Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall is in the air, Baked Apple Goods are in my Belly

Mm....I love the smell of fall in the air. While I'm not a huge fan of cold weather I do enjoy all the stuff that comes with the season. Like football and hooded sweatshirts, sweat pants and snuggling indoors, and perhaps best of all apples and all the wonderful awesomeness fall produce brings.

Last weekend my best friend Marjorie (see her amazing work here) and I took a trip out to Wightman's Farms in Morristown, NJ to get our apple picking groove on. We went for the apples, and then we gorged ourselves on their amazing homemade donuts and fresh apple cider. We left this stuff on the shelf:


I was so inspired by our glorious apple bounty that I went to work testing out a French apple tart recipe that I had been eyeing for a while.

Apple-y Butter-y Goodness in the Making

Ding! Success....

Ina Garten you are a buttery French cooking goddess. I cheated a little because I didn't have any apricot preserve. So I used honey and some Captain Morgan's Spiced rum for the glaze. Here's her recipe:

French Apple Tarts

For the pastry:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water

For the apples:

4 Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, small diced
1/2 cup apricot jelly or warm sieved apricot jam
2 tablespoons Calvados, rum, or water


For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas. With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll the dough slightly larger than 10 by 14-inches. Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges. Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baler. Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4-inch thick slices. Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices. (I tend not to use the apple ends in order to make the arrangement beautiful.) Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup of sugar and dot with the butter.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking. If the pastry puffs up in one area, cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out. Don't worry! The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine! When the tart's done, heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn't stick to the paper. Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Panic from 3,000 Miles Abated

Last Thursday I got a freaky scary phone call from my brother letting me know that Dad has been rushed to the ER for chest pains. He was discharged a few hours later with instructions to schedule a stress test the next day to make sure his heart was in working order.

Of course, since he is apparently superman he decided to go to work the next day instead of resting and scheduling his doctor's appointment like a normal human being. But this is why we love him.

Fast forward to Monday afternoon when I receive another text message from my brother telling me that Dad had collapsed work and was being sent to the ER. Again.

Here, I'll just give you the blow by blow via text:

Brother: Just to give you a heads up Dad is going back into the hoospital. I dropped him off at work and then he called me and told me he was down on the floor. he is breathing and his left side is numb.
Me: Fuck
Brother: Yeah that's what I said when he called me.
Me: Did he go to the ER? Did this just happen?
Brother: Yeah
Me: Shit. How does he look?
Brother: His skin looks ok. No paleness or any discoloration. He felt cold, he is on a respirator breathing normal. His arms and legs feel numb.

What is probably the scariest text convo of my life continued for about an hour or so. It probably would have made more sense to just call, but I knew if I spoke to my brother I would crumble into a frazzled ball of crying worry. Some things are just easier to type than talk about.

Thankfully it turns out that Dad didn't have a stroke or a heart attack or any other terrible heart stopping brain crushing malady. Instead he has vertigo, which is not only a great Hitchcock movie but an annoying but not life threatening condition that causes people to feel dizzy, nauseous and off balance.

Now, if you will just excuse me for a moment I am going to lay down. After this week I just might have a touch of vertigo myself.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Zoo

Saturday Fatterday, Sunday Funday

I had an awesome weekend. Saturday was my good friend Lynette's daughter's 11th birthday. Since Lyann is a wonderful little pal of mine I volunteered to put together goody bags, pick up a pinata and make 4 dozen cupcakes for the kiddies to decorate. It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it to see the surprised look on her face when she walked in to her surprise party (her actual birthday was a week and a half ago. She thought we had forgotten. Mean trick for a kid, I know. But soo worth it.)

Sadly, because I had to work the next morning I had to miss actually seeing the cupcake decorating, pinata busting and good bag distribution in person. I wasn't quite ready for a kid's party on Spanish time (the birthday girl made her entrace closer to 9pm). But I got pictures and made a date for the Bronx Zoo with my little buddy:

Cupcakes Expertly Decorated by Lyann and Friends

When I woke up the next mornig I felt like I had been hit by a truck. No really, I felt like garbage. I'd been feeling under the weather all last week, but felt fine on Saturday morning. Maybe it was the kids, the fact that half of them had sniffly noses or the 2 hour traffic that I sat in trying to get home to NJ. I ended up calling in sick at my swim job and going back to sleep.

A few hours of sleep and some DayQuil later I finally felt less like a puddle of germy goo and more like a human being. Human enough to spend some time with Chris cleaning the apartment and running some errands. We even got to take a spin in Chris' new little friend (he's on the left):

Our little blue buddy
 After a yummy brunch we did a little grocery shopping and then settled in at home to do some football watching. Well, Chris did some football watching while I made fish tacos and these bad boys:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

All in all a pretty awesome weekend.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Panic from(for?) 3,000 Miles Away

Holy heart palptitations. Yesterday the skies ripped open and a tornado touched down in NYC. Meanwhile in New Jersey a similar emotional storm was raining down on me.

As I was waiting for my wonderful boyfriend to come rescue me from a soggy trek home from work I received a disturbing phone call from half way around the world. My brother called to tell me that he had just received a call from mom who was in an ambulance brining dad to the ER. And then her phone died.

I tried to shut down the rising tide of 'oh shit' with calming cooling waves of reasonable rational thought.
In times of crisis my bossy inclinations bred into me by my first born status begin to take over and I have a tendency to start barking out orders. In day to day life this probably sucks for the people around me so I've made an effort to develop my Internal Bossy Asshole (IBA) Scanner. I try to run things through it as much as possible.

Fortunately, in times of ciris the IBA scanner breaks down and I hear myself saying things like 'How many hospitals are there in Kona? What's the main one? Look up their numbers. When's the next flight? How soon can you leave?'

Thankfully Kailua-Kona, Hawaii is a small town with two main hospitals. Amazingly we were able to get in touch with my parents fairly quickly (within seconds of calling the hospital actually, a nice woman named Cinda even located a cordless phone so I can talk to my parents directly) at the first hospital we tried.

Turns out that my dad had been having chest pains for a few days and had put off going to the doctor. After a few helpless hours panicking and searching for cheap flights leaving ASAP while inhaling Chinese take out  waiting until my brother flew in from Honolulu and met my parents at the hospital we find out that all is well. My dad would be released in a few hours after a couple tests and a dose of something to bring down his blood pressure. He has to go in tomorrow for some other tests to find out what's wrong but they think he should be okay.

I hate the way helplessness feels like heartburn and indigestion. Especially since no amount of anti-acid or crackers will make it go away.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Labor Day Weekend In Pictures

I'm going to let the pictures fill in my thousand words for me. Proudly presenting Labor Day Weekend 2010


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Change Comes from Within

A Buddhist monk walks up to a hot dog stand and surveys the hot dogs. 'What would you like?' says that hot dog man. The monk thinks for a moment and then asks 'Make me one with everything.' 

The hot dog man gets to work and prepares a hot dog with everything. When he's finished he hands it over to the monk 'There you go.' 'But is this everything?' the monk asks. 'Sure buddy, one hot dog with everything' the hot dog man replies.

The monk hands the hot dog man a $10. The hot dog man places it in his pocket. The monk stands there and waits. And waits. 'But what about my change?' 

'Change,' says the hot dog man 'comes from within.'

Monday, September 13, 2010

Working on Sunday Sucks

For the past year or so I've been working one day a weekend as a swim instructor at a small swim school about 45 minutes from the my  house. The job itself is kinda cool, for a few hours I put on my bathing suit and teach kids their swiming arms, not breathe in water and supervise jumps.

While I was subbing and then later when I was student teaching, this job was my only steady source of income. It got me through some tight financial spots, and managed to teach me a thing or two about working with kids (don't ask them if they want to do things because the answer is usually no, don't feel bad about being the bad guy someone has to be).

But now that I have a full-time job, I'm starting to wonder if I want to continue working there. I like working with the kids, but I also dislike not having a weekend. So, I made a list:

1. I like working with kids - they are hysterical and say the darndest things. A few classical gems have been: Mommy went to the hospital because her boobs were too small, Daddy's head hair is missing because it's on his butt, My babysitter can't play with me anymore because she's a s-l-u-t. Does that mean she's sick?

2. It keeps me in the teaching loop, somewhat - Teaching might be like exercising, if you don't do it often enough your brain gets fat and grows cellulite. And then I'll never get my figure back.

3. Extra money never hurt anyone - although it's not a lot, maybe an extra $300 a month it will certainly help me with those student loans that are coming down the pike.

1. It's a hike to get there - 45 minutes each way and that's IF there is no traffic.

2. Working 6 days a week sucks.

3. So does waking up at 7am on a Sunday morning.

4. I miss football food....mmm....nachos.

 So, I'm not sure what to do. What do you guys think? Is working this job on the weekends worth it?

Friday, September 10, 2010

And I wonder why I'm not losing weight....

Monkey See - Monkey Donut

Morons vs. Idiots: A Study

As the days get shorter and cooler, I'm finding that my patience is growing thinner and hotter. Frequently during my morning commute I find myself thinking things like 'God, can this idiot talk any louder?' and 'Where did this moron get their license?' or 'What in the world is this imbecile doing!?!'

And then, as coffee percolates through my morning fog, clearning my brain and recharging my patience I wonder 'What does it all mean?'

Surprisingly, the terms moron/imbecile/idiot were scientific terms back in the dark ages of psychology roughly 100 years ago.

In 1911, French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon developed the Sanford-Binet Intelligence Scales ushering in the era of modern intelligence testing. The Sanford-Binet test measured attention, memory and verbal skills in school children. The goal was to identify 'deficient' children so that they may be placed in special education programs. The tests ranged from touching one's nose or ear to draw designs from memory or explain abstract concepts like right/wrong, good/bad etc. These wacky questions helped determine a child's mental age or an individual's level of mental development relative to others in the same age group. Today this might be more familiar as one's IQ or intelligence quotient.

Any child who scored an IQ of above 70 on the Stanford-Binet was considered 'normal,' while those bright bulbs who scored above 130 were considered 'gifted.' In order to classify students who scored below a 70, the two psychologists developed a nomenclature for mental retardation.

Morons were classifed as individuals with IQs between 51 - 70. They had adequate learning and communication skills and were able to complete menial tasks. 

Imbeciles had IQs between 26 - 50 and were thought to never progress past the mental age of six. According to this roughly 45% of my high school students would qualify, as well as 87% of people encountered on my morning commute.

Idiots are the lowest on the mental totem pole with IQs between 0 - 25. Idiots are charectarized by poor motor skills, limited communication and little response to stimuli. Therefore, referring to a particularly bad driver as an idiot is perfectly apt use of the term.

Thankfully the field of psychology has evolved and less offensive terms have been adopted (in all seriousness, learning disabilities are debilitating enough without children being labeled with condescending terms). In most cases, learning disabilities have little to do with the intelligence of the child and more to do with helping the child find the learning techniques that work for them.

As far as your morning commute goes remember imbeciles are slightly worse than morons, but nobody likes to be behind an idiot on the road.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Falling Apart at the Seams

I'm having a bad day. First off, my body is falling apart at the seams. I guess this means I am officially an Old. Let's take it from the top shall we? A head to toe inventory of why I will be crawling into bed as soon as I get home:

La Cabeza: Have you ever had a migraine? They suck the life out of you. I get them sporadically without any seeming rhyme or reason. I read somewhere that red wine, aged cheeses or chocolate can bring them on. Unfortunately, these three things comprise a large portion of my favorite things to eat list. Along with the headache that is begining to turn into a full blown head tornado is the fact that my allergies appear to be kicking in as well.  But wait, it gets better.

My Tummy: Taking an extra strength Excedrin on a stomach full of nothing but coffee is a bad idea. That is all.

My Legs: For the past few weeks I've been trying my hand (legs?) at running in a (very) misguided attempt at training for a half marathon at the end of September. This will  probably not be happening since everything below my hips have rebelled against me.
    Two weeks ago my left knee informed me that it hated this new running routine and would be swelling up in protest. Screw you knee.
    Then, last Friday as I was taking Marlowe to the dog park I took a wrong step and mildly sprained my ankle. At the moment it hurt, but the full effect didn't really hit me until a few hours later when I stepped out of the car after a 2 hour drive and realized that yes, my ankle really hurts and has swollen to the size of a golf ball.
   For the rest of the weekend I carried on like a delusional masochist trooper, and spent the next day walking limping around the city with my brother and sister. I'm certainly paying for it now since the last I checked my ankle is still the size of a golf ball and very sore.

Does eBay sell replacement body parts? No? Well they should.

Old School Teachers ...

Had to do stuff like this:  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What if Teachers Ran the School?

What if teachers were able to run the school? The school administrators that I've come across it might say it would be a lot like having the inmates run the asylum. As a future inmate  teacher, that sounds like a great idea to me.

The Brick Avon Academy in Newark New Jersey is part of a handful of schools in a growing national movement that allows teachers to step out of the classroom and into leadership roles in an effort to rejuvenate struggling urban school systems.

Schools run by teachers are beginning to crop up in cities like Minneapolis, Boston, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles and now Newark, New Jersey. The idea of teachers leading schools is beginning to take root as debates rage over the best way increase student achievment levels and demands for higher standards for teachers.

While each teacher led school has their own unique approach, what they have in common in a practice of shared decision making. The theory is that teacher participation will create an environment of camraderie and a feeling of ownership and might also lead to happier and more motivated teachers.

Sure there can be drawbacks. Have you ever been in charge of 25 restless 5 year olds for 6 hours? Then tried to teach them something AND keep them alive? Yeah, it's hard. Now add the demands of budgeting, paying bills and ordering supplies for 40 classrooms and suddenly the task seems super daunting. When would you find time for lesson planning and not going insane?

But on the other hand there can be significant benefits. Putting teachers in charge of ordering supplies means that each classroom can get exactly what it needs for their students. Placing a group of teachers in charge of the school budget might mean more money allocated for homework assistance, computers or classroom resources instead of say, hiring another assistant principal or a PR firm.

Theoretically teachers are the ones who have their fingers on the pulse of education. They are the ones in front of the classroom, working with students on a daily basis. It makes sense that they, more than any administrator or government bureaucrat would know exactly what students need to succeed (I'm choosing to believe that teachers for the most part are intelligent, observant and caring beings).

Encouraging teachers to become part of the solution by placing them at the forefront of school policy and curriculum decisions might be exactly what flailing schools need to succeed.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Alpha Kenny Buddy

Kids say the darndest things sometimes.

Forgetting is the Friend of Learning

When I was a student taking a test was one of the worst things in the world, right up there with having no one to sit with in the cafeteria and vomiting in front of the class. When I was a student teacher giving tests was one of the best things in the world, because it meant that I got to catch up on work and I got a free pass from lesson planning.

I found out today that testing is neither the best or the worst thing in the world, but a great way for people old and new alike to thoroughly learn new information.

Growing up my mom (and teachers) had very clear rules for studying. They sound like this:
1. Find a quiet place
2. Turn off the T.V
3. Clear the area of everything BUT your study materials
4. Sit there and LEARN dang it
5. Cramming before a test is useless for long term recall

On the surface this seems like very sage advice. Getting anyone to sit down and study anything is supremely difficult when one is surrounded by things that are not math, science or history related. Quiet solitude does seem conducive to the learning process.

But according to recent studies, psychologists are finding that mom might be wrong. Psychologists are finding that the brain makes subtle associations between the environment and the content being studied. Like if you're reading a book about the League of Nations in a cluttered living room and then switch to a clean kitchen or if you're learning about osmosis in your sunny backyard and then switch to the flourescent glow of the library. Forcing your brain to make multiple associations with the same material creates a strong neural net, and thus helps the information stick better.

Creating a study session that mixes a variety of associated content - studying different kinds of math problems or reading, speaking writing a new language for instance is much more effective than concentrating on one subject or topic at a time. Much like the way athletes cross train by mixing up cardio, weights and endurance exercises to realize optimum potential.

Taking a test is very much like an athlete working on endurance exercises. The more difficult information is to learn and retain, the less of a chance your mind (or body) is going to forget how to do it.

What mom and teacher got right however was the cramming before a test doesn't equate long term recall. Studies have shown that spacing study sessions - an hour today, another on the weekend and another on the night before the test - can be much more beneficial for later recall. When the brain revisits new material at a later time, it has to re-learn what was previously absorbed thereby re-inforcing the material.

Sorry mom, but the new rules for studying seem to sound like this:

1. Change up study areas - alternate quiet rooms with areas with background noise. That iPod or the T.V in the background might not be such a bad thing after all.

2. Keep study sessions short and spaced out -Instead of marathon cram sessions opt for mini-sets of up to an hour or so. Try to space them out over 3 - 4 sessions a week if time allows.

3. Cross train your brain- try to divide your study hour equally between reading, writing and doing. Read the chapter, write out the definitions, do some drills.

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits; New York Times September 6, 2010

Back to School, But Not for Me

I woke up this morning not to sunlight streaming through my window, but to the sun barely inching over the horizon. The air this morning was crisp, and over the weekend the fire-pit in the backyard was the perfect complement to the cooness of the evening.

Yes, fall is in the air and it brings with it a return to shoes, hoodies and snuggly blankets. It also means that legions of parents are heaving a sigh of relief as their offspring head back to school. Legions of teachers are gearing up to head  back into the classroom, forlornly putting away their beach blankets and paperback novels for another year. For me fall brings few changes -well, maybe attire but that doesn't really count.

Since I'm neither a parent or a teacher at this moment in my life the back to school  bustle hasn't quite hit me yet. And in some ways, having nothing to prepare for is just as overwhelming as packing up for a trip. Should I have sent out more resumes? Were my cover letters good enough? Maybe I should have spent more time job hunting and less time working/running/planning/hoping? Should I have kept on substitute teaching regardless of the uncertain hours and lack of health insurance? I might be financially shaky, but at least I'd still be in the loop.

It's not me, it's the economy has become my new mantra. Despite what feels like endless hours combing job boards and want ads I couldn't seem to find anything but maternity leaves and long-term sub positions. After a long journey of what seemed like endless papers and sleepless nights worrying over bills and lesson plans I feel like I'm in the home stretch of a relentless marathon.

So, for now I'm going to enjoy the simple pleasure of this pumpkin spice muffin while I troll the job boards for more leads. Mm...pumpkin spice muffin.