cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Rough Guide to the SBG Rubric

I've been wrestling with the question of whether or not to include a 3.5 in my 4-point rubric, but the problem is, I keep coming up with one big reason against it:

Nothing seems to motivate a student on the brink of insight like a score of "3 out of 4."

Nothing breathes life into a student's determination like that *forehead smack* they get when they realize what a careless, boneheaded, nearly unforgiveable error has kept them from achieving a perfect score on a skills quiz.

Their mistake is usually something pretty witless -- a negative sign, say, that got dropped during a hurried calculation, or an inability to decipher their own messy chicken-scratch work. Wait, that's not really fair to chickens. Their scratching is much more deliberate.

I've heard all the begging for an extra half-point, all the groveling, cajoling, sullen threats of self-punishment. And I'm not buying it. Nope, sorry. Not convinced.*


Seeing how they suffer reminds me of something I've learned through years of meditation practice -- namely, that as a teacher, it would be uncompassionate of me to take their struggle away from them.

That struggle is the sign of their genuine engagement with the mathematics. When they are suffering the loudest is the exact moment when they are most involved in the process of doing mathematics.

That heart-piercing moment of angst at their own careless error -- and the lengthy, painful, and often howling soliloquy that follows shortly thereafter -- is a critical part of their learning process. And -- speaking only for myself -- I've come to realize that I do them a disservice when I lessen the sting of that 3 out of 4 score.

How the heck can half a point make such a difference?

The best answer I can come up with is, I don't know. I only know that it does.

All I know is that for some reason, that 3 out of 4 pricks at their ego, it pokes at them, it makes them a little crazy. It jump-starts a hunger for the kind of focus and determination they will need to get themselves to the next level.

And I should probably be honest with you about something.

I like that kind of clarity in a student.

This is the point that most of my students usually never get pushed past. It's the same place where I myself -- as a once-discouraged math learner -- almost allowed myself to get left behind.

The teacher tends to move on, driven by an overburdened curriculum, while the bulk of the class trudges along behind him or her, dragging their sorry butts and their overstuffed backpacks that are filled with the kind of crumpled and torn papers that could only result from a person rolling with them in the dirt or using them as padding on a bed of nails.

For whatever reason, a 3.5 out of 4 just doesn't seem to have the same sting. In fact, it seems to take the sting out of marginal failure, reducing the urgency to give that last little oomph of a push that gets a person to the next level.

I think that, in a weird way, that little affront is kind of good for them. It has nutrition in it -- nutrition that they need.

* Now, if a student were to threaten to smash her iPhone to smithereens, that is a mental health threat that I would take very seriously. But this is basically the adolescent equivalent of threatening to hold their breath until they pass out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima Beans with Porcini Mushrooms, Stelline, and Too Much Garlic

Christmas Lima Beans with Porcini Mushrooms, Stelline, and Too Much Garlic

Steve Sando's book, Heirloom Beans, and his Rancho Gordo brand of organic heirloom beans have transformed my whole relationship to these little critters. In one of the cooking notes in his book, he mentions that certain beans are well-suited to being cooked with too much garlic.

These are some of those beans.

In addition, if you are in San Francisco and have the chance to cook with Dontaye Ball's artisanal bacon from Good Foods Caters with his secret sweet and smoky rub, you may never be the same again. Catch him Saturdays at Alemany Farmers Market or Sundays at Stonestown Farmers Market.

For the beans:

1/2 pound Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima beans (aka "chestnut beans")
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 medium-to-large onion
1-2 T. crushed or finely chopped garlic (if you love garlic, this is a place to use a lot of it)
1 carrot, chopped into 1/2" dice
2 stalks celery, chopped into 1/2" dice
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 T. bacon fat (or 2 more T. extra virgin olive oil, if you prefer)
1/2 lb. browned, crispy thick-cut bacon, chopped or crumbled (or 1/2 cup diced prosciutto or ham)

Large enameled cast iron Dutch oven with fitted cover (at least a 4-quart size)

To serve:

1/2 pound stelline (tiny pasta stars)
Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, to top as you like

Rinse beans very well in a colander or strainer, then place in a clean bowl and cover with fresh water (by 2-3"). Allow to soak 6 hours or overnight.

Alternative Quick-Soak Method: if you are pressed for time, you can rinse the beans, cover them with boiling water, and allow to stand for one hour. If you use this quick-soak method, be sure to drain the beans after soaking and start with fresh water for cooking.

Place dried porcini in a bowl and pour on boiling water to cover. Allow to stand for an hour or more. Carefully remove the plumped mushrooms from the liquid, disturbing it as little as possible, and rinse the mushrooms to remove any remaining dirt or grit. Chop finely and set aside. Strain soaking liquid through a paper towel or coffee filter and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil and bacon fat over medium heat in a large (4-quart or larger) enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Sauté onion and garlic until soft, then add chopped carrot and celery. Stir to coat with oil, then add bacon, porcini, and porcini soaking liquid. Stir well.

Pour the beans and their soaking liquid (or drained beans and fresh water) into the pot and add fresh water to cover the mixture by about 2 inches. Raise heat and bring to a boil.

Turn off the flame under the beans, put the cover on the pot, and place the covered pot into the oven. Cook for 2-3 hours or until beans are tender. Check occasionally to make sure everybody remains covered by enough liquid.

When you are ready to serve, cook the stelline al dente according to the package instructions (generally about 8 minutes but your actual mileage may vary).

Remove the Dutch oven to the stovetop and season to taste with salt and pepper. The beans will be plump and the pot liquor will be fragrant with garlic and porcini. Ladle out about a cup of beans and liquid and allow to cool briefly. Purée and stir back into the pot to give the stew a nice thick body.

In a wide, shallow soup plate, pile a nice-looking mound of stelline in the center, then ladle beans and their sauce on top and all around. Serve with fresh parmesan.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Plum Chutney

Plums are the zucchini of the summer fruit world. When we ended up with our first overflow of Santa Rosa plums this summer from Frog Hollow Farm, here is what I did with them, combining the most appealing ideas from several different recipe sources.

I'm going to have to make more soon. As you can see, we are already running low.

• 10 or so plums, chopped into 1/2" chunks
• 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (for that hint of smoky molasses flavor)
• 1/2 large red or yellow onion, diced into 1/4-1/2" squares
• 1/3 cup raisins (dark or golden)
• 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
• 3 garlic cloves, pressed (use 2 if you're shy)
• 1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard seed
• 1/2 teaspoon salt (either kosher salt or sea salt)

Combine everything in a non-reactive, medium saucepan over medium heat.

Bring to a boil.

Cook, stirring and tasting occasionally for about 20 minutes, until flavors have blended and texture is chunky-syrupy, like a fine jam.

Turn off the heat, let cool, and keep refrigerated.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Plum Upside-Down Cake with Santa Rosa plums from Frog Hollow Farm

Here's what we did with last week's giant harvest of Santa Rosa plums from Frog Hollow Farm.

You can find the recipe on Epicurious . I substituted 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup of regular unbleached flour because that's the kind of girl I am. It added a little more body to the cake that we liked a lot.

Served with freshly whipped cream.