Saturday, June 28, 2008

A menu to impress one's mother

I'd say it also impressed my future in-laws, but, as they said to my mother, they've always had good food at my house. My mom is the one who, despite all reports to the contrary, refused to believe that my cooking skills had improved since middle school. Of course, this was one I couldn't win either way, as her comments on the improvement of my cooking skills echoed of kindergarten teacherly judgment and really rankled (though, prior to beginning to teach, my mom did apologize for the fact that she would inevitably talk to us in her teacher voice).

In any case, here was the menu last Sunday:
R's mom was kind enough to bring dessert, a chocolate cake (with little chocolate chunks) frosted with whipped cream and festooned with raspberries.

The meal was a smashing success. I really can't recommend the shrimp recipe highly enough. Simple, fast, and completely delicious. Everyone loved it. R was quite jealous that I got to eat what little was left over, so you can tell this recipe will be made again in the near future.

The tart (inspired by this recipe) was good, but I think it could have been better. I caramelized the onions and leeks, spread them on a sheet of puff pasty, grated a little cheese on them, then baked (no fennel seeds for us, thank you). The sides of the pasty wound up puffing up, but the onion-covered parts did not. Next time, I think I'll bake the pastry on its own for a bit before adding the onions, just to give it a little more volume. Still, quite a successful evening.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Digital story ideas

My next task for my technology class is to try out podcasting. In class we had the option of using iMovie for this activity, however some of us prefer to talk to ourselves in the privacy of our own homes. For those of you who, like myself, are not Mac people, Audacity also works pretty well for this purpose and is, conveniently, free.

Our assignment is to talk about our digital story ideas, the culmination of which will be appearing on TeacherTube later next month for your viewing pleasure. Here is what I have so far.

In a final aside, I never realized how much cool stuff is available for free on iTunes. The iTunes U section of the store is full of edifying podcasts and I have completely fallen in love with it. I spent my workout today listening to a lecture/interview about Islam and the West from Open University and have downloaded a whole series of podcasts to brush up on my Spanish.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Recipe Review: Saffron White Chocolate Truffles

Alternately titled "The time I found out my kitchen scale can't measure fractions of grams."

Seeing as my mom has come for a visit this weekend, I've been trying out all sorts of new recipes (as well as pulling out the old favorites) so that I can finally convince the woman that I know how to cook. Apparently she needed to see it to believe it.

Anyway, I decided to try out these interesting looking truffles in honor of her visit. Fortunately I had gotten a large jar of saffron at CostCo for a very reasonable price a few years back, as otherwise this recipe would be quite expensive. As I was trying to measure out the necessary half gram of saffron (don't let that comma fool you), I found out that my scale can't measure a half gram of anything. How inconvenient! So, I would up using a large pinch of saffron. I also managed to screw up the order of the recipe by throwing everything in the saucepan instead of just heating the cream and other ingredients and then adding them to a separate bowl of chocolate, which resulted in a longer cooling time and a softer texture. In the end, though, it was the taste that did this recipe in for me. Maybe I put in too much saffron, maybe the saffron should have been ground instead of left as threads, or maybe it is just that I'm not the biggest fan of white chocolate, but I didn't really care for them (this being said, I'm still looking forward to trying the same woman's recipe for maya gold truffles).

They are, however, very tasty in muffin form. Inspired by these Cadbury Creme Egg muffins, I decided to make some saffron white chocolate truffle muffins of my own. I added a little bit of melted truffle to the batter and then placed chunks of truffle in the uncooked muffins, but I think it would still be pretty tasty if you only added melted truffle to the batter.

Saffron White Chocolate Truffle Oatmeal Muffins
Oatmeal muffin recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book

1. Preheat oven to 400* F. Grease twelve muffin cups or use paper baking cups. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

3. In another bowl combine egg, milk, and cooking oil. Add liquid ingredients all at once to dry ingredients and stir until moist. Melt a truffle or two in the microwave and mix resulting liquid into muffins.

4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Place marble-sized piece of truffle into each muffin cup. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool muffins on a wire rack and serve warm.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Abusing my blog for fun and academic credit

Summer classes started today, and one part of the technology class I am taking is a requirement to blog. For those of us who already have blogs, we've been given the option of just using our pre-existing blogs. So, for your reading pleasure, here is my first course assignment.

EDS 204 Blog Response #1: Tell us about a classroom event this year that has an impact on your professional growth and/or vision.

Given that I knew since the beginning of the year that I didn't really want to teach as a career (and tend to dwell on the negative stories), I think I'm going to share a couple of positive stories.
The Tuesday of the last week of school, I decided to get a couple of last minute pictures to serve as "artifacts" to show that I was fulfilling the California Teaching Performance Expectations (TPEs). For TPE 2, Monitoring Student Learning During Instruction, I decided to stage a photo of me talking to students. After snapping the photo, the student operating the camera exclaimed, "Damn, Miss A, you've got a big butt!" I gave her an odd look, at which point in time she started backtracking. "No, no. It's a good thing. I've got a big butt too!" As my class had been writing goodbye messages to me on the whiteboard, she followed up that comment by writing "I [heart] Miss A's big butt" on the blackboard.

I suppose this whole incident can simply be explained as a youthful attempt to extract one's foot from one's mouth, and in the process wedging it in deeper, but I've got an alternate (though unlikely) pet theory. My thought is perhaps the embrace of hip hop culture is actually doing some good in the body image circuit.

My other story is more of the heartwarming sort. One of my sixth grade advisory students received a number of awards at our end of the year ceremony. When we had adjourned out back to feast on watermelon, I went over to congratulate her. Our conversation went something like this:

Teacher A: Wow, that's quite a haul you've got there.
Student: Yeah.
Teacher A: How many did you get?
Student: I stopped counting after five, [leans closer] but I think I got eight.
Teacher A: Very nice.
Student: I guess hard work sure does pay off.
Teacher A: That it does.

Don't you just want to adopt her? She's awesome. All the teachers are betting she'll be valedictorian. I suppose there are a few good ones out there, after all.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Recipe Reviews: This weekend's endeavors

Dinner last night was a nice little meatball number that I served with rice and a salad. Tasty, but I don't know if they'll make it into the permanent rotation. (Speaking of rice, have you tried Free Rice? You just match words to their meanings, but the game adjusts to your vocabulary level, making it a nice brain work out.)

As a last-minute Father's Day gift, I wound up making some caramelized spicy peanuts this morning for my dad and grandpa. This was after making a batch of caramelized spicy sunflower seeds and finding them completely irresistible. They're not hard to make and watching the sugar transform in a flash from liquid to sandy solid and then caramelize is really cool. Now that I know how to give nuts crunchy sugar coating, I'm enthralled by the possibilities of what else I could dust them with afterwards. Chocolate? Bacon salt? Ginger powder? The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

'Twas the night before the last day of school

This whole moment in time seems very surreal. The Last Day of School.

The first day of school is still fresh in my mind, with the terror and the wondering how I would make it through the year, yet here we are. It seems like so little time has passed, probably because the beginning and ending are so clearly demarcated in time, but I suppose a lot has happened. I've moved from being nervous and sweaty to confident and apathetic. I know I can do this now. I also know I don't want to do this for a living.

I left the school positively giddy. My last day of teaching is over! Tomorrow is just supervising yearbook signing for the sixth graders! I'll likely never see any of the ninth graders ever again! Sure, I still will have to go to work Friday and Monday to close up shop, but no more students!

During my afternoon bike ride, however, I found myself not being able to breathe quite right and being (quite irrationally) annoyed at R because he could ride faster than I could. I wasn't really mad at him, but my throat was feeling all tight and painful, as were my tear ducts...

Yes, apparently I was more affected by the end of school than I had initially realized. A few of my students really were quite interesting people, and when you spend every day with a group of people for nine months it is somewhat natural to get attached. I think a few of them are even going to miss me too. I had several conversations along the lines of:

"Bye! See you next year!"
"Uh, no you won't. I'm moving. It's been fun. Have a nice life."
"Oh no!"

At which point in time I received several hugs. Somehow, though, I don't think they'll miss me quite as much as I'll miss them. I suppose this is what keeps people in teaching.

Still don't want to do it again, though.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Recipe Review: Applesauce

Alternately, this post could be titled "What I do with my evenings now that I don't have class."

Of course, this is just the first week without evening classes and also the last week of school, so I could just be feeling giddy. Anyway, I decided it was time to harvest some of the apples from my lovely apple tree and make applesauce. I love applesauce and I also hate to see things go to waste, even bird-pecked apples. Given that my garden appears to be feeding all of the local wildlife, it is really no surprise that the majority of the apples have a few divots taken out of them, if not large chunks.

The recipe I used was from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving I recently bought, along with some tools to keep me from dropping jars of jam into boiling water and scalding myself. I'll tell you now, the can lifter they have make canning much less frightening than it was when I was using my standard-issue tongs. I'm also glad the whole thing is no longer a two-man operation.

This is the first recipe I have tried out of this book, though I have bookmarked a few others. There are definitely some odd ones (the page opposite applesauce has a recipe for "strawberry smooch," whatever the hell that is), but it seems to have enough good recipes and tips to make it worth the money. Makes a darn tasty applesauce.

Adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Makes about 4 quarts (I got 6, but I think I like a thinner applesauce)
  • 12 lbs. apples, peeled (or not, if you're planning on using a food mill like I did), cored, quartered, treated to prevent browning, and drained
  • water
  • 3 c. granulated sugar (optional) (I wound up using 1 c. to take the edge off, as a few of the apples I picked were still a little green)
  • 4 T lemon juice
  • cinnamon (optional)
1. Prepare canner, jars, and lids.

2. In a large saucepan (more like a vat), combine apples with just enough water to keep them from sticking. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 5-20 minutes, until the apples are tender (time will depend on the variety of apple and their maturity). Remove from heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

3. Working in batches, transfer apples to a food mill or food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree until smooth. (After all the apples were out of the water, I reserved ~ 4 c. and poured the rest out.)

4. Return apple puree to saucepan. Add sugar, if using, and lemon juice; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent sticking (you can also add some of the reserved apple-water to loosen things up). Maintain a gentle boil over low heat while filling jars.

5. Ladle hot applesauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2 in. headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot applesauce. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

6. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 20 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Recipe Reviews: A few good ones

Although I've been too lazy (and tired, and stressed, and lacking in time, etc.) to post, I have been trying a few recipes.

Way back on Memorial Day weekend, R and I were invited to a barbecue. Aside from bringing meat, I knew the one thing people my age want but always forget to bring is salad or some sort of vegetable. Perhaps it is because our parents always brought some sort of odd salad to potlucks, but the people I know rarely think of anything other than main dishes and desserts. In any case, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to whip up a quinoa salad that I had been planning on making that week anyway.

As I don't care much for green peppers, I substituted red ones and seasoned the water used to cook the quinoa, but other than that left the recipe pretty much as it. It turned out quite nicely (and I have several other people to back me up on that), and made a large number of portions which I was able to eat throughout the week.

The other recipe I tried recently was blue cheese mac & cheese, which was, as you might guess, totally awesome. As long as you like blue cheese, that is. We're thinking that next time we might add in some bacon, just for extra awesome.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Spoilers for something everyone has probably already seen

I'd like to talk about the final episode of Seinfeld. Yes, I know I'm about 10 years late for this discussion, but my TV viewing was rather limited when I was young and I didn't get to see the show until just now, so we're going to talk about it now.
I'd somehow missed all the news that at the end of the final episode, the main four cast members of Seinfeld were sent off to prison for not helping someone who was being robbed. Even though R sometimes had problems getting me to watch the show because I found the characters so grating and despicable, I still can't get over the fundamental wrongness of such a verdict. Yes, I know the law they were convicted of violating is made-up and probably unconstitutional, only existing in the disturbed world that is the Seinfeld universe. Nevertheless, it bothers me all the same.
I know there certainly are laws out there that make it illegal to not do something (seat belt laws, helmet laws, criminal negligence), and I know that such things have saved thousands of lives, but one still wonders how far our social contract goes in requiring us to act against our will. Perhaps that is what makes the final episode bother me so much. We're not that far away from being incarcerated for watching a crime, and this episode simply shows us a twisted version of reality. I suppose that is what makes it funny, but it also scares the pants off me.

Hopefully now I will be able to stop obsession about a 10-year-old sitcom episode.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes... presents?

Well, I suppose technically the order is love, engagement, presents, then marriage.

Anyway, our first wedding present was just delivered. R and I noticed a couple of weeks back that a few items had been purchased from our registry. Hey, they like us! We then tried to figure out if the items would be shipped immediately, or if the store would wait until closer to the date. Apparently the answer is immediately, so now we're got a cool (and rather large) mirror sitting in our living room.

Of course, ever since we found out that people were actually buying us stuff I've been obsessively watching the registry. Slightly crazy, no?

In other wedding news, I've started the search for a cake server. You wouldn't think this would be challenging, but have you ever looked at the ones they offer? Hideous! Crystal handles, rhinestones, pearls, hearts, Disney characters, bad jokes... What are people thinking?

I'll probably wind up with one of these server sets, but they still have a little too much engraving for my taste.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Apparently the question "How does it work?" is a bit too much for some of my students. Here is an excerpt from a research poster:

This is a supercharger for the gt500. What the supercharger does is it gives the car power. Also the supercharger is a source for more power for the car. Then the supercharger also gives 130 more horsepower to the car. How the supercharger works is when you press the gas it gives you more power.

This answer was after a lot of coaching. You can tell that I kept asking "but how does it work?" when the student would tell me he was done. He just didn't want to do a search on the Internet, for some reason.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The latest & greatest backyard accessory

A ball of bees! I went out to check on my plants this evening and found them in my orange tree. They've swarmed away from their hive (perhaps the hive they were part of decided to split) and are using my tree as a rest stop while they send out scouts to look for a new place to live. I doubt they will stay in the tree, as it seems a little exposed and unstable, but I hope they don't go too far away. Pollinators are always useful, and since I don't have a pool or people running around with bare feet in the backyard I'm not too worried about stings. In these tough times (for bees), it's nice to be a safe oasis for wildlife.