help me find the words I need to express myself halfway coherently.  They are endlessly patient when I ask the same questions over and over.  I am, of course, learning words and expressions that are not in any textbook I've ever encountered.  My knowledge of gros mots or dirty words has increased, as well as my food vocabulary. 
     I have a blog that I use as my journal.  With each of my entries, I end with a recipe.  Since it is time for school to begin again, I was thinking about school lunches and found inspiration at today's market.  One of the vendors was selling the largest tomatoes I have ever seen, a variety called la Russe or Russian.  I thought those would make the most incredible tomato sandwiches.  We took fresh baguettes, sliced in half, and filled them with tomato slices, goat cheese, Provençal herbs, sea salt and olive oil.  So simple, but the taste of summer in the south of France in each bite.

     I miss my children, family and friends, but this experience will leave me forever changed.  I will return to the classroom in January invigorated by having lived here for six months.  I am indeed very fortunate!

I've been back for five years now and that last little paragraph is still true.

Bon appétit, to all writers and eaters!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Entre les Bras

Last year, I was asked to write about Entre les Bras for the French Review, the official publication of the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF).  The editor of the film section of the Review, Dr. Michèle Bissière, lives and teaches in North Carolina and is active in our chapter of the AATF.   She attended a presentation I made about my sabbatical or about cooking with my students.  Not sure which.  Anyway, she sent me a copy of the documentary, asked me to watch it, and write a review.  Wow.   Documentaries about French food and chefs are right up my alley after falling in love with Jacquy Pfeiffer in Kings of Pastry.  Durham, NC hosted the North American preview of the film as part of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival  and I wrote a review about it for our local newspaper.  Jacquy and his wife were in the audience, no less.
I watched Entre les Bras (Step Up To The Plate is its English title) several times and set about writing and daydreaming about actually eating there.  I am not sure that dream will ever come true, but I started thinking about it again after recently reading Ann Mah's book Mastering the Art of French Eating.  Journalist Ann actually went to the Aveyron départment of France and interviewed Sébastien Bras.  And Papa Michel came in while she was talking to his son.  

I realized that I haven't posted my review.  I had grand plans to send it to Michel and Sébastien after it was published last spring, but either common sense got the better of me or I've been too shy to do so.  Silly me.  I need to mail it off with a fan letter.  Pourquoi pas?  
Read the review and if you are in the mood for beautiful views of la France profonde, cows, and a glimpse into the life of a Michelin star chef, rent the film.
The parents of one of my 8th grade students have actually been to the restaurant in Laguiole...  Sigh.

Lacoste, Paul, réal.  Entre les Bras (Step Up To The Plate).  Michel Bras, Sébastien Bras.  Cinéma Guild, 2012.

I recently read the story of Bernard Loiseau, a chef who committed suicide in 2003 at the age of 52, after rumors that his restaurant might lose one of its three Michelin stars.  Remembering that tragic story and considering that we have elevated chefs to rock star status in the United States, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a documentary about a three-star Michelin chef.  Would Michel Bras be a temperamental egomaniac?  Would he spend his time berating the wait staff in his restaurant or slamming pots and pans?   Or would he be riddled with self-doubt?  Or worse yet, would he have no confidence whatsoever in his son and heir-apparent, Sébastien, and belittle him? 

Bras, père et fils, have a restaurant and hotel in Laguiole, in the Aveyron department in southern France, built on a hill with a breathtaking view of the valley below. Michel Bras is undoubtedly a perfectionist, as the viewer quickly finds out by watching him choose vegetables, herbs, and flowers for the restaurant.  His ties to the land where he has spent his entire life seem to be as deep as his family ties.  Michel is a slight, serious man, a runner, with round wire-rimmed glasses who looks more like a university professor than a chef.  He is, however, quite an entrepreneur and has built an empire based upon his expertise in the kitchen.

Food is the Bras family business.  Michel’s mother ran a restaurant and he followed her, taking over and earning Michelin stars.  He decided to build his current showpiece several years ago, secure in the knowledge that Sébastien would stay with him in the endeavor.  The premise of the movie is that Michel is ready to retire and hand over the reins to Séba, as he calls his son. I expected the movie to be mostly about Michel, but I found myself just as engrossed in the emotions of Sébastien and the idea of family duty.  There never seemed to be a question of what his life’s work would be.  The photos of him at a very young age in a chef’s coat and toque made for him by his grandmother foreshadow his destiny. But is it easier to start from scratch as Michel did or to inherit an empire and try to stay on top?

Entre les Bras is divided into seasons, a fitting and logical setting for a movie about food and life.  The story comes full circle, in the course of a year, from spring to spring, watching four generations of family interact with one another around food.  Sébastien works on his own signature dishes, telling his own story, built on the time spent with his grandparents on their farm.  One touching scene shows Sébastien alone in the kitchen creating a dessert that he later calls his own chemin, or pathway, using elements from his childhood: bread (his dad), milk skin and chocolate (his mom), and blackberry jam and Laguiole cheese (his grandmother).  He seems truly at peace with the completion of this dish.  He must find his own way.  He knows this and his dad knows this.

The changing of the guard occurs as the viewer watches Michel take down his photos and mementos from the office bulletin board and put away his notebooks filled with recipes and drawings.  Sébastien’s notebooks and a final scene of Alban, Sébastien’s son, cooking in the kitchen with his grandfather, wearing a miniature chef’s coat and toque, replace them.  Michel’s work isn’t finished yet.

From one of the first scenes, showing the plating of Michel Bras’ signature dish, Gargouillou, to the beauty of the Aubrac sunrises and sunsets, this is a stunningly beautiful and poignant story of the humans behind the creation of legendary food.


Teresa Engebretsen
Durham Academy

Bon appétit, les Bras!

Friday, January 10, 2014

5 days to go

Montmartre Neige Mars 2013

This is one of my all-time favorite photos.  I keep coming back to it.  We were taking my Favorite Parisien's route through Montmartre and I just snapped this randomly.  I think it was the white and pink that caught my eye, though, truth be told.  And yes, it was cold.  But quiet.  Not many cars out cruising the frozen streets.  Not many tourists out stomping around in the snow.  I was not wearing proper shoes (or boots), but weather doesn't ever slow us down.  I warn the kids about this before we go.  No wasted daylight (or moonlight) while with me in Paris.  Arles Lucy loved it.  She had never seen Paris under a blanket of snow.

And neither had I until my trip last January.  It is magical.  Cold, but beautiful.

Who knows what the weather will hold for me next week or in March.  The mantra that I use over and over and tell the kids--  There are two things over which I have no control-- the weather and the exchange rate.  The euros have been ordered from AAA.  I am a bit worried about my feet and what I will cover them with, though.  I will check in a couple of days when I start to pack.  If rain and snow are in the extended forecast right now, I'd rather not know today.  Not that I mind it terribly.  Paris is beautiful no matter what.  Ducking into a warm café to have a cup of café crème or un verre de rouge is very nice way to spend a rainy hour.  Sipping, listening to the French flow around me, and watching people is one of my favorite past times.  I have the luxury of that in January.  No heads to count, no strict schedule to follow, no pressing need to visit a museum unless there is an exhibit that catches my interest.  Laura Florand's recommended chocolate shops are on my radar, as well as a couple of cafés recommended by Ann Mah in Mastering the Art of French Eating.  I know that there are some who believe that I have already mastered this art, but I have not and look forward to more practice during my 10-day trip.  Ann's first chapter is devoted to steak-frites, a dish that I dream about.  

 Café du Commerce January 2013

It was that good.
Ann taught me something that I did not know.  Many Parisian cafés are owned by folks from the Aveyron départment in France.

A region well-known for good food and cattle.  A region I would love to visit after viewing and writing a review of Entre les Bras, a documentary about Michel and Sébastien Bras and their restaurant.  Ann actually interviewed the Bras père et fils.
Ann's husband is friends with the owners of a restaurant in Paris named Le Mistral.  It is over in the 20th arrondissement, métro stop Pyrénées.  (I've done my homework!)

However, I will have to forego the frites for aligot, a dish of mashed potatoes mixed with cheese, a speciality of the Aveyron.
And I will find proper shoes this weekend.  Weather will not slow me down.

from Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah

serves 4

2 1/2 pounds nonstarchy potatoes, such as Bintje or Yukon Gold
3/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
14 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch dice (in France, tome fraîche, a semi-soft fresh cheese is used, but this cheese is not available in the U.S.  I have asked the BFF to ask her boss, Seth Gross, owner of the brand-spanking new Pompieri Pizza here in lovely downtown Durham, for some of his house made mozzarella...)

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1 to 1-1/2 inch chunks.  Place them in a large saucepan and just barely cover them with cold water.  Bring to a boil and cook for 15 -20 minutes, until a fork pierces them easily.  Drain thoroughly and pass them through a food mill or ricer to obtain a fine puree.  Try to keep the puree as hot as possible.
Return the potato puree to the saucepan.  Stir in the crème fraîche and the whole garlic clove.  Season with salt and pepper (remember, the mozzarella is salted as well).
Place the saucepan over low heat and stir the cheese into the puree.  With a large wooden spoon, beat the mixture for at least 15 minutes, making a figure-eight pattern within the saucepan.  The aligot is ready when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.  Remove the clove of garlic.  Lift the spoon.  If the mixture flows in ribbonlike strands, serve it immediately, piping hot, preferably with a rare steak.

Bon appétit, Paris!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What would Josephine eat?

My copy of Heather Webb's book, Becoming Josephine, arrived in the mail yesterday.  I pre-ordered it months ago when I first met Heather on this blog.  She commented on one of my posts back in June.  I had found another lover of France.  We all seem to be kindred spirits.
This will be my second Josephine book.  I read The Rose of Martinique by Andrea Stuart last fall.  I have Sandra Gulland's trilogy at home waiting for me, courtesy of IronWoman.  I really didn't know much at all about Josephine before reading Ms. Stuart's book.  Josephine was a fascinating woman.  Ms. Arizona visited Malmaison when we were in Paris in 2012 and has talked about Josephine for quite some time.  Now I want to visit Josephine's home.  I went on-line and checked out how to get there from Paris.
We'll see...
So I found myself thinking about Josephine's childhood in sunny Martinique on the coldest day of the year and the coldest day we are likely to have for a while.  Truthfully, I really never wanted to know what a polar vortex is.  Asheville, where Son #1 is now living and working, made the CBS Evening News tonight because of the low temperatures and loss of electricity for many of its citizens.  Luckily, not Son #1.
What would Josephine eat?  Pineapples are a very important crop in Martinique.

Fresh, canned, juice.  I love pineapple.  L'ananas in French.  My students think this is a very funny word.  Sometimes I hear the s pronounced, sometimes I don't.  Weigh in on this one, Frenchies, please. Back to my pineapple.  It just so happens that GB, one of my buddies at school, stopped me after the bell rang yesterday and asked what seemed to be a weird question.  He asked me how I cut pineapple. I had to confess that I don't really.  Too much of a mess.  So, he pulls out a box with a little gift in it for me.

With a gleam in his eye, he promised me that this truc (do-dad) would amaze me.  So, I graciously accepted the box even with IronWoman making jokes about GB selling stuff out of the back of his Gator.  I stopped at Harris Teeter on the way home to pick up a couple of things, including a fresh pineapple so that I could take this thing for a test drive.
Nothing to it!

Just center it and twist.  Voilà!
One core

and a stack of pineapple rings in about 30 seconds.

Delicious.  Now I can close my eyes and pretend to be in a warmer climate as I settle down to read about the future Empress of France as she dreams of leaving Martinique for Paris.  We have that in common.  I too am dreaming of Paris.  8 days.

I think I will make a cake.  That is, if I save enough of the pineapple slices...

Pineapple Upside Down Cake
from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

2 Tbsp. butter
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
Pineapple slices
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2/3 c. milk
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a 9 x 1 1/2-inch round cake pan.  Stir in brown sugar and 1 tablespoon water.  Arrange pineapple in the pan.  Set pan aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, and baking powder.  Add milk, the 1/4 cup butter, egg, and vanilla.  Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined.  Beat on medium speed for 1 minute.  Spoon batter carefully over the pineapple in the prepared pan.
Bake in 350˚F oven for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes.  Loosen cake from pan; invert onto a plate.  Serve warm.

Bon appétit, Josephine et merci, GB!!

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Epiphany, January 6, is tomorrow.  I checked with to get a definition of the word epiphany:

-the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi
-a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ
-a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way
-an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure

Origins of the word:  Middle English epiphanie,  from Anglo-French, from Late Latin epiphania, from Late Greek, plural, probably alteration of Greek epiphaneia  appearance, manifestation, from epiphainein to manifest, from epi + phainein to show

In France, it is a great reason to have cake.  Marie Antoinette and "Let them eat cake!" comes to mind.  Although, according to historians, she really didn't say that.  She probably said "Let them eat brioche!"  According to Webster's New French Dictionary, une galette  is one of three things:  a butter biscuit (a cookie- the French do not eat our Southern-style biscuits), a buckwheat pancake (crêpe) or a Twelfth Night Cake.  Un galet  is a round smooth stone found on beaches or in vineyards in the south of France.

Nice 2006

Tavel 2012

Last January, I gazed longingly at the Galette des Rois in the window of Pierre Herme's shop on Rue Bonaparte.

I didn't buy one, but I admired and photographed it.
I did buy one at Monoprix, though, and took it back to my hotel room.

They always come with paper crowns.  And a little surprise baked inside.  The figurines in the first photo found themselves enclosed in almond cream or brioche at one time.  I've written about the two types of cakes before, but here they are again.
The first is a puff pastry and almond concoction popular in northern France, like the ones pictured above and the one I ate with Frenchie and his family last year.

The second is a brioche-type cake with candied fruit and pearl sugar on the top.  The fruit is made in the south of France and is really good, not overly sweet like the candied fruit we have here.  I had this slice at Mme P's house last year.

We saw some in the window of a bakery in Arles.

And also in the bakery in Pujaut where Mme P lives.

Today I decided to make my first galette des rois.  Sister-in-law and her husband were visiting and I was happy to have extra taste-testers.  I found a recipe on Camille Chevalier's website.  I was very happy to find almond paste at Harris Teeter.  I stuck in one of my little porcelain fèves that Mme P gave me and covered it up with almond cream before sealing up the edges.

It turned out very well!  (My scoring on top looked suspiciously like a basketball at first...)

There is one more piece left... I think it will taste very good with a cup of tea as I do the weekly lesson plans.  Back to school tomorrow.  But only ten days until my trip to Paris and Pujaut.  I solemnly swear to try more galettes and try to remember to photograph them first!

La Galette des Rois

1/4 c. almond paste
1/4 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. butter, softened
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
2 Tbsp. flour
1 package (2) frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
1 fève  (dried bean or other small truc or do-dad that won't melt)
2 tsp. confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Butter large baking sheet (not dark metal-  I used a disposable foil pizza pan).
  2. In food processor, purée paste, sugar, butter and salt until smooth.
  3. Add one egg, vanilla and almond extracts and purée until incorporated.
  4. Add flour and pulse to mix in.
  5. On lightly floured surface, roll out one sheet of pastry into 11-1/2 inch square.  Invert an 11-inch pie plate onto the square and cut out a round shape by tracing the outline with the tip of a paring knife.  Brush off the flour and place it on the buttered baking sheet.  Put in the refrigerator to chill.
  6. Repeat with the second square of pastry, but leave it on the floured surface.
  7. Beat the second egg and brush some of it on top of the second round.  Score decoratively all over the top of using the tip of a paring knife.  Make several slits all the way through the dough to create steam vents.
  8. Remove first sheet of pastry from the refrigerator and brush some of the egg in a l-inch border around the edge.  Mound the almond cream in the center, spreading slightly.  Bury the fève in the cream.  Place second round on top and press edges together.
  9. Bake the galette in lower third of the oven for 13-15 minutes, until puffed and golden.  Remove from oven and dust with confectioners' sugar.
  10. Place rack in upper third of oven and return galette to cook for an additional 12-15 minutes or until edge is deep golden brown.  Transfer to rack and cool slightly.
  11. Serve warm (it's good cold, too, though!).  Don't forget to warn everyone about the fève!

Bon appétit and Happy New Year!  Here's to many enlightening epiphanies in 2014!