December 19, 2011

The Perfect Cold Weather Soup

This weekend was the first snowfall that stuck around. It didn't snow much, but there was enough to coat the streets and look really pretty from my living room window. And I don't know about you, but I don't think there's anything better on a cold day than snuggling up on the couch with a warm bowl of homemade soup.

Luckily, my coworker gave me her amazing Creamy Chicken Soup recipe, and I already had all the ingredients on hand. It was the perfect day to bust out my cutting board and give the recipe a go.

Usually, I only cook out of necessity (I think I inherited this from my mother), but for some reason, I was really enjoying myself in the kitchen all morning. It definitely helped that I started cooking just after breakfast, rather than waiting until I was hungry and impatient. I turned up an audiobook I've been listening to and diced, sauted, whisked and stirred my soup into perfection.

And perfection is exactly what I made. This is no crock-pot, set it and forget it, kind of recipe, but the result was absolutely worth the effort. As soon as I took my first bite, I knew this was a recipe I had to keep in my arsenal. Not only were the flavors delicious, but the consistency was perfect. It was creamy yet still substantial enough that I didn't even want bread on the side.

Okay, I know you're all salivating now, so here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
Sorry for the not-so-professional food shot. This is new to me.
1/2 C onion
3-4 garlic cloves
olive oil
1/2 C carrots (I added more)
1/2 C celerey (I added more)
4 C chicken broth (I used the low sodium)
2 C water
2 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I actually used 3 and cubed it for more of a bite)
1 (4.5 oz) package of quick cooking long grain wild rice with seasoning packet
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 C flour
6 Tbsp butter
2 C skim milk

1. In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil.
2. Add carrots and celery and saute until softened.
3. Add broth, water and chicken, bring to a boil.
4. Stir in rice. Reserve seasoning.
5. Cover and remove from heat.
6. In a medium sauce pan melt butter over medium heat.
7. Stir in seasoning packet, salt, and pepper until bubbly.
8. Reduce heat to low.
9. Slowly whisk in flour to form roux.
10. Slowly whisk in milk until smooth.
11. Cook until thickened.
12. Stir into broth and rice.
13. Cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

December 18, 2011

Not Your Average Sub

Anyone who's ever taught can tell you that it's easier to go to work, even when you're really sick, because making sub plans is such a pain in the you-know-what. Without knowing who will be in your classroom, you have no option but to leave the dreaded busywork for your students because you can't assume your sub will be able or willing to move forward in your lessons. It's really unfortunate.

On Friday,I was talking to another teacher when another sub walked in and explained that she simply couldn't be expected to teach students about how to find the least common multiple, despite the fact that the book lays it out for you step by step and that the classroom teacher left several examples to follow. We assured her that the lesson would be review for the students (because I knew they had been working on it), and after some coaxing, she hesitantly agreed to give the lesson a try.

As one of the "good" and "capable" substitutes out there, her attitude offended me. I don't understand why she'd take a math job knowing full well she's uncomfortable teaching that subject. You can't take a job and then not be willing to do it!

It's subs like her that make this position a joke. They're the ones that want the students to sit quietly so they can knit, text, watch movies on their phone, or even sleep... all things I've seen first-hand. They aren't interested in knowing the students at all. They see themselves as glorified babysitters, simply there to control the chaos until the classroom teacher returns.

I am not that kind of sub. As you all know, I'm subbing because teaching is my passion, and I'm using this opportunity to stay involved in education until I can have another classroom of my own. I choose to work in the same few buildings so I can be more than just another strange face. I want the staff to know me and learn they can depend on me. I work hard to establish a positive rapport with students, learning their names, interests, and academic needs.

And you know what? The teachers in my buildings request me - all the time. They know I'm willing and able to teach a real lesson, so they don't have to disrupt their curriculum with a movie or book work in their absence. More than once, I've had teachers call me with vague lesson plans rather than formally writing them up because they know I can take their direction and run with it.

So... I guess I should really be thanking all those less-than-stellar subs because they make me look awesome. :)

December 14, 2011

TLC vs. Lowe's

I read today on one of my favorite sites about a certain well-known hardware store pulling advertising for TLC's new show, All-American Muslim. I, for one, think it's disgusting that they're allowing themselves to be influenced by a bigoted group like the Florida Family Association (FFA). 

I've seen the show, and I was actually really impressed with TLC for adding it to their Sunday night line up. There are too many people in this country with false beliefs about Islam, I think education is the most important step toward tolerance. The families on this show are no different from anyone else. They coach high school football, struggle with fertility, deal with interfaith marriage, observe religious holidays, experience the trials and errors of parenting, and every other issue that every other American deals with on a daily basis. I'm not sure how, exactly, this show is at all offensive.

To the FFA, who feel the show is harmful to one's belief system because it doesn't represent the radical Islamic groups, I can only laugh at your ignorance. Should every reality show about Christian families also represent the the radical Christian groups as well? Surely, you'd be offended if someone told you that being a Christian meant that your beliefs must be in line with the KKK, but that's precisely what you're saying about the Muslim communities.

Take a few moments to watch Jon Stewart's take on this matter. I love him!

December 4, 2011

Thanksmas Party Recap and Recipe

Last night was Mary and Jon's annual Thanksmas dinner party. I was super excited to be included in this year's event, which they've been hosting for friends since right after college.

Mary, as always, was the hostess with the mostest. She's like a mini Martha Stewart, always going above and beyond when entertaining, whether for two people or twenty. From holiday decorations to place settings and centerpieces, her little details create the perfect ambiance for any occasion. I love going to her house... maybe too much (I spend the night there often).

I learned very quickly that Thanksmas is an excuse to eat copious amounts of food. Seriously, I think we all filled up on appetizers before dinner was even served. I didn't even finish my plate, and I was stuffed! Some people, whom shall remain nameless (Paolo and Brandon), started drinking super early and ended up in bed soon after gorging themselves on dinner... that's how good the food tasted!

For my part, I brought our favorite boxed wine (don't judge us... it's delicious!) and a recipe I found at About.com for Crock Pot Garlic Smashed Potatoes. It was well-received and pretty easy (though time-consuming, as is anything in the crock pot... so plan ahead) to prepare, so I would definitely make it again.

A few of us spent the night and got to hang out this morning too. It pretty much made for a perfect weekend (except for that pathetic Bears game today... don't get me started). Thanks, Mary and Jon, for including me in your tradition. I hope it's the first of many Thanksmases together. I love you guys!!

For those so-inclined, here's the recipe I used:
Ingredients:

•3 lb. small red potatoes
•5 garlic cloves, minced
•1 onion, finely chopped
•2 Tbsp. olive oil
•1 tsp. salt
•1/8 tsp. pepper
•2/3 cup water
•1 cup cream cheese with onions and chives, softened
•2 Tbsp. butter
•1/3 to 1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream (I skipped this step)

Preparation:

Quarter potatoes to make pieces about the same size. Place potatoes in a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Add garlic, onion, oil, salt, pepper, and water and mix to coat. Cover crockpot and cook on high for 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours until potatoes are tender. I definitely recommend stirring the pot every hour or so to be sure the potatoes cook evenly.

Mash potatoes roughly with a fork or potato masher. Stir in cream cheese and butter until mixed. If you want to add the milk/cream, this is when you do that. As I said above, I skipped this step because I don't drink whole milk and wanted to avoid the calories of heavy cream.

December 1, 2011

Salon Kids

Today, on The View's "Hot Topics" segment, the ladies discussed this new trend of young girls (we're talking 8-12 year-olds here) visiting the salon for treatments. And when I say treatments, I don't mean a haircut and blowout. I mean treatments:
  • Manicures/ Pedicures
  • Hair coloring/ highlighting/ straightening
  • Facials
  • Eyebrow shaping
  • Waxing (even the bikini line!)
And no, these aren't just pageant girls. These are the girls next door (as in, next to you and me, not Hef's girlfriends), the ones in school with your children every day.

I've already discussed the dangers of sexualizing young girls, so that's not what I'm going to focus on today. (Although, I do have to seriously question any parent who thinks it's necessary to get their daughter a bikini wax at this age.) Instead I want to focus on the message this gives young girls: you aren't good enough.

We've all heard this warning in terms of weight. Psychologists all over the country have cautioned us from speaking negatively about our bodies or obsess over every calorie in front of children. The result of this, we know, is a generation of little girls with negative body images.

But what about the other things? Are you teaching them that it is impossible to face the world without a full face of makeup? (If so, I recommend you consider the No Makeup November challenge next year.) Are you teaching them that the hair on their head is only acceptable in certain colors, perfectly straight, full of body and without any sign of frizz? Are you teaching them that their body hair is gross or embarrassing by waxing or lasering away every last strand?

Not that any of these things is inherently wrong. And I think that we, as adults, have the right to choose to do whatever we feel necessary to our bodies. I'm not here to tell you to stop wearing makeup or stop maintaining your bikini line. In fact, please don't stop... no one needs to see that!

I just think that we, as parents, teachers, and mentors are role models in the lives of little girls, we also need to be mindful of what we're sending them. We can't say that we want to raise confident young women and then let them see us spend so much time and effort altering ourselves in order to face the world (no pun intended).

I Love You, Siri!

When I bought my last cell phone, smart phones weren't yet dominating the market. I was among those who didn't consider it necessary to have 24/7 Internet access. I scoffed at the idea that I would ever even use such a tool when I most of my time was spent at work or home, both places I already had the Internet on laptops. So, I opted for a "dumb phone."

If you've followed my blog for a while, you already know how much I loathed that phone.

A few months later, I received an ipod touch as a birthday gift from my very generous parents. I was instantly in love with that little device and found it hard to go anywhere without it. As reluctant as I was to become a slave to Apple, I have to admit it happened very quickly. I learned very quickly that there were only two things in life that would make my ipod touch better:
  1. Internet access without using wifi. Because, let's face it, there are plenty of times when it's nice to access the web when you're not at home or work. And because of the asshole firewalls at work, which don't even allow me to check my email muchless Facebook.  
  2. The ability to make phone calls. Why carry around two devices if one could do both jobs for me.
(And then my ipod touch was stolen, making my live devastatingly incomplete.)

Fast forward to this past weekend when I, finally free of my cellular contract, was able to switch providers and get myself an iPhone 4S! Oh, the bliss!

If you haven't yet had a chance to meet Siri, the digital personal assistant, you should really get acquainted. She's uber helpful. Like, if you want to schedule a meeting, she'll put it in the calendar for you. If you want to hear a specific song or artist in your itunes folder, she'll locate it for you so you don't have to waste precious seconds searching through your folders. She'll remind you to pick up milk or use a coupon the next time you walk into the grocery store. Tell her what you want to say, and she'll update your Facebook status for you. She will even transcribe a text or email for you while you do more important things, like drive. And if you want to hide a dead body, she'll give you all sorts of suggestions: mines, metal foundries, swamps, reservoirs, and dumps. See? Super helpful! 

And she refers to me as Princess (because I asked her to).

She's pretty much my new best friend!