No zeroes?

So, a teacher at my old high school got suspended for handing out zeroes in his class.

Maybe he was obnoxious about it (the school board cites his “defiance”), but I definitely agree with how he has dealt with his classroom. It makes sense, and it’s fair: students who fail to submit their assignments get a zero; students are allowed to hand in their assignments by the end of term with no penalties.

I can see how confidence needs to be built in elementary grades by emphasizing work rather than grades. I don’t mind the idea of not grading elementary level students at all, actually. But at the high school level, these are young adults. Self esteem needs to be built on taking on responsibility and mastery of subjects, which is what young adults naturally seek at that age. This teacher seems to be striking a good balance: he shows the students the consequences BEFORE he assigns them a zero, then he gives them a chance to make it up.

In a my classroom, I tell them what the deadlines are, and to stick to them. But I also tell them that we are all adults: if there are extenuating circumstances, they need to tell me. I would rather have a slightly late assignment than an assignment that didn’t fulfil its pedagogical goal. And I certainly would prefer reading an assignment that is written well than one that is rushed and terrible! As workers, we are all sometimes required to hand in work late. That’s life. But as adults, we need to let people know when that will happen in advance, and why. Negotiating timelines is part of the work world.

That’s precisely what this teacher has done. He has given his students an opportunity to learn how to deal with a client, boss, or teacher– not as an arbitrary disciplinarian, but as a colleague. It’s admirable, actually. I can’t believe how many students are unable to talk to their teacher. And I’ve had students come to me to ask for their grades to be bumped up. They come to me in tears, but without any reason why I would help them. I tell them that a negotiation means they come in with reasons and evidence. If they can’t give me any, then they get what they get. It seems to surprise them, but it’s true: I’m fallible, so if I have missed something on their assignments, then I would be open to raising their mark if they can point out where I’m wrong.

But failing to hand in an assignment at all, after all of that? A zero seems more than fair.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tilapia with cilantro pesto

This is actually something that Aaron improvised once, to amazing effect.

Tilapia is a very affordable (and usually sustainable) fish. I managed to find some filets for cheap at T&T, so I let Aaron make this simple recipe again. It’s so delicious!

He puts the leaves and stems of cilantro and parsley in the blender with a little salt and pepper, olive oil, lemon, garlic, and chili pepper. Blender it up, paste it on the fish, and steam/pan fry. That’s it! This time we had it with some roasted peppers and potatoes for a very healthy, extremely flavourful, quick dinner. There are still a couple tilapia filets in the freezer, too. Do it!

Posted in dinner project | Leave a comment

White supremacists: the pride parade no one wants

(except those neo-Nazi dudes, I suppose.)

In the wake of the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, today’s alleged Blood and Honour rally downtown, and Trayvon, I need to get get a few things off my chest.

First of all, I know you are “not a racist”. You keep saying so. That’s great! However, I tell you, it’s not enough. You need to be ANTI-racist. You need to do, say, and act in ways that show that you don’t passively accept our society’s greatest ill. You don’t have to be aggressive or confrontational; far from it. In my experience, a light touch can lead to some great conversations and a little enlightenment. Being a jerk about it shuts things down and makes closet racists even more so. Try to be gentle. A simple, “I don’t agree with that,” or “What do you mean?” will usually do. Continue with that conversation, even if it weirds you out. Believe me, it weirds ME out. But the outcome is usually good.

Let me tell you a story. An organization I used to work for had an employee who would often say problematic things. Terrible things. Once, in a meeting with one of our business leaders (she was in SALES!) she said, “Could you do something about the African guys who hang out on the sidewalk? They scare me.” My jaw dropped. But the fellow we were having our meeting with had a perfect response. He, an older German-Canadian man, said: “They are just socializing. If they’re doing anything criminal, you can call the police. But when an immigrant comes to Canada, he usually likes to find other immigrants to socialize with. It was the same when my family came to Canada from Germany. People weren’t very friendly, so we socialized with other Germans.” Gentle, factual, and firm.

Another thing: I’ve head a couple of times today, “why isn’t it OK to feel proud to be white?” Here’s my answer. There’s a Black History Month and an Asian Heritage Month. The history of minorities in Canada have until quite recently, been hidden or marginalized. This is a way to show their contributions to our society, plus there is an explicit invitation to those not sharing that particular background to join in and learn. Now, I would definitely argue that there ARE opportunities for white people to show pride in their background. It’s just so ingrained that you don’t even notice it! We just had St Patrick’s Day, for example. The Germans have Oktoberfest! And our Scandinavian history is acknowledged every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Feel free to bring me a lefse and acquavit on any of those days. If you are a white person and don’t feel enough reasons to celebrate your background, you are not trying hard enough, or you are taking it for granted.

But I don’t think that’s enough for the white supremacists. I think they mean me, and other people of colour AND those of you who aren’t racist, some harm. That’s the problem. You don’t get success from dragging other people down, but that’s exactly what they think is going on. Multiculturalism isn’t a zero-sum game; we all benefit in the many cultures, traditions, and languages that we bring to our society.

So please, let’s all work together to show the neo-Nazis that there are better ways to express themselves, and that we do not approve of their methods. We are the majority, we are nice but we would very much like to not have the crap beaten out of us, thanks!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dinner Project: Okonomiyaki

Lots of people who go to Japan invariably come home raving about okonomiyaki, a popular comfort food that is more or less a cabbage pancake. I don’t know if it’s a regional thing, but we never really had it at home. I only remember having it once, actually, and never again. Not really a Sasano thing, I guess.

That’s no reason to try making it at home now. I’m an adult!

I modified a recipe I found on Okonomiyaki World. Since I didn’t have okonomiyaki flour, I used  a cup of regular whole wheat flour and 2/3 cup of water as the base. Traditional recipes seem to call for a little grated yamaimo, which I imagine would improve the texture, but I forgot to get some. Next time. Then I added about 4 cups of shredded cabbage and some chopped green onion and two beaten eggs. This is enough to make two pancakes about a foot across. As the first side was frying, I topped it with slices of veggie bacon for health. In hindsight, I should’ve used regular bacon but less of it. Veggie bacon burns too easily.

After the first side was done, I flipped them over and flipped it over again when the bacon cooked burned. Then I plated them, poured a bit of okonomikayi sauce (Bulldog sauce would probably be fine) and Kewpie mayonnaise. A little sprinkle of katuobushi finished it off. I couldn’t find aonori at T&T, but it sure would’ve been nice.

It’s very simple to make, and quite tasty. Tastier than a cabbage pancake might sound! And if you think about it, it’s a fairly healthy meal. Now when your JET alumni friends start reminiscing, you can shut them up by whipping some up right before their eyes!

Posted in dinner project | 1 Comment

Dinner project: miso soup

Oh my god! I forgot to tell you how to make miso soup. It is so easy.

You can get miso pretty much anywhere now, so you need to choose what kind. White miso is milder and sweeter, red miso is sharper. Your call. I like white miso.

You heat as much water as you want soup. Then you dissolve some miso into the water (my dad says never let it actually boil). I scoop a little into a ladle and swish it with water until it’s all dissolved. I estimate about 1/4 cup of miso per 4 cups water or so, but if you’re not sure just do a little at a time until it tastes right. If you want to be really authentic, you can throw in a little dashi, which adds a little more depth to the flavour. You can buy instant dashi at T&T. Just a teaspoonful is enough for a 4 bowl portion.

You can add cubed soft tofu, green onions, sliced vegetables, wakame or whatever. I’ve heard of people putting in bacon, even. Weird. I usually have some dried wakame in the pantry. You should too! Again, hooray for T&T.

That’s it! It’s no mystery, and it’s pretty healthy for you. Now you go!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Natto oatmeal

As far as Japanese food characteristics, umami gets all the glory.  But nothing says delicious like the distinctive slimy texture of a lot of my favourite traditional foods: tororo and natto, specifically. Much has been made of the legendary stickiness of natto– it’s eaten more as a dare by non-Japanese people than actual enjoyment. Whatever. It’s not even an acquired taste; you either like it or you don’t. It’s the durian of Japanese food. But growing up, it was a very rare treat. Luckily, it has become much easier to get in Edmonton, thanks to T&T Supermarket. I get a bunch and keep it in the freezer.

Anyhow, lately we have been trying to eat healthier : Aaron has been diagnosed with high cholesterol AND borderline Type 2 diabetes! Steel-cut oats is on the menu for most breakfasts these days for its cholesterol-fighting powers, as is barley. I keep a big tupperware of cooked oatmeal in the fridge to make this easier. So one morning in a moment of great hunger and laziness, I decided to try and combine two very healthy and already-made foods. I made the natto in the usual way, with the provided sauce and mustard, a splash of soy sauce, and a raw egg. Poured it over a bowlful of reheated oatmeal. Guess what? IT’S DELICIOUS! Mind. Blown.

The sliminess of the natto combines with the sliminess of the oatmeal, plus the nutty taste of the Scottish staple matches really well with the savoury natto. I know that most of you find the idea disgusting, but for those of you who are natto fans, you really should try this for breakfast sometime.

Posted in dinner project | Leave a comment

Dinner project: Sukiyaki

It’s getting colder now, so it’s time to start making hot pots! One of my favourites is sukiyaki, a hearty salty-sweet meal that’s homey and comforting. My mom gave me a nice clay hot pot a few years ago, but you can use a wok or maybe a sauce pan or something. My mom does it properly and cooks it at the table on a portable burner, but I usually just make it on the stove.

The meat in sukiyaki is a thinly-sliced beef. I like to put in some hakusai (napa cabbage), shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms (so good!), firm tofu, konnyaku noodles, and green onion. All ingredients (except the beef) should be cut into bite-sized pieces. T&T makes all the ingredients very easy to get, which wasn’t the case when I was growing up. Instead of konnyaku noodles, we had to use rice vermicelli, which is just not the same. And forget about getting enoki mushrooms! We are so very lucky these days.

I start by cooking the hakusai in a soup made of about a cup of water (use the mushroom water if you are using dried shiitake), a half cup of soy sauce, a tablespoon of sugar, and a quarter cup of mirin. This is all approximate, of course. Adjust to taste. I don’t like mine too sweet. Add the other ingredients. If you are cooking at the table, you can save the meat for last and cook it to your desired done-ness, shabu-shabu style. I usually just chuck it in at the last minute so I can get it all medium-rare.

All the flavours get rich and delicious. Serve with hot, fresh Japanese rice. Traditionally, you dish out each portion into a bowl of beaten raw egg, which gives everything an added creaminess. However, if you are weird about raw eggs, I understand. Your call. I’ve been eating raw eggs all my life and never had a problem. Either way: so delicious! I’m ready for winter!

Posted in dinner project | Leave a comment

Buttermilk biscuits

Last weekend I made The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever. It involved buttermilk, which only comes in half-litres. I’m a bit lactose-intolerant, so I rarely have or use regular milk, much less buttermilk. But I spotted it in the fridge this morning and didn’t have the heart to just pour it down the sink. But what could I make with it? Something not cake– it was, as promised, a very good cake, but there are only two of us and it took us nearly a week to eat it all. It doesn’t fit in with the long-term plan of being able to fit into my pants. I’ve gained a little weight over the past year, but I’d rather not go out and buy new pants if I can just exercise a little and use the old ones.

Anyhow, pancakes? Nope. I used all the eggs last week and forgot to get new ones. But biscuits are a nice breakfast that don’t require eggs. Buttermilk biscuits! I cracked the ol’ Joy of Cooking to get a basic recipe. It’s really fast and easy.

A cup and 3/4 of flour, a teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons of baking powder and a half a teaspoon of baking soda are mixed together, then about a quarter cup of cold butter is cut into it, pastry-style (I should’ve used the food processor!). Then a cup of buttermilk is mixed in, then the dough is turned out and very briefly kneaded. Roll it out, cut into circles and bake in a 450F oven for 10 minutes.

Fresh out of the oven, biscuits are sooo good. I served mine with jam and a glass of soy milk. Haha!

Posted in dinner project | Leave a comment

Dinner Project: Falafel

Some of us around here are donair addicts. It’s terrible, because we live not even a block away from a donair place. Some days, there’s nothing like a donair that fills your stomach like a sack of cement, sopping with sweet sauce of course.

After a whole year of last-minute donair meal plans, I had to stop. I need to take a break. So now I do falafels instead. It’s light(er), and possibly vegan (if you do tahini instead of tzaziki). And here’s the thing: you can make it at home!

A quick wander through the new neighbourhood Superstore yesterday led me to find not only a falafel mix, but organic falafel mix. An hour and a half later (what? I wanted to check out the new Joe Fresh stuff.) I had the makings of a pretty nice, inexpensive, more-or-less healthy dinner.

I just followed the instructions on the box: mix appropriate amounts of falafel mix with the corresponding quantity of water, let it sit 10 minutes. The form into little patties and fry in oil. Easy. I stuffed some whole grain pitas with about three falafel patties, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, and a schmear of tahini. Delicious! And it took something like 15 minutes to make. Mmm. I bet I have enough for another round tonight…

Posted in dinner project | Leave a comment

Project Nim

The EIFF had a fundraising preview screening of Project Nim last night, so my friend Alexis and I went to see it.

It’s basically the story of Nim Chimpsky, a baby chimpanzee who was raised by humans as a language experiment. It’s heartbreaking: he is taken away from his mother at two weeks, then moves from home to home until basically no one wants him anymore. The scientist who headed the study, Herb Torrance, has questionable methods and motives, and most of his teachers eventually leave the experiment due to Nim’s increased aggression. Nim’s story is told through archival material, interviews, and re-enactments. The filmmakers didn’t want to perpetuate the exploitation of apes by hiring an animal performer, so in the re-enactments, they use animatronics, puppetry, and a human actor.

I’ve always had an interest in primatology, and the more I learned about it, the more troubled the field seemed to me (at least in the early years). The practice of it is weirdly gendered (“Leakey’s Angels”, anyone?) and it’s weighted down with a lot of cultural baggage in terms of a Western attitude about animals. It’s almost racialized– in fact, the paternalistic attitudes towards primates have eerie echoes in the way that aboriginal people are often treated. When Nim was first taken away from his family, I thought about residential schools. I’m actually surprised at how the researchers went about their study: after all, language can’t really be isolated from culture, and it could definitely be argued that chimps have culture. The research takes no account of the way chimps might perceive the world in the first place.

What is striking is that, though Nim doesn’t speak at all, the interviews with those who were close to him reveal that Nim had a great observational power, and that he probably understood more than he was able to express with his limited vocabulary of signs. He seemed to sense that his first human “family” was fraught and tense: a blended family including a patriarch whose supremacy was being challenged by a wife who made unilateral decisions, including the one that brought Nim under their roof. He understood the relationships between his caregivers, manipulating them to get out of situations he found uncomfortable.

Never once does anyone consider that a human house might be the opposite of a good environment for a chimp. Why do they not move humans into a chimp’s natural habitat instead? It’s horrible what they put him through. It really makes you think about those who are vulnerable to the whims of dominant society: children, the poor, the uneducated, animals, and even threatened natural spaces. As their protectors, don’t we have some responsibility towards their welfare?

Nim’s story is hard to watch, but everyone should see it.

Posted in I went to it! | Leave a comment