Friday, August 31, 2012

Kitchen Confidential

Long ago when I was a professional cook, I was present at a few food mishaps. The worst was the wedding for 300 when we ran out of stuffed chicken breasts. Fortunately, by the time we discovered the shortage, they were already clearing the first tables served. Let's just say that the last several guests enjoyed chicken medallions. A little extra sauce on top and no one knew any difference.

Then there was the family reunion for 40 who wanted whole lobsters cooked on their ocean front deck. We learned the hard way that those propane- fired pots you can rent do not get hot enough to boil much of anything, and certainly not a dozen two-pound hard shells. We provided a lot of butter lemon and beer and hoped it wouldn't be too bad. It was.

Twenty-five years and fifteen trips to Maine later, I could have solved that one pretty easily. Cooking the lobsters in advance would not be wrong, but a big drift wood fire and pots filled with ocean water and seaweed would have been ideal. Too bad, I can't have a do-over.

Since I left the profession, I've had my share of stressful preps and slightly delayed dinners, but I have to say I feel pretty confident in the kitchen; often it's the place I unwind after a long day. Grill, fry, chop, rinse, sauté? Not usually a problem for me. That must be why I was at somewhat of a loss this evening when dinner was 10 minutes from the table and I discovered that I had charred the ribeyes beyond edibility. Seriously-- they were ruined. It wouldn't have been a big deal except Heidi's parents were here. I considered just fessing up, but without the meat, there wasn't enough to eat.

I whipped a frozen piece of skirt steak and a dozen shrimp from the freezer, thawed them and tossed them on the grill. Everything else was on hold-- the corn in the pot, the potatoes in the oven, the mushrooms on the stove, the sliced tomatoes in the fridge-- as I quickly, but carefully, cooked the main.

It was not my finest result, but it was the best I could do, and everyone seemed to like it just fine.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Do You Call a Teacher Without a Class?

Tonight was that night when all the new sixth graders are invited to visit our middle school to check the place out and meet their teachers before they start on Tuesday. The event is a good way to address any anxiety kids or their parents might have about transitioning to a new school.

As inconvenient as it seems for teachers to come back at night right in the middle of our planning and preparation week, every year I enjoy the evening. Seeing the kids and meeting their families is always really fun.  I guess it helps me work out my anxiety about starting a new school year, too.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

All Meetinged Out

This is the beginning of my twentieth year of teaching, and I can say with certainty that I have never had quite so many meetings. The pre-service week is set aside as a time for teachers to plan and prepare, but I have quite a bit of both yet to do in order to be ready for the opening of school next Tuesday.

In fact, it was only today around 3 PM that I finally took the paper off the front of my bookcases. As I tore through the pristine white butcher paper, corners still sharp and edges still neat, I thought back to the last day of the school year when I wrapped the shelves up for summer, and it hardly seemed like nine and half weeks had passed.

Maybe tomorrow I'll re-alphabetize my classroom library and perhaps even put up a few posters, but that would be in between leading a team meeting, touching base with new staff, planning the Tolerance Club activities for September, coordinating with the other sixth grade team leaders, and stategizing with the counselor about yet another several schedule changes. In any event, I will definitely call my homeroom students to welcome them to our school and be present at an open house from 7-8 tomorrow night.

I'd like to think I'll get a little class preparation done, but that may have to wait until after the staff meeting on Friday Morning.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A String Around My Finger

Take two minutes to write about something you did over the summer, or something that's happened recently. I'll warn you, as I do my students, that you will be asked to share.

Those were the directions we received at the opening session of this year's Professional Learning Community. Each school year, for the last four, our school system's English Language Arts department has used our mandatory monthly meeting to sponsor small, interest-based groups. We read a book and discuss it, apply it to our practice, and share the results. It's great in theory, but over the years, I have been somewhat disappointed in the outcome.

Even so, I am open-minded about this year, and I hope the experience will be enriching. Already it's given me reason to pause and think.

Today, when we were required to put pen to paper, the first topic I considered was the time Heidi had to be carried down the mountain. I stopped writing a few words in, though, because I didn't want to explain to the group who Heidi was.

More than half the people there (including the facilitator) know her personally, but that wasn't enough: I did not feel safe enough to put that part of my life out there, even though it was a really good story. By the time I had rejected that topic, two minutes had ticked away to one, and I had nothing on my paper. After that, it was kind of a lame scramble to fulfill the requirement, and so, to be honest, my piece was nothing I cared to share. But I did.

I, too, ask my students to write and share, and I know the value of a safe learning environment, but sometimes I get distracted by the objectives of the lesson and forget how hard it can be to find a topic you care about, especially in the treacherous landscape of middle school.

Today was a good reminder.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back in the Saddle

When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to take a few bike trips through some amazing areas of Europe. In addition to touring the Ticino Canton of Switzerland where our school was located, I also spent a week riding through Tuscany and another cycling through the south of France.

I confess that at the time I could not have fully appreciated the splendor of those opportunities, but even so, each trip was unforgettable to me-- there are still nights when I dream of some stretch of pavement damp from an earlier shower, with lilacs, daffodils, and recently plowed fields sprouting their first green on either side. The road curves, and I literally gasp-- it's the Alps, or the Mediterranean Sea, or the Towers of Siena. Their beauty is visceral.

I will also never forget how much my ass hurt on the second day of every trip; just sitting on the narrow seat of the touring bike was excruciating. We all groaned and whined our way through the first couple of clicks until the rhythm of the pedals and the sound of the tires on the asphalt shhhhhhishhhed our complaints away as we rode into the rising sun.

We did what we needed to do, and after a while, it didn't hurt at all.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Mourning

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Rock Me

It's so funny what you know and don't know, what you're interested in and not. Years ago, identifying birds became something I wanted to do, next it was plants, of course animals (and, yes, their scat), seashells, and so forth. Every time we go to Maine, we collect rocks, and it's easy to pick out the pink granite that is visible on Cadillac mountain or the fine-grained black stone that will always win the smoothest rock contest, but I have to confess that my knowledge of them ends there. I like rocks, but I've never been moved to catalog my collection.

Today we went to the Natural History Museum with our god-daughters. Our idea was to show them the nature photos and the titanaboa exhibit, but they wanted to go to the insect zoo and the gems and minerals, too. The bugs were fun-- I love the bees, and we saw a zebra butterfly emerge from its cocoon. I was a little skeptical about the rocks though.

I shouldn't have been. Because of the late hour, we only saw about a third of the exhibit, but it was fascinating. It showed me how much I do and don't know about the stuff that makes up 99% of the earth. Of course I recognize diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and opals, but I have no idea what most of them are made of or what they look like unpolished and uncut. I've seen geodes, sand roses, and all sorts of crystals, but I have never bothered to organize my knowledge of them into any meaningful kind of framework.

My life-long lack of engagement in this topic crystallized for me when I approached a single case. Herkimer Diamonds said the tag, and reading the display materials about these rare six-sided crystals that are only found in a small area of Upstate New York was like a prism refracting a single now into so many thens. I remembered hearing my father talking about "Little Falls Diamonds" on more than one occasion, but I could not recall when or why.

Something about digging ditches and building the Thruway, maybe? I don't know... my memories have been almost completely buried by time, and it's going to take some excavation to uncover the story. That's okay. I want to know, and it is just such a desire that polishes simple facts into meaningful information.

Friday, August 24, 2012


When I was in high school, every senior got half a page in the yearbook. We were able to pick a candid photo and any other content we wanted. Most kids chose a quotation, and I did, too. Mine was from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss: But now, said the Onceler, now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better-- it's not.

I liked it for it's altruistic idealism, and to be honest, I still like it today for the same reason.

Last year, when the CGA movie version of The Lorax came out, I read the reviews with interest. There was a soft spot in my heart for the book, but I couldn't see how a feature length film was possible. The critics were split, and so I stayed on the fence, although when one of my favorite students strongly recommended the movie, I totally took notice.

Flash forward six months and hundreds of other movie and DVD releases-- tonight the god daughters, Allyn and Delaney arrived for the weekend, and eight-year-old Delaney was all about The Lorax. She was all set to recount the whole story word-for-word and sing the songs, too. Her enthusiasm elicited a lot of heavy sighs and eye-rolling from her mom and sister, but it resonated with me. In my family it was I who often over-shared the details of books, movies, and TV shows that I found especially moving.

So tonight? We watched The Lorax and it was good, really it was, but more gratifying was watching the delight in Delaney's eyes as she  mouthed almost every word. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing

Hard to believe that there is only one more day of summer vacation left. It's tempting to look at all the things I have not accomplished and to wish for more wide-open days of sleeping in, movies, and food trucks. In fact, today at the pool I let my reluctance slip a bit when I was talking to six-year-old Savannah.

"Are you excited about school starting? Is first grade going to be great?" I asked, trying to make conversation.

"Oh yes!" she said.

"I'm not that excited," I told her.

She was confused. "Why?"

"Because school is a lot of work," I replied. "I might just like to sleep late and go to the pool every day instead. How about you?"

If I was looking for an ally, I was in the wrong place. "School's not hard!" she scoffed. "It's really fun... maybe even more fun than the pool."

I sighed and nodded because I knew she was right.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Room of One's Own

The past six years have seen a swelling enrollment in our school system. Even though it wasn't really that long ago that it seemed as if they might close our middle school, now the opposite is true: we are running out of space. As our school becomes more and more crowded, a solution is for teachers to share classrooms. We teach 5 out of 7 periods of the day, but the rooms are in demand even when we are not teaching.

I understand the problem, but what that approach does not take into account is that we have other duties to perform during the non-teaching time, and our classrooms also double as our offices. It is unreasonable to think that we can get as much work done when we are forced to be away from our desks, our phones, and our materials.

Before this, our rooms have been commandeered for use after school and on the weekends by various organizations for classes, meetings, and youth groups. Besides having to pack up and leave whether I am through for the day or not, over the years I have had things damaged and lost by the people who use my room after hours.

To be required to share our professional space is at best an inconvenience and at worst a lack of regard for teachers and their time. With growing enrollments, added accountability measures, and shrinking funds, each year we are expected to do more with less, and now there will be times when we won't even have a place to do that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Best Practices

One of my pet peeves about educators is that we rarely apply our knowledge of human nature and learning to adult audiences. So many of our presentations for "grown ups" are auditory, made to a sedentary audience. If we want to add pizzazz, we do an ice breaker and a power point.


That's why today, at the midpoint of an all-day meeting, I jumped at the chance to try an activity that one of our PTA members brought back from Alice Water's Edible School Yard Academy in Berkley. At the lunch break, I had seen the gorgeous weather-- all sunny, breezy, and blue skies-- through a window, but when it came time to go outside, our agenda still had several items left, and our principal kindly opened the activity to a vote: Do we have time for this? she asked us.

I knew that for me, time outside would clear my head and probably make the remaining work we had to do easier, so I raised my hand as a yes, and gleefully headed out when the votes were counted. I recognized that some of my colleagues wished we would just get on with it, so that maybe we could leave a few minutes earlier, but they were good sports once we got out there.

The activity was simple, a gentler, more reflective version of musical chairs that I could easily imagine using with students. We sat in a circle next to the garden and under the shade of a couple Magnolias, and everyone laughed and joked and switched seats whenever the wind blew for us.

And perhaps it's just my opinion, but the rest of our meeting was very productive, and we even got out early.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Making Good Time

We pulled out of my sister's driveway in Atlanta at 9:30 this morning. The day was clear and traffic was light from the start, and we made our way 500 miles up I-85 to Petersburg, VA in about seven and a half hours. From there it was just a couple more hours to home. Our luck held, although the weather did not, and despite torrential rain, we were back in town by 7 PM. A long day, yes, but good conditions, good company, good snacks, and good radio made it a practically pleasant day.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Editorial Integrity

We got an email the other day that a colleague of ours, another teacher at our school, is to be featured in a local magazine. The article is called Lessons Learned: Advice from Veteran Teachers, and it profiles seven educators from our area with some bulleted gems of wisdom from each.

Without exception, every  co-worker I have discussed it with has made a gagging gesture. Let's just say that we know the guy, and we're not convinced that he is necessarily the best representative of our profession. He takes a pretty picture, though.

I think that Alfie Kohn might say that this is what kids feel like when we give awards recognizing a few among many. They are often baffled that anyone might make such a decision and resentful of what they consider to be the undeserved recognition of a peer. Such feelings render the entire exercise meaningless. Rather than motivating everyone to strive for the ideal, we are often undercutting the effort instead. We are also establishing ourselves as arbitrary authority figures who are not to be trusted.

What is the fall out of such a dynamic? Well, I'm canceling my charter subscription to that magazine. Clearly they don't know what they're talking about.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Arnold Palmer

When we were kids, one of our favorite summer time quenchers was the mix of Tetley tea and lemonade concentrate that our mom would stir up in half gallon batches. It must have been thirty years later that I learned the concoction had a real name. Now I often order a half-tea half-lemonade when I am out for a lunch, and when the waitress nods and says, "Arnold Palmer?"  I smile and nod in return. Nothing is quite so refreshing.

Today we were on our way home from the pool when we passed a specialty popsicle cart. The kids, Richard and Annabelle, ordered right up, but I wasn't so sure I wanted anything so sweet. "They have an Arnold Palmer," my sister pointed out, and right then? My resolve started melting.

In the end, I carried away the first Popsicle I have eaten in over 20 years, and let me tell you, friends, the frozen tart lemonade tempered by the icy brisk black tea was absolutely delicious.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Injured Pride

We were on our way home from the High Museum of Art yesterday when I took a little tumble.  There was a curb, an uneven sidewalk, a dog, the sun in my eyes,-- all of it came together to literally trip me up. I was on the sidewalk before I knew it.

Unfortunately, there were several witnesses. In addition to Heidi and Annabelle, at least four other people asked me if I was okay. I brushed off their concern as I dusted myself off. "I'm fine, really," I said. "More embarrassed than anything."

"No worries" the doorman in front of the building said. "We've all been there."

His kind words did not take the sting away, and my skinned knee hurt almost as much as my pride. "I will get you a band aid when we get home," four-year-old Annabelle promised. "It might be cool," she added to comfort me.

I was all patched up a little while later as we waited for Richard's school bus. The minute it pulled up to the stop, he and his friend Jake bounded off. "Hey guys!" we greeted them. "How was school?"

"Good," Richard said.

"Cool band aid!" Jake said.

I felt better already. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What's the Buzz?

This hot droughty summer has produced a lot of reports of  climate change and what we might expect from a warmer planet. Long term and short term predictions of "the new normal" are dire. Just the other day I heard that because of the warm winter and the hot summer, we were looking at an insect population explosion that would probably last into November.  "Just think of the mosquitoes!" the report ended.

I didn't have to think too hard. I've never seen so many as we saw when we were in Maine in June. Even the locals were complaining. On the other hand, the bees in our garden have been plentiful, their colony strong, and yesterday on the ten hour drive from our home to Atlanta, I saw more butterflies than ever before, hundreds of yellow wings pressed into the August sky. There have been lots of dragonflies around, too, probably because they eat mosquitoes, and the chorus of the cicadas is strident, invigorating the lazy summer afternoon.

More bugs? Doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Slippery Statistics

Yesterday when I was setting up my calendar for the coming school year, I took a minute to review our snow day policy. Several years ago, after we got socked with a huge snowstorm that kept us out for over a week, our system responded to the lost time by adding 4 minutes to every school day, and they never took them away. That's why even though we only go 181 days, we have four days to spare and still make the state mandate of 180.

Admittedly, that calculation is just another example of the fuzzy math we educators are encouraged to use when "objectively" measuring just what it is we do all day. Still, I won't complain. According to Accuweather, it looks like we just might need those extra minutes this year:

Big Snows for Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York Next Winter

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Baby Steps

Last week I ordered my planner for the 2012-13 school year, and today I filled in all the important dates that have been published so far. It was a simple enough task, but I confess to feeling a twinge of excitement for the year to come.

Especially when I wrote "Last Day."

I'm getting there, though.

Monday, August 13, 2012

No News

This afternoon when we were on our way home from seeing The Bourne Legacy, our local public radio station broke into programming to alert listeners to the fact that there had been another mass shooting, this time near the campus of Texas A&M University. We sighed, and spent a few minutes speculating about this recent rash of attacks. Copycats? we wondered. Could the fact that some recent gunmen have survived encouraged other unhinged souls to plan their own offensives?

I considered the movie we had just seen; the body count was high. We live in a society that not only views violence as common and often justified, but also as entertainment. Not only that, but firearms are readily available. Survey after survey has shown that, collectively, we do not have the will to curb gun access. The second amendment is consider a third rail in electoral politics. In the wake of recent shootings pro-gun sentiment has actually risen, along with some catchy tag lines.  

100 million gun owners didn't kill anyone last week.

Things would have been different if someone else had a gun in that theater in Aurora. 

I braced for the gruesome coverage of the latest tragedy, but it didn't come. There were reports of yesterday's PGA tournament winner, Gabby Douglas and Michelle Obama visiting the Tonight Show, and Helen Gurley Brown's death at 90, but there was not a mention of any shootings on either the local or national news programs that I watched this evening. Its omission was so glaring, that I checked on the internet to see if perhaps the radio station had somehow been the victim of a hoax.

But, no. People died today in Texas when a gunman open fired on them. It just isn't news.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I ♥ Ratatouille

And it's a good thing, too, now that our garden is finally coming in. Tonight I was able to prepare the dish completely with homegrown ingredients.

Now that's fresh and local!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hail to the Chief

The news that Romney was announcing his running mate this morning definitely piqued my interest. Maybe it's our proximity to Washington that engages me in politics, maybe it's something else, but let's just say I was the only adult of five in our group today who had any interest at all.

I'm not sure what I was hoping for when I tuned in, but I don't think it was Paul Ryan. As a liberal, I think I should be happy: Ryan is polarizing, but substantive, his record will frame an interesting debate that I think will ultimately wind up in an Obama victory. We'll see.

It's much more of a gender thing that's beginning to irritate me, though. Why can't the United States elect a woman to the executive branch of our federal government? With the current tickets set as they are, we will have to wait at least four more years to join these countries:

Bosnia and Herzogovina
Costa Rica
East Germany
Great Britain
Netherlands Antilles
New Zealand
People’s Republic of China
Sao Tome and Principe
San Marino
South Korea
Sri Lanka
Tannu Tuva
Trinidad and Tobago

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cooperative Story Telling

By Evie and Jonah

Some flowers are different from each other. Some flowers are alike. Eyeball, eyeball, angry bird angry. Jonah and Evie ran to the angry birds and flowers. They saw a tooth fairy in a beautiful sparkly yellow flower dress. Her hair was orange and she was carrying prizes to put under the pillows in a pretty basket with pink silk roses all over it . "You are stupid children!" she yelled, and then they realized that she was the rotten tooth fairy. She changed into a blackish-grayish for a quick minute and then she waved her wand and turned back. AND she turned good accidentally. Her name was Rosie Kayons. She reached into her basket and pulled out a rotten egg. She held it up and pinched her nose. "Ew! Rotten, rotten!" she said and threw it down and it bounced away. Jonah and Evie laughed and ran away.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Adjust if Necessary

Yesterday I wrote about getting my head back into the business of teaching. Today, Heidi and Emily and I (teachers all) were talking about the pre-pre-service steps we were taking and considering taking to prepare our classrooms and our minds to head back to school in a few weeks.

"I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Emily said. "Summer's ending."

"Yeah," I agreed, "but I think what I'm seeing is the dark at the beginning of the tunnel."

I guess I better keep working on my attitude.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

No Endless Summer

Over the last few days, I've had several chances to get together with friends and colleagues to start strategizing and planning the school year ahead. Each conversation was good in its own way, but my major take away?

I need to get my head back in the game.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Barefoot Girl

I usually wear my crocs when I go to water and weed the garden. It's nice that they are waterproof, but sometimes the way they squeak when my feet slide around in them makes me a little crazy. Wearing socks is not the solution-- they just get soggy and unpleasant. The other day, I finally just left my slippery shoes behind and stepped barefoot into the grassy pathway that runs the length of the community plots.

The grass was cool and soft, and I was transported back to summer days when I was a little girl and we never wore shoes to play outside. Why haven't I gone barefoot recently? I wondered, before remembering that I live in a condo without a yard. No worries, though. Now I just kick my shoes off the minute I get to the garden, and there they stay until it's time to go.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Not So Total Recall

We saw the remake/reboot/whatever of Total Recall today. (That's what happens when you hang with teenaged boys; although I confess, I kind of wanted to see it.) As it progressed, I realized that although I have definitely seen the original, probably more than once, ironically, I had very little recall of it. Sure, the first one had Arnold Schwarzenegger in it, and early on in this version, as I watched Kate Beckinsale beat the crap out of Colin Farrell, I remembered the old one had Sharon Stone in it as well, back in the day when she had the rep as a serious ass-kicker.

After the movie, Riley and Heidi assured me that the two versions were not much different from each other, with the exception of the setting, and Treat did a little digging to to find that neither one was much like the Philip K. Dick story they were based on. "I don't think the wife's character was quite as resilient in the first one," Heidi added. "I'm pretty sure she didn't make it to the end."

And that's when one more detail sprang immediately to my fifty-year-old brain. Arnold's inimitable Austrian accent deadpanning, "Consider that a duh-voorse," as he terminated his "wife".

Now, that, I totally recalled.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Degree of Difficulty

Cats have the reputation of being rather graceful. The elegant stalk, the arch of the back, the effortless leap-- these are feline markers. Well, that is true for every cat I've ever met, besides our own Penelope. That one is downright clumsy.

Perhaps we first noticed it the time she raced across the wood floor, and for no apparent reason suddenly attempted a full stop. Unsuccessful, her back legs kept going, passed beneath her, and flipped her ass over tea kettle in a full somersault. What did she do? She shook it off. It couldn't have been as novel to her as it was to us.

Since then, she has tripped numerous times; she has misjudged many leaps and several landings, including a few onto my lap, the latest of which was just a while ago, resulting in some pretty deep punctures to my thigh, and a bump on the head for Penelope.

None of it seems to bother her, though. It is what it is, and so she goes on.

I heard a piece on the radio the other day about human satisfaction. It was in conjunction with the Olympics and was, in part, addressing why most silver medal winners are disappointed with their achievement, while most bronze winners are satisfied. It seems that we rely on comparisons to help us figure out how we're doing. The silver winner is looking at the gold he or she lost, while the bronze medalist is feeling pretty happy to be going home with something, unlike all of the other competitors behind him or her.

Fortunately, Penelope does not get caught up in such head games. Maybe she's on to something.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

We Are Family

Heidi and I have been together for nearly 14 years, and over that time we've shared great times and tragedy, like any couple. We feel fortunate to have the love and support of both of our families, and we have brought them all together in various circumstances and constellations over the years. It works, and for that we are thankful.

Even so, living in a time where same-sex unions are still very controversial (I'm talking to you, Chik-fil-A) and in a state where they are not recognized at all (yes, Virginia, there are committed gay couples), it's hard at times to keep calm and carry on, but of course we do.

Today we were cleaning out drawers in the guest room when we came upon a whole cache of photos. The oldest was from 1969 and the newest was probably 2004. I don't think we've even looked at them in five years or more, so we had fun going through them after so much time.  

The pictures were all mixed up: There's Josh, there's Jennifer, that's me in college, there's Riley, there's Treat, that's Bill and Emily's wedding, that's Kyle, that's Kevin, that's Courtney and Jordan's wedding, and so on.

Some were mine, some were Heidi's, and some were ours.

As it should be.

Friday, August 3, 2012


"Let's have this for dinner tonight!" Heidi suggested while looking through my new cookbook.

"Sure," I agreed without a second thought, without even looking at the recipe, because, after all it's summer, so what's a little extra cooking?

What indeed. It's high time to acknowledge that I am not the cook I once was, and this vegan dish of  homemade pasta, filling and sauce, not to mention hand filling the tortelloni totally kicked my ass. We'll be lucky to eat by 8:30 and my back is killing me.

It's going to be good, though.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


After much soul-searching and debate, we finally broke down and bought one of those professional blenders. You might recognize it from the store demos where folks with mic headsets prepare all manner of smooth foods. The big finale is always a hot cream soup prepared from raw ingredients-- the friction generated from the sheer speed of the blade is enough to cook it (!)

That's not why I wanted it, though. In fact, if anything, such a public spectacle made me steer clear of this product for many years. It was not until Heidi became vegan that the profile of this blender rose in my consciousness. After that, they were in every third recipe I read, always with a note that a regular blender "would do" and a clear implication that your product would be a little inferior.

These babies will run you some serious bucks, though, and for a long time I was able to resist. That was, until I came across The Conscious Cook, by Tal Ronnen. Tal is a chef who also happens to be vegan, and although I've collected a lot of fantastic recipes in the last year or so, this was a book that appealed to my former professional sensibility. The first pages have  In my Kitchen and In my Pantry lists of tools and ingredients, and as I read through them, I was proud to see that I had everything I needed, except... yes, that blender.

And here's what it came down to... I feel like I have mastered an excellent replacement ingredient for almost all the eggs, meat, seafood, and dairy dishes we have always enjoyed, except for cream. Soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk do not have enough fat. Coconut milk works in some situations, but it has a high flavor profile. Ronnen's Ur-recipe is for cashew cream; he uses it liberally throughout the book, and you can't buy it-- it is handmade with, yes, that blender.

So now I have one. I have made cashew cream and it is amazing; I'm looking forward to putting it to great use. I have also made some quality frappucinos and smoothies. Today for lunch we had an avocado and cucumber soup with cilantro, mint, and Thai basil. It was a hit. Last night, on Top Chef Masters, I pointed out every single blender like ours, and there were many, all being used in cool delicious ways.

BUT, yesterday, the food section in our local paper did a feature on juicing-- how healthful and great it is to make your own fruit and veggie juices-- but when all was taste-tested and done, a dedicated juicer turned out to be preferable over... yes, our blender.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sticking the Landing

There has been a lot of press the last week or so about the impending landing of the latest Mars rover, Curiosity. On Sunday, it will enter Mars's atmosphere at a speed of about 13,200 mph, and in the space of about 7 minutes will have to slow to a full stop. NASA engineers have developed a series of ingenious systems involving rockets and parachutes and ultimately a "sky crane" that will hover above the surface to lower Curiosity gently down. All of it has been tested, but none of it together, and so some NASA officials have dubbed the upcoming event Seven Minutes of Terror.

On another note, despite my objections, we watched the full prime time coverage of the Olympics last night. What can I say? Not only does she like dancing, Heidi is a fan of gymnastics, too. I can say this-- NASA should consider using a few of the fab five on their own team. Talk about practical experience with hurtling full speed through the air only to come to a complete stop-- those golden girls know how to nail it.