was sleeping

Mark is an idiot, per usual

There is one teacher in my school who has been particularly hard to work with. This is mainly due to her schedule: she is a homeroom teacher, so she has to be with her class for the homeroom at the beginning and end of the school day; she runs the tennis team, so she supervises their practices before and after classes every day; and she runs the student council, so she is often busy with them too. She is usually at school from about 7 to 8, but never has any time to consult with me. I shall call her Ms. Red.

This would be fine if she were OK with me just showing up in classes and doing what she tells me to do then, or if she were to just make requests of me. She does neither. Just showing up in classes and, for instance, reading the textbook slowly enough so the students can follow along, is worth almost nothing. There are CDs which came with the textbook which have every word and every passage read by a native speaker, and of course she can read the textbook too. So I also make powerpoints in simple English, I do skits with the teachers, and I prepare games for practicing grammar. This always takes a fair amount of preparation and consultation, and with the other two English teachers, I just ask them. Neither of them is as busy as she is, so they're usually at their desks or in class. And if they are too busy-- both of them do have several non-curricular duties-- it's OK, because I'll be able to catch them another time. Ms. Red has told me that she's usually available after classes, but after classes she has homeroom and after homeroom she has tennis practice, and even if she's at her desk in between homeroom and tennis she's usually busy.

Anyway, last week, I asked her, "When can we talk?" She said, "Not now, I'm busy." I said, "I know. When is OK?" Her answer was, "Monday morning, between 8:00 and 8:10." My contract says that I don't have to be at work until 8:30, but whatever it says, doing my job is the most important thing. So I was at school at 8:00. She was consulting with another teacher until 8:05 and there was a staff meeting at 8:10, but those 5 minutes were enough to plan for the week.

Yesterday I asked her again, "Are you busy?" (The answer was, as expected, "Yes, so busy.") "When is OK?" "After 8." "Is Monday OK?" "Yes, at 8:00." "8:00 Monday morning. OK." Simple as that.

Why on earth hadn't I done that before?? How is it that it took me almost a year to figure this out?
was sleeping

(no subject)

I swear, administering tests gives me the heebie-jeebies. This week I'm testing the first years and the third years (the seventh and ninth graders, if you count from the first year of elementary school). I tested the second-years last week. The main English teachers are administering the speaking test this time, and I'm administering the reading test.

The students have to read a short passage-- it takes me 10 seonds to read out loud normally, and 16 seconds at a more classroom-friendly speed-- and I have to evaluate them out of 3 on speed, pronunciation, and volume/attitude.

Each of these is a fairly fuzzy category, because even if someone reads in a good number of seconds, they might sound too fast or too slow. (So I make that one a less fuzzy category by just setting a range they should shoot for and timing them all.) For pronunciation, I don't think I gave anyone a 3 out of 3, because no one got all the r's and l's, the past tense -ed, the pronunciation of all of the words, and an approximation of a natural rhythm right. And the last category is the worst.

After administering the test to one class, I told one of the teachers, "I can hear them of I can't. Shouldn't I just give full points to the ones I can hear?" And her answer was that the third point is for when someone is especially crisp and clear, so she wanted me to rate out of 3 anyway. So what happens is if someone read in the number of seconds I prescribed, but reads totally robotically, I take out points from the other categories.

And I swear, I suffered with almost every single number I wrote. Yes, there were a lot of easy 8s-- people who read in good time, with acceptable pronunciation. (Many of the second-years were easy 7s instead of easy 8s, because the time we used for the third-years was much less strict. This was not on purpose; after I read the passage for a third-year class, the teacher said, "OK, that was 15 seconds, so anything between 10 seconds and 20 seconds is perfect.") But there are a lot of people whose pronunciation is considerably less clunky, or who make effort to put in more of the peaks and valleys of natural English. And I have to choose, are they an 8.5, or a 9, or even a 9.5? Or, if they spoke well but made lots of mistakes, which overrides the other, or do they cancel out? Or if they were sub-par, just how sub-par? It's easy for me to write those numbers, but I know that those numbers will have real effects for the students.

I read in That's Disgusting: Unravelling the Mysteries of Repulsion by Rachel Herz (I am addicted to Kindle) about an experiment. Both male and female subjects interviewed young women. The women fumbled through their purses at one point and dropped either a hair clip or a tampon onto the table. And both the male and the female subjects rated the women who dropped the tampons as less competent and less likeable than the women who dropped the hair clips. Herz quoted the study to show that people really don't like seeing tampons. But it also shows some of the weird sorts of biases that can creep into tests like these even when you're trying to be fair.

I am not used to administering tests.
was sleeping

(no subject)

A few days ago, I watched a movie called 「リアル~完全なる首長竜の日」, or in English, "Real: A Perfect Day for a Pleiosaur". I had to see it because there were machines similar to the ones used in Inception.

It goes like this: A guy's girlfriend has been in a coma for a year, but at the hospital, people are developing a machine that will let someone enter her consciousness. Her boyfriend, of course, is the only one who can do it. When he does, he finds her sitting at her desk in her mind, trying to write the continuation of the manga she'd been writing before, but she says it's not going well. She has one request for him. "Remember that drawing of a pleiosaur I gave you when we were high school freshmen? If I see it again, I think I'll break out of this slump. Find it and bring it to me."

While he looks for the picture, meanwhile, a ghost of a dripping wet ten-year-old boy keeps showing up. And every time he goes into his girlfriend's mind again, things are somewhat different. One time, her office is flooded with water. Another time, gravity isn't quite working; her pen floats through the air when she releases it. "That's because this isn't real," he tells her. Another time, outside the window, all they see is blank whiteness. There are a few twists that you will probably see coming, and I went, "Oh, of course, that explains that," when I saw them. The movie is classified as a mystery, because he has to solve the puzzle of the pleiosaur, but at its heart the movie is really a bizarre love story. I didn't like the ending, but was otherqise quite happy with it.
was sleeping

(no subject)

One of the teachers had me grammar-check a test she was writing. It included the following: "I've already worn my slippers!" This is a reference to an incident a few months ago: she and I were at a faculty volleyball tournament with some of the other teachers, and I was surprised to see bathroom slippers in the bathroom. I was already used to seeing bathroom slippers in the bathrooms in places where you're expected to be wearing slippers already, like doctors' offices and restaurants, but I didn't understand how it was supposed to work in a gym, where everyone was wearing sneakers. Anyway, she was amused at this small bit of culture shock, and has used it in a few lessons. Here, the test was on the present perfect, which in English is "have" plus a past participle. For example, "have eaten". Here, however, "I've already worn my slippers" makes no sense. She wanted something like "I've already put on my slippers" (which is difficult because the students don't know that use of "put on") or "I'm already wearing my slippers", which doesn't use the present perfect.

One problem here is the meaning of "wear". Japanese has about five words that can be translated as "wear", but none of them actually mean "wear"; they all mean "put on". One of them (haku) means "to put on the lower body", another (kiru) is for upper body, another (shimeru) is for things like belts that require fastening, and so on. But none of them have the sense of being on continuously that "wear" does. They all just refer to the action of putting it on. The problem, though, is that to express the concept of "is wearing", you use the continuing form that is generally easily translated as "is _____ing" or, in very horrible English, "is in the state of having _____ed" (____teiru). And "wear" is normally used as part of "be wearing". So it looks like "wear" just refers to the action of putting on the clothes, just like the Japanese verbs do. IT's very difficult to get that across!

After I explained this, the teacher considered just ditching that whole section of the test. I feel bad for her!
was sleeping

(no subject)

Posting this by typing 1 letter at a time from my new iphone from my new apartment in Nagano. This is so slow I'll almost never post (pls frgv ntspk) but I promise I'm still alive!
was sleeping

(no subject)

Since I'm going to Japan for I don't even know how many years, it's time to finally move out properly-- that is, get my room empty enough so that someone else could move in.

The good part is that unlike previous attempts at room cleaning, I can just ask myself, "Will I need it in Japan?" and if not, "Will I need it when I come back from Japan?" If the answer is "no" to both of them, it goes out. Trash, recyclables, thrift store, used bookstore. Laundry will be washed, then sorted and either packed or donated. Very simple.

The bad part: the sheer volume of stuff. I thought I'd done well when I'd gone through the piles of coursework and papers on my floor. Then I looked at my desk, which was piled about two feet high. Then my other desk. Then inside my desk-- 3 drawers full of junk from elementary school. Then under my bed. My closet.

There are definitely some nice little surprises. Like, there's change everywhere-- sometimes in piles, sometimes just scattered, sometimes in the pockets of pants I haven't worn in 4 years. I keep unearthing coins. I expected there to be about $15 overall, but so far it's up to $40 and counting. (The $20 in quarters were nice, but the $4 pennies were a pain.) I even found a pile of cash from when my boss used to pay me in cash-- that's $300 I'd just forgotten about.

The toughest part, though, is the books. I would be sad if all of them disappeared, but I'd know I'd be able to rebuild most of it. But looking at any individual book, I go, "I loved that book!" or "I wanted to read that book!" I can't cull them at all, I love them all too much. It feels so sad to put them in storage for however many years it's going to be, knowing that no one will read them for the whole time, but it feels just as sad to donate them to the used bookstore.
was sleeping

(no subject)

The pastry chef said that I could come back whenever I wanted, as long as I don't visit every day, so I guess I can call myself a pastry intern now. If you go to Il Cappricio tonight or tomorrow and order the lemon mousse or the torrone semifreddo, you'll be having something I made. I also made rhubarb syrup to go over strawberry crostata, the crisp topping for blueberry and peach crisps, and chocolate buttercream frosting to go over a raspberry-filled chocolate cake someone ordered. (Cake isn't on the menu at Il Cappricio, but if you call a day ahead and order one, he'll make one for you.)

I'm still a bit surprised by the kitchen culture there. For instance, he sliced off the tops of the chocolate cake layers so the cake would stack together neatly, and he left these thin extra slices in the pans on the counter. Then for the next half-hour or so, every host, waiter, or prep cook who wandered by just took a bit of it. (I definitely had my fair share too! Who wouldn't want a morsel of chocolate cake?) One of the prep cooks was julienning some beautiful sugar snap peas, and the pastry chef just grabbed a few when he walked by. He also left the bowl he used to mix up the molten chocolate cakes lying around, and at least one of the hosts just stuck a finger in. It's so different from working in a dining hall! Over the course of the day I had countless little bites of chocolate cake, licks of buttercream frosting, tastes of semifreddo and lemon mousse, and nibbles of torrone. He let me take home some extra torrone too. In effect, I'm getting paid in dessert.

By the way, before I forget, here's the recipe for torrone semifreddo. The torrone is 3 cups of sugar and 1 cup of honey boiled to the crack stage, poured over 3 egg whites as they're beating, mixed with the zest of an orange, beaten until the mixer can't handle it anymore, then kneaded with some chopped toasted almonds and a little cornstarch and spread out to cool. This makes enough for 2-3 batches of semifreddo. Because he doesn't have an industrial mixer, it comes out fairly soft, almost marshmallowey, melt-in-your-mouth, fragrant with orange, and for this purpose it's fine. The semifreddo itself is dead easy, actually: beat 4 egg yolks with half a cup of sugar until pale and tripled in volume, whisk a pint of cream, and fold them together with a tablespoon of Frangelico, two tablespoons of Gran Marnier, and as much of the torrone as you want, ripped and crumpled up. This time he sprinkled in some powdered hazelnut praline too. Then you put it in molds and freeze them. This amount makes about 6. I tasted the batter, and it was amazing. He serves them over a pool of warm gianduja ganache.

Also, here's how he did chocolate cake. The cake recipe itself is standard, and I didn't see it. He sliced off the tops of the layers so they stacked better, then spread the bottom layer with a reasonably thick layer of raspberry jam, then with a reasonably thick layer of chocolate buttercream. (Remember, this is the sort of buttercream recipe that calls for a pound and a half of chocolate and two pounds of butter: super rich and smooth and very chocolatey.) After the top layer went on, he checked it to make sure it was level and filled up the uneven side with a bit more buttercream. Then a thin layer of buttercream goes on (I did this part) and it goes into the fridge for 20 minutes before another layer of buttercream goes on. I did this too, but after I thought it looked good, he smoothed it a bit more with the offset spatula, then ran the spatula under hot water to get it very hot and ran it around the side of the cake until it was as smooth as a mirror. Then the whole thing goes in the fridge until the party comes in the door, and the 2 hours or so between then and serving time should be enough to warm up the buttercream. He wasn't worried about the top because the guy who plates the desserts will top it with fresh fruit and serve it with vanilla ice cream.

Last time I visited, I was surprised to find myself a bit bored, actually. It's easy to make one batch of brownies, but to make enough molten chocolate cakes for the restaurant like I did last time, you have to crack about four dozen eggs. (You throw away half the whites. And if you're me and accidentally add the flour to the insufficiently-beaten eggs and it clumps, you throw them all out and crack another four dozen.) It takes a long time to crack four dozen eggs! Or working butter for buttercream: when I went to make the buttercream, the butter just wasn't soft enough, so I chopped it up and worked it myself for 20 minutes until it was good. And it feels pretty similar to washing out the coffeepots at my work: it's just another task that has to be done. Same with a lot of the work. Like, to make lemon mousse with candied lemon rinds, you have to zest and juice about a dozen lemons, then julienne the zests. I'm getting better at it, but it takes a lot of time, and it just feels like something to do and get done with. Not to mention the dishes that you have to take care of, same as at home.

That said, I still think it's very cool to do this.
forgot to sleep by amaralen

(no subject)

Just got an email saying "Congratulations! Your JET status is now 'accepted'."

In August I will be teaching English in Nagano!!

No way can I sleep now.
was sleeping

how to make creme brulee like a pro

When I arrived at Il Cappriccio the other day, the pastry chef already had some hazelnuts toasting in the oven, and he'd mixed up a batch of raspberry sorbet that was just now ready to go into the ice cream maker. It would be impossible for me to give a blow-by-blow of the whole shift, because in general, he was always doing at least four things at once. At any given time, there might be cookies in the oven, chocolate melting on the stove, something cooling in an ice-water bath, and pie dough warming up a bit on the counter to make it easier to roll.

On the eating side, the difference between the creme brulee you make yourself under the broiler and the creme brulee you pay $9 for in a swanky restaurant is that when you pay the $9, you get a lot more than creme brulee. Currently, orange cardamom creme brulee is on the menu. You get a dish of orange cardamom creme brulee, a hazelnut macaroon filled with orange buttercream, and a scoop of raspberry sorbet on a crisp orange cookie. The orange cardamom creme brulee itself is simple, and you can make the same one fairly easily. But I have never served that much stuff together!

Here's a few of the things he made:

-Torrone semifreddo. He'd already made the torrone, a simple matter of pouring boiling sugar and honey over some beating egg whites and adding orange zest and blanched almonds, and he'd made it come out soft and fragile. (He let me taste some: it was soft, a bit chewy, almost melt-in-your-mouth, and absolutely fragrant with the orange zest.) The semifreddo itself was 8 egg yolks and sugar beaten together until the sugar dissolved and the mixture was pale, then with a quart of cream, whipped, a spoonful of Frangelico, a few spoonfuls of Gran Marnier, and chunks of semifreddo folded in. (He let me taste this mixture-- it was amazing.) You then freeze this in molds and serve it atop ganache made with gianduja.

-Lemon mousse, which is one of his interpretations of a house recipe that's always been with the restaurant. You take the zest of a few lemons and the juice of a lot, then you warm up the lemon juice with a little sugar and gelatin so that the sugar dissolves and the gelatin melts. Meanwhile, you have egg whites beating with a little sugar and cream whipping. (He has 2 stand-type mixers to help with the multitasking.) After the gelatin is melted, you chill the mixture until it comes down to room temperature in a bowl set in a bowl of ice, then you fold in the cream and egg whites. Then you just fill the cups, cover them, and let them set. This is one of the simplest desserts on the menu, and it's served with only some candied lemon rinds and one or two dried cherry biscotti.

-Molten chocolate cake. Of course, molten chocolate cake is best right out of the oven, but here's his trick for making it ahead. You bake the cakes, then you unmold them. You leave some of them at room temperature and put the rest in the fridge. The ones you leave at room temperature will be heated up in the oven for just a couple of minutes when they are plated, and the ones in the fridge will come to room temperature in the kitchen later. He serves the molten chocolate cake covered with caramel sauce, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a crisp cocoa cookie and some whipped cream on the side.

-The aforementioned orange cardamom creme brulee. You take the zest of an orange, a handful of cardamom pods, a quart of heavy cream, and a quart of whole milk. You bring it all up to a boil, then you turn off the heat, cover it, let it sit for an hour or so to let the flavors infuse, then you strain out the orange zest and cardamom and make creme brulee with it. This much made about 15 orders. The procedure for basil-flavored ice cream is the same: you set the basil in the cream, let it infuse for a couple hours, then strain out the basil and make ice cream with the cream.

-Here's his recipe for caramel sauce, although I didn't see him make it. Take 3 cups of sugar and a cup of corn syrup and cook them until they're the right shade of brown. Add a quart of heavy cream and stir and cook it until the caramel is dissolved and the mixture thickens somewhat. He says it keeps for weeks in the fridge.

-The aforementioned hazelnut macaroons: you toast the hazelnuts, cool them somewhat, then grind them to powder with some confectioner's sugar. Fold them into some beaten egg whites, shoot them out of a pastry bag (he let me try this, and it's not as easy as it looks!), let them sit for 2 hours, then bake them. They were really nice at that stage, mostly crispy with a bit of chewy and this wonderful, rich toasted hazelnut flavor, but he sandwiched them with just a tiny dollop of pastry cream flavored with orange zest and Gran Marnier.

As well as these, he made dried cherry biscotti, vanilla ice cream, orange cookies for the creme brulee and cocoa cookies for the molten chocolate cake (I helped with these), candied lemon rinds for the lemon mousse (I helped with these too), and individual strawberry and dried cherry pies. Being a professional pastry chef is a little bit like being a waiter in that you have to be able to remember how many balls you've got in the air, and when you have to catch each one. There is not much difference in how he folds together a mousse and how I do, but he can make a mousse and molten chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream and biscotti all at once, and I can't. He even told me that this ability to multitask is more important than theoretical knowledge, because being able to make the best dessert in the world doesn't help you if you can't get the job done.
was sleeping

(no subject)

My boss is awesome!

The way the scheduling works at the store is that he writes a new schedule every week, although we're free to change it amongst ourselves as much as we want after the fact. Since he writes it Friday morning, if you give him a note by Thursday night with your request, he'll give you what you want. There is only one time in the 8 months I've been working that he slipped up, and he apologized after.

There's something next Saturday I wanted to get to, but I was a bit out of it when I wrote the note, and I requested "Saturday 3/30" off. This Saturday is the 31st. So he just gave me both Friday the 30th and Saturday the 31st off. How cool is that?