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Practicing Samosas

This blog is the second in a series on the connection between cooking and learning. For our first post, and how we frame this month of blog posts, see last week’s post. Week Two: Practicing Samosas I am a good home cook. I can’t offer a test score as proof, but I’d argue I could show that I’ve satisfied each of the following, which is Mollie Katzen’s list of Essentials for Becoming a Great Home Cook: 1. Make a commitment to cooking: If it wasn’t clear enough by the New Year’s Resolution I made (see our blog titled, “Meaningful Resolutions”), I could offer that that I exercise my cooking muscles at least 5 times a week. 2. Make the time for cooking: I cook for between 30 and 90 minutes (on average) each day—sometimes more on weekends. 3. Bond with your own kitchen: Ask my husband how many ridiculous gadgets I have in there, how long it’s been since I reorganized it, or where X (the immersion blender, the tiny whisk we use for just one egg, the pie pan) is. He may not know the answer to all of those questions, but I do. The kitchen is my favorite room. 4. Create the right atmosphere in your kitchen: There are things in my kitchen I wish I could change (we live in a rental), but I was really struck by how differently I felt in there when we switched our light bulbs from “soft white” to “daylight.” Seeing things clearly is important in the kitchen. 5. Start with a modest skill set: Among the best dishes I make are: meatballs in spaghetti sauce, steak au poivre, macaroni and cheese, apple pie, bread (a classic sandwich loaf), and Caesar salad. I feel confident executing all of these. I’m not perfect, but I do think I’m competent. Part of what makes me feel this way is the extent to which I continue learning as I go. For my birthday this year, we made vegetable samosas. They are one of the things I always want to get when we go out to eat Indian food, so when Jack suggested we try making them for my birthday, I was totally in.

Here’s what I forgot: You’re never very good at something the first time you do it. The samosas we made were adequate, and I think they’d be recognized for what they were by someone who wasn’t involved in the cooking process. But I also see a few moves I’d do differently the second time around, and I believe they’d be better. As we were preparing the filling, I kept thinking that it didn’t smell quite as fragrant as I’d wanted them to, but I was hesitant to add more spice because I’d never made them before. I also had no idea how thin the dough should be, so some were spot on while others were too thick. The recipe called for us to “generously oil” the pan we were baking them on, and I will be even more generous next time. There are lots of tweaks I would and will make until I can confidently count them among my best dishes. And that goes to remind me that none of us will really do our best work the first time. The first time we write a lab report, give a speech, try to persuade someone to agree with us—each of these things (like cooking) takes time. And different attempts within the same skill set are like preparing different dishes (writing an analytical essay about To Kill a Mockingbird is, for example, different than writing an analytical essay about Huckleberry Finn). I’ve made pierogis on Easter for years, I’ve prepared ravioli, but they’re still different than making samosas. There is important nuance that we need to negotiate, and that learning can’t be rushed. In our classrooms, we need to give kids time to develop their abilities and not judge them on only their first attempt (or, I’d argue, weigh their first attempt more than we might weigh their last attempt). As teachers, we should encourage drafting and revision more than we already do. People get better at things by practicing them. The more we can encourage kids to stick to their practice (see our blog post titled, “Engagement is the glue.”), the better we are equipping them to produce their best. How can you encourage kids to go back to their work to continue making it stronger? What are the practices and procedures you have in place that support this work? Do you want help thinking about how to do this more robustly? Let us know! Image by Jack Bailey


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