Sunday, September 2, 2012
Sun-dried tomato blue cheese bread
First grade had such an auspicious start. I had a yellow, treasure chest-shaped Snoopy lunchbox with a thermos nestled in the upper curve of the box. I had a beautiful royal blue book bag with a front felt pocket in the shape of a red apple with a worm poking its head out in curiosity at the world. But Mrs. M's room was baby blue, unlike my bright pink kindergarten room. I loved pink and red and hated baby blue, so I should have known that was a Sign.
For years, against all evidence to the contrary, I was convinced that if I had the right first-day-of-school outfit and school supplies, my year would be a success. With a bright blue gingham jumper like the kind Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz and rainbow-shaped erasers, what could go wrong? Alas, I had no red shoes!
"Whenever you need to be quiet," said my teacher Mrs. M, "I'll point to this butterfly. That is my signal you all need to be as quiet as that butterfly." It was the first and last time she pointed to the cut-out insect and when she had one of her meltdowns (which happened at least once a day) I would look longingly at the butterfly and feel betrayed. Oh, injustice! She lied, I thought.
Mrs. M was a fair, blonde woman who would have been quite beautiful except for the bags beneath her eyes. She kept her hair in a messy bun and the heavy, high-heeled shoes she wore made her calves look like piano legs. She kind of reminded me of the Nordic-looking women on the cover of my abridged version of Heidi. She looked like she drank lots of milk.
Small things could throw Mrs. M off, like forgetting to put the addition sign on the correct side of an equation or forgetting the 'e' in like. I was one of two students in the class who could read, which meant a very small and intimate session with Mrs. M on a daily basis was common. She would gave us readers that I would read in a day, and she always seemed suspicious when I informed her I had read the entire thing in a night. I slowly realized I had to wait an acceptable number of days before I could ask for new extra credit reading.
The other girl who could read, named Stacey, threw up once but I've never had a sensitive stomach. The one time I do recall feeling sick was when I saw Stacey fill in the answers in our reading book, rather on a separate sheet of green fuzzy paper, and I was such a cowed little girl, I assumed that was what we were supposed to do. The Dickensian fury with which Mrs. M greeted the sight of the defaced books and the fear that the gummy, crumbling erasers we were given to erase our work would not do their job made my hands shake. But more than fearing Mrs. M, I realized that I was more weaselly, timid, and conformist than I would like to have believed.
Mrs.M could be nice--once she took a group of students aside (which initially filled me with terror) and informed us all that we were 'special' and gave us Thanksgiving holiday stickers, the old kind that teacher used to use that you had to moisten on the back to make them stick. Sticker collecting was quite the rage, and I particularly liked glittery ones, or the kind that were 'scratch and sniff' and smelled like root beer or pizza rather than strawberry or roses. I don't recall learning much in first grade other than how to trade stickers and jump rope tunes.
But once, Mrs. M asked us to write essays on why we would vote for a particular presidential candidate. She had a puppet theater for which we made hand puppets and she read us Charlotte's Web. These were signs of the good teacher she had been. I was the first, proud student in the 'lost tooth' club--but I was also appointed 'door monitor' (which meant I had to hold the door for everyone) almost every month when we elected class officers and she never rotated the officers. I knew it was because I was one of the least-liked students--and one of the least physically strong.
Once she threw a a workbook at me--literally in my face--because I took it to her to be corrected and it was closed, not open to the page.
I heard later she was going through a horrific divorce at the time. I imagine Mrs. M coming home every day and crying, thinking, "I just can't hold it together anymore. One more little thing is going to push me over the edge."
I have weeks like that myself--we all do--but at least I'm not in charge of small children. The world is very harsh to teachers who have meltdowns, because the world's care and concern is invariably turned to the children, not their caregivers.
The school year is starting soon, and coincidentally my workload has begun to increase. This is a great, easy bread to make with chili or a hearty soup for dinner, if you are a mother or just an ordinary, human person pressed for time.
However, unless you really dislike your child's teacher, if your child has a queasy stomach I wouldn't advise feeding your son or daughter pungent cheese and sending them to school the next morning.
I am now at peace with blue, and this bread has some bright red to enliven the blueness and a lovely yellow hue when baked.
I don't drink, but if you're a teacher, I bet it would be nice to have with a dark beer or good white wine.
Sun-Dried Tomato Blue Cheese Bread
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3-4 strands of fresh, chopped thyme
the leaves of 3-4 strands of fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large, beaten eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
2/3 cup olive oil
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
3 ounces (by weight) sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon (approximate) of grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour (and line bottom with parchment, if desired) of two 8X4 inch pans for two small loves, or one 9X5 pan for a large loaf.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, and spices together.
3. Mix eggs, milk, olive oil together. Fold wet into dry. Fold in cheese and sun-dried tomato. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top of both or the singular loaf.
4. Bake for 40-45 minutes for two small loaves or 50 minutes for one large loaf, until a toothpick can be extracted 'clean.' Be careful to do the toothpick test on a 'dry' portion of the loaf, not in a piece of cheese. Cool and remove from loaf pans.