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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Crispy Codfish With Salted Egg Yolk Sauce and Crispy Curry Leaves

This post is written at the specific request of NH from the celiac FB Group.

Four salted duck eggs.


Hard boil the salted duck eggs

Remove the yolks and mash.

Add cream till a paste is formed.

Curry leaves.


Fry curry leaves in butter over small fire. Once curry leaves are crispy. Strain the butter. The fragrance of the leaves will be in the butter. Add the salted egg yolk paste. Whisk over small fire till combined. Pour over deep fried fish. Top with crispy curry leaves.

Eggs Benedict

I did not know that hollandaise sauce was free of gluten. It is! Recipe HERE.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GEP vs Mainstream High Potential Kids

As the years go by, I get more and more GE and Hi-Potential students in my classes. This is not surprising given the emphasis on Higher Order Thinking. The GE and Hi-Po find this program fun instead of stressful. The GE and Hi-Po find it stimulating instead of demanding. In the Primary 4 2016 cohort, 25% of my students are GE. Another 25% of my students are clearly Hi-Potential. Given that GE and Hi-Po are together only about 2% of the general student population, these proportions are way over-represented.

Don't get me wrong. I don't administer IQ tests. My intake starts in P3, where no one has even been tested for GEP yet. At that point, there is no way to tell who is GE and Hi-Po. I enrol students on a First Come First Serve basis. It is still a mystery to me why I am getting so many GE and Hi-Po.

Increased interaction with such students have lead me to observe the following attitudinal damage sustained by GE students, which Hi-Potential students (who may have made it into the GE but refused to join OR who may have been almost GE) escape.

Lower Self-Expectations

The GE kids who join me in P3 invariably come with a great deal of enthusiasm and have high standards of themselves. They expect themselves to be the best in my class. Halfway through Primary 4, their attitudes change. They temper these expectations of themselves, telling themselves that it is enough to get by.

My guess is that within the GE programme, GE kids learn to temper their own expectations. Only the top of the top in the GE develops and maintains a winner's attitude. So far, I have had only ONE GE kid in this category. The rest of the GE kids learn to get by because it just is too hard to be at the top.

These GE children who have learnt to get by don't bat an eyelid when I tell them that an assignment is sub-par. After all, they just want to get by. Meanwhile, my mainstream hi-potential are surprised when they don't do well in my assignments and in the next assignment, they rectify the issues. Not surprisingly, by end of P4, some of my Hi-Po have outstripped the GEP in their progress with me. Since we archive every HW assignment in soft copy and we teach each child exactly to the child's own pace (yes, I know people think it is impossible but we do really teach each child to his/her own pace and I would not dare to lie because my students' parents who read my blog, would call me out), the difference in progress is very clear to us.

This attitude of merely expecting to get by, is not good.

My own 2 kids are NOT GE but they work for and expect to be top. When The Daughter tells us that she did not do well, what she really means is that she is not in the top 10 of the cohort. When The Son tells me that he did not do well, what he means is that he is not the top 5 in class.

Having these self-expectations mean that my kids try hard to be the best that they can be in everything that they do. They don't do things just to get by. They choose activities they love and work to win. They may not always win but that does not bother them because it does not bother me, but they clearly set high goals, instead of expecting to get by.

As such, The Son, despite NOT being GE and being known as one of the "dumb" ones in primary school, obtained a research internship in a research lab staffed by PhDs from all over the world. He is only 15. What happened to all the GE kids? Why didn't they get this choice opportunity? The Daughter, also not GE, obtained 8 A level distinctions and has a job offer before graduation, in an economy where graduates cannot find work.

It is often said that one's attitude in life determines one's altitude in life. No?

What you expect to achieve, you somehow do. I think it is tragic that the GEP kills high self-expectations in our GE kids. These are kids who came in P3 EXPECTING to win and ACTUALLY were winning. By the end of P4, there is a stark change in their attitudes, and their progress flags accordingly.

Tendency to Conserve Effort

There is so much happening in GEP. GE kids are normally REALLY good at some subjects and only above average in others. The GE teaches them at GE standard across all 4 subjects. The work is challenging and there is a lot of it to do. GE kids get tired by end of P4. Their enthusiasm for academic activities wane and they start asking, "Why should I work so hard?"

I don't blame them. I love blogging and am reasonably good at it, but if you made me do a LOT OF BLOGGING, I would also ask, "Why should I blog so hard?"

A Sense of Being Set Apart
By P5, the GE child (despite lowered self-expectations of his/her own performance) begins to develop a sense of being set apart. In our centre, we nip this attitude in the bud because our GE and Hi-po are groomed to lead the other kids. No one will willingly be influenced by you, if your attitude is, "I am set apart."

I kid you not. A P5 GEP said, when I told him that some of the easier questions in the PSLE exam required simplicity, "I am used to thinking through complex geometric puzzles. Don't expect me to think simply."

At that stage, 2 of my Hi-Po kids had already completed our module on Expository Writing in anticipation of Secondary 1 demands in Literature, History and Geography. This GEP had not even started the module. Yet, he felt himself set apart and made it clear to us that he was.

This attitude of Us and Them rives fractures in teams when I make a GE kid a group leader. Happily enough, because our classes operate on teamwork, we have slowly and successfully been able to re-mould this attitude.

I worry for this boy, you know. What will working life be like for him?

Case Study 1
In a previous cohort, I had a GE kid who hated to be in GEP. He was so miserable that his doting mother pulled him out and placed him in another school with a class meant for GEP eligible kids who had refused to join the GEP. He was rather good in English and being none too interested, he was happy to be simply rather good. With no effort at all, an "A" was in the pocket. The A*, no way. However, with the extra time freed up (since the mainstream syllabus was so easy) he had time to self-direct himself into winning...
- Math Olympiads (in P4, he competed with P5 kids and won)
- Science Olympiads
- Chess competitions
- Fencing competitions
... and he spent hours amusing himself with Strategy Games. He eventually received 13 DSA offers.

Contrast this with another GEP in a current cohort, who stayed in the program and had to work to reach GEP standards in all 4 subjects. He agreed to Advanced Science and Advanced Math. He was stretched every which way and only managed a single bronze at one Math Olympiad. Despite being still IN the GEP, I am not sure he will get any DSA.

Case Study 2
These are 2 brothers. The older brother qualified for and accepted to go into GEP. By Secondary 3, his attitude to work could only be summed up thus, "Mom, I intend to put in just enough effort to pass. Don't worry. I'll manage." Meanwhile, his school had sent an ultimatum, "Pass Math by the end of the year or you will be dropped into the Express stream." I coached the Mother over a period of a few months on email and phone. By the end of the year, he scored 98% for Math. He was clearly highly intelligent.

However, afterwards, he again plodded along lacklustrely. The crisis was over. He could stay in IP and he was happy to just get by.

After seeing the attitudinal damage done to her elder son, the 2nd son was not allowed to go into GEP, despite qualifying. He stayed in his school and was placed in a class for kids who rejected their GEP places. There, he had time to excel at golf, at drawing and he had time to write novels, plays and haikus. If Petunia had competed with him to get into SOTA by strength of writing portfolio alone, I would have lost. He is today in HCI and has been assigned a mentor to further groom him in Creative Writing.

Again, I doubt his current mentor would mentor me.

Damage Is Attitudinal
I teach children of every calibre. Our classes are designed such that mixed ability is USED and EXPLOITED for overall educational value. We have a system where we are able to teach the child to his/her own pace academically (whilst using mixed ability features of the class to educate children in peer influence and other human qualities).

To me, the damage to the attitudes and emotional world views of our BRIGHTEST children is very clear. I see it because I teach them all in the same class so I can see the differences in attitudes. Also, unless I arrange/encourage a departure, my students tend to stay from P3 to P6... so I can see how their attitudes change over the months.

This attitudinal damage is a national tragedy.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Boy Suicides

Fathers Have A Role To Play Too

In the past year or so, there have been quite a few newspaper reports of child suicides. There was the 15 year old boy who killed himself after being investigated for molest. There was another Pri 5 boy who jumped to his death on the day that he was supposed to collect his results to show his parents. Recently, the Yale-NUS student who killed himself was also male. It occurred to me then that boys seem more likely to kill themselves than girls.

Statistics do show that to be true. Girls have more suicide ideation. Boys have more suicide action.

I have always had an intuitive sense that boys are emotionally fragile. When The Daughter was little, she would cry at the slightest provocation. Things then happened around her. People would comfort her, and whatever stimulus that was causing the tears would be removed immediately. The Son was different. He would bear it stoically, clenching his fists and showing no emotion as much as possible. He would try to cope. We were also less gentle with The Son because he was a boy and we all expected him to be a real boy.

This was especially true at swimming class. Mr. G was an ex-Navy man. We sent The Daughter to him for swimming lessons. She sat at the edge of the pool, looking afraid. Mr. G noted that The Daughter was afraid. He opened his arms and sang, "Tell XXXX I love her... Tell XXXX I need her..."... and then he said, "Jump! I will catch you!" The Daughter never looked back.

When it came to The Son's turn, he sat at the pool looking brave. Mr. G (being an ex-Navy man) gave no quarter to a fellow male. He ordered, "Jump!" and my son swallowed twice and jumped. I knew he was afraid but I did not want to intervene because no Mother wants a cowardly son. The Son went through multiple dunkings and twice, he tried to explain to Mr. G his difficulties. Mr. G said, "I don't want to hear your explanations." After EIGHT weeks of weekly terror, The Son broke. He climbed out of the pool gasping through his tears and locked himself in the shower cubicle. There was no way to make him go back to Mr. G's swimming class. He had had ENOUGH and had taken action.

I felt bad for him so I promised that I would teach him to swim myself. Frankly, I was amazed that he tolerated hell for 8 lessons without any tears until that last day. When he broke, he really broke. After Lesson 1, I left The Daughter in the care of Mr. G to go and do my own things. Up until the 8th lesson, I was sitting under an umbrella, eyes fixed on my son. I somehow knew how afraid he was and I worried. He did not cry and looked like he was coping so I let the lessons continue.

With boys, you don't see it coming.

It isn't just social pressure that requires men and boys to be strong. Boys themselves don't want to look weak. I chatted with The Son one day when he was in Primary 4.

Me: You're so cute, my son. You're just like a teddy bear. If you were a teddy bear, what kind of teddy would you like to be? Winnie the Pooh? Yogi Bear?

The Son (frowning): I don't want to be cute. I don't want to be a teddy bear.

Me: Huh? Then what would you like to be?

The Son: I want to be a big tree. It is big and strong.

So, boys tend to hide their emotional pain. They don't speak of their fears or what is shredding them apart inside. Over time, I learnt to discern the signs of my son's emotional distress in the way he held his shoulders and the line of his mouth. I would act immediately. For example, if he were talking to an adult and I noted his distress, I would go and stand next to him to eavesdrop on the conversation. Invariably, the adult was either asking him some uncomfortable questions or teasing him unkindly.

When he came home with a poor report book at the end of P3, I also knew that his heart was breaking inside. No one else knew. To any other's eyes but mine, The Son looked like he did not care. Only I could recognise those shoulders and the line of his mouth. The Husband has the same shoulders and line of mouth.

Male bodies may be stronger. Their hearts and their psychology are not. Mothers with boys must be aware of this and act accordingly to protect their sons (or at any rate, don't hurt their sons unnecessarily). Boy or girl, a child is a child and there is only so much a child can take without breaking.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gluten Free Artisanal Bread (Gumless)

I have stopped making gluten free bread using xanthan gum and guar gum. The gums irritate my intestinal tract and give me stomach cramps and diarrhoea. I now have a new recipe with psyllium husk and flaxseed meal.

Dry Ingredients
1 cup oat flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup flax seed meal (buy the flax seed and blend into meal because flax seed meal turns rancid very fast)
1/2 cup psyllium husk
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons yeast

Wet Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup warm water

(1) Fit the kitchen machine with a dough hook.
(2) Mix all dry ingredients well inside the kitchen machine.
(3) Mix all wet ingredients in a large bowl.
(4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
(5) Switch on the machine and let the dough hook knead until the mixture becomes a ball.
(6) Divide the ball into 2 halves and shape into 2 round balls.
(7) Sprinkle oat flour atop each ball.
(8) Let rise on parchment paper till double in volume.
(9) Preheat a cast iron dutch oven in an oven at 200 DegC for 30 minutes.
(10) Transfer the dough into the hot dutch oven. Cover tightly with the lid.
(11) Bake at 200 Deg C for 15 minutes. Bring the temperature down to 140 Deg C for 40 minutes.

Let dough double in volume.

Preheat dutch oven for 30 minutes at 200 Deg C.

Transfer to Dutch Oven and bake (with lid on) at 200 Deg C for 15 minutes and a further 40 minutes at 150 Deg C.

Ode to My Helper

My new helper is worthy of my greatest respect and consideration. No, really! She has earned the regard of the entire family. We have had a patchy history with helpers. They stay with us between 6 to 8 years. The first 4 years are usually quite uneventful. After that, for some reason, they get themselves boyfriends and things get complicated.

One boyfriend climbed into the helper's bedroom from the HDB corridor and spent nights with her. A neighbour living opposite our HDB flat tipped us off. Another one came to us looking like a Plain Jane and in 4 years time, morphed into this petite and sexy thing with dresses costing $100+ in her cupboard. She was so attractive that men followed her home. On one occasion, 2 men fought over her at the traffic light junction and she needed to go and be a witness at the police station. The lasts straw came when she got herself molested in our lift and I had to bring her TWICE to the police station to look at a line-up of potential culprits.

I finally decided that I was getting to know the inside of the Jurong Police HQ a little too well.

Then, we had a very quiet but extraordinarily sloppy helper for another 6 years. Dust bunnies gathered under the tables. Shelves collected dust like the top of Mt Everest collects snow. After she had swept and mopped, the floors still had dust and debris. It took her all of 2 years to learn how to make ciabatta bread. She was not good with machines so we replaced 2 bread makers and 1 washing machine. I reckoned it was still ok because I don't have babies in the house... and if I closed one eye or asked her to re-mop the room a few times, we could still get the house rather clean.

It does not have to be THAT clean.

Then M came along 6 months ago, and she has been wonderful. When M mops the floor, she is thorough. It is really, really clean. It is cleaner than when I mop it myself and I pride myself to be a very thorough floor mopper.

I only need to show her twice how to make a dish and she can manage on her own. She spends her evenings writing down our recipes and even bugged me to let her grill the steaks. We really fell in love with her when we caught her staring deep into Milo's eyes, stroking his ears and whispering sweet nothings. She even powders our dog with the rose scented talc that I got for her. So twice a week, our dog runs around with face and head dusted in powder and smelling of roses. It reminds me of The Son as a toddler. We used to slap powder on his face after his bath and he used to look so cute with a half white face.

I am not the only one who respects and honours M. The Daughter (who used to buy economy rice with 2 veggies and one meat for the previous helper) now insists on queuing at stalls with good food. I surprised myself one day too. M loves roses. I bought her a bouquet of roses just to make her happy. I can afford it. If it makes her happy, it is worth the expense.

Why do we love M so much? Beyond the fact that she has high professional standards (i.e., not sloppy) she is also very kind to our dog. The first is enough to earn our respect because this is a family that respects competence and high work standards. The second warrants our affection and love.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Big and Scary Dr. Pet

I am not sure I like that part about "witch". 
The Daughter used to think I was a mean old witch too. Yeah... brings back some not nice memories. Hmmmm...

He was a GEP who had been placed on advanced training in Science and Math. This meant that from amongst the GEP, the boy was identified as talent to be further groomed. He was simply one of those children who would interrupt you after he has heard 20% of what you are trying to explain, and then he would proceed to explain to you what you were going to say.

It didn't make him popular with the facilitators (all of whom found him odious) but after 2 years of teaching him, a soft spot for him had grown deep inside my heart.

The poor boy had been working 12 hour days 7 days a week. Even his GEP brain was maxed out. He did not have much emotional control to begin with, being one of those children with higher IQ than EQ... and when tired, he was like a cranky 3 month old... bursting into tears at the slightest provocation.

He just stood there with eyes streaming saying, "I really don't understand the comprehension passage", whilst other non-GEP children with REAL problems in language acquisition were studiously at work.

- You are tired. You aren't thinking anymore. This is the 3rd week in a row. Please withdraw from my class for your own good. You need to rest.

At this, he collapsed into a heap on my staircase and wailed...

- I cannot leave this class. This is the only time in the week where I am truly HAPPY!

At that, my heart broke. My classes are no piece of cake. The HW is demanding and I actually do throw badly done HW into the dustbin. If this demanding class with a FIERCE Dr. Pet was his oasis of happiness, what hell must be the rest of his life?!!!!!

Trying not to breathe in his pre-adolescent stale sweat, I gathered the Fat Little Boy into my arms and asked him questions to get him to verbalise all the toxic emotions in his heart. It is like lancing a boil you know. Before you put on a dressing, it helps to squeeze out all the pus. When he was done, I applied my dressing to his emotional wound...

- Next time, when you meet something that scares or stresses you, I want you to imagine Dr. Pet at her fattest, biggest and FIERCEST... and I am standing behind you protecting you from anything that might try to hurt you.

Apparently, it works. I have now become the children's virtual Protector Pet. I think I shall go tailor myself a cape to wear on my shoulders... or perhaps a pointy hat and a broomstick!