About Mr. B, and how Mr. B had inspired him both inside the classroom and out. About Mr. B's running program, which entailed sending the kids outside to jog the track, first a little, logging each lap as they went. Eventually, over time, the kids would run longer, and faster, and by the end of the program, kids like my son were running seven, eight, nine laps, ten laps, pushing themselves to achieve their own personal bests.
The essay recounted how this teacher, and this program, encouraged my son to love running, to view it as a point of pride and self-motivation. How it inspired him to join his middle school cross country team, and to run with his dad, my husband, at every possible opportunity. They run weekends together, long runs, the warm sun flooding their faces for one hour, sometimes two.
My son is a runner.
He emailed the essay to Mr. B.
And Mr. B. emailed back, saying the essay "made his year" and reminded him of why he went into teaching in the first place. Saying he read it aloud to his wife.
This is what teaching does.
It connects people, sometimes long after their initial point of contact.
I was a teacher, once. And every now and then I still pine for those moments, those moments when a student looks at you and tells you that you've made a difference. But teaching is hard work. The preparation, the organization, the logistics of lesson-planning... those are things I don't miss. Those things are wholly undervalued, though they take up the lion's share of a teacher's time.
Several weeks ago, my friend Beth invited me to co-teach a cooking class with her. Sure, I told her, so long as you do all the work. (I really said this.) She was fine with that, and it's a good thing. I honestly wouldn't have -- couldn't have -- said yes to her otherwise, not at that time, not with other stuff I had going on.
I'm so grateful for her planning, her logistics, her hard work getting us ready. And then the class came, and we killed it. Her efforts paid off, and things went smoothly, and at the end of the morning, one of the people there took me aside, quietly thanking me.
Thank you for teaching me about these foods, he said.
Where can I find wheat berries?
Can I freeze roasted grapes?
Is this food healthy for me?
I answered his questions, one by one, grateful to Beth, and the universe, for making me -- just for a morning -- into someone else's Mr. B.
Recipe for Wheat Berry Salad with roasted grapes and caramelized shallots
This hearty salad contains wheat, grapes, olives, and caramelized shallots, which add a gentle sweetness. I advise starting the wheat berries ahead. Soak them overnight (if you want to -- it isn't strictly necessary), then boil, cool, and refrigerate. When you’re ready to make the salad, they’ll be all set to go.
Makes 7 cups (will serve 8 people easily, as a side)
1-1/2 pounds small seedless red grapes (about 5 cups)
8 tablespoons olive oil (1/2 cup total), divided
Sea salt and black pepper
3 branches rosemary
1 pound shallots (about 6 good-sized bulbs), peeled & sliced
3-1/2 to 4-1/2 cups cooked wheat berries* (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon fig balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, slivered
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment or silicone liners.
Dump the grapes all onto one baking sheet and pat very dry if they’re at all moist. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Rub in the seasonings with your fingers. Now transfer half of the seasoned, oiled grapes to the 2nd lined baking sheet. Nestle a rosemary sprig under the grapes on each sheet pan, getting it a bit oily, too. (Save the 3rd sprig of rosemary for garnish.)
Transfer to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring gently and reversing the sheet pans once or twice. Remove when the grapes have burst and the juices are syrupy. Let cool.
Meanwhile, while the grapes are in the oven, caramelize the shallots. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and the shallots. Sauté a few minutes just to get them going, until they’re really sizzling. Then drop the heat down to medium-low and cook more gently, stirring frequently, until deeply browned and very soft, 20 to 25 minutes. You may cool them, or incorporate them into the salad while still warm.
In the bottom of a large serving bowl, whisk the final 2 tablespoons olive oil with the fig balsamic. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add 3-1/2 cups cooked wheat berries and toss to coat. Gently fold in the grapes with their juices, shallots, and olives. Taste, adding up to one cup more wheat berries if the flavors are too intense. Strip the final rosemary branch and let the needles float over the salad, for garnish.
*To cook wheat berries. Wheat berries do not need to be soaked, but some people find that soaking makes them more digestible. Soak 3 cups hard red winter wheat berries (found in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods) in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain, and transfer to a large pot. Cover with fresh cold water and salt generously. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer at a gentle bubble, partly covered, for about 50 minutes, until tender but with a pleasant chew. Drain. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet to speed cooling. Once cool, transfer to a zip top bag or covered container in the refrigerator. You’ll have 8 cups cooked wheat berries, which is twice as much as you’ll need for the salad. I always advise making a large batch like this because you can freeze extras.
Want to read more about Mr. B? I interviewed him about his running program back in 2009.