August 25, 2011
Today is the first day of school!
This is what I calculate as being my twenty-fifth consecutive first day of school, and I’ve still got the butterflies. I chose my outfit ahead of time (yes, it’s new), sharpened my pencils, double-checked my lesson plans, cleaned and re-arranged my classroom. When it comes down to it, I am big giant nerd and I love what I do; I believe in it.
One of my tasks over the last few weeks was a book list for my students. I require them to have an “outside reading” book, i.e. something that hasn’t been assigned by a teacher, and I like to offer them a variety of recommendations: all types of reading levels, all kinds of topics, all different genres.
When I solicited friends for ideas of titles to add to my list, some chimed in and many more requested a copy of the finished list. A few even asked me to also make a list of recommended books for adults! People. Asking an English teacher to share book ideas is like “asking” a small child to eat candy; there’s no way we can resist.
If you check out the header, you’ll see that I’ve added a new tab for “books”—not my own (yet!), but you can find my Eighth Grade Reads list linked there. I have a few other lists I promise to add soon–Sixth Grade Books (the grade I used to teach) and Favorites for Adults–and hopefully they will be useful if you’re seeking inspiration for yourself or a middle schooler in your life. And let me just say–if you haven’t checked out Young Adult literature since you were a young adult, allow me to strongly urge you to pick up a title or two. The landscape has changed dramatically, and there is some very fine stuff out there.
These lists are subjective, naturally—partial to my taste and to the tastes and interests of kids I teach. They are also far from comprehensive. Please let me know if you have a books to suggest (young adult or otherwise) and I will do my best to keep the lists updated regularly.
In the meantime, for those of you who are starting or have recently started a new school year, or have sent someone off on one, I wish you much joy and learning!
BUTTERMILK BLUE CORN PANCAKES
from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe
Back-to-school always seems to be the time when kids manage to get really good morning meals out of their parents! I know one family who lets their kids request anything they want for first day of school breakfast, no matter how outrageous (ice cream sundae, matzah ball soup). And for many families with less crazy traditions, pancakes are a good bet. Frankly, we teachers love any tradition that helps get kids excited for the start of school.
This pancake recipe yields thin cakes, almost like crepes, and their flavor is fantastic with just a little butter and maple syrup. I swear by the blue cornmeal that Jill & I discovered when I lived in Tucson; it also makes very fine cornbread, and you can order it online here. If you’d rather stick to yellow cornmeal, no problem, just be sure not to use stone-ground. The more finely ground, the better for this pancake recipe.
One last tip: at Jill’s suggestion, I started making full batches of pancakes on weekend mornings. We eat our fair share, and then I let the rest cool on racks before wrapping them up, two at a time, in foil & sticking them into a plastic bag in a freezer. On a hurried weekday morning, microwave to heat through, then pop into the toaster to firm them back up. Feels like a luxury to have pancakes before school!
½ cup cornmeal (blue or yellow)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 T unsalted butter, melted + more for the griddle/skillet
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a large liquid measure. Add the eggs and beat gently with a fork or small whisk. Beat in the vanilla.
Pour the buttermilk mixture and tablespoon of melted butter into the dry ingredients. Use a spoon or spatula to stir from the bottom of the bowl, but don’t overmix. A few small lumps are okay.
Heat a griddle or skillet over medium. After two minutes, brush on a little melted butter and scoop about ¼ cup of batter onto the hot pan. Cook each pancake 3-4 minutes on the first side, or until they are really quite golden brown. Don’t be tempted to flip too soon!
The second side will cook faster, only 2-3 minutes. Serve right away with toppings of your choice.