Thursday, October 15, 2009

Write Like an 8th Grader and Cook Like a Chef

It's a little late in the day for my post. Sorry to be behind. Wednesdays can be a little disorganized because it's my day to go and teach a very excellent group of 8th graders a writing program I've created. We will work for the year together and each student will write their own book. I've done this program for two years now with 8th graders and I think I learn as much as they do. I love working with kids because they get really involved with the project and their imaginations are amazing. They let go when they discover that I don't give them very many rules in the creative writing process. I've also been fortunate enough to work with Kindergarten and a fifth grade classes last year, and it looks as if I'll be adding third grade into the scheme of things. It's my goal to get kids writing and to enjoy the process of writing stories. Each age group is unique and fun.

Today was all about where stories come from and how we begin to develop them. The initial answer I gave them is that stories are developed from questions and answers. The writer begins asking questions and then he/she develops answers to those questions. That first question always starts with a what if... After that I had them make up 3 lists. The first list is all about a who. A who can be an animal, a fantasy creature, a human (specific or non-specific). Some they came up with were: chef, teenager, dog, doctor, hobbit, etc. Then we went onto the next list and that list involves a problem. For example we had on the board today: no food, hurricane, fighting, leaving something behind, etc. Then the third list was--where: ranch, hospital, fantasy planet, France.

After developing our lists, we then proceeded with basic what ifs, For example: What if a chef left behind something important in France? Okay--thats basic. After that we developed more specifics by asking more questions--what did he leave behind? Where did he leave it? Where is he from? Can he speak French? Why was he in France? Where did he go? What happened next? etc...

Another one they came up with was (and I loved this) What if a doctor couldn't come up with a diagnosis on his patient? (very basic). It then turned into What if a doctor couldn't come up with a diagnosis on his patient in the hospital, and what if the hospital is haunted? That then turned into: What if the doctor couldn't come up with a diagnosis on the patient in the haunted hospital because the patient is actually dead and is the one doing the haunting! I know--Twilight Zone, right? But brilliant! These are thirteen year olds. I so love it.

It's just a ton of fun to see how these kids create. I remind them that writing (and this is for adult writers, too) is simply going back to being that little kid who played with his toys and used his imagination. Now we can use that playful kid to imagine characters and plots and put them on the page.

I hope I can grow this program and nurture kids' imaginations, instead of allowing the TV, video games, computers, etc to rob them of this God given gift. When we don't use our imagination or we aren't creative in some way or another (art, dance, music, sports, etc), we turn a part of our brain off and that scares me. Instead of being an "entertain me, please, world," I hope we can get back to an, "I can entertain myself," state of mind. I won't get on my soap box here, but kids have been given and given for generations and there is nothing wrong with giving to our children, but when it zaps them from being creative, productive human beings, then that is a problem.

Anyway, if you want, I'd love to read any what ifs... you might come up with using this exercise. It's a lot of fun and can actually be a great game to play with your family around the dinner table.

Speaking of dinner, I am giving you a sneak preview of one of the recipes from "Happy Hour." this recipe actually was one that came from my very dear friend Hillarie who lost her battle to breast cancer a few years ago. I still can't make it quite the way she did, but it is delicious and if you like salmon, you will love this. Don't forget that this is the last week you can pre-order happy Hour and also receive one of my mysteries (there's a golden ticket in some of those Happy Hour books--gourmet wine and food basket, etc). Click on link to the right to order. Now get cooking and creating!

Salmon in Miso:

1 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)4 tablespoons light yellow miso (fermented soybean paste)6 tablespoons sugar4 salmon filets (about 5 or 6 ounces each)1 1/2 cups snow peas

Add the mirin, miso and sugar to a small, nonstick saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil for three minutes, whisking as it boils to create a smooth miso marinade.

Reserve 1/3 cup of the miso marinade and set aside. Pour the remaining miso marinade over the salmon filets in a gallon zip-lock bag or a shallow dish. Let salmon marinate in refrigerator for at least an hour (or up to 12 hours).
Grill the salmon filets skin side down about 5 inches from the coals or heat for about 14 minutes or until salmon is cooked throughout. You can lightly brown the top of the salmon filets by broiling briefly in your kitchen oven or by gently flipping the salmon filets over and grilling them, flesh side down, for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile to make a miso sauce for the table, add the 1/3 cup of the reserved miso marinade to a small nonstick saucepan and stir in 3 tablespoons fat-free half-and-half and a teaspoon of flour. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce has reached your desired thickness. Also, add snow peas to a small microwave-safe dish with 1/4 cup water, cover and cook on HIGH until snow peas are just tender (about three minutes).

Serve each serving of broiled salmon over a scoop of steamed white or brown rice (if desired) and top with a drizzle of the miso sauce and fan some snow peas on top for garnish.

Serve with Viognier.

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