Thursday, December 28, 2017
Monday, December 25, 2017
As I sit here, next to my beautiful Christmas tree,
listening to the cat lap up water and to cars pass by at 7:15 on Christmas morning, I have the song All I Want for Christmas stuck in my head. Yesterday I had almost everything I need right under one roof. Adorable Granddaughter spent the night so she was crawling/toddling around the downstairs. Son #2 came in from Charleston by way of Charlotte, bringing Couper-Dog with him. Son #1 and EB came over to fetch Miss Adorable and stayed around to have some Maple View Farms eggnog and cookies. And for Miss Adorable to open her gifts. Not that she has any clue about what's going on other than there are some bright lights on a tree and tissue paper to pull out of bags.
They are off to visit the other grandparents today.
Christmas is much calmer when your children are 30 and 25. And way quieter. So I am in my silent house (even the cat has gone back to sleep now) thinking about what I want for Christmas, the real list. In no particular order:
- good health for my family, my friends and me
- the satisfaction that comes from hard work and a job well done at the end of the day
- kindness in this world
- politicians who genuinely care about the people they represent, true civil servants
- good books
- an end to poverty, hunger and homelessness
- more time with Mama Mildred and the SP gang
- equity for everyone, regardless of their skin color, religion and geographic location
- music to sing along with and dance to
- delicious food and drink, shared with family and friends
I know that I could add many more, but as we always told the Sons, Santa doesn't like greedy children (or adults- especially adults).
On today's menu, biscuits for breakfast. Or maybe French toast? Pancakes? (At least I already made the coffee.) For lunch, I will cook a roast beast (actually a beef tenderloin, I just like to call it that), gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans/haricots verts, if you want to get fancy, yeast rolls and an apple-cranberry crumble-type dish using a recipe passed on to me by the BFF (Miss Helen's specialty). We will time this lunch so that it doesn't interfere with the Boston Celtics basketball game later this afternoon. Son #2 is a huge fan and has started writing for a Celtics blog.
Time to get on with the biscuits-- I hear the thundering paws of a white lab upstairs so the house is coming to life.
My final cookie creation from Christmas Eve--
Chocolate Peppermint Kiss Cookies
adapted from Sally McKenney's Rainbow Kiss Cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
24 peppermint kisses
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Whisk together flour, cocoa and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
- Beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. Add sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, scraping down the bowl a couple of times. Add egg yolk, milk and vanilla; beat on high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down sides and beat again as needed to fully combine. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just until combined. You may need to switch over to a wooden spoon to finish adding the flour- this dough is thick.
- At this point, I wish that I had refrigerated the dough for 30 minutes so that it would have been easy to roll. You may do this, if you wish.
- Shape dough into balls. Place them 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
- Bake cookies for 9-10 minutes, until set. When out of the oven, gently press an unwrapped peppermint kiss into the center of each cookie. Cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Be careful handling the cookies until completely cool. The kiss gets melty from the warm cookie. (I messed one up and had to eat the evidence.)
**Sally's recipe calls for the balls of dough to be rolled in rainbow nonpareils or sprinkles before baking and then a chocolate kiss pressed into the center of each cookie when they come out of the oven. With all the different flavors of chocolate kisses out there, you could be quite creative.
Bon appétit, Joyeux Noël and Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. If not, I wish you a plain old wonderful day. I hope that you are warm, safe and well-fed. And with at least one person you love.
Friday, December 22, 2017
Non, I am not posting about math problems. Heaven help anyone who asks me a math-related question. The kids in my after school study hall know that. I have a couple of 8th graders on call to help with anything more complicated that multiplication tables. And recently I proved that I am not even very good at that. I was at a workshop and we were asked to choose a number between 1 and 10, multiple it by 9 and then add the two numbers together. Oh, I can't remember all the steps but everyone should have come up with the same number. Pas moi. Nope. I was puzzled until I realized that I had goofed up the second step-- I need to study my 9's, I guess. I will get right on that. Mon dieu.
I am posting about my 2018 trips to... France. Of course. I count the days. And I even catch myself thinking "This time next month I will have already spent my week in Paris." I have no idea why I do that. It's exciting and depressing all at the same time. I go in January as a guest of ACIS, the student travel company I use. They host global conferences for teachers who are taking students on trips. I have been lucky enough to go for the past five or six years. The conference lasts three days and I am extending my stay for three extra nights. I will meet with my fabulous Tour Manager, Bertrand, and check out some possible places to take the kiddos during our unscheduled time in March (that's the 76 part of the equation). I personalize the trip for my students so I am always on the lookout for new, interesting things to do with them. Bertrand's advice will be most helpful. ACIS has some great activities planned for us-- a guided tour of the Palais Garnier (the Phantom of the Opéra's home) and a walking tour of the Marais followed by a visit to the Picasso Museum. I always make new friends and see something new.
I wander around a lot. I get lost (I am better at getting lost than I am at multiplying by 9) and find myself in an undiscovered neighborhood or street. I plan to have a drink at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz-Carlton (if I don't chicken out- I figure there is always the chance that the bartender or doorman will look at me, realize that there is no way I belong there, and toss me out with a Good riddance, Madame). I hope to have foie gras at least once, if not twice. A slice of Galette des Rois from a good bakery. Maybe an MOF pâtissier. Last year, Christophe Michalak's creation.
A baguette from the shop that won the 2017 Best Baguette competition, the Brun Boulangerie in the 13th arrondissement. I don't know that neighborhood well. I look forward to getting lost. (last January-- lost looking for the Marquis de la Fayette's grave- a grand adventure)
But I hope to find the bakery first so that I will have something to snack on while finding my way out!
Perhaps I should let Pierre know I will be there.
He hasn't been able to clear his schedule in the past to meet up with me, but one can always hope, n'est-ce pas?
I will also be able to spend some time with my dear friend Mme M who lives not far from Paris. I think that she is going to take the train into the city. She will retire from teaching at the end of the school year and our 30-year student exchange/pen pal letter writing adventure will sadly come to an end. At least for our students. Not for us. She was/is my first real French friend and she has shown me so many wonderful places in her country and taught me so much. I hope that our adventures together never end. In 2008, we spent a weekend in Champagne, visiting champagne houses and sampling the vintages. Tough, I know. But seriously, someone has to do these things. Might as well be moi.
At Taittinger in Reims. Santé.
We got lost (big surprise, right?) and ended up driving through a beautiful vineyard. Having no sense of direction has its advantages.
Well, that's enough daydreaming for right now. I have Gingerbread Cookies to bake. Gwen Stefani's Christmas album, You Make It Feel Like Christmas, is playing. Her duet with main squeeze Blake Shelton is currently my favorite. Enjoy! Dance around if you feel like it. Guaranteed to make you happy.
The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, 2004
Yield: 3 dozen 3-inch cookies
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice or ground cloves
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- In a saucepan set over low heat melt the butter, then stir in the sugar, molasses, salt, and spices. Transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl and let cool to lukewarm, then beat in the egg with a whisk.
- In a large bowl, whisk the baking powder and soda into the flour. Stir the dry ingredients into the molasses-butter mixture. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Divide the dough in two and place it on a clean work surface lightly dusted with flour. Working one piece at a time, roll it out as thick or thin as you like. (King Arthur: We roll these cookies, which we prefer a bit less crisp and more chewy, to a 1/4-inch thickness.) Sprinkle enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface and rolling pin.
- Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter, cutting them as close to one another as possible. Transfer cookies to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Re-roll dough as many times as necessary to use it all.
- Bake the cookies just until they are slightly brown around the edges, 8-12 minutes, or until they feel firm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for several minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.
- Decorate with Royal icing, if you wish.
Bon appétit and may you have adventures to look forward to in 2018. We all need something to dream about. Adventures are good for the soul! If you don't have a traveling companion, go solo. I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
So, confession is supposed to be good for the soul, right? What if I don't feel guilty? Do I still need to confess? Well, I will anyway.
Every morning on the way to my classroom, I pass a bin for used book donations. These books go to our annual school used book sale sponsored by the Parents Association. I love this book sale. I walk away with bags full of books. Books for me, books for Mama Mildred, books for friends, books for my classroom. And now there will be books for the Adorable Grandbaby. A couple of mornings ago, I glanced into the bin and spotted the book above. There was no way I was leaving that book for someone who would not appreciate it as much as I will. So, yes, I snatched it up. Actually, I very casually picked it up, started flipping through it and sauntered into my classroom still perusing cookie porn. I love King Arthur Flour and use no other when baking. 496 pages of recipes, photos, hints and advice when making cookies. Soften up the butter and preheat the oven!
And I promise to make a donation to the book sale in April. Baker's honor.
Here is the first recipe I am trying (stay tuned- I promise photos, the dough is in the refrigerator chilling as I type)--
King Arthur's Special Roll-Out Sugar Cookies
The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, 2004
Often sugar cookies are fat and soft, the cumulus clouds of cookiedom. But when you roll out the dough, rather than drop it from a spoon, you reach the other extreme: thin and snapping-crisp. Make them just a bit thicker, and you've got crunchy. These golden cookies, with their comforting vanilla flavor, pair nicely with ice cream or fresh fruit. The dough is also sturdy enough to be cut into fanciful shapes and decorated. (Cookie porn, I warned you)
Yields: 42 cookies (depending on size, of course)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional (I added another 1/2 tsp. vanilla)
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream or sour cream
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, vanilla, and almond extract (if using) until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Add half the cream, all of the cornstarch, and half the flour; beat well. Add the remaining cream and flour, mixing just until all of the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Divide the dough in half, flatten into rounds, and wrap well in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more, to facilitate rolling.
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment paper- my preferred method) two baking sheets.
- Transfer the chilled dough to a lightly floured surface and place a piece of plastic wrap over it while you roll it out to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin. Roll the dough to 1/8-1/4-inch thick. Cut it into the shapes of your choice and transfer to the prepared baking sheets.
- Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, until they're set but not browned. Remove them from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Bon appétit and happy baking. Warm cookies make people feel loved. I am sure of that. And that's the best part of baking, in my humble opinion.