Thursday, May 29, 2008

10 years of Girl Scouts and still not prepared

Last night I had to compose a test by candlelight.

I suppose it was just a lesson for why you really shouldn't leave off making your tests for the night before. I started it in the afternoon, but then I wanted dinner, and after that I figured I could finish it after Warcraft. Well, we had just signed on when all of the sudden the house fell black and silent. We went outside, only to find that our half of the circle we live on was also dark and silent. My first thoughts went to my partially completed test. I needed it for first period! My laptop only had a little juice left!

Luckily, we had some candles (and wound up taking a trip to Target to get a lantern), so I composed my test on paper before turning on my laptop. Since I didn't sit there thinking, I wound up having just enough power. Phew.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bernardo Mountain, before and after

It's amazing how much a year can change a landscape. Last July, we biked up the peak of Bernardo Mountain for the first time. Aside from the incredible view, one of the more memorable parts of the ride was a gully set between two stands of trees, creating a tunnel for us to ride though.

When we returned today to ride the trail again, the tunnel had disappeared. Last fall's fires had bunt the trees to cinders (even the stones looked flame-kissed), and the following rains turned the gully into a treacherous crevasse. The whole trail had to be rerouted, lest the hillside erode even more.

Still, there was a stark, post-apocalyptic beauty to the landscape. Grasses and flowers were taking advantage of the water and additional sunlight, adding green, purple, and yellow to the area's red and black palette. From the higher points on the mountain, one could see houses being rebuilt. Life returns to San Diego.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

15 days (and counting)

A few weeks ago, I started getting brief flashes of why I thought I wanted to go into teaching in the first place. Not large interludes, mind you, but pleasant moments of student-teacher and overheard student-student interaction. I got to facilitate a little bit of learning, and started thinking that this job does have its moments.

I'm sure this sounds quite nice to all of you out there. "Aww, she finally reconciled herself with her calling." If you thought that, though, you would be wrong. I had come to terms with hating teaching, so the idea that it might, in time, become a bearable and even rewarding profession stirred up a good deal of conflict. What if I did belong in this horrible, stressful, time-consuming profession?

Luckily for me, the past week has totally killed all the warm fuzzy feelings I was having. There has been a school-wide plague of discipline problems, and my classes certainly haven't been excused from the madness. My 9th graders' hormones are apparently going crazy, leading to a good deal of lip, emotional drama, bullying (of my 6th grade students, no less), and drawing penises on chairs while being sent outside for inappropriate comments. The school was TPd again.

We've been trying to crack down a little bit on the discipline. Three of my students were out on suspension today; two for getting in a bloody fight with each other, the third for pot. One of my 7th graders will be out all week, due to a combination of truancy and theft during Saturday school. I'm running a one-woman campaign to see that detentions are enforced (follow up is rather lax). I'm just hoping we all make it to the end of the year. I think we're all counting the days at this point. 15...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Recipe Review: Homemade Bread Crumbs

If I believed in that sort of thing, I would say I must have faced starvation in a past life. Why else would I be so neurotic about throwing away food? Of course, R giving me post-apocalyptic novels to read seems to have only increased that drive to save and hoard food.

In any case, homemade bread crumbs are certainly a more normal expression of that making-food-out-of-leftovers drive. Plus, it totally removes the guilt associated with the heels of bread (or, in this case, a couple of orphaned hot dog buns and some old pita bread).

I'd normally write out the directions for you, but I didn't think I could top the step by step guide, with pictures, I used. The bread crumbs turned out quite nice and crispy, and the whole thing was quite easy. I don't think you'll be seeing me buying breadcrumbs ever again.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Turning students into cacti

No, I haven't discovered some sort of magical formula for turning troublesome children into passive vegetables (aside from TV, that is). I suppose a more accurate statement would be "turning students' money into cacti" or possibly even "obtaining money from your students for fun and profit."

At the bottom of this convoluted chain is the fact that my 6th graders are never ever prepared for class. There are always a few in need of writing utensils, and I'm certain that the majority of the class does not have a sheet of paper to their name. I've got a small supply of writing utensils, many of which I've collected from the classroom after the class has been dismissed, but my students were constantly forgetting to return said utensils after they borrowed them. After a while, I started asking for collateral.

Now, I've heard of some teachers making students leave a shoe when they borrow a pencil, but I really wasn't interested in having a desk full of stinky kid shoes. When they asked what I wanted I simply specified that it was to be something that they would miss, leaving them to figure out what to leave with me. Frequently, I get backpacks and binders, but on one occasion a student gave me their cell phone.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my more chronically unprepared students started using money as collateral. Generally he'll give me a dollar, but on one occasion he gave me five. Unfortunately for him, he's also fairly distracted, so he wound up forgetting about his money on two occasions, leaving me with two dollars. Had he brought me a pencil the next class session, I would have gladly given it back, but he seemed to have forgotten all about it.

So, there I was with two dollars of student money that I didn't really know what to do with. I would have felt a little odd spending it on myself, but at the same time the student gave me the dollar for the express purpose of repaying me for the writing utensil he took. Lucky for me, my guilt was alleviated by another one of my students, who was selling cacti for two dollars as a fund raiser for the softball team. Putting the money back into the school seemed like the most appropriate use for it, plus I got something cute for my garden.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you turn students into cacti.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pardon the mess

I've decided that it is time for a snazzy new template. Things will be nonfunctional for a bit, but I will get them back to normal as soon as possible.

P.S. If there is any more Spanish text hiding around the site (aside from the credit at the bottom), please tell me.

Recipe Review: Infused Vodka

I'm not much of a vodka drinker myself, but a friend's birthday provided the perfect excuse to try infusing a little bit of flavor into alcohol. Out of all the berries at the supermarket, the raspberries were the most fragrant, so I decided that they and a couple of moist-looking vanilla beans would make a nice combination.

I've got to warn you, though, that you really should check this concoction regularly. Due to school and the rigorous cat medication and feeding routine, I completely forgot about this for a week. Although it had turned a lovely raspberry color (sucking the pigment right out of the raspberries themselves), the dominant flavor wound up being the vanilla. Perhaps one bean would have been enough, but I suppose it will make a nice flavorful mixer.

Vanilla-Raspberry Vodka
Adapted from wikiHow

750 ml medium grade vodka
1 punnet fresh raspberries
2 vanilla beans
1 1-qt. mason jar

1. Wash fruit and split open vanilla beans. Place the fruit and vanilla beans in the clean mason jar

2. Add the vodka and seal the jar. Put it out of the sunlight (perhaps in a cabinet), but somewhere where you won't forget about it like I did.

3. Wait a week or so, testing the flavor every day or two. You might want to take out the vanilla beans a few days before the raspberries finish infusing.

4. Filter liquid back into the bottle (I used a coffee filter I liberated from my school's lab supply closet) and enjoy. One could also turn the pale raspberries into a rather potent smoothie, if so desired.

Of course, now that I've done that I find myself wanting to try other projects (and am pining over the associated tools).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Recipe Review: Kumquat Marmalade

The trees in my backyard are dripping with citrus, and even after a month of furious eating I'm still drowning in orange fruit. Coincidentally, I recently saw a recipe for kumquat marmalade, so I dedicated this past weekend to making various types of marmalade.

Even though I think I may have overcooked mine a little and added the lemon juice before I was supposed to, this marmalade still has the most wonderful flavor. Sweet, but not cloying, and bursting with kumquat-ness. It's quite good in a crepe, let me tell you.

Kumquat Marmalade
Adapted from Charcuterista (who adapted it from Chez Panisse Fruits)

  • 1 1/2 lbs kumquats
  • 3 c sugar
  • 1/3 c fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1. Cut off the stem end of the fruit, then split each lengthwise. Slice each half into 1/8" moons, removing and discarding the seeds as you slice.

2. Place the kumquats and lemon juice into a small saucepan and just cover with water. Add sugar and bring to a boil over high heat for 15 minutes, skimming off any foam that comes to the top.

3. Reduce heat and continue simmering until the marmalade thickens to the consistency you like (be warned, it will still be liquid and will solidify more later). Let cool, then put in a jar and refrigerate (I suppose you could also can it if you feel so inclined).

Thursday, May 01, 2008

By popular demand, things that won't be reappearing on the menu

I suppose it is just a fact of life when cooking for people other than yourself: not everyone has the same tastes. So, some things I might try again wind up discarded due to apathy or dislike from other parties in the household. I suppose it saves time in the end, as there are way too many recipes to be tried for me to be tinkering with mediocre ones. Here are some recipes that fall into that category:

Lemon Thyme Tilapia Packets
I personally liked this one, but apparently some people feel that lemon obscures the taste of the fish. I found this one refreshing, and very lemony, but it could probably do with a little garlic to jazz it up. In any case, I definitely want to try the technique of roasting fish and other ingredients in a packet again.

Velvety Broccoli and Feta Pasta
Admittedly, I left the parsley out of the recipe, but I still don't think that would have saved this recipe from the discard pile. It wasn't bad, but it seemed like it was missing something. Perhaps some toasted nuts, or crumbled bacon, or fried kielbasa. Turning the broccoli into a creamy pesto-like paste was a pretty cool experience. I think I need to whip out the blender more often.

Roasted Chicken with Risotto and Caramelized Onions
Needing to find a use for the home made chicken stock I didn't freeze and the leftover roast chicken whose carcass made the stock, I found a recipe for risotto that utilized roast chicken and other ingredients I had on hand. Hoping to make this a fast event, I forgot that my household's definition of caramelized onions is very different from the one found in recipes. We want them sweet, brown, and shriveled into a tiny shadow of their former potent selves. It seems as though some recipes only want them mildly tanned. In any case, the risotto was probably best the next day as a filling for inari sushi.

My kitty's keeper

Lately, my schedule has revolved around feeding my cat. I had to force feed her twice a day last week, but after getting worse the doctor figured out that she needed to be getting more food, so now I feed her two syringes of food three times a day. Combine that with the pills and fluids and my activities start getting constrained.

I don't begrudge it, mind you. I refused to put a feeding tube into her neck, though the vet recommended it, as it would have been an unnecessary surgery just for my convenience. I was also afraid that the other cat would pull it out, even though the vet assured me that it would be safely taped down when not in use, as he's been rather mean to her of late. He's probably not being more of a bully than he normally is, but now that she weighs fully half as much as he does she just can't put up as good a fight. Of course, the clincher on the feeding tube was that it would have cost $300, which was just way too much after having already thrown $600 or so at this illness. I love my kitty, but she's still just a cat.

In any case, I think I made the right move, as she's getting better sans feeding tube. She seems more energetic and is starting to lose that jaundiced yellow coloring of the visible skin near her ears. The only downside is that the healthier she gets, the less she is willing to put up with the treatments. Hopefully we'll be able to pin her down and feed her long enough for her to get better!