Presenting: CEC, Playing for Preparation

The following is my portion of a presentation given under the Council of Exceptional Children at their annual event:

 

When I was asked to join in on this presentation, I remained unaware, for quite some time, the justification for the invitation.  I had fallen into the assumption that my participation was a reward of sorts for being studious and for regularly, almost effortlessly expanding upon the information strung over our heads via long lectures and endless readings, which we were to sew into an already existing, yet underdeveloped schema entitled: “How to Teach. . .Well”.  Wrong.  As it turns out, it was never that I was being encouraged to accept an offer that might add bulk to my résumé, but to embark on a mission to expose, highlight, and immortalize my pre-service perspective.

Yes, I had a working perspective as a result of previous placements in congested classrooms, but my time at the museum had a uniquely profound impact on my developing teacher.  I saw things that gave me endless comfort: teachers costumed in roles that, first, inspires hesitant, shifting glances, followed by twinkling eyes and cheeks sore from smiling amongst the students.  I saw the resurrection of equality as adults and children questioned and discovered in seminars of play, and the truth that I had so long been in search of: that it is not mandatory to we settle for a traditional system—that we talk at in order to instruct—but that we may squeeze our jumper-clad bodies out from behind our big, metal desks, and play with, elevate, and remember with our students the joy of exploration in order to teach.

While I was here, my professors gave us an assignment that would last us through the semester.  We were to write reflective journal entries based on various, given topics—to connect classroom content to the reality of our discoveries in observing the reality of education within the museum.  I’d like to read a few excerpts from my entries, as they are weighty reviews of my experiences as they occurred—quite genuine and all the more introspective. 

Entry #1: Thus far, Strong Museum has been a positive experience for me. It’s not that I have an aversion to the classroom setting. On the contrary, it’s ideal, but the experience of being in the museum and observing children in true, playful interaction with the educational process is, while different, definitely something I consider to be worthwhile and irreplaceable. I recently had my first field trip. We observed a lesson entitled “Healthy Beginnings” designed for pre-school students held in the Wegman’s play area.  Afterwards, directly following a serious effort on my behalf to return my jaw to a closed state as a result of having witnessed a most organized and educational free-for-all of young shoppers, I was able to stumble upon the following realization: I am truly excited to continue with my observations of these lessons as well as of the children at play. It truly amazes me the way that play helps to establish and reinforce ideas, understanding, and the willingness to learn, even without teacher intervention.

After assisting with a theme day at the museum entitled, “Math in Action”:  One can only guess the frequency of which cruel flashbacks of elementary school math sessions came to haunt me as I tiptoed past exhibits dripping with numbers and fortified with pencils.  Still, I was optimistic, as I had been made aware that the curriculum regarding mathematics had changed during our classroom exploration of the subject.  I simply wasn’t sure how.  The stations, however, were not designed to ensnare delicate minds in confusing webs of sticky equations and finite answers, but to “take the scariness” out of mathematical content.  I believe I’ve said this before, but the ways in which the lessons at Strong Museum are designed and taught take into consideration the values of freedom and creativity. If students are only provided with a limited set of responses, then, as teachers, we cannot expect them to respond with fervor or 100% accuracy, as various learning needs dictate a demand for differentiation.

On Independent Observation: Mostly, from what I have been able to witness, Strong Museum does incredibly well in its mission to enforce the idea that lessons be completed on behalf of the students as the main components, utilizing hands-on, imagination-centered activities as the primary gateway to learning.  There was one independent session in particular, that I saw one very young child experience a moment of true, secretly educational and developmentally supportive sublimity.   I noticed a very young girl seated at the rather large and ultimately enticing Light Bright station.  Given her age, her creation was nothing comparable to a work of pure genius, but she seemed, and pardon the pun, incredibly enlightened by the experience.  She spent the majority of her time carefully choosing the colors that she so delicately inserted into the easel, occasionally swapping the colors and their respective positions to suit the image that I am sure was looming at the forefront of her mind.  Unless she was a baby Einstein, I think I can safely state that she was too young to recognize the colors by name, but the simple fact that the insertion of a darkly colored peg into a large, seemingly magical board would produce a bright, glowing, and rather pleasing source of light and stimulating color was enough to satisfy her curiosity.  Even when encouraged to move on in her exploration of the plethora of exhibits the museum has to offer, the child remained entirely distracted by such a particularly interactive station- so much so, in fact, that by the time my observation had come to a close, she had yet to be swayed to move away from the Light Bright.  For her, the experience, as I must assume, was crucial.  It was, in a sense, an introduction to the world of technology and its ability to produce inexplicable results.  Judging from her passionate involvement with the exhibit, it was something that she had yet to receive exposure to, and, because of this, she was intent on mastering this piece of technology.  It could, perhaps, be inferred that her passion for the station, then, was not to create a work of art or emulate a picture she may have seen on an episode of Sesame Street or dreamed up in creative frenzy, but rather to develop an understanding of how, exactly, the station functioned- the best way for her to do so being devoted participation with the machine.  She was hoping, searching for an answer to the inquiries that formed with each peg that passed from her fingers to the board.  This, I think, is crucial when fueling the developing mind of any child.  Beginning at a young age, children ought to develop a sense of wonder and resonating curiosity for the world around them- a stimulant for the insatiable appetite of the inquiring mind; and, as we all know, the inquiring mind inherently becomes the successful intellect in the world of education. 

Final Entry: In my first log, I made mention of the fact that my placement at Strong was atypical due to its lack of a traditional learning environment; meaning, I was no longer observing the same students in the same classroom being instructed by a singular teacher with one particular style.  Instead, I had the pleasure of being exposed to a rather extensive variety of students, ranging in age, personality, capability, learning profile- any differing characteristic one might be able to cognitively conjure up.  To be honest, I had moments expressive of feelings of contempt for this placement, especially when multiple field trips and the ever so valuable theme days were cancelled, but I realize now that those were the moments that taught me the importance of being able to adapt as an educator.  Sure, my peers whose placements were in conventional classrooms may have had an easier time obtaining observation hours, and I am sure that they were able to benefit just as much from their own experiences, but we were truly challenged at Strong.  For those who were here with me, I wish they had seen the same beauty as I.  Perhaps it was that their eyes were not yet open, perhaps the ability to establish a connection between Strong and the institutional classroom had been drawn out of them in the drying of their creativity as always seated, almost sedated learners.  Perhaps they were scared, but by being thrown into an atypical setting with an occasionally unreliable structure, we were taught to embrace what we could and let go of the rest, to be comfortable with what we knew, but also to familiarize ourselves with the unfamiliar, and, perhaps most importantly, to explore the professional realm of teaching, like the students we observed, by means of holistic, playful interaction.

After all of that, I say that now my mission has narrowed itself down to a more compact endeavor: simply to spread the word.  I remember listening to lesson after lesson regarding the concept of integration (content, classroom, any and all things that might hold the potential to be intertwined with another).  Now, I take pride in understanding the importance of that, but I’d love for it to be expanded upon—extended for the sake of change.  I’d like to share my experience here, to become an advocate for adventurous learning, to integrate school and sport, assimilate amusement to the environment of arithmetic—to play for preparation.

Sticky Blueberry Buncakes with Lemon Glaze

A milimoment inside a Roemer’s head:

I’m not good enough for anything.

Clearly.

And then, “I think something with lemon and blueberry would be good.”

Now, cue internal speech and external paralinguistics. See, e.g., Rocking, Hosting intrapersonal intercourse with yourself, all of which is conducted in complete stillness, save for what feels like some form of open wide rapid eye movement; like REM, subtract the sleeping.

Seriously?  I’m fairly certain that my last attempt at a lemon/blueberry pairing turned itself over to the dark side . . . the berry dark side . . . due to a personal altercation with trendiness and “OHMYGAH, SAMSIES!”

 

Also, Do you have a minute?

 

I do.

 

I can’t move.

I won’t move.

I have this awfully fleeting desire to never move again with the exception of just looking, because there are too many ideas, and I’ll never be able to think of all of them, and I’m stuck to the chair, and probably I can’t recall those ideas, but maybe I can SEE them so I’ll just frantically dart my eyes like pool ball pupils might go, and I really can’t move because I see nothing else and, “Oh my God, I chose I blackberries because lemon and blueberry is just SO.OVERDONE and I HAVE to be special.”

Trust me, guys, what you’re picturing is about as cute as it gets; as in, forever alone adorable, only I won’t even have cats to comfort me, only cupcakes.

All the more reason to perfect the art of stabilized buttercream; I’d rather not have my Wilton roses melt alongside my sanity, like, give me something to live for. Melted frosting is so unforgivably frustrating . . .

. . . like my soul.

But I digress.

 

Who was it, Carl Sagan, I think , “But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years . . . A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

By this point, I’m sweating, like swamp ass sweating, and in an effort to appear completely normal, I tiptoe, yes, tiptoe my way into the living room to run my fingers through my pastry student’s book; because there is nothing atypical about a sweaty girl, probably with a wedgie, tiptoeing through the kitchen to plan what probably looks like homicide to the tune of, “You are special, special. Everybody’s special, everyone in his or her own way.”

Exactly.

Donuts? Fritters? Puff Pastry? Pie?

Can you even do that?

UGH, SOUFFLE CAKE.

. . . lemon . . . glaze, curd, filling . . .pie . . .

Sticky Buns.

Slowly, now; get a feel for that this-pleases-me-so-I’m-going-to-lower-my-voice-and-speak-it-in-syllables tone.

Here’s why:

Raising yeast totally makes me a professional baker. So does flavoring sugar and converting recipe measurements . . . and working with fruit. Baking with fruit is like whistling through blades of grassed pressed parallel to the insides of your thumbs; sometimes there’s not much to come of it but an austere whistle—a bit of moisture from the air—but when it works, it SHRILLS like the clanging of sheet pans against dutch ovens and wire racks, like . . .

. . .

Blueberry Sticky Bun Cupcakes with Lemon Glaze (Makes 12-16)

For the Blueberry Filling:

1 ½ cups fresh Blueberries

¼ cup Granulated Sugar

2 Tbsp. Cornstarch

1 cup (8 oz.) Warm Water

1/8 tsp. Cinnamon

2 tsp. Lemmon Juice

1 tsp. Lemmon Zest

In a medium sauce pan over medium, cook blueberries until soft and mash with a potato masher or fork. Add sugar and bring to a boil, cooking until sugar is dissolved. Dissolve cornstarch in warm water, add to blueberry mixture, and return to a boil. Cook until the mixture thickens and clears. Remove from heat. Add cinnamon, lemon zest, juice, and let cool to room temperature.

Note: Filling may be made ahead of time. Once cooled, store it in the refrigerator in an air tight container until ready to use. It also freezes well and lasts 2-3 months. Feel free to add to pancakes, cupcakes, use as pie filling, etc.

For the Sticky Bun Dough:

1 oz. (4 packets) Active Dry Yeast

2 oz. Granulated Sugar

.5 fl. oz. Milk

5.5 fl. oz. Buttermilk

1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 Tbsp. Lemon Zest

1 tsp. Lemon Juice

2 Egg Yolks

2 tsp. Salt

1 lb. (4 cups) All Purpose Flour

8 oz. (2 sticks) Unsalted Butter, very soft

In a small bowl, stir yeast, sugar, and milk (NOT THE BUTTERMILK) and set aside. Stir the buttermilk, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and add to the yeast mixture. Add the egg yolks, salt, flour, and butter to the liquid mixture. Knead until the butter is evenly distributed and the dough is smooth and fully developed (approximately 6 minutes). Cover and ferment; meaning, leave it alone, until doubled in size.  While the dough ferments, prepare streusel topping and brown sugar cinnamon filling.

For the Sugar Filling (more like a sprinkling, really):

½ cup Fresh Blueberries

½  cup packed Brown Sugar, light or dark

¼ tsp. cinnamon

Carefully, without hurting yourself, combine brown sugar and cinnamon and fluff it up with a fork. Lightly fold in remaining blueberries.

For the Streusel Topping:

¼ cup All Purpose Flour

¼ packed Brown Sugar, light or dark

1/8 tsp. Cinnamon

3 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, chilled and cut into 6 pieces

Combine flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon, in medium mixing bowl (or use the food processor).  Cut butter into mixture until crumbly. (I used my fingers—clean fingers—to break/mix it all up).  Refrigerate topping until ready to use (can be made ahead of time).

To Assemble:

Grease (I use PAM for Baking) one muffin pan, or one and 4 cups of another if you plan to make 16 buns (The larger you slice them, the more they will spill over the tins while baking, creating that cupcake shape).

Once dough has fermented, punch it down, remove from bowl, and roll it out onto a flat, floured surface into a rectangle measuring approximately 18” x 12”. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar cinnamon mixture over the dough, being sure not to ignore the corners. Do the same with the cooked blueberry filling, using an even layer (It’s okay if you do not use all if it), and follow that with remaining brown sugar cinnamon. Starting at the long end, roll the dough into a long, cylindrical shape (Do the best you can; some oozing is perfectly alright). Using a sharp, preferably serrated knife dipped into hot water between cuts, slice dough into 12-16 rolls. Lay in prepared muffin tin, top with streusel, and let them rest while you preheat the oven to 350F.

Once the oven is preheated, bake the buncakes for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling.

While they bake, prepare the lemon glaze.

For the Lemon Glaze:

1 ½ cups Confectioners’ Sugar

4 tsp. Lemon Juice

Place confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice into a small saucepan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, cook just until the two combine and you’re left with a shiny, smooth, icing-like consistency, approximately 1 minute. Droozle over buns as soon as they come out of the oven.

Note: Glaze may be made as soon as the buns hit the oven. Simply cover, remove from heat, and reheat when ready to use. It softens back up rather quickly.

“Man, those look awful.”

Don’t they, though?

And the favorite of my favorite, too.

The Alpha Brownie

Sometimes it’s simplicity that turns decedance into exactly what it is, and turning old books, under cover, for backwards pages, under warranty, to guarantee puffed cheeks swollen with sugar and tongue-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth smiles because you’ve found originality.

It’s trying and churning and failing and feeding-flops-to-people-without-palettes because it hurts too much to throw it out; especially if you can fix it with frosting and call yourself a Price Chopper Culinarian until the next bout of perfection turns out to the tune of an oven timer and only slightly streaky toothpick tests- to the way you tune out the intonations of under baking and watch something come from an almost nothing in the last ten minutes of poking and puffing-

-of praying

Like invisible ink on parchment; leave the light on while you read and turn it off before you’ve finished so you can see it as was written . . .

Through the looking glass and laugh; you’ve got batter on your face and burns on your bare feet . . .

And, my God, they’re just beautiful.

Since it’s that, sometimes, originality isn’t ingenious, only a marker for something of the maybe, like how intelligence wont mame you, but might claim you in the name of mental illness, which is never true. It’s more like cognition, is what it is- a thought process in the absence of thinking.

And I can’t turn it off, but I can turn it toward . . . maybe inside, and I laugh,

and laugh,

and laugh,

And, my God, it’s just beautiful.

Beautiful like brownie beautiful, and these, I must say, are significantly more qualified to be considered “lookers” than my first attempt; and I don’t mean my first attempt at these brownies, I mean my first-ever-bored-baking-7-year-old-scratch-”brownies”.

I had, er . . . have, this children’s cookbook, Alpha-Bakery. It’s quite small and totally revolutionizes the art of pedagogy, because there’s no better way to teach a kid her ABC’s than by pairing each letter with a “shit,-we-need-a-recipe-that-starts-with-”Q”-and-kid-friendly”; as in “Q is for Quick Cheeseburger Pie,” which   I convinced my mother to make, who still looks off into the distance and shudders as she recalls the pouring of pickle juice into a mess of, what could be considered, Purée de McDonald’s.

I ate the shit out of it.

Remember: Summer, two kids, and a parent-free household.

I followed the recipe, but found, for some strange reason, that my finished batter was the color of paper mache- white, pasty, and definitely not what I assumed brownie batter should look like. They needed chocolate. We had non, but my child’s eyes, cracked out in an episode of juvenile mania, before I even began the process, skimmed over a canister of miniature M&M’s and decided they’d serve as a sufficient substitute.

In they went and out my brownies did not turn.

For thirty minutes I rehearsed phone calls to Mom exclaiming that I’d made the best brownies ever and that my superior skills in sugar crafting were insurmountable and rendered me a child prodigy. And do you know what I found when I opened the oven door?

Flat, crispy, almost-entirely-white-except-for-the-occasional-M&M un-brownies . . .

Shame-ies.

My brother liked them, but his palate at the time held love affairs with ketchup on everything, chocolate frosting, and mayonnaise sandwiches. That’s when Betty Crocker box mixes settled in to our cupboards, packed on shelves for the sake of my newly discovered stress-baker’s sanity. Needless to say, I became familiar with the art of “add[ing] eggs, oil, water, and baking at 350F for 20-30 minutes alongside the fact that ovens don’t actually turn things into chocolate expectations.

I do.

Chocolate Truffle Brownies, Makes 16

NEED:

1 stick plus 1 Tbsp. (4.5 oz.) Unsalted butter, room temperature

1 bar (4 oz.) Good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup Good quality bittersweet/semisweet chocolate chips

3 large Eggs

1 1/2 cups Granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract

Heaping 1/4 tsp. espresso powder

1 cup All purpose or Pastry flour

1 package Ghirardelli Milk & Truffle squares

Cocoa powder as needed

Sea salt

DO:

Preheat the oven to 325F and line an 8 x 8 baking pan (glass is best for bar style confections) with parchment paper.

Melt the butter, bittersweet bar, and chocolate chips over a double boiler to 120F and hold the chocolate at this temperature. Most recipes will advise you to bring the chocolate down to room temperature before adding it to the batter, but these use the Low and Slow method, so keep it warm. You can also use a microwave oven for this step, being sure that the chocolate is warm to the touch when you’re ready to use it.

While the chocolate it melting, beat the eggs and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, or use a handheld, on medium speed for 10 minutes. Add the salt, vanilla, espresso, and mix, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the melted chocolate, blending until well combined. Add the flour and mix until incorporated. Take 5 Milk & Truffle squares, chop them, and fold them into the batter. Spread the batter evenly into the parchment-lined pan, sprinkle lightly with sea salt, and bake for 40 minutes, until the center is set but not done.

While the brownies are baking, prepare an ice bath, filling a roasting pan 2/3 of the way with cold water and ice cubes. Roughly chop four remaining Milk & Truffle squares. As soon as brownies are done, place them into the ice bath and let them sit. While they sit, neatly press remaining chocolate pieces into the tops of the brownies and lightly sprinkle, again, with sea salt (do not add enough for brownies to be considered salted). After 10 minutes, remove the brownies from the bath and place them in the refrigerator. Chill for at least an hour. Remove brownies from the pan and cut into 16 pieces. Dust with cocoa powder.

Note: The ice bath is used to hault the cooking process, keeping the centers gooey like the insides of a chocolate truffle. You may skip this step and you’ll probably still have a soft center, but it wont be quite so thick and fudgy.

Just precious.

Baking Like Story Telling Like Granulated Poetry

Just some things . . .

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake: Kayla

Because, you know, despite the fact that pictures are worth a thousand words, words are worth infinite pictures; and baking- custom cakes- are like free verse and vignettes spindled like sugar, in bundles and bundled, fine and refined- refinished and folded into frostings and toppings- to top off your tellings . . .

. . . truth-tellings and history, all layered and cakey.  Sometimes I find myself running out of words—putting down the pen and picking up something with a bit more of a point.  Not that a classically trained tongue can’t be sharp, but things do dull over time.

So I found a knife and a way keep quiet in the loudest sort of way . . .

. . . and a secret, too.

Baking’s like story telling- all messy and beautiful like little girls in grass-stained dresses, like untied All Stars . . . those that they are.

Almond Joy Cheesecake: Cole

When I shake your hand I hear your color.

And I could bake you a cake that’d chronicle your every waking breath to the last bite you take.

It’s life writing, really, only unnumbered- without pages.

Instead it uses glazes, layers . . .

. . . to hold you together.

And it’s brought forth to capture the soul, its blackness, bleak whiteness, nothingness, and brilliance; because just as .  there is intricacy in the interlacing of imagery and idioms, identity in the remembrance of words, curt nods, and loose voices, there is complexity in the coddling of cups of things and the sifting of stuff.

I’ve caught the colloquialisms of cidevant cultures in crumb coats, and they stuck just fine, whispering beneath thick, still wafers of frosting, powdered, like icing, heavy and backwards, improper like fractions- sugar/time.

And, you know, perhaps, what’s best?

 

Everyone can eat cake.

Soaked Carrot Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting: Dad

And dessert is fluent in even deserted languages.

Not everyone feels language; some’ve got those poignant ears, but still no heart to handle the whispers they hear.

What we do have are taste buds and boundaries.  You know, the ones that look like counterfeit walls: products of fear, of worry, of sorrowful defense, of attempt after attempt to not break against the stolid backs of the men who smile with a secret hidden between their lips.

Those same secrets that never sleep but scream as our mindless spirits, those adorned with blues and purples and yellowing colors, beat rapidly against the bones in our chest, plugging our ears with only the sound of rushing blood, of speeding sacrifice and, sometimes, self-sabotage.

Softcover Volume of One Man’s Life: The Slice

Writer’s block?

No such thing . . .

Not so long as there are souls walking on soles and I’m the Story Book Baker.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie . . . in Bar Form; Say Word?

So, once upon a time, like, long before time, and long before I developed taste buds capable of concluding that soy formula was unacceptable and that puréed beef stew was sleazy in a lumpy, gray sort of way, my mom made pies.

At least, that’s what my dad says.  Actually, when he made his first attempt to convince me that my picky palette actually forced my mother to extract edible ice cubes from the freezer and throw them into the oven until the stench of broiled, oozing, crisp, orange cheese was too much for my meat-hating, brussel-bashing, butterball of a roly-poly self to endure (for fear that I might starve to death while waiting for my MSG to bubble over the plastic tray), I’m pretty sure I experienced a small pang of guilt and a reverberant round of resentment.

Because, you know, Dad got to sup up what I imagined to be the world’s greatest pies while I was forced to hoard Ho hos, pig out on fat-free pudding, and hunker down over Hostess Fruit Pies, which my father shared with me in between bites of deli-style potato salad and sips of Sharp’s non-alcoholic beer in front of The Simpson’s in the spare room Man Cave.

And looking back, I suppose that was alright.  I mean, Barney and Booze?  I’m pretty sure I was the epitome of cool.

But, alas, ’twas still a child left to bear the weight of gypped-ness upon her unusually broad, pudgy shoulders.

What was I do?

And so, in hopes that I might lay my grief to rest, settle my sadness, and bury it in sugar, I performed

. . . the (pro)verb(i)al truffle shuffle.

Years later, I got a pie: Strawberry Rhubarb with a lovely, delicately crunchy brown sugar, oat topping.  It was perfectly soupy, syrupy, thick, and textured like flaky crunch, soft, sticky insides, all tart and gooey, and sweet, cookie-like crumbles.

I ate it bubbling hot, cold, one bite at a time from the pan in the fridge, slightly warmed in the microwave with vanilla bean ice cream . . .

oh, the ice cream . . .

That pie makes my cheeks puffy like a squirrel storing his food for winter.  I love it.  I want it . . . all the time, but refrigerating, par-baking, and picking pie crust up off the dog hair infested kitchen floor isn’t always at the top of my list of “Things That Make Me Want to Sing That God Awful Red Robin Song We Were Forced to Learn in Elementary School,” which totally exists, by the way.  It hangs over my bed next to an extra large portrait of Mr. Rodgers fingering Tinky Winky’s triangular aerial.

But bars don’t require all sorts of obnoxious kneaded effort  (see what I did there?) and the like.  Plus, you don’t need a fork to eat them.

Oh, what did you say?  There’s a fork in 3/4′s of these photos?  No?  I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.  “Pie,” “Bars,” “Word,” you said?

Yes, word . . .

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Bars (Click for Printable Recipe)

For the crust (slightly adapted from Back in the Day Bakery):

NEED

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes (I used ¾ stick butter and ¾ stick butter flavored Crisco)

Pinch salt (I used fine sea salt)

¼ tsp. cinnamon

Splash vanilla extract

2 tbsp. rolled oats

DO

Preheat oven to 350F

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or a large bowl, using a handheld mixer), combine flour, sugar, and salt and mix on low speed until combined. Continue to mix on low and add the butter, a couple of cubes at a time, until the mixture is dry and crumbly. Press the dough into a 9×13 pan, lined with parchment paper and greased, and bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes, until crust is lightly browned. Let cool for at least 10 minutes.

DO NOT TURN OVEN OFF

For the filling:

NEED

2 ½ cups rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 ½ cups strawberries, hulled and quartered

¼ tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg (I used freshly grated, so I only used approximately 1/16 tsp.)

3 tbsp. cornstarch

DO

Mix rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large saucepan.  Let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes.  Bring the contents of the pan to a boil over medium heat.  Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 3-5 minutes, or until the juices thicken into a syrup-like consistency.

For the topping:

NEED

2/3 cup rolled oats

½ cup all purpose flour

½ cup packed brown sugar, light or dark (I used light brown)

¼ tsp. cinnamon

6 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

DO

Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon, in medium mixing bowl (or use the food processor).  Cut butter into mixture until crumbly. (I used my fingers—clean fingers—to break/mix it all up).  Refrigerate topping until ready to use (can be made ahead of time).

For the whole shebang:

DO

Once your crust is cooled, filling has thickened, and topping is made, spoon strawberry rhubarb mixture over the crust and crumble the topping over the top, being sure to evenly distribute its deliciousness (don’t forget the all too frequently neglected corners).  Bake at 350F for 30 to 35 minutes, until topping is browned and filling is bubbly.  Let bars cool to room temperature.  Cover pan with foil and chill the bars for at least 3 hours, or overnight (I let mine set up overnight; it made them very easy to cut).  Once set, lift parchment, removing the bars from the pan, and cut, depending on your idea of a serving size, into 16 to 20 squares (or, like, 4, if you’re greedy).

Word straight to my mother.

Spots of Time: The Au®tistic Mind . . . .

Sofia . . .

Autism has nothing to do with the mouth, not mine anyway.  Mine is about feeling, about whirling around on the inside of language . . . to see where IT sees.

 

There are these moments, little spots in time, where everything comes together in my head—

when it’s quiet and I can open my eyes and look into the inside of the light.

It’s easier that way.  It lets me look over the shoulder of everything—of all the things that keep me inside—shut me away to where it’s safe.

. . . But when your voices are low and the lights are dim, when the wind stops pressing my T-shirt into ruffles against my spine and I don’t have to hold my breath because it feels like the building of this deep pressure all the way from my insides out and up, and up, and up for forever. . .

 

I live.

That’s when I AM.

And I guess I only say that because, like you say, the rest of the time, I mostly just be.

I can lie down and hear nothing but everything all at the same time.  Sometimes my heart goes numb and the most of the rest of me gets real light.  My head is HEAVY but it doesn’t hurt.  It feels good, like that pressure again . . .

“. . . deep pressure”

. . . what my mom says when she holds me and I let her.

I never see much, though—no pictures, anyway.  My brother says he doesn’t either.

 

He’s got figures, like a paint by numbers sort of thing.  He says he makes things out of them—makes sense out of them and puts it back, right into them.

It’s like what I do with my letters; ‘cause even when they don’t spell anything that anybody can recognize, they still sound like somethingThey still say something.

But there’s never anything in front of me, not that I can see.  It moves below me and I don’t need to see it because I can feel it, and sometimes that makes it hard to breathe and move and look at you, too.

God says everything has energy and I know he’s right ‘cause I’ve choked on it.

It’s hard to breathe in what you’re supposed to exhale.

That’s why I’m so quiet, because I take in all the wrong things.

You say I AM all the wrong things, except for the alive part, but you wanna know something?

Backwards being—breathing?  It’s the best way to know things.

“KNOW,” He says.  So I do.

Because God tells me it’s alright before he tells me the truth, and that’s when I’m still, when I’m away from you; but you never want to be that close to me anyway because my tearful sweats are too sticky with the sweetness of what’s supposed to be.

That makes you uncomfortable.

But that’s how I talk, how I speak, how I hear myself . . .

I walk on words.  W-O-R-D-S: words.

Worlds and worlds of words.

Spots of Time: The Au®tistic Mind . . .

Meet Jon.

 

Have you ever tried to be everywhere at the same time in one place?

It’s hard, being all over,‘cause everybody thinks you’re nowhere.

I call it universality, or, like, being—breathing in unison with the universe, you know?  And really all you gotta do is know what time it is . . . all the time, as in always and wherever.

So I count . . .and I count: One, Two Three, Four, Five, Six . . . like this—

—except it’s not even in my head.  It used to be, before I knew what “time” was, the term, not the entity, but I don’t have to do it anymore.

It goes on by itself, the counting, like time, so I always know where it is and I don’t have to wear a watch.

“That kid’s got his head in the clouds; I swear it’s like he’s not even there.”

They’d say the same thing when I was real small, too, when I used to stack, blocks mostly, but anything flat—clean sides, clean lines—worked just fine: “He won’t do anything else.  We steer him toward other things, new toys, but he wont acknowledge them.”

“It’s like he doesn’t even know they’re there.”

I did, though, I did. It’s just that I was busy . . .I was filling in the lines.

When spaces are empty but there are places where things should be—where they’d fit into place perfectly—I get upset; because when I open my eyes . . .

I see grid lines—

squares like sloping and angles like lines and these perfect little corners: one, two, three, four, five.

And when something goes by, when you walk and things fly, when the ground breathes and heaves and the dust particles you can only see in the fair-haired light of a window float upwards and back—into the shadows—I tilt my head toward my neck and I could cry . . .

. . . but not in so many words.

I WATCH perfection from the perspective of perception

That means I can see, by the way, like, SEE, not imagine.

And that’s different too.  ‘Cause most of you are playing pretend without the intention of pretending, or playing for that matter, but I’ve got this, this thing. God calls it my third eye.

I call it God’s eye.

And it’s beautiful, this world is.  The whole thing’s got a heartbeat, divided into googols—into hundreds of zeroes and tens of hundreds of tens of thousands—one for everyone and everything; and I can’t count that high, but the number’s always falling and then climbing and I can see it.

Like, when something dies there’s a break in the pulse, a spot in time, like a decimal point—a fraction—like subtraction of a second in a string of infinity times twenty-four ongoing hours.

Repetition.

But time comes back with a beat to match, like when another thing’s born, or built, or lined up to match the grid lines in the sky . . .

. . . how there’s grass like graph paper.

It all comes back tenfold, like exponential-growth-to-the-tenth-power fold.  Only it was never really gone in the first place because everything just fits and runs like gears in a clock.

And when you make me look at you, when you turn my cheek and try to capture my eyes with your own, don’t think you can’t catch them because I’m avoidant; just know that I’m finding your place—lining you up—putting you into position—your head in the clouds.

And know that you don’t understand because you’re not supposed to—you weren’t designed to.  Things’d be too different if you did.  Everybody’d be like me and that wouldn’t be right because I’m “disabled,” and Autism isn’t for just anyone; if everyone had eyes, mine wouldn’t matter.

God says my eyes are so for a reason; ‘cause they can’t be white, not like his, but grey is close enough to the light; and he’s sorry that his colors, everything, sometimes, hurts my eyes, but that that’s part of owning INsight.

Rocking helps.  It balances color into universal shades of black and white: lean back toward the light and forward into shadow, squint them shut for fireworks . . .

. . . and open when ready.

Spots of Time: The Au®tistic Mind

I’ve started a project: a series of vignettes that illustrate the voices of Autism, told from their perspective in the voice of God.

Hi. My name is Sofia—Sofia Maria. I’m eleven years old and I like to red.

Everyone likes to yell at me for that, correct me because it’s an “improper use of a noun,” and they think I don’t know.

“You like to READ, Sof, read: R-E-A-D, not RED.”

Well of course I like to read, and if that’s what I was trying to say, I would, but it’s not, so I don’t.

I like to “red” because red is my favorite color and I feel better when I can say that I’ve finished a book.

That means I know more than I did before and I can start something new before I have to start over.

So I put two and two together and found a word that spells like what I see when I shut my eyes in the sun light; that’s  what color it is when you look at it from the inside.

It reminds me of what I’ve done when I crease cardboard spines and make book covers kiss.

That’s what God told me I was, too.

He said, “You’re well-versed, now read, be READ.”

And he said it behind my closed eyes at exactly 1:12p.m. on August 14th, 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

It was right after he took the clouds away . . .

. . . when I remembered to blink and I saw the color of my favorite crayon, like somehow I’d colored, pressing HARD like I always do, colored everything in front of me—my world, yours.

I was sleeping in Heaven and I didn’t want to wake up.

That’s when I decided that READ and RED could be the same thing, but nobody listens . . .

and I don’t like to talk.

Latin Chickens and The Butterfinger Breakdown

I have to make things. I have to create and generate and speak and weep and wreak havoc like my insides tell me to.

I also have to tell you about these brownies, because, like, even chickens appreciate the offspring of my manic episodes . . .

Strung out on sugar like whoa . . .

They’re Butterfinger Cheesecake Brownies—part boxed, part product of an incessant compulsion to be constantly productive, even if it means lowering myself to Wal-Mart standards and hearing my brother ask if I really have nothing better to do in my spare time than bake.

They’re delicious by the way, if you hadn’t already pulled that assumption out of the fact that I honestly have nothing better to do in my spare time than bake:

A layer of brownie and a sheet of faux cheesecake mixture dotted with peanut butter and Butterfinger pieces followed by the final flagstone: a sticky slab of chocolate—fudge frosting and Nutella—slightly superposed by more candybars; if trees were made of Butterfingers, this is what they’d look like.

Oh my God . . . Butterfinger Bark

. . . Butterfingers and a college graduate

There’s undoubtedly something symbolic about these little kiddos of mine.

And something equally as frustrating about the fact that graduating from college is less of an accomplishment than it is a slap in the face by this  called fiscal accountability and his best friend, social responsibility.

And I just think:

Fuck you, Money. I have brownies.

And then they’re gone—

—the brownies, not my subjection to society.

Personally, and I suppose I’ve always felt this way, but it’s my opinion that the formal schooling of middle class white kids ought to be altered a bit; as in, I walked the stage in my Lion King-stickered cap, nabbed my diploma, and said, “Wait, what?”

What do you mean I no longer have a need for Number 2, non-mechanical pencils? Isn’t there a test I need to take that tells me which job I deserve, which of my professional skills are “satisfactory” and which ones “need improvement”?

I’m just supposed to, like, LIVE? Without a curriculum map to follow?

What IS this?

It’s an invitation to the world; and not just the part of the world with brownies, but the whole damn thing.

And it’s hard to tell the difference between time and now.

It’s strange to watch the sun without passion,

through fever and fervor—

fingertips.

It’s like blindness—sight as good as it gets,

clear as day like hearts on heads—

hearts got heads like fluorescent thinking,

See?

Minds that don’t give off heat,

only radiate light.

And it’s something about the light

That gets me spinning.

Of Our Father, Our Father,

who art not in Heaven,

but everywhere else,

we asked:

Is it better?

And he showed us how to dance.

Because I AM you and you are WE.

My name is yours and yours is mine.

And we’re here.

So have a brownie.

Enter:

Butterfinger Cheesecake Brownies (Click for a Printable Recipe)

Need

Brownies:

1 Box Brownie Mix (I recommend Betty Crocker’s Frosted Variety, but any will do)

1 8 oz. package Cream Cheese, room temperature

1 10oz. package Butterfinger Bites (or 12 fun size bars), roughly chopped

6-12 more Fun Size Butterfingers

½ cup Creamy Peanut Butter

½ cup plus 2 tbsp. Powdered Sugar

2 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 Egg

Do:

Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare brownies according to package directions (1 egg, ¼ cup vegetable oil, ¼ cup water).  Pour batter into a lightly greased 9 x 13” pan and set aside.  In a medium sized bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Add egg, vanilla, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and beat until fully incorporated.  Fold in chopped 10 oz. package or 12 fun sized bars and spread over brownie batter.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out relatively clean.  Let brownies cool for approximately 30 minutes and then refrigerate for another 30.

Once fully cooled, do ‘em up with the frosting and/or chocolate topping remaining 6-12 Fun Size Butterfingers, roughly chopped.

From here, feel free to take an incredibly unlady like fistful of gooey love from the pan as a “taste test”, but I suggest placing the brownies back into the refrigerator until the chocolate topping has set, creating another layer (they’re easier to cut that way, too).

Frosting/Topping:

(Note: I found that the packet of fudge frosting that came with the brownies was not enough, so I whipped up a quick Nutella Frosting (because I had no chocolate chips). Either way, if you buy the frosted boxed brownies, use the fudge frosting in addition to the following recipe, spreading it over the brownies before the topping or the frosting you’ve prepared. Trust me.)

Chocolate Topping

12 oz. bag Chocolate Chips

3 tbsp. Heavy Whipping Cream

In a microwave safe bowl, combine chocolate chips and heavy cream, microwave on high for one minute, stirring at the 30 second interval.  While still warm, pour over brownies and sprinkle with remaining Butterfinger bits.

OR

Nutella Frosting

(If you’re feeling feisty; REMEMBER: Chocolate Topping OR Nutella Frosting so that assembly looks like this: Brownie, Fudge Frosting, Chocolate OR Nutella, Butterfinger Pieces)

¾ cup Powdered Sugar

2 tbsp. Unsalted Butter

½ cup Nutella

2-3 tbsp. Milk

In a microwave safe bowl, melt butter.  Add powdered sugar and whisk until fully incorporated, spoon in your Nutella and pop back into the microwave for another 15 seconds.  Add milk and whisk until smooth.  Pour over brownies and sprinkle with remaining Butterfinger bits.

Oh, and the chicken? That’s Chickira, like Beyonce, only Hispanic—like Shakira, only a chicken . . . and metal—a feisty metal cock, if you will.

And she loves these brownies; hips don’t lie.

Browned Butter (BITCH) Nutella Filled Kettle Cookies

You know that kid in the dining hall—the one who puts peanut butter on cucumbers and BBQ sauce on broccoli; or that girl in the dorm kitchen who puts raisins on sweet potatoes and chili sauce on pouch-tuna?

Mmhhm, nice to meet you.

I’ve been fucking up concocting strange food combinations since I was old enough to squeeze the ketchup bottle . . . on white bread, mostly.  Mayonnaise sandwiches, CornPops cereal in salty little hammocks of Fritos Scoops, the cafeteria chicken patty ritual: ketchup, ketchup, mayonnaise, swirl, potato chips and salami on bagels smeared with yellow mustard and Italian dressing . . . all fairly, gross in a freakishly tempting sort of way, but I ate them.  I mean, I had some seriously sick solutions of stank, but, in my defense, some have been . . .

fucking delectable.

Enter: Canned tuna, white rice, and enough soy sauce to inflate my fingers for a week

Mustard on scrambled eggs (but only if they contain broccoli and/or parmesan cheese)

and . . .

Brace yourself now . . .

K E T T L E  C H I P S  D I P P E D  I N  N U T E L L A.

Slap me on the ass and call me cheeky, but Holy Jesus of Nazareth, you.don’t.even.KNOW.

And no, potato chips are not -insert whiny, mocking voice here- “essentially the same thing;” mostly because I almost died from one once.  I polished off a bowl of the sour cream and cheddar variety, got sick, and woke up to the lush feeling of super soft bathroom tile cushioning my head and a “What the hell are you doing on the floor?”

Chillin’, Dad—straight chillin’.

Yeup, ranch dressing on popcorn is gorgeous, albeit a bit soggy, but potato chips are fatal; not just strangely reminiscent of powdered cheese and greasy kid hands, but malefic little murphy morsels.

Want a chip? Prepare to die.

But kettle chips are different.  Their bags even look like something your mom would design if she was a snack-food bag designer, and they’re crunchy, which is very important.

Wait, though, because it gets better.  See, I’d decided to make these cookies quite some time ago.  I had this perfect image of some seriously BOSS baked goods in my head, which stayed true for the most part: I melted my mini-whisk while browning butter in my sweats—one leg up like a crack dealer turned confectionary—rolled dough balls, scooped nutella, crunched, chilled, spooned, sprinkled, and spazzed when Dad asked what I was making.

“RU-tella?”

“No, Dad, NU-tella.”

“Oh, okay. So what’s in them?”

And then I gave him a bit of dough to swoon over, but alas, no swooning, just straight rejection: “I don’t like cookie dough; it’s weird.”

That’s completely abnormal, but worse, because of that, it totally squanders my “I was adopted” theory.

*Backtracking: I parenthetically refer to these as BITCH cookies because I initially set out to make browned butter cookies, like, all butter involved would be brown, browned butter cookies, but then I realized my recipe calls for two sticks of butter.  I browned one and left the other all pale and original, because, you know, that one regular stick in the batter would totally save the entire batch in case the nutty flavor of the brown variety thoroughly sucked.

Thankfully, the above decision was a product of my manic genius.  I’m thinking of getting in contact with Usher. “ These are my confections . . .” and my efforts to write stories with sugar—to stir flour into fables—resulted in parboiled perfection.

Parboiled because my photography skills are severely limited, like, “I’ll never amount to anything and I might as well just die” limited.

But after a few final exams and a drive home with the Dave Matthews Band, I found myself trippin’ on a crazy girl high and took some more, fairly decent shots on the deck; well, the cookies were on the deck, I was on the ground, in the air, upside down—like my thought process, I was everywhere.

Then, then, after all that, I came inside to discover my mother eating a Choco Taco.

“They were on sale at Price Chopper . . . there’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Klondike Bars           in there too.”

You want to play like that, Ma?

Bakers is pimps too . . .

Nutella Filled Kettle Cookies

Need:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar (1/2 cup reserved)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely crushed sea salt kettle chips (or original flavor)
1 jar Nutella, refrigerated (you’ll not be using the entire jar (maybe 1/2 cup) . . . unless your spoon demands)

Do:

Begin by melting ½ cup (one stick) of butter in a small sauce pan over low heat, stirring constantly.  The butter will foam, but be not afraid.  You’re aiming for small dark flecks in the butter; don’t stop there.  Continue stirring until those dark flecks have taken over and the butter has reached a dark brown color (be careful not to make burned butter).  Pour the loveliness into a small container and refrigerate until hardened again.

Once the butter has hardened back up, cream it together with the second stick and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer.  One at a time, beat in the eggs and toss in the vanilla (you know, just to make the baking process look snazzy).  Dissolve baking soda in hot water and add to batter along with salt. Stir in flour and FOLD in; meaning, turn mixer off and find spatula/spoonula/et cetera crushed kettle chips.

Preheat oven to 350F and nab yourself a couple of parchment lined cookie sheets (trust me, this part is crucial when it comes to cookies).

Word? Word.

Retrieve your jar of Nutella from the box that makes things cold and a teaspoon.  Take a bit of cookie dough, like a hearty spoonful (I use a uniform scooper because uneven cookies are unfair cookies), and flatten in the palm of your hand.  Take a teaspoon (or two) of Nutella, place in the center of the dough, fold the edges of the dough around the chocolaty blop to form a ball, and roll in reserved white sugar until coated.  From here, feel free to throw these bad boys in the oven for 12-15 minutes and call yourself dandy; if, however, you try to refrain from being a settler, follow the lead of Miss Smitten Kitchen and perform the following sacred baking ritual:

“Place on prepared baking sheet and using the bottom of a drinking glass . . . to slightly flatten the cookies. Cookies only need to be an inch apart; they only spread a little. Sprinkle with a few flakes of the [kettle] chip salt (1 tablespoon crushed kettle chips, 1 1/2 teaspoons flaked sea salt) and repeat with remaining dough [balls].

Now, unless you suck, you may bake: 350F, 12-15 minutes, just golden, inexplicably perfect.

Go and brush your shoulders off.