collage writing assignment

Since my AP students will use KidBlog this year and it’s not viewable to the public, here’s their first writing assignment.  Feel free to borrow / revise for your own classes.  I would always appreciate a backlink or a shout-out through Twitter @missyfeller.


Think of collages you’ve made in middle school or even high school.  You page through magazines already picked over by earlier scavengers, looking for the perfect images to illustrate your point.  Even though you’ve selected a random mix of words and letters, photos and illustrations, some unifying element, often unspoken, exists.  These things, though seemingly disconnected, belong together.

Such is the case with collage writing.

Although collage writing represents one final piece, it is composed of several short selections from disconnected prompts linked together by an underlying theme–one you may identify outright or leave for the reader to discover.

During our first day together, we watched, took notes over, and discussed Riding the Rails, a PBS documentary about the teens of the Great Depression who sought adventure, work, and escape by illegally jumping freight trains and traveling cross-country.  The PBS website has plenty of information connected to this documentary for further study, such as Added Obstacles for African AmericansRailroads and their Musical Heritage, a timeline of the Great Depression, and a transcript for the film.  I would recommend you check out at least one of these additional articles for your first writing assignment.  For your prompts, I’ll pull from the Teacher’s Guide for this documentary.

In addition, I would like for you to read and process “Homeless” by Anna Quindlen.  I will refer to some of the prompts from this link in this writing assignment.

After the selection by Anna Quindlen, we’re going to read a selection from last year’s Imagery.  We’ll look at that together during class.

I also need you to understand, as we discussed last year, that writing is a process.  While creating the product, whether it is an essay, story, poem, song,etc., we must also acknowledge and respect the stages our writing must go through in order to move toward a more comprehensive, “finished” piece.  You should never create only one draft of a piece of writing and submit that as the “final” piece.  For one, it is probably so glutted with mistakes you’d be embarrassed to claim it as your own.  As AP students, that is inexcusable.  And while looking at what other people have written is okay as a starting point, you should never commit the ultimate sin of writing by stealing their words unless you would like to live in infamy or go through a whole lot of hassle.  Consider yourself warned.

When we finish this unit, you’ll have a collage with over ten sections all unified by a theme or tone you determine. (In case you forgot, the theme of this first grading period is “I could never obtain the one thing I always wanted.”)

During your initial drafts of the first few sections, you’ll have about 5 minutes to gather your thoughts and record them on the screen (or on paper, if you prefer).  At this point, do not worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation.  Focus on the topic, the emotion, the essence of what you’re trying to convey.  The rest (yes–I do want you to correct your grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes) will come later.  I’ll deliver these topics to you one by one and I want for you to write.  Write.  Don’t sit there looking at the blank screen with the excuse that you have no idea what to write.  And don’t waste your and my time writing things like “I have no idea what to write.”  Do the work.  You’re in AP for a reason–prove it.  Aim for at least a paragraph per prompt–you can always go back and add more later (and by the way, I want for you to do this.  Writing is a process, remember?)

Prompt 1:  What do you know about homelessness today? What are the reasons for homelessness? Why do you think people were homeless in the 1930s?

Prompt 2:  Write a diary entry or letter from the point of view of a teenager during the 1930s who has run away to ride the rails. Explain why you left and what you are experiencing. What are your hopes? What are your fears?

Prompt 3: What are your plans for college?  Where will you live?  Explain your choice.  Or, if you do not plan to attend college, what are your plans for after high school?

Prompt 4:  Compose a reflective paragraph collecting your thoughts about one of the supplementary resources from the PBS site.

Prompt 5: Do some preliminary research about hobos online.  Write about the most interesting thing you find.

Prompt 6: Which facts or opinions in Quindlen’s essay did you find most important or significant or disturbing?

Prompt 7: What do you think Quindlen wants the reader to do or to believe when she says, “It has been customary to take people’s pain and lessen our own participation in it by turning it into an issue, not a collection of human beings”?

Prompt 8: Quindlen believes that homelessness is a major problem. Her source is a series of interviews. Do you think interviews are a credible source? Are they enough, or are statistics also necessary? Give your reasons.

Prompt 9: Respond to the student’s piece about homelessness. What is your reaction?

Prompt 10: Compose a persuasive paragraph proposing a realistic, doable action you and your peers could do to help address homelessness in Evansville.

Once you’ve written your first drafts for each of these prompts, begin the process of selecting FIVE of them to edit and revise.  Editing involves spelling, grammar, punctuation whereas revision means looking at the paper as a whole, deciding what works, what to throw out, what to rewrite completely.  If your first draft looks identical (or really, really close) to the next draft you submit to me, you will lose some if not all points for the first draft.  Separate the sections with ***.  They should not be presented as one, fluid composition.Yet.

NOTE: This essay will be viewed by other students in this class.  Peer editing and discussion will be part of your grade.

You’re going to post your five (or more, if you choose) in your own blog (do NOT reply to this post with your collage.  Reply with questions ONLY!).  From the dashboard, control panel, or course blog home page, selectcreate a new post.  Then, I would like for you to post your most recent draft (the best one you have).  Comment to your own post with your original, first draft.  If you do not post the original, first draft, you will be docked points.  Give your post a title, tag with #collagewriting #homelessness #greatdepression and any other relevant (school appropriate) hashtags you would like to use.  If you use a picture (you don’t have to but most blogs use them), make sure it is free to use under creative commons and include a backlink to the image source.  You can also use hyperlinks with the text to make your writing more dynamic and interactive for the reader.  Imagine that this may end up on a public blog for student voices, or that you might turn this into a podcast.  Keep that imagined audience in mind.

If you can’t figure out KidBlog, here is a tutorial video from the student dashboard.

Here’s the point break-down:

  • rough draft (10 sections complete, posted on time, different than most recent copy) –> 10 points
  • first revision (5 sections edited and revised, posted on time, professional with few errors) –> 20 points
  • followed instructions (title, tags, picture cited if used, posted in correct place, commented with original draft in correct place) –> 5 points

This collage essay will undergo many more stages within this unit.  This part of it–the rough draft and the first revision–will be due on or before our next meeting which will be Tuesday, August 20.  If you do not have it on that day, you may turn it in on Thursday, August 22 for 20% off, but after that day, it will not be accepted.  You may still want to complete the essay since you’ll be submitted a second revision in the next week after we read Of Mice and Men.

Any questions, you know where to find me.  Reply to this post with questions, message me via MyBigCampus, send me an email, or request (from me) a pass to visit during enrichment.

I look forward to reading your first essays.


getting in character

I start the unit with a poem.  We all know it, and each time we read it, or hear it, it serves as a haunting reminder of forgotten intentions, of dreams pushed aside by so-called “priorities.”  I once heard that if it is important enough, you’ll make time for it.  Who determines this sense of importance?  I asked my students, then, what happens to a dream deferred?  Where does it go?  Does it still exist, somewhere, after its assignment to second-best?

These conversations pull at my heart–to hear young people already making the difficult choices only adults should have to face.  It’s no wonder, then, that they so thoroughly enjoyed the small group discussions inspired from the first activity of our Raisin in the Sun unit.  After assigning them to family units of four, each family reported to a small group table to privately discuss the portentous contents of an unmarked envelope:  a letter from an insurance company and a fictitious check for $80,000.  The task:  decide, based on the contents of the letter, what your family needs to do.

Here is the letter they received:

No Dream Deferred Insurance, LLC
406 Clybourne Street
Chicago, IL 60628

Younger Family
1958 Hansberry Drive, Apt A
Chicago, IL 60633

Dear Younger Family:

My sincerest condolences on the loss of your loved one.  It’s unfortunate that as insurance agencies, we are charged with placing a value on the lives of people who undoubtedly are worth much more than what we can offer.  However, with that said, please accept the enclosed check of $80,000 as fulfillment of the life insurance policy.

After speaking with you immediately after the passing of your loved one, I found myself very impressed by the ambitious dreams of your family.  I wish your oldest the best in his aspirations tobecome a business owner – it is a risky venture that may yield profitable results, if the cards land in his favor.  To his wife, I also wish her the best of health as she carries your second grandchild over the next seven months.  Your young Bennie reminds me of my daughter; she, too, is a passionate philanthropist studying in the medical field while still finding time to explore various hobbies and interests.  I wish I could have spent more time with your grandson – he is obviously a very energetic 10-year-old and the apple of your eye.

It’s fortunate that, under the same roof, you can support and care for one another in this time of need.  I also hope that the community of your neighbors and landlord offer their assistance inhelping you work through this difficult time.  Despite the struggles your family faces, I hope you continue to pursue the dreams your spouse spoke so passionately about before the onset of his latest illness.

If you do decide to leave your current housing, I hope you will keep in touch, and also let our agency know if we can be of any additional assistance.


H. Lorraine, agent


Their final decisions were as different as they were:  some opted to stay in the current housing.  Though not ideal, moving somewhere with higher rent could cause more turmoil.  Some opted to move.  Others invested money in savings accounts or bonds; none pursued Walter’s dream of owning a business.  While taking the money and equally dividing it among household members seemed the most fair, it was not without its problems:  did Walter and Ruth count as one or two people?  Did young Travis count?  What about Bennie’s costly medical schooling?  And, what about the unborn child?  What would be his fate?  One group, interestingly enough, said they would put him up for adoption.  The other family units looked on and did not pry into their reasoning behind this difficult decision.

We started reading on the third day of the unit.  My student teacher and I assigned readers; each reader chose his or her own understudy.  We also placed the readers at the front of the room, sitting on the desks, facing the rest of the class.  This enabled them to see one another and play off each other’s characters.  By the end of the unit, each student had become that character; we associated his tone, his demeanor, with the voice of the reader, and so the best culminating project, we decided, would be a talk show featuring each character played by his or her reader.

In a class of 24, we had the students work in groups of three, with the eight major characters choosing their own talk show host and camera operator.  The “Dream Deferred” poem had to be used, somehow, within the 5-10 minute video production.  We asked for a minimum of five questions with depth, ones that demonstrated a real understanding of the struggles of the character, providing sample questions that Edna Pontellier would have answered from The Awakening, another book from last semester:  Do you love your children?  What do you want out of life?  Did you have an affair with Robert Lebrun?  We wanted them to avoid basic biographical information, birth date, number of people in household, etc.

Although the quality of the videos did not meet the students’ expectations, we definitely were impressed by the  dedication toward creating a believable set (some borrowed the furniture in my room and set up a talk show set in the hall for their recording; others recorded in the television studio downstairs) and realism of the characters.  Most worked without a script and spoke from the heart–and since these were the readers who played the characters during the entire unit, these stories became an extension of those characters.

Developing a reading voice is not something easily taught–it must be experienced.  Reading the part of The Nurse from Romeo and Juliet in the six years I taught that play–I became that character, I empathized with her, I felt her sense of entrapment, even learned to agree with her that after Tybalt’s death, Juliet’s marriage was as good as over, and it was time to move on, difficult though it may seem.  Several elements helped allow this unit to be successful, starting with how we set up the readers.  This is easily replicated in other classes, with other texts.

  • Set up the room in a way that the non-readers can see the readers, and that the readers can see each other.  This allows for them to play off one another, even look in one another’ direction.
  • During discussion of the text, provide opportunities for both the readers to speak about their own characters, and to forbid them to do so as well.  There were times when I asked Bennie’s character or Walter’s character to explain his or her mindset; other times, I asked the non-readers to speak on behalf of the character about his or her mental state.  This allows for accountability for all.
  • Point out what the readers do that help reinforce reading in character.  Volume, tone of voice, dramatic pauses–acknowledge these conscious choices and praise these efforts since they help reinforce the characters and make them real.
  • Choose strong readers, especially when helping demonstrate for others the reading voice.
  • Sometimes take a part, yourself.  I always enjoyed playing the part of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, because then I got to duel with foam swords with the students.
  • Have fun.  Enjoy discussion.  Stop at the pivotal moments, when the tension is at its peak, engaging students in discussion and a desire to continue reading.

creativity collage writing | a riverbend writing project post

Creativity involves understanding the “rules,” which are the foundation for art but also knowing, intrinsically, when it is appropriate to break said “rules.”  Creativity is letting go of restraint, silencing the inner critic, and allowing oneself to simply “be.”

Just as we are the collective sum of all of our own experiences, the people we’ve met, the books we’ve read, conversations we’ve had—creativity originates within the Self.  It involves who we are, and people who consider themselves to be uncreative perhaps haven’t learned to appreciate their stories and the value these stories hold for them and others.


Understanding that we will never be like previous writers is a critical first step in allowing oneself to be creative and be a writer.  The inner critic, though ever-present and often a deterrent to writing, (“You’re not good enough,” “You will never be good enough,” “Your stories are not interesting enough,” etc.) inhabits a distinct purpose:  to keep us mindful about our writing that we endeavor to tell our own stories in the best possible way, striving for greatness while at the same time accepting we may never achieve it in the same way as other literary giants.  They were great in their time, with their stories, their experiences, just as we have the potential to be great in our time with our stories.  We must love our writing, love our craft, love our characters in a way only we can.  We must not allow the threat of the inner critic to silence our creative spirit.


Flashback to seven weeks ago.  For months on end, plagued with visits from specters of my own, I no longer wrote.  I thought of writing, often, but ghosts as vivid and real as the ones described by Goodman kept my hands from the keyboard and pens and instruments of imagination.  I questioned whether the time spent composing would amount to anything, that anyone beyond me would see value in the stories I longed to tell.  It’s not that I viewed other authors with a sort of idolatry—I instead failed to value my own characters enough to continue to impart them with a voice and a life.

Then, sitting in an audience of peers and teachers and generic audience members and pawns, I witnessed an individual speak about his writing, his book in his hand, printed, with paper and a cover and a dust jacket and in his hands.  And something amazing happened: a flash of lightning, a spark, an epiphany—whatever literary metaphor you wish to assign.  The humble, timid, creative spirit contemplated to initiate a battle against the specters.


I tend to divide my approaches to writing according to the genre I’m attempting to indulge:  poetry by hand—because it feels more organic, thoughtful, calculated; almost everything else electronically.  Keeping up with my imagination as it plows forward, I don’t want my sluggish handwriting to miss any details.  I want to write in notebooks again.  I feel like I enjoyed writing more then, cared less about the inner critic, but I cannot fetishize notebooks in the way I used to.  I used to purchase notebooks for their beauty and their texture, but when I ended with stacks of notebooks and the threat of writing something not worthy of the beauty of its container, I lost the materialistic desire for writing—that romantic, first-year-marriage worship of it.  Writing and I, we have become old lovers: we inhabit the same house but we rarely indulge in displays of affection.

Maybe I should buy a new notebook.


A nineteen-year-old sits in an upper-level creative writing course, surrounded by juniors and seniors and a professor glaring down from Mt. Olympus.  A mortal, daring to mingle among the gods.  The professor smiles, but rarely, and his laughter lacerates the skin like a thousand tiny paper cuts. “This,” he says, from the towering throne, gripping the manuscript, “is a stupid high-school pipe dream.”  The words frost the air, freezing the eyes until they burn.  The demigods watch, silent and dispassionate as the god speaks.  “You are forbidden to work on it for this class again.”  The mortal accepts the bleeding papers and sits at the base of the steps to Olympus, watching in horror as the god, who was never actually a god, transforms into a ghost.


Imagination:  (1) stream of consciousness; (2) the inner conversation that goes on when not speaking aloud to others.  (3) The old-fashion film strip running constantly through the brain. (4) The mechanism which organizes existing experiences, cuts them apart, reorders them, and presents them to the consciousness anew. (5) The toppings of the sundae, not the ice cream.


Imagination is the voice of creativity.  Since creativity is the sum of who we are, imagination is what we are able to do with that information.  To process it all, summarize, find new synapses, pull only the best parts and interpret life through new eyes.  A story is never retold the same way, even by the same person because new experiences, new conversations, new joys and disappointments separate the tellings.  I imagine that people who do not consider themselves to be creative must feel they lack the experiences which enable us to tell stories in interesting ways.  How unfortunate, to only see the world through someone else’s interpretation of it.


When people write, they record parts of themselves on paper.  Achilles’ mother convinced him to go to war because he could finally achieve the thing he lacked: immortality.  He had to be the best warrior.  No one remembers the shitty ones.  In our writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, poetry or social commentary—we pluck a part of who we are and through our imagination interpret these experiences to retell to others, and this is precisely why we fear criticism so much.  We are terrified someone may tell us that we and our experiences are not valid.  It’s not about fearing someone may point out a comma splice or misplaced modifier, no.  It’s the fear that someone may tell us that our life is not worth reading about.  It’s Achilles, wanting nothing more than to just be remembered.


Youth is the greatest enemy of the storyteller because it slows us down from having the experiences we deem great enough to talk about.  But we all have stories to tell, some just need to be laundered within the imagination a little while longer than others.  A 250-word response to “write about a time you were stressed” brought me to tears, the story of a thirteen-year-old abandoned at a bus stop by his mother.  The boy who lived “without cover” in a bush next to a man with his dog.  I told him his story was wonderful, beautifully written.  He didn’t view it as such.  Where was the failure? In the experience or in the telling?


I met the most creative person I know by chance, though I’m told, in life, there are no accidents.  She is a professional storyteller by trade, a talented artist, and a free spirit.  She drifted into my classroom in her jeans and tattered shirt, aware of this, yet comfortable.  It is who she is when she’s not donning a costume for others.  She told a true story of her family, how her grandparents emigrated into the country, their struggles, their joys.  She assigned each of my students the role of her family members, helped them transition into the part until they became, to her, those people.  She touched them familiarly on the shoulder, spoke to them with a twinkle of recognition, positioned them around the room, signed to them though none of them needed the interpretation.  She taught us the sign for “friend.”  Some students struggled to keep up, attempted to sign with her, following the fluid motions of her hands; her enthusiasm for her story became infectious—we cared about the people in her story, the people we had become.  She embodied creativity, and after she left, and we returned to routine, we rationalized that what had happened during her visit was indeed strange but wonderful.  She had allowed us to temporarily join her in her own world, in her experiences, without trepidation, without fear of judgment or criticism.  We could not judge her, for she was so entirely convinced of the validity of her story, we had no choice but to concur: yes, this story is beautiful and hers.

I want that sense of legitimacy for my students and not in the 140-character “I’m enjoying my third Diet Coke” sort of way.  To tell stories that matter.  To harness the courage to tell the stories that matter more than the daily routines we allow ourselves to lazily slide into. To be.

mi llama es frustracion pero al menos tengo un delicioso desayuno

I used to look forward to snow days, the extended time to write.  But somehow I’ve written myself into a rut again–not to a place where there’s a lack of ideas but instead a lack of intelligible words with which to speak of the ideas.  I wrote 1,183 words during the Child’s naptime yesterday, stopping before he woke to work on a blog post and give the muse a rest.  We really didn’t work well together–and I knew that as I sat down to the keyboard.  I’m sure all artists get that way sometimes.  When, as we’re working on the piece of art, we are constantly thinking, “geez this is terrible,” but yet driven by the need to create, we press on.  I also took some time to follow along on Twitter for the Writers Digest Conference–anonymously cheering the hopefuls on, wishing I could be there too.  But I’m not ready.  I’m not ashamed to admit that.  But boy o boy when someone tweeted that YA sci-fi was making an aggressive come-back, I nearly did a backflip out of my chair.  Well, get on it, already.  Stop talking about it and do it. I know, I know.  But you can’t rush true art, and I’m doing this because I’m really trying to discover the essence of this Story with characters I no longer consider just two-dimensional.  It’ll happen.  And if it doesn’t, I have to just accept that this was a part of my growth as a person.

Rosetta Stone:  I’ve been a bad student lately.  I hadn’t logged in for over a week, so I took it upon myself today without Rosetta’s prompting to go back and review a few lessons before continuing where I had left off.  I’m nearly through with Lesson 3, Unit 2, which I’m not at all worried about.  Well, I take that back.  Not having the English translation or any explanation for what I’m learning is sometimes difficult.  At first it was awesome.  Now, sometimes I feel like I’m floundering alone in the dark, with a 50-50 shot at getting a question right.

I had a couple tripping points today, one being:  What is your name?  –>  ¿Cómo te llamas? Y ¿Cómo se llama usted?”  Based on the pictures and the combination of adults and children, and who was the one speaking, I’m assuming one is a familiar voice and one is a formal voice.

I’m hoping to sit in on a Spanish 1 class this week to see if I understand anything.  In any rate, I WILL get through Lesson 3 of Unit 2 this week.  That much, I promise.

I started the day today with French Toast casserole — not a new recipe for me but OMG if you like French toast and/or bread pudding THIS IS THE BEST STUFF EVUH.

Here’s the recipe:

Basically, it’s cubed bread, milk, eggs, cin-sugar mix, salt, vanilla extract, and deliciousness.  In 45 minutes or less, it’s one of my favorite ways to start the morning.  With or without maple syrup.  I’ve made mine in a cake pan before (crunchy) or in a bread pan like these (gooey).

Happy baking, happy writing, and happy learning!




project 52: bonus recipe –> spinach quiche

Sometimes we can’t look away because we want to see the train wreck, despite the horror, the carnage, the images from the catastrophe which will be forever burned into our memories.  I get that, I really do, which is why I decided to include this next recipe.

My original resolution was to try at least one new recipe each week.  So far, all of my recipes have been desserts because nearly everyone likes things cooked with mass amounts of sugar and butter.

But during this snow day, after raiding the pantry and both refrigerators, I decided I’d try to bake a quiche.  I’ve never made one at all–the closest I’ve made is a ab-fab French toast casserole which is super-easy and makes the house smell like heaven.  Last week, Stephanie sent me some recipes so I bought two frozen pie crusts (also a first for me), two solid bricks of frozen spinach, and waited it out until the next snow day.

I’ll admit right now–I didn’t follow the recipe.  Since we’re snowed in, I had to work with what we had available, which wasn’t much.  The first major change was the type of cheese–most of the quiche recipes I found called for Swiss, which we never have, so I searched for quiche recipes with spinach and cheddar.  Here’s the one I found:  butter, garlic, onion, mushrooms, feta, cheddar, salt and pepper, eggs, milk, pie crust.

First:  if you plan to use this recipe, realize the measurements are off.  By a lot.  And had I bothered to read the comments left by actual people who’ve tried it before, I would have known this.  I left about 1/4 cup of the egg/milk mixture in the bowl because the pie crust overflowed, and half of the crust edges fell off.  I’m glad I used a cookie sheet under the pan, otherwise I might have caught the oven on fire.  But despite its burnt appearance, it actually tasted pretty good.  The garlic was a little overpowering, so have no fear of being attacked by vampires for at least a full week after consuming the quiche.

Ready for my rendition of the recipe?  Here goes…

  • 3 eggs (adjusted from original)
  • 3/4 cup milk (adjusted from original)
  • 1 1/4 packages of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 stick butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons bacon topping (preferably Hormel)
  • 1 brick of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 4-5 frozen seasoned mini baby baker potatoes, prepared per microwave instructions

Preheat oven to 375.

In the original recipe, the first step is to melt the butter on the stove, then add THREE cloves of garlic and diced onion, and brown them for 7 minutes.  While I love my garlic, three full cloves seemed like a lot.  I cut it down to one, and since we only had minced garlic, the equivalent called for 1 teaspoon.  Next time, if I do this recipe again, I may even cut back to 1/2 teaspoon.  We also didn’t have any onion, so I left this out and didn’t add any substitutes.

After thawing the spinach, I added it to the melted butter and garlic.  Then, I added one full package (8 oz) of cheddar, stirring as I added a little at a time.  The cheese pulled the butter and spinach together into a big lump that I just sort of moved around in the pan.  That’s the beauty of trying new recipes:  everything appears simultaneously correct and incorrect, but you have to follow through to see the finished product.

Even though the original recipe didn’t call for it, I added about 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, knowing that this was an important ingredient in spinach-artichoke dip, and I also added about 2 tablespoons of bacon topping.

The original recipe called for mushrooms, which I don’t like, and we didn’t have in the cabinet anyway, so I pulled about 5 seasoned mini baby baker potatoes and nuked them in the microwave for 6 minutes.  I cut them up into smaller pieces and added them to the spinach.

Add salt and pepper to taste.  I counted “one shake-a, two shake-a” for both.

In a separate bowl, combine the milk and eggs.


The original recipe says to add the spinach mixture into the pie crust, THEN pour over the milk and eggs, making sure it mixes with the spinach.  Part of me said “why not mix the milk and eggs with the spinach BEFORE pouring it into the crust?”  The crust already seemed full with just the spinach and cheese, but like a novice, I began pouring the milk and eggs over the spinach in the crust until I saw that it would be a complete disaster.  Carefully, I scraped the spinach out of the crust, put it back in the pan, added the milk and eggs, and re-poured it back into the crust.  This may also be why the crust fell apart because it had time to thaw.  When I finished, the crust was FULL and quite a bit of it bubbled over while it was cooking.

Per the original recipe, I baked the quiche for 15 minutes, then sprinkled more cheddar on top.  This actually created almost a crust when it was finished.  After adding the cheddar on top, I baked, per the original recipe, for another 35 minutes on the dot.

The crust was a little brown, though I wouldn’t call it burnt.  In all, I thought it was pretty good.  I saved the leftovers since the snow is still relentlessly falling, threatening another day at home tomorrow.  The Child liked the smell of it but when it came to eating it, he preferred his apple sauce and fruity pebbles.

There’s always a critic.

Happy baking!



write or wrong

I had a very important interview after school today:  I applied for the River Bend Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute hosted by USI–5-week program where pre-service teachers, current classroom teachers, and university instructors can sit and share and experiment with reading and writing theory by pursuing topics of their choice.  A writer’s dream, and dream for a teacher of writing.  I spent months preparing my application packet:  a combination of a 1,000-word essay, and samples of lessons and personal writing.  In my essay, I focused primarily on my experiences teaching creative writing, starting with the words I remember sharing with students on the first day of class.  I reflected on how fear–then and now–affects my ability to openly write and share my thoughts with others.  Doubt is a horrible, powerful thing, which begins a seedling and consumes the energy and life force of creativity.

In my current occupation, I am exposed to all kinds of tremendous voices who speak of our 21st century world and the state of education.  One is Sir Ken Robinson–a man whose accent captivates just as much as his message:  education kills creativity.  “Kill” is a pretty strong word, but it often takes strong words to motivate people to take action.  I would like to think that when I taught, I wasn’t one of those teachers, one whose harsh judgment toward mistakes didn’t move students to try harder, but rather pushed them to avoid risk-taking because no answer is better than a wrong one.  Here is a segment from his TED talk:

“All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them.  Pretty ruthlessly….Creativity now is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status….Kids will take a chance, and if they don’t know, they’ll have a go.  They’re not frightened of being wrong.  Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same as being creative.  What we do know is that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.  If you’re not prepared to be wrong.  And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.  They have become frightened of being wrong.  We run our companies this way…we stigmatize mistakes, and we’re now running our national education systems where mistakes are the worst things that you can make.  And the result is we are educating people out of their creative capacities.  Picasso once said this, he said, ‘All children are born artists.’  The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up….I believe that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.  Or, rather, we get educated out of it.”  — Sir Ken Robinson | YouTube link

Maybe this is one of the reasons they say ignorance is bliss.

I think of the times when I confidently, proudly prepared photocopies of my best writing for workshop, only to have them ripped to shreds by my peers and the instructor.  And how much that hurt.  And how I began to question the power and validity of the story which was only mine to tell.

“Here,” I told my creative writing students last year, “we will be constructive and respectful of everyone’s art because it is an extension of himself, and it takes great courage to willingly invite others to judge.”

Maybe that’s why I’ve had the Wicked soundtrack stuck on repeat in my head lately, because somewhere this idea has been percolating, building momentum, waiting for its opportunity to reach others in fiction or nonfiction or art.  Elphaba, a character with whom I feel an incredible connection, says in “Defying Gravity:”

“I’m through accepting limits
”cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know!” | YouTube link

Okay, Elphie–so where can I get some of your confidence, your determination?

project 52: recipe #3 –> mini pineapple upside-down cakes

In my last post, I talked about trying to work my way through a verbal confrontation between a father and daughter character in my latest attempt at a young adult novel.  While I found some time to commit to finally writing it down last night, the scene turned out stale and anti-climactic and not at all what I had hoped it could become.  I’ve spent the last week meticulously working out the details of the scene in my head, (all while strangely battling to remove “For Good” from the Wicked soundtrack from replaying over and over) figuring out what must happen and where the scene must take place in order to give Olivia the opportunity to confront her father.  Working up to a fight scene, even a non-violent one, is tricky, because you want to give the reader the satisfaction of watching the train wreck actually happen without having the two engines putter to a stop before colliding.

Most of the time when I write, I hardly do so chronologically, so in this case, I know where Olivia’s anger must lead her–to the point where she must decide how to betray her family (especially her father) in light of the dark family secret she discovers.  What’s fueled my hesitation, I think, is when I read an article about parents in young adult novels (and I apologize for not crediting whoever sent me the link–feel free to comment that it was you) and how in order to allow the young adult protagonist to steer her own story, parents must step aside, stay out of the picture, even die.  While I see the point and the success rate of stories following this pattern (Harry Potter especially), I also see the value of those stories which reflect on the dynamics of the family structure, and the strengths and weaknesses of each member within this structure.  If anyone can recommend a good YA book to help me with this, chime in.

First, let me say this:  anything that has the words “upside down” in the title should be considered just as difficult as doing anything else upside-down.  Like driving a car.  And you’re probably thinking, “who would want to drive a car upside-down?” and my response would be “my point exactly.”

I debated between two recipes this week:  a mocha something-or-other chocolately dessert with chocolate-covered coffee beans.  Oh, delicious Choxie beans, I have not forgotten you.  But since I made tiramisu recently, I thought I’d try something fruity.

The recipe from the Taste of Home magazine actually showed mini cakes, which is what I prefer, actually.  Most of the time, I share my desserts with co-workers, and I’m not exactly a fan of having to determine what size slices to make, etc.  I’ll also admit that until semi-recently, I didn’t care for pineapple, and the two worst possible flavors anyone could combine was pineapple and coconut.  I am also not a fan of the “If you like piña coladas” song, and I think getting caught in the rain is anything but fun.  Stupid song.

I’ve also been watching a lot of cooking shows lately.  Hubby turns them on and says that I should be watching them–but whether it’s because he thinks I would enjoy them or should watch them to become a better cook, I don’t know.  After watching Paula Deen double-dip her finger in the cake batter repeatedly, he decided I shouldn’t take any pointers from her.  We also found a Worst Cooks in America show, which I think I could do rather well on, if the point of the show is to be showcased as the worst.  We also watched a cupcake challenge show, and I loved how one contestant group piped swirls of chocolate on waxed paper, froze it, and chipped it into pieces to become the centerpieces of each mini-cake.  MUST try.  Apparently, I also must try cooking something other than sweets.  There’s a strong possibility I will cook a quiche either this week or next.

Part of what, for me, determines my willingness to try a recipe is the amount of dishes it requires me to dirty throughout the process.  Is this the case for anyone else, or am I just lazy?  So, in case you’re wondering, for this whole process, it required a large bowl, a smaller bowl, another small bowl, a plate for cutting up the cherries (I suppose I could have bought them already halved), a knife, a strainer, a measuring cup, blender thingies, a spoon, and of course, the pan, itself–so really, this recipe wasn’t all that bad.  The worst part was the baking pan.  I bought a mini-bundt pan around Halloween because one of the recipes I found online showed adorable little pumpkins made from mini-bundts.  The attempt was nearly a total disaster.  Despite greasing the pan, the cake stuck to the pan and nearly ripped every cake to pieces on the way out.  For some reason, I thought this time would be different since it was a different cake mix and a different day.  Also, since the recipe promised a yield of 24 cakes, I had to thoroughly wash the pan twice to get through the whole recipe.  In the end, I placed cupcake liners in a second pan, because I was able to squeeze out nine more cakes than the recipe promised, and while those didn’t have the cute little ridges, the cakes effortlessly came out of the wrappers and I didn’t have to scrub the pan half as much.  But this is a learning experience as much as anything else, and I expect mistakes, many of them, to happen throughout my 52 weeks of recipe bootcamp.

On with the recipe!!

This recipe called for:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup canola oil (I didn’t have any so I used regular vegetable–and I checked online, it’s okay to do that)
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 can of pineapple “tidbits” (and yes, they’re really called this–it’s a cross between the chunks and crushed)
  • halved maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350.

You start by melting the butter in a bowl and adding the brown sugar.  It will create a thick, paste-like consistency, but actually I was a little disappointed that most of the brown sugar stayed behind in the pan or the cupcake liners.  I couldn’t say if this was because there was too much or too little brown sugar–I followed the recipe, as always, so maybe it’s supposed to be like that.

Strain the pineapple tidbits but save the juice.  I strained it directly into the bowl with the cake mix to save a dish.  Put the pineapple tidbits in a separate dish.

I found myself a little hesitant at the next step.  The recipe calls for three eggs to be added to the cake mix, plus 1/3 cup oil.  While this sounds similar to most cake recipes, it isn’t what it said to do on the box.  Still, I followed the recipe and it all turned out fine in the end.  You all know what happened the time I didn’t follow the recipe.  Also add the strained pineapple juice if you haven’t already into the batter.  Mix the batter until fully blended.

Grease the pan or insert cupcake liners.  Now that I’ve cooked the recipe both ways, I see no reason to fight with the bundt cakes since the regular cupcake pans with liners works just as well.

Drop a spoonful of the brown sugar / butter mixture into the center of each cupcake spot.  Press a cherry (sliced side down) into the brown sugar, then arrange pineapple tidbits around the cherry.  The recipe actually said to “arrange” as if it actually mattered which way the pineapples sat in the pan–it’s not that deep.  Just drop a small amount, maybe 5-6 tidbits, into the pan.

Fill the remainder of the cups 3/4 full with the cake batter.  This is also where it got tricky.  By the time I added the brown sugar, cherry, and pineapples, the cups were almost half full already.  What I ended up with was cakes with ridiculous muffin tops–literally–but they still sat relatively upright in the box.  This might be how I ended up with enough leftover batter to do nine extra cakes.

Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes.  Mine were DONE at 17.

The instructions then said to invert immediately and set on wire racks to cool.  When I inverted the pan, nothing happened, so I had to use toothpicks to coax each cake out of its spot.  This is why I recommend using the liners–much less messy.  I burned the tip of my thumb not on the pan but on the cake, itself, when trying to get it out.  For the ones in the cupcake liners, as I was pulling them out by the paper, they literally fell right out of the wrappers.  The image below is from one of those cakes.  An extra nine cakes gave me thirty-three total, in other words one extra to sample before I share with others.  It was magical and delicious, despite the pineapple, but the pineapple juice in the batter was hardly noticeable.  I loved the crunchy brown-sugar on top, though I assume it will be a little more crunchy and a little less gooey when it cools.

Who will try them:  my eLearning colleagues

Their responses:  TBA

Happy baking!