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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Eating The Veggies

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As I mentioned in Chicken with Coconut Curry, I’ve been more or less on the Whole30  for the past 21 days. I’m still putting off the post when I explain my take-aways from the book It Starts With Food and the documentary Fed Up. It’s just easier and less overwhelming to share my favorite recipes with you.

But first…

On Day 21, let me say this… one of my cheats is that I’ve weighed myself regularly on my Whole30. I’ve only lost 3.5 pounds across 3 weeks. I lost all of it the first week and then plateaued. This majorly underwhelms me. It disappoints me. It discourages me. But Whole30 emphasizes “Non Scale Victories,” and I’ve experienced many of these: Increased energy. An increased feeling of control over food, that I’m not merely subject to my sugar or junk food cravings. Feeling better in my clothes. Less inflammation — my wedding ring slips off easy when I take a shower or wash the dishes or sink my hands into yet another bowl of ground meat, because lord knows, we’re eating a lot of it… The pleasure and discipline of cooking a lot, and cooking clean… The pleasure of a “clean full” feeling… The pleasure that comes from shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and presenting your checker with piles of produce… Which helps with the evolving notion that I am not only “trying to healthy,” but in fact, I am a “healthy eater,” that healthy eating habits aren’t just something I do, but in theory, a growing part of my identity, a concept that Melissa Hartwig shares in this fascinating video about how her struggles with drug addiction have helped shape the outlook that defines the Whole30. Enjoying how sweet fruit tastes…

So it’s been… productive. On the flip side, my husband, who actually needs to gain  weight, has effortlessly shed five pounds, even though he eats an extra helping of white potatoes every meal. So I’m wondering if this is the healthiest thing for him…

Bringing it back to the veggies… Here are a few veggie recipes that I will definitely keep making post-Whole30 because they are delish and doable. I hope you will give all of these recipes a try:

Roasted Onions & Cauliflower

  • To make this Whole30 compliant, I omitted the Parmesan cheese and substituted ghee butter for olive oil (which I would probably still do, post Whole30, because of butter’s rich flavor. If you use butter to flavor the veggies, I don’t really think you need the cheese).

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

  • Again, substitute ghee for olive oil if you want. I also recommend washing the sweet potatoes but not peeling them. I think they get a little crispier that way. These are especially delicious when dipped in some Dijon mustard.

Padraic’s Potatoes

  • Cube some Yukon gold potatoes.
  • Boil the bite-sized cubes for 10 minutes.
  • Roast with some cooking fat, salt, pepper and fresh or dried herbs of your choice for 40 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside 🙂

Vegetable Hash, School Night

  • Add some cooking fat to a frying pan over medium high heat.
  • Let 1 yellow onion, chopped and 1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, cubed into bite-sized pieces sauté until the potatoes are golden brown and soft, about 12 minutes.
  • Add 2 cloves garlic, minced and cook about 2 minutes longer.
  • Transfer the contents of the frying pan to a bowl.
  • Do not wipe the pan clean; add more cooking fat. Over medium-high heat, cook 1/2 lb mushrooms, seasoned with salt and pepper. This takes about 4 minutes — you want the mushrooms to be soft and deep in color. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to the same bowl with the other ingredients.
  • Again, do not wipe the pan clean; add some more cooking fat and add 2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper. This takes about 4 minutes — you want the vegetables to soften. Add this batch to the bowl-in-waiting and season with 3 tablespoons fresh thyme and a little extra salt and pepper.

 

 

Two Flank Steak Suppers

Still putting off a more substantive post on the Whole30 program and all that I’m learning about health, habits, and, let’s be real, expensive grocery bills, because I’m too impatient to share the delicious food that we’re enjoying. Both of these recipes come from Williams-Sonoma School  Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week but they are Whole30 compliant, with a few tweaks.

Both of these meals are elegant in their simplicity, but most importantly, incredibly healthy for you. Here goes:

Flank Steak Salad with Grilled Peaches and Red Onions

  • Make a marinade for 1 lb of flank steak: Whisk 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 1 large minced garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Dump your flank steak into a gallon Ziploc bag, followed by the marinade and shake to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  • Make the dressing: in a liquid measuring cup, whisk together 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Slowly add 4 tablespoons olive oil and mix to emulsify. Set aside.
  • Tear a head of romaine lettuce (or whatever kind of lettuce you like) into a salad spinner; wash and dry.
  • Slice 2 red onions into half rings. Pit 3 peaches and cut them into thick slices. Mix 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Brush the onions and the peaches with the olive oil/vinegar mixture.
  • Heat a grill and grill the onions and the peaches. (Or, if you’re feeling lazy, like me today, omit the peaches and caramelize the onions in a big frying pan over low heat with the same olive oil/vinegar mixture, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper).
  • Cook the flank steak: remove from the Ziploc and slice into inch thick slices. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and fill the skillet with some cooking fat (I used ghee butter). Add as many slices as you can without crowding the pan and cook on each side for 5 minutes, turning with metal tongs. Reduce the heat to medium or medium low as necessary.
  • Assemble your salad and if you’re not following Whole30, add some blue cheese or feta crumbles.

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My nephew and chef-in-the-making grilled all the onions and peaches on a puny little Panini Press! And sported my “onion goggles” in the process. We all enjoyed the fruit of his labor:

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Flank Steak with Avocado & Tomatoes

This is an even simpler recipe than the salad above. The cookbook version actually calls for skirt steak, which is essentially a little beefier and tougher than flank steak, but very similar, according to What’s the Difference Between Flank Steak and Skirt Steak? To make:

  • Cut 1 1/2 lbs skirt or flank steak into 1-inch or 1/2-inch slices, season with salt and pepper, and leave the slices to rest at room temp for 15 minutes.
  • Heat a frying pan over high heat and add some cooking fat (I used ghee butter, but you could use olive oil or coconut oil, or…??) Add the steak and cook until medium rare, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the steak to a cutting board or a plate, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Fill a bowl with 1 1/2 cups (9 oz) halved cherry tomatoes, 2 cubed avocados, 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, and the juice of 1/2 lime. Enjoy 🙂

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Lesson 2, The Crucible

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This lesson is a follow up to Hook, The Crucible. It’s another 90 minute one. 30 minutes of this lesson are devoted to a classroom management issue: cell phones, because I teach The Crucible at the beginning of the school year. So if you’re reading this and you’re a teacher, you might want to re-use that 30 minute cell phone lesson at some other point. Or omit it. One more comment: I am using reading questions as part of this lesson — a strategy I am trying to use sparingly. However, last year I found that the narration part at the beginning of The Crucible was challenging for my high school juniors, and reading questions simply helps keep them on track. I would weight the warm up questions based on the essay, “The Great Fear” a lot heavier than the in-class reading questions, because students read this essay for HW and had to do a lot more heavy lifting themselves to answer those questions. More on grading below…

  1. Warm Up: Five recall questions on the essay, “The Great Fear,” read for HW. Students can refer to the essay as they answer the questions but are limited to the 15 minutes. (15 min)

According to the article, what was Senator McCarthy’s underlying motivation for going on a communist witch hunt? (10 points)

What were two actions that could cause an American citizen to be accused of being a communist? (10 points)

What groups were targeted the most by the anti-communist witch hunt? Why were these groups targeted? (10 points)

Summarize the situation involving Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in a few sentences.(1o points)

Was communism a real internal threat to America in the 1950s? (10 points)

2. Collect warm up and instruct students to take out their copy of The Crucible from underneath their chair. Instruct students to work with the person they are sitting next to to read pp. 3-8 and answer the following reading questions. Instruct students to refer to a bookmark with vocabulary definitions as they read. As students are working in pairs, write down the # of their book. (45 min)

  • Draw a small stick-figure sketch of the opening scene. What does it look like when the curtain rises?
  • Describe Reverend Parris in a complete sentence or two (or three) in your own words.
  • What are some things the town of Salem didn’t allow?
  • What does the author say is going to “feed the coming madness”?
  • “In unity still lay the best promise of safety.” Explain this sentence in your own words. What is the speaker trying to say about Salem?
  • Why do you think the Puritans’ view of the forest was so negative?
  • Why couldn’t Massachusetts “kill off the Puritans”? What helped their community succeed?
  • How does the narrator define a theocracy?
  • What was the purpose of this theocracy?
  • A paradox is a contradiction. Why was Salem’s theocracy contradictory or paradoxical? (What was hard to balance?)
  • According to the narrator, in what multiple ways did the witch hunts change the Salem community?
  • List 2-3 questions you have about what you have read so far. (If you don’t have any points of confusion, list 2-3 discussion questions).

I suggest weighting these questions 1 point each.

Give rational for cell phone mini-lesson.

3. Continuing to work in pairs, have students read these sample college level cell phone policies from college syllabi and make a list of consequences that could occur if they violated cell phone policies at the college level. (15 min)

4. Ask students to recall the definition of a “growth mindset.” Explain that applying the principles of mindfulness is a growth mindset approach to refraining from inappropriate cell phone use in class. Project the definition and explanation of mindfulness from Psychology Today and instruct students to take a few notes:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

The cultivation of this moment-by-moment awareness of our surrounding environment is a practice that enables us to better cope with the difficult thoughts, feelings and sensations that cause us stress and anxiety in everyday life.

Rather than being led by emotions that are usually influenced by negative past experiences and fears of future occurrences, we are able to live with full attention and purpose in the present and deal with challenges in a calm, assertive way. We realize that our thoughts and emotions are transitional and need not define the next moment of our lives, or our potential for happiness and prosperity. This enables us to quickly escape the imprisonment of negative thought patterns and instead focus on positive emotions and increasing self-compassion and compassion for others.

5. Try a few mindfulness exercises as a class and encourage students to do these on their own when they have the urge to plug into their cell phone (15 minutes, #4 & #5)

One-Minute Breathing

  • This exercise can be done anywhere at any time, standing up or sitting down. All you have to do is focus on your breath for just one minute. Start by breathing in and out slowly, holding your breath for a count of six once you’ve inhaled. Then breathe out slowly, letting the breath flow effortlessly out back into the atmosphere.
  • Naturally your mind will try and wander amidst the valleys of its thoughts. But simply notice these thoughts, let them be as they are and return to watching your breath. Purposefully watch your breath with your senses as it enters your body and fills you with life, and then watch it work its way up and out of your body as the energy dissipates into the universe.
  • If you’re someone who thought they’d never be able to meditate, guess what? You’re half way there already! If you enjoyed one minute of this mind-calming exercise, why not try two or three?

Mindful Observation

  • This exercise is simple but incredibly powerful. It is designed to connect us with the beauty of the natural environment, which is easily missed when we’re rushing around in the car or hopping on and off trains on the way to work.
  • Pick something within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. This could be a painting, a photograph, a quote on the wall…
  • Don’t do anything except notice the thing you are looking at. But really notice it. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time.
  • Visually explore every aspect of this glorious gift of the space you are in. Allow yourself to be consumed by its presence and possibilities. Allow your soul to connect with its role and purpose in the world. Allow yourself to purposefully notice and just “be.”

Touch Points

  • This exercise is designed to make us appreciate our lives by slowing the pace. This opens the gate to purer awareness and the ability to truly rest in the moment for a while.
  • Think of something that happens every day more than once. Something you take for granted, like opening a door for example. At the very moment you touch the doorknob to open the door, allow yourself to be completely mindful of where you are, how you feel and what you are doing. Similarly, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that let you do this, and the brain that will help you use the computer.
  • The cues don’t have to be physical ones. It could be that every time you think something negative you take a mindful moment to release the negative thought, or it could be that every time you smell food you take a mindful moment to rest in the appreciation of having food to eat. Choose a touch point that resonates with you today. Instead of going through the motions on autopilot, stop and stay in the moment for a while and rest in the awareness of this blessed daily activity.

Mindful Listening

  • This exercise is designed to open your ears to sound in a non-judgmental way. So much of what we see and hear on a daily basis is influenced by thoughts of past experiences. Mindful listening helps us leave the past where it is and come into a neutral, present awareness.
  • Take a moment to simply listen to the sounds in your environment. Don’t try and determine the origin or type of sounds you hear, just listen and absorb the experience and let it resonate with your being. If you recognize the sound, then label it with what you know it to be and move on, allowing your ears to latch onto new sounds that come into your awareness.

Fully Experience a Regular Routine

  • The intention of this exercise is to cultivate contentedness in the moment, rather than finding yourself caught up in that familiar feeling of wanting something to end so that you can get on to doing something else. It might even make you enjoy some of those boring daily chores too!
  • Take a regular routine that you find yourself “just doing” without really noticing your actions. For example, when cleaning your house, pay attention to every detail of the activity.
  • Rather than treat this as a regular chore, create an entirely new experience by noticing every aspect of your actions.  Feel and become the motion of sweeping the floor, notice the muscles you use when scrubbing the dishes, observe the formation of dirt on the windows and see if you can create a more efficient way of removing it. Be creative and find new experiences within this familiar routine.
  • Don’t labour through thinking about the finish line, become aware of every step and enjoy each step of progress. Take the activity beyond a routine by merging with it physically, mentally and spiritually.

A Game of Fives

  • In this mindfulness exercise, all you have to do is notice five things in your day that usually go unnoticed and unappreciated. These can be things you hear, smell, feel or see. For example, you might see the walls of your front room every day, you might hear the birds in the tree outside in the morning, you might feel the touch of clothes on your skin as you walk to work, you might smell the flowers in the park on a summer’s afternoon, but are you truly appreciating these things and the connections they have with your life and the world at large?
  • Are you aware of how these things really benefit your life and the lives of others?
  • Do you really know what these things look and sound like?
  • Have you ever stopped to notice their finer, more intricate details?
  • Have you ever thought about what life might be like without these things?
  • Have you ever sat down and thought about how amazing these things are?
  • Let your creative mind explore the wonder, impact and possibilities these usually unnoticed things have on your life. Allow yourself to fall awake into the world for a while and fully experience the environment that encapsulates your daily routine.

 

Hook, The Crucible

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This lesson is for the beginning of the second week of my school year. It’s the “hook” to get students interested in the play, The Crucible. (The first week of school will be spent building rapport, practicing policies and procedures, including this lesson on Growth vs. Fixed Mindset).  I introduced the book this way last year, and for the most part it was successful… except for one student whose phone I took away in the first couple days of school and who proceeded to write that I was her personal crucible. Yup, except for that 🙂 I’ve made a few tweaks to the order of things. If you’re interested in a copy of the PowerPoint I use, comment or contact me at gingerodonnell.com.  This lesson runs about 90 minutes.

 

  1. Students google the definition of the word, crucible. There are multiple definitions. They should write all of the definitions. (5 min)
  2. As a class, analyze the different definitions. How are they connected? How can we take these different, connected definitions and create a new definition in our own words? (5 min)
  3. Tell students that they will write a paragraph (or more) about a personal crucible they have experienced, or someone they are close to has experienced, based on the definition of crucible we have created. Model this first by reading your own (this activity continues to build rapport in the beginning of the year) — I am planning to write about my sister-in-law’s first few months on a remote Pacific island in the Peace Corps (also a convenient way to plant the Peace Corps seed in my students’ minds). (15 min)
  4. Students pair up with the person sitting next to them (all my classes have seating charts, alphabetical order in the beginning of the year) and share what they wrote. (7 min)
  5. Call on four partners to share out with the class what their partner wrote. In the beginning of the year, popsicle sticks come in handy to randomly select sharers, or you can take volunteers if students are eager to share. (10 min)
  6. Explain to students that there are really two crucibles taking place in the play, The Crucible: one that forms the action of the plot, and one that is subtext. Project the definition of subtext on the board and have students write it down: an underlying meaning in a literary or dramatic work, sub meaning under, text meaning text, in other words, the meaning you find when you read between the lines. 
  7. Define Crucible #1 in The Crucible: a bunch of teenage girls and older women are falsely accused of witchcraft and the justice system doesn’t protect them. 
  8. Explain to students that a mnemonic device helps you remember something. In this case, we’re using the song “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles to remember Crucible #1 that we just defined. Play the song and provide students with a copy of the lyrics, either on the projector or on a handout.

“Witchy Woman”
The Eagles 1970s

Raven hair and ruby lips
sparks fly from her finger tips
Echoed voices in the night
she’s a restless spirit on an endless flight
wooo hooo witchy woman, see how
high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman she got
the moon in her eye
She held me spellbound in the night
dancing shadows and firelight
crazy laughter in another
room and she drove herself to madness
with a silver spoon
woo hoo witchy woman see how high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman she got the moon in her eye
Well I know you want a lover,
let me tell your brother, she’s been sleeping
in the Devil’s bed.
And there’s some rumors going round
someone’s underground
she can rock you in the nighttime
’til your skin turns red
woo hoo witchy woman
see how high she flies
woo hoo witchy woman
she got the moon in her eye

9. Define Crucible #2 (Subtext): in the 1950s, there was a witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy to hunt down communists. Professors and leaders in higher education, Hollywood, theatre, radio, and television were especially targeted. In this situation, too, the justice system didn’t protect them. 

10. Play “Get That Communist Joe” to remember Crucible #2. (20 min)

“Get That Communist, Joe”
The Kavaliers 1954

Joe, come here a minute
I get a red hot tip for you, Joe

See that guy with the red suspenders
Driving that car with the bright red fenders
I know he’s one of those heavy spenders
Get that Communist Joe

He’s fillin’ my gal with propaganda
And I’m scared she will meander
Don’t want to take a chance that he’ll land her
Get that Communist Joe

He’s a most revolting character
And the fellas hate him so
But with the girls this character
Is a Comrade Romeo

Since my love he’s sabotaging
And the law he has been dodging
Give him what he deserves, jailhouse lodging
Get that Communist Joe (Get that Shmo, Joe)

11. Students take notes on 12 PowerPoint slides, expounding on four key points (30 min)

  • Puritanism
  • Witchcraft
  • McCarthyism
  • Arthur Miller

12. HW: Read “The Great Fear” by J. Ronald Oakley (about 20 pages), a “related reading” from The Crucible and Related Readings; provide students with a bookmark defining target vocabulary words as they read and inform them that there will be a brief 5 question reading quiz next class

Final Project, The Crucible

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I am reworking the final project for The Crucible. Last year I had my students write a monologue loosely based on one of the characters but they weren’t as interested in writing, much less performing, monologues as I had anticipated. I also like that this project is a bit more rigorous, requiring more writing, research, and MLA formatting. The idea came to me when reading the “related readings” in this version of The Crucible, specifically the essay “Guilt” by Clifford Lindsey Alderman. Most of all, I hope that the choices embedded in the research portion give my students an opportunity to explore issues of social justice that they are passionate about. I know The Crucible is a widely taught text in American high schools, so maybe this assignment idea will serve as “food for thought” for fellow educators.

  • Goal: Respond to the question, How do individuals and societies recover and rebuild following major injustices?
  • Role: Freelance contributor to a magazine.
  • Audience: Peers in American Lit I class via Socratic seminar; possibly wider members of school community if paper highlights can be shared on class website.
  • Situation: An opportunity to connect history to contemporary society, educating readers about the aftermath of the Salem witch trials and connecting this to the aftermath of current injustices across America and the globe.
  • Product: A 5 page paper (see details below).

Required Components of Paper

  1. Summarize how different members of the Salem community coped with their guilt once the witch trials were widely believed to be a grave injustice, as explained in the essay, “Guilt,” by Clifford Lindsey Alderman, contained in The Crucible and Related Readings
  2. Choose a major injustice in contemporary society specifically where innocents have died at the hands of an individual, a government, or some other organization:

The death penalty executed against an innocent person
Instances of police brutality or civilian assaults against police
Residents of the Middle East who have been killed by US drone attacks
Victims of terrorist attacks
Victims of violence during the Arab Spring
Residents of Syria dying at the hands of the Assad regime
The list goes on…

3. Research and report, how did different members of the local, national, and global, and virtual (internet) community respond in the aftermath of these unjust deaths?

4. Argue, in what ways was the local, national, global, or virtual (internet) response effective? In what ways was it ineffective?

5. Argue, what specific action needs to be taken to recover from these unjust deaths at at an individual level? A local level? A virtual (internet) level? A national level? A global level? (Some of these “levels” may overlap)

6. Cite your sources in MLA format, both in-text citations and a Works Cited page

RUBRIC: _____/120
(Each of 6 categories worth up to 20 points)

  Ideas Organization Conventions Word Choice Sentence Fluency Voice
Advanced ___ Strong controlling idea based on interesting and meaningful exploration of essential question

___ Clearly addresses topic and provides specific and relevant concrete details and/or reasons

___ Shows complexity and freshness of thought

___ Effective, insightful commentary connects concrete detail to essential question

___ Effective beginning, middle, and end; engaging introduction; strong sense of closure

___ A clear, strong guiding question governs entire essay; the writer skillfully emphasizes important ideas

___ Use paragraphing effectively

___ Progresses in a logical order

___ Uses effective cohesive devices (transitions, repetition, pronouns, parallel structure) between and within paragraphs

 

___ Successfully follows assigned format

___ Contains few errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and/or spelling

___ Intentional or clever use of atypical sentence structure

___ Correct pronoun/antecedent agreement and subject/verb agreement; consistent verb tense

___Correct MLA format in nearly all aspects

___ Uses precise and vivid language

___ Effective use of writing techniques such as imagery and figurative language if appropriate

___ Consistently avoids redundancy

___ Contains sentences that are clear and varied in length and structure

___ Variety of sentence beginnings

___ Natural rhythm, cadence, and flow

___ Shows individual perspective; personality comes through

___ Clearly shows an awareness of audience and purpose

___ Writer’s enthusiasm for the topic is evident

___ Effectively uses writing techniques (such as humor, point of view, tone) that evoke a strong emotional response

Proficient ___ Controlling idea based on a meaningful exploration of essential question begins to narrow focus

___ Addresses the topic using relevant details and/or reasons

___ Shows some complexity and/or freshness of thought

___ Strong commentary relates concrete detail to essential question

___ Clear beginning, middle, and end with an effective introduction and conclusion

___ A clear guiding question governs the entire essay; important ideas stand out

___ Uses paragraphing appropriately

___ Generally progresses in a logical order

___ Uses cohesive devices between and within paragraphs

 

___ Accurately follows assigned format

___ May contain errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and/or spelling that are not distracting to the reader

___ Fragment or run-ons are rare (unless stylistic)

___ Very few errors in agreement and tense

___Correct MLA format in a large majority of aspects

___ Uses precise language

___ Uses writing techniques such as imagery and/or figurative language is appropriate

___ Avoids redundancy

___ Contains sentences that are clear and show some variety in length and structure

___ Not all sentences begin with the same pattern

___ Sections of writing have rhythm and flow

___ Shows some individual perspective; personality begins to show

___ Shows an awareness of audience and purpose

___ Writer cares about topic

___ Uses writing techniques (such as humor, point of view, tone) that may evoke an emotional response

Developing ___ Contains some sense of direction, but may lack focus

___ Addresses the topic, but relies on generalities (lists) rather than specifics

___ Limited complexity and/or freshness of thought

___ Weak commentary

___ Evidence of a beginning, middle, and end

___ Guiding question may be addressed, but may not govern the entire essay; some important ideas begin to surface

___ Shows evidence of paragraphing

___ Inconsistency in logical order

___ Inconsistent use of cohesive devices

___ Attempts assigned format

___ Contains errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and/or spelling that may be distracting to the reader

___ Some run-ons and/or sentence fragments

___ Inconsistent subject/verb agreement and/or verb tense

___ Inconsistent compliance with MLA format rules

___ May use imprecise language

___ Attempts to use some writing techniques such as imagery and/or figurative language if appropriate

___ Some obvious redundancy

___ Contains sentences that are generally clear, but lack variety and complexity

___ Some sentences begin the same

___ An occasional section of writing has rhythm and flow

___ May lack individual perspective

___ Shows some awareness of audience and purpose

___ Writer shows limited connection to the topic

___ Attempts to use some writing techniques (humor, point of view, tone) to evoke a response

Emerging ___ Is difficult to follow and lacks focus

___ May address the topic, but lacks details

___ Lacks complexity and freshness of thought

___ Attempts commentary successfully

___ Little or no evidence of a beginning, middle, and/or end

___ Guiding question unclear

___ Little or no evidence of paragraphing

___ Does not progress in a logical order and may digress to unrelated topics

___ Lacks cohesion

 

___ No evidence of format

___ Contains repeated errors in grammar/usage, punctuation, capitalization, and or spelling that are distracting to the reader

___ Numerous run-ons and/or fragments

___ Frequent errors with agreement and/or tense

___ Frequent errors with MLA format

___ Uses imprecise language

___ Shows little or no evidence of writing techniques such as imagery of figurative language

___ Obvious and/or distracting redundancy

___ Contains sentences that lack variety and clarity

___ Most sentences begin the same way

___ Writing is choppy; needs rereading to follow the meaning

___ Lacks individual perspective

___ Shows little or no awareness of audience or purpose

___ Treatment of topic is predictable

___ Shows little or no evidence of writing techniques to evoke a response

No Evidence          

 

 

Chicken with Coconut Curry

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All right, food lovers… I have a confession to make… I’m on Day 12 of the Whole30 program. I’m working on a more substantive post about the documentary Fed Up which finally lit a fire under me to swap out The Things They Carried with Fast Food Nation for my American Lit II class, as well as the big ideas I gleaned in Whole30 founders Melissa and Dallas Hartwig’s manifesto of sorts, It All Starts with Food, plus the dilemma I now find myself in when it comes to Ina Garten, whom I love, adore, and cook from, butter, SUGAR, and all.

But for now… a REALLY good recipe from the cookbook The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to TOTAL HEALTH and FOOD FREEDOM. 

And I’ll say this… one benefit of taking the Whole30 challenge is learning to cook with new ingredients and discovering that you love them. I am developing quite an affection for coconut milk, which I confess I had never used before this “total health” endeavor.

I’m also finding ghee butter handy — clarified butter (milk solids, aka sugar, removed) in a jar. If you’ve ever made clarified butter you can appreciate buying it in a jar. It’s a process. Clarified, or ghee butter can be used to cook at higher temperatures, imparting delicious butter flavor to a wider variety of dishes. Ghee butter runs for about $6.99 a jar at my local grocery store, so make of that what you will. Some grocery stores don’t have it…

I’ve made this chicken recipe twice now, once on the grill and once baked in the oven. If you have the means, the texture and flavor of grilled chicken is just better, in my opinion. But the curry sauce is so decadent, baked chicken is convenient and tasty too. I’ve made it with thighs and breasts — both are good — but bone-in, skin-on is key. (And cheaper!)

Serves 4

  1. First things first: put 2 cans of coconut milk in the fridge for at least an hour. The cream will rise to the top of the can, which is what you’re using, and what makes this curry sauce so decadent.
  2. Make the curry sauce: melt some ghee butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and…swirl to coat… of course 🙂 Add diced onion (half a medium onion) and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and let the garlic cook for about 30 seconds. Throw in 1 tablespoon of curry powder and stir for a good 15 to 20 seconds, then add 1 cup of crushed tomatoes (or tomato sauce) and simmer to thicken, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, transfer to another bowl, and let everything cool. (The cookbook calls for you to blend the sauce in a blender at this point. I didn’t bother with this step and let the onions and garlic provide a little texture). Use your can opener to measure 1/2 cup of coconut cream out of your can of coconut milk. Measure out 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper  and once the mixture has cooled, stir in the coconut cream, salt, and pepper. (If don’t let the mixture cool, the coconut cream will curdle).
  3. Pour some of the curry sauce into a separate bowl and brush it on your chicken breasts or thighs. (Pat the chicken dry first). (This way if you end up with extra curry sauce, you’re not contaminating the entire bowl as you prepare the chicken. I ended up with extra curry sauce both times. You can re-use the sauce for other things… more meat, a fried egg…)
  4. Grill or bake your chicken and then serve with extra warmed curry sauce. (I baked the chicken at 375 Fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes and then cut into it to see if it needed more time).

Now, in advance — I’ll quote Kathleen O’Toole, a relative I recently met on my travels in Ireland, after she served me carrot cake and apple pie around midnight, seized my hands with a twinkle in her eye, and declared, I’m delighted you liked it!!!!

Handmaid’s Tale Project

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Last year my students read The Handmaid’s Tale in American Lit. I’m reworking my unit this year to really emphasize the relationship between Atwood’s dystopian world and real-word political, religious, and human rights issues throughout history and in contemporary societies. It’s easy to get caught up in the strangeness of the story itself — but Atwood is directing her story toward real issues we face. We read The Handmaid’s Tale following The Crucible, so it makes for an interesting transition regarding themes of women and power and the impact of religion on politics. With increased access to chromebooks in my classroom this year, I’m hoping that this final project — a PowerPoint (or Google Slide) presentation will give my students a chance to practice real-world skills and conduct meaningful research.

Final Project, The Handmaid’s Tale

  • Goal: Connect the surreal, dystopian world of Gilead to real issues faced by individuals and societies today or in the past.
  • Role: American Lit teacher.
  • Audience: Members of your American Lit class.
  • Situation: An opportunity to share the world of The Handmaid’s Taleand more importantly, its emphasis on satire and social commentary, with your class
  • Product: An interactive PowerPoint (or Google Slide) presentation that you will present in a five minute presentation

Process

Pick one of “Atwood’s Targets” (satire & social commentary points) to focus on:

  • “Rapid change into extraordinary brutality from an apparently civilized society”
  • A superficial and misleading focus on “family values” in oppressive societies
  • A focus on indoctrinating the young in repressive regimes
  • To oppress groups, oppressive leaders first dehumanize them
  • Books and literacy were seen as threats in oppressive societies
  • Oppression of women — e.g., requirements to be fully covered, limitations on their education
  • Objectification of women, women = their bodies, women’s bodies are their most important asset
  • Government through fear — brutal punishments to intimidate the population
  • Rigid gender roles — each gender serves a specific, prescribed function in society
  • The evils of slavery

Review your copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and find two instances of this “target” being examined, explored, satirized 

Research governments or religions that contain elements of oppression or face human rights challenges (either historical or contemporary) and take notes on how this government or religion exhibits your chosen “target.” Check out these resources to get a feel for the types of sources you should be consulting:

 Review these resources for how to create a high quality, interactive PowerPoint. 

Review PowerPoint or Google Slide software so you know what you’re doing, tech-wise. 

Create your PowerPoint (or Google Slide) presentation connecting your research to The Handmaid’s Tale. Cite your sources. 

Script the verbal part of your presentation and rehearse. 

RUBRIC
Total Possible Points =160

Criteria A – 36-40 pts B – 32-35 pts C – 28-31 pts D – 24-27 pts F – 23 pts or below

Explanation of Ideas & Information

Regularly builds in audience interaction

Presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically, audience can easily follow the line of reasoning

 

Does not read off the slide and is well-rehearsed but not scripted in delivery

 

Conveys passion for ideas and show

Builds in audience interaction at some points

Mostly presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically, audience can follow the line of reasoning

 

Does not read off the slide and is rehearsed in delivery

 

Conveys passion for ideas and show

 

Rarely builds in audience interaction

May not present information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically, but audience can generally follow the line of reasoning

Mostly does not read off the slide and is mostly rehearsed in delivery

 

Conveys some passion for ideas and show

Does not build in audience interaction

 

Presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence in a way that is confusing and/or incoherent; audience struggles to follow the line of reasoning

May read off the slide frequently; delivery is unrehearsed or overly scripted

 

Conveys minimal passion for ideas and show

Builds in no audience interaction

 

Sloppily presents information, findings, arguments, and supporting evidence; audience can’t follow the line of reasoning

 

Reads off the slide frequently; delivery is unrehearsed or overly scripted

 

Does not convey passion for ideas and show

Organization

Meets all requirements for what should be included in the presentation

Has a clear and interesting introduction and conclusion

 

Organizes time well; no part of the presentation is too short or too long

Meets all requirements for what should be included in the presentation

Has a clear introduction and conclusion

 

Mostly organizes time well; for the most part, no part of the presentation is too short or long

Meets most requirements for what should be included in the presentation and has an introduction and conclusion

 

Some parts of the presentation may be too short or too long

Meets some requirements for what should be included in the presentation but many elements are missing

 

Parts of the presentation are too long or too short

Does not meet requirements for what should be included in the presentation

 

The presentation is disorganized; time is not used effectively

Eyes, Body, & Voice

Keeps eye contact with audience most of the time; only glances at notes or aides

 

Uses natural gestures and movements

 

Looks poised and confident

 

Speaks clearly, not too quickly or slowly

 

Speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear; changes tone and pace to maintain interest

 

Rarely uses filler words

 

Adapts speech for the context and task, demonstrating command of formal English when appropriate

Keeps eye contact with audience most of the time; only glances at notes or aides

 

Mostly uses natural gestures and movements

 

Mostly looks poised and confident

 

Mostly speaks clearly, not too quickly or slowly

 

Mostly speaks loudly enough for everyone to hear; may change tone and pace to maintain interest

 

Uses filler words occasionally

 

Demonstrates some command of formal English when appropriate

Keeps eye contact with audience some of the time; may look too closely at notes or aides

 

May use unnatural gestures and movements

 

May not look poised or confident

 

May speak too quickly or too slowly at points

 

May not speak loudly enough for everyone to hear; may not change tone and pace to maintain interest

 

May use filler words often

 

Demonstrates some command of formal English when appropriate

May struggle to keep eye contact; may look too closely at notes or aides

 

Uses unnatural gestures and movements

 

May not look poised or confident

 

Speaks too quickly or too slowly at points

 

Does not speak loudly enough for everyone to hear; does not change tone and pace to maintain interest

 

Uses filler words often

 

Doesn’t demonstrate command of formal English when appropriate

Does not make eye contact; looks too closely at notes or aides

 

Uses unnatural gestures and movements

 

Is not poised or confident

 

Speaks too quickly or too slowly at points

 

Does not speak loudly enough for everyone to hear; does not change tone and pace to maintain interest

Use filler words

 

Doesn’t demonstrate command of formal English when appropriate

PowerPoint

PowerPoint follows all guidelines in assignment instructions – simple, readable, incorporates pictures or video — and effectively contributes to audience engagement and understanding

 

Demonstrates thorough research; sources are cited

PowerPoint mostly follows all guidelines in assignment instructions – simple, readable, incorporates pictures or video – and contributes to audience engagement and understanding

Demonstrates some thorough resources; sources are cited

PowerPoint follows some guidelines in assignment instructions – simple, readable, incorporates pictures or video – and somewhat contributes to audience engagement and understanding

Demonstrates research; not all sources may be cited

PowerPoint is missing several important guidelines in assignment instructions – struggles to contribute to audience engagement and understanding

Demonstrates minimal research; not all sources may be cited

PowerPoint is missing most guidelines in assignment instructions – does not contribute to audience engagement and understanding

Lacking in research quality and citation of sources

Lesson Plan for “Growth Mindset”

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I’m in the middle of Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights because I’ll literally read ANYthing written by this man. I picked up a copy at an old haunt in Lincoln Square (Chicago) earlier this summer. So much nostalgia for The Book Cellar

Anyway, I’m about halfway through, and I confess I’ve lost interest. My mind is half in school mode already, and so I hit pause on Rushdie and finally got around to reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

The central idea of this book sounds corny at a surface level, and to extent, the book is corny and a little repetitive. But it’s also a tremendously powerful concept: the idea that our personalities and IQs, our abilities, and for that matter all aspects of our lives, are in a state of ongoing development. Viewing ourselves, our lives, OTHERS, and the world in a constant state of growth has profound implications for how we seek and obtain happiness, overcome depression, lead, parent, teach, and so much more.

Instead of presenting you with my usual “book review” format of commentary embedded in summary, I’ve decided to post my during reading notes to pique your curiosity as well as a lesson plan I’ve created about growth mindsets versus fixed mindsets for high school students as a way to build a positive classroom culture in the beginning of the school year.

Thoughts?

Reading Notes

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over

Did you know that Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children?

Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow?

Howard Gardner, in his book Extraordinary Minds, concluded that exceptional individuals have a “special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses.” It’s interesting that those with the growth mindset seem to have that talent.

  • p. 12 — “Grow Your Mindset”
  • Developing yourself versus validating yourself

Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist, once said, “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners”

  • CEO disease
  • Growth mindset — teacher versus student

When do people with the fixed mindset thrive? When things are safely within their grasp. If things get too challenging — when they’re not feeling smart or talented — they lose interest.

  • When do you feel smart?
  • p. 23, Marina Semyonova

Becoming is better than being

When [Nasa was] soliciting applications for astronauts, they rejected people with pure histories of success and instead selected people who had had significant failures and bounced back from them

The scariest thought, which I rarely entertained, was the possibility of being ordinary. This kind of thinking led me to need constant validation.

If you’re somebody when you’re successful, what are you when you’re unsuccessful?

  • p. 72, effort praise versus ability praise

What’s so alarming is that we took ordinary children and made them into liars, simply by telling them they were smart.

Prejudice is a deeply ingrained societal problem, and I do not want to blame the victims of it. I am simply saying that a growth mindset helps people to see prejudice for what it is — someone else’s view of them — and to confront it with their confidence and abilities intact.

  • Girls grow up being praised, boys grow up being scolded, boys learn to dismiss outside criticism and girls learn to internalize it
  • p. 80-81 activities
  • Not knowing how to fail, p. 82
  • Do you know how to fail?
  • What is success? p. 98-99
  • What is failure? p. 99-100
  • What is something in an ideal world you’d love to do but you don’t consider yourself naturally good at?
  • Relationships and fixed mindset

You can believe that your qualities are fixed, your partner’s qualities are fixed, and the relationship’s qualities are fixed — that it’s inherently good or bad, meant-to-be or not meant-to-be. Now all of these things are up for judgment.

It’s been said that Dorothy DeLay was an extraordinary teacher because she was not interested in teaching. She was interested in learning

Lesson Plan for Growth Mindset
High School Juniors and Seniors
(About 90 minutes)

Pass around Mindset book and tell students that you recently read it over the summer. Introduce the book, e.g.: The book focuses on how having a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset,” two terms we’ll eventually define in class today. These ideas can affect your relationships, your business, your education, your symptoms of depression, many facets of your life. We are striving to build a “growth mindset” as we prepare to deal with the challenges of a new school year. (3 min)

The following is a list of questions that came to mind as I was reading the book over the summer. Read all eight questions and then pick the one you want to free-write on for ten minutes. If you finish your thoughts on one question, move to another question. You should be writing for ten minutes. (10 min)

  1. What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?
  2. Can anyone learn to be a good artist?
  3. What do you think our society values more? Effort or ability?
  4. What is the best way to praise a child?
  5. What qualities are you looking for in a life partner? In your friends?
  6. Is it scary to be ordinary? Why or why not?
  7. How do you define success in life? In school? How do you define failure in life? In school?
  8. If you’re “somebody” when you’re successful, what are you when you’re unsuccessful?

Stop writing — select students at random with popsicle sticks to share out responses — type into projector any comments directly related to growth or fixed mindset

Explain how each question relates to growth or fixed mindset. Example: #4, related to how we respond to feedback, #5, how to build healthy relationships, #2, how much of who we are is “nature” versus “nurture,” determined by genetics and pre-ordained ability versus environment and attitude (15-20 min)

Make a t-chart, fixed mindset on one side, growth mindset on another (3 min)

Project 10 scenarios and have students put them into each category into their t-charts. They are guessing according to what they think a fixed mindset is and a growth mindset is. Students can abbreviate the wording of scenarios to make the writing process less tedious.  (10 min)

Scenarios

1. An acquaintance says something mean about you on social media so you “throw shade” about that person on your own social media account.
2. An important criteria for your ideal life partner is that he or she challenges you.
3. You ace your math test and your teacher says, “Congrats, [insert name], you’re such a math wiz!”
4. You’re incredibly shy so you sign up for an improv class to come out of your shell.
5. You tend to procrastinate when you’re struggling in a class because if you fail, at least you didn’t try that hard.
6. A job application asks you to write about your biggest failure and how you bounced back.
7. You find it easy to objectively identify your own strengths and weaknesses.
8. A criteria for a good teacher is that they work to make you feel smart.
9. Healthy relationships — romantic and platonic — require work.
10. Some people just don’t have what it takes to be a performer.

Teacher tells students what numbers go in which category, students check their charts to see if they are “right” (5 min)

Discuss why given answers are “right,” students have the opportunity to question or challenge as teacher explains more about fixed versus growth mindset (10 min)

Based on discussion above, students work in pairs to define “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” (5 min)

Teacher selects pairs (popsicle sticks) to share their definitions, offers guidance on how to blend definitions into one class definition for both “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” (10 min)

Teacher gives instructions: Brainstorm a list of 10 common frustrating scenarios you experience as a student/at school and concrete ways you can approach that scenario with a growth mindset this year (t-chart format)

Teacher models 5 examples from their own t-chart (7 min)

Scenario #1: Lack of adequate access to technology (limited computer carts, computer labs)

Growth Mindset Response: Launch a crowdfunding website to raise money for additional chromebooks for the English department, view it as an opportunity to gain fundraising skills and build enthusiasm for next school year

Scenario #2: Eating in class leads to increased requests to leave the room for drink and bathroom breaks, and too many students don’t pick up after themselves

Growth Mindset Response: Put in the time to enforce the “no-food rule” — it’s worth it — and model all food rules yourself

Scenario #3: Too many students are on their cell phones while you’re teaching

Growth Mindset Response: Teach students about the philosophy of mindfulness, show students cell phone policies on college syllabi, teach students about growth mindsets, ask students to reflect on how they’re using their cell phones in class on a written self-assessment, make a poster reminding students how they can use their cell phones for learning, in addition to taking phones away when necessary

Scenario #4: The “amazing” lesson you planned didn’t engage as many students as you hoped.

Growth Mindset Response: View this “failure” as valuable information. Was it how you executed the lesson? Was it how you designed the lesson? Ask your students for direct feedback. Talk to your co-workers. Keep organized digital versions of your lesson plans so you can keep what works, and change what doesn’t.

Scenario #5: Too many students don’t show up with a pencil and then steal yours.

Growth Mindset Response: Over the summer, purchase a glue gun, some fake flowers, and a set of ballpoint pens. Make “flower pens” so your students will think twice about walking out with your pens — and so they’ll have something to write with if they forget their pencil.

Students work on scenarios independently (15 min)
Teacher collects

Homework assignment: Make a list of 5-10 people you admire. Choose one to focus on. Research this person’s experience with failure, either in the form of an interview (if it’s someone you know) or online research, if it’s someone in the public domain. Summarize your findings in a few paragraphs (cite your sources) and identify whether this person has a growth or fixed mindset, in your opinion.

Festive Summer Supper

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Check out this recipe from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook called School Night: Dinner Solutions for Every Day of the Week. “Mediterranean Shrimp with Feta, Olives, &  Oregano” has a few things going for it:

  • Healthy.
  • Good for company, good for the fam.
  • Mostly assembly and one dish, plus a sauce pan of couscous.
  • Shrimp! Olives! Feta! Yum!
  • Fresh herbs! But dried oregano works too.
  • I made it for my dad on Father’s Day. Good vibes. Make it for someone you love.

Materials

  • Colander
  • Sheet pan
  • Paper towels or cling wrap
  • Medium saucepan
  • Fork (for fluffing couscous)
  • Deep casserole dish
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring spoons
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Serving bowls

Ingredients

  • Box of couscous
  • Butter and kosher salt
  • 6 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
  • 1 1/2 lbs frozen shrimp
  • Pitted kalamata olives, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • Crumbled feta cheese, 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves or 2 Tablespoons dried oregano

Instructions

  • Thaw frozen shrimp in the fridge for a few hours in a colander on a sheet pan with cling wrap or paper towels draped over the top. Bring them to room temp and get rid of any ice crystals by running the colander under warm water at intervals and patting the shrimp dry as you make the couscous.
  • Make a box of couscous, following the directions on the package. I went ahead with a pad of butter and several pinches of salt, as called for my box. (The cookbook calls for Israeli couscous rather than the instant kind. I confess I’ve never made Israeli couscous, so you’ll have to comment if I’m missing out. The instant kind was yummy too).
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Rinse, dry, and chop the tomatoes, placing them in the bottom of your casserole dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well with your hands.
  • Bake for 8 minutes, until the tomatoes release their juices.
  • Check to make sure the shrimp is thawed. (The cookbook calls for raw, deveined shrimp but medium frozen ones cooked at the same temperature for the same time worked just as well).
  • Layer the cooked tomatoes with shrimp, olives, feta, and oregano. (The cookbook recipe calls for a half cup of both olives and feta, but I recommend more of each. Serve the remaining olives as an hors d’oeurve, or nibble while you’re cooking. Point is — jar should be consumed, some way or another.)
  • Bake 12 minutes. Drizzle the cooked casserole dish with olive oil and serve atop the warm couscous.

Serve with this simple, healthy Rachel Ray tomato, cucumber, red onion chopped salad if you want to round out the plate.

And finally, to end your summer meal, a berry pie. I adapted Joy the Baker’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie by substituting a pound of blueberries for the rhubarb, since zero out of three of my local grocery stores were selling rhubarb in June. (Wha??)

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I also substituted half the lemon juice for orange juice, and added some orange zest and lemon zest to the filling.

Instead of pecans, I used store bought roasted, salted almonds for the crumb topping. But don’t make my mistake — thoroughly mix the butter with the flour, and this is key — before you add the nuts — otherwise you’ll end up with sections of raw, unbrowned flour on the top of your pie.

As for the crust, cold ingredients are key — dice the butter and then put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and keep the buttermilk refrigerated until you use it. This hand-mixed, buttermilk-congealed pie crust is one of the easiest I’ve ever made. The buttermilk really helps things come together to form a smooth dough.

I made two pies — for Clark, and for Patrick, my father and my father-in-law — and I learned these helpful hints about freezing a pie from The Kitchn. Long story short, if you tightly wrap and freeze an unbaked pie, the juices from the berries won’t make the crust soggy when you eventually bake it. So freeze pies unbaked. Enjoy 🙂

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Reading in Iceland

Written on June 29, 2016:

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I am currently traveling — lots of hiking, biking, reveling in Iceland’s beauty marks — but in flight, or in the lull of a long day (the sun sets at midnight here) I am engaging in my favorite form of travel, flying through the pages of a good book.

I decided to dive into some travel writing: “The Best American Travel Writing 2002” edited by Frances Mayes. As Mayes writes in her introduction, “reading and travel have a natural symbiosis” — reading about a variety of foreign adventures while on an adventure of my own puts me in the traveling mindset — a mindset characterized, in my experience, by a closer clinging to the present moment and a mental, as well as physical experience of dislocation that allows for greater self-reflection, spontaneity, and once again, that in-the-moment mindfulness  thing. (Such an elusive and aspirational practice, at least for me, when muddled with to-do lists and daily routines).

Perhaps reading and travel are “symbiotic” in the way that they transform readers and wanderers by first transporting them. And this process of transformation is built upon the liberty, the privilege, of reflection and mindfulness. Mayes seems to draw on this principle in her selections. She writes:

“Early in the process I began to wonder what exactly qualified as travel writing. I am immediately drawn to the incongruous qualities of spontaneity and reflection. I like to read about journeys when the traveler is charged or changed by the place, when the traveler is moved from one psychic space to another during the course of the trip.”

If the highest purpose of travel (and naturally, the mark of good travel writing) is to, however subtly, transform the psyche of the traveler, this Mark Twain quote, also a part of Mayes’s introduction, comments on one way in which travel broadens consciousness:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

So where does 2002’s “Best American Travel Writing” take its reader?

My favorite essay, so far, is Michael Finkel’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Void” originally published in National Geographic Adventure.

It follows a lone traveler piled into a truck driving across “the giant sand sea at the center of the Sahara.” The void itself, the “giant sand sea,” is fascinating — its disorienting quality attracts an eclectic group of passengers, from a drunk to a widow to an American named Beth who just wants “to feel the wind in her face,” provokes reactions ranging from bliss to terror, and serves as an ever-shifting landscape of haunting, unpredictable beauty. Finkel writes:

“Many of the tourists are on spiritual quests. They live hectic lives, and they want a nice dose of nothing — and there is nothing more nothing than the void. The void is so blank that a point-and-shoot camera will often refuse to work, the auto-focus finding nothing to focus on…”

There’s a strong statement about modern society — that Westerners with hectic lives will haul themselves across the Saharan desert just to bliss out on endless sand, to envelop themselves in a place that represents emptiness and nothingness… Finkel continues,

“After a fortnight of wind, Beth came to a profound decision. She said she now realized what her life was missing. She said that the moment she returned home she was quitting her Internet job and opening up her own business. She said she was going to bake apple pies.”

By contrast, “Forty Years in Acapulco” from Men’s Journal chronicles an eighty-nine-year old Polish immigrant named Mort Friedman whose idea of paradise is stalwart routine, reclining by a pool in your finest swimwear at a hotel. This is not travel as self-discovery or spiritual quest but travel as self-affirmation. The routine of “wak[ing] at nine-thirty; putt[ing] on a brand-new bathing ensemble… fly[ing] down on American Airlines on the same date every year” enshrines all of the achievements that earns Mort his yearly trip.

A third essay, “The City and the Pillars,” describes New York’s immediate response to September 11, 2001, emphasizing the instinct of New Yorkers to throw themselves into a daily routines, such as shopping for groceries or cafe owners hosing down sidewalks, in a stubborn protest of the horrific reality of the towers. Adam Gopnik writes,

“The pleasure of living in New York has always been the pleasure of living in both cities at once: the symbolic city of symbolic statements (this is big, I am rich, get me) and the everyday city of necessities, MetroCards and coffee shops and long waits and longer trudges. On the afternoon of that day, the symbolic city, the city that the men in the planes attacked, seemed much less important than the real city, where the people in the towers lived.”

One downside to reading a collection of travel essays, if you’re reading it cover to cover, is that you occasionally get stuck in a destination that you don’t find exciting, or you find yourself a passenger on a journey that wanders a little too long — in my case, “A Rio Runs Through It,” by Rod Davis from The San Antonio Express-News. You’re obviously jolted from place to place, occasionally leaving you with that feeling of the void: there’s too much and therefore nothing to focus on.

So how are my first four or five days in Iceland affecting my psyche?

As much as I appreciate the beauty of the landscape, the density and crispness of the language, and the friendliness of the people, the answer that first comes to mind is that I’m experiencing a renewed appreciation for certain aspects of the U.S.

For example, in a country where most foods, save sea food, have to be imported, and everything but a hot dog is startingly expensive, I appreciate living in a country rich in access to cheap produce (notwithstanding the obvious problems with our agricultural industrial complex).

And as beautiful as the Icelandic landscape is, I find myself reminded of certain remote parts of Montana or Oregon, and feel gratitude for the tremendous diversity of the American landscape, East to West:

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That being said, the lack of visible poverty in Iceland, except for two homeless men in Rekjavik, points out the visible poverty in the United States and our complacency toward it.

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On a more personal level, the gift of time has given me the chance to reflect on the balance between teaching and writing in my life, and how, in an ideal world, I’d like the balance to tilt. Who knows — maybe enough geysers and hot springs and glaciers and waterfalls will convince me that I need to ditch it all and start baking apple pies. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

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