Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's Been a Lontong Coming

First, let me explain. It has been three weeks since I last posted. It's not because of any one thing, but a combination of the start of the school year and some computer hiccups.

The start of the school year is always a stressful time, this year more than most. Eight and a half years ago, I resigned my teaching position--tenured, mind you--because my principal treated staff and students with equal contempt. As an example of her management style, she wanted teachers whose "data" about their students was "messy"--incomplete, missing information about how much school they had completed, whether their goal was to improve their literacy skills or an unspecified personal goal--to wear the "apron of shame" during staff development meetings. Seriously, an actual apron with something like "My data's a mess" printed on it. There were a number of other things that happened that I won't bore you with.

I decided I would never again teach adult education classes--as much as I enjoyed the students--because I was disgusted with the administration. A day after 9/11/2001, I get a call from the ESL coordinator of what might be considered a rival school in the same district asking me if I might consider taking on a class or two. As much as I respected her, for I had been to some workshops she had led and had been impressed by her tact and skill, I declined. I had had enough of the shite of this particular school district and just didn't want to deal with it anymore. I was content doing the community college gig, and possibly working towards getting on full-time there. But the coordinator kept pressing me and I eventually agreed to give it a go. Eight years later I'm still there.

Then, in May, the school district decided it must make more drastic cuts. A change in state law allowed it to loot adult education funds for K-12 classes. Although more than $500,000 in cuts had been made in each of the last two years, more cuts had to be made. The adult education division suffered a 26% cut, yet not a single administrator was eliminated. Instead, they were shuffled around and now once again I am working for the principal from hell although her school has been closed and she is now based at a high school that has been closed for several years. Two weeks after the start of the school year my schedule went from a standard 8:30 to 3:30 shift to a split shift starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m. two nights a week. Ain't life grand? This, in addition to the community college class I teach to 9:35 p.m. two nights a week and the minor computer problems are why I've been so lax about posting. So it goes.

Lontong is the perfect accompaniment to a number of Indonesian and Malaysian dishes. Although it is little more than rice cooked in a container too small to comfortably fit in--think of Marlon Brando in his later years trying to fit into his On the Waterfront jeans--dishes served with lontong taste better than if they were simply served with rice. Soto ayam, gado-gado, sate ayam, opor ayam, and tahu lontong are not the same when served with plain rice. The denseness and concentration of rice in the lontong, along with the floral notes from the banana leaf, compliment the sauces and kuahs of those dishes. Instead of simply being absorbed by the rice, the liquids stand out and you are able to enjoy the subtle complexity of spices. Opor ayam with lontong is a totally different experience than when it is served with steamed rice.

There appear to be differing schools of thought on how to prepare lontong. Some like to partially cook the rice before rolling it in squares of banana leaf and finishing the cooking. Others suggest putting raw rice in the banana leaf cylinders and doing all the cooking in the leaves. Although cooking the rice partially gives one a little better control of the rolls (it's easy to fill the leaves too full with the uncooked rice), I prefer doing all the cooking in the rolls.
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  1. That sounds awful. Not the food, but the boss from hell. I once had a boss who screamed at employees. It was my first job out of school and I didn't know how to handle him. After I left, several other employees got together and complained and he got forced out. But it's sad that people like that get put in positions of power to make others miserable.

    That said, I've been thinking of VNese rice balls a lot lately. Kinda funny b/c it's just something we usually made when traveling for portability. Who craves it right?

  2. I think it's the simple foods, especially those that remind us of a particular place or time, that we often crave. That's probably part of the appeal of lontong to me.


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