Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cathartic Cooking

This week, I attended more meetings/trainings than I can count on my hand.  Some were after school, and some were during the school day which means my students had a substitute on more than one occasion.  Not having their regular routine, my class was as high as a kite this week, which was challenging since we were testing.  The testing, which has (so far) taken about 8 hours over two weeks, made me want to beat my head against the wall.   Plus knowing we were losing an hour of sleep this weekend...well, my mood was not good.  When I got home last night, I closed and locked the door feeling so relieved that I didn't have to talk to or be talked at by anyone for at least 24 hours.
A few months ago I posted about my new pasta rollers.  Fresh pasta is delightful and a great meal to serve guests, but it's quite time consuming.  I've made it a few more times since that post.  All those times the plan was to make it while guests were mingling and enjoying the fact that it was being made right there.  The downside though is that it always takes longer than planned for and/or I get sidetracked by conversation and lose my cooking concentration.
Bound and determined to make this process a bit easier I've done a little research and watched a couple of youtube videos about making and storing pasta.  And today, I spent my day of no talking making batches and batches of fresh pasta.
One thing that was making the process more difficult was trying to make more than a couple of servings at a time in the dry, SoCal weather.  The dough dried out so quickly, sometimes in the midst of making it, which made it difficult to work with.  That problem seemed to be solved by two solutions.  One, rather than using measuring cups, I used the scale and weighed the flour.  Bakers always say it's more exact to weigh dry ingredients, but since I'm not a baker I never took much stock in it.  Now I'm a believer.  The second way to counteract the dryness was to make it in smaller batches.  Most recipes call for one egg and 100 grams of flour for 2 servings.  If I were serving 6-7 people, I tried to make it all at once.  Today, I made the dough into smaller batches which was so much easier to work with.
 After my previous post, I tried freezing a ball of dough hoping that would be a good way to store fresh pasta for later use.  The dough worked fine after being defrosted, but the process of defrosting was a hassle and took an indeterminate amount of time.  My research led me to the nests...these pretty little nests.
After rolling and cutting the dough, it is dusted with flour and then twirled around the fingers to form bunches of pasta.  The nests are placed on floured parchment paper and then placed in the freezer for an hour or two to set.  Then they are stored in an airtight container in the freezer.  The best part?  There is no defrosting of the dough!  The individual servings can just be dropped in a pot of boiling water and cooked the 2-3 minutes as usual - maybe an extra minute longer since frozen.  
It was such a calming exercise - rolling and cutting and swirling the dough - that I would have worked on it all day had I not run out of eggs.  
Arrabbiata sauce with spicy Italian turkey sausage in planned for later this week!


  1. Good for you. And I remember reading that fresh pasta is better 'after' its been frozen.
    Now I'm going to make a suggestion you mightn't like one ickle bit. In my reading LA has more massage shops/clinics per square mile that any other spot on the planet. You need to go and get yourself one that pummels and twists you, beats you and twists you, to generally realign your brain.
    I don't think I've ever read something so tense and edgy in quite a long time. So some burly Czech chick that'll bend and twist you 5 ways to Friday, stretching muscles and tendons releasing native endogenous morphine that if you aren't used to will give you the feeling of being on a months holiday.
    Anyhoos, big hugs, really big ones. And yeah, be a cranky little witch when you need to be, but never forget a good vent is cathartic.
    But I will say this, the last time you wrote like this there was a feel of being trapped in a shit job with a very different edge. You don't have that tone here.

    1. Yah, no it's not anything like a few years (can you believe this is the 3rd year?!?!) ago. Just a busy week that made me want to play hermit yesterday. :) However, just thinking of someone I don't know pummeling me is terribly stressful. ;) A video of Conan O'Brien at one of our Korean day spas in Koreatown was posted on FB a few weeks ago. Even though I'm not a fan, it's pretty funny.
      A friend of mine goes to this Wi spa pretty regularly and said it's mostly accurate.

    2. Chuckle. That's what I had in mind for you. I remembered you said you really disliked strangers pummeling you. But sometimes one needs to counter one type of stress with another. Only I hadn't in mind the reverse of that phrase you used a while back, pull on your big girl pants princess and get on with it. :-D :-D :-D :-D

    3. Ha! Yah, pants don't seem to be necessary there do they. I'd rather go to a meeting. :)

  2. I'm impressed! I've never made pasta and seldom buy anything but the dry version. (It's just not something I eat that often) I've watched enough FN, though, to know getting it right can be good for you! Alton Brown (who knows his stuff, imo) says weighing ingredients is the only way to go, especially when it comes to flour or baking. I guess I really should invest in a decent scale.

    So, do I detect you're not a fan of standardized testing? I'm certainly no authority, but that doesn't keep me from having an opinion - mainly that I don't like it.

    For me, the best way to de-stress is to sit down in front of a jigsaw while listening to music. Even better if one of the dogs keeps me company. (love that e-card)

    1. I HATE standardized testing. HATE IT! I have no problem with testing students on what they have learned and assessing progress and even using that progress as one piece of my evaluation. The problem with ST is that kids aren't standardized. They all develop and learn at different rates so to say all kids should be at "this" point by "this" time in the year is asinine. The demographics at my particular school is 85%+ English language learner and/or low-socioeconomic. They come to me with varying levels of language proficiency and academic proficiency. They have all made great strides this year, but some are still working below where they are supposed to be. That's all that will be assessed, their progress is not. The tests we took this week are actually just our trimester tests given by the district, however they are written to mirror the ST. A 2nd grader shouldn't be subjected to 9 hours of testing in a reporting period...that's 9 hours of no instruction plus the additional hours it takes to prep them for the tests because they are written to trick the kids, not assess their progress.
      We are also in the midst of transitioning to the Common Core standards - the reason for all the meetings. The standards themselves are something I actually like - they are written to make sure kids, especially in the primary grades, have the foundational skills and really understand the content and there's nothing wrong with that. What I find appalling is that the CC weren't written as a benchmark and its creators did not intend for them to be tested like they are being tested. The testing is now online and there have been nothing but glitches with it. Pretty much everyone has been involved in creating this testing except for actual educators - it's been a business/money making venture costing gobs of money to our schools. And our governor is already sending press releases to prepare the public for what a failure all our kids are going to look like during these transitional years of getting it all figured out. The implementation has been a joke.
      Aren't you glad you asked? Now I've got to go make some more pasta! ;)

    2. Yikes - I obviously touched a nerve! (sorry) I'm not really a fan of the Common Core, either, from what little I know, but maybe that varies from state to state? (or is that the purpose, to make one common standard nationwide?) I really don't have a dog in this fight anymore other than the fact my millage tax $$ go to a school district I don't like. And I do have one grandkid in public school, with two more to follow. I went to the "math with grandparents day" at my granddaughter's middle school a year or two ago where we observed the class period. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and saying, "you're making this process harder than you need to!" From what I understand, it doesn't matter if they answer a problem correctly, even showing their work...if it isn't solved according to (complicated) core standards, it's counted wrong.

      But as I said, I really don't need to involve myself in this debate. I spent a lot of time and energy doing that when my own kids were in school and Arkansas decided to mandate consolidation based solely on a random number of students, with no consideration to performance, etc. I even wrote an essay on it at the time which I later turned into a blog entry. Geez, if I keep thinking about it, I might have to go work some on my current jigsaw!

    3. The thing about the CC is that the standards themselves are actually quite good. The varying opinions on them seem to depend on its "packaging" by each state's government. There is no truth to the reports that standards say 2+2 doesn't equal 4 or that we're now required to teach how to be a homosexual or a liberal. They are in fact, just a set of standards that have been set so our students are getting the same level of education from state to state. Within the standards, states are given the option of adding a percentage (I think 20-30) of additional standards they think are important. The point being that a kid coming out of Montana public schools has the same set of skills and knowledge as a kid coming out of California or Colorado or any other state. Being at a site with a high rate of transiency, I've had kids from all over start school after the year has started and it's very hard when they come from a school that hasn't taught the same standards we are teaching. They come in behind in some areas and ahead in others. The CC standards would help to limit that. However, states being allowed to opt out defeats that purpose. So I'm not really sure of the term Common Core Standards, when they're not.
      This is my 15th year as a teacher and the emphasis placed on standardized testing in that period of time has reduced the amount of actual thinking and understanding our students are able and willing to do. We spoon fed them exactly what we needed them to know because the high stakes testing created an environment that forced us into doing so.
      When I was first exposed to the CC, I was impressed that they really emphasized the foundational skills and the understanding of why. An algorithm is great for solving problems quickly, but in order to use it with any success from year to year, it has to be understood as to why it works. I'll give you an example - two and three digit addition and subtraction with and without regrouping (borrowing and carrying in laymen's terms) has been a 2nd grade standard for as long as I've been teaching. We spent a bit of time on teaching the number sense behind the concept before teaching the trick of carrying or borrowing using an algorithm and then practiced the heck out of it in order to prepare for the test. The problem being, just like most things that aren't really understood, as soon as the test (and test prep) was over they didn't know how to do it anymore. We'd hear from 3rd grade that they came in after summer break not knowing how to regroup. We'd hear from 4th grade that they didn't know how to regroup. We'd hear from 5th grade they didn't know how to regroup. Based on the brain based research, teaching the algorithm without a strong grasp of the concept doesn't work - had they asked a teacher we all could have told them that. With the CC standards, they are now building that background and understanding before the algorithms are taught. We use manipulatives and draw pictures and decompose numbers. This year is the first class I've had in 15 years that understands the concept. In fact, they know it so well they were able to come up with the algorithm as a more efficient way of solving regrouping problems on their own. That's the piece that the last 15 years has been missing with testing guiding our instruction. The spoon feeding wasn't teaching anyone how to think or learn.

    4. I was not aware that blogger had a character limit...but I found it. Here's the rest. :)
      As much as I am enjoying the teaching of it, I am hating the assessment of it. We're assessing new, researched based standards and instruction methods with old school tools. Now I'm just in primary, so my kids have had a year or more of instruction in this manner, which is more than half their education experience. I do feel for the kids (and their teachers) who are having to navigate the CC and its methodology after the majority of their education has been the "old way". They haven't had to really think and solve problems beyond drill and practice over the last few years. The next few years for them will be on the painful side, I think. But I do think, if it's given the time before being called a failure, even our older kids (and their parents :)) will reap the benefits of this shift in instruction.
      {getting off my soapbox now}

    5. I appreciate you elaborating on it and I can totally understand what you're saying. It also makes me feel good because I sense a passion in you for teaching these kids...and that's wonderful to still have after being at it for 15 years! I would imagine burnout is rampant.

      Critical thinking is vital and hopefully teachers will now be able to teach that rather than "teaching to the test".

    6. Oh ya, burnout is rampant. I go through ebbs and flows with mine. I've got a really motivated group of kids this year, which makes things easier than an apathetic group like my previous two years. Last year was a perfectly bad storm, and I was ready to quit. The problem being...what else would I do?!?! :)
      Thank you for listening! I could talk about what's wrong with our system of education all day long!

  3. I just really looked at the photos. How much did you do. I thought it was only the one tray.
    I suppose if you wanted green or any other colour you could blitz it and off you'd go. You'd simply reduce the volume of water.

    1. Each ball of dough made 4 "nests". Each nest is about a servings worth.
      From what I've read, the things added to make the colored or flavored pasta, like spinach or tomatoes, is added when making the dough.
      My next venture with the machine will be ravioli I think. An ravioli attachment came with my pasta set so I've got to try it! Now those would be fun to have in the freezer for company!
      It's 7am and still no sign of the sun on this first Monday after an early dst. :(

  4. oh my that sounds delish.. can i come over?
    i wish i could put up a sign to keep the kids away for a bit.. we had a week full of attitude, tantrums and cranky pants and never ending crying.. oh and buggers... lots of buggers

    1. Yes! Anytime! :)
      Something has been going around. I've had up to 5 students out each day over the last week or so. I just hope we don't all get it from all the snot and coughing. Hang in there!