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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Butter Makes it Better

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That’s what this post is all about. It’s amazing, really. If I weren’t already a believer in a higher force at work in this life, butter would most definitely cinch it for me. Give me mountains of ashen rock, with magenta and amber hues reflecting the evening sun. Give me endless deserts stretching out with Pinion pines and junipers dotting as far as the eye can safely reach. Allow me to wake to the sounds and smells of the delicious rain on rusted, corrugated roofs.

Give me butter.

I’ve decided that butter is the magical ingredient in just about anything which tastes a step or two beyond amazing. In fact, if I were ever diagnosed with an incurable disease with only days to live, I’d make sure that each meal was drenched in rich, buttery goodness.

However, I did not always believe such. I used to subscribe to the thought that margarine was just as good as butter in any recipe and would do just as well.

Was I ever wrong.

My sister sent me the recipe for her infamous Jam Crumble Cookie Bars a week ago. How can I describe these cookies? Probably that they are akin to being taken on a conduit straight to heaven—especially when topped with generous portions of caramel praline ice cream…rivulets of rich, gooey caramel weaving its way in amongst the oats and strawberry.

Goodness to the Nth degree.

I followed my sister’s recipe to the letter, but instead of utilizing butter, I opted for margarine, simply because it was softer and easier to get at. Those of you who are schooled in the ways of baking are probably even now drawing in quickened breaths of shock, or at the very least rolling your eyes at this foolhardy decision.

Now so would I.

I mixed the ingredients. I added them to the pan. I baked them at the prescribed 350 degrees. Soon a smell that wafted about the house that whispered of deliciousness. One could almost taste the smell.

When the lightly browned dessert was cooled enough from the oven, I cut myself a generous portion and added mounds of ice cream.

It was terrible.

I had no idea of what I’d done wrong. There must have been something I missed; after all, when my sister had made them, they were fantastic.

I called.

“Did you follow the recipe?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Did you maybe forget an ingredient or something when you emailed it to me?”

She was adamant that she hadn’t. I mentioned at this point that I had substituted margarine instead of the butter the recipe called for. I received a slight browbeating at this point and was educated on the magical—as well as healing powers of—butter.

I thanked my sister, and I opted to give the recipe one more try. The previous attempt was unceremoniously dumped into the trash, and ingredients again scurried from their cupboards as I began to start anew.

All I can say is that now that I’ve been converted, and realize the mouth-watering ways of butter. I’ll ever go back. In taking that first spoonful of ice cream and crumble, I was taken away. It was like dying and being reborn all over again.

I am now convinced that butter is indeed the ultimate when cooking.

I’ll never go back.

For those of you who’d like to try this scrumptious delight:

Shawna's Jam Crumble Cookie Bars


2 cups oats
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
8 - 12 oz. jar of jam (raspberry, strawberry, apple butter, etc)


Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. In large bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Add butter and beat with electric mixer on low until mixture is crumbly. Pat half of the mixture, about 2 cups into baking pan, press down firmly to form crust layer. Spread jam evenly over bottom crumb layer and then sprinkle remaining crumbs over jam, patting gently. Bake 30-35 minutes or until golden.

Enjoy with a scoop of your favorite ice cream (I suggest caramel praline). Also, drizzle with caramel for extra goodness.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Open Letter - To My Teacher

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Dear Otamay,

I'm not sure if you would even remember me, but I hope that you would. I was one of your students at Summit Valley School, back in the days when you were still teaching in eastern Washington. I wanted to write to thank you for the influence you had on me when I was just a young boy. You were one of the best teachers I ever had—and I have thought about you many times over the past years of my life.

I still remember the day I first saw you—you had come to the school and were talking to Mrs. Cornwall in the back of the room. When I heard that you were going to take her place partway into the school year, I was mortified, and that first little while having you as a teacher was hard for me…but as time progressed I loved having you as a teacher. You had a remarkable ability to manage a room full of fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the same time in that two-room schoolhouse, giving us each the time we needed. It was you, Otamay, who helped me learn division, it was you who had faith I could learn fractions and wouldn't give up on me until I was able to do them on my own. Even at times when I tried to cheat on my timed tests by just scribbling answers, you and Miss Blue wouldn't let me get away with it but checked my times tests each time.

I will never forget how you made otherwise mundane afternoons into something magical. I loved it when you read us stories, and it was from you that I gained a deep appreciation and love of literature. I have since been an avid reader since elementary school and have encouraged all of my students to do the same. It was because of you that I discovered wonderful books like James and the Giant Peach, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. among many others.

The years have fled since the days that I was a young boy in your classroom, and I look back at those memories from so long ago…it is those memories of a teacher who took and made the time to make a childhood more wondrous, and helped me to realize that there is still magic in the world. It was this (and other things) that helped me decide what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up.

I wanted to teach.

I just wanted you to know that I graduated college and pursued a master's degree; I have since become a teacher. I have been a teacher now for twelve years, and have had hundreds of students pass though the doors of my classroom.

In closing I just wanted to thank you for everything that you've done for me, and I wanted to let you know something else...I felt a real connection with you when you would pull out your guitar in the afternoons and have us all sit on the floor and sing songs I will never forget. It is because of this that I learned how to play guitar and have played many of the same songs we used to sing. My students absolutely love them! I read many of the same books you read to me, but most importantly, I care about my students just as you cared about me.

I hope that this letter finds you well and that you can understand why I am writing it. I just felt that it was important for me to thank you for being such a vital part of my life.

Thanks again for everything.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kids Crack Me Up!

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I don't mean to be a total wet blanket here, but I don't spend a whole lot of time on the YouTube. It's not that I don't like Youtube or I think I'm better than YouTube or even really that I have better, more meaningful things to do than watch YouTube videos.  I just, you know, don't go on YouTube very much 'cause I suppose I choose to waste my time in other ways.

So, to be honest, I had to go onto YouTube for the topic this week and see if anything struck my fancy. Luckily I ran across these Kid History videos which really did (strike my fancy that is).  As far as I can tell there's a series of about a dozen. The idea here is that kids are telling a story and these completely hilarious grown-ups are lip-synching to the kid's words and acting out the story as told by these kids.  I have to say that I think that a fair amount of rehearsal, or at least a fair number of takes must need to happen here because the adults are pretty spot on with the lip-synching.  And they're not really making fun of the kids either, they're just following the dialogue and doing what it tells them to do.  I chose the Christmas one to post here because it made me laugh out loud in more than one spot.

I think I like these because it reminds me a little bit of the drama program I used to work with at the elementary school.  Teachinfourth wrote about the Sunset View drama program a little bit over on his personal blog, so you can take a hop on over there for more details. But the last several years of the program, we used stories that kids in the school had written as the basis for our play (actually we used one of Gerb's kids awesome stories about a 7 year old super-hero).  It was, I thought, really a lot of fun because the kids came up with ideas that I certainly never would have and consequently we we put on a pretty unique and fun show.  I have to admit that I miss it every day and I hope I can figure out a way to make it happen again in some elementary school somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

Anyway, that's why I think I like these Kid History YouTube videos - 'cause kids crack me up.

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