Writing to Think (and also . . . vegan blini!)
I was recently drafting a second article for Edweek.org (I will follow up with the link when it is published!) I was writing more extensively about the portfolio system my co-teacher and I use in our class. However, as I was writing I found myself reflecting less about the topic than my in-the-moment writing process. Like many writers, I don’t follow a linear path in my writing. There is no pre-writing stage that is checked off before I move to drafting. Instead, it is more messy than that, with some drafting, then a pause to outline, followed by more drafting, then a pause to brainstorm, etc. I know this is true for me, and I suspect many others as well. It is one of the reasons I help my students through the stages of writing, but also model for them how to more back and forth between the stages.
Yet there is one aspect of the writing process that I feel I have failed to help most of my students understand, and it is and aspect of writing that I find incredibly important. For a long time I’ve understood the distinction between writing-to-learn and writing-to-communicate, but only recently, as I have been writing more, have I really discovered the complexity of the way these two “ways” of writing intertwine. When my students write a short reflection after watching a video clip, they are writing-to-learn (or develop their ideas) and I treat that writing as such. However, when they are writing an analysis paragraph, or an article, I’m focused on helping them write-to-communicate, and as a result, rarely leave time or space for them to develop their thinking as they are writing their piece. Sure, they can always stop and “brainstorm” again, or re-do their organization of the piece, but in terms of the writing itself pushing them to think about their topic in new ways, or make new connections . . . well, we haven’t really done that.
But I have done it, as a writer. And the act of clarifying my thinking, developing new ideas, and even changing my mind, is something that happens in the middle of the writing process, not the beginning. I’m confident enough in my writing (and usually have enough time before my deadline) to make adjustments to my draft based on my new revelations. However, I have rarely, if ever, seen a student do the same when drafting a piece of writing. I don’t know if that is something I should be expecting a young writer to do, especially those students of mine who are just starting to dip their toes into writing with a sense of hesitation. But I do know that this back-and-forth process, this luxury of learning and reflecting as I write-to-communicate was crucial both to the develop of my piece this week, and my understanding of my pedagogy. I want to inspire the same development in my student-writers as well.
A few weeks ago my husband and I went to our first ever blini party! It was hosted by some great friends, and I think we were the only people in the room who had never experienced the joy of Russian blini. For the party I was in charge of making the vegan blini, which was most challenging because I had no idea what I was imitating. With more recipes I “veganize” I have a sense of what their non-vegan counterparts are supposed to be like, so I have some guidelines as I develop substitutions. But for blini I was at a loss. So, I searched the internet, played around with some ideas, and eventually adapted the Splendid Table blini recipe to be both vegan and buckwheat-based. The result were some delicious buckwheat blini!
Our friends said they were great, but even if they were just being nice, my husband and I enjoyed them a lot. So, whether or not they are authentic I can not attest to, but they most certainly are delicious, especially topped with some vegan sour cream and beluga lentils or some cashew cream and berries!
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 cup room temperature water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 TB ground flaxseeds
- 4 TB water
- 2 cups warm milk, or a little more as needed (I used soy, but you could also probably use almond)
- 4 tablespoons melted butter (I use Earth Balance)
- 1 cup buckwheat flour
- 1 to 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
- 2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
- 3 tablespoons of plain soy yogurt (we like Silk or Whole Soy brands)
- Peanut or canola oil, for frying
- 1 small potato, halved
1. Make the sponge: In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar and flour. Stir in the water and whisk until smooth. Place the sponge, covered, in a warm place until bubbly and almost doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
2. Make the blini batter: Whisk the flaxseeds and water in a small cup or bowl until throughout mixed, then set it to the side. Beat the milk, butter, 2-1/4 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt into the sponge. Whisk the batter until completely smooth and set to rise, covered loosely with plastic, until bubbly and doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.
3. Stir the batter well, and let rise, once more in a warm place, covered, for 45 minutes.
4. Fold the soy yogurt into the batter. Let the batter stand for another 10 minutes.
5. Pour some oil into a small, shallow bowl and have it ready by the stove. Skewer a potato half on a fork and dip it into the oil. Rub the bottom of a 7-inch cast-iron skillet, or a heavy nonstick pan with a long handle, liberally with the oil. Heat the pan over medium heat for 1-1/2 minutes. Pour about 1/3 a cup of your (thick!) blini batter on the skillet. Put the skillet back on the burner and cook until the top of the blin is bubbly, about 1 minute. Turn the blin and cook for 30 seconds more. If the skillet looks dry when you are turning the blin, rub with some more oil. The first blin will probably be a flop.
6. Make another blin in the same fashion, turn off the heat and taste it. Adjust the amount of salt or sugar, if necessary. The texture of the blin should be light, spongy, and a touch chewy. If the blin breaks easily when baked, the consistency is too thin; whisk in 1/4 cup more flour into the batter. If the blin is too thick, add a little milk.
7. Repeat with the rest of the batter, greasing the pan before making each blin. Slide the blini into a deep bowl, keeping them covered with a lid or foil. Serve the blini hot, with the suggested toppings,