Thursday, June 24, 2010

Broccoli Rabe Loving Children... and caterpillars!

"I used to think that food came out of boxes bags and jars
but then I learned it really comes from gardens and from farms.
It also comes from water like the oceans and the seas
and journeys to our tables where we say bon appetit."
- Bon Appetit by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer
Last week, the children went out to the garden to harvest their Broccoli Rabe. Broccoli Rabe is a relative of the turnip; a nutty, pungent herb with spiked green leaves, small broccoli buds, and pretty yellow flowers that are edible. It is also a great source of vitamins C, A, K, and fiber. Sound like an unlikely favorite vegetable for preschooler noshing? Perhaps...

but there is a simple solution for broccoli's bad rap... empenadas!

The children began by going out to the garden and harvesting the broccoli rabe. Then, during the independent work period, many of them helped with the mise en place...

They love carefully washing any vegetables which can benefit from drying off with a twirl in the salad spinner. However, cleaning the broccoli rabe proved to be a particularly interesting task when one of the children discovered this tiny caterpillar feasting upon our fresh produce.

I must admit that the children's love and concern for arthropods won out over their gardening accumen... after the children gathered around to excitedly look at the caterpillar and allow it to crawl across their hands and an extended chorus of "Isn't he cute," they immediately rushed out to the garden with the skill and urgency of a surgeon to carefully relocate their ravenous visitor back into their garden where they actually hoped he would continue devouring more broccoli rabe! Perhaps we have Eric Carle to thank for this? Somewhere in our garden crawls both a very hungry, and a rather lucky, caterpillar!

Other children busied themselves with scrubbing potatoes,

and carefully peeling potatoes.

We steamed the potatoes and sauteed them with onions, broccoli from our CSA share, and the broccoli rabe from the garden. When the vegetables were ready, they children prepared a simple pate brisee and carefully rolled out their dough until it was about 1/8 of an inch thick and cut it into rounds.

Then they spooned in the potatoes, broccoli, and broccoli rabe filling and sealed the edges until they had created their own beautiful little vegetable pockets.

Empanadas are particularly great to make with children because there are multiple jobs involved (rolling out the dough, preparing the filling, cleaning, peeling and chopping the ingredients) and everyone has to cooperate to produce a delicious final product. They are also very easy to make and once children get the idea of how to assemble/seal them, they are able to do it independently. Additionally, they are extremely versatile- you can make them with whatever happens to be on hand from your farm share or growing in your garden.

And, most importantly, they are delicious! The children recommend enjoying them al fresco and in the company of good friends.

Children's Garden Empanadas
Pate Brisee:
1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 T melted butter
2-2 1/2 T water
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Stir in butter and water until it forms a soft dough; knead briefly and allow to rest at room temperature.
4 medium potatoes
1/2 red onion
1 large head of broccoli
5 bunches broccoli rabe
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Steam the potatoes until tender; saute vegetables and mix in spices. To assemble, roll dough to 1/8 an inch thick and cut into rounds. Place a spoonful of filling onto each round, dampen the edges and fold dough in half. Seal the edges with your fingers or the tines of a fork. Place them on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes. Enjoy with friends!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bees, Beeswax, and Honeyed Delights

"As a genius of construction, man raises himself above the bee in the following way: whereas the bee builds with wax that he gathers from nature, man builds with the far more delicate conceptual material which he first has to manufacture from himself."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

To accompany the units on arthropods, parts of a flower, and our gardening unit, the children have been learning about pollination and honeybees. In addition to making honey and beeswax, bees are entrusted with an incredibly important task: pollinating plants. Nearly 1/3 of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and nearly 80% of this pollination is due to busy bees, adding nearly $15 billion dollars annually in value to the nation's food supply. In preparation for the unit, I found myself reading E.O. Wilson's The Superorganism, and marvelling at how these eusocial insects are able to create such incredibly sophisticated and complex societies, demonstrating apparent group intelligence, using a small number of of chemical signals, stereotyped behaviors, and simple decision making processes that are hard-wired into the colony members.

Honeybees have been declining dramatically since 2006, a phenomenon that has been referred to as "Colony Collapse Disorder." In 2009, it was estimated that nearly 1/3 of the bees in North America did not survive the winter.

In addition to reinforcing our botany and life science curriculum, teaching young children about bees is important because they are at an age where their attitudes and beliefs about these creatures will be formed. Hopefully our unit will arouse their interest in these fascinating creatures and their important role in pollination, while minimizing any anxiety they have of bees, and teaching them common sense precautions for interacting with them. Additionally, tropes and metaphors about bees figure prominently in literature and art; we hope to provide children with the opportunity to interpret literature and artwork that integrates the motifs of bees and beehives.

We began our unit by learning about the life cycle of a honeybee and examining some preserved specimens of bees, bee hives, and bee products.

The children seemed very interested in the specimens, but they were even more interested in bee products. After reading books about honey production, the children were treated to a tasting of honeycomb. For the vast majority of the children, this was their first experience with honeycomb. If you have never tried tasting honeycomb, you place the entire comb (wax and all) in your mouth. Your first bite crushes the comb, releasing a burst of the luscious honeyed serum from it's cells. Each subsequent bite becomes increasingly more mellow, until you are left chewing a soft, juicy, bit of beeswax with a flavor that is only vaguely reminiscent of honey. To say that the children enjoyed their introduction to this antiquated delicacy, is an understatement.

The children were also treated to a tasting of wildflower honey from a local apiary.

Finally, to ensure that our unit would begin with a sentiment of nothing less than absolute benevolence toward these hardworking little beasts, I borrowed a lesson (and a great recipe!) from Alice Waters' book The Kitchen Companion: Inside the Edible Schoolyard and assisted the children in using the remaining honey to make a special snack of baklava.

If you ever consider doing a cooking project with young children, this is one that I highly recommend. Despite the obvious stickiness factor involved, it is one of those rare cooking projects that children can accomplish completely independently- it isn't like baking, if they over or under measure the recipe is not dramatically affected, all of the tasks are simple to accomplish, and the main object of interest is folding the filo dough into triangles. The mise en place for this activity consists of chopping pistachios (the children did this by hand with a hand crank nut grinder, which I put out in the practical life area in the morning -very popular!).

By the end of work period, the school was filled with the intoxicating aroma of cinnamon and honey. Honestly, I ask you, is there a better to treat with which to christen the official first day of summer?

The children were delighted with their treat (comments made by the children ranged from "Wasn't it nice of the bees to make us honey?" to "Finally, we get to make cookies!")- but I guess the clean plates and sticky fingers speak for themselves.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reminder: Summer BBQ this Saturday (June 18th) from 4-7

We wanted to remind everyone that Bloom! Montessoi School is hosting a summer BBQ for our student community (including families who are not registered for summer session) this Saturday (June 18th) from 4-7pm. We will supply the protein, "faux-tein," condiments, and beverages. Please RSVP by email or on the clipboard in the cloakroom and bring a side dish to share.
We hope this will serve as a great opportunity to meet other families and for children who are not enrolled in the summer session to keep in touch with their friends and help them to be more comfortable when they return in the fall.
We hope to see everyone there!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First Harvest: French Breakfast Radishes

This week marked the first harvest from the school's vegetable garden. These beautiful French Breakfast Radishes provided the first opportunity for children to take the harvest basket out to the garden and return with fresh vegetables. The pleasure of plucking them from the garden beds was more than sufficient to pre-dispose the children to a fondness for them (despite the peppery heat and astringency of this relative of turnips and horseradish).

Upon returning to the classroom, the children carefully cleaned them (remembering the technique demonstrated by "Farmer Mike"), and walked around munching on them as if they had been entrusted with a cache of lollipops.

Preparing food together and sharing in the harvest is both a bond of community and one of the ways in which people nurture each other. The children were very eager to share this experience (and the food they had grown) with their families. In the afternoon, some of the older children came up with the idea of taking them home to share with their parents . They practiced their handwriting and bow tying skills by making little radish bouquets for each student to take home and add to their supper salad.
Later, the children re-planted the radish bed, ensuring that there will be more leisurely afternoons of radish-picking this summer and this time, they were able to prepare the beds independently!

I daresay, Farmer Mike would be proud!

I'm Strong to the Finish, 'Cause I Eat My Spinach

"Bon Appetit, Bon Appetit
We're thankful for the food that we eat;
From farm to market to our homes
or gardens where we grow or own.
What do we say before we eat? Bon Appetit!"
-Bon Appetit, one of our favorite children's songs, by Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer
After our field trip to visit our CSA farm, the children have been incredibly interested in the weekly delivery that we receive from the farm. Each delivery provides the children with the opportunity to learn to recognize and appreciate vegetables that they may be unfamiliar with and to learn simple cooking techniques as they utilize the produce to prepare simple, fresh, nutritious snacks. This week, one of the highlights of our share were the bags brimming with beautiful emerald savoy spinach leaves which the children used to prepare spinach dip.

During the independent work period, many of the children perform practical life activities to prepare the mise en place. For this recipe, some of the children chose to carefully wash the spinach leaves,

grind fresh tarragon, dill, parsley, and basil into a fragrant melange,

peel garlic cloves,

carefully mince garlic cloves,

or finely grate an onion.

Later, many of them opted to work together as a small group to combine the ingredients.

The food processor was exciting, but our brigade of little chefs found using the salad spinner to dry the spinach leaves to be the most desirable tasks!

Voila! A delicious, kid friendly snack of spinach dip, whole wheat pitas, and crudite.

Vegan Spinach Dip
1 lb fresh spinach
8 oz. water chestnuts
1 cup Tofu Mayonnaise
10 oz. silken tofu
2 T grated onion
minced garlic to taste
1 t basil
2 t tarragon
1 T parsley
2 t dill
salt & pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients; refrigerate several hours or overnight.