Thursday, December 31, 2015

Au revoir 2015

Paris street scene, March 2015

The BFF doesn't like odd-numbered years, so I don't think that she will be too sad to say good-bye to 2015. It is what it is.  It was what it was.  Final good-byes were said to friends and loved ones.  Health issues had to be faced.  For the next few days, the news and all other media sources will be filled with The Year in Review stories and photos. Some will make us smile, some will make us cry.  Doomsday soothsayers will declare that the world is about to end. Resolutions to be happier, healthier, and kinder will be made. 

I recently stumbled across a Ted Talk about happiness.  This comes from a 75-year study that has been conducted on what makes people happy.  It is well worth the twelve and a half minutes it takes to watch.  I've already watched it a couple of times.  Because in the end, isn't that what we are all searching for?  Happiness?  It seems like such an overused, vague word.  It really isn't, though. Isn't it what we are all looking for in our daily lives, what we hope our loved ones will find, what everyone in the world deserves at the end of the day?  Happy days should outnumber the sad days.    

Random thoughts and quotes that I've stumbled upon as we end one year and begin another...

  • Be open to new experiences.  Travel, food, books, thoughts, people.  You never know who you are going to meet and how they will change your life, even if it is just for the next few moments.  The Ex-Ex and I recently met a fellow named Jay who was sitting in a pub in Boone.  We struck up a conversation and enjoyed it immensely.  We will never see Jay again, but we will remember him for a long time to come.
  • "You want to perform a miracle?  Forgive yourself."   --Rune Lazuli 
  • Be grateful.  Express your gratitude in whatever way you can.  A smile.  A thank you note, a good deed.  Live your gratitude daily.  Make it a verb.
  • Slow down.  Stop multi-tasking so much.
  • Stay connected.  To friends, to family members, to your community.  Facebook and other social media outlets are not a waste of time if they keep you connected to people who are important to you.  Face time is equally as important.  Drop the cell phones when with people.  Technology will never replace sitting next to or across the table from someone important to you.  Look at them.  Talk to them.  Touch them.
  • Look for beauty.  In people, in nature, in everyday situations.  The first photo on the blog was not planned.  We were crossing a street in Paris in March and I turned my head and saw it.  I stopped every single 8th grader with me and made them look at the pure beauty of that sight.  Connect to whatever art form moves your soul- paintings, music, poetry, sculpture, photography.  Indulge in it daily. Vincent Van Gogh has touched my life since I read Lust for Life 30 years ago.  I've since had the amazing good fortune to visit the spots he painted in Arles, including where he painted Starry Night Over the Rhône in 1888.  While living in Arles, I went down to this spot frequently, especially when feeling homesick.  It was only a 2-minute walk from where I lived.
        Every March, I visit Starry Night at the Musée d'Orsay. It always brings me to tears. 
        What can I say?  If a painting (or song or sculpture or poem) has never brought you to
        tears, you haven't lived.
        I saw this one in July at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Tears. Raw beauty. 

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh, 1887
  • Keep a sense of humor.  I recently read an essay written by a mom about cussing in front of her kids.  It was hilariously funny, in my humble opinion.  Reading the comments at the end of the article were not so funny.  Some people were judging this woman's worth as a mother based on the fact that she admits to swearing in the presence of her own children.  Lighten up, people.  I inadvertently taught Son #2 when he was an innocent two-year old to say Damn it with the proper pronunciation and inflection.  He is now 23 years old and a productive member of society, not an ax murderer.  (It is still my go-to swear word in numerous situations faced on a daily basis-- spilling coffee, locking my keys in my car, stubbing my toe, dropping a raw egg on the kitchen floor, forgetting my umbrella in the car when a sudden downpour hits, spilling cat food all over the floor, dripping toothpaste down the front of my dress five minutes after I should already be out the door-- you get the picture.)
The quote below sums up what I feel is the perfect ending to a day.  Happiness. Contentment. Whatever you want to call it.  May all who read this blog and who are in my life and bring me such joy find this or a moment like it every single day.

We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.
                                                                                       Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

End of the Year Muffins
makes 12

2 cups cereal (whatever you have on hand- I used Great Grains Raisins, Dates and Pecans)
1/2 cup toasted coconut (optional- I had some leftover from make the Ex-Ex a coconut cream pie for Christmas; rereading that blog post still makes me laugh and he took me past Louise's Rockhouse Restaurant this past weekend)
3/4 cup milk (or 1/2 cup if you decide not to soak the cereal in it)
1 large egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup regular)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
Grease (or line with paper liners) 12 medium-sized muffin cups
Add 1/2 cup milk to the cereal and stir.  Set aside. This softens the cereal.  Not a necessary step, however.
In small mixing bowl, beat the egg and then whisk in oil, honey and 1/4 cup of milk (if you are softening the cereal- if not, add the 1/2 cup of milk).  Set aside.
In large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix well.  If you are softening the cereal, add the flour mixture to it now.  If not, add the cereal to the dry ingredients.
Pour egg mixture into cereal-flour mixture and stir just until moistened.  Do not over mix. There will be some lumps, but that's okay.
Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.  
Bake 20 minutes or until muffins test done.
Remove muffins from pan immediately and place on wire rack to cool (or go ahead and eat one while it's warm).

Bon appétit to all.  Have a happy and safe New Year's Eve.  You do want to live to see 2016 and you don't really want a nasty headache as you eat your black-eyed peas and turnip greens (or whatever you consider to be lucky foods), do you?  Go Vols!  Win the bowl game and make my teams 4-0 (Appalachian State, Duke, and Nebraska have already won their bowl games).  Son #2 says this is the only game that really matters, of course.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

National Fruitcake Day

Who knew?  Thanks to the talented and hilariously funny Sandra Boynton I now know.  A whole day dedicated to fruitcake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And most everyone I know falls into the latter camp.  But not moi!  I love it.  I've had some that were better than others, of course, but I refuse to be a hater.  (The Ex-Ex is a hater... but I keep hoping I will win him over.)

I've been a fan of Sandra's cartoons for a long time.  We even decorated Son #1's nursery with a wall paper border featuring her adorable critters.  When I saw the above post on Facebook this morning (yep, I stalk follow her), I reposted it for all those fruitcake haters out there to add comments. Instead, lo and behold, who do I hear from but my Cousin-in-Law in the great orange state of Tennessee.  (Go Vols!)  She falls into the lover category, too, just like me.  And it gets even better.  She has a recipe that belonged to my Daddy's sister, my Aunt Helen, her mother-in-law, and CIL even went to the trouble of digging it out of a recipe box so she could send it to me.  That is cousinly love, friends. Cousin-in-Law even found a photo of my beautiful Aunt Helen.  She did not like having her photo taken and I did not have a single one of her-- not until today!

Daddy's family is from High Point, but moved to Spruce Pine before he and the baby sister were born.

This is how I remember my grandparents best- (Papa is holding my nephew Jerm, I think)

Papa (George) and Grandma (Christine) had nine children, including one who died either in childbirth or shortly thereafter.  (My Cousin K will correct my Bell Family facts if I get something wrong.) Daddy Tommy was second to last.  A cutie pie for sure, n'est-ce pas?

I have a few family photos, thanks to Mama Mildred who let me go through a huge tin of photos and take the ones I wanted.
Here is one of me sitting on Mama's lap (check out the tummy-  I still have it!), with Grandma and her mother (I think?), one of my cousins and, I am sure, a beloved dog.  (Everyone seemed to get that dog-lover gene except me.)

When my parents moved back to Spruce Pine, after my dad's stint in the Army (Mama Mildred ran away to join him and get married in Louisiana at the tender age of 15- in this photo she is probably about 19 years old), they built a house right next door to Papa and Grandma and I spent a large percentage of my first 18 years at their house.  I loved them so much.  Papa George owned a small hosiery mill and gave his employees a fruitcake every Christmas.  We always got one, too.  Maybe that's why I love it so much?

Cousin-in-Law also found this photo, taken in Florida, where my Aunt Helen lived, and where my grandparents had a second home.

So, in honor of National Fruitcake Day and my Aunt Helen, I will pass on her favorite recipe for all you lovers out there.

I have no idea who Mrs. Harvey is.  The recipe looks as if it was cut out of a newspaper.  Here is the original recipe.  My modifications are listed at the end**.  In years past, I have made Fruitcake Bars and Fruitcake Cookies.  Both are very tasty... if you are a fruitcake lover.

Mrs. Harvey's White Fruitcake
makes 5 pounds cake

5 large eggs
1/2 pound butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 pound candied cherries (1 pound = not quite 2 cups)
1 pound candied pineapple
4 cups shelled pecans
1/2 ounce vanilla extract (3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon)
1/2 ounce lemon extract (3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon)

Chop nuts and fruit into medium-sized pieces; dredge with small amount of flour.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add well-beaten eggs and blend well.  Sift remaining flour and baking powder together; fold into egg and butter mixture.  Add vanilla and lemon extracts; mix well; add fruits and nuts, blending well.

Grease 10-inch tube pan. Line sides and bottom with heavy brown paper; grease again.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Place in cold oven and bake at 325˚F for 3 hours.

*Cake may be baked in two  3-inch loaf pans for 2 1/2 hours.

**I hope that Mrs. Harvey and Aunt Helen aren't rolling over in their graves right now, but I made some changes.  I used dried fruit --cherries, blueberries, cranberries, and pineapple (it is very sweet) instead of candied fruit. Next time, I think I will use dates instead of the pineapple.  I put the fruit and nuts in a Ziploc bag with about 1/4 cup of the flour to "dredge" them. While playing true confessions, I have to admit that I  misread the ingredients and put in 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla and lemon extracts instead of 1/2 ounce.  I tasted the batter, however, before adding in the fruit and nuts and it tasted good. I buttered two loaf pans and did not line them with heavy brown paper.  I remember my mom doing this once upon a time, though.  Not sure why.  She used brown paper grocery store bags. I did line the bottom of my pans with parchment paper, though. Maybe the Ex-Ex will at least try it this time?

It is certainly full of goodies.  I tried a bite while it was still warm.  Yum.  The dried blueberries taste really good.

"People who like fruitcake will probably like that" he said with a strange look on his face.

Bon appétit to all fruitcake lovers, especially Cousin-in-Law and all the remaining Bells.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


The Wedding at Cana•
Paolo Veronese, 1563, Venice, Italy
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Today's topic is a subject I have been thinking about for several months now:  Resiliency.  I can't even spell it without help, but if I were a psychologist or social scientist of some sort, I would be studying it.  I would be researching, interviewing, writing, questioning, and trying to get to the bottom of why some people have it and some do not.

First, a definition or two.

1.  the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2.  ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy

first known use 1836
1. the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
2.  an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change

I found an interesting quote on the above website, too.

It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature.  Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.   -- Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897

It's definition #2 from both of the sources that I am interested in.  Best Mother-in-Law in the World gave me a thesaurus for Christmas last year.  According to Webster's New Roget's A-Z Thesaurus, flexibility is a synonym for resiliency.

I consider myself a resilient person.  Maybe it's helped by the fact that I am an optimist.  Maybe it's because I think that there is always a silver-lining if you look for it.  Maybe it's because at critical periods of my life, I have made the best decision I knew how to make.  Case in point- the decision to go to college, even though I knew I would be doing it all on my own.  Even though my dad didn't want me to leave home.  Even though staying in Spruce Pine would have been easier and taken less work and money.  I remember distinctly making this decision.  Should I take the SAT or not?  Should I take accounting and bookkeeping classes or French 3 and Honors English?  Should I apply anywhere except Appalachian State University?  Where would the money come from?  How would I pay the housing deposit?  Obviously, it all worked out for the best.

As the daughter of an alcoholic, I made the decision not to drink in high school.  I wasn't invited to parties with the popular crowd anyway.  My dad would never have let me go.  But I lived in fear that I, too, would become an alcoholic.  And that was before there was much talk of the genetic predisposition to become one nor did families talk about it.  Mine sure didn't.  I tried to convince myself that none of my friends knew.  Looking back, I am sure they did.  But I do remember reading that a high percentage of daughters of alcoholics marry one.  That scared me.  I was a good Southern Baptist, as well.  On the wall of my grandmother's church there was a sign listing all of the evils and drinking was up there.  And Mama Mildred, bless her heart, believes the Bible, chapter and verse, but thinks that in the story of Jesus turning wine into water at the wedding of Cana, the wine is really just grape juice.  And I suppose that technically that's right.

Mama Mildred is probably the most resilient person I know.  She has led quite a life and always bounces back.  Not that she hasn't had her dark days.  A few years ago, after the death of my college roommate and best friend, we were discussing suicide and she told me that she thought about it at one point in her life.  She says the Devil himself paid her a visit, urging her to do it.  She fought him off, however, and has never looked back.  (To read more about Mama Mildred, click here.)  She is the sole survivor or her siblings, she lost my dad to cancer about 20 years ago, and my brother in February.  She says that losing a child is the most difficult thing that she has lived through.  I do not doubt it.  But, somehow, she presses on.  Her deep belief in God and Heaven help her.

The Ex-Ex's mom, the Best Mother-in-Law in the World, has just completed radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer in her sinuses.  We visited her and Best Father-in-Law on Sunday for a couple of hours.  She has no appetite and has lost way too much weight, but I know, without a doubt, that she will recover and be ready to take on life again in the spring.  She is a Mid-Westerner and they are known for their resiliency.  I wish that I could move in and cook for them.  On Sunday, I told her that I wonder what the first food that she actually wants to eat will be.  The thought of it makes her a bit nauseous at the moment, but I am very curious.  I've made chocolate pudding and macaroni and cheese for her, but I think that Father-in-Law has eaten them.  That's okay.  He needs fattening up, too.  He's lost weight due to sympathy pains.  The same ones that cause fathers-to-be to gain weight with their pregnant wives perhaps.  The silver lining is that BMIL has given up cigarettes. The thought of that makes her nauseous, too.

Are some people born resilient?  Or is resiliency earned through making it through tough times?  If we try to protect our children from the inevitable ups and downs of life are we handicapping them?  La Vie est un long fleuve tranquille (Life Is a Long Quiet River) is a French movie that came out in 1988.  One of my Frenchie friends says  La vie n'est pas un long fleuve tranquille  whenever something sad or difficult comes along.  Life is not a long quiet river.  While searching for the title of that movie, I found another quote in French that sums up my philosophy fairly well.

La vie n'est pas un long fleuve tranquille, mais elle offre quelques îles de tendresse. 
                                                               --Sandra Dulier

Life isn't a long quiet river, but it offers a few islands of tenderness.

When I don't know what else to do for someone going through a tough time, I cook.  Today, while thinking about resiliency, my mother-in-law, and this blog post, I decided to make one of Son #2's favorite dishes (the Ex-Ex says I only make it when the boy comes home).

The cast iron skillet was a gift from Mama Mildred.  I later learned that it belonged to Childhood Friend's grandmother who was one of our neighbors on Bell Street.  That makes it even more special to me.

I googled macaroni and cheese on this blog and found three other recipes I've experimented with.  I am always playing around with it.  I have one more that is on my to-cook list, from Cook's Illustrated, my favorite magazine.  I will report back after giving it a try or you can try it yourself if you wish (leave a comment if you do, please).  Below is the one I've used most often.  No fancy ingredients. Basic and easy.

Comforting Mac & Cheese

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack)
16-oz. macaroni 
Salt, pepper (black or white), ground mustard or Texas Pete sauce can be added.  Or a combination of all.  Today, I decided to add bacon that had been cooked to crispy and then drained on paper towels.  

Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water until it is al dente (for small elbows, about 9 minutes).
Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Melt butter in large pan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and combine well.  Cook for about a minute to remove the flour taste.  Gradually add milk and continue to whisk.  Cook until the mixture thickens into a creamy roux.  Add seasonings and whisk well.  Remove from heat.  
Add 2-1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted and combined.  
Put macaroni into a buttered baking pan.  (I cooked the bacon in the cast iron pan and left some of the drippings in for flavor, so I didn't need to butter the pan.)  Pour cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir well.  (I added the crumbled bacon at this point, reserving some for the top.)
Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. (My grandmother always topped hers with bread crumbs or crushed crackers.)
Bake in pre-heated 350˚F oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.

Foolproof Macaroni and Cheese
from Cook's Illustrated Comfort Food Favorites, 2013

Serves 8-10

Block American cheese from the deli counter is best here, as pre-wrapped singles result in a drier mac and cheese.

4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni (CI highly recommends Barilla)
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (12 ounce) cans evaporated milk
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
5 ounces American cheese, shredded (1-1/4 cups)
3 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350˚F.  Pulse bread, melted butter, and Parmesan in food processor until ground to coarse crumbs, about 8 pulses.  Transfer to bowl.
  2. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.  Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, just until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain and rinse macaroni in colander under cold running water.  Set aside.
  3. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in now-empty pot over medium high heat.  Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture turns light brown, about 1 minute.  Slowly whisk in evaporated milk, hot sauce, mustard, nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook until mixture begins to simmer and is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.  Off heat, whisk in cheeses and reserved cooking water until cheeses melt.  Stir in macaroni until completely coated.
  4. Transfer mixture to 13 by 9-inch (or similar size) baking dish and top evenly with bread-crumb mixture.  Bake until cheese is bubbling around edges and top is golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
To make ahead:  Macaroni and cheese can be made in advance through step 3.  Increase amount of reserved cooking water to 1 cup.  Scrape mixture into baking dish, let cool, lay plastic wrap directly on surface of pasta, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  Bread-crumb mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.  When ready to bake, remove plastic, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover, sprinkle bread-crumb mixture over top, and bake until topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes longer.  Let sit before serving.

Bon appétit to all, but especially to Best Mother-in-Law in the World and my Frenchie friend Muriel.  Stay strong, ladies.  Thoughts and prayers are with you.

*It seems this painting is quite resilient, also.  It was painted by Veronese in Venice in the 16th century, but was confiscated by Napoleon in 1797.  The huge canvas, measuring 22'3 x 32, the largest painting in the Louvre, was rolled up (and cut in half, according to one website) and shipped to France.  It was then sewed back together.  It was not returned to its home after Napoleon's defeat.  Another painting was sent back in its place.  During WWII, it traveled around France in a truck.  During renovations to the Louvre in 1992, the painting was damaged in two separate incidents.  First, it was spattered by water due to a leaking vent. Two days later, it fell to the floor when one of its supports gave way while it was being raised to a higher hanging place.  The metal frame tore holes in the canvas, however none of the faces were damaged.  It was repaired and now hangs opposite of the more famous Mona Lisa, in the Italian gallery of the Louvre.  I visit it every March.  The kiddos must see Mona and I spend time checking out the details of this very interesting painting.  It is the Wedding Feast, but it is much, much more.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dear Blog

Noon- Rest After Work
Vincent Van Gogh 1890

Dear Blog,
I have been writing thank you notes and you most definitely deserve one this fine December Sunday morning.  You have been my faithful companion since 2008.  You have given me a creative outlet and you never once have been critical of my thoughts, my split infinitives or my misplaced commas. You do not make me feel guilty, even when I neglect you for days and sometimes weeks.  I am the one who heaps on the remorse and I chastise myself for not paying more attention to you.  I am sorry. I could come up with a thousand excuses...
  • Wow!  I haven't written anything for the past few weeks because I have been working on that book I told you I was going to write.  Not true.  I haven't written anything since the 1:00 am writing episode a couple of months back.  I can honestly say that I have been sleeping well with no sentences running through my head in the middle of the night...
  • I have been working out!  Finally getting back into decent shape so that walking up the steps of the Arc de Triomphe won't kill me in March or embarrass me in front of my 22 students who will be practically running up them.  Nope.  I have walked a few times with the BFF and I have indeed lost weight, but I am basically a slug.  However, if I must go any time soon, I would rather it be in Paris...
  • 'Tis the season!  I've been busy decorating, shopping, baking... I can't even go any further on that one.  I have a wreath on the door, a stack of addressed envelopes for Christmas cards and a list.  Does that count?
  • I've been cooking my way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking!  Oops. Sorry, Julie Powell.  I know, I know, you've been there and done that.  Not by moi.  I did manage to bake the Thanksgiving turkey for the Ex-Ex, Son #2 and myself without burning it or drying it out.  I've probably only baked four turkeys in my 57 years on this earth.  And I did sneak a couple of bites to Sam, the best pup in the world, without getting caught.
  • Enough.  Even I am not a good enough liar to keep it up.
So, if I have not been doing all of those things, what have I been up to?
  • Brainwashing children to make them think that coming to French class is the best part of their day.  I sigh every time the bell rings because the class period goes by so quickly.  I've embarked on an idiom-a-day to begin class and they seem to enjoy trying to figure it out.  I found a great book--

  • Some of my 8th graders and I did a Sunday afternoon painting class at Bull City Burger and Brewery with two fun young ladies from Wine and Design Durham.  I chose La Tour Eiffel, of course.  And in the wake of the horrific events of November 13, that was very à propos.  Wine and Design makes even me feel just a bit like an artiste.  We were not wining, by the way, just designing.

Annie's amazing chef d'oeuvre

Mr. P's tribute to Paris

  • I was interviewed for our weekly News and Notes.  I felt like a rock star when the interview was published.  You can read about me and my love affair with France and French here.  KP, the author of the piece, and I have been friends and colleagues for many years.  She makes me sound much more interesting than I really am!

  • And the really big deal in our family was the Ex-Ex's induction into the Durham Academy Sports Hall of Fame on December 4.  He is part of the second class of inductees.  He came to DA in 1981, starting out as a P.E. teacher, coaching 7th grade girls basketball and JV baseball. He has been our Director of Athletics for 25 years.  He no longer coaches, but he spent several years coaching varsity boys basketball and varsity softball.  He is only the second full-time AD at our school.  Son #1 drove down from Asheville and gave the introduction for his dad.  Proud doesn't even begin to describe how I felt that night.  I did have the presence of mind to video most of his introduction.  

So, dear blog, in conclusion, I have not forgotten about you.  I still love you and am so grateful for you.  I promise to pay more attention to you, even though you never ask for or demand my time.  I am always amazed and thrilled that there are readers every day.  I hope they enjoy the tried and true recipes and good stories that you faithfully give them.  You provide a forum for the ramblings of an ordinary woman who has extraordinary luck.

The Sabbatical Chef

                      Chef Érick Vedel, Arles 2009

For my 50th birthday, Érick invited friends over for dinner and made this cake for me.  A millefeuille cake with crème pâtissière between the layers.

After the kids and I painted the Eiffels, we decided to have an art exhibit, complete with treats, and invite the faculty and staff, as well as their classmates to view our canvases.  I decided to make financiers.  (Click for Dorie Greenspan's recipe on a blogpost from March 2013)

When I was finished, I had a bunch of egg yolks left over and couldn't bear to pour them down the drain.  I decided to make the crème pâtissière (also known as crème anglaise-- it is just basically vanilla custard) but to add a different twist to it.  I had a little container of lavender sugar in the my spice cabinet.  I took the custard to school for the 8th graders in my French club to sample and then left it in the faculty lounge.  I got quite a few compliments and some surprised tasters who didn't know that you can eat lavender.  I usually buy a bag of it at the market in Arles when I am there in the spring.
Click here for the recipe (as well as my ramblings from April 2009)  for the millefeuille cake and crème pâtissière minus the lavender.  I added perhaps a half teaspoon of the crushed florets.  I didn't think to take a photo... I was too busy licking the bowl.

Bon appétit, my dear blog and faithful readers!  Keep cooking and eating!