Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Sweet New Year To You All

In this week's recipe, take:
4 pounds of carrots
2 humongus sweet potatoes
16 kids
and put them together for
10 minutes.

This is what you'll get:

I took the day off school today and tomorrow, to celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashannah, with my family. Last week when I started wondering what our cooking project of the week might be, I realized it would have to happen early in the week and Su wouldn't be available to do oven detail. In a flash of inspiration, I decided to prepare a simple stove-top vegetable dish that has always been served in my family for Rosh Hashannah: tzimmes.

Tzimmes is a general term that is used to describe any sort of stew that includes an element of sweetness. It is customary to wish people "a sweet new year" -- one of the reasons tzimmes is a staple at most Rosh Hashannah meals. If you Google tzimmes recipes you will find everything from chicken to brisket to dried fruit included in a cornucopia of recipes. My mother made a simpler variety: carrots steamed in a little margarine (I used butter), sprinkled with flour, then cooked in just enough water to cover them. After half an hour, toss in the sweet potatoes and cook until they fall apart. She made it that way because Grandma made it that way because Great-Grandma made it that way...I didn't even realize there were other ways to make tzimmes until a couple of years ago.

Our school lunch program has joined in a food cooperative and our district was also awarded a fresh fruits and vegetables grant this year, so I was able to order four pounds of carrots and two monstrously large sweet potatoes from two local growers and get it billed to the grant program. I have been piecing together funding for ingredients this month and will be writing a grant for my classroom this weekend that will hopefully take care of some of our expenses this year. This week, it was nice to have that end of things handled so easily.

Wednesday morning when students checked the morning message, they were asked to check off which they thought was healthier: white potatoes or sweet potatoes. They all guessed sweet potatoes. During reading time, we read a pared-down version of this article (pun intended). The complexity of the article allowed them to practice checking understanding as we read, something I have discovered many students need to work on. We recorded what we discovered on a Venn diagram on the white board. While sweet potatoes do have antioxidants and large amounts of vitamin A, they are also more often prepared without the massive amounts of oil that french fries and potato chips require. The article made for an interesting class conversation.

As snack time began, I got out peelers and they got to work. Kids worked in shifts in between eating their own snacks. As writing time started, I heated up a plug-in burner and started steaming the carrots.

In the afternoon, I served everyone a small taste and then asked for comments. Overall the reaction was favorable, with some kids specifically commenting on the fact that they liked the texture. I had wondered what they'd make of squashiness of the falling apart sweet potatoes. It brings me back to countless family meals, but if you haven't encountered it before, it's not the most charismatic way to interact with a sweet potato. One student didn't care for the carrots, but came back asking for seconds on the mush.

The success of the day came from the student who had eaten bread plain when we made pesto, then ate more bread plain when we made the eggplant dip. The optimistic side of me has been thinking, "Hey! This kid likes healthy, home-baked bread." I've been too busy serving everyone else to let the pessimistic side of me pipe up. But his lack of adventurousness hasn't escaped my notice.

Yesterday, after hearing everyone's comments on tzimmes, he came up and asked for his own sample. Sure enough, he was back in line with almost everyone else, asking for a full-sized serving for seconds. There was no peer pressure, but there was certainly peer influence at work.

As I offered up seconds, I asked the group to take their time eating so I could capture some pictures of them munching away. (Usually most of them have finished by the time I'm done serving.) A student who opted out of seconds volunteered to be cameraman. This is what he saw:

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