abc blocksI’ve done a lot of things in my life. Had a lot of careers:

Reporter, editor, freelancer; children’s theater choreographer; personal chef & party planner.

I’ve never worked as hard, though, or been forced to be as creative as when I was a preschool teacher.

A few years ago I taught a bushel of 4-year-olds at our local preschool. Since then, I’ve kept my hand in the teaching pot, leading a singing, rollicking, weekly chapel program.

But Monday, I’m jumping into the classroom again.

Preschool is a magical age. The standardized testing machine hasn’t drilled down to this age (yet), so days are filled with finger paints and dramatic play. Reality hasn’t created a shell of cynicism, so imaginations are huge. Curiosity is rewarded.

Read that again:




Something happens as our children get older. I don’t know if it’s because they’re over-scheduled, over-tested or over-bombarded with information and images, but they stop asking, “Why?” They stop wondering, “What would happen if …?”

Not in my classroom. We spent — and will spend — an inordinate amount of time pondering, wondering and experimenting:

“How long do you think it will take for this snow to melt?” (An appropriate question given our deluge.)

“Will it melt faster with salt? What if we put sugar on it?”

“Should we pour on hot water? What about ice water? Would that make it melt faster … or just refreeze?”

Creativity blooms from wonder. But it’s also birthed from failure. You can’t foster curiosity without a healthy respect for — and acceptance of — being wrong.

“Do you think these leaves will turn brown when they dry?” I asked my own children one fall as we tacked colorful maple leaves onto poster board. “Or will they stay red?”

One son guessed brown. The other, red.

“Do you know it doesn’t matter if your guess is right or wrong?” I said. “What’s important is asking the question.”

(They stayed red.)

I can’t wait to get back to the classroom. Those 4-year-olds pique my curiosity, too. They crack my shell of cynicism. They expand my imagination.

Most important, though, they force me to embrace failure so I can see something utterly, totally new.

What-Would-Happen-If Pumpkin Bread

pumpkin batter

I discovered “Mrs. Raymond Schenk’s Pumpkin Cake” recipe this Thanksgiving. It sits on page 760 of “The Essential New York Times Cook Book.” It’s fast to put together; it requires no exotic ingredients; and it bakes into a bundt cake that can do double-duty as dessert or coffee cake.

It also has similar ingredient ratios as muffins and quick breads. Which led me to ask, “I wonder what would happen if I baked this into mini loaves of bread?”

Nothing but deliciousness.

Now it’s your turn. Try this as a bread. (You’ll have to increase the baking time if you use a standard loaf pan.) Or pour it into a well-greased bundt pan and bake it as a cake. (Double the baking time.) You might even use it to make muffins. Or some other confection that hasn’t crossed my mind.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups pure pumpkin puree (almost an entire 14.5-ounce can)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I use an assortment of raisins and cranberries)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or any other nut)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grease eight miniature bread molds and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, combine the sugar, oil and pumpkin. Beat on medium speed until everything is well incorporated.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three batches. Mix only until they’re incorporated.

Add the dried fruit and nuts, again beating at low speed just ’til incorporated.

pumpkin in pans (2)Divide the batter among your loaf molds.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the loaves comes out clean.

Cool the bread for 10 minutes, then gently remove the loaves to a tray or baking sheet. The bread is good to eat now, but even better if you wait a day for the flavors to fully meld.

pumpkin baked