Friday, April 9, 2010

Casual Dinner Party Menu: 15 years later, we're still the same

To the TMAHS crew that changed me - BS, KY, JW, JN, JW, LR, MH and all the rest...and SOB who brought us together.
15 years ago, a principal at a small start-up school made the single decision that changed my life - he hired me.  I was fresh out of graduate school, armed with a Masters of Teaching, but with very few classroom hours under my belt.  I'm not sure what he saw in me, or what the rest of the interview panel saw in me, but they decided they wanted me, green, inexperienced, and pretty clueless.  I was thrust into an urban school, in its second year, which was surviving, primarily on the backs of the dedicated teachers that worked there. 

Being only 23 years old, working in an urban school, long crazy hours, was one of the best experiences of my life.  I loved my job, loved the students, and most importantly loved the people with whom I worked.  What truly made my experience great were the friendships and relationships I built with my fellow teachers. To this day, some of the people that I worked with back then are still some of the most thoughtful, committed, and brilliant people I know.  I'm proud to know them.  I'm proud to call them my friends.  I'm lucky they still put up with me after all these years.

15 years ago, one of our favorite things to do was to just hang out together, talk, discuss, and laugh.  We sometimes went out after teaching and would sit around laughing our heads off over silly things that happened in our classroom and de-stressed by verbalizing what we had done wrong in the day or talking craziness in the classroom that only a fellow teacher could understand.  As we all moved on in our lives, changed schools, stopped teaching (actually only I have), gotten married and had children, our chances to be together are few and far between.  When we do manage it, it's just like we were 15 years ago, still talking about our students, still sharing what we're doing in the classroom or for education, and still laughing at all the silliness of our lives.

When our friend KY and her husband DC made it out from New York for a visit here, I knew I wanted to host a dinner for some of us.  The tricky thing is, however, that it is now families who come and gather, not single people.  5 teachers gathering becomes a party of 20 in no time flat, when all the kids, spouses and diaper bags get counted.   Without much warning, a weeknight was decided upon and suddenly I had to host 20 people for dinner.

I chose a menu that allowed me to work ahead of time.  I also shared some of the burden by asking others to help me out and bring a few things.  In the end, although I was a bit all over the place, it was a wonderful night of laughter, jokes and smiles.  There were in our midst 10 kids helping each other, playing with each other and having fun with each other, much in the same way that we did many years ago.

Casual Dinner Party Menu
Turkey Chili (made the night before, and reheated day of)
Macaroni and Cheese (noodles boiled in the morning, set aside.  Cheese sauce made 1 hour before dinner and the whole thing baked in the oven)
Ultimate Ribs (easy because it just sits and cooks in the oven, and you can do other things)
Caprese Salad (totally impromptu - friend was supposed to bring salad, but at the last minute wasn't able to, so I just threw together what I had in the fridge)

Some Dessert
Pecan Rolo Pretzels (but I made them with almonds instead)
Velvet Cupcakes

I asked people to bring things as well - just so I was a bit less stressed.  I asked for some cheese and crackers, fruit and drinks.  People brought...and this is actually how casual the gathering was...
Crackers were just thrust onto plates, cheese the same, plastic cups and drinks all on a central serving area, and people all just gathered around talking and laughing.  Great fun for all!

As an aside, one of the main reasons I am so proud of my friend KY is that she has spent the past several years working with Doug Lemov, helping him to identify, qualify and explain what great teachers do.  She has spent countless hours watching teaching video to pinpoint those exact amazing moments of teaching that make students learn.   Doug Lemov and a team of super dedicated teachers at Uncommon Schools have put this information into a book, Teach Like a Champion.  It is a guidebook, a handbook, and a GREAT book for anyone who is a teacher...Sunday school, preschool, elementary school high school.  I've read the book - and think it truly amazing that concrete teaching skills are now in a book for all to read.  If you have a chance, pick it up and try some of the techniques in there.  (There are great things in there for parents too.)


Julie said...

Your parties seem so perfectly prepared. I'm definitely going to have to try the ribs in the future. I'm also wondering where you got that cute salad bowl!

Joanne Choi said...

you're kidding about perfectly prepared? it was hectic, but it was worth it. And it's okay if it is not perfect. You see how casual and how not perfect everything is in the pictures?

the bowl? from here...

Anonymous said...

Jo Jo - The party was fantastic! Thanks so much for all that you did - you make it sound easy, but it was an amazing feast! Much love to my wonderful friend, cook extraordinaire, and champion teacher.

Anonymous said...

We are still talking about the mac and cheese of which MS consumed 6 plates. I will refrain from calculating his rib consumption. Gathering around your amazing food and laughing for hours was a highlight and brought back a flood of memories from back when we all did it the TM Way. Thank you for bring us together again! JN


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