September 2013 archive

know when to fold ’em

By Kristina

And always check your spice jars.

Today at lunch I took out a tupperware of white bean chili and couldn’t stomach more than two bites. It requires a small amount of cloves, so I thought a sprinkle would be okay. However, the jar did not have a sprinkle cap, and way more cloves tumbled into the pot. I thought adding more ingredients to counteract it would save the chili, but no such luck.

However, the masa cornbread that I made to go with it (pictured above, I think I subconsciously knew the chili would turn out badly) turned out great. Go figure.

the cookbook challenge: an update

By Kristina



Top Row: chickpea + asparagus + red pepper salad,  Chef Chloe’s roasted apple/butternut squash/caramelized onion pizza, fresh veggies from New Hampshire and Chef Chloe’s BBQ pineapple tofu pizza, green curry and impromptu veggie soup, Moroccan chickpea stew (modified from Food52, which is chicken), green curry

Middle Row: eggs with mushrooms + fresh mozzarella+ apricot chutney, Chef Chloe’s BBQ pineapple tofu pizza, Chef Chloe’s roasted apple/butternut squash/caramelized onion pizza, impromptu quinoa salad

Bottom Row: Peanut noodles and the chickpea + asparagus + red pepper salad, Giada’s spicy calamari stew (modified with shrimp and corn), Heidi Swanson’s chanterelle tacos, and peanut noodles take #2.

So far, cooking has been going very well this school year! When I get busy at school, I usually start reverting to takeout dinners and SBUX breakfasts. I’ve overhauled my entire routine to included nightly coffee + lunch prep as well as planning meals before heading to the grocery store and cooking on Sundays. Sounds overly simple, I know, but those small changes have made a huge difference in terms of optimizing both shopping and cooking.

I have also learned one important thing about the way my mind works: hence the Mindy Project picture above (photo credit: In that scene, Danny is helping Mindy build a bunk bed. He asks for the directions in a serious voice, then immediately rips them up, claiming “I don’t do directions.” The search through the cookbooks provided the inspiration to try new recipes, but the ones that worked best for me were the ones I could just build without f0llowing a tightly scripted recipe. For example, the peanut noodles and the calamari stew were both very forgiving when I altered them to suit the ingredients I had on hand, like when my fiance’s mom gave us fresh corn from a New Hampshire farm. Similarly, my attempt at chap chae failed when I realized I’d bought the wrong noodles after a hectic trip to Whole Foods. I ended up using the tofu, mushrooms, and red pepper from that dish for other meals.

The Easiest to Make
– Peanut noodles (the only fresh ingredients required were the garnishes)
– Green curry (now that I have a recipe in my head after making it 4 times, I can make it quickly)
– Impromptu quinoa salad (I either make a big batch of quinoa or use Seeds of Change packets)

Best for Taking to School
– Spicy calamari stew (easily microwaved)
– Peanut noodles (eaten cold)
– Quinoa salad (cold or microwaved)
– Moroccan chickpea stew

Better for Assembling at Home
– Chanterelle tacos (as much as I love tacos, they require too much space and folding at school)
– Chickpea, asparagus, and red pepper salad (because it had cucumbers…those got watery after about a day)

Best for a Leisurely Evening
– BBQ pineapple tofu pizza
– Roasted apple, butternut squash, and caramelized onion pizza
(As good as homemade pizza is, I would only prioritize it for a weeknight if I got home early without any work to do).

15-year reunion

By Kristina

Last night I went to my high school’s homecoming game with other Class of ’98 alumni. It was good to see familiar faces, get to know new people, and to learn what everyone is up to these days. Someone commented that so many people in our class are teachers. I found that interesting because back then, we felt compelled to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. One alumna who teaches math at our high school joked “oh that’s an Asian F” when another mentioned that he’d somehow managed a B+ in French III even when only reading aloud once in French all year. I think that “Asian F” idea stuck with me all the way until I started my teaching career. Being a terrible first-year teacher was so humbling. Until I embraced the idea that it would take time and practice to improve as a teacher and stopped “grading” myself on real life, I didn’t fully allow myself to learn. I’m glad that so many ’98ers are teachers, and hope that some of the ’14 seniors who were cheering so loudly for their patriotic, spinning float (engineering early, kids) will open their net of job consideration to including teaching too.

blast from the past

By Kristina

Facebook message from a student: “Hey Ms. Buenafe! I really really need your help. I remembered us doing conversions but what was the phrase we used to remember it? Thanks!”

Two years ago, one of my 11th grade math classes came up with their own mnemonic to remember this metric conversion chart:


Image Source:

Kelly hates donkeys because donkeys cause madness.

Bizarre as it was, that phrase stuck (at least to get the student to write to me about it!)

first day

By Kristina

A little over a week behind on blogging, and in a 90 degree classroom (thanks Boston weather and no AC), but I want to keep up my blogging habits this year so here goes…

Greet and Seat – I had students sit where they liked rather than make a “find your seat fraction challenge again.” That saved me a lot of time–I’m working on simplifying my teaching life and not fussing so much over small details that whose impact is worth the fuss.I had intended to give them my computer/internet survey but didn’t realize that I forgot to copy 2-sided to 2-sided, so I scrapped it. I also had them give me their email addresses and notify me if they were on ASPEN and ManageBac.

Welcome Back – I introduced myself, and instead of reading the syllabus to them or doing the “fill in the blank” presentation I did two years ago, I focused on the 3 learning guidelines for the class. Instead of spending a ton of time making a PowerPoint, I drew a  big circle with the guidelines, and then have them come up with Ways to Interfere and Ways to Help Learning. In the second section of class, I had them read this list and decide with their table groups on the most important way to help learning and one strategy for solving an interference. Independent of this, some asked if they could suggest more ways to help, such as eating breakfast. 

2013-09-04 14.34.56
I gave an overview of the year (major units and projects, preparation for the IB Math Studies exam, the exam, and the end of the year) as well.

Summer Homework – Instead of grading the entire packet, I’m going to give them short quizzes that cover each section (with an opportunity to retake a la SBG). I’m going to focus on skills that I noticed last year’s seniors completely forgetting on the IB exam.

Weekly Seating Change – I started this when I noticed that students worked with the same students every single time we had small group work or a group project. Given that most of them have been together since kindergarten, I thought that we were due for some shaking up. I put the students in different tables each week so they would experience working with new people and different learning styles. They appreciated it (compared to what they may have felt had I simply decreed a completely new seating chart with no friends sitting next to one another and with no explanation), and some found new “school-friendships.” Though this year’s class is so small, I think they could benefit from a seating change. One class complained bitterly about it at first, and the other didn’t, but the complaints ceased after about 2 minutes.

Quiet Coyote – Introduce the Quiet Coyote: “his ears are open and his mouth is shut.” Put your middle and ring fingers on your thumb to create the coyote’s shut mouth, and stick your index and pinky fingers up to create the coyote’s ears. If you feel like adding a judging element to your coyote, push the ears forward to create “judging jaguar.” The reason for this is to maximize our time. Instead of waiting for the room to quiet down (one student sees the quiet coyote and then quiets down, and other students gradually notice), I changed it to saying “quiet coyote up here” verbally. I couldn’t do the “hands up, voices off, eyes on me” from last year–it doesn’t feel enough like me.

Math Challenge – Last year I used the 31 game on this group of seniors as an initial math challenge. I wanted to try Gumdrop Mania with them this year, but that game requires a ton of setup…I’ll save it for advisory. Instead I used a math boggle suggested by the fabulous @msrubinteach. I named it “Perfect 10” and used the observation questions below.

Draw 5 cards per group, and make 10 as many ways as possible. If the group uses 2 cards, they get 2 points. If they use 3 cards, they get 3 points, and so on. Face cards and 10s are taken out.

I had the kids take out the face cards and tens (to save me time–I’m learning how to let go of my perfectionist tendencies in little ways). We played a few rounds and talked about the importance of persevering vs. rage-quitting (growth vs fixed mindset).

1. Are all the students involved? Who is looking around the class or out the window (or whatever) instead of participating in the activity?
2. Who is very focused and studying the game intently?
3. Who simply HAS to talk with his or her neighbor as they process what to do or process how many he or she got correct?
4. Who has to check in with me to see if they’re doing it correctly?
5. Who seems to want to sit back and observe what everyone else is doing before they jump in?
6. Who calls out comments as they’re working?
7. Which students simply can’t concentrate for the short time period you give them to study the diagram? What are they doing? Getting up? Beginning conversations? Fiddling with their “stuff”?
8. As I walk by to see how the students are doing, who wants to talk with me or show me something? Who wants to simply work without interruption?
9. As we discuss our findings, who wants to share? Who seems to want to add their comments more than expected?
10. Which students try to steer the discussion off topic?
11. Which students don’t share at all?

I didn’t do the 3-2-1 exit slip that I wanted to do. Losing 6 minutes per class period. I sent home parent homework, explaining that it’s important that the parent email me (just easier than trying to type in and respond). However, most parents wrote their answers instead of emailing. I wonder how to make this process better. My end goal is to send parent newsletters home via ManageBac or ASPEN. The student homework was to read the syllabus and bring it back the next day for us to go over (practicing organizational skills). 



By Kristina

Last year I switched up my seating charts weekly. I would sketch out the tables in the room on a piece of scrap paper, assign students to each table, and then rewrite the names on post-its on the tables. Today I decided to create a table in Word and put the names in each cell, then printed the paper to cut up and tape to the tablees tomorrow. Why I didn’t do this before, I have no idea.


By Kristina

I’ve been thinking more about how to support my students in succeeding at their academic goals for senior year, particularly with breaking down tasks into more manageable steps. Tackling smaller chunks makes them less likely to give up or get tempted to fall back into old habits (e.g., rage quitting and choosing not to do work out of fear of failure). For example, I’ve helped some students start to tackle their World Studies Extended Essay research in chunks like “find five fast food menus and email them to me so we can discuss the patterns and trends that you see with calories, fat, and sugar.” I think the last thing that one of my students would want to hear is an admonishment for being behind and a  “go start your research and send me what you find” without any help on how to get started.

An impulse purchase at Costco (Seeds of Change Quinoa and Brown Rice) got me thinking about how to apply that principle to my cooking. In my quest to cook healthier food and pack more school lunches, I’ve started cooking more brown rice. Sometimes my intentions to cook brown rice after a long school day often get derailed by tiredness and the temptation to go across the street for a buffalo chicken & blue cheese sub or palak paneer. Though a microwavable packet isn’t as cost-effective or as unprocessed as normally cooked brown rice, I’d rather have the ability to cook the quinoa & brown rice mixture than to make myself wait 45 minutes for the brown rice to cook. 


my cookbook “reading list” #1

By Kristina

In college, I rarely highlighted or wrote in my textbooks. I always felt like it was wrong to mark them up even though I didn’t have to return them like I did in high school. I liked the clean feel of the pages. However, this habit doesn’t facilitate my cooking out of the cookbook collection which I’ve amassed over the years. I’ve tended to look up recipes online rather than risk marring clean, glossy cookbook pages with errant spills. This year, one of my “appetite” goals is to cook more from my cookbook collection. I skimmed a bunch to pick out three to try. I figure this initial list will help kickstart that habit and lend the task a bit more accountability.

*Note: I went through all of my cookbooks and picked out three…but accidentally published an older draft that I started yesterday. That’ll teach me to not hit “save draft” in that type of situation again. I’m not re-doing the post because there are lessons to be planned and grocery shopping to be done. I’ll still blog them though.

*Edit: helpful tip from my friend Wendy – “I write in all of mine! I make note of different proportions I use, or if something took longer or shorter to cook than the book said, etc. Or sometimes notes of what I want to try (e.g., add raisins, switch oil for applesauce).”

Chloe’s Kitchen
My sister-in-law recommended this to me, and I bought a copy on Amazon after I checked it out from the Boston Public Library. Most of the recipes seem reasonable and interesting.
– BBQ Pineapple Pizza p. 97
– Avocado Pesto Pasta p. 125
– Avocado Shiitake Sushi p. 16

Super Natural Every Day
I’ve been reading the 101 Cookbooks blog for a while and bought this book on impulse at the Harvard Bookstore. I love that Heidi’s cooking incorporates a lot of interesting vegetables and spices.
– Chanterelle Tacos p. 93
– Little Quinoa Patties p. 121
– Green Lentil Soup p. 149

Raising the Salad Bar
– White Bean and Asparagus Salad p. 180
– Leafy Green and Vegetable Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing p. 39
– Arugula and Avocado Salad with Shaved Parmesan p. 41

Giada’s Kitchen
My sister gave this to me for Christmas a few years ago. I like Giada’s show and tend to get inspired to cook after watching it.
– Cantaloupe, Red Onion, and Walnut Salad p. 72
– Lamb Ragu with Mint p. 144
– Spicy Calamari Stew with Garlic Toasts p. 48

Make It Paleo
I know it’s odd that I have a vegan cookbook and Paleo cookbook on the same list. I bought this after Nom Nom Paleo recommended it on her blog. I don’t follow the Paleo diet anymore but still like a lot of the recipes.
– Roasted Baby Carrots p. 336
– Butter Garlic Wings p. 118
– Chicken and Vegetable “Lo Mein” p. 204

The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook
I love Jaden Hair’s sassy blog–she serves up awesome Asian food with a side of hilarity. My friend Kristen gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago as well.
– Korean Jap Chae Noodles with Beef p. 135
– Three Pea Stir Fry p. 119
– Thai Coconut Chicken Curry p. 103

new slang

By Kristina

Today during our rules discussion in math class, I had the students generate ways to facilitate and disrupt our atmosphere of learning (being on time, prepared, and respectful).

Me: What’s one way to disrupt learning?
Student: Turning up the night before.
Me thinking: What, at school the night before? That’s kinda weird.
Student seeing my quizzical expression: Partying the night before.
Me: Well then. I just learned something new. Never stop learning!

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