Sunday, September 9, 2012

First Date Jitters

You'd think after all the crazy recipes we cooked last year that I would begin this year with a sense of confidence. On one hand, I know whatever I try will work out fine -- or if it doesn't work out, life will go on and I'll probably have some good material for a blog post. Even still, last Friday morning I started the day with the kind of nervous excitement that could be compared to first date jitters: I know I like doing this, but I have no idea how this upcoming event will go...

Once again I am starting the year with simple cooking activities designed to build a sense of community in the classroom. But I've upped the ante. I'm also using these first several weeks to teach some basic skills that students may or may not have. Which skills happen when are in part dependent on food availability and what inspirations I find on the internet.

For this first recipe, I wanted to keep it very simple but make something that would require the use of knives. I thought about seasonable, kid-friendly produce and quickly settled on watermelon. Using my favorite cookbook, Google, I found a recipe for watermelon salad that added lemon juice and mint to the watermelon. Perfect! A little different, but nothing too bizarre for the second week of school. Our school continues to benefit from a federal fresh fruits and veggies grant, so I am able to get my produce for free through the school kitchen, which is sourcing produce locally whenever possible. The watermelon came from Lewis Creek Farm, which is literally a five minute walk from the school.

Like someone anxious about their impending date, I planned the conversation that would kick things off. I've never written down notes before a date, but I did this time! In five minutes we covered why we cook in the classroom and the basics of knife safety. Then everyone got chopping! My favorite food assistant, Su, was on hand to get materials out to kids, collect compost scraps, and do whatever else came up. How lucky are we?

Watermelon was quickly chopped and most kids got to help with juicing a lemon, chopping up some mint, or mixing the whole mess together. (One more "How lucky am I?": Our kitchen manager, Emily, was not sure she'd be able to get mint, so another kitchen chef, Doreen, brought in a lovely bunch from her garden.)

We ate our lovely salad, then talked about the process. Some kids wanted more mint, some preferred less lemon juice. Part of cooking is following a recipe, but part of it is seasoning a dish to taste. This was a great opportunity to bring up this idea. Out of 22 kids, all but 2 finished their serving and most asked for seconds. And everyone tried this new dish -- something to celebrate!

The final part of the lesson centered around clean up. I did a quick mini lesson on how to wash and dry your own dishes and then kids started that process and did end of week clean up routines around the room. I am hoping being more intentionally about training for these routines will make every cooking experience run more smoothly, while also teaching important life skills.
It warms my heart to see kids lined up waiting to do the dishes!
Hooray! We finished in time for a short recess, and of course Su snuck back into the room and did the last few community dishes we hadn't gotten to. What are we going to do about her??

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