Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Confession: I love Jewish food. Forever and ever.

I'm Catholic. Like, super Catholic. I don't go to Mass every week (although we talk about going to Mass every week!), but I've been fortunate enough to never have doubted my faith. Not once in my life have I ever doubted it... that's a big deal to me! I credit my mom, my godparents, my grade school, and my second family, the Colemans, for instilling this faith in me. I'm lucky. I would never denounce Jesus Christ and I believe in the New Testament with my whole heart.

That said, I'm pretty sure I have a Jewish grandmother alter ego, or at least an alter stomach, because I love Jewish food. Love. Love. Love.

My stepmom is Jewish, and she was the first one to introduce me to my first traditional Jewish dish/ingredient... matzo. Or matzah. Whatever you like. It's basically unleavened bread, although it's not the same texture/flavor as the unleavened bread we Catholics take at Mass as the Eucharist.

 As an aside, my dad's father was part of the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany and my dad ended up marrying a Jewish woman. There's all kinds of restitution happening on the Tiedge side.

As a second aside, that also makes my Chinese sister half Jewish. I'm excited for her to apply for colleges (in three years?!!!) and get every scholarship available just because she can check, like, every ethnicity.

Anyway, matzo comes in many forms... matzo meal (which is about the consistency of bread crumbs), matzo crackers (like you see in the photo above), matzo balls (like dumplings... but better), matzo brei (Jewish French toast of sorts)... and I'm sure there are more. I love matzo. And I'm making matzo ball soup for dinner tonight, so I thought I'd dedicate an entire post to a genre of food that I'm just crazy about. I hope you try some Jewish food soon, even if you aren't Jewish... you life will be better. I promise!

Blintzes, which are sort of like crepes. I love blintzes because, for the most part, they are savory. I don't really do sweets, so I loooooove these when they are just alone in their carbohydrate goodness. I can't do the sour cream of course, but with a little salt and herbs... to die for.

Knishes... they're kind of like calzones, but with more of an Eastern European flair. I like these best with just sausage, onions, and herbs. You can add cheese to them, but it's not Kosher if you do. I actually like mine better without the cheese, and it's not just because cheese and my intestines hate each other. :)

Kugel. There are so many recipes for kugel out there. I've only had the sweet kind, which kind of reminded me of cinnamon Yorkshire pudding with noodles. I am dying to have some savory kugel, but haven't found a recipe I loved yet.

Jewish apple cake. Please don't buy Jewish apple cake. Ever. Google for a recipe and make it yourself. This has been a public service announcement.

Lox and cream cheese on an everything bagel. Lox is smoked salmon... regular cream cheese... capers... everything bagel. I don't like red onions on mine, but I know a lot of people do. I could eat this for breakfast every day. And I would, if they made dairy-free cream cheese and sold it at Wallyworld. But they don't.

Challah bread. Or Hallah bread. Or Halla bread. Or Challa bread. I don't know why it has so many different spellings, but no matter how you spell it, it's the best bread. Ever. It's also incredibly easy to make (please use honey and not sugar!) and doesn't need anything but a little bit of salt to taste incredible. This is the first bread I ever made from scratch!

Latkes. Think hash brown cakes... but better. These can be eaten at any meal, and they are soooooo good with a little bit of salt and applesauce. And they're easy to make! I really like Emeril's latke recipe, but without the caviar. Honestly, if I had to buy caviar, I wouldn't even know where to go. I'm just not classy enough for cavier I guess.

Matzo ball soup. Without a doubt my favorite Jewish recipe... I'm eating it as I type this. I never have fresh dill, but I know dill is delicious in it, as is just a teeeeeny squirt of lemon juice before serving. I used Manischewitz's matzo ball mix that my mom sent me (there's what, 6 Jewish people in the entire city of Del Rio? Not much matzo running around), but I have made them myself before. I love these as much (if not more) as I love regular dumplings... these are so much lighter and airier. There is NOTHING else like matzo ball soup when you're sick. It's better than chicken soup for sure. Once you have it, you'll never want chicken soup again!

Thank you for humoring me while I gush about Jewish food. I hope you go out and try one of these things immediately, for the sake of bettering your life.

Friday, August 26, 2011

First Week of Year Two

I'm going to blow your mind right now with a statement I know you've never pondered: Teaching is hard.

Like, really hard.

Maybe it's because I've grown accustomed in the last two months to quiet and reflection and creativity, but being 100% ON all the time while 160 13 to 16-year-olds stare at you and anxiously wait for you to make the tiniest mistake is exhausting.

And, apparently, bad for your body, because as I write this, I'm taking my first sick day from school. Five days in. It's not the flu or a cold or anything like that, so I'm pretty sure I didn't catch it from the kids. I'm pretty sure I was just born with an extraordinarily sensitive digestive tract on the verge of revolt at any moment. I've never had to go home sick from work before, but there was no way I was going to be able to teach and hurl at the same time in the same room.

All that being said, I had an awesome first week of school. Actually, I can't believe how awesome it's been. After last year and my explosive first day, followed by weeks of tears and exhaustion and frantically trying to figure out what I would do with my life now that teaching is obviously out, I was terrified for the first day of school. Terrified.

Over the summer, I read Harry and Rosemary Wong's book The First Days of School. I know I shouldn't buy into one book as my teaching Bible, but since last year's first day was so terrible, I figured I had to do something different to not repeat that experience. So I followed the book's advice and my first day went exactly as the book said it would.

A little bit about my assignment this year. My new administration created a new math class and gave that class to me. I feel very fortunate about this, because they didn't have to do it. I'm an employee of the district who is certified in language arts 4-8 and math 4-12, so they could honestly put me in any position they wanted. For a while there, it wasn't looking good that I would get to switch to math. The week before school started, my new principal told me that I would be teaching a class called Math II, which was exclusively for the 8th graders who had been retained because of their math scores, and the incoming 8th graders who failed their math TAKS last year.

Say that again? I'm a G/T certified teacher who taught advanced English last year... and you think I'm qualified to not only switch content areas but teach the kiddos that, by definition, don't get it?

But I love it. I love it so much. I love it more the first week than I ever loved my best day of teaching advanced kids. I've discovered an amazing level of patience with these kids I never knew I had. Yesterday I had them taking a pretest that covered topics that they absolutely have to know before they can advance to Algebra 1... things like graphing inequalities, linear equation tables, fractions and decimals, and ratios. This was all taught to them in 7th grade and they should, by state standards, have mastered it then. But I have the kids that didn't, and so I anticipated them not doing very well. But I got questions like... "How do you make a negative on the calculator?" "What does that dot between the two numbers mean?" "What does inequality mean?" "What if you don't know any of the answers?"

They are really struggling. But instead of being aghast that they came to 8th grade not knowing where the negative sign was on a calculator or what a multiplication sign was, I got excited because they had identified for me what they need to learn. And I can't wait to teach them. I realize I probably won't bring all of them up to Algebra 1 level by the time they leave, but the idea that they will leave my class knowing more than what they came in with excites me. I don't know if this happened last year. I made my advanced kids read Charles Dickens, who I adore. I'm pretty sure they left hating Dickens and are probably scarred for life. This year, every kid will know about negatives and positives and what signs are what. I can say that for sure.

Aside: If you had told me a decade ago that I would be a math teacher, an 8th grade math teacher of all things, I would have laughed. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and am like... what am I doing?!?

The absolute coolest thing about this assignment is that it's the students' second math class, so I get to design my own lessons and classroom and I get to move at whatever pace the kids need me to move at. This is a totally foreign concept to them because they are so used to being left behind. I could see the exhaustion in their faces when they took the pretest... "Welp, here's another 50 questions I can't do." Their behavior, which had been pretty perfect the three days leading up to yesterday, was dramatically worse during the test.

Hello... obviously! If someone asked me to color, I would have full attention on the coloring and enjoy making a pretty picture. If someone told me to build an airplane, I would last about 10 seconds before I daydreamed or doodled or did something else to avoid building that airplane, because I have no idea HOW to build an airplane... so why try if I know I'm only going to fail? That's what my kids are thinking every day they come to school. No wonder they act out and skip school. They're searching for something they're good at and can find success at, and math ain't it.

That is, until they met me. :) I'll start them off coloring, and then drawing their own picture and coloring it, and then creating their own 3D model and coloring it. They may not have an airplane built by the end of the year, but they will at least have the feeling that they could if they continue to work at it. This of course is a very simplified analogy, but I have a lot of faith in these kiddos. I LOVE teaching the struggling learners. I love the look on their faces when they ask a "dumb" question and are met with kindness and an answer rather than sarcasm and something like, "You should already know that."

Here's a funny story: We were numbering the pages in our notebooks. It's a 200-page composition notebook, so it's going to take awhile. I let them get started and was walking around the room to make sure everyone was doing it correctly. Then, something struck my mind and I said, "I'm assuming everyone knows how to count to 200, but if you have a question about what number comes next, be sure to ask." A little girl reached over the aisle to (lightly) punch a little boy's shoulder and said, "See, I told you you could ask her that." Some of them have probably never been in a classroom before where they could ask such low-level questions and get an actual answer rather than a nasty remark. I know I was guilty of that last year. This year, I've made a promise to myself and my kids that whatever they need to know, whether it's counting or two-step equations, they shouldn't feel ashamed to not know it.

It's going to be a great year. A lot of work and a lot of planning time on my part, but a great year. And if this is my last year in Del Rio (and we still don't know if it is or not), it will be a great way to go out.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mealplanning for cheapstakes

The Bulls are on a budget.

A really, really tight budget.

Like, living off of less than one salary budget.

Without going into too much detail, the real estate market and the stock market have not been especially kind to us. And neither does getting invited to 23485834758924 weddings, showers, etc. with air fare at $500 a ticket or more.

Anyway, in short, our grocery budget just got cut in half. Or, I should say, my grocery budget just got cut in half. I refuse to compromise nutrition for cost, so I'm having to find ways to really stretch a buck while still eating healthy meals.

When I cook, here are things I keep in mind:
- MUST be high in protein and fiber
- MUST be delicious
- MUST not contain eggs or dairy other than cheese
- SHOULD be low in calories, fat, and carbs (side note: I'm never getting rid of my Oxford comma.)
- SHOULD be able to be brought for leftovers without reheating

I don't always stick to these guidelines, but most of the time I do. We eat a lot of chicken and vegetables, and only eat pasta once in a blue moon. I find almost all my recipes online, at either Gina's Skinny or The Foot Network. Sometimes, when I really want to splurge, I go to one of my cookbooks (The Kitchen Bible is my favorite!), Rachael Ray, or Pioneer Woman. I try to plan meals on Sunday and do my shopping the same day. I buy everything I'll need for the entire week so I don't have to go after school. I post the meals on a white board on our fridge, along with appointments and times Art will be home (if I know in advance, which I rarely do!) so I know when to have dinner ready. I don't include breakfast because we never really sit down to breakfast. I don't really love breakfast food and I can't eat eggs, so I usually just have some oatmeal or a protein shake and Art fends for himself.

Here's what we're eating on my FIRST week back to work! (No kids yet - they'll get there next Monday! Yikes!)

  • Dinner: Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken over salad greens (Caveat: This is the first time I will ever use a slowcooker. Will blog, for sure.)





  • Lunch: deli sandwiches or leftovers
  • Dinner: 1/2 frozen pizza (just for me)

  • Lunch: leftovers (just for me)
  • Dinner: Lean Cuisine (just for me)

And for my sweet toothed husband... Black and White Chocolate Chip Clouds

What are YOU making this week?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

The rest of math deployment

I am still waiting to see if I will actually teach math next year. Long story, but I am hoping that all I learned at math camp will be put to good use! Cross your fingers for me.
The best way to describe my math deployment is through the ups and downs of Job the Jeep. Job is old, he's tired, he's been through a lot (hence the name!). Job was supposed to be a weekend car, a feet-on-the-dashboard kind of car. Job was never supposed to be a 70,000+ mile workhorse, and he gets mad at me when I treat him like one.

Last year, Job thought he would show me who's boss by quitting with the A/C just as I moved to a climate where it's over a hundred degrees 5 months out of the year. I actually hate A/C, so this wasn't a big deal and we've never gotten it fixed. Yes friends, I drive all around Borderland in the sweltering heat with no A/C. I like hot.

Anyway, the drive up to San Angelo was just fine, as I blogged about previously. I took the top down and had a blast listening to my book on tape and trying not to hit any deer.

By the way, it's actually a book on iPhone. CDs went mainstream when I was in, oh, 5th grade, and mp3s got cool when I was in high school. I don't know why I say book on tape, but I ain't changin'.

I digress.

That Friday, I drove up to Austin from San Angelo. It was windy. Job turned on his check engine light. He sometimes does that just to spite me, like when I don't put the gas cap on correctly. I'm supposed to turn the car off, and then on, off, then on, for a few times and it's supposed to go away. I vowed to get it checked out in Austin, along with an oil change.

This is Austin. Pretty, right?

We met our friends Tony and Betsy there. Tony is a T-6 FAIP too, at a different base. They are super fun and it was so nice to hang out with old friends.

Austin is weird. Awesome, but weird. Case in point: walking down 6th street, window shopping and people watching, we stumble upon this sign blocking the sidewalk:

Well then. Like normal, rational people, we stop and decide to take up this bartender on his Casey Anthony special. I'm pretty sure it wasn't before noon, but I won't swear to it.

Cheers! (PS - Why do people insist on calling a drink that size a "shot?" It took me a good 3 minutes to finish it, and only under extreme peer pressure. I'm old and boring.)

We got this lovely shot while talking to a local expat from Cuba. He was so interesting, especially when he was talking about local Cuban food. Yes, I asked a stranger about foreign food. I like learning. Art likes bananas.

That's not as random of a comment as you might think. Every time my Cuban friend talked about plantains, Art said something along the lines of, "I love bananas!" "Plantains? You mean bananas." "They sell plantains in Del Rio. But they call them bananas."

Oh, my husband.

After the four hour drive to Austin, Job was super mad. Every time I hit the brakes, the whole car shook like it was going to stall and Job was going to quit at life. So on Sunday, Art and I went to get the oil changed and while we were there, ask the guy if he knew what was wrong. He didn't. He knew how to change oil. Strike.

I swore to Art I would take the car right to a mechanic as soon as I got to San Angelo, but I didn't want to take it someplace in Austin. If it was something that had to be done overnight, I couldn't wait because I had to be back at math camp the next day. So off we went, Tony and Betsy back to Wichita Falls, Art to Del Rio, me to San Angelo. I sweet talked Job into starting and told him everything would be all right.


I may have been ten miles outside the city limits of Austin when THIS HAPPENED:

When it rains for Job, it pours. Within two months in high school, Job got rear ended by a drunk driver and broken into in Welcome Stadium's parking lot. That night, however, turned out great, because that was the night Art and I had our first conversation. This night, however, not so much.

The sad thing is that I JUST got the windshield fixed right before we got married because of the same problem. Ugh.

I did what any normal girl would do. I pulled over and got some ribs. They were delicious ribs. From Opie's in Spicewood, Texas.

I didn't have much choice but to press on. Job was going to make it to San Angelo if I had to Fred Flinstone it there. And we did! By Sunday evening, I was back in my hotel, happy as a clam.

Until 8:50 am the next morning, when Job would not start. He tried, he made some gurgling noises, but then noises that sounded like metal on metal and I decided not to push him anymore. Leslie, the woman in charge of math camp, gave me the number of a good mechanic, and I called a tow truck to take Job to the hospital.

This is the tow truck guy moving Job with his bare hands. Say again?

The mechanic was nice enough to give me a ride to the Service Center, so I didn't miss too much math camp. I got a ride back with Leslie to the mechanic, who assured me that all was well with Job. $250 later, he had a brand spankin' new... something. Throttle something.

The car wouldn't start in the parking lot of the mechanic's. I should have taken this as a sign, but one of the guys working there started it up and promised me it would be just fine. And it was!

Until 8:50 am the next morning, when Job would not start. This time, he wouldn't even make a noise. No lights, no nothing. Dead. Luckily, I kept the mechanic's number in my phone, since I had been there 12 hours prior. He said he'd be right there to pick me up and try to jump the car.

So I sat there waiting for him. And then I heard a beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Job is talking to me. In beeps. Exorcist style.

And then this happened:

Now, apparently, this is normal. Jeeps do this sometimes when alternators or batteries are going awry. Ok dude, whatever you say, but it not normal when, at 9am in July in San Angelo, Texas, my car starts beeping and dash panel dials go haywire.

The mechanic was able to jump the car and diagnose Job with a dead battery. This is even more bizarre to me. If the battery is dead, how is it talking? The mechanic didn't take my queries too seriously.

$150 later, the mechanic told me that if he saw me again tomorrow, he'd buy me a new car. Job behaved after that. Under threat of retirement, it seems my little car is quite capable.

I was supposed to drive up to Fort Worth for Math Camp Part 2, but after all that horseplay, decided against it. But before I left, I still had a windshield to worry about.

This is the after picture. The guy swore to me that this was "fixed," but it looks exactly the same to me.

Right? Whatever. I'm done with Job and his neediness.

That's pretty much all we've been up to, outside of spending as much time on the lake as possible. The life of the Bulls. Pretty rough!

Here's Art and his beloved new Swamp People t-shirt. It had sleeves, but they just didn't seem right. Swoon.