Dinner party

I had planned to tidy the house over the summer holidays and then host a dinner party at the end of the summer holiday to celebrate getting over the C.H.A.O.S. (can’t have anyone over syndrome). However, I had left it very late to start and the place was still a long way from presentable when plans were formed to have dere ole friends over for a spot of supper.

Once a friend described a colleague as someone who went a little too far in preparing for dinner parties because “she made her own chocolates.” If it were tempering chocolate and moulds and fillings, I think I would agree but a few simple ganache based truffles are easily achievable if you have a few days’ warning.

Here’s our menu:

Orange gin and tonic

The original recipe from an old Olive magazine: Shake a tea spoon of marmalade for each shot of gin with some bitters and serve with tonic. I added some of crème de pamplemousse rose from a previous trip for a little more zing and was trying Fevertree tonic for the first time. This tasted good!

Frittata 

Another tip from Olive is to make frittata in a cake tin with a cake liner rather than a frying pan. This helps us particularly as we do not have any large non-stick frying pan. Fry an onion, a pepper, a grated carrot and some chopped sundried tomatoes. Add some ham chunks – I had roasted a bacon joint the day before to give some nice meaty chunks. Put the vegetables and meat into a lined cake tin. Beat six eggs with a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, pour on and bake for 30 minutes at 180 deg c.

Sausages

I’m not so good at main courses, so any excuse to visit our local awesome butcher. Johnny provided us with some “cappuccino and chocolate” sausages and some “basil and tomato” ones. Popped in the oven as the starters went out, steamed some carrots and beans and boiled some new potatoes P grew in the garden. Served in warmed bowls for people to help themselves with gravy made with fried onions and mushrooms with red wine.

Pear 3 ways

Pear sorbet – blitz two tins of pears in syrup with the juice from one lemon and dump in the ice cream maker.

Poached pears – two large glasses of white wine, one of water, 300g sugar and a bunch of aromatics – star anise, lemongrass, ginger chunks, cloves, cardamom pods. Boil lightly until peeled pears are soft enough to push a toothpick into.

Pear jelly – set a pint of the poaching liquid with gelatin and separate into serving bowls, chill.

Reduce the remaining poaching liquid to a syrup to serve.

Vanilla mascarpone – one of the most delicious things I have ever made – a small tub of mascarpone beaten with two tablespoons of icing sugar, the scrapings from the inside of a vanilla pod and a few drops of vanilla extract.

Truffles

Two different ganaches fridged overnight and rolled into balls. Peanut butter ganache from Dan Lepard’s cake – half quantities – 120 gr dark chocolate, large spoon peanut butter, splash of sugar, 100mls double cream, melted very slowly and stirred together. Roll the truffles in either cocoa or chopped peanuts. For contrast, an Earl Grey white chocolate – scald 100mls double cream with some Earl Grey teabags, strain and melt 120 gr white chocolate into it. Roll in icing sugar.

Coffee

The latest beans from my monthly coffee club.

The dessert and starter were made well in advance, the main just cooked while we were eating.

Maybe now the house is edging tidier we might be able to do this more often.  I had a slightly crazy idea of doing two dinner parties two nights in a row with essentially the same meal twice running – edging from cooking to catering. The frittata would do 12. The poached pears could be doubled without too much hassle. Roasting 24 rather than 12 sausages makes no difference, but you would have to peel a few more carrots.  The real squeeze though would be having to do all the washing up overnight so you could start again the following night.

GCSE results

I’m a little fascinated by the table that Steve Smith has reproduced here which stretches the not inconsiderable period from 1993, including 1994 when I got my A* in French, all the way to today, including a small group of students I taught. Of all the people getting GCSE grades in French in 2014, I taught 0.008% of them for less than half their GCSE! Go me! There were 13,000 of us who got A* when I did and 16,000 this year.

All of this slightly silly numbercrunching led my friend Matthew to produce this graph

french

And I wondered about the relative popularity of French, German, and Spanish, went back to the amazing home of GCSE data tables and produced this graph:

mfl entries graph

Spanish is clearly now more popular than German and is continuing to climb, but is a long way away from “replacing French” as this Independent article claims.

Some other points – you can see why it is hard to get a languages teaching job if you have no French at all. And yet it is increasingly common for strong languages graduates only ever to have had the opportunity to study one language at school.

The Indy article speaks of Spanish as an important world language gaining in popularity but I’d argue this is a very North / South American perspective. German is far more common in Europe as this fascinating Wikipedia paragraph points out:

German is the main language of approximately 95 to 100 million people in Europe, or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian (with 144 million speakers), above French (with 66.5 million) and English (with 64.2 million).

I guess we are not talking European Union languages for the factoid about Russia to be true. Spanish languishes in 5th place in Europe.

I left university in 2000 with a 2:1 in French and German with an equal emphasis on the two languages. French has always been my stronger language and I still have a much wider vocabulary and more comfortable grip on the grammar. By the end of my degree I felt a bit of a failure in German – my language module marks were the lowest, I was very poor at university level translation, and I pretty much made a promise never to become a German teacher.

On the way into teaching, however, I was made to feel that my German skills were vitally important, and that anyone who could vaguely pronounce Staatsangehörigkeit or spell Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher had a moral responsibility to wade into the modern languages battle and staunch the flood of candidates away from German.

My students regularly ask why they can’t learn Spanish and I only have flippant answers. There’s no-one in school who could teach it, for starters. If you want to learn Spanish, the school would have to fire all the current language teachers and hire new ones. My favourite flippant response to “Why can’t I learn Spanish?” is “I’m not stopping you. Feel free.”

French and German films to use in the classroom

Steve Smith discussed a year ago “Should MFL teachers show films at the end of term?

Clearly some of my colleagues do, because there was a recent Facebook conversation which discussed which French films to use in class.

Our media scheme of work includes Les Choristes (Barratier, 2004) which has gone down well with many classes. It’s sentimental, cute and has some catchy choonz.

Dom’s MFL recommends Les aventures extraordinaire de Madame Adèle Blanc-Sec (Besson, 2010), which is a fantastic adventure romp in the style of Indiana Jones, based on a French comic book.

Dom’s blog also links to a super resource pack to go with the film.

The other week, P was watching Priceless (Hors de Prix – Salvadori, 2006) on Netflix – I think, recommended for him because he likes Amelie (which I still have never seen.) I came in late to the film but watched the final bits with him and it did seem to be something that classes might go for.

Finally in conversation a colleague suggested Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Boon, 2008) which I have not seen, but whose trailer looks good fun. In the second half of the trailer there is some extraordinary work done with subtitling – what is in the subtitles is not at all what is said in the dialogue, but it has been altered so that the dialect / speech impediment jokes still work.

On the German side of the curriculum, our scheme of work includes Lola Rennt (Tykwer, 1998) which is a film I like a lot, but is getting old now and has baffled more than one class. It’s too short to use for two complete lessons. It’s also a 15 which means it can’t be used for many classes without parental consent.

Also in the cert 15 is Good Bye Lenin (Becker, 2003) – a good long film that can lead into lots of interesting discussions about German history. Not seen for aages.

A colleague has been showing her classes Sophie Scholl (Rothemund, 2005). Personally I think the curriculum gives rather too much time to Germany and world wars and I would rather not add even more to that. I suppose this film is at least dedicated to the German resistance and many students may not have considered this even existed.

Let me know in the comments if there are films you use and if you have any resources for them!

Next time you’re at the Gare du Nord

Delia has an awesome suggestion of how to kill some time near the Gare du Nord in Paris if you need to: the Marché St Quentin

Last time I had some time to kill was when heading to Munich by sleeper train a million years ago. That time, I walked from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l’Est – it’s really not at all far – and spent the time on the terrasse of a street café having a steak-frites and a carafe de vin rouge.

Checklists in MFL – building on marking

Frenchteacher.net has a post about checklists which is helpful, taking Mr H’s idea and running with it.

Here’s a way I’ve been using something similar to raise achievement in all my KS3 classes this year.

Our assessment scheme means all KS3 students do two or three pieces of formal, levelled writing which contributes to their termly reports. Last year I found they were too happy to keep making the same mistakes and not make any progress in their writing, so this year my idea to prevent this was to get them to look at their previous piece of writing before planning the next.

Since we are trying to help them prepare for GCSE controlled assessment the KS3 writing they do is planned and prepared in class, learned off by heart and then regurgitated under test conditions with maybe a cue card to help.

Our school has the Purple Pens of Progress as this year’s Ofsted gimmick – we mark in green and they respond in purple. So at the start of every planning lesson I make them write, in purple pen in their book:

My target level is ___.
This time I am aiming for ___.
To achieve this I must write __ sentences and include
____________________
____________________
____________________
My feedback from last time was
____________________
____________________
____________________

This makes them engage with the marking feedback I spent hours writing on their last assessment (which is copied by them to a sheet in APP folders which they carry around with them at all times, so they should always have a copy). It makes them engage with the marking criteria to preempt conversations like “But I wrote LOADS!! Why didn’t I get a L6?” They know before they begin what features they need to include and a minimum length for their writing piece.

The most common things I tell them they need to include are

* three sentences in French learned off by heart (for people going L2 -> L3)

* five sentences and CORN (L3 -> L4)

(Corn is connectives, opinions, reasons and negatives – they have sheets in their book and I have a display – the CORNwall – that helps with this.)

* 7 – 10 sentences, CORN and another tense (L4 -> L5)

* 10 – 12 sentences, CORN, two other tenses, “very few mistaks”.

(The Y9 helpsheet talks about tenses and accuracy and has “very few mistaks” in it as my little joke to amuse myself. It was a loooooong time through the year before any student noticed.)

Eurovision hors d’oeuvres

We’re taking finger food to a Eurovision party this year, so I have made devilled eggs and puff-pastry pack two ways.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Devilled egg recipe here. Glut of teeny eggs from newly laying small hens, so used them up in this. Quite faffy, hard to transport and not the sort of fiddly work my clumsy fingers are any good at. I should probably stop even trying anything with piping in it.

Then a block of all butter puff pastry is divided – this time I did 1/3rd tartlets 2/3rds croissants.

Preheat oven to 200 deg C

Roll the pastry, cut rounds. Halve cherry tomatoes and optionally pre-roast them a little in the preheating oven. Stick each tomato half to a pastry round with tomato purée and top with a sprinkling of grated parmesan. Bake until crispy, about 10 minutes.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Roll the remaining pastry and cut into triangles, either from a large circle of rolled pastry, or less wastefully from rectangles. You are looking for very tall isosceles triangles. Place a small piece of cheese (camembert, goats, etc) and half a spoon of interesting chutney (I’m using something from the Garlic Farm) on the wider part and roll them up to form a croissant. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Eurovision hors d'oeuvres

Serve with Meg Pickard’s Eurovision Bingo cards [PDF] .

Food topic in MFL

We’re just moving into a food topic with Y8 at the minute and with my five classes last year and four this year, it’s now something I’ve had a bit of practice in.

My first lesson is about breakfast food and opinions, so it starts with a textbook vocab list and pictures – students have to match the target language words with the pictures and then write a vocab list in their books.

Then I get them to generate English words to fit the sentences “I like bread because it’s _____” and “I don’t like cheese because it’s _____” and they go off to the dictionaries to find the words they need. They need to be able write sentences like this – opinions and reasons – to get through level 4 in the National Curriculum for modern foreign languages and do well in their end of term exams.

I like doing it this way because it means each different class has a slightly different word bank and when I’m marking 250 versions of the same thing there is enough variety to keep it interesting for me.

They have to run the words by me at first so that I can advise and guide a little – they will need delicious and disgusting, so they have to have those. If they want to look up “sweet” I make very sure they know the difference between “sweet” and “sweat”. I can point them in the right direction to make sure they are looking for adjectives and not nouns, and that they know that the squiggle represents the headword again and so on. I can stop them trying to find dialect or youth speak words that I know won’t be in the dictionary as well as talking them down from things that are too complicated. (“mouth-watering” last year turned out to be “qui met l’eau à la bouche” which didn’t fit properly with parce que c’est and so meant an awful lot of corrections in one set of books)

This year’s students have all wanted to know the word “bland” which caught me a bit on the hop. Happily our native speaker teaching assistant could tell me the French is “fade” without me having to resort to Wordreference.com. I didn’t know that word as a 12-year-old, but learned it a little later on at a very memorable family dinner. It turns out they have all learned it in food technology, so it’s nice to have a bit of cross-curricular working.

I’m currently avoiding marking a set of books where some of the words they went for were mouldy, divine, and rank, so I am getting sentences like j’adore les croissants, parce qu’ils sont divins, and je déteste le fromage parce que c’est nauséabond.

Which is nice.

A little later on to get them using connectives more creatively, and get them practising future and past tenses for levels 5 and 6, I will be getting them to do these Barry-Smith-style sheets which I have put on the TES.

Writing about Food (French)

Writing about Food (German)