Saturday, October 27, 2012

Two Words That Go Great Together

Have you ever tried to simplify something and then realized that your actions have only complicated the situation? Friday was a perfect example of that. But the day ended so well that I let it go...

We're starting to study a handful of human body systems but I started the unit with a couple of days of lessons about the concept of systems in general. Input, process, output. If one step in the process doesn't happen right, then things might go kerflooey. Cue foreshadowing. You get the idea.

So I thought it would be cool to make a recipe assembly-line style so kids could experience being part of the process of a working system. The raw food would be the input and the finished dish would be the output.

I went searching online and found a recipe that I will definitely make next spring. But since it featured asparagus, it didn't exactly feel like an October kind of project. I asked Emilyinthekitchen and she said she thought the same breading and baking process would work well with broccoli and cauliflower, almost reminiscent of tempura but without the deliciously unhealthy deep frying.

Friday afternoon I was all ready. Materials were all set out; directions were written for each stage of the recipe. One set of kids would prep the veggies, another group would learn how to separate eggs with Su, and the last group would mix up the parmesan breading. My plan was to divide the class into four groups of five, ask each group to decide who was going to do which job (some jobs would have to be shared within a group because of numbers), then have them break off from each other to do the prep work. Groups would reconvene with their prepped ingredients and together do the "assembly", following designated roles depending on if they were veggie preppers, egg separators, or breading mixers.

This was way to complicated for most of the kids to grasp on Friday afternoon. Or, possibly, I didn't explain things clearly enough.

No sweat. I stopped and repeated directions a couple more times than I would have liked to, and then the process started to work...

Twelve choppers chopping...

Eleven separators separating

Su took two loaded pans of vegetables down to the kitchen to bake and I worried we'd made too much.

I've noticed a pattern that kids love to handle the food, but then are less interested in actually eating it. We spent a few minutes talking as a whole group about what it was like being part of a process, but many kids look as glazed over as I was feeling. Also, there was a pile of dishes but no clear picture of who was responsible for which dishes since kids had been moving around according to my cockamamie directions. Let's call this a failing in the system design! I called for half an hour of silent reading, and did the dishes myself.

Su returned with two bowls of fragrant veggies and we packed up for the end of the day. I set out plates of broccoli and cauliflower and almost every kid sampled some. Even one student who is very reticent about trying new foods decided to try it, then reported to me that he didn't like it. "That's great that you tried something new!" I gushed.

 Here's the crazy part: It was 2:50 on a sunny Friday, and most of my twenty students were sitting around plates of broccoli munching it and talking about how good it was as if we were surrounding a bowl of popcorn. I made a comment to that effect, and one of my sixth grade boys said without a hint of irony in his voice, "Two words that go great together: broccoli and Friday."

Cue happy ending.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Week Off

Last year I challenged myself to cook at least once a week with my class. Which I did, almost every week. Most of the time it was good that I'd set that goal for myself, especially in the fall; it established cooking as a regular part of our class culture. We'd cook something and I'd blog about it, so it also established some regularity about my writing.

This year I have a slightly different approach. We cook every Friday, but if there isn't school on a Friday, that means we may not cook that week. And that's ok. I have the long view now and can appreciate that cooking is part of the fabric of the class culture in my room; taking a week off isn't going to change anything.

Last Friday my students had the day off while I attended a district inservice training. In two weeks, we have parent conferences. I also don't plan to do any cooking that week.

Having conquered last year's challenge, I have the perspective that it's ok if cooking becomes more sporadic when our schedule gets hacked up by conferences and the like.

So stay tuned! We are starting a human body unit this week and I am having fun making meaningful connections between that unit and the kitchen. And if "human body unit" and "cooking" started you worrying about what might be coming up, rest assured that we are not studying the digestive unit...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Baked Apples

I've never made a baked apple before this week.

Many of my posts could start that way. I've never made ice cream in a bag before this week. I've never baked bread in a cast iron pot before this week. I've never kept sourdough starter before. I'm exposing myself to new foods and cooking ideas as much as I am exposing my students to them.

This week's surprises me because baked apples are SO easy and SO yummy. How is it that I've never made one before?

The inspiration:
1) My funds are very limited this year, but I can get produce free through Emilyinthekitchen and our school's fresh fruits and veggies grant.
2) My class worked very hard on standardized testing this week and I felt like they deserved a celebratory cooking project.

Enter the apple. I would have loved to make these instead, but I took a deep breath and reminded myself that Friday afternoon I was leaving school right away to go on a girls getaway weekend and I didn't want to be stuck in my classroom cleaning up a pie crust mess. Then I talked to Emily and she suggested I set up the apple stuffing like an ice cream bar. Here are the possible toppings; how would you like your apple? I got together raisins, craisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger. Also oats, thinking a few kids might want to mash the toppings together and stuff an apple crisp type topping in the middle.

Thursday night while I heated up leftovers for dinner, I used a grapefruit spoon to scoop out most of the middle of an apple. I dropped in some raisins, brown sugar, a pat of butter, and put the apple in a pan with a half inch of water in the bottom. It sat in the oven for half an hour while my daughter and I ate dinner and we split it for dessert. It doesn't get any easier than that.

The glitch of the week is that amazing Su was hammered with a bad cold earlier in the week and emailed me Thursday night to say she wouldn't be coming to school on Friday. (Su, I hope you're on the mend!) I had been planning to have half the group prep their apples while the other half did a Check It Out circle to preview a stack of new class books we got through book order. This was in part due to the number of grapefruit spoons that people lent me. (Thanks Vera! Thanks Barb!) Everyone couldn't scoop at the same time.

No worries. We've shared materials before. Before I could revise my new plan, a parent contacted me and asked if she could come in for the afternoon. So I ended up with the amazing Roberta taking the cooking half of the group and I kids got to preview new books and prep their apples all in a tidy thirty minute period. Linda came in to help with reading and took over the book group, so I even got to squeeze in some pictures.

The intersection of food and books was spectacular.

Are you wondering how we kept track of whose apple was whose? Anyone that knows me knows that as much as I try to camouflage my Type A tendencies, they are still there, all the time. I made a map of the apples and labelled each one on the map as each student put them in the pan.

One student asked me what would happen if the pan got rotated to a different direction. I dredged up the term rotational symmetry and we agreed it was a good thing that there weren't twenty four kids in the class. 

At 1:30 we had twenty two apples ready to go in the oven, a table covered in oat crumbles and twenty two wound up kids. Roberta turned to me and said, "Do you think they need to come play a few relay races in my yard?" (Did I mention? Roberta lives next door and our classroom windows look down on her yard. She even sent her daughter home to get more oats when we ran out!) Roberta took the class outside and the remaining adults wiped down tables and put the apples in the oven.  Emily was still in the kitchen and took over the oven end of things for us. I went to go pick up the kids and found them running relay races carrying pumpkins from Roberta's garden!

Back inside to have a short conversation about leadership projects for the year, and then the apples were ready.
Emily brought them down and a student fetched the ice cream I had stashed in the freezer. A half gallon of ice cream split twenty two ways doesn't go far, but that was ok. The apples are yummy on their own and don't need a lot of sweetening up.
Not, perhaps, the most photogenic dessert. But tasty.
"I didn't think I'd like these, but I do," one child commented.
"Can I take some of this home to let my dad try?" asked another.
"You can make this yourself for him," I responded. "Just go buy some apples."
Another student listened intently when I first told them about the recipe, then raised his hand to ask how long to bake the apples and at what temperature. He does a lot of cooking at home so who knows? He might have the oven on at home right now...

This was my point. It's easy to make delicious and healthy desserts. Sometimes, you don't even need a recipe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


While my students are sweating over standardized tests, I am sitting in front of my computer searching for recipes that will add to the human body systems unit starting later this month. Some combination of search terms brought me to this website.

Yikes. We WON'T be making these for Halloween!
(But wouldn't it be cool if we did?...)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Squash Smiles

This week's recipe was inspired by local produce. 

It's fall, which means it's squash season. When I was growing up (in suburban Detroit), there was only one kind of squash – acorn squash. Why there was only one kind of squash is a question that can't be answered. It might have been my mother's favorite kind of squash or it may have been the only squash readily available in the suburbs of the 70s and 80s.

There was only one way to prepare it, too. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds, bake it face down in the over for about a half an hour. Flip the halves right side up, add butter and brown sugar, and bake a little longer.

Nowadays, I use this recipe plenty (But I use maple syrup instead of brown sugar. I am in Vermont, after all!) But I also take advantage of the many varieties of squash available at a number of excellent local farm stands, and use them to stuff squash, mash squash, make squash soup, and so on.

Maybe I should have prefaced this post by explaining it's been damp and rainy for most of the last week. Which makes me a bit nostalgic, and definitely in need of fall comfort food.

Squash fries are the most recent addition to my squash recipe repertoire. At school, Emilyinthekitchen calls them squash smiles. Ain't that cute? I've found delicata squash to be the perfect variety for this form of squash yumminess as they slice up easily and are small enough that you can use one or two per recipe and not end up with half an open squash leftover in the fridge getting slimy while awaiting the next recipe.

Friday I shuffled the schedule around and right after lunch kids got to work scooping seeds out of the already-halved squash. 

“It smells like pumpkin!” more than one student exclaimed. As they finished slicing them up, the first few students done went around from table to table collecting the slices and tossing them in a bowl with olive oil. 

They got spread out on two large baking sheets and a cavalcade of students carried the sheets, as well as all the dirty cutting boards and utensils, down to the kitchen. Su stayed down there and made sure the dishes went through the Hobart while the smiles roasted, leaving us without the insane classroom dish scene we've dealt with the past couple of weeks.

Back in the classroom, everyone sweated over some practice NECAP problems (New England-flavored standardized tests). They will be taking the federally mandated tests this coming week. Just as we finished, Su came back in with a huge bowl of roasted smiles. A delectable odor filled the room – talk about a needed breath of fresh air!

I offered up the seasonings from last week, but most students were happy to eat the squash fries plain or dipped in a bit of salt. A small group of kids were curious about comparing tastes and tried a sprinkle of basil, dill, thyme, and black pepper. But in the end good old sodium chloride was the preferred seasoning.

One student had felt queasy last week after sampling seasoned potatoes too enthusiastically and had then told her mother she was never trying anything new again. Earlier in the afternoon she had expressed concern about a new food and I had reassured her that no one would be forced to try anything they didn't want to try. In the end, I was gratified to see that she did try (and appear to like) our recipe. A few others opted not to sample the fries. The part of this that amuses me most is that EVERYONE wants to handle the food and do the prep, even when they have no intention of trying what we make. Cooking is that much fun.

My happiest moment was the student who came up to me and said, “Someone gave my mom some of this kind of squash and she doesn't know what to do with it.” Even though she had been a part of the scooping and slicing, she didn't quite believe it was as easy as what we had just done to make squash fries. I am hoping that she comes into class tomorrow and tells me they made them at home this weekend...