#2 : How Do You Keep Your Teachers Happy?

posted in: Journal Buddy 8
The humble chalkboard eraser/kitchen sponge. Image: Wikipedia.

 

This is the 2nd installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.

 

Just show up to class.

After many years of being a student in university settings, workshops, various training courses, etc., I really do think that getting your butt in the seat, week after week, is a fail-safe way to successfully get through any kind of schooling. Strive for straight A’s if you like; aim high and still just get B’s; do the bare minimum and land C’s, even D’s — it’s all the same in the end, at least in terms of passing the course. Just remember: “If you come to class, you will pass.” (I’m pretty sure I just made that up.)

Can you get F’s on all your papers and tests and still pass if you show up to class? Maybe. But the added benefit of attending every single class session is that you’ll probably learn enough to not get F’s in the first place.

I think the good attendance of a student is critical for teachers for a few reasons. Keep in mind that I have done my fair share of teaching, but I’ve been a student way, way more, so my thoughts here are speculative.

For one thing, coming to class is a show of respect. A student enrolls in a class. The student takes up a seat in that class, which means someone else cannot have that seat. And the underlying assumption is that the student will attend the class, sit in the seat, listen to the instructor, and participate, whatever that might look like for that particular course.

When a student blows off class (for a reason other than being sick or having an emergency) it sends a message that you, the teacher, aren’t that important, and that the class isn’t worth going to. This isn’t explicit, it’s implied. If it happens a fair amount, the teacher understandably has less patience with the absentee student when she is struggling with a lesson or asks for an extension on a paper, for example.

The other reason being absent from class is the fastest way to lose favor with your teacher is a purely practical one, from your teacher’s standpoint: When you’re gone, she has to work more.

She has to answer an email from you going over what you missed. She has to reply to your email back to her with a question about what you missed — and of course lots of people had questions about the same thing, but she went over it … in class. You might ask for more time to finish a take-home test, say, which means she has to grade all the tests for the people who were in class and then, a week later, she has to return to the task she thought she could be done with (grading the take-home tests) but there you are, handing over your peanut-butter smeared take-home test — come on, you know it’s got peanut butter on it — and now she has to find the answer key and lord knows where that thing went.

If you want to make your teachers happy, go to class. You can come to class in your pajamas. Don’t you dare be on your phone — I can’t deal with people who do that in an educational setting — but texting with your sister in class is better than texting with your sister not in class. And, though I know this sounds crazy, you can even come to class without your homework. You just have to show up.

Any questions?

 

 

Turning On The Bake Off.

posted in: Food 2
There are $100 bills inside each of these Welsh cakes. Photo: Wikipedia
There are $100 bills inside each of these Welsh cakes. Photo: Wikipedia

When I sew, I listen to podcasts or no-eyeballs-needed television.

I’m impressed by people who can sew and watch Empire at the same time. The last time I tried to stitch while watching television with a plot (a cheap plot, even!) was years ago. I got dizzy snapping my head up to see what was going on then snapping it back down to make sure I didn’t sew my hand. But like a bonobo ape, it’s good for me to see fellow creatures from time to time, even if I’m in isolation. So if I’m sewing for many hours I’ll use my laptop as a TV and watch Hoarders or Kitchen Nightmares or The Profit. These shows require nothing of me. They have no plot, the structure is always the same. It’s the visual equivalent of white noise and I like it.

Looking for something mindless but tired of The Biggest Loser, today I found The Great British Bake Off on the list of shows Netflix wants me to watch. I like baking. I like British people. I like shows where talented people compete against each other to make pencil skirts, houses, crudite, etc. I clicked on the show and semi-watched many episodes while I pressed and snipped.

The show is really adorable. It’s a reality gameshow that pits amateur British bakers against each other to see who will win the title of Star Baker. There are two lady hosts, a stern main judge (a Tom Colicchio-type from Top Chef) and the head/celebrity judge, legendary English baker Mary Berry. The contestants are all gentle and kind, just as bakers ought to be; no one is growling or rolling their eyes at their competitors. Everyone’s just trying their best in the Florentine challenge, hoping for a win in the savory biscuit episode. The show is filmed in a pretty bakery tent set in the English countryside, Union Jack bunting tied up with string, bobbing in the breeze. Nobody even talks about winning. Seriously, they just bake beautiful things. When someone is eliminated they’re very British about it and leave their rolling pin (or whatever it is) on the table and give a “Cheerio!” to us.

But Mary Berry is the best part. She’s in her seventies, I think. Coiffed to perfection. Expensive neck scarves. Perfect manicure. When she tastes a contestant’s work, she nibbles it, brow furrowed and then says things like,“You formed the dough ’round a tin, then? Perfect. Just lovely. It’s quite difficult to do pinwheel biscuits and get them tight ’round the center; bit like a Swiss Roll, isn’t it?” 

Or: “Bit soft in the middle, isn’t it? But good effort.” Or: “I think it’s enchanting and I love the brandy snaps she’s got there on the roof. Scrumptious!” 

I was glad I looked up when Mary learned a contestant had used store-bought fondant instead of making it himself. She positively darkened. The contestant is no longer in the running for Star Baker. The Great British Bake Off is going to be tough for me; it’s not something to which I want to give my undivided attention, but there’s too much frosting and spongecake happening on the screen to look away for too long. I’ll try again tomorrow evening and see if I can sew an accurate quarter-inch seam while it’s on.

And, in the spirit of sugar and bakery items, I am suddenly forced to confess that I keep a jar of Pillsbury FunFetti frosting in my fridge and frequently have to replace it. Because I eat it. With a spoon. Sometimes.

I like frosting better than cake!

Mary’s Test Kitchen: Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Icing

posted in: Food 0
Isn't a real flower on a cake the best?
Isn’t a real flower on a cake the best?

I have just a few days left in Iowa. On Tuesday, I fly to California where I will be for almost a full week. Mom and I will be lecturing at the irresistible Meissner’s Sewing in Sacramento and that’s fun, but even funner is that my favorite aunt lives in Sacramento and I’ll be staying with her. We will drink pots of coffee and talk about bloodlines and Ferragamo footwear.

Before I leave, I have a lot of cooking to do. Mom and Mark have a kitchen far bigger than the one-bedroom apartment kitchens I’m used to, so whenever I’m home, I get to set up a mini-culinary school for myself. Within the past week, I’ve practiced marinating and grilling, I baked coconut-macadamia crisps, I’ve made succulent fruit salads with unexpected herbs (basil n’ sage!) and worked with some sauces. But what I made today may be the finest food I have ever produced in the test kitchen: I made a perfect chocolate cake. Would you like the recipe?

Note: I made enough changes to both the cake and the icing recipe I found that I’m calling it my own, but like a yoga pose or a quilt block, there ain’t nothin’ new under the sun. But I do feel proud about the bourbon I added when the recipe called for no such thing.

Mary’s Test Kitchen Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Icing

INGREDIENTS + INSTRUCTIONS – CAKE
– 2 cups flour, sifted
– 2 cups sugar
– 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 2 tsp. baking powder [Note: there was no baking powder, so I did a cream of tartar/baking soda substitute. It’s 1:2 ratio and was this one of the secrets to the cake’s success?? Necessity? Mother? Invention? Could be.] – 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
– 1 tsp. salt
– 1 tsp. espresso powder
– 1 cup half-and-half
– 1/2 cup vegetable oil
– 2 eggs
– vanilla, which I never measure but just pour in
– a nice splash of Wild Turkey and then some more
– 1 cup boiling water

1. Put on an apron for heaven’s sake. Set the oven to 350-degrees. Butter and lightly flour two cake pans. When your mother’s dog looks up at you for a treat, say “Scram, kid. It ain’t gonna happen.”
2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Start boiling the water.
3. Now put in the wet ingredients while the water is boiling. Be methodical about this — do I need to say more? I mean, do the oil. Then an egg. Then the other egg. I did the bourbon last.
4. Take that cup of boiling water and add it — slowly — to the batter as it’s mixing. This adds air bubbles. Reflect on how rad baking is.
5. Pour batter evenly into the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes or till the knife comes out clean.
6. Take out the cake and cool it. I hate, hate waiting for anything to cool, so I put the cakes in the freezer and they cooled pretty fast.
7. Frost. Dust with cocoa powder. Go out into the garden and pluck a rosebud from the bush. Place atop. Receive hugs.

INGREDIENTS + INSTRUCTIONS – ICING

Caution: Get icing out of your field of vision immediately after making. Its power is total and will disable the part of your brain that says, “I can’t just eat spoons of icing out of a bowl.” 

2 (1.65 oz.) Trader Joe’s 72% cacao chocolate bars because they were in your luggage and looked better than the Baker’s chocolate in the cupboard
1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of salt
Lots of vanilla

1. Focus. Say to yourself, “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Say it again.
2. Melt the sweetened condensed milk and the chocolate in a heavy saucepan. When you add the vanilla, it will probably catch on fire for a minute, which is awesome. Be careful, but enjoy the moment.
3. Add the salt.
4. Cool the Pot of Evil until you can’t stand it anymore and have to ice the cake.

My Book, Signed + On Sale (A Christmas Special, Extended!)

posted in: Luv, Quilting, Tips, Work 1
It would look so nice with a big, fat bow, don't you think?
It would look so nice with a big, fat bow on it, don’t you think?

Happy Holidays!

‘Tis the season for sales and promotions and I’m getting into the game. I’m offering my book on sale for $20 dollars*, signed and personalized by me, from now until December 31st!

“Personalized” means that if your name is Fido, I will write, “Dear Fido: Thank you! Best, Mary Fons” along with my Heart Plus logo and the year. That’s my standard inscription, but if you’d like a little something extra, like “Merry Christmas!” or “You cray-cray!” or “From the team at Acme Co. — let’s have a great 2015,” you let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

This book is my first and it has quite a bit of my writing inside, as well as beautiful photography and twelve (12) original scrap quilt patterns for bed-sized quilts. I have seen photographs of quilts folks have made from my book and they look fantastic. There’s a lot of how-to, tips, and extras in the book and the Amazon reviews are great, so don’t take my word for it!

Here’s all you have to do: Click on the Make + Love Book tab on my website. Scroll down and you’ll find a PayPal button there. You don’t need a PayPal account to use it to buy the book! PayPal will give me your shipping address. Please let me know who to make the book out to! I will get books out as soon as I can; my goal is within two (2) days of ordering, but with my travel schedule, be kind. Books will be sent media mail.

The price of the book ranges from $17.68 (Amazon) to $22.95 (bookstores) so you’re getting a great price and something you can’t get from Amazon or a bookshop: a personalized book with an autograph. I love bookshops and Amazon, but this is Christmas! It’s all about the sparkly extras.

Happy shopping this season. I know it’s overwhelming.

*Plus shipping. One book ships for about $5 bucks; any order of three books or more gets free shipping. Whee!

A Morning Ritual, Changed.

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky 1
I have one Versace teacup. It's in storage right now.
I have exactly one Versace teacup. I got it on eBay and yeah, the tea tastes better. Currently in storage.

This morning, I drank tea and wrote in my journal. It was the same as so many mornings, save for two differences: the tea was black and the sky was light. Not long ago, it was the other way around.

Almost every day of last year and into a healthy slice of this one, I would get up before the sun to read and write. I rarely set an alarm; I just woke up, sometimes at 3:30 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep. This was due partly because I was excited by the prospect of being up when so few others were. I felt as though the hours from 3:30am to 5:30am were on sale; perfectly fine hours that no one really wanted. They came cheap.

But I also woke up because like a newborn baby, I needed soothing. I was scared and sad and lonesome, “waking at four to soundless dark.”** Having my tea tray in bed in the middle of the night with my journal and books all around me was how I soothed myself. The routine was the gentle mother, swaying me to calm.

The fall of 2012 was the worst time of my life, health-wise. The despair of searing, chronic pain worked its way into every fiber of my frame. The sheer exhaustion of day-in, day-out agony management had constricted my world into a hard, glittering dot. I worked very hard. I was in a relationship I cherished, but there were limits to it and we both knew it. My social life outside of seeing Mr. X dwindled to zero, as most of the time I didn’t have the energy to make plans, much less make good on them. I fought with my sisters or I withdrew from them. My mom and I weren’t getting along, either. I didn’t want any of this whittling away to be true, except that I did, if it meant sanity. The hard, glittering dot I could focus on. Everything else was too hard. I was in the hospital all the time.

The medication I was taking made my head feel like a rainstick. You know those things you get in hippie music stores? It was like that when I sat up in bed. “Wffffffft,” my face and brain would go, one way, then I’d put my head on the headboard and breathe and “Wfffffff,” the rainstick would run the other way. I’d take a deep breath — not too deep — and determine if my guts were good, bad, or a real laugh riot. At that time, it was usually the riot. After gentle tummy rub and pat and an admonishment to stop flirting with cigarettes (there were days I’d have half a one, feeling it was justified, being in the trenches and all) I’d decide that I could make it to the kitchen. I’d usually have to stop halfway from my bedroom to put my hand on the living room table and let the rainstick go for a minute, but I never fainted.

Then tea tray preparation would commence and I so enjoyed it. While I waited for the water to boil in my stainless steel kettle (I brought it to New York with me, like a goldfish) I would do the things. Into the French press went the tea: Earl Gray Creme, loose, from Teavana or Argo Tea. No variation there; I’ve been drinking this tea for years. Then, into a little monkey dish my sister Rebecca made in her pottery class, almonds: Dry Roasted & Salted from Trader Joe’s. They had to be these almonds; no others would do. Then…Nutella. I’d scoop a big scoop of Nutella into the little monkey dish because Nutella and Dry Roasted & Salted almonds from Trader Joe’s is delicious. It’s like eating a candy bar in a bowl. Sweet, salty, and totally decadent without being half a cheesecake or a box of petit fours. (One of the results of being so physically miserable all the time is that you feel you have license to eat whatever the Sam Hill you want to, especially if you’re only managing about 1000 calories a day.)

With the honey pot, the pichet of milk, a couple spoons, a little dish of meds, and my fancy Versace teacup, I’d be ready. The water would reach pre-boiling, I’d pour it into the French press, and then I’d carry the whole operation back to my fluffy, lovely bed and sink into the cloud again.

I read all kinds of things. And I wrote pages and pages. I wrote my grad school essay that way and I would work, too, so there’s a lot of those mornings in Quilty, however invisible they may be in a happy quilting magazine. You never know; maybe the weirdness is there. Quilty is kinda weird.

The 4am mornings, they’ve been slipping away. This spring, when I was first in NYC with Yuri, I kept them up a little, but my body and brain were soon in agreement that sleeping in the arms of love is better than sitting alone, crunching hard almonds coated in the sugar that was probably killing you all along.

Yuri sleeps later than me still, though, so I still get up and read and write. But the tea is black. And the sky is light. And that rhymes and I love it, and I love that it rhymes.

**From Philip Larkin’s “Aubade,” the finest poem in the English language, in my view, and a kind of poetic soundtrack, if you will, to this entire era.

Cooky Life.

posted in: Day In The Life, Food 4
It's mesmerizing, looking through stock photos of chocolate chip cookys. Hundreds and hundreds of cookys and still, their power remains undiluted.
It’s mesmerizing, looking through stock photos of chocolate chip cookys. Hundreds and hundreds of cookys and still, their power remains undiluted.

There’s been a lot of cooky baking in the past few months. New York, Chicago, busy or less so, I am a woman with a wooden spoon.

I prefer the “cooky” spelling, yes. There’s something L’il Abner about spelling cooky with a “y,” which is to say spelling cooky with a “y” evokes newsprint, the 1950s, and little kids with southern accents.* I’m not so sure that even with the “y” I shouldn’t change the plural to “cookies.” I probably should, but if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for language rules you didn’t make and don’t like. Also, Cooky Monster eschews the “ie” and that’s good enough for me.

Yuri likes cookys. Chocolate chip wins by a wide, wide margin. It’s funny how you can not listen to someone, even when they’re telling you exactly what they want, to your face. When I learned that Yuri was a cooky fan, I set about making him the best cookys of his entire life thus far. I listened only partly when he said that chocolate chip cookys were his very very very favorite. I made a batch of chocolate chip first, of course, maybe even two batches. But then it was time for my cooky experience to grow. It was suddenly more about me, this cooky.

I did some maple glazed. That was in New York. Lemon buttermilk, because I had to use up some buttermilk. I did some pecan sandies.** But one day, after I saw a cooky unfinished on Yuri’s snack plate, I inquired.

“Hey, did you like the cookys I made?” I asked.

“Yeah, they were really good.”

“Lemon buttermilk, right? So good. You really did like them?”

“Yeah, they were awesome.”

I gave him a pout. “You didn’t eat all your cooky, though.”

There was a pause, then Yuri, with great diplomacy and tact, said, “You know what, baby? I love everything you make, but I really just love a chocolate chip cooky. Like, straight up chocolate chip.”

Oh, men!

It’s a fantastic thing to listen, and it’s also fantastic to focus one’s cooky-making adventure on a single cooky. There’s a zen calm in thinking that for the rest of the foreseeable future (we can’t see much of it, but I’m forever trying to peek) I will be exploring but one cooky. Without deviating from the goal — a great chocolate chipper — I can experiment with infinite variations until I achieve what this man believes is The Best Yet. A little baking powder? a lot? no nuts? hazelnuts? hazelnuts pounded within an inch of their life so you have a fine meal of hazelnut going on in the bite? It’s exciting.

*L’il Abner ran for 43 years. Forty-three years! 
**Alt. spelling, “sandys”