My 7th grade students and I spent most of class today making fun of their writing.
Wait, that sounds bad, doesn’t it? Am I currently losing teacher points? I definitely would’ve lost a few if you’d walked in and seen me reading a student’s paper aloud, barely restraining laughter (while the class didn’t even bother trying.)
Reserve judgment, though! I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds.
See, the students were actually nominating themselves for this roasting. The papers we were snickering at were their earliest assignments from last year, and they were so amusing because the kids are so much better at writing now. Because they grow by leaps and bounds over the two years I teach them, I always plan a day at the end of 7th grade for them to complete a writing reflection. Today was that day.
I originally planned the reflection to be an individual, silent activity. Every year, however, it inevitably evolves into a class-wide discussion, mostly because they love to share the absurd things they find in their early work. About 5 minutes into the assignment, a student will raise his or her hand to announce, “My handwriting was terrible back then!” Another hand will shoot into the air: “I used periods in a list where I should have used commas!” Another hand: “This sentence didn’t even make sense!”
My favorite moment today was when E. and A. shared their “thesaurusy” papers. After I exhorted them at the beginning of the year to work on their word choice, both girls resorted to the thesaurus. It was an excellent impulse, but their execution was . . . ah, imperfect. They doubled over in laughter today as they shared sentences from that early paper: “I reckon human cloning is spurious,” and “I conjecture that human cloning is shoddy.”
I’m happy to report that both girls use more appropriate diction these days.
All of the good-natured ribbing and laughter today did make their writing analysis take longer, and I could have shushed them and redirected their focus. The truth is, though, I relish their incredulity. I’ve saved all of their writing for two years just to savor this moment with them. They giggle at themselves and at others, search for concrete ways their writing has improved, and realize that the 360 language arts classes they just completed actually taught them something.
Secretly, their reflection becomes my reflection: what did my course accomplish? How have these kids grown?
For my students, I provide reflection opportunities like this, complete with detailed prompts to guide their thoughts. For me, though, reflecting is like breathing. I’m naturally introspective (sometimes to a fault!) so that I can hardly plan the future without evaluating (and re-evaluating, and re-evaluating again) the past.
Recently, pondering the past led me to revisit these adorable stuffed French toast cups. They’re one of my favorite breakfast/brunch recipes and I’ve known for awhile that I wanted to create some variations on the French toast cup theme.
In these little Croque Madame Cups, sweet French toast cradles salty ham, mellow Gruyère cheese, and a gorgeous yolky baked egg. The cups self-sauce as the yolk breaks over the contents, and with a quick dip in some maple syrup, each bite is perfection. They’re a little more fiddly than just making French toast or just making a sandwich, but they’re cute enough for a fancy brunch and so worth the effort.
They were a delicious, luxurious way to reinvent my French toast cups, but I’m betting I’m not finished yet! Those cups are destined for even more fun fillings.
Since we’re being reflective today, reflect on your year so far: how have you grown in 2012?
Croque Madame French Toast Cups
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 8 cups
These little Croque Madame French Toast Cups take two messy dishes — a traditional croque madame and French toast — and combine them in finger food format. Apart from being more convenient to serve and eat at a brunch or breakfast, they’re outright adorable. I love the gorgeous flavor of Gruyère in each cup, but if you’re on a budget you can use good Swiss. Make sure to buy good quality ham, though, because it really makes the dish.
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 8 teaspoons, divided
1/2 cup milk
3 large eggs plus 4-8 eggs, divided (see note below)
2 tablespoons honey, microwaved for 20 seconds (but not while still IN THE BEAR, y’all!)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 slices day-old or stale sandwich bread
4 tablespoons butter
a couple of slices good ham
a couple of slices Gruyère cheese (or Swiss) and some grated for topping
salt and pepper
Note: Cracking the egg over each French toast cup before baking is the hardest part of this recipe, because a whole egg has too much liquid and overflows the cup. I’ll tell you what I did to get the right amount of egg in each cup, and then I’ll make a suggestion for how you might be able to do it even easier. What I did is crack the egg and pry it open just enough to let half the white and half the yolk slip into one French toast cup (using the shell to reserve the other half of the egg). I then released the other half of the egg over another cup. I think it’d be even easier, though, to just crack 8 eggs into a wide bowl and use a spoon to scoop a yolk and a little white out into each French toast cup. You’d end up using more eggs, but this way each cup will have a whole yolk, which is lovely!
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, honey, cinnamon, and salt (this step can be done the night before and refrigerated). When you’re ready to cook your French toast, pour this mixture into a cake pan or pie dish.
Prepare your bread by removing the crusts (I stack the slices and use a long serrated knife to remove all the crusts at once) and roll each slice with a rolling pin to slightly flatten and elongate it. Dip each slice of bread into your custard mixture for about 8-10 seconds on each side before carefully removing it with a spatula to a cooling rack over a sheet pan or over the sink. Allow the excess moisture to drain off of the slices for 1-2 minutes.
To cook French toast, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a skillet. Put 2 slides of bread at a time into the pan and toast gently to golden brown (about 2-3 minutes per side). Remove the French toast to a cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat with all the slices of bread, replenishing butter in the pan as needed. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. When the French toast is cool enough to handle, take each piece and gently tuck it into the well of a greased muffin tin, forming a bowl. Tuck some ham and Gruyère cheese in each cup. Place an egg over top (see above note). Lightly salt and pepper each cup and then top each egg with 1 teaspoon heavy cream.
Bake the cups at 400 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, watching carefully. Pull them out when the white is set but the yolk is not fully cooked through (has a little jiggle.) Top each cup with a little shredded Gruyère when they’re hot from the oven. Set them out to cool and continue cooking from their residual heat (at least 10 minutes). Use a knife to loosen the edges from the pan (and you might even need to use it as a lever to loosen the bottom of the cup, since some of the egg will have leaked out and sealed the cup to its well.) Remove the cups to a serving plate (if they seem to be wobbly, leave them in the pan a little longer). Serve them warm on a bed of maple syrup.
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