Finals Week and Chicken Soup

As the semester comes to an end, it can be hard to remember to eat at all, let alone eat healthy. This was true for me when I was a student, and still is true now that I am a teacher. Since women cannot survive on chocolate alone (though we often want to), I believe it is critical to make sure that I do not let the stress get to me.

No matter how chaotic it gets, I need to eat and I need to take time to make sure I don’t burn out. Writing, cooking and taking pictures are often therapeutic for me, so before I dive into the grading this morning, I am taking some time to make food and a blog post.

Friday night, I was too tired to do much cooking, so my husband picked up a rotisserie chicken from a local grocery story, and I boiled some Jasmin rice.  We barely ate half the chicken, so I decided to save to rest for soup.

I started with vegetables:  Half a large onion, a quarter of a bell pepper, one large carrot and one stick of celery. I cut them up and sautéed them with olive oil, thyme and parsley.

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Next, I added the left over Rotisserie Chicken.

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More dedicated and experienced cooks would use the whole thing to make stock, but I have a very limited amount of time allowed for writing and cooking this morning, so I just ripped off some white meat and threw it in the pan. I didn’t use all the leftover meat, so I put it back in the fridge in case my husband (who is a much better cook than me) wants to use it for something.

We did have some jasmine rice left over from Friday, maybe a 1/3 cup, so I added that to the pan next.

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I stirred it, letting it all simmer for a few a minutes, then added a box of organic chicken stock.

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I’ll let it all simmer while I grade. At noon, when I need  a break, I’ll have a bowl of soup, giving my body some veggies, protein and grain to help it power through the next round of papers. I’ll put the left overs in the fridge and take them to work for lunch on Monday and Tuesday, guaranteeing that I will have something healthier than cookies to eat between my classes.

©2016 Sara Codair

Evil English Teacher Alphabet Soup

DSC_0859Evil English Teacher Alphabet Soup

By Sara Codair

Evil English teachers. Grammar Nazis. Every school has them. If you yourself are an teacher, you probably know exactly which of your colleagues cringe at the tiniest of errors, covering their student papers in blood-red ink. Whether you are a teacher or not, it is likely that you encountered one of these people at some point in your life.

This soup was inspired by the teachers who make students so worried about where to put commas that they forget to think, creating essays that are pretty but shallow. This soup is to raise awareness of the teachers who send students away in tears – students who wrote brilliant essays but lost thirty points for misplaced comma’s, improperly conjugated verbs and informal language. This soup like looks like words drowned in red ink. It tastes as beautiful as the writing would have been if that red tide had not drown it before it learned to swim.

Correct grammar is important, but it is not everything. Students who didn’t learn grammar in middle school and students who are not native speakers of English will not master English grammar in one semester. Sure, there may be a handful of students who benefit from the strict, Grammar Nazi style class, but most panic, get too stressed and give up when confronted with that kind of teacher, or they over rely on tutors to help them get through the class while vowing to never speak to that instructor again once the semester is over.

If you worry about grammar on first and second drafts, your ideas won’t be fully developed simply because you cannot devote your full attention to ideas if you are stressing about grammar. Whenever I find myself editing prematurely, I wind up stuck on how to finish a piece or where to take. When I wait until the third or fourth draft, my ideas are fully developed and I can put all my attention to cleaning the piece up and making it beautiful. So why subject students to standards even professional writers cannot hold themselves to? Students don’t have time for the kind of editing we do before publishing something. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach grammar at all. I’m just saying we shouldn’t drown students with it.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oilDSC_0834
  • Half of a large yellow onion or one small onion
  • Half of a large bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)
  • ¼ lb of ground beef (substitute with extra veggies for a vegetarian option)
  • 2 small carrots or one large carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • half a zucchini
  • seven cherry tomatoes (preferably sungolds)
  • a few sprinkles of dried thyme (or fresh equivalent)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (or fresh equivalent)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano (or fresh equivalent)DSC_0847
  • ½ can of tomato paste
  • 1 box chicken broth (use vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
  • ½ cup of alphabet pasta

 

Step 1: Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a medium or large saucepan.

Step 2: Dice the peppers and onions then add them to the pan. Let begin them cook while you defrost the beef in the microwave.

DSC_0837Step 3: Add the beef to the pan, constantly stirring and breaking up as it cooks. I prefer small pieces of meat, so I will keep chopping with a wooden spatula until it is thoroughly broken up.

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Step 4:
Cut up the carrots, celery and zucchini, adding each as it is ready to cut. For this  soup, I like to the leave the carrots round and cut the zucchini into tiny rectangles. Cut and add the tomatoes once all the other vegetables are in.

DSC_0844Step 5: Measure and add Thyme, Basil and Oregano. I used dried this time around, but prefer to use fresh when it is available.

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Step 6: Add the tomato paste, stirring until the meat and vegetables are as coated as possible.    

Step 7: Add the chicken broth, stirring until all the past has dissolved and turned the broth red.

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Step 8: Bring the soup to a boil and add the alphabet pasta. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for at least one hour before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

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If you are a teacher, please use your correcting pen cautiously. Focus on one issue at a time. Give mini lessons on grammar before students do a peer review in class. Don’t spill the soup on your papers.

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The Impatient Writer’s Chicken Soup

The Impatient Writer’s Chicken Soup: Advice on the Writing Process and a Delicious Recipie

By Sara Codair

Soup and writing have a lot in common. One important connection to note is that they both improve when they are allowed to sit and simmer for ample time. If I eat a soup that hasn’t been sitting long enough, the vegetables will be hard and the flavors won’t have had time to fully permeate the broth. If I don’t let a story rest between drafts, my characters won’t mature, my meaning will be shallow and my language will be flawed.

When I first decided to try and publish my writing, I made the mistake of thinking a story was done too soon. I wasn’t sending first drafts out, but I wasn’t letting the stories rest long enough either. I’d finish a draft and jump right into the second and third. I’d think, Well, I can’t think of anything else to change, read it one more time and think I don’t see any grammatical errors. I’d send the draft out to a publication and a few weeks later, get a rejection.

Before submitting it elsewhere, I would revisit the story. The type-o’s and grammatical errors would leap off the page. I’d cringe at excess words and forced dialogue. I’d gape through plot holes and be left with little or no resolution at the end. I’d feel like my insides were twisting around with regrets and what if’s.

Did they stop reading after the third typo-o?

If I had better dialogue and a stronger plot, would this story have gotten accepted?

I observed the same thing hurting my students, though in their case, it was more procrastination than impatience. They wouldn’t leave themselves enough time to let the story rest, so their final drafts of essays would be riddled with grammatical errors and logical flaws that they caught on their own when given the chance to review the essay in class before turning it in.

I am a very impatient person. I like to know what is going to happen next, and when I know something I want is coming, I want it now. I hate waiting. So even after I realized I needed to let my stories rest, I would have a hard time making myself wait, just like I never wanted to wait for my soup to finish cooking.

DSC_0823When it came to soup, I realized that rice was the answer to my impatience. If I used pasta, the pasta would be soft enough to eat fifteen minutes after I added it. However, if I used rice, I had to wait at least an hour after I put the rice in if I didn’t want to be constantly crunching on uncooked rice. I cheated a couple times, but learned my lesson after getting a hard grain stuck between my teeth. Furthermore, I could plan the time I cooked the soup so I wasn’t hungry while I was cooking it. Or I could eat a snack while I was waiting for the broth to boil so I wouldn’t be starving as soon as it was edible. This way, by the time I ate it, the flavors would be fully permeated.

With writing, I use similar strategies. I can send it to a reader who I know will take longer to give me feedback. While I’m waiting, I can work on something else, eventually returning to the story with a fresh eye. I can finish it right before I collect a stack of essays from my students knowing I wont really be able to pay it full attention until I am done.

I can read a good novel as soon as I finish the story. Or better yet, a good series. The best option is starting a new story, getting so immersed in that one that I need to know what happens next so I write it for a few weeks until I finish and then go back to the original story and catch those bland descriptions and comma splices.

If your impatient like me, make sure you find your rice so you can let your story rest before you call it done and send it out. Now, enjoy my recipe for impatient writer chicken soup!

Ingredients:DSC_0805

¼ lb of chicken breast

1 small Yellow onion (or part of a large one)

1/2 a bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)

1 stick celery

DSC_08171 large carrot

1 small potato

five cherry tomatoes (I prefer Sun Gold)

1 Box of chicken broth (or equivalent of homemade stock)

1/3 cup of brown rice

2 Table Spoons of olive oil

1 Teaspoon of Thyme

Directions:

Step 1: Put your chicken in the microwave to defrost.

Step 2: Dice your onions and bell peppers while the chicken thaws.

DSC_0809Step 3: Add olive oil, onions and peppers to the pan.

Step 4: Cut up the chicken into small pieces and add them to the pot.

Step 5: Cut up your other vegetables while the chicken cooks. Add them as they are cut,
starting with the ones that take the longest too soften: carrots, celery, potato, and tomato. Add the teaspoon of thyme once all the veggies are in and stir, cooking until the veggies are tender.DSC_0811

Step 6: Pour the broth in and bring it to a boil.

Step 7: Add the rice and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer for at least one hour. However, the longer you let it cook, the better it is going to taste.

Story Soup

DSC_0025Story Soup

By Sara Codair

At some point during every semester, my students and I write in response to the following prompt: “Writing for is like____.” Lately, mine has begun with the words “writing is like making soup.”

Making soup and writing have a surprising amount in common. When you are first starting out, it is good to follow the recipe exactly, but once you get a feel for which ingredients do what, you can play around with the content and structure. When I first began making Garden Vegetable Soup, I did exactly what the recipe says. The result was edible, but it wasn’t scrumptious. Now, I’ve modified so much that it is not longer recognizable as the recipe I started with from Soup of the Day By Kate McMilliam, and frankly, I like it much better my way. Other people might find her recipe superior if they have different tastes then me, and that’s fine. Food and writing are both subjective.

DSC_0802I use this metaphor when I tell my students why they need textbooks. The books provide recipes for essays. While the students are still developing as writers, they need to follow the recipes to practice engaging introductions, clear thesis statements and easy to follow patterns of organization. Once they get the basics down, they can change up the ingredients and proportions to tailor their essays to fit their specific needs or assignments.

This concept can also work for fiction writing and poetry. You can learn what makes a story by starting with simple plot structures, and start with structured forms of poetry that provide writers with a set number of lines and syllables. Get the hang of choosing words carefully to create form and meaning. Get the gist of taking a character on an adventure that will leave him or her forever changed, and then go back and break all the rules you just learned to write even better stories, better poems, and make better soups.

I hope you enjoy the following recipe for “Story Soup.” Feel free to make adjustments as you see fit to better match your soup preferences.

Ingredients:

2 tbs olive oil

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Fresh veggies from the garden make the best ingredients! Show above are onions, tomatoes, a pepper, a carrot and a potato from last summer.

½ of a Large Sweet Onion or a whole small one.

1/2 Bell Pepper (red, yellow or orange)

1 Large Carrot

1 Stick Celery

1 Potatoes (optional)

Broccoli, Kale or Spinach (optional)

A small summer squash or zucchini

Green beans or snap peas

½ can of corn (or fresh equivalent)

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Zucchini ball, Sungolds and Fresh Basil

A handful of sung gold tomatoes

Two large heirloom tomatoes

Your choice of rice of pasta

Thyme

Basil

Salt

Step 1: Pour the olive oil into a large saucepan.

Step 2: Dice the Pepper and Onion, then add to the olive oil. Simmer over medium heat.

Step 3: Cut up the carrots, celery, squash, and beans while the peppers and onions cook. Add potatoes and/or broccoli for a heartier version. Once the onions are translucent, you may begin to add these vegetables.

DSC_0023Step 4: Coat the vegetables with approximately one teaspoon of Thyme and Basil. If you used larger veggies, you might want to add a little more. Allow the vegetables to cook until they become tender. The carrots and celery take longer than the other veggies, so I suggest chopping and adding those first.

 

 

Step 5: Cut up the Sungolds. Add those and the corn at the same time.

Step 6: While the veggies continue to cook, put the tomatoes into a food processor and puree them. If you prefer chunkier soup, you may dice them instead. Add them to the pot when they are ready.

Step 7: Allow the vegetables and tomatoes to simmer for approximately ten minutes then add one box of vegetable stock or the equivalent of homemade stock. I usually use Pacific Organic.

Step 8: Bring to a boil then add your choice of rice or pasta. Reduce heat immediately.

10387482_10100848224872845_6442805933888519589_nStep 9: Allow it all to simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally. The longer you let it cook, the better its tastes. I am often hungry and impatient, so I eat a bowl after an hour but let it cook for two or three more. The next day, when I have seconds, the taste has significantly improved.

Step 10: Put whatever soup is left in the fridge when you are done cooking it.