May 23, 2010
I’ve been on a big reading kick of late. It seems a bit counterintuitive that, as an English teacher & writer, I’d ever go “off” of reading, but the truth is that I often fail to make time for pleasure reading, just like everyone else.
One of the things that’s most important to me in my job as a teacher or more generally, an authority figure in the eyes of teenagers, is being rigorous with myself when it comes to hypocrisy. I do my dead-level best never to ask of my students what I won’t follow through on myself: coming on time to class, showing up prepared, telling the truth, and being respectful.
There’s a lot of harping among adults these days about how “kids these days” don’t read anymore and their brains are all going to rot and the world is going to hell in a hand basket, etc. But I wonder how many of those adults make time regularly in their daily lives to read. You want kids to read more? Let them see you closing your computer screen & picking up a book.
I’m lucky that my English department colleagues at school feel equally passionate about the importance of reading for pleasure; two years ago we instituted BYOB (that’s “Bring Your Own Book,” don’t worry) days across all grade levels. It’s a regular expectation in my curriculum that I devote whole class periods, every 4-6 weeks, to pleasure reading. And I have to sit down and read too—no grading or emailing.
Last time I had a BYOB day in my classroom, my principal, dean of students, history colleague, and both PE coaches came to join my students. I can lecture my kids about how reading will improve their vocabularies, writing abilities, & build their sense of empathy. But the best argument of all for getting them to read more is to sit down and do it with them. [a few suggested titles here]
Sometimes the books I read influence the foods I eat, as when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made me crave smoked salmon, rye bread, & pickles to no end. I’m currently listening to the audio book of The Elegance of the Hedgehog on my ipod, & the perfect pronunciations of lovely French words has me craving lovely French food with fancy names, like this classic, composed salad.
I love this salad for a weekend lunch, with a bottle of white wine, a nice baguette, & good butter. If the idea of anchovy paste freaks you out, PLEASE reconsider. Anchovy paste is the ultimate secret weapon; it adds incredible flavor that people can never quite pinpoint. Been hearing all about “umami,” the fifth taste? Well, anchovy paste is chock full of umami. You only need a little bit—I dare you to try!
Best of all, anchovy paste comes in a nice toothpaste-like tube which you can seal up & keep in the fridge for future use. I use it in my marinara sauce, tossed with roasted broccoli, and to make this compound butter, which is amazing smeared on steaks & grilled salmon.
for the dressing:
1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine or Champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional, but adds amazing flavor)
salt & freshly ground pepper
a handful of chopped, fresh herbs—your choice!
-basil, dill, flat-leaf parsley, and/or tarragon
Whisk the ingredients together—I like to do this in my Pyrex measuring cup, which makes it easier to pour over the salad.
2 cans good-quality tuna, drained
-If you want to splurge, buy fresh tuna steaks and grill or sauté them with olive oil, salt & pepper, just a few minutes on each side. Slice to serve; the tuna should be rare in the middle.
1 lb. new potatoes, scrubbed
-Cook the potatoes in boiling water until soft enough to be pierced with a fork. Allow to cool, then quarter. Season with a little salt & pepper.
½ lb. haricots verts or green beans
-Trim the ends, then halve the beans. Blanch the beans: steam them until bright green, then plunge them into ice-cold water to set the color.
½ red onion, thinly sliced
12 cherry tomatoes, halved or 6 Roma tomatoes, quartered
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled & halved
½ cup good-quality black olives
2 T capers, for garnish
1 head lettuce + 1 bunch arugula (for flavor; omit if you can’t find arugula or don’t care for its peppery “bite”)
Compose all of the ingredients on a large platter, using the greenery as a starting point. I like the serve the salad with a pair of tongs, four bowls, & the measuring cup of dressing out together so everyone can assemble their own perfect salad.