Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dear Anonymous: An Open Letter to a Disgruntled Parent

Thank you for taking the cheeseball way out when sending your "letter" to my husband and ccing his principal.  The good news, for my hard-working, underpaid spouse, is that his principal told him to STOP reading your letter and burn it.  This fine administrator didn't want him to take personally your ridiculous, ill-informed criticisms of his decision-making process for selecting his top group.

Instead, Mr. Music Teacher is keeping your letter.  It's going in a special place in his portfolio - not for sharing with the world your poorly-written, barely-punctuated diatribe, but to remind himself of the day that his administrator had his back 110% percent.

Perhaps your anonymous whine-fest tactic has worked for you before, but not this time.  This principal knows the facts, trusts his staff, and is able to discern in a mature and professional way when he has a problem... and when he doesn't.

You're right; you DO NOT want his job.  You don't want to go to school for 7.5 years, earn two master's degrees, teach for 15 years, and barely crack the $60K per year barrier for the first time in your life in 2015.

In addition, you don't want his job because you have NO IDEA how much he stresses over your children and their friends - you know, the ones who think they know better than a multifaceted scoring system who the top auditioners were.  You have NO IDEA what it's like to solve the logic problem of scores that land in a bell-shaped distribution within each part, trying to weight factors and be fair to the students, the process, and the group.  You have NO IDEA how much he agonized over the people "on the bubble" every night for at least two hours, with all the audition sheets laid out carefully on the floor, looking for the best pathway to the group's composition.  How he has to have balance in strength of voice, not just quality, vocal range, musical skills, and years of experience within and without his program, or how he had to go to tiebreakers such as attendance, grades, and attitude in class.  How he worries that anyone he turns down may just drop their maturity level down a notch or two and say, "I quit!" from his program entirely.  He agonizes over EVERY student he loses. Every. Single. One.

You say that your student friends report there are students who use their cellphones in class when they aren't supposed to, and that others do homework in class when they shouldn't.  If his two classes from which most of the top group is formed have between 55-70 students each in them... do you think YOU could be 100% aware from the front of the classroom for an 80 minute stretch every other day what each and every individual is doing at any time, while teaching and playing piano?  Good luck with that.

Never mind the fact that the program he took over 2.5 years ago was in a shambles and he's increased participation by 50% during that time.  (Did you know that his job depends on having a certain student load and level of participation?  That if he falls short, he can have his position reduced to less than full time?  Do you have that kind of pressure at YOUR JOB?)  If he called out each individual for each transgression every single time, a. they wouldn't want to be in his class any more because "it's not FUN," b. he would never have time to teach the students.  Shouldn't they be able to be self-disciplined and self-regulated?  Should he not trust them?

You said that the students you've spoken to have indicated that they may not try out next year because they think the process "isn't fair."  Well, first of all that would be THEIR LOSS.  Secondly, whether you believe Mr. MT went out of his way to play favorites or not (spoiler alert - he didn't)... LIFE ISN'T FAIR.  So, let those students have their whine fest, deny themselves the opportunity to work with one of the best HS choir directors in the state, and continue in the fallacious notion that this teacher plays favorites.  Attitude is everything.  Perhaps YOU could model that for all the students you know.


The Music Teacher's Wife

Sunday, February 1, 2015

New Recipe, Old Recipes

So food.  Love food.  Love cooking.  Have 4 kids, work just about full time, run 4 days a week, volunteer, everything else.  How in heaven's name do I feed my family?!

Well, it's taken a while (like almost 20 years?!) to hone it.  But over the last several years I've been teaching anyone interested in how to cook for your family practically every night, no matter how busy you are.  And that's something I plan to share here soon.

But for now - I've been cooking a lot this week!  I tried a new recipe that I've been carrying around for at least 10 years, baked a favorite recipe that I got out of USA Weekend Magazine at least a dozen years ago, and tonight I made Chicken Cacciatore the way TMT likes it (instead of the even-easier crockpot one I've been using for a few years).

First, the new recipe!  I got some kind of Betty Crocker recipe pamphlet a million years ago, like before Pinterest became a thing.  Or maybe even before the interwebs.  But I tore the page with this recipe on it out and tossed the rest and saved it, waiting for the chance to try it.  Sure enough, I found it on Betty Crocker's website here.  Wish I'd known, cause I could have tossed the paper recipe ages ago!

Since we live at an altitude of 4,700 feet where it's also dry as a bone, my recipes tend to need more liquid, so keep that in mind when you compare my modifications to the original recipe.

Bistro Lentil Barley Soup
(adapted from Betty Crocker link above)


1     bag (16 ounces) brown lentils, sorted and rinsed  (okay, I never do this - but you can)
2     medium onions, chopped (1 cup) (I use giant sweet onions, so about half of one of those babies makes a cup)
2     medium carrots, diced (1 cup)
1     can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, undrained (I used plain old diced tomatoes, and added garlic powder - cause I'm lazy)
12    oz smoked turkey kielbasa, cut lengthwise into fourths, then sliced
1/3   c uncooked barley
2     cans (14 1/2 oz each) ready-to-serve beef broth
7     cups water
1    15 oz. can tomato sauce
Put the whole shebang in the slow cooker (and use liners - makes cleanup WAY easier), except the tomato sauce.  Cover and cook on Low for 7-8 hours.  I felt like the soup was a little bit watery, so I added the can of tomato sauce.  Add half of it, taste, then add the rest if you'd like.  

Next is the coffeecake!  This is the bomb dot com.  I love it because it's kind of modular - a customizable recipe, if you will.  Our favorite way is with raspberry jam - ideally, homemade jam!  If you have a cheesecake hater like we do, you can leave that part out, no biggie.

Here is the original recipe.  Below is how I make it.

Custom Coffeecake
(adapted from Pam Anderson's recipe in USA Weekend magazine)

Crumble topping:
 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
 6 tablespoons butter, melted but not hot

 1/2 cup of your choice - coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds), old-fashioned oatmeal or sweetened flaked coconut.  I've been known to do nuts AND oatmeal AND coconut, and to go more like 1 c. total of these, combined.

Optional cream cheese filling:
 6 ounces softened cream cheese
 1/3 cup sugar
 1 egg
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Coffeecake batter:
 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
 1/4 teaspoon salt
 5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
 1/2 cup sugar
 1 egg
 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt OR sour cream (fat free okay)

Optional fruit (or chocolate) filling:
 1/2 cup of your choice - raspberry or strawberry jam; peach, cherry, or pineapple preserves; apple butter; orange marmalade or mini chocolate chips

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square metal baking pan with cooking spray. **Fold a 17-inch length of heavy-duty foil to 8 1/2 inches wide and fit in the pan bottom and up 2 sides, so you can use the foil overhang as a handle to pull the baked cake from the pan.** (I do NOT mess with this whole foil sling thing.  Life is waay too short.)

Topping: Use hands to thoroughly mix ingredients in a medium bowl, pressing together to form large clumps; set aside.

Cream cheese filling: Beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer until thoroughly mixed. Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth; set aside.

Cake: Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Beat butter, sugar and egg with an electric mixer set on medium-high until light and fluffy. Beat in half the dry ingredients, then the yogurt. then add the rest of the dry ingredients.  Beat until ingredients are fully incorporated.  Batter will be kind of stiff.

Spread batter evenly over prepared pan (NOTE - it will be a challenge to cover the bottom of the pan entirely - but don't worry, do your best). Spread cream cheese filling over batter. Dollop fruit filling (or sprinkle chocolate chips) over cream cheese filling. Finally, sprinkle evenly with crumble topping.

Bake until batter is fully set and topping is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife around the sides, then use foil handles to pull cake from pan onto the wire rack. Cool to room temperature and serve. Can be covered with foil/plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for one day.  Refrigerate leftovers, if there are any.

LAST ONE - okay, maybe I should break these up into separate entries, eh?!  I do not have any recollection whatsoever of where this recipe came from.  So I'm not trying to plagiarize at all - but I've also changed it over the years, so hopefully it's "original" enough that I don't run afoul of some recipe author out there.

Chicken Cacciatore

1 (3-1/2 to 4 lb) broiler-fryer chicken, cut up
   -can use thighs and breasts; cut breasts into 2 pieces and remove    skin from thighs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1.5 c chopped onions
2 garlic doves, minced (or 1/2 t garlic powder if you're lazy like me)
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 (14-1/2 oz) can cut-up, peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons basil
3 teaspoons crushed oregano
1/4 cup dry white wine (or chicken broth if you don't cook with wine)
1 15 oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained

1. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons flour to coat lightly.
2. In a 5-quart or larger Dutch oven, heat oil. Add chicken thighs ONLY (not breasts) and cook over medium-high heat, turning, until browned on both sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to a plate.
3. In drippings remaining in pan, cook onions and garlic, stirring constantly, until onions are softened and light golden, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, 3 minutes longer. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute longer, until thoroughly blended. Deglaze pan with wine or broth for a minute or two, scraping up browned bits. Stir in tomatoes with their liquid, tomato sauce, oregano and basil. Heat to boiling.
4. Return chicken to pan and spoon sauce over pieces. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat 35 minutes. Stir in beans and simmer over low heat, uncovered, 10 minutes longer.

Now, TMT is into thick.  Thick everything.  Gravy, sauces, etc.  He says he's not, and it's my idea, but I disagree ;)  So, if you like things thick the way we make it at our house - add in some cornstarch mixed with a little water and cook until it thickens up.  About 2T with same amount of water.

Serve over pasta.  Or not!  It's delicious just as is.

I hope you enjoy some of these yummy items when the mood strikes.  I'll add in some pics so you can add a link to your Pinterest page shortly!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why? Because!

I've been threatening to blog for years.  Figuratively!  I wanted to blog about food and how I manage to work nearly full time and still cook from mostly scratch for my family 29 nights a month, or about my running obsession that's developed over the last five years, or any of a number of other topics.

The title of this blog came to me at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, when Mr. MT (music teacher!) started his new job as a high school choir director, after 8 years as choir/orchestra teacher at our kids' middle school.  Over the years, we've had a LOT of crazy, inane, borderline intrusive questions asked of his job, his compensation, his workload (or perceived lack thereof); this new position took the questions to a new level of nutso.  Thus, I determined that it was time to be able to not only write about cooking, food, meal planning, running, kids, and life - but also to be able to vent about the less-than-bright things that people say to my darling Mr. MT.

So, this is just the why.  I'll be posting the push-me-over-the-edge to the blog title story soon enough.  In the meantime, thanks for reading, and whatever you do - always remember that the glass is half full, and enjoy the ride!