Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Room of My Own

I have a confession to make.  A teacher confession.  As a high school literature teacher, I feel that I am somewhat deficient in the "books that I've read" category.  Especially in the "must have read" and "classics" sections.  I've never read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Death of a Salesman, 1984, or Hamlet.  Never read any Dostoevsky or Tolstoy.  Every year in my Senior Literature class my kids each select two novels to read and critique.  Chances are, I have not read those either.  And sometimes this makes me feel like a fraud.  Just a little.  Maybe.

I think the lack of titles on my lifetime achievement list can be narrowed down to two main factors.  One, I read quite slowly.  Two, I often prefer non-fiction.  The first issue has been with me as long as I remember--it simply takes me a long time to get through a page, and thus, much, much longer to get through a whole book.  So, while I read almost every day, the total accumulative difference could be likened to watching grass grow: happening, but hard to see.  In college Greg gave me a "teach yourself how to speed read" book.  It was meant to be a thoughtful gesture.  And that gesture sat on my shelf, eternally untouched.

As for the non-fiction--I love a quirky memoir or a personal essay, a passionate pedagogical philosophy or a quiet reflection on life.  Nothing wrong with that.  The first time I read David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day I was studying abroad in France.  I laughed and laughed at his English approximations of how he must have sounded trying to cobble together a coherent thought in French (thus, the title of the book).  Also while living in France I first read Joan Didion's Slouching Toward Bethlehem.  Her personal essays and journalistic pieces touched me, like a soft-spoken friend sitting nearby.  Which I so desperately needed at the time, being a little homesick myself.  When I moved from California to New York I took comfort in her own description of this same journey.  She shared how her newly fashionable dress in San Francisco felt a little dingy and outdated as she stepped off the plane in NYC.  It can be intimidating, ya know?  Joan knows.

There are so many others, too.  But I keep coming back to Virginia Woolf.  It saddens me that she must have led a somewhat somber life, she must have felt lost and adrift.  Which is strange to me because she's given me so much grounding in my own life at times.  I first read A Room of One's Own as a senior in college and I think in some fundamental way this book changed me.  Or deeply affected me, at least.

The overarching argument of the book is that historically women have not had the opportunities in life that they deserve, and certainly not the opportunities that men have had.  And because of this, their contributions to the world have been stifled and snuffed out before they've ever begun.  She lingers for some time on the example of Shakespeare, asserting that if he had had a twin sister with all his same talent and impulse to know the world, she would have either led a very unhappy and traditional life or gone mad while attempting to fulfill her creative destiny.  Woolf explains that Shakespeare's sister would not have had the same freedom to travel, to develop illicit relationships, to write, or to explore in general.  And thus, her creative angels would have withered or turned rancid inside of her.  And then Woolf makes a simple suggestion: every woman needs a room of her own.  A room where she can shut the door to her children and her husband and her "womanly duties" and have a moment.  A moment to sit, to write, to read, to create, to think, to be, to discover.  A moment that is hers.

This metaphor is a powerful one for me.  Or maybe it is a symbol, since the room is both the room itself, and representative of a larger idea.  Either way, I am always reminded to hold fast to my room.  And luckily, I live in a time and a place where that is possible.  And fortunately, my husband is the type of man who reminds me to have a room of my own even when I lose sight of it.  To go after my dreams.  To pursue the unthinkable, the untouchable.  To nourish my better angels.

And in this way, I really don't give a damn about a theoretical required reading list.  I have my list.  And a room of my own.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Brunch

Breakfast foods have always been big for me.  When I was little, my dad used to make pancakes for us most weekends.  My favorite were "silver dollar" pancakes--basically mini pancakes just small enough to shove in your mouth in one go.  My dad's other culinary specialty was crepes--though these were typically dinner fare at our house.  They were thin and fabulous, and seemed so exotic to me!  (Never mind that we filled them with peanut butter.  The French would be so disappointed.)  My mom, who made dinner virtually every night for my family while I was growing up, also featured breakfast foods for dinner every once in a while.  Scrambled eggs (with ketchup) and cubed hash browns were a regular quick fix.  So, there's a delicious history here.

This morning's brunch was part nostalgia, part adventure.  The final meal included johnnycakes, sweet potato fries, poached eggs, and a side of salad greens.  Nostalgia: sweet potato fries.  Adventure: poached eggs!  Yup, it was my first time poaching an egg.  And it turned out to be great fun.

Okay, first off, I love sweet potatoes.  They're orange and roast-able, and pie-able, and actually good for you, and really just scrumptious.  In the grocery store they look like abused root veggies, with forlorn twisty root whiskers sprouting here and there.  But once scrubbed or peeled and cut up, the sweet potato emerges as a shining veggie gem.  A root jewel, if you will.  Below you will find my recipe for sweet potato fries (which are actually baked, not fried at all).  They are sweet and spicy and can be eaten for brunch or with dinner or as a movie snack.  Anytime.  They can be eaten any time.
Next up: poached eggs.  Recently I saw Giada making Eggs Florentine on the Food Network.  She made poaching an egg look so simple--I had to try!  So, I warmed water in a large skillet, and per Alton Brown's advice, added a teaspoon of vinegar.  Not really sure what the vinegar is for, but no harm, no foul...  The water can't be boiling--it will break the egg.  It shouldn't even be simmering.  You want to poach the egg in water that is at a pre-simmer state.  Once the water is ready, you crack an egg into a small bowl, being careful not to break the yolk.  Then, you carefully lower the bowl into the water and let the egg gently slide out.

And suddenly, the egg has wings!  It has a cape.  A magical ghost-like white aura immediately encompasses the egg.  This is otherwise known as the egg white instantly cooking.  It's a grand and speedy transition regardless of the metaphor once chooses.  The egg cooks for four and a half minutes, and then you scoop it out with a wire net or a flat slotted spoon.  I poached three eggs; the third time around a tried a technique Giada suggests, which is to create a mini whirlpool as you put the egg in the water.  This actually worked great--it helped the egg's cape wrap around it rather than spread out in the pan.
The poaching process resulted in eggs that were creamy and runny and happy.  Or, maybe just Greg and I were happy, but the eggs seemed happy to still be in their cheerful egg configuration.
This morning's brunch has inspired a brunch party--maybe for May when Spring is truly here.  Greg's already rolling his eyes at me as my menu gets longer by the moment.  (Scones and quiche and fruit and Eggs Benedict and granola.  And mimosas!)  There will be tulips, too.  And friends.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Grapefruit and the Frog Principal

I just returned home from a long, two-part test on being a school building leader (a.k.a., a principal).  Won't know the results for a month or so, but I'm hopeful.  The leadership program I went through last year was through a small college in New Hampshire, so I already have a license to be a principal in that fine state.  But, since I have no foreseeable plans to move there, I thought it best to wade through the piles of bureaucracy that the state of New York has to offer and get licensed here as well.  I'll let you know how it turns out.  I'm currently in a battle with the state over my teacher's license (apparently they've spontaneously decided I don't meet the requirements to be a teacher?), so I'm not overly optimistic about the speediness of this principal process.  Not planning to be a principal anytime so soon though, so it shan't be too much of a stressor.

A few odds and ends for you:

First, I lost my voice three days ago and continue to sound like a creature who is equal parts mutilated frog, valley girl, and pubescent boy smack dab in the middle of his voice-cracking era.  I had the pleasure of teaching my classes in this condition on Thursday.  At the beginning of class I wrote on the board, "Sarah lost her voice.  She can't talk.  Please listen."  I proceeded to write most of my communications on the board and enlisted the help of a few students to lead class discussions.  It was one of my best and most favoritest days of teaching.  My most rambunctious and talkative student announced that if I could not talk, neither should he.  Surprising?  Yes.  Quietest he's ever been?  Definitely.  I'm hoping to be mostly back to normal by Monday, but the voice is indicating it's planning a slightly longer vacation.

Second, remember the pie-baking-fundraiser for BK Farmyards I wrote about a while back?  Well, whoop-de-do, they met their Kickstarter goal!  Ten-thousand dollars to start up a major school farm in Brooklyn.  How excited am I to watch the development of this project?  Oh so excited.  Do you think they would help us start a garden on our school's roof?  Does that count as an urban nook and cranny?  Perhaps an urban alcove...  Apparently they'd like to raise an additional $2,500 for a greenhouse, so feel free to throw some electronic cash their way, if you're interested in that project.

Finally, I feel the need to pay a bit of homage to my favorite winter citrus: the grapefruit.  These luscious ladies have served to perk up many-a blustery and snow-filled day for me over the past several weeks.  I know that a lot of people own a grapefruit knife/spoon, and prefer to slice, sugar sprinkle, and scoop their grapefruits.  But, not I!  I like to get down a dirty with mine.  Half the pleasure for me is the grapefruit's scent which lingers on the fingers long after the fruit itself has been ingested.  The sticky of the pith, the irresistible juice, the tiny pouches of goodness.  Removing the filmy layer of skin from each sector is incredibly time consuming, but I feel that eating a grapefruit should be an event.  Plus, without the skin or pith, the fruit is sweet and needs no additional sugar.
Can you believe that when I was in high school (my senior year, specifically), I used to bring a grapefruit to class and denude and devour it in this fashion?  Right in the middle of class.  That's ridiculous.  I apologize to my high school teachers.  Such appalling behavior.  I would never.  never.  never. allow that in my classroom.  Nonetheless, it's still my favorite citrus activity.  Yum.