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Teaching

All I learned at school was how to bend, not break, the rules

Being an irregular column in the life of an ICT teacher.

So. New term, new school, new kids, new colleagues. Just under a month in post and I had my first complaint.  Well, second.  The first was about the tone of my emails. “Could I not send emails like that to the IT helpdesk?”

You know the conversations. A member of SLT pops into your classroom for “a little chat”. Anyone who’s been involved with management in any shape or form will know the shit sandwich. Praise / problem / praise. And this was a finely crafted example – ensuring I was settling in well, assuring me that good things were being said. But there was just one thing that had been raised.

A fellow staff member (with whom I have presumably interacted in some way) has taken offence at my choice of neckwear. Another man in school has actually gone to the headmistress and put in a formal complaint about my choice of ties. (don’t shoot the messenger!)  I’m not setting the right example.  It’s not smart.

Y’see, for the last 5 years or do I’ve taken great pleasure in wearing an increasingly diverse and fun range of bootlace ties, collecting the neck pieces at steampunk festivals and making them into ties myself. They’re a talking point! A way to spark conversations with students, to begin building those all-important relationships.

But, according to the complainant, it’s not a tie.  And despite what the Wikipedia article on neck ties says, what the OED says, and what the staff uniform policy says (it’s vague to the point where I am clearly and definitely obeying it), it isn’t a tie.  So could I wear a “real” tie.

Now.  Take a look around the staffroom the next time there’s an all-staff meeting.  You’ll see a wide variety of “ties” tied with a wide variety of competence.  You’ll see the tie with a fat knot to conceal the fact that the collar isn’t fastened.  You’ll see what I can only describe as the “letter of the law” or “it’ll do” that, if worn that way by a pupil would cause uniform concerns to be raised.  And you’ll see some very smart, very tidy, ties.  But they will almost certainly be the same knot.  The knot they learned when they were at school.  One that takes seconds to tie and does the job.  If someone’s been to a fancy school, you might catch sight of a Windsor knot.  But that just scrapes the surface of what’s out there…  So I set myself a little challenge.

Every school day I would wear a different knot.  The more outrageous and flamboyant, the better.  “Wear a tie”, you said.  So I am.  The uniform  policy says wear a tie.  It does not say how to tie it.  It also does not say whether it should be tasteful or not…  Game on.

Since that day I’ve done over 50 knots.  I’ve done full Windsors, helix, shuttle, vampire, prince, Edison, aperture…  For the full list, look me up on Twitter – @dogbombs is the username, #TiesForTeacher the hashtag I’ve been using.  I’ve used two YouTube channels primarily for this as their instruction videos are brilliant – Linwood at @WhoSeesThis mirrors his videos to make them easier to follow, Patrick Novotny doesn’t but if you swap “youtube” for “mirrorthevideo” in the url it does it automagically.  And I’m going to continue to do it.  There are more knots out there for me to try, more ties for me to try them on.  My only problem is, as a taller gentleman, I need extra-long ties to be able to tie these things and look good, and for some of them I’d need extra-extra-long ties, which I just can’t find.  So 2020 might just be the year I learn how to make a necktie myself.

Has this improved my teaching ability?  No.  Has it improved my relationships with the kids?  Actually, yes.  Especially in the 6th form.  They spotted that I wasn’t wearing a bootlace the very next lesson and asked why.  So, I told them the story in full.  And the very next day, one of them had a Trinity knot, one was trying the Merovingian…  They’re learning new skills and, in the words of Madness, they’re learning how to bend, not break, the rules.

And, perhaps even more amazingly, I only got 2 ties for Christmas.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out what knot I’m wearing for day 1 back at school tomorrow.  I’m thinking the V-trix

Categories
Bake like you mean it Recipe Shed

Bread, two ways

It has been a while since I posted here, so have a couple of quick and simple bread recipes that I used at the school wellbeing day…

Yeah. Wellbeing day. A whole day off-timetable, no kids, spend the time getting to know your fellow teachers and partaking of some fun activities. First up, laughter yoga. Keep an open mind, the email said, giving nothing away. Now, don’t know about you but I’m old enough and cynical enough that when someone says “Keep an open mind”, my mental blast doors slam closed faster than Han Solo can say “Close the blast doors” and, yeah. Anyway. Moving on.

Next up was my leading a dozen other teachers through making a couple of different breads. The recipes below, in fact. Showed them that making bread is nothing to be scared of, that there’s not a lot of actual hands-on time, and that the whole thing, start to finish, can be done easily in a couple of hours.

Big shared lunch (see cheesecake recipes elsewhere on here for my contribution, 3 of them), and then an afternoon walking around Ferry Meadows in Peterborough. Cold, windy, flat-ish.

Bread, take 1 – Soda Bread

Ingredients…

  • 500g flour – 250g plain white flour, 125g plain wholemeal, 125g of sometbing more interesting – Khorasan, Spelt, Rye, Buckwheat. I find Khorasan works really well.
  • 1tsp salt – I use sea or rock salt here, it ends up migrating into the crust. Gorgeous. If you’ve got smoked or chilli salt, even better.
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda. Clue is in the name.
  • 420ml buttermilk. Or thereabouts. I’ve never got the stuff in the house so, I cheat…
  1. Make the buttermilk. Take 200ml full-fat milk, add roughly 20ml lemon juice (a tablespoon and a bit). Mix. Leave it for 10-15 minutes. Hey presto, buttermilk.
  2. Weigh out your flours, put them in a bowl. Add the salt and soda.
  3. Mix everything together into a wet dough. And it will be a sticky one. So add a bit more plain wholemeal flour and mix a little more. You don’t knead this bread, you don’t want to rile the gluten.
  4. Lightly flour a baking tray and turn your dough out onto it. Shape into a ball.
  5. Grab a dough cutter if you’ve got one and cut your ball into 4 quarters, lightly flouring the cuts. If you’ve not got a cutter, a butterknife should do the job.
  6. Leave the dough to rise a little, 10-15 minutes again (enough time to mark some homework!) and then put your oven on to 200°C.
  7. Bake for ~35 minutes
  8. When the time’s up, test the bread – turn the loaf over and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow and drum-like, you’re golden. Put it on a rack to cool and wait as long as you can be patient before cutting a slice off and slathering it with butter.

Total hands-on time, about 5 minutes. Total time, end-to-end, about an hour.

On wellbeing day, 4 bakers out of the dozen chose to make soda bread, each using a different one of the alternative grains. And we got 4 superb loaves, some of which even made it to the bring-and-share lunch!

Bread, take 2 – Single-rise white loaf

A lot of people think bread is complicated and time-consuming. This recipe proves otherwise. Quality white bread in about an hour and a half.

Ingredients…

  • 500g strong white flour. Best for bread making
  • 1 sachet instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 300ml warm water

We’re going to give this bread every opportunity, every chance, to rise and do well. So, without further ado…

  1. Mix together the warm water, yeast, honey, and oil. Much like the buttermilk-making, if you leave this for 10-15 minutes the yeast will activate, the mixture will froth up, and everything will be ready to rock and roll when you start mixing.
  2. Give the flour 30 seconds in the microwave, heat it up, so the yeast isn’t given a cold shock when it meets the flour.
  3. Now mix everything together and knead it in the bowl until it pulls away from the side. The more you knead, the nicer your bread will be. A good 5 minutes at least. Of course, if you’ve a Kenwood with a dough hook, whack it in there and ignore it for those minutes.
  4. Take your dough and split it roughly 2/3-1/3. We’re going to make a cob. Shape both parts into balls, place the smaller atop the larger, oil two fingers and deeply finger your balls (sorry, Bake Off and Pottery Throwdown both contain these single-entendres).
  5. Leave to rise for about half an hour. Oven to 200°C.
  6. Bake for, again, about 35 minutes and test in a similar way.
  7. This time, you’ll need jam or marmalade, I reckon.

This, too, was successful. None of the bakers wanted to share!

So there you go. Bread. Quick, straightforward, plenty of time to do other things while fresh bread is rising, or cooking and filling the house with a mouth-watering smell of things delicious. If you’ve got faster ways to bake fresh bread from scratch, I want to know.

Categories
Bake like you mean it Recipe Shed Stuff that doesn't fit in another category

Pierogi / Pyrohy / Piroshki or hand pies to that effect

Back at the Warwick Folk Festival again – fantastic music (Man the Lifeboats, Trials of Cato, Banter, Glory Strokes) and amazingly good food. As per my blog post from last year, some of the stand-out food of the weekend came from The Old Granary Pierogi. Just the most wonderful yeasted-pastry pies/pasty things you can imagine. Wonderful fillings, tasty to the end. So this year, getting home, I figured I’d try to make them myself.

Don’t put them too close together!

Turns out that most every country in the Russia/Ukraine/Poland type region has a variation on this dish. Not only that, but it bears a striking resemblance to Chinese steamed dumplings. So pretty much every culture in the world has developed a Cornish pasty-type thing of some kind. Fillings vary, obviously.

Essentially, though, they boil down to 2 things. The dough and the filling. My culinary adviser and Google-fu expert found me half a dozen different dough recipes, I found a few more, and we distilled them down to this, which makes roughly 20 pierogi:

The Dough

  • 2 tsp dried yeast
  • 60ml warm water
  • 2tsp sugar

Put into the bowl of your Kenwood mixer (other stand mixers are available, we’ve got a K to do the heavy kneading work here). Give it a quick stir and leave it for 5 minutes. Then, in another bowl, mix together…

  • 360ml warm milk
  • 50g melted butter
  • 1tsp salt

Add that to the yeast mixture you first thought of, along with

  • 450g / 1lb strong white flour.

First time through I thought I only had plain flour, so used that, and needed another 150g or thereabouts to get the dough to the right consistency.

Stick the bread hook on the Kenwood, turn it on medium, go away and have a cup of tea. Give it at least 10 minutes. It should be pulling away from the sides of the mixer and forming a nice ball. Add more flour if too sticky, more warm water if too dry. It’s a very soft dough you end up with but it’s lovely to work.

Cover the bowl with a cloth, leave it to double in size – about an hour. Plenty of time to make your filling. Always make more filling that you think you’ll need. Easy to store and use later, harder to stop everything and make up another batch!

The Filling

I went for a classic pork/chorizo/pepper pie filling we’ve made before, knowing that the kids will eat it whether this works or not, and that I can always knock up a batch of rough puff pastry and make a real pie should everything go pear-shaped. You’ll need:

  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • Some cloves of garlic (more than 2, less than 10, you know how much garlic you like), finely chopped.
  • 1 chorizo sausage (~250g), finely cubed (there’s a pattern here)
  • Pork loin, 3-4 steaks, finely cubed
  • Oil, salt, pepper, chilli flakes
  • Fresh parsley

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over a medium/low heat and fry the onions slowly for about 10 minutes. Low and slow is the key here. Sprinkle of salt, grate of pepper. While you’re frying the onions, prep the peppers and garlic.

Add the peppers and garlic, mix it all up, give it another 15 minutes. And while this is all frying, prep the pork and chorizo

Add the pork, the chorizo, the chilli flakes (as much or as little as you want heat-wise) and give it about 5 minutes, enough to colour the pork. Take your filling off the heat.

Ah, this stuff smells fantastic. Simple and gorgeous.

Pierogi, Assemble!

And this is where the story really starts…

Roll the dough out into a long sausage, about 5cm diameter. Divide it up into 20 equal pieces. Grab the first one and a rolling pin, roll it out into a disc about 5mm thick, maybe a bit thinner. Whack a tablespoon of the filling into the middle and close it, pinching and twisting like a Cornish pasty. Put in onto a baking try, grab the next one. Roll, fill, place, repeat. Don’t place them too close together, they’re going to rise…

Basic pinch and twist to seal them. And, FYI, these are set way too close together

Let them stand for about half an hour, heat your oven to 180C, bake them for about half an hour.

The challenge then is to let them cool before eating them.

And a final word of advice. Whatever I’ve written for quantities up there? Double them. You’ll thank me.