Cooking for the Community at Forest Grove Elementary

One of the main goals of any school garden program is to grow food in a school garden that can be used in the school’s lunch program. I knew this from the very beginning of Sprouting Chefs but also knew that the size of our garden at Forest Grove was not nearly big enough to produce enough food for the whole school…or was it?

Sometimes monumental tasks take a different kind of thinking and approach.

The school garden grows a few things in abundance:

Kale, Chard, Salad Greens at certain times of the year, Tomatilos, Garlic and Herbs

All these ingredients if combined the right way with some supplements like pasta could create a meal that the community could enjoy.

In October 2016, the school was provided funding via the Metropolis at Metrotown Community Investment Fund that allowed Sprouting Chefs to provide support to the garden over the summer of 2016 to properly maintain, harvest and plant more crops for the Fall of 2016’s Cooking Classes as well as Spring Seed Gardening Classes and another set of Cooking Classes for the Primary Students.

With this in mind, there was an intention to finally connect the food growing in the garden with a lunch provided to the entire school…for FREE.

In the Spring of 2016, the school Principal, Al Post and I set out a plan that would create an event to connect the community to the garden and the food we are growing there. Event ideas ranged from a school market to having a guest speaker come in to speak about the importance of eating locally and seasonally. We engaged our partners at Whole Foods to provide what the garden could not as well as other community groups to be a part of this event.

Cooking Classes were to be provided to 5 Intermediate classes that would highlight a combination of what was available in the garden as well as what was seasonally and locally available. Recipes included: side dishes to serve at Thanksgiving, a food preservation class featuring the tomatillos and making the tomatilo salsa we normally sell at the Christmas Craft Fair which was not happening this year.

Ok, so part of the reason we really needed to create an event was to be able to sell the salsa at all since we grew and harvested so many tomatilos over the summer! Salsa was sold after school the day we had our lunch as expected, it sold out due to the fact the kids not only helped grow the tomatillos, they also helped make the salsa!

What I decided to do was to choose a handful of students out of these 5 classes that would then help me cook for the entire school at the end of the week. This actually worked really well to set the tone of the classes and create a good behavioral management tool for each class. By starting the class talking about the fact I was looking for students who demonstrated responsibility, leadership, a willingness to serve as well as strong cooking skills, the tone of the class dramatically shifted. At the end of each of the 5 classes, several students approached me to help out.

The easiest thing I could think of that would also incorporate what was available from the garden was a Tomato Pasta. Tomatoes were harvested and frozen, garlic was harvested and cured earlier in the summer and managed to hold very well until October. Salad greens, chard and kale could be used as a salad.

A donation of a gift card was provided by Whole Foods which allowed us to purchase ingredients for the 5 Cooking Classes as well as a few things needed for the end of week lunch. Pasta and canned tomatoes were donated by our friends at Ciolfi’s as well. Funding was provided to Sprouting Chefs in the Spring for whatever else was needed including disposables to serve the lunch.

In the end, about 25 students were chosen out of close to 100 kids. The recipe for the Tomato Pasta was broken down into tasks the kids could take on including: chopping onions, peeling and chopping garlic, cutting basil, grating cheese, making the tomato sauce, harvesting salad greens from the garden, making a dressing for the salad, serving the meal to the students in the school as well as clearing and cleaning.

The Hot Lunch Coordinator of the school provided the parent volunteers needed to help in the kitchen and set up the school gym. Two seating times were chosen to serve half the school at 11:30 am and the other half at noon.

Focus was placed on the students helping where they would do most of the food preparation and cooking while the parents provided the set up and support. This allowed the an opportunity for the kids from the Cooking Classes a real chance to shine. It was amazing to see how many kids wanted to stay for the entire event to not only help with the food preparation but also the clean up too!

There was a real sense of school community pride that was created as a result. For every child that didn’t necessarily like the lunch for one reason or another, there were many children who came up and asked for seconds, thirds and fourth helpings. Only one student asked for plain pasta so all the others had pasta with the tomato sauce.

What I do regret was not speaking at the event when I had the chance. Overwhelmed by the day and not having anything prepared, I can reflect back now and be able to at least say I am most proud of all the kids that happily and willingly participated, who served with the true sense of generosity where they did not expect anything in return. I am proud that despite not knowing exactly how much to make, if we had enough at all or if it would not work out, that faith in the school community and the intention of providing this meal carried me through.

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Will we do it again? I really hope so. Will it be the same recipe? Perhaps but with a new batch of equally eager students ready to shine their light into the world through the creation of a meal.

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What to do with Tomatoes! Tomato Sauce and Tomato Crostinnis

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With Summer starting a bit late this year due to a cooler July 2016, tomatoes are at their peak now in September when normally, the peak season would be August. Our crops at Forest Grove Elementary are doing really well under our hoop house which is also protecting them from late season blight. Even the random plants growing without being under the protection of the hoop house are also doing quite well.

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We’ve been harvesting a variety of tomatoes including: pear, grape, cherry and a larger sized tomato. Sounds more like fruit which reminds me to say that tomatoes are in fact fruit as the come from a flower. Our crops have been really tasty and sweet too.

So what is the best way to enjoy tomatoes? I have two suggestions right from the mouths of our kids at Forest Grove. Our two most popular recipes to how to enjoy tomatoes, one using uncooked simple ingredients crostinniwithtomatobasil (link to video) and one using tomatoes in a freshtomatosauceforpasta.

Fresh Tomatoes on Crostinni 

Harvest as many different kinds of fresh tomatoes as you can

Cut a baguette on an angle and spread out on a baking sheet to crisp up

Paint each piece of bread with olive oil and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 8 mins

Rub each piece of toasted baguette with a clove of raw garlic. NOTE: be careful not to rub too much garlic on each piece as it will taste quite “spicy” to kids.

Cut up fresh tomatoes into small pieces; small enough to fit on to each piece of bread.

Combine the cut up tomatoes, chopped basil, olive oil, salt & pepper with a splash of balsamic vinegar into a bowl.

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When crostinni toasts have cooled, add the tomato topping on to each piece along with some grated Parmesan cheese.

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Serve immediately as a starter or appetizer.

Also try roasting peppers add instead of tomatoes.

If you can’t enjoy the tomatoes right away or have a bumper crop where you have an abundance, consider freezing some of your crops in a large ziploc bag. This works really well if you would like to make tomato sauce later in the year. We are doing this at Forest Grove since the tomatoes are ready faster than our cooking classes will start.

Speaking of cooking classes and cooking tomatoes, our recipe for a basic tomato sauce has been a real hit with the kids. My own daughter has perfected the recipe recently at age 9 after practicing several times over the summer. It’s made her feel super proud to be able to cook for her family !

Basic Tomato Sauce

The recipe I use stems from a combination of my Foods 11 and 12 classes in  high school when I was taught by a young Italian teacher as well as watching other Italian cooking shows. I find using simple fresh ingredients and only a few ingredients helps kids remember too.

We also do a version with canned tomatoes which can be cooked down and reduced into a pizza sauce. Simply subsitute the canned tomatoes for the fresh and prepare the below recipe the same way.

For the fresh tomato version, start with peeling and slicing about 6 large cloves of garlic

On the same cutting board with the same knife, cut up 4 to 6 vine ripened tomatoes in 6 pieces per half tomato to transfer the flavour of the garlic.

Once your garlic is sliced, add the garlic to a cold pan with about 4 tablespoons of olive oil

As the pan heats up, add a few pinches of red chilli flakes

There is a debate about whether to allow the garlic to brown. To me, allowing the garlic to brown just slightly around the edges really improves the flavour of the sauce.

Once the garlic has started to brown a bit, add the cut up tomatoes. NOTE: this is the part where the pan will spit as the juice from the tomatoes hits the hot oil. This can scare some kids so warn them ahead of time.

Sprinkle the tomatoes with sea salt and dried oregano. If you have fresh oregano, add it closer to the end of the sauce.

Allow the sauce to cook and reduce slightly. When sauce has reduced a bit, add fresh chopped basil which should also be still growing nicely around BC. Amazingly, I found a huge bunch of basil at a local produce market for only $1.79!

This is when your pasta should be almost done. Instead of draining the pasta, I prefer to remove the pasta with tongs or a slotted spoon and add it to the pan along with some pasta water.

Toss the sauce together with the pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Kids will never go back to the jarred stuff again. I promise!

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Herbs 101 – Top 6 Herbs for a Kitchen Garden

Herbs 101 – Mediterranean Herbs

A base for cooking to not only enhance the flavour of any dish, herbs can also be beneficial for your health adding much needed antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Herbs added to any dish can also culturally identify your dish from adding fresh cilantro to a Mexican salsa to adding methi or fenugreek to an Indian curry recipe. Because there are so many varieties of herbs, I will just focus on the basic perennials in this article. Look for future articles when I will speak about the annual herbs such as parsley, arugula, cilantro, and basil.

Growing Herbs Indoors

This new fad of either growing container gardens on patios and decks to having a window sill garden inside is a fad that is definitely here to stay once you know how to do it and how to grow enough for you or your family. There are a variety of herbs that do well outdoors in BC in the late spring and summer that can then be brought inside. One major tip I do have to share is that if you are impatient like me, growing “woody” herbs from seeds takes way too long. Buy woody herbs as in the below listed, as established plants and plant in your containers at home.

Here are some herbs you are best to purchase as “established plants” from your favourite garden store such as Gardenworks or a local nursery like Cedar Rim Nursery.  The below listed herbs are all perennials, meaning, they will grow back year after year and at the same time, are a must for any aspiring cook. One really good rule of thumb when growing herbs is that herbs that taste good together often grow well together. Similarly, if a recipe calls for tomatoes, basil and oregano, all three can also grow well together too.

  • Lavender – used for calming, drying out for sachets and potpourris, adding to sugar for baking or decorative. There are several varieties of lavender so make sure you take your time to get to know which one you like. Some are great for their blooms but have no fragrance some are grown just for their fragrance but need lots of space to thrive. If you want your lavender to really do well, consider growing in the ground rather than a pot as it likes to spread and has a deep root system.
  • DSC_1473 Harvesting: Harvest the blooms just before they open, when they are on the more vibrant coloured side. They are at their most potent at this point and will really transfer their aromas well. Hang upside down to dry and then carefully pluck off the buds. Transfer into a jar of sugar with a vanilla pod for added flavour. Leave for up to 3 days before using in baking. Or add the buds to sachets and place in the opening of a window near your bed or under your pillow for a wonderful night’s sleep!

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    • Cooking/Baking: what I’ve discovered baking with lavender infused sugar is the flavour combination of lavender, lemon and vanilla works so well together. Consider baking vanilla cupcakes using lavender infused sugar and icing with a lemon buttercream. Delish!
    • Growing Needs: lots of sun and little water as it is a plant that thrives in drier climates like the Sunshine Coast and the South of France. Once established the plant is very hardy and can withstand wind, dry soil and high heat. Water minimally.
  • Rosemary – I love to plant rosemary and lavender side by side because both thrive in similar conditions and together they demonstrate the opposite healing benefits as Rosemary is great for energizing you, clearing your mind and retaining memory and lavender is for calming. Rosemary is also an antibacterial herb so it along with lavender is great to plant in any school garden! With colds running repent throughout the year, make sure you show the health benefits of rubbing it on a child’s hands instead of using sanitizer!
    • Cooking- use with RoastedNewPotatoes and any other root vegetable. Add rosemary fresh near the end of roasting veggies. Stuff inside poultry to enhance the flavour. Use the woody stems of the rosemary as skewers for grilling. Use a bundle of rosemary as a brush to brush on olive oil to meat grilling on the bbq. Rosemary is a very strong herb so use it sparingly in dressings and marinades. Best with lamb, chicken, beef and any stronger flavoured meats.
    • Growing Needs – as with lavender, rosemary thrives in well drained soil with about a quarter to a third mix of sand as it is a Mediterranean herb. In the right conditions, rosemary can thrive and actually be used as hedging. At home in a pot, make sure you bring your plant in when the weather cools over night. Place in a sunny spot inside to over winter. Cut back sparingly during the fall and winter as growing tends to slow down.RosemaryPot
  • Sage – also highly reccomended to purchase as an established plant as it’s stems are quite woody, sage does really well growing among the listed herbs. Along with rosemary, sage helps to enhance memory and clear the mind. Smudging with a combination of dried sage, cedar, lavender and rosemary is also seen as a way to clear energy around home spaces. The sage we grew at the Forest Grove School Garden, grew so big, we actually took half of it to another school. Sadly, the plant did not like this at all and did not survive so be cautious when cutting sage back or transplanting.

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  • Cooking – Sage does really well with poultry. Using it dried in your stuffing mix, fresh stalks in your turkey brine or stuffing whole stems and leaves into the cavity of the bird enhances the flavour so well. Consider also taking leaves of the sage and placing between the skin and the flesh of the bird. For the vegetarians out there, sage sizzling in a pan of butter before sauteeing butternut squash cut nice and small also makes for a very delicious fall dish. Serve on top of pasta finished with some ricotta cheese and you have a meal fit for any dinner guest.
  • Growing Needs: as mentioned, sage will thrive in a large growing space and needs little tending to over the summer months. Plant in well draining soil with a bit of sand and allow for the root system to grow deep and wide. Water less than you would other plants in your garden. In our second or third year of growing our sage at the school garden, the plant produced beautiful purple flowers which attracted bees like crazy to our garden.

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  • Oregano – is part of the mint family and as such, can grow back prolifically. It’s definitely a must for growing A Pizza Garden. Oregano oil is used as an antibacterial and lately to fight flus and colds. Use sparingly however as it can be quite strong for young children. In fact, the best way to administer oregano oil for young children is rubbing it on the soles of their feet.
    • Cooking – use dried oregano at the start of any recipe. For example, after adding garlic to olive oil in a warm pan, add dried oregano before adding tomatoes to enhance the flavour. Opposing, add fresh oregano at the end of cooking a tomato sauce but use less as it will be stronger. Pluck off leaves of the oregano from the woody stems, chop finely and add to any dish. Use the whole stems and leaves to stuff into poultry, marinades for beef or lamb.
    • Growing Needs – when the oregano has started to bloom its tiny purple flowers that is a sign your oregano is close to being ready. There are several varieties of oregano, but all cooks agree, using the plants leaves when fresh or cutting the plant back and drying out the plant after the flowers have bloomed to use later is best. Cut the plant back at the base of the stems in late summer and after the flowers are finished blooming, tie up and hang upside down until the plant has dried out. Store in a paper bag to use throughout the year.
    • Bring oregano inside when the weather starts to cool overnight. Or leave it in your garden over the winter and it will come back in the Spring.

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  • Thyme – although a small plant normally, thyme also has very woody stems. When I say “woody” too it means its best not to use the stems when you are cooking. Folks don’t normally like chewing up the stems of these plants. When using thyme, pull off the leaves going down the stem from top to bottom. The leaves are usually so small that it isn’t necessary to chop up. There are several varieties of thyme including: lemon, purple and the standard variety. It can also be used as a ground cover and is very soft and plush for sensory gardens for children. A very hardy plant, it’s a great addition to any outdoor box or garden that needs something low laying as it does not grow very tall. In fact, our thyme is buried right now underneath some marigold plants…sigh!
    • Cooking – use fresh in salad dressings with lemon and olive oil or as marinades for chicken or fish. Dried thyme is one of my pantry basics because it can be added to any sauce or gravy to enhance flavour. Fresh thyme when used often is harder to grow back so use sparingly in cooking.
    • Growing Needs: Thyme definitely does fine in pots on a patio mixed in with oregano and chives. It actually looks quite nice together as the chives tend to be taller with the thyme filling in the bottom of the pot. Choose soil that drains well and is has plenty of organic compost. Thyme needs less water than most plants. When watering, allow plant to be well drained before watering again. As mentioned previously, this is a slow growing plant so unless you have an abundance use fresh thyme sparingly. It is a strong flavoured herb so you don’t need too much anyway.

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  • Chives: Although not a “woody” plant, this one does fall under the perennial category as it is an easy one to grow and have continuously coming back. It always makes me giggle how much children love this plant too. I’ve had 3 yr olds come to the garden, chew on it and calm right down after a tantrum. Every year when we ask what we should grow in our garden, there is always a student who says “CHIVES!” No matter how strong in onion flavour these taste, kids just love it. And so do the bees. What is really cool is you can also use the flowers of the chives to add in salads for flavour and flare. Once the chive flowers have finished blooming, dry out and almost fall off, look for the tiny black seeds that are within the petals. These can be saved to grow or share.
    • Cooking: use the stems or the flowers of the chives in any recipe that calls for a mild onion flavour. Traditionally, chives go best with sour cream and baked potatoes, chopped into salads, finely chopped and added to smoked salmon or used the whole length of a the stem to wrap around and bundle together a bunch of herbs. Chives often show up in the arsenal of a chef as a garnish with their long spikey look.
    • Growing Needs: cut chives back to the base of the plant in late fall. Harvest the dried flowers for the seeds and save to re plant or share with others. Once the plant is cut back, over winter the plant by either bringing it inside for the cold months or placing under a plastic covering, with leaf mulch to protect against frost in a pot. In early spring, you should start to see the plant growing back. Once this starts to happen and the temperature reaches 10 degrees on a regular basis, bring the pot back out in a sunny area. Flowers start to develop around April or May and can attract beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden.

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