One of the delights of learning to cook is discovering that when things go wrong, it's usually not that big of a deal. Our second week got off to a bumpy start, with one volunteer out sick and another running late, plus a kitchen that seemed to be fighting us at times. The first lesson was "how to cut an onion" (hat tip to Cynthia Lair for the "north pole-south pole" metaphor in her TedxRainier talk). However, with only one really decent knife in the kitchen, the kids had to take turns with it. It was an opportunity to talk about the value of having the right tool for the job, but primarily a lesson in frustration.
Later one of the vintage electric stovetop burners burst into flames, filling the room with smoke. We opened windows and teachers down the hall brought us fans so we could breathe. (No doubt they worried we'd burn down the building!) Crisis averted, we moved to the other stove.
Things went relatively smoothly after that, although the fruit sauce didn't thicken completely and a couple of quesadillas had minor "issues." But the results were flavorful and the kids were happy. If you had told me last week that a dozen kids would be begging for more KALE quesadillas, I would have asked what planet you lived on. Kale can be too bitter for kids' palates (my own tend to tolerate more than enjoy it). I think the magic to this recipe is the caramelized sweet onions. Or maybe it's the thin chiffonade (no big chewy pieces)? Or the the kick from the spices, or the bite of sharp cheddar. In any case, it was a hit, and several children said they would make the recipe for their families. The recipes gave us an opportunity to talk about mince, dice, chiffonade, saute, toast, simmer, and boil. If the kitchen had a microwave, I would have demonstrated how quickly frozen berries can become fruit sauce.
One of my favorite parts of the class is discussing the ingredients for each recipe.
- Which ingredients are whole?
- Which are prepared?
- Which ingredients are in local?
- Which are in season?
Another class routine is having a "moment of gratitude" before eating. Each week a different volunteer week expresses what he or she is grateful for (it would be nice to go around the table, but it would take far too long). There are no restrictions. I hope, over the course of the series, we'll hear from many different cultural traditions as well as reflections on the source of the food we're about to eat. One of my favorite mealtime rituals in my own home is the Japanese toast of itadakimasu ("we receive").
Awareness of our dependence on other living things is a principle in responsible eating, and not surprisingly, a study at the University of Minnesota found pre-meal rituals enhance our enjoyment of food. I told the kids that there was scientific proof that attitude is an important ingredient in a good meal.
The class went by so quickly that I forgot to take out my camera until it was clean up time. I snapped a few shots as a father peeked into the classroom.
"Wow," he said. "Washing dishes! How'd you get them to do that?"
No tricks needed. These kids "get" that our class isn't just learning what happens when you combine ingredient A with ingredient B. It's first of all about sharing, and that begins and ends with preparation of ourselves, our food, and our space. As much as possible, I want all of us involved in each process, learning and teaching each other.
But keepin' it real here—I was so exhausted arriving home that I sent my own family out for food! I craved some alone time, and they wanted burgers. And hour later they brought me back one, which I enjoyed with a glass of red wine, and they were both delicious.
What's up for next week? Not sure yet, but the kids' brainstorm (below) gives me lots to choose from!
From Tilth Community Kitchens Northwest. This makes a great snack after school and only takes a little time to prepare. Roast the veggies ahead of time, or just sauté them with some spices right in the pan.
Serves 6 servings
- 2 tablespoons oil
- ½ onion, sliced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3-4 leaves kale, sliced thin into strips
- 3-4 leaves chard, sliced thin into strips
- 1 -1 ½ cups cheddar cheese, grated
- 6 whole wheat or corn tortillas
- Heat a skillet on medium heat. When it is hot, add the oil and sauté the onions and garlic till soft and translucent.
- Add the salt and spices, mix into the garlic and onions to awaken the flavors.
- When the onions are well cooked, add in the kale and chard and sauté for another minute or two until they are wilted and vibrant green in color.
To assemble and cook quesadilla on stove top:
- Place another pan on the stove over medium heat. Place one tortilla in the pan and heat one side for about 30 seconds. Turn over and sprinkle cheese and sautéed veggies on one half of the tortilla and fold in half. Let it heat for about 1 minute then turn over. Once cheese is melted, remove from pan and cut in wedges.
- Repeat with the remaining tortillas, veggies, and cheese.
To assemble and cook quesadilla in oven:Eat while hot and enjoy!
- Preheat oven to 325°
- Place 3 tortillas on a baking sheet and layer cheese, veggies, and another layer of cheese. Place the other 3 tortillas on top and place in the oven for about 5-8 minutes, or until melted all the way through.
Warm Berry Sauce with Greek Yogurt
In Austria, simmered raspberries served with vanilla ice cream is called Heibe Liebe (hot love). This simple variation is easy, delicious, and packed with nutrition. Serve it for dessert or breakfast!
- 3 cups frozen berries
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar (or more if berries are tart)
- 3 cups plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup almonds, slivered, chopped, or sliced
- Combine berries, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; gently boil 10 minutes or until sauce thickens.
- While sauce thickens, toast almonds quickly by sautéing over medium heat or placing under hot broiler. Watch carefully to avoid scorching. Remove and allow to cool.
- Spoon 1/2 cup yogurt into each of 6 bowls or fluted glasses; top each serving with about 1/2 cup sauce.
- Sprinkle with toasted almonds, serve, and enjoy!