Monday, June 20, 2016

Weekend baking

I am a creature of habit.  I have morning routines.  Even on Saturdays and Sundays.  Even during summer vacation. I like to get up, make the coffee, feed and water the cat, and bake.  The house is quiet.  It’s just Callie Cat and me, although she isn’t always quiet.  I think she really misses Rusty, her brother, who died a month or so ago.  She meows a lot more now.  Muffins are my favorite to bake because they are quick and the Ex-Ex likes to eat them for breakfast.  Scones are fun, too.  So is banana bread, but it takes a lot longer to bake, therefore I usually do that at night.
I like to make things from scratch.  I kind of hate to admit that I have become a mix snob, but I have.  Baking mixes were all the rage when I was growing up.  New and exciting.  And a lot of unpronounceable stuff added in, as we all now know.  I succumb once in a while, but I read labels now.  A chef friend of mine swears that high fructose corn syrup is the devil’s elixir, so I avoid that like the plague.  I use King Arthur‘s all-purpose flour.  I have fallen in love with that company.  It’s 100% employee owned and their motto is “Try it once, trust it always.”  Check out their recipes and company story and you will, too, I bet.
I am an amateur and I have been baking for as long as I can remember.  Cookies, pound cakes, pies, cupcakes, biscuits, bread. I’ve taken a few baking classes. Macaron-making with Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery here in Durham (my city is an eating destination these days- I don’t really like the word foodie, so I don’t use it, but google Durham, NC and see what you get).  I taught Amy’s daughter and she helped her mom with the class which made it twice as much fun.
lizzie macs
I took a macaron-making class in Paris this past March with my students at L’Atelier des Gâteaux.  Several of the kiddies wanted to do this and, well, truth be told, they did not have to twist my arm.
My most recent baking class actually turned out to be two classes (the ovens weren’t working properly the first time so we were invited back to try again) taught at Sur la Table at Southpoint Mall.  Judy C suggested learning how to make croissants and I took her up on the invitation.  I love croissants.  Is there anything better than starting the day with a warm croissant, preferably eaten in France, with a cup of hot café au lait, people watching?
arles croissant
Non. Well, unless it’s a pain aux raisins
I digress.
Back to the croissant-making.  It’s not as hard as I thought.  Time-consuming, oui.  You must plan ahead.  Jane Bobroff, a professional baker, was our teacher for Croissants from Scratch.  A woman who loves butter as much as I do.  Maybe even more.  King Arthur is one of Sur la Table’s sponsors, so I was quite happy.  Some of the baking vocabulary was in French since these little darlings are iconically as français as Maurice Chevalier.  Détrempe and beurrage. The dough block and the butter block.  Lessons in activating yeast, incorporating the beurrage, folding properly- letter and book folds, proofing the dough, egg wash, baking for longer than you think you should.  The class was a bit backwards since it takes a while to get the dough from yeast to oven.  We started with dough already prepared for us,
croissant dough
made our croissants,
set them to rise,
and while we were waiting for them to double in size, we prepared dough for the next class.  We made Classic Croissants, Pain au chocolat, and Parisian Ham and Gruyère Croissants.
croissants slatable
Chef Jane also uses this dough for Morning Buns, croissant dough rolled with cinnamon and sugar and baked in muffin tins.
I will try this at home, now that I have taken the class twice, but I advise you to find a class or, if you follow directions well and are patient, to devote a Saturday morning to the process.  Planning backwards is a good idea.  Figure out when you want thesepâtisseries to come out of the oven and work back from there.
For a much quicker breakfast treat, I will share my favorite, foolproof muffin recipe.  I have made many variations of this recipe since finding it in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition (in support of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).  It is the 12th edition of this well-known and well-loved American bible of cooking, originally published in 1930.  This edition was published in 2003.  The muffin recipe page came loose long ago and is held in place with a paperclip.
Prep: 10 minutes.  Bake: 15-18 minutes.  Oven: 400˚F.  Makes: 12 medium-sized muffins
1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. granulated sugar (or sometimes I use turbinado sugar)
2 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. cooking oil
1 recipe Streusel Topping (optional- I rarely make it)
  1. Grease twelve medium muffin cups (2-1/2 in.) or line with paper baking cups.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the mixture; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together egg, milk and oil.  Add egg mixture to flour mixture.  Stir just until moistened.  Do not overmix- batter should be lumpy.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.  If desired, sprinkle Streusel Topping over batter in cups.  Bake in a 400˚F preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove muffins from pan.
Streusel Topping
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. cold butter
2 Tbsp. chopped nuts, if desired
Combine the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumb.  Stir in nuts, if using.
Add-ins I’ve tried-  don’t be afraid to be creative here
Note:  Gently fold in fruit and peels at the end.  Extracts or flavorings should be added to the egg-milk mixture.  Spices, such as cinnamon, should be added to the flour mixture.
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries, 1 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1 c. coarsely chopped cranberries and 2 Tbsp. additional sugar
Reduce flour to 1-1/3 c. and add 3/4 c. rolled oats to flour mixture (mini-chocolate chips maybe?)
Increase sugar to 1/2 c. and add 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds to flour mixture.
Reduce milk to 1/2 c. and stir in 3/4 c. mashed banana and 1/2 c. chopped nuts into the flour mixture along with the egg mixture. (best not to use paper cups for this one- they really stick to the paper)
1 c. Craisins ( any flavor)
1 medium-sized apple, peeled, cored and diced (Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp work well) plus 1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup of chopped, pitted cherries, fresh or frozen, plus 1 tsp. almond extract
Bon appétit and happy baking!  Your eaters will love you and your kitchen will smell heavenly.  Sip your coffee while they bake, as I do, and read Sean Dietrich‘s daily posts about life in the South.  I follow him on Facebook and he is always amazing.  We are yet-to-meet-in-person best friends.  His wife, Jamie, is a killer cook.  I beg her for recipes.  I have no shame.  Check out what I’ve written about them here and here

Sunday, June 19, 2016


Father’s Day 2016.  Daddy Tommy when he was no more than a kid.  Sons #1 and #2 are older than he was in this photo.  I keep this one on my refrigerator.  I love to look into his smiling eyes.  I wonder what he was thinking?  I don’t know where this was taken.  Daddy joined the Army and left my mom and Spruce Pine around the age of 19, I think.  Mama left Spruce Pine to join him in Louisiana at not quite 16 years of age.
My BFF’s house was robbed not long ago and the one thing that she wants back is a card from her dad.  It accompanied a string of pearls that she was given on her wedding day.  “I love you, Dad.”  He was a victim of Alzheimer’s. She says it was clear that he had a great deal of difficulty writing those four words on that card.  It is probably the last thing he wrote.  She knows that she will never see it again, but it meant more to her than the jewelry that was taken.
I have a letter that my dad wrote back home to my Grandma Bell.  I promised Mama I would take good care of it when she gave it to me last year.  It is a big part of our family story.  It is the only thing that I have in my dad’s handwriting.  Hand-written letters are very personal and prized possessions.  The postmark is 1956, the year my dad turned 20.

Although he wrote it to my grandmother, he mentions my grandfather several times.  We lived next door to my grandparents for all but two of my first 18 years.  My dad and grandfather did not get along very well for many of those years, as I remember it.  That still makes me profoundly sad.  I loved them both so very much.  Parenting isn’t easy.  It is the toughest job out there.  Bar none.  My dad was hardheaded, as we say in the South, and I am pretty sure that he bucked all of my grandfather’s advice.  20-year olds are pretty sure they know everything and that they do not need parental intervention.  I wish that I could sit them both down right now and ask them all of the questions that have been swirling around in my head all these years.  They will both be in my Heaven, so I know that someday I will have the chance for a heart-to-heart talk with these two men who played such a prominent role in my childhood.
Daddy’s letter ends this way–

Did he ever call Papa?  I have no idea.  When he was discharged from the Army, he built a house next door to my grandparents and I was born in 1958.
Daddy loved country music, watching police serial shows, gangster movies and golf on TV, the Washington Redskins, Duke basketball, eating pimiento cheese and bologna sandwiches, camping and taking his boat out on Lake James in the summer.  He loved to 
tease me.  I hated it, of course.  He loved his dog Bowser, although that dog chewed through the bathroom door.  He loved Kentucky Fried Chicken and we would often stop in Marion on the way to the lake to buy some to take with us.  He loved my mom and his crumbcrushers, as he called us.
Life with Tommy wasn’t easy, though.  He was an alcoholic.  And not a funny or laid back one.  Quite the opposite.  It took me a long time to talk about this part of my childhood and to forgive him.  I wrote a letter to him towards the end of his life and I hope that I conveyed my love and the beginning of forgiveness.
Parenting is a tough job.  You want the very best for your children.  You don’t want them to hurt, either physically or emotionally.  However, although there are shelves and shelves of how-to books out there, parenting does not come with a fool-proof manual.  It is a combination of trial and error and doing the best you can.  It’s not about being perfect or making life perfect for your child.  Life is tough.  It’s not always fair.  It’s about trying to provide for all of your children’s needs and a few of their wants.  It’s about listening and admitting when you are wrong.  It’s the purest form of love.
This quote is also on our refrigerator–

It has been there for 26 years.  Son #1 recently used it when he spoke about his dad at his dad’s induction into our school’s Sports Hall of Fame.  Hopefully, someday it will be on Son #1’s refrigerator.  Hasdai Ibn Shaprut was a Spanish-Jewish physician and poet/writer (915-975 A.D.).
I found this recipe and plan to make it for the Ex-Ex and Son #1 today.  Unfortunately, Son #2 can’t be here with us.  Tommy Bell would have liked this sandwich, I’m sure.
Patty Melt Sandwich
from Leite’s Culinaria
(Go to his website to read the recipe in his much more interesting words!)
Makes 4 sandwiches (you know your eaters, though, and how much they eat, so adjust quantities, if necessary!)
For the onions:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium Vidalia onions
  • 3 pinches salt
  • 1/4 cup white wine (SB note:  I didn't have any white so I used rosé!)
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
For the patty melt:
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 pound ground beef 
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • 8 to 10 slices crusty bakery bread  (if you want to make a traditional patty melt, rye bread); SB note:  I used potato hamburger rolls, flattened
  • Sliced American cheese


1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.
2. Slice the onions into fairly thin rings or half rings and add them to the skillet, stirring to coat with oil and continuing to stir  around until onions become limp, about 7 minutes.
3. Add salt and stir.
4. Add the wine and raise heat to high for 1 minute, stirring constantly until liquid evaporates, then return to medium, add butter and stir until melted.
5. Cook, stirring the onions in the pan frequently for another 15 minutes or until they are nicely golden brown. [Leite's Note: Just to be clear, the onions are not going to be caramelized after this short amount of time. And that’s okay. Although if you really want caramelized onions, be our guest and let them cook at least another 30 minutes or so.) Remove the pan from the heat.
Make the patty melt
6. Preheat another skillet over medium heat and add cooking oil to coat the surface.
7. Make  4  balls of ground beef.
8. When the skillet with the oil gets hot, place the balls of beef into the pan, one or two at a time. Season with salt and mash them flat with a spatula so that each patty is just smaller than the slice of bread. Cook the patties, without touching them, for 3 to 5 minutes. Flip them and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more for medium-rare, more for medium or well-done. Place the burgers on a wire rack placed over a plate.
9. Heat skillet to medium heat.  Butter 1 side of each slice of bread. Place 1 slice of bread in the skillet, butter side down. Add a slice of cheese on top of the bread, followed by a cooked patty, some of the onions, followed by another slice of cheese and a second slice of bread, butter side up. Cook for 2 1/2 minutes. Keep an eye on the sandwich so that the bread doesn’t burn. Then flip the sandwich and cook for 1 minute more. Using a spatula, remove the sandwich from the skillet and place it it on a plate. Repeat with the remaining patties, buttered bread, cheese, and onions. Serve hot.
 Bon appétit and Happy Father’s Day to all!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Letting go

I've probably already used this title.  It's my theme for early June.  Another school year has come and gone.  My 36th.  And as excited as I am for summer, it is difficult to let go.  Oh, the 8th graders are ready for high school, whether they know it or not.  Some are nervous, some are excited, some are just plain oblivious because a two month break from homework, tests, quizzes, and projects is all they can see at the moment.  Exams have been studied for and taken.  They've been graded, recorded and the grades have gone home to mom and dad.  I've had Alice Cooper's School's Out for the Summer running through my head for a few days.  Do any of my students even know who Alice Cooper is??

I am especially close to this particular class.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps it is because they needed me in some way that others haven't?  Perhaps it's because they let me get close to them and I let them get to know a different side of me?  I taught them for two years and advised twelve of them in 7th grade.  I've watched them fall down, scrape their knees and elbows, literally and figuratively. I've cried with them over the loss of a grandparent or a pet or as they have tried to make sense of a divorce.  I've let them know if they have disappointed me, with thoughtless behavior or by not working up to their potential in class.  I've celebrated their successes, winning essay contests, having the nerve to get up in front of their peers and visitors to recite their spoken word poems, sing with the chorus, dance with their movement class or act out a Goth version of Shakespeare.   Some of them shared what they wrote in response to watching the movie Sarah's Key based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.  They shared these thoughts in the school literary magazine but also with the author herself when we met her in Paris.  This is Mlle Mer.  Her grandmother left Europe as a young girl in wake of the Holocaust.

I will miss her accidentally calling me Mom.

We've gotten dirty in the school gardens, planting, weeding, and picking strawberries.  We've traveled to Foster's and Guglhupf cafés just down the street for baguettes, fromage, and macarons, to Washington, DC for the 7th grade class trip, and 23 of us jetted across the Atlantic Ocean so that I could show them "my" France.

The one pictured at the top of the post, Miss Issy, is heading to France this summer to spend two weeks with her pen friend.  Paris with her Mum first, then Senlis, Toulouse (or Toulon?), the Riviera and Corsica.  She is leaving DA for a nearby public school and I will miss her and her really cool English accent.  I can't wait to read the book she gave me.

Not sure what the bad habits are, but I look forward to finding out.  Probably won't share that information with next year's 8th graders, though.

What to say about these two?

Monsieur drove me nuts, but I will genuinely miss him.  He will grow up to do amazing things when he learns to focus and control his brain.  His pal, on the other arm, bought him a planner to help him get through the end of the year with all of his homework assignments completed (and probably so that she wouldn't have to listen to me nag him every single day, truth be told).  He should read or watch Le Petit Nicolas.  Mademoiselle has become my Pretend Daughter.  Unbeknownst to me, she and another girlie had a project this year whose code name was Apples.  They kept up with the dates of days when I wore a black dress to school.  The sheet of paper I have as evidence only dates from January 26 and there are 28 dates marked, including the one above, June 9.  What can I say?  I love black dresses.  I suppose I am more clueless than I care to believe.  And 8th graders can be pretty clever.

It was a very good year.  Quite a few tears and many waterproof mascara days. So many laughs and really good hugs.

I love you all.  I will miss you, but it is time to move on.  I hope that I have taught you a little about life, perseverance, hard work, and the importance of being your best self as well as how to conjugate and use the imparfait.  I hope that you have many days when you think "This is the best day of my life!"  And that you remember those days when a lousy one comes along.

This sums it up pretty well, n'est-ce pas?

Bonnes vacances!  Ne m'oubliez pas, s'il vous plaît.

Mme E

Today's recipe is one 8th graders would appreciate (well, except for the unfortunate ones who can't eat chocolate- I had four of those, les pauvres).  It's from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  I am addicted to her blog.  And the mention of sea salt reminds me of our visit to Aigues Mortes and seeing the enormous piles of salt at La Baleine.

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
makes approximately 18-24

1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. (25 g) granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. (25 g) Turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw- you can use more brown or white if you have this, but the subtle crunch it adds is delightful)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (165 g) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. baking soda
Heaped 1/4 tsp. (technically 1/4 + 1/8 tsp.) fine sea salt or table salt
1-3/4 cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 pound (225 g) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
Flaky sea salt, to finish

Heat oven to 360˚F (180˚C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated and scraping down the bowl as needed.  Beat in fine sea or table salt and baking soda until combined, then the flour on low speed until just mixed.  The dough will look crumbly at this point.  With a spatula, fold/stir in the chocolate chunks.

Scoop cookies into 1-1/2 Tbsp. (#40 scoop) mounds, spacing them apart on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt.  Bake 11 to 12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft on the inside.  Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

From Deb:
Extra dough- I know, what's that?!- can be formed into scoops and frozen on a sheet until solid, then transferred to a freezer bag.  I've baked these right from the freezer; they need, at most, 1 minute more baking time.  You could also from them into a 2-inch log, freeze it, and slice and bake the cookies off as desired.  The only difference I've note between cookies baked right away and those baked a day or more later is that the older cookie dough is less puffy when baked.

Bon appétit and happy summer to all, students and teachers alike!