Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Stories

I'm just gonna skip over the whole bit about how long it's been since I last wrote anything here and launch in instead.

Here are my two stories.

One involves a really shitty day last week.  That's right.  So disheartening that I deign to curse right out there in the open.  And of what, pray tell, was this miserable day composed?  My principal let me down, bummed me out...repeatedly in one day.  I started the day by leading a 7am meeting with parents (yep, that's right, 7-butt-crack-'o-dawn meeting) and I ended the day by leading a two-hour meeting with my staff.  The dude didn't show up for the first meeting, which he promised he'd be at, and he did show up for the second meeting, and proceeded to tell us all that we sucked, basically.  Which is far from true.  We've got a dedicated team of teachers who I am proud to work with.  Even if staplers do go missing once in a while.

I know this is sounding melodramatic.  But I love my principal.  Adore him.  He's my hero and all that.  And he ruined both meetings last week, in a single day.  And the meetings themselves weren't actually a big deal at all.  It's the larger implications of the whole mess.  I won't bore you.  Just know that in over five years of working at this school, it was the first day ever that I thought about looking for a new job.  And that was sad.  And I was sad.

But!  That's not even the story!  The story is this: on that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, a single thing made me happy.  I have a student who agreed to stop storing his homework in his pockets and start using folders.  Yup.  That's it.  And I was thrilled.  No sarcasm.  No more pockets.  It's monumental.

I only think of it today because we had a long talk about how poorly he's been doing in school the past few days.  The brief version is this: his mom is crazy and treats him horribly.  He is so very angry at her that he is bound and determined to fail at everything in life so that she is proven to be a bad mother.  He does not want her to be able to take credit for any success he might have in life, so he has decided to have no successes.  And he's not kidding.  It's strangely illogical logic.

Nonetheless, as he folded his math project up today to store in his pocket, I squawked at him to get out his folder.  Moments later he was back from his locker with a beautiful blue folder, which was even labeled "MATH."  It cracks me up that he retrieved the correct subject folder.  And he obliged me by unfolding his project and putting it neatly into his folder.  I know it doesn't sound like much, but for a 14 year old boy, this is an important new organizational habit.  No more pockets.

That's the first story.  The second is that I've eaten five cinnamon rolls today.  Ugh.  The story was going to be longer than that with ideas about frosting and misinterpreted recipes.  But I'm tired and the end of the story is that I've had five today.  Craving some veggies for tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Someday I Will Post Again

I promise!  I will.  Really.  September took me by surprise.  I forget how overwhelming the first month back can be.  Maybe it's like giving birth: we forget the pain so that we're willing to do it again.  But also like giving birth, I love my new children.
Today I figured out how to help students write better thesis statements.  Does that interest anyone besides me?  I was pretty excited.
If that doesn't make your boat float, perhaps these beautiful tomatoes do?  I want to be small and play in them, like a child in the ball pit at Chucky Cheese.
Today in class I was telling the kids to use a colon.  "Sarah, what's a colon again?"  I say, "It's the dot-dot," indicating on the board.  A girl in the back clarifies: "It's the eyes."  You know, as in :) smiley-face eyes?  Man, I'm starting to feel so old.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to School

It's that time of year again: the time when I start writing "to do" lists.  This fact took me by surprise in the last week, which is most likely why I have at minimum four separate lists going at the moment.  Legal paper, scrap of white paper, Word doc version, and I just recently stumbled upon the Gmail task list.  Do we like that one?  No decision yet.  Either way, I need to consolidate the lists.  I will put "consolidate lists" on a list, so that when I do it I can cross it off.  That's pathetic, right?  But it makes me happy.  And honestly, I might forget to do it otherwise.

The reason for the sudden uprising of lists?  Ah yes, back to school!  Setting up my classroom for the year I remembered that I ran out of tape sometime around last April.  No surplus hanging about the school, so I have two or three nice tape dispensers without the actual tape to go in them.  I do have about eight rolls of masking tape, though, and it turns out that the children aren't so discriminating in that category.  Anyway, at the start of a new year one has a moment to herself to think, "Regular clear tape would be nice to have...maybe I should track some down."  Unlikely.  I also no longer have white board erasers, and found out yesterday that old t-shirts simply don't work as well as the real deal.  (Although they work fabulously on blackboards--chalk being much more similar to dust, thus easily removed by cloth.)

Properly well-stocked or not, the children descended upon us once again yesterday.  I witnessed one reunion between friends in the subway station before I even got to school.  The kids--7th graders, I think--shrieked and then danced around one another like exotic birds in a spastic mating dance, oblivious to any and all commuters attempting to make their way past the pair.

Then at school, similar scenes played themselves out hundreds of times throughout the day as all 500 of our kids reunited.  Teachers were also involved.

During my final meeting with my advisory from last year, we all shared the best and worst parts of our summer.  Worst: one girl's mother died unexpectedly in August.  I'm worried about her and her brother, but encouraged by the fact that, shy and private as she can be, she was willing to share this news with the whole class.  Best: I'll give it to you as I experienced it.

Student: "I went to camp this summer and lost something very important."

Us: Surprised looks and raised eyebrows.

Student: "Yes, I lost it, and it made me more of a man."

Us: Outburst of laughter and hysteria.

Student: "My Pokemon."

Us: More continued hysteria.

And off to 10th grade they go.  I have a new batch of baby 9th graders now and I'm excited to learn what makes them tick.

So it begins again.  My 7th year as a teacher.  My 25th year starting a new school year.  My mom even sent me a back-to-school shirt in the mail.  Some things never change.  And that makes me happy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

White Peach Pecan Pancakes

It's peach season, people!  Juicy, tender, soft-fuzzed peaches abound.  I've become particularly enamored with white donut peaches this summer; I cringe at the steep cost, but they're just so darned cute.  Like holding a baby chick in your palm--so adorable and fuzzy.  Not that I've munched on a baby chick...
Weekend brunch is a pretty common occurrence around my house.  In fact, I love the idea of going out to brunch, but always come out a little disappointed because I end up feeling like I could easily whip up most items on the menu--for a lot less, too.  One brunch exception comes to mind: the day I had white peach pecan pancakes at a cute restaurant in St. Louis.  The chunks of fruit and nuts protruded from the pancakes in every which way and the pancakes just winked at me, knowing their juicy allure.  Yum.

Two years later, I thought it was high time I attempted these beauties at home for myself.  Friend JD was over, and chemistry teacher that she is, we decided it best to experiment a bit for ultimate pancake pleasure.  In other words, I didn't know whether it would be better to plop the peach and pecan pieces (excuse the non-deliberate alliteration) on top of the batter, or to mix them in.  Because big chunks are a must, I was afraid that mixing would create lumpy and awkward pancakes.
I was wrong.  Mixing in turned out to be way better.  The plop-on-top method looked kind of cool, but these pancakes had no structural integrity: they fell apart.  The mix-in method was perfect.  Huge fluffy pancakes, lip-smacking cooked peaches, and crunchy pecans.  The natural sweetness of the peaches means that these pancakes bring to mind peach cobbler in every bite.  Definitely yum.

You should give 'em a try this weekend.  Or tomorrow.  Or right now.

White Peach Pecan Buttermilk Pancakes, adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe

2-3 white peaches, chopped in chunks
1/2 C toasted pecans, roughly chopped
2 C all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 C buttermilk
1/4 C sour cream
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Veggie oil

Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, eggs, and melted butter.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients.  Gently mix together until just combined, do not over mix.  (Batter will be lumpy with a few streaks of flour remaining.)  As dry and wet ingredients come together, fold in pecans and peaches.  Let batter sit for 10 minutes before cooking.

Heat small amount of oil in pan, medium to medium-high.  Use 1/4 cup batter for each pancake.  Flip when batter stops bubbling, about 2-3 minutes.  Cook on second side until pancake is golden brown.  If not serving immediately, you can keep all your pancakes warm in the oven, set at 200 degrees.

Butter, syrup, enjoy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Apricot Quinoa Salad

It's that time of the summer when I start to feel the upcoming school year creeping ever closer, and I begin to lament my completely uncompleted "to do" summer list.  This is a mental list I make mid-June, anticipating the never ending days of summer that lay before me, knowing with certainty that I will make the most of every minute.  Le sigh.
To date, the linens/medicine closet has still not been cleaned out.  Who knows what lives in it at this point.  I have not written a single letter or email to catch up with people who I think of often but talk with never.  I assigned two educational summer reading books to the teachers at my school; have I read either of them yet?  Um, no.  Nor have I cooked profiteroles for my friend, JD.  But I will.  I will make profiteroles...someday.
I have, however, spent many a fine day with friends and family this summer.  And I have traveled here and there.  And been to the beach on more than one occasion.  And I have been running--without rest, it sometimes seems.  These things are not without merit.  I just forgot to put them on my list back in June.  Henceforth, writing a "to do" list will be much simpler: I will simply record the enjoyable items that I figure I will accomplish regardless.  Not sure why I didn't figure this out earlier...
Well, at least I have delicious food in my fridge and a new happy salad to share with you.  It's a quinoa salad.  Quinoa is amazingly good for you and endlessly versatile.  Only problem is, it never quite floats my boat.  Recently I was directed to try red quinoa (as opposed to the regular cream colored type) for its slightly sweeter flavor.  Turns out, not at all bad.  Happy tummy, happy body.
Apricot Quinoa Salad, adapted from #99 of this fantabulous article.  Just toss in ingredients that please you, to taste.  Here's what I threw in.

3/4 C uncooked red quinoa (cook and cool first)
4 apricots, chopped
1/3 C dried cranberries
1 large scallion, sliced
1/2 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
Juice from 1 lemon
Lotsa fresh ground black pepper


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Training Day: Breathlessly Running

As I mentioned before, I've taken up running the last few years.  This is mostly inspired by Greg, who actually enjoys running on a regular basis.  From the start has encouraged me in a genuine, non-patronizing sort of way.  We often run together, and though he can easily go twice as far and as fast as I can, he happily runs alongside me, letting me set my own pace.  This, in fact, makes a pretty good metaphor for our relationship overall, now that I think of it.

In Iowa a couple weeks back, we stayed with Teresa and Todd, Greg's sister and her husband.  These fine people are the parents of three highly energetic youngins, yet they still find the time and motivation to run or bike most days.  This is more than I can say for myself.  Last fall Teresa and Todd decided to run the Kansas City half marathon and invited us to join them.  In a frenzy of excitement, we booked plane tickets and hauled ourselves to KC.  Greg ran the half marathon, and I ran my very first race: the 5K.  My only goal was to finish the race without walking.  What a goal, eh?  Nonetheless, I met my goal and was absolutely thrilled with myself.

So I find myself a couple weeks ago looking through Todd's copy of Runner's World and reading this article about training for shorter races.  And since it is summer and I sit around a lot on my arse in the summer, I am inspired to train for another 5K--not just run one, train for one.  And while sitting on one's arse, training sounds like a fabulous idea!

Fast forward one week to me--mid work out--lying lost, in some cemetery, crying, complaining, and generally feeling dejected and sorry for myself.  Yup, that's me.  You see, I was visiting friends in Syracuse, and decided to do my daily run outside--not realizing that Syracuse is hilly.  Very hilly.  Hills on par with Seattle and San Francisco.  Add to that my miserable sense of direction, and that leaves me running nowhere close to the route I had intended, and going up one hill after another.  Logic would suggest that with that many hills I would eventually have to go down one or two of them, but logic was not my companion last Friday.  And so, I finally gave up and flung myself into a shady patch of grass bordering a somewhat overly cheerful cemetery.  (You know you're in a bad mood when even a cemetery seems too sunny and pleasant.)

But last night--last night I was an awesome runner.  I ran a 2.5 mile loop in the park faster than I've ever run it--faster by nearly a minute per mile.  And the huge hill?  I kicked its ass.  That hill was so surprised, it didn't know what hit it.  Greg had a look of honest shock on his face as we finished our run, jaw slightly dropped in disbelief.  Because you know what?  I have improved!  Can you tell I'm excited?

Okay, so just under four more weeks to train.  The big race date is Sunday, August 29.  A race for Kiva in Prospect Park.  Here I go.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Skylines and Sweet Corn

Just returned home from a two week trip visiting family around the country.  And what a beautiful country it is, too.  When Greg and I were new to New York, we often commented to one another that this city is like a world unto itself; one gets gobbled up into the energy and vastness of the place, and it's easy to forget that anything exists beyond or outside of it.  Like Wal-Mart, NYC is a one-stop urban shop: anything you want, you can find it here.  (What a horrid analogy, right?)
New York seduced me and I love her still.  But these days, I find myself thinking of straying...to greener pastures and mountainous landscapes.  Leaving the city reminds me of the worlds beyond this one and the possibilities on the other side.  For example, have I told you that--much to Greg's chagrin--I want to raise chickens and goats?  I do.  And I don't think it's gonna happen on my fourth-floor fire escape.  Last month we happily renewed our apartment lease for another two years, so for now I will have to content myself with a week every now and then of the nature that abounds elsewhere.
My dad and I took a trip to eastern Washington to visit grandma.  On the way home we took the scenic route through the Chinook Pass, part of Mount Rainier National Park.  Breathtaking.  And completely worth the added 1.5 hours to our driving time.  The road wove around the mountain, an asphalt ribbon amongst spikes of towering evergreens, trickling waterfalls, and coy mountaintops peeking out from behind summer clouds.  Leaving Yakima Valley, the temperature was creeping toward 100 degrees; Chinook Pass--temp of 42 degrees.  A world unto itself.

A few days later it was off to the Midwest and the land of sweet corn.  You know, I lived in Iowa for four years, and not once did I pick my own corn.  Not until last week, anyway.  With three blond boys in tow, we went in search of a corn field.  Once there, we were administered buckets and directions into the first row of corn: yellow corn on the right, white corn on the left.  The boys forayed into the field of stalks, and within minutes the troop had three dozen ears of corn bucketed up and ready to go.  Around us the sun beat down as wispy clouds trailed overhead.  The sky seemingly went on forever, as did the rows of corn.
I know corn gets a bad rap these days because of its central role in processed food from fatty beef to soda pop.  But that's feed corn, not directly consumed by humans.  The corn we picked was sweet corn and, after handing over an entire six bucks ($2 a dozen if you pick it yourself), we promptly headed home and cooked it up for lunch.  Friends, let me tell you, this was the first time ever that I did not dress my corn in butter, salt, and pepper before consuming it.  I ate it plain, right off the cob.  It needed no seasoning--simply delicious straight from the husk.
Back in Brooklyn I am already missing the wide open spaces.  But on the bus ride home from the airport I was reminded of NewYorkers' unexpected sweetness when the man sitting across from us saw our suitcases and dazed faces and launched into an explanation of where we could catch the train and how to find the elevator in the event that our suitcases were too heavy to carry down the stairs.  Here in the city way may not grow sweet corn, but we grow some sweet people, complete with a New York husk of gruff.  It's worth a foray into our fields, though.  I promise.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Get Your Summer Drink On

Hello, hello.  I'd like to say that the last month has been frenzied and frantic, thus explaining my lack of any new posts in quite some time.  However, just the opposite is true--the last month has been a slow and lazy wind-down to another school year.  Final projects, calculating year-end grades, graduations and their accompanying parties and festivities.  And that's about it.  No good excuse on my end.

The weather is decidedly warmer and summer is upon us.  Just now the whole world seems to be teeming in the park across the street.  Charcoal grill aromas wafting through the air.  Friends help one another parallel park in spots that perhaps are not precisely big enough.  Dill pickle spears strewn across the sidewalk without clear cause--not such a glorious end for them.  And tomorrow the 4th.  Huzzah.

What better time for a refreshing beverage?  None, I assert!  Fortunately, I am here offering up two delicious drink selections.  First, the perfect daytime fizzly: a Campari orange spritzer.  (By the way, now would be a good time to confess that I purchased yet another Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Back to Basics, where I happily stumbled across this drink.)  It's just a little boozier than freshly squeezed lemonade and more refreshing than an evening cocktail.

Take a tall glass, fill it with several ice cubes.  Pour in 1/4 cup Campari (I used Aperol because it was what we had on hand.  Worked great.)  Add 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1.5 juicing oranges per drink).  Fill the rest of the glass with sparkling or soda water and add an orange slice for garnish if it pleases your fancy.

Second drink: banana milkshake.  If you do not have bitters or juicing oranges on hand, and do not want to go trundling about town to locate them, I suggest this option.  Or, if it is breakfast time, or, if you are not yet of legal drinking age.  These are all good reasons to opt for the banana milkshake.  This is a childhood favorite of mine, one that my mom would whip up when we had accumulated a fair number of almost-gone-bad bananas in the freezer.  And, aside from the general refreshing benefits of any frozen drink, this one provides the added benefit of putting to use the bananas that ripen too quickly in the warm summer weather.  I kid you not that I brought home a green bunch of bananas last Saturday, and by Monday they were still green and had brown banana dots all over indicating their over-ripeness.  Sure enough, peeled one open and it was beyond ripe.  Into the freezer the whole bunch went.

Okay, so for this fruity treat you'll need a blender--hand held or traditional.  Into the blender throw 1 frozen (peeled) banana.  Add at least 1/2 cup milk, more if the milkshake is too thick.  Throw in a bit of vanilla extract, maybe 1/4-1/2 teaspoon.  Blend.  Pour.  Straw.  Enjoy.  For a protein boost, add peanut butter.  (Yum!)  For a sweet tooth, add some chocolate syrup.  All good options.

Stay cool and enjoy the holiday.  Happy independence.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Five Panini Party

I have neglected my posting duties as of late, but I have been cooking!  And eating, to be sure.  Last night our friend Mike came over and we had a bit of a panini extravaganza.  Sandwiches have long been one of my favorite meal-time choices, and as Greg points out, nary is there a sandwich which isn't better panini-ed.  We have a panini press, but one can avoid the extra gadget and simply purchase a grill and panini lid such as this one (and I imagine a less expensive version would heat and press just as well, too).  I find paninis to be a wonderful excuse to eat all your favorite breads and cheeses, so I encourage you to try one yourself.

Because paninis are best consumed hot off the grill, we had a multi-course dinner, eating each before trying the next recipe.  It turned out to be a very enjoyable way to mosey through a meal.  Crunchy, too.

Panini #1: Grilled Cheese gone Wild, a Tyler Florence recipe
This panini is made on country white bread, slathered in Dijon mustard, and topped with cheddar, granny smith apple, and bacon.  What's not to love, right?  It was as delicious as it sounds.  When assembling, a good panini rule of thumb is to layer cheese inside both pieces of bread--as in, it will be your bottom and top topping inside the bread.  This way the cheese acts as a sort of food glue, holding the whole mess in place.

Panini #2: Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Truffle Oil, another Tyler Florence recipe
Of the five paninis we tried, this one was the most labor intensive, but it was also Mike's favorite.  Possibly my favorite, too.  And, the truffle oil is a silly ingredient that even Tyler says you can do without.  However, my Secret Santa at work gave me a small bottle for Christmas this year and I've been eager to put it to use.  This was a great excuse to dig it out of the back of the cupboard.  Tyler suggests focaccia for this sandwich, but Greg thinks it's such a messy bread, so we went with ciabatta.  You cook the mushrooms with garlic and thyme, chop up the whole mixture and crumble in the goat cheese.  This makes a tapenade-like spread that you generously scoop onto the bread.  Top with fresh arugula and then: panini!  The arugula wilts, the cheese melts, the bread crips...it's divine.  Another panini tip: push down with the lid to flatten the sandwich as it begins to cook.  Then, leave it there to cook for 2-4 minutes, depending on the bread type, until golden, melty and crunchy.

Panini #3: Croissant, Salami, and Smoked Gouda, a Giada De Laurentiis recipe
Okay, by this point in the many-course meal, I was a little full.  I considered foregoing this last savory panini, but then I remembered the croissants.  Buttery, flaky, croissants.  The grease spots were already seeping through the bag where the croissants were laying in wait.  I couldn't ignore them, or forsake them.  So, for the good of humans and croissants everywhere, I sacrificed, and carried on to the next panini.  Inside the croissants, you layer smoked gouda, shredded parmesan, sliced salami, and arugula.  I'm happy to report that I made the right choice, the moral choice, even: I continued feasting.

At this juncture in the evening it was time to drag ourselves out of the apartment.  It was time for beer.  If you ever find yourself in Park Slope, you should meander over to Beer Table.  I'll make a confession--I don't even really like beer.  But, I love this little place.  It's a cozy joint with four longish tables where patrons sit side by side, European style.  The owner is usually there and he waits on all the guests, discussing the beers, explaining where each is from, what they taste like.  In fact, the menu (which changes daily) is a literary experience itself.  Each beer is listed, followed by a string of five or six adjectives explaining its taste and personality.  Mike's beer was tart and arresting, mine was honey and creamy, and Greg's was fruit loops.  The ambiance is fabulous and the whole experience is quite the culinary event.

Panini #4: Chocolate, Brie, and Basil, another Giada De Laurentiis recipe
After beer we admitted we were full, and so decided to delay the final paninis until this morning.  I mean, what could be better than panini breakfast?

This sandwich is made on sourdough, and I would consider it a dessert (or breakfast!) panini.  Simply layer slices of brie, a sprinkling of chocolate chips, and chopped basil for this delectable treat.

Panini #5: PB & J with Banana, a Greg and Sarah creation
So after the first breakfast panini, there were still a few cute slices of sourdough left over.  And the banana I was already half way through seemed to want a piece of the action.  I hate to say it, but I think I preferred the peanut butter, jelly and banana to the brie and chocolate panini.  Took me back to childhood.
Moral of the panini story?  Make your favorite sandwich and grill it up.  Greg loves a good curry chicken panini.  I like anything, really.  You can't go wrong.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lunch at the Someday School

Percolating idea # 763: my someday school will have an all-school (teachers and students) family-style lunch each day.  That's right.  At big tables.  With family-style serving bowls, which will be passed.  We will sit down together, as a school family community, and we will dine, commune, share, and feast.  On healthy food, no less.  No fake food on styrofoam trays.  Instead, we will feast on a meal that students have helped prepare and will help to clean up.  And then we will have grown-up recess--a siesta or a reprieve--before resuming our afternoon studies.  You are invited to partake someday, too.

Depending on who you are, different portions of this proposal will sound crazy to you.  Are you the type who believes students cannot cook for and feed other students due to health code violations or lack of experience?  Or are you the sort who believes students and teachers have no interest in sharing a daily meal together?  Or, that we can manage healthy and delicious food for entire school full of children--food they will happily eat instead of fries and soda?

Where to begin?  First off, forget all the logistics.  Eating is important.  Sharing meals together creates family, culture, trust, and community.  Those of us who were fortunate enough to eat dinner with family, around a table each night know this.  My someday school will be small--around 300 kids, maybe.  And these kids, they will most likely need some extra family and love, and a safe place to find trust.  So, having lunch together each day is a lovely breeding ground for all that.

As for the food--well, we know how important good food is to healthy kids and a strong education.  Clearly Michelle Obama has brought this issue to the forefront with the White House garden and her "Let's Move" campaign.  Luckily, First Lady Obama is not the only one on the food move.

A fabulous teacher I know has just started up a new organization, FoodFight, designed to fight childhood obesity through food education and advocacy.  This August I'll be taking a week-long FoodFight training course at Columbia University and then teaching this food advocacy elective at my school to juniors and seniors in the fall.  (Carolyn--cofounder of FoodFight--and I have already agreed that I simply must use Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids as a main text for the course.  Hooray!)  On its homepage, FoodFight starkly states the problem: "poor nutrition correlates with low academic performance and directly affects the life chances of students from low income backgrounds" and "over 50% of African American and Latino children born in 2000 are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes."  It's a problem, people.  But one we can try and tackle.

What's more, there's something of a school child food frenzy going out there among celebrity chefs.  Jamie Oliver won a TED prize in February of this year for his visionary proposal to bring healthy food to school cafeterias all over the country.  Really, if you have a few minutes, you've got to watch his acceptance speech, a.k.a. almost-over-the-top inspirational plan to change the world one school lunch at a time.  His performance is a whirlwind adventure, let alone the actual ideas he lays on the table, so to speak.

And if Sir Oliver weren't enough celebrity for one movement, Rachel Ray has thrown herself into the mix.  Now, let's be clear here.  I am not a Rachel Ray fan.  I find her cooking overly simplistic, her voice shrill and nasal, and her overall personality to be...well, lacking.  That said (rather ungraciously, too, I admit), she has also thrown down her gauntlet to help kids learn to grow, cook, and eat better food.  Her non-profit is called Yum-o!  Really?  The exclamation point in "Yum-o!" isn't even a true punctuation mark--it's a whisk.  Really?  Okay, enough cattiness on my end.  She wants to help the young people.  I like that.  I want to help the young people, too.

Which brings me back to my someday school and our lunches.  It's gonna be beautiful.  And the kids will cook for one another.  (You want to see a fantabulous somewhat related documentary?  Check out Pressure Cooker.  It's worth a watch, and finally available on Netflix.)  I know it's not the same for everyone, but I love to feed people--literally and metaphorically.  Feed the soul.  The mind.  The belly.  In other words, I like to grow people.  And I think that my students will someday like to feed, and grow, each other.  Around big tables.  A delicious school family.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A bit of radio silence on my end for the past week or two.  Honestly?  The brunch kinda took it out of me.  Don't get me wrong--we all ate and drank ourselves content.  But getting ready for that kind of gig can leave a person a little worse for wear, it turns out.  Thank goodness my friend Erika, her new puppy, Molly, and my favorite boy toy (a.k.a. Greg) were there to save the day.

The weekend started out calmly enough.  I played a bit of hooky and took off early from work on Friday.  Saturday morning we took Molly to the park to play with all the other dogs.  Molly responded to this by hiding between Greg's legs in an adorable sort of fashion.  Next: to the farmers market for flowers, etc.  Off to kickboxing and back home again to spend the afternoon in the kitchen.  I made two quiches, two batches of scones, and a strata.  Doesn't sound like much laid out in a single sentence like that, but I was delirious by the time I finally found the couch late that evening.

Sunday morning rolled in and Erika and I were up with the sun--and the puppy--to get everything ready.  By the way, puppy and 4th floor apartment?  Not completely disastrous, but not the best case scenario, either.  Molly did not once use our apartment to do her business...but the 1st floor lobby and hallway were another matter.  We can only surmise that Molly had decided she was no longer completely inside, thus permitted to do as nature intended.  This is why Erika owns a neon green backpack with a spray bottle of carpet cleaner and a scrub brush.  She's good with a scrub brush.

So, Sunday found us cutting mountains of fruit.  Peeling and slicing sweet potatoes.  Juggling one oven and three dishes that needed last-minute baking.  Erika, in her generosity, made twice the waffle batter expected.  Her job henceforth was to push waffles on every soul through our door.  I'd like to report that she was quite successful on this front.  Erika also cleaned our bathroom and the washed down the furniture on the roof deck, lest it leave unseemly black marks on our guests' clothing.  Meanwhile, Greg swept, moved furniture, gave valuable tablecloth placement insight (not kidding--he's got a knack for it), and generally acquiesced to any whim or directive I had to give.  And I decided to forgo the mascara after all.  Too much fuss, ya know?

And it was beautiful.  Jammie, our friend from LA, arrived as a surprise, bearing a fabulous bouquet of lilacs.  The weather was pleasant and the roof deck a splendid escape.  We learned that mimosas made with fresh ruby red grapefruit juice most definitely surpass the traditional orange juice variety.  Twenty people and five hours later, I felt happy.  And ridiculously exhausted.  Note to self: more than a handful of friends, potluck is a must.

Unfortunately, we didn't get photos of everything, but here is the brunch menu in full.

Fresh Fruit Salad
Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
Cherry Almond Granola with Yogurt
Banana Bread
Buttermilk Waffles with Syrup, Strawberry Sauce, and Whipped Cream
Strawberry Muffins (a la our lovely friend, KJ)
Mushroom and Leek Quiche
Smoked Salmon Potato Crust Quiche
Turkey Sausage Strata
Thick Cut Bacon
Sweet Potato Fries
and to drink?
Juice Spritzers, Mimosas, Bloody Marys and Coffee

The strata went first, followed closely by the quiches and KJ's strawberry muffins.  Greg and I are still making our way happily through the granola, and we just polished off the last of the bacon and waffles this past weekend.  A brunch to be remembered.  And not repeated any time too soon.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cherry Almond Granola

I'd like to begin by saying that nothing so good should be this easy.  It's dangerous.  It's golden, and crispy, and chewy, and sweet, and crunchy.  Good for breakfast, snack, or dessert.  What more could you want?
For the past couple of years Greg has been the granola maker in our household (he also makes the pasta, banana bread, best ever chocolate chip cookies, and cosmos--just to name a few).  That all changed a couple days ago when I made the granola.  You see, I'm hosting a brunch this weekend, and I've decided to make way too many dishes--all by myself.  There's a reason for this...I'll explain.

Every few months I decide we should cook for a lot of people.  Many people.  Too many people.  And so many dishes.  Sometimes I am wise and declare a potluck, whereupon my culinary-inclined friends descend on our apartment with any number of gourmet and delectable dishes in tow.  Other times I am not so wise, and I decide to make everything myself.  The catch here is that Greg is inevitably roped into making the final frantic dish as I plead my need to try to pull my hair back and put on mascara at the last moment.  (I so rarely wear mascara anymore that every time, I essentially have to retrain myself in this odd feminine ceremony.  Point being, it's not speedy.)  So there's Greg, in the kitchen, cursing the day that he agreed to let me invite over virtually everyone we know.  And the doorbell rings and he's still grating cheese, or whatnot, and he's never very pleased with me about this.
Okay, so this time I promised that he could vamoose altogether.  He's making banana bread a couple days prior, helping clean the apartment, and out the door he goes.  I will do the rest.

Are you all laughing, too?  Well.  It should be exciting, anyway.

In hopes of being functional when the guests do arrive, I have mapped out an elaborate preparation schedule, which, I am happy to say, is already under way.  (Six cups of heavy cream have already been purchased.  I kid you not.)  And, granola--the wonderful store-able food that it is--could be made a week in advance.  (See below for complete recipe.)

And it was a piece of cake!  Er...not so much cake as old-fashioned oats 'n' stuff.  It's as good as cake.  In fact, my mom likes it so much that Greg made her a batch and shipped it cross country last year for her birthday.  Really people, try this granola.  Excellent in milk.  With yogurt.  You could maybe sprinkle it on vanilla ice cream, though that might be a bit decadent.  Dunno, haven't tried that myself.

I'll keep you posted on the brunch.  If I'm super cool, I'll remember to take pictures of the food.  Keep fingers crossed for good weather, as April and her showers head out of town.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring Breathing

This spring seems to have brought out everyone's allergies in abundance.  My kids are sneezy, red-eyed, and asthma induced.  In the past week I've had two different students experience severe asthma attacks in school--luckily they both pulled through with only momentary trauma.  Poor kidlets.

I find that we so often take breathing for granted.  It's fundamental to every moment of our existence, yet simple to overlook and under-appreciate.  I write a lot about teaching and eating, but seldom about the third of the trio: breathing.  As a person with asthma myself, I am sometimes faced with the inability to draw in a full breath, leaving me...well, breathless.  And not in the good way.  In the panic-this-is-horrible way.  Sooner or later my breath will return to me.  And I will find myself grateful.

I developed asthma right round about the 7th grade.  A discovery made on the track during the once-yearly required mile run.  Lungs.  Burning.  Hack, hack.  Cough, cough.  All through high school I swore I would never run again unless trying to catch a bus or being chased by a tiger.

Have not been chased by a tiger to date.  Have run for many a bus in my years commuting on public transit.  (Incidentally, last year I one time tripped in the process of running for a bus and somehow lost my shoe.  A kind woman brought it to me from the other side of the intersection.  I still don't understand the physics of that moment, but was glad to have my shoe returned to its foot.)

And, I am happy to say, that I reneged on my adolescent stance and have taken up running (jogging, really) in the past few years.  Slow progress, but running all the same.  During a good run, my breathing is relaxed and generous.  I like those runs--they make me feel powerful.

And of course, there is yoga.  Yoga is built on breath.  Learning to bring awareness to all parts of your body through your breath.  It sounds bizarre, but makes sense when you're in the pose, in the moment.

Sunday I went to a yoga class I don't usually attend, and near the end of class I achieved a difficult pose for the first time ever: sirsasana, a forearm headstand!  I was smiling so hard that it was difficult to stay up.  But up I did stay!  Even came home and demonstrated the pose for Greg.  No wall.  All balance, strength, confidence and breathing.  Beautiful.

This isn't me--it's a photo found here.  But this is the pose I did.  And we'll say this is approximately what I looked like.  Or maybe what I will look like soon, as I continue to practice this pose.

So, just a simple reminder: breathe.  And enjoy it.  May there be happiness in your spring breathing.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Little Moment of Happy

The sweetest thing happened at the end of the school day today.  I'm thinking we'll need a bit of backdrop for this story.

This is my fifth year teaching and advising 9th graders.  I love this age because the kids are still silly children, just on the verge of growing up.  Every year in the 9th grade we get a lot of new kids who have come from questionable middle schools.  Questionable as in: children frequently throw food and other items at each other; no homework is assigned and/or completed; students can pass from one grade to the next while learning very little and producing almost no work.  Suffice it to say that this is not the situation at my school.  My school is tough and demands a lot of its students.

So, every year I get a group of kids who are simply furious that they are expected to stay after school three days a week to do their work.  The first few months of school we fight and fight and fight.  I demand they push themselves and they sulk and yell and tell me they'd rather be anywhere else.  When they ask why I am so hard on them, I tell them that I love them.  That I know they are capable and I'm excited to see them graduate and go to college in a few years.  Wide eyes on their part.

This struggle continues through about January.  Then you start to see the turnaround.  I only know this because I've done it five times now.

And then there was today.  One such girl had emailed me her essay yesterday.  (Please note that before this year she had never written more than a couple consecutive paragraphs in her life--so turning in ANY essay is a big deal.)  I print it out and observe that it is essentially a page of disorganized gobbledygook.  So today I hand her essay to her and let her know she'll need to stay after school to revise it once more.

She's okay with this.  (It's past January.)

By 4pm she's ready to show me her revised essay on the computer.  She assures me that every sentence begins with a capital letter.  (I know, I know.)  And that every piece of evidence is followed by analysis.  And it looks good.  It really does.  I am happy.

I say, "Okay, do you see the difference between this and what you turned in yesterday?"  "Yes," she responds.  "And do you know why I made you do it over?"  Here I am expecting a response along the lines of how much better this version is, etc., etc.

And she says, "Because you love me."

And it made my day.  Maybe even my year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cooking Paris Part 4: Moroccan Couscous and Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

Whew!  That's a hefty title, ain't it?  The meal was similarly hefty--and fabulous.
I actually cooked these two dishes a few weeks back, but haven't had a chance to write about them yet.  Let me first say that Ina's chicken recipe says it serves six (and she is never skimpy with her portions), and the couscous says it serves six to eight.  Now, it's really just Greg and me at home, so I halved both recipes.  Oh, wait.  No.  I didn't do that.  I made a huge bowl of couscous and seven pounds of chicken, with all forty cloves of garlic.  I did feed some teacher friends at school that week, though, so nothing went to waste.  Still though--seven pounds of chicken for two people?  That's just silly.

Also silly is saffron and its outrageous price.  I am not alone in this thought, I know.  A friend of mine recently had a similar experience, which you can read about here.  Nonetheless (a word my students like to add unnecessary dashes to), we bit the bullet and bought the saffron.  Four tiny--though stylishly packaged--containers and $15 the poorer.  Greg thinks it adds a specific flavor to the couscous; I'm not convinced--I think it might just make it yellow.  Anyone else have a stance on this issue?
Normally couscous isn't a grain I go wild over, but this recipe was more of a roasted veggie dish stored in a cozy bed of couscous.  That's how I thought of it, anyway.  Plus, couscous is both fun to say and to type.  I made the couscous earlier in the day because it can be served warm or at room temperature (see full recipe below).  The veggies include butternut squash, yellow onion, carrots, and zucchini--all roasted and wonderful.  Scallions are added at the end for a little green zestiness.  Like rice, pasta, or quinoa, couscous needs to be heated in a liquid.  This recipe tells you to pour the heated liquid into a bowl of dried couscous and cover (rather than adding the couscous to a pot of hot liquid).  Simple difference, but it was fun.  Sort of like bread dough rising: you doubt it will really work, but then it does, just perfectly.  The dish was quite tasty and we ate it all week long.

Later that same day I tackled the chicken.  Okay, so let's discuss this "forty cloves of garlic" issue.  That's about three heads of garlic.  Now, if you're my dad, you're already drooling.  My dad adores garlic.  And my mom rolls her eyes at him because she is left smelling my dad who smells like garlic after he eats so, so much of it.  I thought that's how this dish would be.  But: it is not!
You cook the garlic for so long that all its snappiness is coaxed out of it; you are left with deconstructed lumps of unidentified sweetness (we refer to those as DLUS in the biz).  In fact, one of the aforementioned friends from work who was coerced into helping us polish off our leftovers was surprised and shocked when I told her that garlic was a main ingredient to this dish.  She said she hadn't realized there was any garlic at all with the chicken.  See?  DLUS.
A tip for this recipe (also included below): buy pre-peeled garlic.  I hate peeling garlic.  I know you can smash it with the flat of a knife, and Ina suggests you dunk the cloves in boiling water for a minute.  But, really, it always turns out to be a time-consuming process for me.  Then my fingers get sticky and only little bits come off and it reminds me of the frustrating tedium of trying to peel off old wall paper.  It seems like it should be easy, but you can't go any faster.  So, buy the pre-peeled stuff!

Also, now that I've cooked chicken a handful of times, I finally wised up this go around.  I set out two small bowls and filled one with salt and one with pepper.  That way, as I salted and peppered both sides of all seven pounds worth of chicken, I did not have to continually wash and re-wash my hands in order to use the salt and pepper grinders.  Again, I am sure that this is a ridiculous piece of advice and most likely a practice everyone but me uses already, but it was momentarily life-changing for me.  A good trick.
The recipe is simple.  Brown the chicken, brown the garlic, cook the chicken with the garlic, make a sauce.  I made the mistake of putting the larger pieces on top of the cooking pile, so they weren't nearly done when the smaller pieces were.  Pulling out the smaller pieces, I continued to cook the larger ones, using handy-dandy digital thermometer as my guide.  (If you don't have one of those, get one!  They're great.)

Ina suggests making these dishes together, for company.  I don't disagree.