December 21, 2009

Body snatchers and other testy things

Corn pudding, cauliflower in spicy vinaigrette, Brussels sprouts with carrots

More years ago than I care to admit, I attended an all-girls, all-academic, public magnet school in a large East Coast city. Standards were high and my fellow students, for the most part, were studious and well-behaved. We were such an easy-to-teach bunch of high-achievers I think the school became kind of a last-transfer station for teachers heading towards retirement. Most of the faculty was, from my point of view as a teenager, old. I mean really old. I couldn't believe the school district even let such old people teach. Don't misunderstand, many of the teachers were terrific and well-loved, but some were horribly boring, and even ... unbalanced. And most were, in my opinion, very, very old. (I don't think that now, but what did I know?)

My 10th grade English teacher was one of the oldest in the school. I knew she was intelligent and well-intentioned but her classes could put an insomniac to sleep in five minutes. She always wore a large pendant which she held onto and dragged back and forth along its chain, adding hypnosis to the already powerful narcotic effect of her droning voice. The only thing that could bring some relief to the class was if someone would raise a hand and ask a question about bombs. Then she'd begin to wave her arms, raise her voice, and rant about the dangers of war. What I didn't realize then was she was a nationally known figure in the Quaker anti-war movement of the 60s. Had I known that, I probably would have been far more respectful. All I knew at the time was she was a dreadful teacher making the exciting subject of literature almost unbearable.

On the surface I was quiet and cooperative, but sometimes I got bored, and sought diversions to enliven my own personal educational experience. These diversions were not always of the highest intellectual variety, and usually didn't advance my academic standing, but they did help my boredom. You understand. We had a book review assignment pending, and while pondering what book to read, I came across a "bargain book" display at the drugstore. I wasn't at the drugstore looking for books, but when my eye was captured by a paperback with giant letters screaming "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," I had a sudden inspiration. What if ...? I bought the book, snickering to myself. How could I resist?

facsimile of lost book
I wasn't a science fiction buff at the time, and didn't really know much about the book I was about to read, but it was much better, and MUCH more frightening than I'd anticipated, and I couldn't put it down. This wasn't a problem because after I started reading it, I was afraid to go to sleep. I think I stayed up all night reading the book. I was pretty sure there were pods growing in the basement but was too scared to go into the basement to look; the book completely freaked me out. By the time I wrote my review I was feeling very inspired, and wrote what I considered a fabulous report. To me it sounded professional and polished, and I couldn't wait to see if the teacher would like my writing or punish my book choice. I told a classmate about the book, and she wanted to borrow it, but I was uncomfortable lending it before the book reports were returned, in case I needed it for any reason. This was not the sort of book I usually chose for school reading, and I felt the need to have it nearby. But she begged and badgered me, and agreed to read it quickly and return it before we got the reports back (the teacher was notoriously slow at grading), so I gave her the book. She kept promising to return it but never did.

On the day the book reports were returned I was tense and excited. I just couldn't wait to see my grade. It was an "F." The comments said the writing was "too good" and sounded "too professional" for a student my age, therefore, I must have copied it from the book jacket, and she was failing me for plagiarism. Well, this was an angle I hadn't even considered. I was both thrilled and furiously indignant. I went to see her immediately to protest her accusation, and offered to bring in the book so she could see for herself that the writing was indeed mine. I begged my classmate to return the book but she had lent it to someone else, and said it was lost. I went back to the drugstore without luck. I tried the library. I tried other book stores. There were no computers, Internet, or Amazon to search. I was sunk. With painful effort I finally convinced the teacher to give me a passing grade but that was all I could manage under the circumstances. Even I could see my story sounded fishy. I never gave up hope of finding a copy of the book so I could redeem my reputation but strangely enough, I never found one. So much for being 15 and testing my teachers. I played it straight for the rest of the year — in that class, anyway.

Creamy polenta chili bake
I'm not testing teachers now but am up to a little testing of a different sort — testing recipes for Celine and Joni's newest cook book, and I thought I'd post about some of the things I've tried. At the top of the page, as a teaser, you see a lunch plate of leftovers. The corn pudding is a tester recipe and the cauliflower is from "The Vegan Table" by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

The photo immediately above is creamy polenta chili bake. This was so good. It reminded me of a dish I used to make from "Laurel's Kitchen" called Tennessee corn pone. I think we'll be "testing" this again, soon.

This photo is of another excellent corn-based dish called baked corn pudding. This was incredibly rich, delicious, very quiche-like and easy to prepare. We're making it again for family this weekend to see if they like it as much as we do.

The sweet treats above are sweet potato bars — chewy and full of coconut. I could go for one right now.

Above, you can see some French toast my husband tested and served with jam. He made it for me when my back was hurting. It was interesting.

Last but not least, we have creamy eggplant stew. While not much to look at, this was wonderful to eat. There were lots of leftovers and they got better and better each day, making some delectable lunches.

Note: I'm pretty sure everyone by now is familiar with the book I mentioned in this post. It's a sci-fi classic. No fewer than four films have been based on it, and although it may seem slightly hokey now, the original film, which has achieved cult status, is still genuinely scary. You won't want to fall asleep after you see it. Here's a little more background information from Wikipedia:

"The Body Snatchers" is a 1955 science fiction novel by Jack Finney, originally serialized in Colliers Magazine in 1954, which describes a town in Marin County, California, being invaded by seeds that have drifted to Earth from space. The seeds replace sleeping people with perfect physical duplicates grown from plantlike pods, while their human victims turn to dust.

The duplicates live only five years, and they cannot sexually reproduce; consequently, if unstopped, they will quickly turn Earth into a dead planet and move on to the next world.

The novel has been adapted for the screen four times; the first film in 1956, the second in 1978, the third in 1993, and the most recent in 2007. Unlike two of the film adaptations, the novel contains an optimistic ending, with the aliens voluntarily vacating after deciding that they cannot tolerate the type of resistance they see in the main characters.

I want to wish everyone a happy a holiday season, no matter which holiday you may be enjoying. I hope you all have a chance to celebrate special times with family and friends.


For a wonderful holiday giveaway, visit Diet Dessert and Dogs and enter to win a great cookbook! You have until Dec. 24 to add a comment for a chance to win.


  1. That is awful! Being accused of plagiarism for doing a good job?! Crazy. God forbid a student should actually enjoy what they are reading and therefore write an intelligent and passionate paper on it. Wow.

    All of your food looks amazing--even the French toast :-)

    Happy holidays!

  2. What a story! I'm sure the experience made you a more compassionate teacher and parent in the long run.... but when you're 15, there is no long run, is there? How unfair...

    How lucky for you to be testing all that food, though. It looks excellent. Especially the eggplant. I love eggplant.

  3. What a great story. My Parents showed me the 1950s version when I was a kid and it scared the living crap out of me, I don't know what scared me more... The invasion of the body snatchers or nasferatu...

    My Dad used to make that corn pone from Laurel's Kitchen! *sigh, yummy!

  4. Courtney,
    It was awful at the time but now it's kind of funny. I was trying to upset the teacher with my book choice and probably succeeded. No doubt she figured a student who would choose a book like that was probably not very trustworthy.

    The "long run" certainly does change as we get older.

    We don't always like what we test, but yes, testing the food has been fun.

    Kitchen Witch,
    I didn't really like scary movies so I didn't see the film until I was a teenager, but it scared the crap out of me, too. My husband was inspired by my post to rent the '78 version, which neither of us had seen. It didn't scare me at all, and I slept soundly all night. But, now there are certain images that I can't seem to get out of my mind, and it's giving me the creeps. He also rented the original and I'm curious to see if it will still scare me.

  5. Andrea, I was squeaking with indignation as I read about your 'F' score - SO unfair! Then I was licking my lips at all the great food photos. Laurel's Kitchen was my 'bible' in my vegetarian days! And lastly I chuckled at your desciption of the French toast as 'interesting'. Nuff said! :)

  6. I love your story. Sounds like something that would have happened to me in high school.

    The recipes you tested look amazing. That corn pudding is beckoning to me. Have a great holiday, girl!

  7. That book sounds way too scary for me. But the corn pudding and brussels sprouts? Wonderful! You lucky tester, you.

  8. Penny - I love the phrase "squeaking with indignation!" If I ever get to Scotland, I'm looking you up!

    Trinity - I made (tested) the corn pudding again. Yum. (And aren't you glad you're not still in high school?)

    Mary - Hey, I work hard as a tester. It's very hard not to mess with the recipes.

  9. Grrr-just wrote a REALLY LONG comment, which Google swallowed, of course. No, really, I'm not lying, I wrote it, and wrote it myself!! (I will never again accuse any of my students of plagiarism--poor you!). And I loved the hypnosis of the pendant ;)

    The corn pudding sounds divine. I must try it! And even though I've seen Body Snatchers movies, I never knew they only lived 5 years--even more creepy.

  10. Andrea, the same thing happened to me, if you can believe it, in my first assignment in my first year English class at university. The F, the "this is too good, a first year student couldn't have written it, so you must have plagiarized it," the whole deal. Like you, I was both appalled and flattered. My essay was a set topic on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that I had spent weeks researching and polishing. After I'd had a chance to get over the shock of receiving an F for excellence from a professor I more or less worshipped, my reaction as the young and arrogant creature I then was boiled down to, "Clearly I'm too bright for this school," so I dropped out into a life of academic adventure (and a wariness of academic authority that was probably ultimately a healthy thing).

    But it is a good story! And your corn pudding looks great;-)

  11. Ricki - I sort of believe you wrote the comment - in any case I'll give you the benefit of the doubt since the same thing has happened to me. On my own blog!

    I wonder what happens to the bodies - they never say...

    Zoa - Adults with power have far more influence on young people than they realize. They should use it with greater care and compassion. Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you enjoyed and thrived on your adventure.


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