Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chocolate Cake w/ Coconut Cream

This week, I am craving chocolate pretty intensely.  It's been niggling at the front of my mind for awhile, so tonight I broke down and decided to make myself a chocolate cake.  Here are the recipes and a little review:

Chocolate Cake

~ Flour and your pan-greasing preference
~ 1.75 cups all purpose flour
~ 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa
~ 1.5 cups granulated sugar
~ 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
~ 1.5 tsp baking soda
~ 1/2 tsp baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp kosher salt
~ 1 cup whole milk
~ 1/2 cup canola oil
~ 2 large eggs
~ 2 tsp vanilla extract
~ 3/4 cup boiling water

Sour Cream Frosting

~ 1.5 cups heavy cream
~ 1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
~ 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
~ 2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes

If you're anything like me, the first time you hear "sour cream" in a word like cookie, frosting, or banana pudding, your mind thinks "GA-ROSS!"  I'm here to tell y'all that it's simply not gross. It's not. My grandma makes the world's best banana pudding....and it has a lot of sour cream in it.  My mom makes the world's best 'sugar cookies', except they're actually sour cream cookies.  This frosting is the same scenario.

I didn't have any heavy cream, so I looked up a recipe using milk and butter to substitute.  It didn't work.  Apparently, if it's not actually heavy cream, it won't whip.  This means that then you have to go to the store in the middle of your cooking escapades, and nobody wants to do that.  I did, and it was worth the trip.  Not only did the second frosting taste better, it whipped like it was supposed to.

The Process
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Put water on to boil.
* Grease two circular (I used square) 8 inch pans.  Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper, then pat with flour.

3. Mix dry ingredients in large mixing bowl. *Whisk
4. Mix wet ingredients in separate mixing bowl. *Whisk
5. Pour boiling water into dry ingredients, mix thoroughly.
6.  Slowly add wet ingredients.
7.  Mix until smooth. *Electric mixer.
8. Pour half of the mix into each pan.
9. Cook for about 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

** While cooking, make your frosting.  Whip ingredients with electric mixer until stiff peaks form in the frosting.
10. Let cool a short while, then transfer to cooling rack.
11. Place one cake on whatever tool you have to hold it. (Cardboard box flattened and covered in foil.)
12. Frost top of layer, then add second layer and finish frosting.  Pat coconut onto frosting if desired.
13. Enjoy!

Not the prettiest cake in the world, but possibly the tastiest!
I managed to do this with relatively un-altered ingredients.  Everything was a minimum of "all natural," which I know means not really all natural according to my research.  Especially my all-natural canola oil, which probably was genetically modified.  This is a phenomenal cake, though, and I did my best to keep the damage to a minimum. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Warm-Up: 30 Days on the Plate

Luckily, I've already been working on cutting out processed foods and GMOs from my diet.  Hopefully, this means that my cravings during the month of September won't be too bad, or I'll know how to satisfy them without junk.  I wanted to share some things that I'm doing in preparation for the month.

Look what my Ingles got! Bulk items, none GMO.
Yes, friends, I did check them all like a crazy lady, but now I know.

One week's worth.
1. Making my own "instant" breakfast.  It sounds incredibly simple, but I don't leave myself a lot of cushion time in the morning to even pull out all the ingredients, make my breakfast, and clean it all up.  So, I'm making Farina packets- to the best of my research, it's not made with GMOs, but I could be wrong.  The cocoa is processed, but it's a minimal amount that I consider worth it.  I make it up, portion it out into ziploc baggies, and then pour the baggie into a bowl in the morning, add water, and microwave- just like instant oatmeal, only healthier and tastier.

Farina for Breakfast: 
*per serving:
3 tbsp Farina (choc)
3/4 c. water
dash salt
up to 1 tsp pure cane sugar (tastes sweeter and better than regular sugar, and you probably won't need as much)

Microwave 2 minutes and voila!

2. Apple Pie Oats 
1 c. steel cut oats (check your producer for GMOs)
1 c. unsweetened almond milk (optional)
3 c. water (If not using almond milk, add a 4th cup of water)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp chia seeds (optional)
1 apple, chopped
1/4 c. raisins
sugar/ brown sugar to taste

Put into crockpot, heat on low or warm overnight.

This is good, y'all!  I find that about 1/2 cup serving of steel cut oats is a big breakfast for me, but lots of people eat a bigger breakfast than I do.  I made a double recipe, which is perfect for feeding a family.  The rumor is that you can microwave your leftovers.  It's not quite as good and you don't get the tease of the amazing smell, but it does work.

Going into the crockpot
3. Planning what I pack for lunch ahead of time and packing my lunch the night before.  Otherwise, it tends to be junky.  This salad is mixed greens and baby spinach, olives, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, carrot (hiding under pepper), and some beef.  Oh, and ranch dressing on the side!

4. Making some easy to eat leftover meals.  Tonight's dish:

Pasta Free Spaghetti

1 spaghetti squash

Preheat oven to 350.
Half squash, remove seeds
On a baking sheet, lay parchment paper and place squash on the paper.
Sorry for the terrible picture quality.
Cook for 45 minutes or until done.  Use fork to pull out "spaghetti" strands.  Butter is optional.
* To make this meal even more awesome, add a slice of homemade garlic bread.

on left, no butter (tomato sauce to be added)
on right, butter
Homemade Tomato Sauce

5-7 tomatoes, seeded
1 onion, chopped
1/4 c. fresh basil
1 red roasting pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced (or food processored)
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

You can eat this raw, but I prefer to heat on low for just a few minutes to remove some of the "raw" taste.  This particular sauce is more of a faded red because the tomatoes I used are from my CSA, which had some tomatoes that weren't red this week.

Monday, August 27, 2012

30 Days on the Plate

I have some truly wonderful people in my life who are encouraging and supportive.  This post is to thank them for the encouragement, support, and lack of judgment.  Obviously, the 7 billion or so of us on this Earth will never agree on anything 100%, especially when it boils down to what we think is best.

I've begun a lifestyle change in the last few months, and I don't need the approval of anyone else. I've always been just a *bit* stubborn. :)  I am making this change for myself.  I don't expect the people I spend time with to live or eat the same way that I do.  It may not be what's best for them and their families, or it may just not be something that they want to do or feel that they need to do.  When I'm visiting with others, I eat what they eat.  Ever hear the saying, "you get what you get and you don't pitch a fit?"  Well, it's true.  That being said, if you eat in my home, you're likely to get something organic and unprocessed these days.  Point being, I don't push this on anyone, I'm not perfect at it, and I don't want to be criticized for the lifestyle that I'm choosing to live.  I've done my research, am still doing my research, and am being careful.

I have a former coworker who is starting a group of us on a challenge of sorts.  Kudos to her. :)  I don't know that challenge is the appropriate term as there's no competition amongst the group.  It is a concerted effort on our parts to cut out processed and GMO foods for 30 days.  We'll be sharing things like: what we ate and cooked, what was packed for school lunches, successes, failures, recipes, our research, tips and tricks, and so forth.  I am so excited about this thirty days.

Of course, it'll be interesting, and it requires planning.  No problem for me and my planner!  It does, however, make it difficult not to already know what you're having for dinner when you leave for work in the morning.  Undoubtedly, I'll forget my lunch one day and eat another school lunch that makes me feel sick for hours afterward, regardless of how good I would have once thought it tasted.  On this journey, I will be making foods that I enjoy and find tasty.  Topics to come might include things such as balancing it all and finding time to eat right, avoiding excuses, dating and avoiding processed/ GMO foods, etc.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

D.I.Y. Laundry Soap Validation

I started this post yesterday, but Mom and Dad came into town to bring me some furniture that my Mom's side of the family didn't want and was happy to pass down to me.  Before they got here, I ran some errands, one of which was picking up the ingredients I needed to make some more laundry detergent.  I live in a small town, and since the only two stores I know of that carry the ingredients I use are Wal-Mart and Publix, I headed to Wal-Mart.  We don't have 'luxury' grocery stores like Publix here.  I plopped my things down on the conveyor belt: Arm and Hammer Washing Soda, Borax, Fels Naptha bar soap, and some regular name brand scented bar soap.

The lady in front of me looked at the things I put on the belt and started up a conversation, "Oh, so you make your own laundry detergent too?  What approach do you use?"  Her husband rolled his eyes and you could almost see the cashier's thoughts of our "hippie" approach.  She was not discreet with her body language or the change in her demeanor towards us.  We got into a discussion about powdered vs. liquid- I've only made liquid, she's only made powdered.  It turns out we use essentially the same recipe, and it was SO nice to have someone validate the reasons that I make my own laundry detergent.

1. I started making my own laundry detergent because it was much less expensive.  You can read about that journey that led to sending detergent home with my children at this previous post.

2.  After the initial alarm that there weren't many suds in my washer, I did some research and found that the "suds" you see in most commercial laundry soaps are actually for show -- they give you the illusion that if they're really sudsy, your clothes will be really clean.  This is misleading, and I found after a month or so that my clothes were cleaner and brighter than they'd ever been.

3.  As I continued using my homemade laundry soap and doing more research about this change in lifestyle I'm easing into, I started to realize the health benefits of making your own laundry soap and avoiding toxins.  We don't want to let them get into our organs, but the skin is our largest organ, and we're okay with letting them leach into our body through that organ????

You can read about toxins found in each room of your house here.

If you want to read about specific brands and specific chemicals, read this article/ advertisement.  If you google search your specific laundry detergent, odds are it will come up with some sort of manufacturers' statement/ warning about what "may" be in your laundry soap.

Today, I made the powdered.  I'm not sure I'm going to like it as much, but the good news is, I can always add it to boiling water to make it liquid. :)

Here's how:
** I made a double batch using two different recipes.  Naptha (as in Fels Naptha) is a petroleum derivative.  This soap isn't a particular form of naptha that is toxic, but it isn't "pure" either.  The other recipe I made used Ivory soap, which is 99.44 % pure according to their information releases.

Recipe 1:                                                                                      Recipe 2: 
1 bar of grated Fels Naptha bar soap                                           1 bar grated Ivory bar soap- unscented
1 cup of washing soda                                                                 1 cup washing soda
1 cup of borax                                                                              1 cup borax

Ingredients and tools I use

Grated soap goes into the food processor to make smaller

You can also chunk your soap and then put it in the food processor, but I don't feel like it works as well this way.

Mix it all together- you get something like this.

** For the Fels Naptha recipe, you ONLY NEED 1 -2 tbsp of detergent for each load.  A really large or really dirty load might require 3 tbsp.

** For the Ivory recipe, use 2-3 tbsp per load.

Yes, this DOES work on HE washers.

It took me 15-20 minutes total per recipe.

Kids love to help with the grating and the mixing.

As a side note, you will probably need to shake the powdered detergent before you use it because the soap is lighter than the other two ingredients and you'll want it to be well mixed to get the best benefits from the detergent.

Cost, you ask?  Something like 15 CENTS per load or LESS!!!  The start-up cost isn't bad either.  The box of washing soda and the box of Borax are less than 4 dollars each and the soap is less than a dollar/ bar.  My Fels Naptha double recipe yielded 96 tbsp (48 - 96 loads of laundry).  I estimate this to be less than a 3 dollar cost for 48-96 loads of laundry.

On Amazon, the best deal I found for an "eco detergent" was about 14 dollars for 100 loads, though the reviews read that it is actually much less than 100 loads.  The best deal I found for 72 loads of liquid Tide was 29.06.  The beauty of these recipes is that in order to make them liquid, all you have to do is add water, which won't add anything significant to your cost.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Magical Moments

Today we had one of those absolutely wonderful classroom moments.  I feel like I've been hammering the concept of respecting not just me but each other and themselves into their heads this week.  Today, I asked one of my boys who was looking particularly interested to read a paragraph from the primary source we were talking about.  He's pretty quiet, but I asked him if he wanted to read and he said sure.  He read beautifully, no errors (even for difficult content) and in a clear, loud, well-enunciated voice.  It was phenomenal.  I complimented him and moved on.  About 2 seconds later, another boy in his class raised his hand, apologized for the interruption, and asked if he could just say one thing.  His one thing?

"Ms. Green, That's literally the most I've ever heard him (boy #1) say all strung together and we've been in the same class for the last three years.  He deserves a ticket (a reward in my classroom) for the excellent job he just did."

Admittedly, a little over the top, but totally sweet.  I had no idea that boy was so shy.  The entire class agreed and broke into spontaneous applause for boy #1.  Of course at this point, they may have just been applauding the fact that class was almost over, but who knows?  I turned it into a conversation about what respecting each other really looks like, and how that was a perfect example.

sorting through and unlocking all of these then finding the student they were assigned to....
not such a magical moment

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cloud 9

Y'all, I'm on cloud nine this week.  We started back to school with kiddos on Monday, so we're 3 days in.  177 to go?  Haha.

I know that I'm definitely in the honeymoon phase with my students this year.  We're still in the first week, let alone the first month.  I've had a few boys and girls try to test their limits already, but after a pep talk with the wildest and most self-deprecating of the bunch, things seem to be evening out.  We got into our instructional materials today, and everything went surprisingly well.  I have 50 minute periods, which seems to be the perfect amount of time for us to get going and learn without getting too restless or losing student attention.  I love love love my students so far.  There are some that I can already tell are absolute sweethearts, and as usual, the underdogs that are trying as hard as they can are winning my heart already.

The other absolutely HUGE reason that I'm on cloud 9 is that I got an incredible compliment.  We're implementing a program called Facilitating Student Learning (FSL) that's had success at a few other schools in our district.  The man who implemented the program at those schools is with us this year.  He's been a science teacher for the last 32 years at middle, high, and college levels, so he knows his stuff.  Yesterday, I was looking over my notes from his meeting with me and the other 7th grade science teacher.  I thought that they correlated well with a handout that I give to my students for our inquiry standard, so I dropped it off in his office.  He was in another meeting, but gave it a cursory glance and said he liked it.  A short while later, he came into my class and interrupted me long enough to tell me that he loved it, that it was the best inquiry tool and information he's seen in 30 years, and would I mind if he shared it with my grade partner and the other science teachers?  Of course I gave him the go-ahead and had a mental moment to pat myself on the back.

THEN, today at lunch, he asked me if I had anything similar for human body systems.  The health teacher has a pretty big overlap with our standards and our FSL leader was hoping to have the health teacher start introducing my human body standards since we don't cover them until 2nd semester.  It's such an incredible feeling to be so young and have such an expert me genuinely compliment me and ask for my resources.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ready or not, here we go!

2012-2013 school year has arrived.  The kids come in on Monday, but last night was meet the teacher/ get your schedule night, so I met a good many of my students and their parents.  Today was an all day CCSS workshop, and tomorrow is last minute organizing, etc.  So, ready or not, school is off and running.  For now, this is as good as my room's going to get because now I have to get planning!  We're implementing a new program called Facilitating Student Learning, and it's gonna mean making some not so minor adjustments to my lesson plans, but I'm waiting for tomorrow to get more details about exactly what I need to do. Here's an incomplete view of my room.  Somehow, I bypassed the entire lab area and all the kids' tables.

The step board is for student of the week.
Blue board is SC history.

My area, though for teaching, I'll probably be away from this
and closer to the smart board.

Standards and Homework boards (EQ on smart)
Make-up Work, Turn in box, and encourage-mint, learning mo-mint, and teachable mo-mints. :)

Each table's bucket, some books, extra supplies.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Favorite Place on Earth

My favorite place is the beach.  My favorite beach (for most occasions) is Kiawah.  For certain occasions, I know that Folly is where I need to go, or Sullivan's, etc.  I do my best thinking at the beach.  I am never more relaxed than after some good quality time at the beach.  There's something almost visceral about the connection.  I love the beauty that is the barrier islands off the Southern end of the Charleston Peninsula.  Of course, I love the rest of Charleston as well.  It's the place that I go when I visit 'home.'  Just in case any of you are SC residents/ care/ love Charleston yourselves, I wanted to talk about something that's been going on for years, but really found its stride only recently.  SCDOT is proposing an extension of I-526 that will cut across James and Johns Islands.  Theoretically, it will improve traffic.  What I believe they mean by this is "If we build this extension, we can build more neighborhoods on this super-valuable undeveloped waterfront property and people won't have to worry about any sort of commute to work."  This is inaccurate....there will be traffic regardless.  Messy traffic.  It's unavoidable, and the extra two minutes you might spend driving to work or downtown is worth the beauty of the drive, the habitats of the animals, the marshes, and the sweet smells EVERY TIME.  It's the island way of life that's being threatened here -- not just the island, but it's plants, animals, and people.  Read up and see what you think.  You might completely disagree with me, but I don't see how any true Charlestonian or environmentalist or nature lover could.  For those of you that don't know about the Holy City -- this is a Charleston Native, better known to most 90s music lovers as the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish.  He's known to country music fans as Darius Rucker -- and to Charlestonians as the local celeb that you can see out shopping at Target with his kids.  Below, I'm also attaching a link for info from the SCDOT and a facebook page from some people who aren't big fans of the proposed extension.  It can still be stopped.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Teaching Adjustments

One of the things I most love about teaching is that each year brings a new crop of students and a new set of challenges and experiences to the table.  It's the same thing from period to period or day to day in teaching; there's no exact duplicate, so it's not boring and repetitive as many people think teaching to be.  This is also one of the most nerve-wracking things for me.

I'm adjusting from life in the alternative school to life back in a typical public school.  This means: 

~no uniforms
~bigger staff
~bigger classes
~being in a remote part of the school
~different mindset

These may seem like tiny changes, but to me they seem big.  A blessing for me is that I'm at a school now that I was placed at during one of my practicums.  I know (just a few) of the 50 or so classroom teachers.  I'm looking forward to staff time together.  My classroom is in the school's new wing, which means it's "new," but this also means that it's quite a ways from the office and the other classrooms and wings.  There are four of us in our little piece of the world, so I'm hoping we all get along well.  

Here are some shots of the classroom I'm getting the pleasure of adjusting to -- these are before pics/ in progress shots.

Microscope Station

Lab area/ back wall
Groups are named by sea turtle type.
two door
one door

3 door- to the storage closets

each table sits 3 wide
one closet of resources

second closet of resources
My principal probably thought I was acting like Santa had come to visit me for Christmas when I was four.  She showed me my room and gave me the keys, which was a pleasant gift.  She'd mentioned to me over the summer that she thought this would be my room, but I didn't give it more than a cursory glance at the time.  When it became "mine,"  the principal was showing me around.  We'd gone through these closets - both of which are bigger than my guest bedroom - just checking out the resources.  It was a surprise for her as well.

She informed me that she was sorry to say I wouldn't be teaching her daughter after all (whew!), and then took me out to the main part of the room.  She pointed out the smart board, projector, TV, and entire front teaching table/ lab/ desk like my teachers had when I was in the high school math/science magnet program.  I was practically salivating just thinking of all the potential.  Then there was the "oh no, this is gonna be hard to keep neat" strand of thoughts.  I turned around, and my principal was opening and closing the cupboards in the back of the room -- this is when she laughed a little because my jaw literally dropped and I said something extremely brilliant and memorable like, "Oh my gosh!!! There's STUFF in them too?!?!?" 

I just couldn't believe that there were resources in the closets and the classroom.  On a random tangent, maybe this explains why people always say that I travel heavy- it must be a science teacher thing.  Needless to say, I'm going to have to find at least a day to go through and inventory what I have and where it is so that I don't waste it or buy more of something we already have.  This is probably my biggest adjustment thus far, though I imagine this time next week, I'll be commenting on what the chorus of 30 voices sounds like all at once, or what it's like when more students than attended my college are all in the hallways changing classes at the same time.  Once upon a time, I was used to this organized chaos, noise, shuffle, and bright display of non-uniform clothing.  I'll get used to it again, but for now, I'm relishing the opportunity to observe the changes and soak them in.

Happy returns to school, y'all!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ships Ahoy!

I've had the blessing of spending the past 2 days aboard the USS Yorktown.  It's not going anywhere -- it's moored in 28 feet of mud.  I was there for the History and Science Teachers' Institute.  Currently, the Yorktown's education department has a standards-based curriculum for these subjects (and STEM integration) at the 5th grade level, a small program at the 3rd grade level, and a small but growing program for 7th and 8th grade.  They're trying to branch out and the Yorktown's education program is becoming more cross-curricular, with an emphasis on science and social studies.  (That's why there were a bunch of teachers there.)  The entire environment surrounding the ship became part of the education process.  To begin with, the Navy has quite a variety of jobs.  During the initial conversations with the kids, the Yorktown Ed Instructors talk about the fact that it's a floating city with respect to job variety and self-sufficiency.  Yes, they have to ship certain items in, but so does just about every city in the world.  We're all so inter-connected.  The water the ship is in, Charleston Harbor, the marsh, the surrounding barrier islands and sand spits are all included in the science and geography (land forms) lessons taught on board the ship.  A brief tour is given, though one of the other teachers and I were talking about how easy it would be to spend 2 or so days touring the Yorktown, as opposed to the 2 hours that most field trips get.  I was there for two days and still feel like there is so much more I could have seen and absorbed.  All in all, the institute was a blast.  There were about 25 teachers all committed to their students and interested in ideas.  We had good teacher dialogue interspersed between the fun.  There were games, riddles, and even camping on the Yorktown for some of them!

I'm going to give you some picture highlights of the trip, so that you can plan to check it out for your students.

Oh- one way that they're keeping things really cross-curricular is with the Aid of a book called Oscar I am, Harry I was?!?  It traces a water molecule- Hannah, Harry, and Oscar- through SC and all the stations tie back to these three atoms and the letters that are subsequently related to bring it to each generation and make it real.  I'm planning to read parts of the book to both my social studies and science classes as we progress through our units.

In the wet lab

Watching the plankton and jellyfish from the Harbor on the smart
board via a very cool microscope camera.

hermit crab comes out to play

smallest horseshoe crab I've seen

Now THAT's a sewing machine!

math project in ratios

I should've kept with scouting- these are only some of the knots.

Learning about living spaces- another standard- and the only
baby ever born onboard, and how the men treated the baby

class A propaganda

It starts with a K- medical area station

SC landforms, etc.
the sub- the Clamgore

Medal of Honor Museum

His medal of honor paperwork was "lost" for 70
years...until desegregation. 

The medals for the different branches

part of the little Vietnam.  There is a small city that looks
just like Mash!