Dinner and Dessert Delight

In addition to teaching my regular English class for ecotourism students, I also teach a weekly class for staff members who want to learn more English. We meet every Wednesday night, and there is a group of four wonderful women who come regularly. One is a professor of veterinary science, one is the director of the tourism program, one is an education student completing her thesis, and one is the school psychologist. This Wednesday, we held class at the volunteer house where I live, and the staff cooked a delicious Bolivian dinner. dinner 1Carmen, the vet science professor, prepared fritanga, a yummy fried pork dish with a spicy red sauce, along with mote (hominy) and traditional dehydrated potatoes called chuño.

dinner 2I made dessert, and although my brother is usually the one who shares his cooking adventures, I’m including the recipe for these cupcakes because they were so delicious! They’re a dark chocolate cupcake with salted caramel icing and garam masala praline – super yummy, especially with fresh mango on the side.dinner 3It was a delightful evening with wonderful food and great company, and I hope we can repeat it again soon. I loved the opportunity to get to know each other, build community, and share our unique food traditions.dinner 4

Recipe: Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes with Garam Masala Praline

The cupcake and icing recipes are from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, published by Clarkson Potter in 2001; the praline is something I came up with!

Deep Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with 12 liners, or grease with butter or cooking spray and dust with cocoa powder.

Sift together 1 1/2 c. flour, 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 c. sugar. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 c. vegetable oil, 1 c. chilled brewed coffee, and 2 tsp. vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Add 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar and stir briefly; pour batter into pan immediately.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool.

Salted Caramel Icing

Combine 2 c. brown sugar, 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, 1 c. half-and-half, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large saucepan. (Add more salt to taste, if you wish.) Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often. Cover and boil on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to boil until the caramel begins to thicken and coats a spoon, about 4 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn! Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add 1 tsp. vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until creamy, thick, and a good spreading consistency, about 10 minutes.

While the icing is still warm, frost the cupcakes and top with the praline.

Garam Masala Praline

Combine 1 c. chopped nuts (walnuts, brazil nuts, and pecans are all yummy!), 1/2 c. white sugar, 1/4 c. water, 1-2 tsp. garam masala (depending on how spicy you want them to be), and a pinch of salt in a saute pan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the liquid boils off, leaving a sugary coating on the nuts. Pour onto a buttered plate, spread out, and let cool. Break into pieces and top the cupcakes.


The day I fell in love with Bolivia

Last Sunday, I fell in love. In the giddy, heart-full, utterly astonishing way that it seems like it happens, I suddenly found myself totally enamored.

I went to La Paz last weekend, planning to leave early Sunday morning to visit a town called Sorata way up in the mountains. I was looking forward to a break after a long, hectic week capped off by coming down with a miserable cold, and I couldn’t wait to get up into the beautiful mountain country that’s called “The Land of Eternal Spring.” When I went to the bus stop, though, I learned that there were no buses leaving. In fact, there was absolutely no traffic at all, in the whole city, because it was the “Día del Peatón,” the day of the pedestrian. It’s a day that’s celebrated in La Paz and Cochabamba, and it was simply lovely – like Open Streets in Minneapolis, but throughout the entire capital city of nearly a million people.

ImageImageImageFor an entire day, no buses, taxes, or cars are allowed on the roads. The highways leading into and out of the city are blocked; only ambulances, police cars, and airport taxis are permitted to drive. People come out into the streets. It was absolutely incredible. The main thoroughfare in La Paz was full of games, music, food, and vendors of absolutely everything. Different local organizations set up different areas. There was a whole set of tiny easels with paper and paints for tiny children; there were people jump roping and playing Twister and hopscotch.

ImageImageImageI sat in a park and read for a while, near what’s usually the busiest, traffic-jammiest intersection in the city, and people were biking and skateboarding and playing soccer. And that’s when waves of love started rolling over me. I have never been anywhere else where an entire major city would shut down traffic for a day. It was so amazing to feel what the city is like when it’s just being its human self – you could hear people’s voices and laughter, instead of honking horns and growling engines, and the whole city felt more peaceful and calm. The pace was a human pace instead of a mechanical industrial pace, and it just felt so good, and so beautiful, and so right.

ImageImageI made other connections with local community organizations as I wandered throughout the city. The zebras were out in full force, of course. I found an awesome feminist group called Mujeres Creando, and I am very excited to get to know them better. They seem like a really, really cool group of women, and the work that they’re doing in Bolivia is really interesting. I also met a documentary filmmaker who makes films about human trafficking and violence against women in Latin America.

It was one of those days where things come together, and I loved it. It reminded me of how much possibility there is, and how much hope. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been missing that feeling, and it feels good to find it again. As the news fills with reports of violence, greed, suffering, and war, it was refreshing and inspiring to see a city set aside even just one day for such a positive event, so affirming of humanity and of life. I traveled to Sorata the next day, still full of joy and awe. Despite a persistent cold and the regular challenges of day-to-day life, the feeling has stayed with me this week, as I’ve taught my classes, cooked meals, and attended a vigil for peace in Syria. It’s a feeling of openness and potential, and above all a deep sense of love.

Read Alouds!

In a language classroom, there’s no substitute for interaction. It provides opportunities for the ever-important “negotiation of meaning” that leads to meaningful language acquisition, and it helps students to feel like their work is more worthwhile if they have an authentic audience. It can also be frightening or overwhelming for students, though, especially if they’re just beginning to learn a new language, or if they haven’t been required to use language for real-life interaction very often.

Writing projects can provide great opportunities for structured interaction, since students have had time to develop their ideas, revise their work, and become more confident in their own words and voices. I like to have “publishing parties” at the end of a significant writing project, where I invite the students to share their work out loud with staff, parents, other students, or another audience.

I taught an intensive English course during the first four weeks that I was here in Carmen Pampa, and at the end of the course we had a publishing party with two nuns who are part of the campus community. Students shared short stories they had written, and the sisters asked questions and gave positive, constructive feedback to the class. The students were nervous, but they felt such a sense of accomplishment at the end of the morning. For some, it was the first time they had presented in English to an audience outside of their classmates or teachers! Presenting their own work made them feel proud, capable, and more confident in speaking.

A student reads his story while another takes notes.

A student reads his story while another takes notes.

A student answers questions about her story.

A student answers questions about her story.

A student reads her story aloud.

A student reads her story aloud.

This project reminded me of my first ESL class in Minneapolis, where students did a similar project. Students in my beginning-level class for newcomers read stories they had written about their families to parents and staff members, and they experienced the same sense of pride and accomplishment that my UAC students experienced here. It’s one of my favorite memories from my first year of teaching, and I love these pictures because they capture the way I wish my classroom always felt: full of students who are engaged, taking risks, and becoming more and more confident in their own voices and stories.

Students read their stories aloud to other teachers and staff members.

Students read their stories aloud to other teachers and staff members.

The whole class reading!

The whole class reading!

La Huerta Orgánica

The UAC has an organic garden, and I’ve started spending my Tuesday mornings working with the staff and students who manage it. It’s a beautiful place, and the woman who directs the garden is a graduate of the UAC’s agronomy program. She has such a depth of knowledge about how to cultivate the plants, and she’s very dedicated to helping students learn through working in the garden. I’ve already learned a great deal about using organic fertilizers, harvesting seeds, and preparing beds for new seedlings. It’s been a wonderful addition to my weekly schedule, a time both to relax and to focus intently on the specific and particular, to interact with the earth and the plants, and to feel like a part of a productive, living community.


Baby plants in the nursery.

leeks and lettuce

Leeks and lettuce.


garden with mountains

View of the garden with mountains in the background.

I’ve appreciated the opportunity to garden especially this week, given the events in Egypt, Syria, and other war-torn places around the world. I recently came across a poem about gardening in the book Word of Mouth, edited by Catherine Bowman; it’s a collection of poetry featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” published in 2003, and it has some really beautiful, unique, and varied pieces. This one expresses so well the healing and wellbeing that working in the dirt with green, growing things can bring, especially amidst the bewildering tragedy and horror that fills so much of the news:

“Song of the Gourd”

C.D. Wright

In gardening I continued to sit on my side of the car: to drive whenever possible at the usual level of distraction: in gardening I shat nails glass contaminated dirt and threw up on the new shoots: in gardening I learned to praise things I had dreaded: I pushed the hair out of my face: I felt less responsible for one man’s death one woman’s long-term isolation: my bones softened: in gardening I lost nickels and ring-settings I uncovered buttons and marbles: I lay half the worm aside and sought the rest: I sought myself in the bucket and wondered why I came into being in the first place: in gardening I turned away from the television and went around smelling of offal the inedible parts of the chicken: in gardening I said excelsior: in gardening I required no company I had to forgive my own failure to perceive how things were: I went out barelegged at dusk and dug and dug and dug: I hit rock my ovaries softened: in garding I was protean as in no other realm before or since: I longed to torch my old belongings and belch a little flame of satisfaction: in gardening I longed to stroll farther into soundlessness: I could almost forget what happened many swift years ago in arkansas: I felt like a god from down under: chthonian: in gardening I thought this is it body and soul I am home at last: excelsior: praise the grass: in gardening I fled the fold that supported the war: only in gardening could I stop shrieking: stop: stop the slaughter: only in gardening could I press my ear to the ground to hear my soul let out an unyielding noise: my lines softened: I turned the water onto the joy-filled boychild: only in gardening did I feel fit to partake to go on trembling in the last light: I confess the abject urge to weed your beds while the bittersweet overwhelmed my daylilies: I summoned the courage to grin: I climbed the hill with my bucket and slept like a dipper in the cool of your body: besotted with growth; shot through by green

Word Wall

A great vocabulary strategy that I’ve seen many wonderful teachers use is a Word Wall. I’m fortunate in my current classroom to literally have an entire wall that I can use for our vocabulary words.

Borrowing from the marvelous Minneapolis English teachers Tara Ferguson and Nicole Brinza, who divide their word walls into “language of life” and “language of literature,” I’ve divided the wall for my tourism students into “language of life” and “language of business.”


Deciding where to place the words leads to some great discussion among the students, and it helps the class explore the ways that words have different meanings depending on context. We will keep adding to the wall throughout the semester, helping keep track of how many new words we’ve learned!

List – Group – Label

As I’ve learned more about teaching English in a Spanish-speaking community, I’ve realized how important explicit vocabulary teaching is. It’s important in all contexts, obviously, but being in an environment where my students have very few outside opportunities to practice English makes it especially apparent.

One of my favorite strategies that I’ve used quite a bit here is called List – Group – Label, from Janet Allen’s Inside Words. Students generate or receive a list of vocabulary words related to a certain topic, such as adjectives. They work in pairs or small groups to sort the words into logical groupings and then create labels for the groups.

lgl                        lgl2

As you can see in this example, students in different groups come up with different ways to categorize the same group of words. This provides great substance for discussion about reasoning and word meanings. I like this activity because it requires students to think carefully about what words actually mean, and about the relationships between them. It also requires some higher-order thinking skills, as students group words and justify their logic. My students really enjoy it as well, since it’s interactive and engaging.