COVID-19 and Education

Being in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis is by far the craziest situation I have ever lived through. This is probably true for most of us. The implications for education are potentially endless! A good friend and colleague said that this situation is “magnifying or amplifying” everything that we collectively struggle with in schools. And it is. Students are not engaged. This is because they don’t have to be. They are not sitting at desks, in rows, and forced to stare forward. In some cases students are home alone, they don’t have access consistent food, to technology, and the Internet. Students can keep their phones out, they can open tabs, they can sleep, text a friend…the system is no longer able to control them!

When we are more worried about more test scores, grades, and “falling behind” than about the health, safety, and security of our students then we have truly missed the point what we can learn from all of this.

What if we use this crisis to spur real change in education to reexamine the fundamental purpose of education itself? What questions should we ask? Who should we ask? What if we designed our system to support students’ social emotional needs as the main component of what we do? I start wondering: What would be a more valuable course right now? Would it be “Shakespeare’s Life and Work” or something like “Public Health and Awareness“, “Algebra” or “The Science of Well-being“? What if graduation requirements became centered around gaining real-life skills and functional knowledge revolving around mental health and well-being, equity, justice, public health, digital literacy, political discourse, and financial literacy instead of what we have been doing since before anyone reading this was in school.

What do you think?

The Importance of Empathy

Relationships are the key to creating a safe and optimal learning environments. But, this idea about relationships extends beyond the classroom. It is pervasive in all aspects of our lives. How do we create and maintain relationships? I love the work that Jayson Gaddis is doing to address the concern that relationships are a learned process. We are not born with all the skills needed to maintain proper relationships with our self and others. We all need help in this area.

I believe that the skill most needed to help with this problem is empathy. Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Author and researcher, Brené Brown describes the differences between the two. She states that: sympathy drives disconnection, whereas, empathy drive connection.

Why is empathy important? My belief is that love is fueled by our ability to truly and deeply connect with other people. When we give another person space to be seen and heard as they are and for who they are, then we are showing that person love. Giving another human uninterrupted, focused, and devoted attention is a hard thing to do.

Empathy is the key to maintaining human connection. I am not sure if empathy is something we are born with, but I do believe that we can learn, with practice and awareness, to be more empathetic, understanding, and connected.

In my next post I will share an activity that I do with students to bring awareness to listening and attention.

Iraqi Youth Leadership Exchange Program #IYLEP19

For two weeks this summer, I was the Program Coordinator for a summer program called the Iraqi Young Leadership Exchange Program (IYLEP).  This is the second year I have been in this role and I have been very fortunate to be able to be a part of this program. IYLEP is a program that brings a group of Iraqi students to the US for 4 weeks. The first week is in Vermont, then the next two are in one of four host cities, and then the students travel to Washington DC for the last week. 

Iraqi teens choose to apply to be part of this program. From what the students have shared with me, it’s a highly selective process, and a spot in the program is very sought after. I wanted to share a few things that have really impressed me about these students(and families) that I have worked with over the last two years. 

First, as a parent, it’s difficult for me to wrap my brain around how hard it must be to send your child to another country, let alone a country that has been at the center of so much controversy, tension and, simply put, war. I really don’t know how I would react if my teenage child approached me to ask to travel to Iraq. The courage they need to have to travel from their home in Iraq, to the US, for four weeks is no small thing . The  students arrive here with an open-mind and an accepting nature of the kids.  They stay with host families for two weeks, and with that comes getting used to a new home, new people, new foods, new routines, a language barrier (a few students shared that their primary English teacher was YouTube). Having New York as a destination brings excitement, until they realize that Rochester, New York and New York City are two very different things and that the famous NYC from movies and television is unreachable for a quick day trip.

As our busy two weeks began, I especially enjoyed observing how quickly the US and Iraqi students bonded and came together as a group. This is something we work on and teach, but the cool part is how this happens genuinely and organically. There is a real sense of connection, love, and caring for each other that occurs during our two weeks together.

During our time together, we covered a lot of ground through the city and beyond, to immerse ourselves in a variety of different cultural and skill building experiences.

We ended our time together with a day trip to Niagara Falls and an exposition where we shared our experiences and learning with the community.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity, to work with and to get to know the students who have been a part of this program. I applaud their bravery, and willingness to travel so many miles to learn, grow and share their culture and perspective. I can only speak for myself, but I know that I am forever changed by this experience and I hope that it has left a similar mark on each of the individuals who were able to be a part of this unique program.

Relationships and Learning

Many schools have committees titled something like “Teaching and Learning” where teachers come together to discuss how to improve teaching. What if, instead, schools organized a committee called “relationships and learning”? What if this committee included students?

Changing the role to being the developers of relationships and the name “teacher” to “mentor” or “guide” really alters how we view the role of the teacher, and the focus of what is happening in a classroom. It shifts from teacher-centered to learning-centered.

Our job as teachers isn’t to teach content, it’s to teach children first and foremost!

Rebranding of this site

Hi.

I wanted to share that I am expanding my blog from being solely “Food is Love” oriented and spread it out into other topics that are important to me. I started to do this when I shared a transcribed version of a speech I gave called The Choice to Be Happy. The topic of education reform is very dear to me, you could call it a passion and I am excited to dig more into that topic and more!

I am excited about the future of this space!

Best, Tony

The Choice to Be Happy

The name of this blog is “Food is Love”.  The act of cooking and preparing food is how I show love for myself and others.  It is something that makes me happy and an integral part of my self-care practice.  I believe that happiness is a daily practice and I was recently asked to speak to the class of 2019 graduating seniors at Allendale Columbia.  I thought that the topic of happiness was the most worthwhile topic I could speak about. While the speech does not touch on “food”, per se, I wanted to share it here on my blog.  Below is a general outline of what I spoke about.

I started the speech by sharing an exercise I did with the same seniors in an earlier survey. I had asked them the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked them to respond the question from the perspective of how they answered as little children, and how they would answer it NOW, as a graduating senior.  The answers were varied and super interesting.

Some 5 year old examples; a police officer, a Rock Star, Astronaut, lots of budding veterinarians at age 5, my grandma or a singer, a ballerina because of dance moms.

As seniors, there were some noticeable differences, the responses now sound like; a lawyer, rich, I want to be a filmmaker, detective or something with law, a museum curator, accountant, teacher, writer, a few “not sures” and one “I don’t want to grow up”.

This all led me to the first line of the United States Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The United States Declaration of Independence

This is arguably the most important text in all of American history. When you hear those words, what sticks out to you, what word doesn’t seem to belong?

To me, the word that almost seems to be an accident is the word “happiness”. It’s also the thing “we” as a culture and society seem to avoid talking about overtly. That concerns me. Why did our founding fathers include happiness? What did they mean?

I did some research, it doesn’t mean to chase happiness, to go seek it, to go after it. That’s not at all what the founding fathers meant. According to historian, Arthur Schlesinger, in his essay titled “The Lost Meaning of “The Pursuit of Happiness” written 1964, he said

“that at the time of the Declaration’s composition, “the pursuit of happiness” did not mean chasing or seeking it, but actually practicing happiness, the experience of happiness — not just chasing it but actually catching it”

So, the next question is how do you practice or experience happiness? I would like to present all of you with this core belief I have. That happiness is a choice. We have control of our own happiness. Happiness is not a destination, it’s not “when I get this, or when I get that I will be happy.” or “I will be happy if or I will be happy when”…fill in the blank.

Happiness is not conditional.

Happiness is something we need to consciously choose each and every day. And, I have a few suggestions and tips.

Tip 1:

Find some humans, a smallish group, and make an effort to deeply connect with them. Harvard is currently running the longest longitudinal study on happiness. The most significant finding in this study that started in 1938 is that deep meaningful connections, relationships, had the most impact on not just overall happiness but also with mental and physical health and life expectancy.

This is also a time when you need to leverage your power to connect when you see a friend who is pushing away or angry. It’s not a time to disengage, but a time to reach out, to lean in and be curious. Be with them, don’t attempt to fix them or whatever is going on. Just be there. Reach out and let them know you are there.

Tip 2:

Set boundaries. What does this mean? Simply put it means you decide what’s ok and not ok and that’s ok! Boundaries protect you! Boundaries keep you safe!

  • Learn to say NO, and to put your feelings first. Someone else’s feelings are not more important or valid than yours!

Tip 3:

I believe we need to rethink a few words that we say to ourselves and to others and I have some replacements to use instead.

  • Always   – Never
    • They are absolutes and nothing is ever an absolute.
    • Replace those words with “sometimes” or “most of the time”
  • Should
    • The word should feels so heavy. I should, you should. It feels judgy, and almost shame filled. Do your best to replace “should” with, “I must” or “get to” depending on the context. The words “could” or “would” also work well.
  • Sorry
    • We are a culture that over apologizes for everything. I walk around Wegmans and people are apologizing for shopping. Replace sorry with “thank you” or “excuse me”.
    • So, if you are late for something, instead of saying “sorry”, thank them for their patience. (Thank you)
    • At Wegmans, instead of apologizing that you need them to move, so you can reach the eggs, say “excuse me”. (Excuse me)
    • And, when you do actually get the opportunity to really and truly apologize, do it right. A real apology isn’t followed by the word “but” Just own it! A real apology is more than words, it’s changed behavior.

Tip 4:

Prioritize a self care practice of some kind. Unselfishly address your own needs as a priority. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others.

  • Airplane analogy – you know when the flight attendant says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before someone else? That’s so you can better assist others. That is a great metaphor for life.
  • Be ok with NOT being ok. It’s expected, you are human. Think of distress as an opportunity to learn. Pain and discomfort are information. Ask yourself why is this bothering me?
  • Sometimes self care is caring for others. It’s also ok if other people are not ok. It’s not your job to fix everything for everyone all the time. And, you actually can’t fix someone else’s problem.
    • Find ways to see someone else’s distress as an opportunity to connect (See Tip 1).

When I was little I wanted to be Luke Skywalker when I grew up. As a graduating senior, I decided I wanted to be a stockbroker when I grew up. That didn’t work out so well for me. I left high school with two thoughts in my head, to play lacrosse and be a stockbroker. That turned out to be a catastrophic failure. After essentially failing out of school in two years with a fantastic GPA of 1.3, (I did score quite a few goals) I decided it was time to restart. In that restart, I worked full time in my uncles pizza shop and went to school full time. The decision to follow up on what I really enjoyed led me to being a teacher. I didn’t fully understand it all in that moment, why teaching was the path I chose. It felt me more like me, more tangible. In retrospect, it feels a lot more like Luke Skywalker. Someone who cares about and helps others.

So, back to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, there was one student response that I really hope can apply to all of us, and that is “ When I grow up, I want to be happy!”

The list of tips and suggestions that I shared with you earlier, those things are not a silver bullet or panacea or a linear path to happiness. They are suggestions, and they may not work for you the way they have worked for me or for someone else.

When I think about the core intention to include the word happiness in the Declaration of Independence, the practice of happiness sticks out to me. I think we take the word practice word for granted. To me practicing anything, means it takes time to master. Think about the last time you learned something new, or when you first learned how to read, or ride a bike. I am sure for most of us, those things didn’t just happen, it took practice. Practice includes, failure, stress, frustration, WORK, growth, and ultimately success. What works for you may not work for everyone, and finding your own unique path, skills, and strategies, is all part of the practice. The first task is to set your intention to be happy in the first place.

The last question I have, if you believe that happiness is a choice, what are you waiting for?

Congrats to the all of the graduating seniors to 2019!!

Schlesinger, Arthur M. “The Lost Meaning of ‘The Pursuit of Happiness.’” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, 1964, pp. 326–327. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1918449.

P.S – And, for an added bonus, I received an awesome hat for speaking!

Baked Cast Iron Skillet Frittata

I love breakfast food. I love cooking breakfast food. I had my first frittata years ago at Jine’s Restaurant on Park Avenue in Rochester, NY and I have been obsessed with creating my own variations ever since. I would like to think that a few of my creations measure up to what I enjoyed all those years ago.

I decided to look up the definition of “frittata” as part of my research and here is what I found:

~Frittatas are cooked in a cast iron pan or oven-safe skillet because they are started on the stovetop and then finished in the oven. And, unlike omelets, frittata fillings are mixed in with the eggs in the pan rather than folded in the center. Large frittatas are cut in slices and served.

Kelli Foster Kitchn

~an Italian dish made with fried beaten eggs, resembling a Spanish omelet.

Google

I breathed a huge sigh of relief that my cooking method fit the definition! Ha!

I have tinkered with this for years and I have finally found a method that works for me every time.

First, I put my cast iron skillet in the oven and heat it up to 380 degrees. While that is warming up, I do my prep work of chopping up and sauteeing all of the veggies before I put anything in the skillet. I use different vegetables depending on the season, and what is in my fridge. I almost always use a potato. I cut up the potato into small cubes, and then place in a microwave safe bowl with enough water to cover the potatoes. I cook them for about 4 minutes on high and then drain the water. Before transferring them to a frying pan, I usually lay them out on paper towels to absorb as much of the excess water as possible. I saute the veggies in a frying pan and do not use the cast iron skillet, which is still warming in the oven, ready to cook the entire frittata.

When all of the vegetables have been cooked, I set them aside on a paper towel for a few minutes to drain off some of the oil/grease.

The next step is to prep the eggs. The number of eggs depends on the number of people  I am serving. For two hungry people, I will use 4 to 5 eggs.

I usually add some milk fat (half & half, sour cream) to the eggs, and when I did some research to find out if there was any science behind that idea, I was left with nothing that definitively proved it helped with texture or taste. I found more articles and opinions that said to NOT add any additional moisture, at all.

I beat the eggs super well and add salt and pepper. After the eggs are whipped up, I then add the vegetables to the egg mixture. I don’t normally beat or mix this mixture. I just put it all in the same bowl.

Right after I add it all to the bowl, I get the hot skillet out of the oven and spray it with cooking spray. My skillet is really well seasoned (I probably don’t need to do this, but I have NEVER had anything stick when I add this step). I then dump the entire egg/veggie mixture into the hot skillet and use a wooden spoon to make sure everything spreads out somewhat evenly. Then, I put it all in the oven. I check it after about 5 to 10 minutes. Once the top feels somewhat firm, I will add some cheese. I check back in about 5 minutes or so to make sure the cheese is melting. Once it all looks melty and delicious I take it out of the oven and slide it out of the pan onto a large wooden cutting board.

I let it rest for a few minutes and then use a pizza cutter to slice it into pieces.

Mangia!!!

Ingredients: This will all vary based on what I have in the fridge and the time of year.

  • 4 – 5 cage free organic eggs
  • Sausage or bacon
  • ¼ of a medium onion – chopped
  • Grape tomatoes halved
  • Mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 medium-sized russet potato – cubed and microwaved (see directions above)
  • Baby spinach
  • Broccoli

Super Thick Pork Chops!

Being able to explore and find different places to buy and eat amazing foods is something I love to do. One of those places is McCann’s Local Meats in the Southwedge, in Rochester, NY. I can’t say enough good things about this place. Not only do they sell some amazing locally-raised meats and butcher everything in-house, but they also have an amazing cafe! I have eaten at the cafe a number of times and it is always AWESOME!

I decided to try some of their thick-cut pork chops. I had never cooked a thick-cut pork chop before. My experience cooking pork chops in the past has always left me wondering why they are so dry. This was very different. I used a cooking method that combined pan searing and oven roasting (full recipe linked here) as a guide and the results were awesome. I was able to cook a very different pork chop than I had in the past.

I did NOT brine the chops. Considering how good they tasted without the brine, I can’t wait to brine them next time. There are several variables that may have contributed to how different these chops turned out. The cut of meat was of high quality and the cooking method was also something I never had tried before. Whatever it was, it worked! Compared to my previous pork chop cooking experiences, the most noticeable difference was the texture of the meat. It had the consistency of a good, tender NY Strip steak. There was no chewiness or dried-out texture.

I served the pork chop with some roasted, local, organic beets, and a homemade pasta salad. DE-LI-CIOUS!

Please feel free to share any thoughts, ideas or inspiration.

The Big Salad

I know this is a little out of season and I started writing this in September, but here it is.

Summer and Fall are great times to play with awesome seasonal veggies and to create some amazing salads. I will call this a “lighter” meal, but when I get done adding things, “light” is probably not the best adjective to use. I have enjoyed making variations of this meal for years!

I like to start with a combination of romaine lettuce and some type of organic leafy mix. Next is to decide on what you want to add to your salad. This is where the real fun is!  There is no such thing as too many things to add into this salad! Here is my typical list (Warning, this can turn into a prep nightmare if you aren’t careful. Here are few suggestions to help get a handle on the prep. Plan out what you want to add in advance. Boil the eggs way before you need them so they have time to chill. Make sure you have a good-quality, sharp knife, and if possible get a prep helper. I would also suggest you watch some Youtube videos on knife skills). of add-ins: artichoke hearts, tomatoes, onions, olives, cucumber, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, sweet peppers, chickpeas, avocados, etc. I also grill and thinly slice chicken, steak or pork to add to the salad, though it is entirely NOT necessary. Feel free to add or subtract to this list.

For a dressing, I like to make my own. I use a combination of organic balsamic and red wine vinegar, organic olive oil and a little water. I season the dressing with dried oregano, dried? basil, salt, pepper, parmesan/romano cheese, and garlic powder. I use fresh herbs and garlic when I have them on hand. I usually let the dressing sit for about an hour before I use it. The dressing is based on my Grandma Rose’s recipe, so good!

Dressing Ratios:

  • ⅓ cup Olive Oil
  • ⅓ cup Vinegar
  • ⅓ cup Water

The last thing I usually include is a nice piece of crusty toasted bread that I drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.

Serve and enjoy!

I would love to hear any suggestions or variations to this salad!

EGGS! And, a few other things.

It has been a while since I have felt inspired to write. I have at least 5 posts started, but none of them are complete. Much has gone on since my last published post. I recently moved to Rochester and I have been settling into my new surroundings. I am slowly getting used to this new living and cooking space. I am also orienting myself to the City of Rochester and finding new places to shop and explore. Then, I totaled my car. Which actually worked out in a relatively good way. That being said, I am happy, healthy and ready to write and share again.

EGGS! I live super close to the Brighton Farms Market. It is relatively small compared to the Rochester Public Market, but the quality of the vendors is undeniable. The Brighton Market deserves its own write-up (future post) in order to really do it justice. My favorite purchase so far was suggested by my friend, Amy. It is the eggs from Fisher Hill Farm in Bristol, NY. They are a thing of beauty. I have grown so used to eggs that look and taste a certain way, that it was actually a bit shocking when I first cracked one open. Just picking one up felt different. There is a density and weight to them that I noticed instantly. When I cracked it open, it was beautiful. The yolk was larger than other eggs I have had. The color of the yolk had a glow or vibrancy that seemed like it was almost fake. And the flavor has a depth and richness that was completely unexpected. The cost of the eggs is also awesome. You can get 2 dozen medium eggs for $5 and they are huge! They are sized more like the large eggs you buy at Wegmans.

Today’s haul from the market; 2 dozen large eggs, some organic sweet onions, organic tomatoes, and organic swiss chard.

img_5927

Inspired by my finds, I made a 3 egg omelet with blanched chard, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, chopped onion greens, and goat cheese. Add a slice of thick cut raisin fennel toast from Flour City Bread and a cup of Fuego Coffee that I bought at the market and breakfast is served!

Please feel free to share any thoughts, ideas or inspiration.