Monday, May 27, 2013

The Last Post

Ummmm...hi there.

So you know how you'll resolve to floss your teeth every night and you'll get into a really good habit and stick with it for a while?

But then you go away for the weekend and even though you packed floss, you let yourself off the hook because, let's be serious, it takes an entire minute and a half to get through all your teeth. And when you're on vacation, that's a hassle. Plus it's only for the weekend...

Then you come home and you floss on Sunday night and Monday night but on Tuesday you stay up a little late watching Jon Stewart on hulu and you skip a night.

Suddenly a month has gone by and you can't remember the last time you flossed. And you go, "Huh. How did that happen? I was so good about flossing for so long."

So I've been writing this blog for a while, almost two full school years. And every time my class did anything remotely related to cooking, I wrote a post. 

Then this spring happened. 

I'm not really sure what happened this spring except that one week went by, then another, and then another, and we didn't cook anything. I've caught some heat from my class about this, and the best explanation I could give was that we got busy doing other projects. That, and my vague ideas about the connection between cooking and Earth, Sun and Moon cycles never solidified. 

So no cooking, nothing to blog about. Next time around with the current science unit, I will make better efforts to keep the cooking thread going strong. I've got an idea about seasonal soup recipes and the crock pot our school just purchased.

Then there's this other issue about the blogging. I realized over the winter that I wouldn't keep posting to this blog after the end of the school year. Next fall my two-year curriculum will start over again and much of what we cook will be the same as or identical to the recipes I've already posted about. Writing about them again would be a bad version of Groundhog's Day.

So this is it. The last post. Time to reflect on what's gone on here.

1. One reason I started this blog was to record the process of integrating cooking into elementary curriculum. Next fall my old posts will be a valuable tool for avoiding the pitfalls from the first time I tried everything. I consider myself a reflective teacher, but so many times my reflections do not get recorded, or don't get stored in a place that I remember to look before I teach the lesson again. And one look at my plan book confirms that just because I keep all my old plan books doesn't mean they're going to be especially helpful two years later. At least in this case, I'll have a record, sometimes in excruciating detail, of what I thought about every recipe we cooked.

Exhibit A - My plan book at the end of the week

2. I had the experience of being a blogger. Now I know how to manage a blog, what it takes to keep one updated, how to insert links and all that jazz. It's a cool tool, and I'm sure that this knowledge will serve me in the future, both as a teacher and as a writer. (Unlike Twitter, which I have sworn never to get involved with. I have not tweeted. I do not tweet. I will not tweet. Conjugate away.)

3. I got to share my experience with a wider audience than myself. Early on, I came to the realization that one of my posts wasn't going to go viral and score me a book deal like a very few lucky people out there. What I have appreciated is the support and interest that friends, family members and co-workers have shown for both my cooking and my writing over the past year and a half. Thanks, people.

For a while I thought that I'd wrap up this blog and start the Liz Greenberg is a Writer blog. You know, to promote myself as a writer of fiction? But I'm not sure who my audience would be: kid writers, adults, agents and publishers. And frankly, there are more writers waiting to be published who have set up web pages than there are grains of sugar in a cup measure.

But the bigger issue in my decision to say good-bye to blogging for now is that I have too many other writing projects I want to work on and limited time to work on them. (If you're curious, the count is two unpublished middle grade manuscripts awaiting an agent/publisher and/or more revisions, a manuscript-in-progress, an adult focussed short story based on a crazy dream I had last month, and a contest I want to enter. And that's this week's list.) Suddenly, keeping a blog updated is about as appealing as continuing to date some guy I'm not that serious about when I'd rather be hanging out with my friends. 

So this is it, for now. 

The weird thing is that the blog is still going to be Here, and by Here I mean that nebulous thing called the internet. Kind of like space junk except less environmentally invasive.

So Future People (as in anyone reading this after June, 2013): Hi. Thanks for finding my blog. I hope you liked it. If you leave me a comment it would be kind of neat to know someone read my space junk. 

And to People-of-the-Now: Thanks for reading my ramblings and supporting my effort. Sometimes it's easier to keep doing crazy, possibly overly ambitious projects when you have a bunch of people telling you you're on the right track. I hope you have a summer filled with lots of healthy and yummy foods. Strawberry season is just around the corner...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How To Eat Fried Plantains

Last Friday on our field trip the continent study groups bought a bunch of produce that:
a) wasn't ripe yet
b) required more preparation than slicing
c) I had no idea what to do with
d) all of the above

So although it hadn't been in my plans to cook this week, I threw a dart at my plan book and came up with Wednesday morning. I figured I'd do some research over the weekend and hold a summit with Emilyinthekitchen on Monday in order to be ready for Wednesday.

Then medical chaos temporarily struck my family (everyone's fine now, thank you) and I had almost no time/energy for weekend planning Nor was I in school on Monday. Tuesday morning, I asked Emilyinthekitchen what I should do with my random set of ingredients. "Bring it all down to the kitchen so I can see it," she advised.

Once she visualized what I had to work with, she quickly came up with some suggestions. You get the feeling that she'd do awesome on one of those cooking reality shows...

This morning I filled everyone in our menu and signed everyone up for one job. I knew there wasn't enough to keep everyone busy while all the food cooked, and this strategy ended up working nicely. While everyone worked independently on a social studies assignment (and most of them did work, having been warned that they could lose getting to do their job otherwise) I called kids up to do jobs. One students brought a pot of water down to the kitchen to boil for tea -- quicker than using our slow-to-heat two burner. Two others sliced the last loaf of last Thursday's Around the World Bread.

Another pair measured water and gari (a cassava product). This got cooked into a porridge.

Some sliced plantains
while others coated them in cassava flour and cinnamon
 and a couple pan-fried them. This turned out to be my favorite dish of the lot.
We made a stir fry of onion, chinese bitter melon, and chive, garnished with poppy seeds. Then I cut up a piece of melon to taste with one of the kids on stir fry duty. We had a simultaneous reaction, and spit it out; it was inedibly bitter. Red faced, he fished them out of the stir fry and left them out separately for anyone who dared to try.

We also chopped up hot pepper. I'll leave the reaction of kids tasting it to your imagination. I should have known that it did not matter one bit that I showed kids how to dab a bit on their tongue and taste it carefully. There's always going to be a couple kids that take a big bite and then flail around the room grabbing for bread and gulping glasses of water.

 Here's part of the feast!
 One plus about cooking in the morning is that the kitchen is open and I can send a couple of kids down to run dishes through the Hobart. Waaay more efficient than trying to wash everything in the classroom sink, especially on a day when I have a lunch meeting, no prep period, and a staff meeting after school. Remarkably, when we started math at 10:00, the (cooking part of the) room was 95% in order.

And within fifteen minutes of math starting, we were doing the hand jive and watching this video.
If you think I'm kidding, guess again. I even had a reason for showing it! Never a dull moment in my classroom...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Friday Farm Fun

Big day yesterday.*

We spent the morning at Bread and Butter Farm in neighboring Shelburne. Farmer-owner Corie took us on a tour of the farm including:
and a greenhouse full of spinach and kale.
 Fresh greens! In Vermont in March!
 Then there was my favorite, the bakery.
 Every Friday between five hundred and seven hundred loaves of bread come out of that oven. The varieties are impressive, including three-seed and raisin rye.
 An unexpected highlight was the opportunity to go into the pasture to hang out with the cows. A parent commented to me, in amazement, that Corie showed a huge amount of trust in my class to allow them into the field en masse to be with the cows. Friendly "girls" quickly approached us a started sniffing and licking at us!
 Before we broke for lunch, Corie gave the class a chore: rip last year's kale stalks out of the beds and take them to the compost pile. It didn't take this group of hard workers very long to complete the task!
Most of my students are very familiar with some element of farm life. As rural Vermont kids, if they don't have parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles running farms, someone they know works on a farm. They've spent their time in barns and fields; they don't freak out about walking through a field filled with cow patties.

But my guess is few of them are familiar with this sort of farming. Bread and Butter Farm is a  diversified farm that started three and a half years ago on generational family farm land put under conservation easement through the Vermont Land Trust. Corie and head baker, Adam, purchased the land and launched a farm that produces a variety of items and offers many services to the community including Burger Fridays and a new summer camp venture. Corie gave us a tour appropriate for older kids; we had fun petting pigs and baby calves, but we also talked about sustainable farming practices.
After we ate lunch and said our goodbyes, we drove up to Burlington to look for food that came from non-local sources. Each continent group went to a different ethnic market, in search of foods (primarily fresh produce) that came from countries in the continent they'd studied. There were a couple of glitches with this grand plan, and because of a closed store, two groups ended up in an African market together. As luck would have it, the proprietor is a former home economic teacher from Ghana. After she sold some dried fish to a customer, she turned off the lively African music that filled the store, and taught us more about cassava than I knew there was to know, all in about five minutes!
Back at school each group told about the items they found. We had three forms of cassava (cassava flour, gari, and tapioca) along with pounded yam from Africa. There were two varieties of mango, a guava, and a chayote from South America. The Australia group, thinking about the greater zone of Oceania, found kiwi (New Zealand), Roobios tea (Aboriginal bush tea) and poppy seeds (Tasmania - who knew?). The Asia group had the biggest bonanza: Asian plums, plantains, Chinese cucumbers, Asian chives,  and hot peppers.
Some kids chopped up the produce that was ripe and ready, while others sliced Thursday's Around the World bread. A few chose to do some quick research about the guava and chayote. Were they ripe? No. They're in a paper bag on  the counter, getting ready for snack time on Monday.

Then we ate. Two types of mango were sampled and compared. Three loaves out of four were gone in fifteen minutes. 
 And I looked at all the food we hadn't eaten, items requiring further preparation, and wondered what next week would bring.

*The whole field trip was funded through a Farm to School grant. I am so very appreciative for the support.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Around the World Bread

All this great cooking shared with the school, but we haven't prepared a recipe in class in ages.

Today the plan was to bake four loaves of bread to be eaten tomorrow after a field trip (more on this in a future post). Because of our daily schedule, the bread had to be mixed, kneaded and rising within the first fifty minutes of the school day. Emilyinthekitchen provided the recipe and a sponge. I got mixing bowls and measuring spoons ready before school started.

And as the kids streamed into the classroom and I read the recipe with them, I realized I was solo in the room. No extra adult. Just me, twenty-two kids, and the ingredients for four loaves of a bread recipe developed just for us. Plus a tight time frame. Recipe for bread, or recipe for disaster?

The rationale: Celebrate learning about all the continents by making a multi-grain bread to represent all the grains from all the continents. When I first told the kids that we were going to use all the grains mixed together to make a multi-grain bread, understanding dawned on one sixth grader's face. "So that's why they call it multi-grain bread!" he exclaimed.

The prep: Wednesday morning at snack time, we used a hand grinder to grind up oats, rye and wheat berries.

Wednesday afternoon the room was filled with an...interesting odor while I cooked up other grains: quinoa, amaranth, barley, millet and t'eff. 

Then the Thursday craziness. But here's the amazing part: it wasn't crazy at all. I had each continent group number themselves and used the numbers to create four groups with representatives of each study group. We went over the recipe, washed up, and in the space of 35 minutes, each group measured, mixed and kneaded.

Ingredients got passed around, everyone shared jobs and cooperated. As the kneading got started, one person from each group took a couple minutes to wash and dry their bowl, then oil it up for the rising stage. I was able to check in with each group, keep the process moving along, but mainly I watched the groups work together while I took some pictures. It was truly a celebration of everything the class has learned how to do this year. I wish I had a picture of the parade of kids walking through the halls to the kitchen, carrying dirty dishes, floured cutting boards, and most importantly, shiny bowls full of dough.

While the dough rose and I ran dishes through the Hobart, the kids were in the gym, playing floor hockey. Then during snack four kids had their names drawn to go punch down the dough. Later in the morning, Emily ran the dough through the big mixer and left it to rise a second time. And after lunch, each small group spent five minutes in the kitchen forming their share of the dough into a different shaped loaf. Emily popped the bread into the oven and I pulled it out after she'd left, while my class was in the tech lab. It smelled GOOD...
Doesn't it look good?

Full report on its taste after tomorrow's field trip...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cooking with T'eff

After a lovely winter vacation, we are back in action! This week's group used t'eff flour to make pancakes. Emilyinthekitchen made an absolutely delish African stew: chickpeas and kale swimming in a sauce flavored with cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. I am waiting for the recipe...

Many students commented that the pancakes themselves were nothing special, but they went really well with the stew. I concur. And I think something really good is happening in our school's kitchen when kids prefer pancakes when they're served with a well-seasoned vegetable stew. 

No pictures this week but we should have plenty next week; in addition to serving the school an Australian millet crusted quiche, we're also going on a multi-faceted field trip to celebrate this unit.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Story Worth Telling

This week's culinary travels took us to Asia. Five students prepped a dish by sauteeing bok choy and kale, then cooking Japanese rice and barley on Tuesday afternoon.
 When they returned to the classroom, one student cook approached me to tell me the amount of salt the recipe called for the grains to be cooked in seemed high. I emailed Emilyinthekitchen and let her know, wondering if she'd need to cook up some unsalted grains to mix in before the dish was served at lunch on Wednesday. 

She stopped into class Wednesday morning, and explained to everyone that when she'd written out the recipe (which came from her brain and not a cookbook), she'd mistakenly written down the amount of salt. She'd  been thinking of how much she'd use if she was cooking more grain in a larger volume of water. Cooks make mistakes sometimes.

"So you'll have to throw it out?" someone asked with concern.
Not to worry, she reassured. Most of the time, cooks can fix their mistakes. As I predicted, the solution lay in adding more grains to the dish.

 While we were in the tech lab, researching continents, Emilyinthekitchen mixed the grains and sauteed vegetables together and got it heated up for lunchtime serving. The dish was a little on the salty side, but definitely tasty.

The feedback forms that came in were very positive. Some people (especially the younger kids) liked the saltiness of the dish, while others like the dish but suggested less salt next time. A few people really liked the kale prepared this way. In a school where an announcement of kale chips has been met with cheers, that's saying something!

Wednesday night, I got some wonderful feedback from a colleague. In an email, she wrote that two students, "were so excited to tell me about the barley dish today (which I LOVED by the way!) and so many kids said they really liked it. It's amazing what kids will eat when they are involved with learning about it and preparing it,"

She also said, "I had a conversation with [a student] who told me she didn't really like it because it was too salty. I told her how much I love salt and she kindly gave me a warning that salt can clog your arteries. I'm not sure that's really true, but the fact that she knew it wasn't healthy and wanted to pass along that health information was priceless."

I thought about all this as I started looking over the amazing pictures Anne took this week.

These kids are having fun while they're learning. And if you didn't know them, you would have no idea which ones have learning challenges,  and which ones are reading well above grade level. Some of my students have ADHD or their families are living in stressful conditions. But the pictures (in today's post and in the past), don't tell those stories. Cooking together has built our class community and leveled the playing field. It has allowed all of my students a chance to learn and have fun together. And that's a story worth telling.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day: A chance to show your affection for people by plying them with chocolate. Wonderful and horrifying at the same time. As a chocolate lover, the only thing better is the day after Valentine's Day, when the chocolate all goes on sale. But as a teacher, Valentine's Day often turns into an excuse to encourage kids to overeat sugary treats in the name of celebrating.

Last year I took a stand and decided our class would observe Valentine's Day by making custom fruit smoothies while watching Cupcakes Wars. I started thinking aloud about this year while driving my children somewhere a couple of weeks ago.

"Maybe we'll make something not-quite-so-healthy," I mused.
"Let the kids have some fun and eat some sugar," said my sage almost-eleven-year old.
"Seriously!" chimed in the six year old.

I was seriously considering it. But the glitch is that our school has been trying to run a winter outdoor program on Thursday afternoons, which would eliminate the best chunk of time where we could cook something together. I knew I wouldn't be able to plan anything elaborate in the hopes that we were out of school this afternoon skiing and snowshoeing.  (The weather hasn't been cooperating, and on all but one week, the outdoor plans have been canceled.)  Then a parent contacted me asking if she could send in a special brownie treat in honor of the day. I decided to have our class celebration during morning snack in case the afternoon program ran. Kids would pass out all their valentines and indulge in brownies someone else made. Party plans complete.

But the opportunity to sneak in a vegetable experience landed in my lap, so what could I do?

My family gets a weekly share of vegetables from Pete's Greens. The owner, Pete Johnson, is a forward-thinking farmer who has figured out how to grow green vegetables in northern Vermont year round. Our share this winter has included greens almost every week, but at this time of the season most of it is stored root vegetables or frozen veggies. Yesterday, my husband brought home a bag filled with, among other things, Valentine radishes.

I stuffed a large one in my school bag and brought it to school as my Valentine's Day treat for the class.

We cut it open during morning meeting

and during snack, almost everyone tried a slice alongside their fudgy brownie and fruit from the kitchen. A slice cut in half looked enticingly like a wedge of watermelon!

The true victory was that no one freaked out about the idea of eating a weird bright pink radish on a day known for roses and candy. It was all just part of the fun.