Banana Heads

I enjoy cooking, and since I’ve been sheltering in place because of the threat of COVID-19 on every door handle and shopping cart, I’ve had more than enough time to cook. Throwing a handful of raisins into the sauce today, my mid drifted back to my undergraduate days. (Don’t be shocked at the raisins. They balance the acid and bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes.)

My first degree was in music from Jacksonville State in the middle of rural Alabama. Ironically, it was there in the foothills of the Appalachians of all places, I met a petite Italian (Sicilian)-American, Mr. Giovanni Maltese, who has remained special in my memory. He taught music appreciation, music literature, and class strings. He was a particular pleasure to be around, though if you talked during class he would keep you in line by admonishing, “Shut up, you bunch of banana heads, and listen to the damn music.”

Beyond his passion for music, one of the things that endeared him to me was how he welcomed his students into his home. As with the Maltese family, my dad’s family came from Sicily. Dad tells stories from his childhood of his father cooking spaghetti sauce overnight and of big family lunches on Sundays at Aunt Katti’s after she had spent half the night cooking. In similar family style, Mr. Maltese invited his classes to his home at the end of each term.

The memory of an evening at his home, as one friend said, is like a dream now, just yesterday and yet forever ago at the same time. That night his students arrived to find several small tables set around. Sauce was simmering. The smell, oh, the smell. He placed the sauce and pasta on the tables, along with bowls containing various meats. We sat. He bowed his head and offered thanks. As the meal began, he lamented “a rude student” who some years before had wandered around “looking for God under the tables” after grace. Then I tasted his sauce for the first time, biting down on a raisin plumped with sauce. Ever since, raisins have been in my own sauces. Beyond this, the details of that evening fade to shadow, except for the feeling of welcome and home that permeated the evening and has followed me for forty years.

A few years ago before Mr. Maltese passed away at the age of 95, I contacted his son John for the recipe that I recall enjoying around the table, after thanking God for the meal of course.  

I share the recipe below and hope you enjoy it, as well as the love of family and friends around the table again soon. I pray we will recall how being apart from each other felt and allow that to make each meal and each moment all the more special. I think Mr. Maltese would agree, and I think he would also remind you to thank God for your meal… and your health.   

In John’s words and shared with his permission, here is the sauce that Mr. Giovanni Maltese learned from his mom from Trapani, Sicily.

It’s very easy. Use cans of tomato paste (two cans of water per can of paste) as the base. I usually add a can of tomato puree. You can make as much or as little as you like, but if you add a lot of meat, you’ll need a fair amount of sauce (for this pot I used 16 ounce cans of paste – remember to add the two cans of water per can of paste) and one 28 ounce can of puree. That’s quite a bit of sauce, but I’m cooking for a lot of people, and I want leftovers (the sauce freezes well). Simmer. Peel a couple of large onions and add 8-12 cloves of garlic (leave them whole) and brown them in olive oil and add them to the sauce. Then brown some sweet Italian sausage and add it. I do the meatballs by feel: ground beef, Italian bread crumbs, grated Parmesan and Romano cheese, lots of finely chopped garlic, parsley, pepper, garlic salt, and enough eggs so that the meat won’t fall apart. Brown the meatballs and add them to the sauce. Sometimes I add breaded chicken or veal cutlets (also browned in olive oil before being added), pork chops, even chopped zucchini. Add a couple handfuls of raisins. Simmer over low heat for about three hours. It tastes best if you refrigerate it overnight and simmer it again for about an hour or so the next day before serving. Believe it or not, there’s no other seasoning – the garlic, onions, and meat add plenty of flavor. Mangia!

Ten Tips for Moving to Online Instruction with Short Notice

With school closings from elementary through university across the country as a response to COVID-19, many are opting to use online learning options and often doing so on short notice and with limited experience in online instruction. I don’t mean to be presumptuous with this blog. I don’t claim to be an expert. But since I teach online and face-to-face classes, I’ve been contacted by friends who are new to online instruction and are having a baptism of fire. Here are a few tips I put together. This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it is a good start for those moving to online instruction on short notice.

I keep an ancillary page for all of my face-to-face classes. I seldom use it for instruction. Still, it is great to hang handouts in, etc. However, it can quickly be turned into an instruction page, for example, when I have to attend a conference or go to an offsite meeting or am out sick. So that’s a good idea for the future.

For now, KISS. Keep it simple, except none of you are stupid.

Your institution likely has an adopted online learning management system and a basic template for it. Find out and use it. If not, there are free versions such as Moodle, which happens to be one I’ve used.

1. First, communication is paramount. Decide how you will communicate and announce this to your students repeatedly. (You know why.) Use it frequently. This reinforces and reassures. Also, post contact information prominently. Communication is half the battle.

2. Put all important documents and handouts in one folder/module/unit, even if you duplicate in other instruction areas.

3. Take some time and decide how best to organize your instruction. Then construct folders/modules/units for each topic or lesson in whatever online platform your school uses. REMEMBER TO MAKE CONTENT PUBLIC/VISIBLE.  But don’t go for whistles and bells at this juncture. Make life easy for your students and yourself.

4. Make SHORT instruction video/audio recording with free software. I use Screencast-O-Matic. But there are several. Divide your lecture/discussions into 10 minute or shorter snippets. (Shorter snippets work well in live instruction also, but that’s a pedagogical discussion for another day.)

5.  Use free stuff like Screencast-O-Matic, Skype,, Zoom. Also, most major publishers are opening up their online resources for free. Yes, it’s a way for them to show off their wares, but so what. Use it. Contact your local rep for more info. And there are lots of open access resources, Youtubes, etc. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use a free one.

6. Devise alternative forms of assessment. A scantron test shouldn’t be the only method you’re using anyway. Be creative. There are lots of ways to determine if your students are learning.   

7. Finally, be patient. Reassure your students. Many of them are panicking. Also, others think it’s a vacation, so get their attention.

8.  Social media might also be a valid part of your online plan. If you decide to utilize social media, however, be cautious of privacy issues.

9. Move forward without panic. You’ve got this. You’re a professional. You’re going to be fine.

10. I couldn’t really think of a tenth tip, so I’ll just add wash your hands frequently and sanitize your keyboard. That’s good advice anytime.

Cole Veggies

When I get in bed late, I always wake up early for some unknown, perverted reason. When this happens I begin to ponder – or maybe it is a sleep-deprived delirium. Anyway, this morning I happened to be contemplating the recent events in the Catholic Church, and my mind slipped toward my music students. In discussions of Western music history of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, much of which involves music of the Catholic Church, I rattle off the Ordinary of the Mass or translate a Latin sequence (the same ones every semester). Because I know these things, my students immediately assume I’m Catholic. I’m not. But that has me thinking. If I were teaching botany or agri-science and listed the Cole veggies, would my students think I am cabbage?