Friday, January 29, 2010

Teaching Environmental Literacy

Guest post by Keith
Image courtesy of IU Press

A few years ago, I participated in a monthly gathering of university faculty, staff, and students around the subject of improving environmental literacy. How human societies relate to their physical and biological environment has long been an intellectual and ethical interest of mine. But increasingly, our current global realities such as human-induced climate change, unsustainable soil loss and degradation, species extinction, dead zone expansion, and natural resource limitations demand smart and equitable responses from every society. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in a few decades, the nearly 7 billion of us currently inhabiting this finite planet will grow to 9 billion or more, and I assume all of us will want to eat well and live well, with access to clean water, safe housing, and healthy, prosperous livelihoods. Currently, only a small fraction of us are fortunate enough to enjoy high living standards, and too often, our prosperity comes from shifting the true costs of development to someone or somewhere else.

At our monthly gatherings, we wondered what strategies or programs could be used to enhance and deepen student understanding of current global realities. What should an environmentally literate person know? Is a college classroom the best place to learn how our ecosystems provision us with what we need to survive? Our group came to be known as the Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative, and one of my colleagues—Heather—spearheaded and organized many of the activities. She won funding from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Program to bring in guest speakers, and the movement eventually convinced the University to create an Office of Sustainability to provide institutional support for various student initiatives.

I was flattered when Heather asked me to contribute a chapter to the book she was putting together. Eric, another researcher with interests similar to mine, agreed to help me co-author. The book was released by IU Press a couple of weeks ago. College faculties are the target audience for this project, which is somewhat unfortunate, as many of the strategies can actually be used by educators at any level. High school students and the general public are likely to find something of interest in Teaching Environmental Literacy. For example, Bennet Brabson, a physics professor, contributed a chapter that makes explicit the connections between aggregate economic growth, population, our per capita energy consumption, and environmental degradation. How many citizens truly understand these relationships? Scott Russell Sanders, an English professor, argues powerfully for nurturing a culture of conservation instead of our current culture of consumption. I’ve enjoyed Sanders’ work for years (especially Wilderness Plots, which a couple of years ago inspired a group of Bloomington musicians to put into song.)

In our chapter, Eric and I focus on Indiana’s forests and the many ecosystem services that well-functioning forests provide us for free. We touch briefly on how ecosystem degradation has negatively impacted Haiti’s developmental history, and highlight some of the success stories that are possible when society changes course and commits itself to ecosystem restoration. We even give a nod to work done by civil engineers in an Indianapolis flood control project.

Our society’s general deficiency in environmental literacy certainly runs much deeper than what this particular collection of essays can ever hope to address, but I was pleased with what Heather and her co-editors put together. Faculty from the School of Law, Religious Studies, Public and Environmental Affairs, Physics, Biology, Anthropology and more are represented—a true interdisciplinary effort.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Warm Toffee Pudding

I stumbled across this recipe for warm toffee pudding when I was looking through one of my past issues of Martha Stewart Living, February 2007 to be exact. I was excited to find it, just in time to make it for my Saturday afternoon tea with Steph.

A while ago she and I had lunch at the Tea Cozy in Indianapolis and shared a yummy plate of warm toffee pudding for dessert. I knew then that I wanted to find a recipe for it but had forgotten about searching for one until finding this recipe.

At first glance I wasn't sure I liked the recipe because it called for 8 ounces of Medjool dates. I like dates but I don't care for them (cooked) in my food. As I read the recipe further, I realized the dates were pureed after cooking them in rum, and didn't think I'd mind eating them this way. I was right! The pudding turned out delicious! The dates added moisture to the cake-like pudding and you couldn't even tell they were in there!

The recipe wasn't exactly like the toffee pudding we had at the Tea Cozy but it was still tasty, and the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea on a cold winter's day!


I recently tried out a recipe for Raspberry-Almond Financiers. I found the recipe in a past issue of Martha Stewart Living. I'm hosting a Valentine's tea for a couple of my friends and wanted to try out some new recipes. The financiers didn't turn out exactly how they were suppose to, but I thought the flavor was delicious.

A financier is described as a small French tea cake, usually made with ground almonds or almond flour. Traditionally they are baked in rectangular molds; however, I baked mine in mini muffin tins. The outside should be somewhat crispy which is why I didn't bake them in the muffin wrappers. The base of the cake is browned butter, almonds and honey. The raspberry heart is made from pureed raspberries, not jam.

My financiers puffed up a little while baking which made them appear to be more muffin like. I haven't perfected how keep them from doing this, but in my next batch I'm going to try a couple different things, like leaving out an egg white and not beating the batter as much. Even if I can't get the recipe exactly right, I'll be making these again.

Treats from Japan

A couple weeks ago, Mad Queen stopped by and brought us some treats from Japan. A bag full of KitKats in a variety of very unusual flavors. Flavors that are not available here in the US.

The whole family had a great time sampling the different kinds. I was surprised at how true the flavors were. The sweet potato KitKat really tasted like sweet potato. Some other unique flavors were wasabi, flan, ginger ale, and mango pudding. The boys and I passed on the meat pocket one and let Keith have that one to himself. I shared the royal milk tea and the green tea KitKats with my tea-mate, Steph, and was so impressed by how much they really tasted like tea!

Thanks, Mad Queen!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mac's Magazine Publication

Check out the January/February edition of Stone Soup to read Mac's Lucky Penny story. Stone Soup is a literary magazine written and illustrated by kids. Mac was told by the editor that they receive about 300 submissions per week, and only consider about 5% of them. Once Mac's story was selected for possible publication, it took almost a year for it to come out in print!

Congratulations, Mac!


At the year’s end
We celebrated your life
On a cold winter’s day
Snow sparkled outside
Your precious little ones
Danced in rays of sunshine
Streaming through stained glass windows

A beautiful quilt handmade by you
Your favorite flowers
Filled the church

I will remember you
Kind and gentle
Bright blue eyes
Warm smile
Flower gardens
Snicker bar salad
Pretty blue vases
Painted ornaments on the tree
Teacup on my shelf
Lucie’s hand in yours

Journal Covers

A few friends received these patchwork journals for Christmas. I found a great tutorial on Bloom. The tutorial was easy to understand and the covers were fun to make. I made them to fit a standard 6" x 8" notebook so that once the pages are full, the cover can be taken off and placed on a new notebook.