Lunch Bunch: Basil-Pecan Stuffed Mushroom Caps

This is a favorite (and easy) appetizer that looks more impressive than the time it takes to prepare.

12 large white mushrooms

Olive oil (for brushing)

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 Cup finely chopped onion

3-4 Garlic cloves (minced)

1/2 Cup toasted wheat germ

4 Tablespoons fine chopped pecans

4 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 Tablespoons minced fresh FLAT-LEAF parsley

2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Dashof (Hungarian) paprika

Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Quickly rinse and use a mushroom brush to brush away dirt from mushrooms.  Remove the stems from mushrooms.  Finely chop enough stems to yield 1 cup and set aside.  Lightly brush the mushroom caps with oil.  Place the caps, rounded-side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Stuffing:  Melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the mushroom stems and garlic; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms and onion are tender, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir in all the remaining stuffing ingredients.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To serve, fill the mushroom caps with the stuffing; sprinkle with paprika.  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the stuffing is heated through and lightly browned.  Serve immediately.

Prep tips:  Stuffing can be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated.  Mushrooms can be stuffed up to 2 hours before baking; cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before baking.

Image and alternative recipe found at

Teacher Toys & Tech: Sorting Circles (Learning Hoops)

Sometimes “things” work better than paper and pencil.  This statement applies to the frequently used venn-diagram model for comparison.  Robert Marzano says exercises involving similarities and differences yields a .45 increase in student achievement.  You bet venn-diagrams are an essential exercise in my teaching repertoire.

These hoops bring venn-diagrams to life when comparing and contrasting as a whole class, at stations, or in small group instruction.  The magnetic version is great for the white board and the traditional version works well on the floor. I throw up my hoops and use them with premade sorting cards or have the students write directly on the board.

Hoola hoops can are a great alternative for a larger than life version or more affordable alternative.

Teacher Dress Up: Pajama Day

Teacher Dress Up: Pajama Day
If you’re like the rest of the teaching population, you anticipate pajama day almost as much as Christmas morning.  For me, pajama day has always been a day of anxiety, as I walk the fine line between wanting to show school spirit and being professional/appropriate.  Here are some guidelines that will keep things acceptable:

1.  Do not roll up to school in your pajamas!  You may not think it’s a big deal on the way in the door, but on the way out, you feel pretty darn awkward.  You will feel especially ridiculous if you need to make an emergency stop at the drugstore or pick up some forgotten groceries on the way home.  Also, you may have an impromptu parent conference or a forgotten IEP meeting, and pajamas should not be acceptable.  You Starbucks visitors, you especially should change upon arriving to school.  Otherwise, the questions will ensue while you wait in line, and you will do nothing but lower our professionalism in the eyes of the outside world.  “They get out of work at 3:00 AND they wear pajamas??”

2.  Keep the B, B, B, & B covered!  Believe it or not, it’s awkward for your students to see you in pajamas…so make sure everything is covered.  Wear nude colored underwear and as dark a print as possible.  Most pajamas are made out of thin fabric, and your flowers, stripes, polka-dots can easily make an appearance.  Wear a tank top underneath your top.

3.  What not to wear:  Leggings (they are not pajamas), a track suit (again, not pajamas), matching top and bottoms (now you’re talking uneasy buttons, weird prints, etc.), shorts (do I need to explain?), silk (really, I’ve seen it).

4.  Footwear:  I keep a pair of slippers in my desk, so I always have a pair on hand to swap out when I get to school.  In fact, I originally purchased them for pajama day.  You may want to purchase a cheap, warm pair for pajama days at work so you aren’t contaminating your house slippers with adolescent grossies.

5.  Hair & Make-up:  Crucial.  Keep it natural.  There is no reason to roll out of bed just because its pajama day, but I also wouldn’t cake on the make-up.  You’ll just look like you’re about to film an inappropriate movie.

Socratic Seminar: Gifting at Work

We scrimp and save when times are tough, and by scrimp and save I mean, adding a few weeks between salon trips, eating a few more pasta dinners in the name of counting pennies rather than calories, or carpooling when we’d rather drive solo. My feelings are, unless you’ve completely cut off all excessive purchases for yourself (when did the phrase “Christmas gift to myself” transition from undoubtedly selfish to socially acceptable?) then we should continue giving as we did in the past.  That means, appropriately gifting people at work, you know the people you spend more time with than your own family.  It’s a time to thank those who touch your life (I’m thinking about a few of my colleagues), make your days brighter (I’m talking about my custodian who has a smile on her face every afternoon as she scrubs, vaccuums, and dusts), and help you out in a pinch (I’m looking at my instructional assistant who is a lifesaver). Let’s breakdown a real teacher example.  My salary has remained steady for about three years, but my rent and monthly expenses have increased by about $300-400. How do you decide where to skim and shave off the excess? For me, that means buying for others EXCLUSIVELY. I don’t mean altering your diet from grass-fed to drive-thru dolla menu. I just mean making a few sacrifices to continue providing for those who count. Here are some suggestions:

1.  The salon:  I know your bi-weekly manicures have turned into monthly manicures, but really, do you HAVE to get your mani (and pedi)?  Traditional solution – skip your manicure and do it at home or even better, invite a friend or two and do them for each other. You’ll spend time with someone at the holidays and save some cash.  Now for the sacrifice solution – instead of getting your holiday manicure, use that money towards gifting your custodian or a hardworking secretary a salon giftcard for the manicure you wanted. (I know, it sounds like a no-brainer, but I hardly know anyone in my building who does it, and I hardly know anyone who holds off on a holiday manicure.)

2. Food Collection:  We hear it all the time, the food banks are in dire need of non-perishable goods.  Traditional Solution – contribute a few cans to your school’s collection.  Sacrifice solution – Instead of passing the food collection at the grocery store, plan ahead. Every time I go to the grocery store during November and December, I put back $5 worth of items in my basket and replace it with a nourishing protein – tuna, beans, or peanut butter and a canned fruit or vegetable. At the end of each month I’ve got a bag full of non-perishables ready to go. Or, challenge your class by telling them that you will match whatever they contribute.  I teach in a high-poverty area where the students stuffing the bags are actually receiving the bags at the end of the day, and I was able to get almost 100 items between 20 students.  Yes, that meant I went to the store and forked over some money, but it was worth the lesson for my students so that they could see an adult giving, and giving more than I expected of them…something they will hopefully do when they become adults.

3. Gifts:  Traditional Solution – spend a bit less, or forgo gifts for people at work.  Sacrifice solution – forgo gifts with someone who doesn’t really need it and chip in towards someone who does. Last year my parents needed a few home improvements so my siblings and I opted out of our exchange with each other and chipped in for the repairs & new furniture. I was so happy to gift my parents something they needed and I don’t think my brothers missed out on searching for the perfect female gift for their sister.  Or, my favorite, skip that almost $5 gingerbread latte and get a small gift card for someone who helped you at work.  Replacing others for yourself…seems pretty simple!

So, those are my thoughts on how we can recapture the season of gifting. If anything, when times are tough it means we need to make even greater sacrifices. Where’s the evidence of “giving” when you can easily cover the cost of your holiday shopping list?  Now, back to where we started…I think its important to share some holiday cheer with the people who help you most at the work place. In any other profession employees gift their boss, their colleagues, and I promise, not all of them are making significantly higher salaries than we are, so that’s no excuse.  Happy gifting!

The Other Hours of the Day: Best Beauty Gift Items

Gift Guide: Beauty

1. Essie Winter 2011 4-piece Mini Set ($12): Great colors, great gift for a teenager or adult who likes to have fun with nail color.

2.  Beauty Blender ($20):  Seems like a lot for a sponge, but when I got my make-up done for a wedding last year it really seemed to do the trick; I was sold.  This is for a make-up queen who enjoys going all out glam.

3.  Tweezerman Petite Tweezer Set ($25):  This is the perfect gift for a tweezing fanatic; you know the kind who uses tweezers on the daily.  Anyone with killer eyebrows will love the pointed precision.

4.  Blotting Papers ($10):  These are easy to find at a beauty store or at the drugstore and make a great stocking stuffer. The smaller the package, the better for stashing in clutches and evening bags!

5.  Rosebud Salve ($6):  Great stocking stuffer; also comes in a tube version.

6.  Clarisonic Mia ($120) and replacement heads (2/$40):  This is a great gift for a teenager, college student, or young adult.  Hands down, you need one.  If she already has one, replacement heads always appreciated.  Make sure you know which kind she prefers.

7.  PedEgg ($7):  Another stocking stuffer for the girl who does her own pedicures.  Pairs well with the nail polish set.

8.  Chi Hair Dryer ($100):  I am not picky about my hair, but I do believe a good blow dryer is the key to less products, less time, and longer life.  Find one that suits her style hair.  If she does her straight, look for one with a concentrated nozzle, if she does her hair curly, make sure there is a diffuser.  This is the kind of product that many girls won’t splurge on, but will love it as a gift.

9.  Tocca Roller Perfume Trio ($48):  Split them up and give them as stocking stuffers, or give it as a gift.  Don’t be limited to this product line, Sephora has an extensive collection of rollerball perfumes.  Find her scent, and get it!  These are perfect for traveling, stashing in your evening bag, or keeping in a desk drawer before heading out of work.  Tocca also make a sampler set of 7 Eau de Parfum Sprays ($18) which also makes a great gift for someone searching for a new scent.

10.  Bobbi Brown Ultimate Party Palette ($65):  A great gift any lady would appreciate, especially before New Year’s Eve.  This includes everything for the eyes and lips.

Teaching Trenches: Gift Guide for your Co-Workers

You work with these people everyday and while the end of the year is a time to thank, there’s nothing harmful in spreading some cheer and appreciation at this time of year. As the goal of this blog is to elevate the professionalism in teaching, I think this is just one more step. This is one more way to follow our peers in other professional fields. I’m not expecting you to drop a life savings, but there are plenty of “un-cheap”, useful, and NECESSARY gifts that your colleagues will appreciate. Yes, I said, necessary. There are some people that require a gift, and I’ll tell you who the first one is…your custodian.
Co-worker Gift Guide: Custodians

Co-Work Gift Guide: Secretaries and Guidance
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Department Colleagues
White Chocolate Bark Recipe here!
Co-worker Gift Guide: Instructional Assistant
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Administrators
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Co-teacher
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Team Teachers
Co-Worker Gift Guide: First Year Mentee

Share the Wealth: Clutches Under $30

If you’re still looking for gifts or your holiday wardrobe needs an easy embellishment, here are a few clutches I spotted at Forever21; all worth the measly price. I spotted a gold/black sequin envelope clutch which was well-stocked in store, prompting this online search. Here is the online edition of items lacking the plastic, vinyl, teeny bopper appeal. Free shipping on orders over $21 today.
Clutches: Under $30