Monday, December 29, 2008

Still Life with Cookies

Sarah and I love our desserts. And we love the New York Times. So when the NYT came out with a recipe for the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie, we really had no other option than to take on the baking challenge.

Aside from the fact that perfection is no easy task in general, the NYT likes to make things difficult (difficulty always increases the levels of erudition). No cracker-toffee recipes there. So just in case you haven't read over the recipe yet, I'd like to point out that it not only requires fancy (and expensive) chocolate, but two kinds of flour (neither of which is all-purpose) and coarse salt. These just aren't ingredients we have in our pantry. Even worse, there is a 24-hour chilling time, so you lose out on the instant gratification aspect of chocolate cookies that comes from a 10-minute baking time. Can these cookies really be perfect if there's no melted chocolate by the time I'm done licking the beaters and doing the dishes?

The answer is yes.

They were the perfect combination of a crunchy crispy outside shell, with warm gooiness on the inside. 70% cacao does make a difference, especially when melty. Very much worth the time.

As a side note, however, they only had this godlike quality when fresh out of the oven. The extras that we made and didn't eat until the next day were still good, but had lost the crunchy/chewy dichotomy. They tasted more like regular cookies that one might make with all-purpose flour and Toll-House chocolate chips. The good news is that we froze some of the dough, and the freshly baked cookies from that batch were as good as the originals. Lesson learned: only bake a few cookies at a time (or eat a lot of cookies at a time).

If you're interested in trying the recipe yourself (because you probably have cake flour and bread flour that you need to use up), I highly recommend pairing the recipe with the instructions from Baker's Banter, one of my favorite baking blogs. They have interesting commentary, as well as step-by-step pictures so you know if you're doing it right.

In the end, the cookies can really only be described as works of art. So here we present to you "Still Life with Cookies." Original painting coming soon, so start deciding on your auction price.


(You may be wondering why this recipe was posted in July and I'm writing at about it at nearly six months later. The answer is that I'm pretty behind on everything in life, blog posts included. So expect a lot of miscellaneous pictures to show up in the next week or so. Or maybe never.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Minds of Urban Youth

In Algebra we're working on multiple representations of linear equations and the kids are nearing the end of the unit, so they're pretty skilled with it. Most can go from any representation (graph, t-table, equation, or situation) to any other without any steps in between. I'm very proud of them.

Today they were working on a team challenge where part of the question was to come up with a situation that could be described by graph/t-table/equation they already had found. One group got the first part of the problem pretty easily, but got completely stuck when they were trying to make up a situation. I talked to them about what we mean by situation (real-life example) and reminded them of the situations we've been looking at over the past few days (mostly bank accounts that earn or lose money). They were still stuck, I think because they were trying to figure out what the negative x-values could mean in a real-life situation.

Then a lightbulb went off in Y.'s head. "I've got it! Chickens!" Her teammates looked as confused as I was until she continued, "A chicken lays four eggs every day and..." the other students seemed like it had suddenly clicked for them too. So I walked away. The situation they came up with definitely made worked, but really egg-laying chickens was the first thing they came up with? If this is what's on the minds of urban youth, I feel like I should throw out everything I've ever thought about culturally relevant pedagogy.

Disappointed; Still Hopeful

I don't know much about this Arne Duncan guy (and there are certain people who I'm very thankful that's not). But when I heard the announcement that the new Secretary of Education is someone other than Linda Darling-Hammond, I felt like someone had punched me in the face. It actually felt like a personal insult. I got that feeling you get when someone breaks up with you. What's wrong with me?

As cheesy as it sounds, this is the first time I've actually believed in and trusted the people (okay, maybe just person so far) in power, so it feels that much worse to be let down. Is every bad decision Obama makes over the next four (eight?) years going to affect me so personally? Is he going to shatter any faith I have in public servants if he's anything less than perfect (which he obviously will be). It's like the fairy tale is coming to life, but now the reality sets in. President-elect Obama, please don't break my heart.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Get Out of My Head

Yesterday my geometry students were whining (again) that I am making them do too much work. Specifically, they're going to be doing a Problem of the Week (POW), which involves not only solving a difficult problem, but doing a fairly extensive write-up about how they solved it. It's a lot of work, but it's not unmanageable, and I'm giving them a week to do it. When we did the last POW, only about a third of the class turned one in, and since they're worth the equivalent of five homeworks, it made a big impact on their grades.

So in all their whining yesterday, they said that I shouldn't assign the new POW because a lot of them just aren't going to do it. I replied that that's their choice, but that it will have the same negative impact on their grade. I reminded them that we're spending the entire 90 minutes on it on Friday, so they'll have a lot of time to get help, etc. T. yelled out, "You're going to make us all fail." Um, no. Me assigning work doesn't make you fail; you not doing the work I assign makes you fail. Then E. somehow knew the exact words to push my buttons: "That's going to make you look bad, to have so many students fail. You're going to be embarrassed. And as a first year teacher too!"

Thanks, E. Thank you for knowing exactly what I'm thinking and voicing it so publicly. My obvious reaction was to lie and say that I didn't feel bad explaining to other people that my students got F's because they didn't turn in major assignments. Lying seems to be an important weapon in my teacher arsenal, especially when kids are being obnoxious. I told my second block yesterday that no, I was not about to cry, I was turning red because I was getting frustrated with them. How do they know the exact things that will drive me craziest?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mine's Better

Over the break I bought Michigan and Stanford pennants to put up in my classroom. College-going culture, blah, blah, blah, they look cute.

Today in the middle of class when I was giving instructions (when else?), N. pointed to the wall and yelled out, "I'm mad that you have that up there!"
Me (and 1/4 the kids in the class): "Have what? Where?"
N: "That Stanford flag."
Me (and half the kids in the class): "Why?"
[Here I'm expecting him to say that he's a Cal fan or something like that]
N: "Because I have one"
Me (and about 3/4 of the kids in the class): "And?"
N: "I had one first."
Me (and now pretty much the whole class): "And?"
N: "Actually I have two."

N. is totally that six-year old who finds out that his friend has the new G.I. Joe and has to make sure that everyone knows that he has twenty G.I. Joes and the new G.I. Joe dream house and everything's special edition so nobody else can ever get it, ever.

At least the rest of my class has matured beyond age six and is now averaging closer to eleven.