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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Lessons in Transience has moved!

Hello all!

Just to let you know that I have moved my blog to WordPress. Lessons in Transience can now be found at https://lessonsintransience.wordpress.com

Add me to your Reader, or follow me on twitter @temporaltravel to read my latest content :).


Saturday, 18 June 2016

To Marmite

This came to me while I was eating dinner and musing over expat life. In the style of Dr Seuss. I hope you enjoy!

'Marmite! Marmite? What is that?'
Shriek the girls in my Italian flat.
'How do you eat it? What do you do?
It looks untrustworthy through and through!'
'Well now I'll tell you,' and their heads I pat,
'It's good with eggs, on toast that's flat.
It's good with cheese, and on its own.
Even on a ricecake - one mustn't moan!
It's good with beans for a flavoursome lunch - 
Relax, my dear, that face you scrunch.
It's good in soups, chillies, stews - all kinds of fayre!
In truth wherever love is, you'll find Marmite there.'

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Edam and Courgette 'Rustica'

Now this, this was an absolute EXPERIMENT in the dark that turned out VERY WELL, born of a leftover courgette lurking in my fridge and the desire to eat something other than pasta for once in my Italian life.

Serves 2 (with a side salad. Could stretch to four with lots of other bits on the plate too)


Cheese of some description - the title says Edam because it was what I used the first time due to it being the cheapest available in the supermarket at the time. I generally just have a rummage and try to find whatever medium, fairly flavoursome cheese is on offer on the day though - pretty much anything will do. Haven't tried Cheddar yet, and don't use anything too sloppy or mild.

1 courgette

1 pack ready-roll pastry (because I am a lazy, good-for-nothing CHEAT, people. Actually, Italian ready-made pastry comes already rolled in its own baking parchment wrapper, which is perfect for a short-term foreigner living in student accommodation. Kills approximately four birds with one small and perfectly formed stone.)

Bit of milk for brushing.


1) Pre-heat oven. I'm afraid I can't give you a temperature, my oven has two heat settings - 'big flame' and 'small flame'. Just make sure it's hot enough to...cook it.

2) Open the pastry and plonk it in a baking dish/tray to suit the size of the pastry itself, so some of it can still be folded over at the edges and ends

3) Chop the courgette into rounds and place into the pastry case

4) Chop (don't grate, chop - it makes it more rustic) the cheese into chunks and scatter over the courgette. Make sure they're evenly spread.

5) Fold over the edges and brush with milk

6) Pop in the oven and remove once the cheese and courgette is a lovely melty goo and the pastry is golden. Can be enjoyed straight away or eaten cold with a picnic!


After I wrote up the risotto recipe that I went on to describe as 'possibly my best Italian culinary achievement to date' yesterday, I remembered this humble dish, which served me well in five ways:

1) It's dirt cheap
2) It's filling
3) It's warm on a chilly day
4) It's ridiculously easy to make
5) It's super healthy

I'm somewhat ashamed to say that ratatouille is a vegetarian staple that I'd never really given the time of day until I moved to Italy, which is ironic given that it's French. Anyway, here goes:

Serves 4


2 courgettes

1 aubergine

2 peppers (red, yellow or orange)

12-15 cherry tomatoes, or six normal ones

1 onion

Drop of olive oil

Dried mixed herbs

Bouillon powder/vegetable stock cube


1) Add the oil to a large (and I mean large!) pan. Chop the onion and fry gently for about five minutes, over a low heat.

2) Meanwhile, chop all your other veggies/plant products

3) Bung all the veggies in the pan, including the tomatoes (they're a fruit I know, hence 'plant products', for the pedants out there)

4) Add a small splash of water. Literally just a splash. Like...show it some water. These ingredients will release a lot of water as they cook anyway.

5) Sprinkle over a teaspoon of the Bouillon powder, or crumble over the stock cube. Give the mixed herbs a good generous shake over everything.

6) Mix the whole concoction well.

7) Put a lid on the pan and leave it to cook for about 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will reduce considerably and release a lot of moisture. Once everything's looking cooked through, dish up and enjoy with crusty bread or rice. It probably goes well with chutneys too!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Spinach and Pesto Risotto with Gorgonzola

It's been a wee while, and I realised that while I've documented some of my philosophical ponderings over the last five months, I have not as yet paid much attention to my culinary adventures!

This recipe was born of an excess of frozen spinach in my freezer and is really quite seriously good (if I say so myself).

Serves: 2


Knob of butter

3 espresso cups of risotto rice (if you don't have espresso cups, an egg cup or a shot glass will do. Measurements in my Italian kitchen are somewhat haphazard, but this amount makes two good portions on a hungry day. Just do two if you're planning dessert.)

1 onion

3 chunks of frozen spinach (If you're using fresh you just have to look at it and think 'when that's wilted, will it be enough? and go from there...but use a decent sized bag at least)

1 litre Bouillon powder or vegetable stock (if you use less rice you will have to adjust the amount of stock accordingly)

1/2 tub of fresh green pesto

Chunk of soft Gorgonzola (I'm going to say make it a generous...30 grams. Maybe more)

Generous handful of Parmesan


1) Put the spinach in a small pan with a little water to defrost. If you're using fresh spinach, wilt it in a colander with boiling water and put aside.

2) Chop the onion. Melt the butter in a large pan and soften the onion for around five minutes. 

3) While the onion softens, boil the kettle and make up the stock. (I don't have a kettle so I get my water boiling before I do anything else) Add the rice and stir until glossy with butter.

4) Start adding the stock to the rice little by little and stir constantly until each part of the water is absorbed. Do this on a high heat until all the stock has been absorbed by the rice, then turn the heat right down. Be very careful not to let the rice stick to the bottom of the pan as it will be a pig to scrub clean later! Towards the end of the process you can afford to turn the heat down a bit and leave it to its own devices with just the occasional rigorous stir while you grate the Parmesan. Or if you're really organised you can grate it in advance.

5) Add the spinach and pesto and stir until mixed through. Then add the Parmesan and Gorgonzola and stir thoroughly. If you want, keep back a bit of the Parmesan for sprinkling on top.

Serve up and enjoy!

Can be accompanied with a light white wine if you fancy, and if you're really hungry and misjudged the quantities of stock vs rice (voice of experience) then a nice bit of crusty bread is good for mopping up juices. And if you STILL have space then by God you're most of the way to becoming Italian already and something like strawberries for dessert would follow it well. Perhaps nestled in meringue nests with a hint of cream. Naughty. But less is more, perhaps best just to let the strawberries stand alone. Your call!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Mistake Room

'If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original...and we are running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.' Ken Robinson

Classrooms. A classroom. The classroom. Classroom.

I've been thinking a lot about this word lately. (Well, you say, you're a teacher. Duh.)

I studied English, and part of the study of English is that you think critically about words. I'm tired of people slagging off English because 'oh yeah, I like reading, but I'm just not interested in all the ANALYSING of EVERY LITTLE DETAIL, you know?' Yes ok I get it, pathetic fallacy isn't all that creative (oh, the pouring rain that makes Marianne Dashwood mortally ill is obviously a symbol of the destructive nature of her love for Willoughby blah blah blahhhhh) but that's not the point I'm making here (and it's also a separate post, I think!) What I'm getting at is that words, in all their glory, are signifiers. Their etymology and their history create in us a complex chain of reactions and connotations when we hear them that we probably don't even realise we're processing, but these processes largely pre-dictate our responses.

So. Let's take a critical look at the word 'classroom'.

Firstly, its word-category. It's a compound noun made up of the words 'class' and 'room'. Good.


Dear readers, please take a moment to notice all of your reactions to the word 'class'. What does it mean for you?

Social structure (lowerclass, middleclass, upperclass)
Ranking (classification; both in terms of creating order and academic achievement. 'Did you get a First Class Honours? Ooh, smartypants. With that level of degree I'm sure you'll soon have a job that will allow you to travel business class too!') This last example also suggests social elitism and separation - you only travel business class if you have the means to buy the ticket (or the looks to get upgraded).
Restriction (sorry, that's classified)

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

So, when we enter the classroom, we carry with us all of these associations. And indeed they're reflected in the way that classrooms are organised, with learners often separated onto tables reflecting their 'ability', or the creation of separate ability classes entirely. The classroom is a microcosm of the way we have chosen to structure the world outside it. (Well done Charlie, you have so far discovered nothing new.)

Enter my snazzily reformed name for the place of learning: The Mistake Room!

'Ooh,' you say, 'That's interesting...' but you shift uncomfortably at the mention of the word 'mistake'.

Mistake - another compound noun 'mis'-'take', like 'false-start', if you will.

I notice that a lot of my learners, young and old, whatever their ability, believe that their mistakes in the *cough* 'place of learning' are UTTERLY WRONG and mean they are BAD and they MUST BE ELIMINATED.

And yet. Who ever made a mistake that they didn't learn from? It's like in The Lion King, when Rafiki smacks Simba round the head with his stick to prove exactly the same point. It hurts, but what are you going to do about it? Steal the monkey's stick the second time he makes a swing for you. It may be painful and embarrassing at the time, but it may just open the door to great discovery, creativity, self-affirmation and yes, real learning.

I had a great English teacher in the run-up to GCSEs who sat us down just before our mock exams and said, 'Now is the time to make mistakes girls. Now is the time to get it ALL WRONG. The more 'mistakes' you can make now the better, because then the more we'll have to work with. You are absolutely, 100%, completely safe to make mistakes right now.'

That was the first time that I ever considered that mistakes could be a positive thing. Think of the amount of stuff that was discovered by mistake. America. Yogurt. Cheese. I wonder how many dud lightbulbs Thomas Edison made before it finally worked. If he'd never had the courage to risk making a mistake, he'd have joined all the other apes laughing at him for thinking he could create 'fake sunlight' and, well, complex surgery would still be carried out by candlelight. The whole point of making something, be it art or science, is being able to look at a thing and think 'Hmm, if I just have a fiddle with that and a tinkle with this, maybe it'll make something new and cool. But maybe it won't. Maybe the bridge won't hold (that's why we're making a prototype), or maybe I'll end up asking the Italian waiter 'where are you?' instead of 'where can we sit?' But what will I really lose from it if it does go wrong?' When the prototype crumbles, or when the Italian waiter stares at you like you're a loony and asks if English would be better (sigh), instead of running away and kicking ourselves, we can think 'Hmm, ok, that didn't work so well. I wonder why. Let's have another play and find out.'

If I can encourage my students to feel safe making mistakes in our lessons, to stop apologising for the fact that they're experimenting with new grammar and vocabulary and sometimes sound a bit strange (any students reading this, THANK YOU for some of the mistakes you make in your writing, they provide no end of staff-room hilarity), to recognise 'mistakes' as portals of opportunity, I'll feel I've made it as a teacher.

You are safe here. I'll catch you if you stumble.

Mistakes are good

Allow yourself to feel vulnerable to mistakes during the lesson and see where it leads you.

If we created a world in which making mistakes was the aim of being in 'The Mistake Room', where they were celebrated instead of stigmatised, and if we could take perfection off its pedestal, how much happier, more creative and more balanced would society be?

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Last time I wrote a blog entry I was sat at my kitchen table overseeing a pot of simmering lentils. Chickpeas this time.

I think this poem speaks very well for itself and  - surprise! - poets in the late nineteenth century experienced exactly the same decision-orientated conundrums we can all empathise with today.

Which part speaks most to you? For me right now it's the feeling of peering down each road, weighing my options, feeling immensely the difficulty of the fact that I cannot 'travel both and be one traveler.'

The tense of this poem did puzzle me a little at first. Frost mixes past, present and future in a way that made me wonder where exactly along their journey his speaker is speaking from. Perhaps that's the point. What I have now surmised however, is that they're in the middle looking back for the first three stanzas, then in the fourth they contemplate the future by imagining how they'll speak of their choice 'ages and ages hence.'

Frost's speaker is certainly very positive and self-assured. They claim to have taken 'the road less traveled,' but the second stanza contradicts this - the chosen path looks less travelled but in reality they've been 'worn...really about the same.' So...does that mean he's taking the piss out of those who claim that the benefits of taking 'the road less travelled' outweigh those of taking the conventional road? This appeals to my snarky cynical side but the non-conformist in me doesn't want to believe it. But you can't ignore the first two lines of stanza three - the leaves of neither path are blackened by footsteps. They're virtually the same when it comes to wear and tear.

So, my philosophical thought for you all today? It's utterly unoriginal, banal and uninspiring, but sometimes we need reminding: whatever path you take, it makes no difference. You'll be fine.