Friday, September 1, 2017

Now, where were we?

Well, hello again, friends. It's lovely to be back and writing to you, especially on Sexy Girls Eat Dessert Friday - my favorite!

These last few years, I've cottoned to French cooking. While some dishes like the legendary cassoulet are famously complicated, most recipes are pretty simple. Once I cracked open Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking, gifted to me by my now-former mother-in-law, my trepidation vanished and I set about learning to make a few of these classic recipes.

By far, my favorite weeknight dessert, especially when fresh fruit isn't in season, is cherry clafoutis. This famous sweet, from the Limousin region in southern France, is made of cherries baked in a custardy batter and topped with cream. That's about it. With a blender, the batter comes together in less than a minute. The most difficult (and longest) part is waiting for it to bake!

Photo: TBR News Media. We ate ours before we could get a picture.

I'm told that original recipes call for unpitted sweet cherries, and that the cherry pits release a subtle almond flavor as they bake. Rather than risk a broken tooth, I use pitted, water-packed cherries (NOT cherry pie filling!) and add a smidge of almond extract to the batter. Sometimes, I use one can of dark cherries and one can of red tart cherries. My favorite brand is Oregon Specialty Fruit, partly because they have such pretty labels. Oh, and the cherries are good, too.

If you're a crazy person who dislikes cherries, try this recipe with an equivalent amount of your favorite fruit. Berries, sliced peaches or pears... It's up to you.

Ready? Here we go!

Cherry Clafoutis 
  1. 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  2. 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  3. 3 large eggs
  4. 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  5. OPTIONAL: 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  7. 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  8. 3 cups cherries, pitted
  9. OR two cans of dark sweet cherries, drained
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8-cup baking dish, cast-iron skillet, or deep pie plate. 

Put the milk, sugar, eggs, extracts, salt, and flour in a blender. Blend until smooth. 

Pour the batter into the baking dish. Add the cherries to the dish, distributing them evenly. 

Pop it in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. The clafoutis will be golden brown and puffed, though it will deflate upon cooling. It's done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Let cool until lukewarm. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, or serve topped with freshly whipped cream. Makes an excellent breakfast treat, especially paired with a hot cup of black coffee or tea.    

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Changes, changes, changes

    Since the end of last summer, much has changed. I haven't yet decided if I will continue this 'blog consistently, though now that I have lost my job, I have plenty of time. Whether I have the inspiration...I don't know.

    My job ended on December 9, but I was sent home on Armistice Day, at half pay for the duration of my contract. Ostensibly this was because of funding, but I think a large part of it was the changed climate of my department, my ill adaptation to those changes, and my coping with an alcoholic husband, which made me appear unreliable. I am not sorry: the job got my appendectomy paid for, as well as F's diabetes diagnosis and treatment, paid for, plus I got Molly, Liza, and Lindsay, Cassie's successors.

    Most importantly, the insurance I got at my job paid for F's alcoholism treatment; he completed a stay at Brighton Hospital in November and came home from a sober living house twelve days ago. I am and will forever be grateful to the folks at the Howell Alano Club and the Brighton recovery community.

    Because I started this 'blog as a way to provide a source I wish I had had, I'll say it all. I come from a family with alcoholism all down both sides. Both my parents had alcoholic fathers. My mother's father had thirty years of sobriety when he passed away in 1992, but my father's father never really stopped drinking. Every time I stayed up into the wee hours, or was awakened by the thud of my husband's body falling unconscious to the floor, I worked to pick him up, to carry him to bed, to clean up after him, grimly certain of my place in a long line of women who had done so for the drunken.

    When F checked in to Brighton, I asked him if he'd mentioned my grandfather's name for the frequent flier discount. My father, twenty years old and newly bereft of his mother in 1970, had driven his father to Brighton and checked him in when it seemed certain that his father would drink himself to death in his grief. At thirty-four, with my husband's parents in attendance, it was harrowing enough to sit in that big waiting room while F was tested and evaluated; I can't imagine what it must have been like for my father, with only his girlfriend, my mother, for support, to take his father there. As I type this, I weep for the boy my father was, for how he must have buried his own grief to care for his father.

    Looking back on my parents' relationship, how my father cleaved to my mother and resented any separation, I think I understand why. A terrifying brain surgery in 1978 threatened to separate us all, but he survived to take his M.Ed from the University of Michigan in 1979, to a thunderous standing ovation.

    But my father died young, like his mother. I miss him. I wish that I could speak with him about losing my job. He lost many jobs, even the day before he married my mother.

    "What did you do?" I asked him when he told me, just a few months before he died.
    "I got up, I married your mom, and we went on our honeymoon. I knew something would turn up," he said.

    Mom and Dad saw us through the recession of the early 1980s. We didn't go to Disneyworld, but there was always enough to eat, and new bikes at Christmas, and trips up north to the cabin our parents had built atop the moraine marking the furthest extent of the glacier that carved Lake Huron.

    So now, as I sip a Simpler Times beer bought with my unemployment check, I remember my father and how carefully he and my mother hid hard financial realities from us. I am grateful that my mother has found a wonderful, kind man with whom to share her life, but I still miss my Daddy.

    Within the next few months, we will leave our little apartment in Michigan's premiere college town for a Victorian house in Wisconsin: harp, guitar, kitties, and all. All I have is what is within me: the certainty that there is no certainty.

    Monday, July 26, 2010

    Summer Tortellini

    If you receive a bounty of vegetables from a friend's garden, like I did on Sunday, try this recipe.

    1 medium zucchini
    1 medium yellow squash
    1 bunch kale
    1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
    1 pkg frozen cheese tortellini
    fresh herbs to taste (I like thyme)
    olive oil
    salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste

    Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Slice zucchini and squash and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.
    While the squash cooks, cut the kale into ribbons and add it to the pan. Stir it well, reduce heat, and clap a lid on the pan for about five minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.
    Cook the tortellini according to package directions. Drain and add to the vegetables. Season to taste.
    Cut tomatoes in halves or slices and toss with pasta and vegetables. Drizzle with more olive oil, if you like, and serve with iced tea.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Sweets, and keeping one's seams straight

    My friend and coworker, the Fabulous Babs, says, "There's something intrinsically, subtly sexy about looking back over your shoulder to check that your seams are straight." I agree.

    I have slowly acquired a small collection of vintage nylon stockings, sheer as nothing available today is sheer. But for the seam running up my calf, one would never know I was wearing stockings. When I was a teenager, I asked my mother for stockings instead of pantyhose, and she looked at me strangely. She told me that when she was a teenager, she had to wear a garter belt with stockings, and she had hated it. She permitted me to purchase a garter belt and a pair of stretchy stockings, and to say that I liked them very much is an understatement. Of course, at seventeen, I wasn't that interested in displaying my stockings to anyone. I think I just wanted to be different, as usual.

    Now that I have a job for which I can dress up without worrying about mussing my clothes, I wear my vintage stockings almost every day. I don't like the way the garter clips dig into the backs of my thighs, but it's bearable. By the way, if you're interested in wearing old-fashioned stockings, please spend a bit more to get a good garter belt. Make sure that the garter clips are solid and that the rubber knobby part won't pop out of the metal loop -- and do insist on metal loops, as they last much longer than plastic. I like four straps on each leg; the flimsy little belts sold by most lingerie shops only have two, which are not enough to hold a non-stretchy nylon stocking taut all day.

    I unfortunately don't have photos. Someday, perhaps...

    Time for a very easy summer sweet.

    Strawberries and Cream

    Fresh strawberries, hulled
    Heavy cream
    Greek yogurt sweetened to taste with powdered sugar
    or both!

    Slice strawberries (or not). Pile in dishes.
    Whip cream (or not), or mix sugar with yogurt. Pour or plop onto berries and enjoy.

    Monday, June 28, 2010

    "Be Gentle With Yourself"

    "Be gentle with yourself." That's a bit of advice I'd often heard, but wasn't able to follow. I even took a spiritual development class on being gentle with myself. Still, the taskmistress in my head refused to be banished. Gentle? What nonsense! Life isn't about being gentle. It's about working hard, harder, harder, and winning, and being right. And whatever you are, or want to do, if it doesn't get you more money, it's stupid. And you're stupid for wanting those things.

    There are much worse things that get said, too, but I don't want to tell you those.

    My friend Zilan sent me a link to this page, and for some reason, the author words the message in such a way that I finally was able to understand how gentleness and lovingkindness towards myself is not lazy, undisciplined, or disgustingly self-indulgent.

    Criticizing yourself, beating yourself up, feeling sorry for yourself, and being disappointed in your own behavior is not virtuous, honorable, or productive in any way. If you do it on a regular basis, you’ve been taught to believe that negative feedback is an effective way to motivate change.

    That kind of thinking was taught to you by those who didn’t know any better than to make you feel worse so they could feel better. They did their job well because you sub-consciously believe that if you can make yourself feel bad enough, you’ll do better.

    Fortunately, that’s not how it works. Negative feedback creates avoidance behavior, not inspired behavior. Otherwise, the only way we can be successful is by making ourselves miserable!

    DING! I suddenly understand. I've been experimenting with refusal to judge myself when I do things like eat dessert for dinner, finish the bottle of Chardonnay at the end of the evening, lie on the couch watching Law and Order, or take the bus instead of walking the couple of miles home. And yes, almost all of my harsh self-judgment has had to do with eating and body image problems. I still struggle, but it has gotten easier since reading this article and, somehow, taking it to heart. I hope you find it helpful, too.

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    Angel Cake Mariette

    "Mariette" is the French version of my name. This is a favorite simple, summertime dessert...or breakfast. You can get several servings out of the amounts listed below. Wrap any leftover cake tightly so that it doesn't dry out.

    1 angel food cake
    3 pints berries (strawberries and blueberries are good), washed, hulled, etc.
    1 pkg frozen red raspberries, thawed
    whipped cream
    honey to taste

    Cut cake by pulling apart with two forks.
    Split cake pieces horizontally. Place the bottom half (or halves, if you're really hungry) in a bowl or on a plate.
    Spoon thawed raspberries over the cake, letting the juice soak the cake.
    Spoon some other berries over the raspberries. Put the top slice on the cake.
    Spoon more berries over and around the cake. Drizzle with honey, if desired.
    Top with lots of whipped cream. And most of all, enjoy!

    Saturday, June 5, 2010

    Wednesday Pasta

    Makes about two servings, or one big one if you're very hungry.

    2 cups uncooked whole-wheat pasta shells
    1-3 oz. package mixed cremini, oyster, and portobello mushrooms
    1 shallot, sliced thin
    1 red bell pepper, diced
    1 can quartered artichoke hearts
    6 oz. goat cheese
    Extra-virgin olive oil
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Sauté pepper, shallot, and mushrooms in a little olive oil until slightly softened. Add artichokes and stir just until heated through.
    Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water to al dente. Drain.
    Mix hot pasta with goat cheese, stirring well until cheese is reduced to a creamy sauce.
    Add vegetables to pasta and mix well.
    Serve with a salad of mixed spring greens and herbs, with a glass of Pinot Grigio.

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