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!