Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good days and bad days...

You know how it is, some days are good and all is well with the world and then there are those days when just one thing happens and you feel like bursting into tears.  Right?  We all have those? It's not just me?
At my school, all the teachers sponsor a club that meets once every seven days for 45 minutes.  The 7th grade science teacher and I sponsored GRO Club during the first semester.  We had about 20 girls and one boy who signed up.  We decided we wanted a middle school garden.  We planned, talked, planned some more, met with consultants from Bountiful Backyards, begged our middle school director for money, chose a spot, asked permission and finally broke ground last Saturday.

We dug a three meter deep hole for our rain garden (thank goodness for Gary and the back-hoe!) in the good old NC clay soil, then turned right around and filled it back up again with gravel and sand.  We also made the base for what will be our herb spiral.  Our crew worked from 9 am to about 4 pm.  We had beautiful weather, unbelievably mild for January.  The plants will go in the ground in March.  I really look forward to herbs and fresh vegetables.

It was a great day.  I needed a nice, long hot shower afterwards, but there is a lot to be said for a day of physical labor.
One of my advisees celebrated his 12th birthday this week and the OnlyBurger truck pulled up in the school parking lot, invited by his mom, and the tantalizing smell of grilling burgers filled the air.  I had a nice chat with Brian, the co-owner and head OB chef, and then savored my burger and fries with my advisees.  We even put a candle in his burger and sang "Happy Birthday."  We were the envy of the middle school.

My advisees planned a pizza sale for the end of the week, with proceeds to go towards our community service projects (Thanksgiving turkeys for Orange Congregations in Mission and Durham Social Services' Share Your Christmas) and the relief efforts in Haiti.  Once again, a lot of work but well worth it at the end of the day.  We raised over $600.  The Student Council pitched in and baked chocolate chip cookies and my Science teacher colleague and GRO Club cohort convinced her advisory group to help out, too.  The middle school director, Dr. D., was hauling pizzas to my room as quickly as he could.  Tim, security guard extraordinaire (and retired Durham police officer) and Pete, part of our grounds crew, threw their backs out helping me get all of the sodas to my room at 7:15 am.  (I do not think that is covered by workman's comp...).  I work with amazing people.  This is my 30th year at Durham Academy.  I love my job and the people I surround myself with everyday.  We got the pizzas from Domino's.  The delivery guys arrived on time, the pizzas were hot and everyone ate well.
So, a good week, all in all.  Oui?  Throw in French lessons on weather, vocabulary for leisure time and sports, and direct object pronouns.   (Truth be told, I probably enjoy the object pronouns more than my 8th graders...  I love grammar.)  I am busy with details for the spring break trip I will take with 16 DA students in March.  Sweet anticipation.  40 days and counting.
Most of my weeks look like the last one.  I have a very good life.  One little blip occurred this week, though.  My feelings were hurt by an email I received and I came dangerously close to letting it ruin my day and week.  Perspective is crucial.  Maybe that is one of the blessings of growing older and wiser.  Those of us who have running water, food in our pantry and a roof over our heads need to thank the stars above that we are so fortunate and then do whatever we can to help those who do not.  No one deserves to see family members and friends die in an earthquake or to be displaced, hungry, or caught underneath rubble for days waiting for rescuers.  The God I believe in doesn't punish people that way.  Natural disasters happen.  They've happened since time began.  Those of us who can need to pitch in and help in whatever way we can.  And remember to say thanks for the blessings we have in our lives.  Keep it in perspective.
Today's recipe, a Southern tradition if ever there was one, goes out to my neighbor at school, Señor Glass.  At Christmas, he wrote on his facebook page that he had made a traditional Southern breakfast for his parents in Ohio.  With everything except biscuits-- pardon?  He confessed that he's never made them.  This opera-loving Spanish teacher is an amazing cook.  But no biscuits?  And exactly how long have you been living in the South, Señor? 
There are, of course, as many different recipes as there are Southern cooks, grandmas and aunts.  My aunt Jeanette makes the world's best biscuits and gravy, but I do not have her recipe.  It has been way too long since I've eaten breakfast at her house, come to think of it.  When I was growing up, we would beg mama to let us sprinkle sugar on a few of her biscuits before they went in the oven.  That was such a treat.  And warm biscuits with honey and butter at my grandmother's house on Sunday morning or Sunday lunch after church.  Homemade biscuits covered with fresh strawberries (or blackberries or blueberries or raspberries) and topped with whipped cream for Berry Shortcake in the summer.  My birthday is in July and that was always my birthday cake request.  You get the picture.
This summer, while working with the pastry chef at the Umstead Hotel in Cary, I learned not to over work the biscuit dough.  That can make them tough.  A great trait in a police officer, but not in a biscuit.  Another secret I have discovered in my baking-- always, always line the baking sheets with parchment paper.  No more burned bottoms!  We used this all the time in France, but I had just never paid any attention to it at home.  Now my cookies, scones and biscuits come out of the oven just right.  

Biscuits Supreme
(From Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition supporting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation)

Cut out as many biscuits as possible from a single rolling of the dough because a second rolling (and additional flour) will result in biscuits that are a bit tougher than the first batch.

3 c. all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 c. butter
1 1/4 c. buttermilk or 1 c. milk
(if you do not have buttermilk on hand, add one tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to enough milk to make one cup and let it stand for 5 minutes before adding to the recipe)

Preheat oven to 450F.
In a large bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar.  Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Add buttermilk all at once.  Using a fork, stir just until moistened.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead dough by folding and gently pressing dough for 4 to 6 strokes or just until dough holds together.   Pat or lightly roll dough until 3/4 inch thick.  Cut the dough with a floured 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter.
Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet (remember the parchment paper?  this is where it comes in!).  Bake in 450F oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove biscuits from baking sheet and serve immediately.
Makes 10 biscuits.

Drop Biscuits Supreme:  Prepare as above, except add 1/4 c. whipping cream with the buttermilk.  Do not knead, roll or cut dough.  Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto a greased (parchment paper) baking sheet.  Bake as directed.  Makes 12 biscuits.

Bread Spreads
These stir together in about 5 minutes.  Let them to chill at least 1 hour before serving to allow flavors to blend.
Nut Butter:  Combine 1/2 c. finely chopped almonds or walnuts; 1/4 c. butter, softened; and 1/4 c. apricot or peach preserves.
Citrus Butter:  Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened; 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar; and 1 tsp. finely shredded orange or lemon peel.
Breakfast Butter:  Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened and 2 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup.
Onion-Parmesan Butter: Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened; 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese; and 2 tsp. sliced green onion.
Herb Butter: Combine 1/2 c. butter, softened and 1/2 tsp. each dried thyme and marjoram, crushed, or 1 tsp. dried basil, crushed.
Pimiento Butter:  In a blender container or a food processor bowl combine one 4-oz jar sliced pimientos, drained; 1 Tbsp. anchovy paste; and 1 clove garlic, minced.  Cover and blend or process until pimientos are pureed and mixture is smooth.  Stir pimiento mixture into 1/2 c. butter, softened.

Bon appétit, to all at the DA middle school!

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