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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Summer Sets, Autumn Rises: Summer Re Cap and Back to School Reconnection

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Summer Cooking Camps, Garden Work Bees, Campers, Volunteers, Seed and Good Times

There has been a ton to reflect on in the last two months. It was the first time Sprouting Chefs was back in the gardens cooking with kids in the summer since 2010 and to be honest, I was a mix of excited and scared which are both the same feeling funny enough. Excited to be fulfilling the part of our program that answers the question of “what to do in the summer with school gardens” and scared a bit wondering if I could pull it off again.

All worthy thoughts looking back now. The camps filled up nicely with an age range of children from 7 years old to 13 years old in scattered weeks through the summer. We had access to use the Community Room at Lochdale Community School which had a lovely school garden I had planted out in the Spring of 2016 with the school. I was familiar with the space and a few of the kids too.

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A few goals of the Summer Cooking Camp: to harvest and cook with the food growing in the school garden, to highlight local seasonal ingredients available in BC, to teach at least 10 basic recipes to children that they can then use at home with their families, to instill a sense of confidence and empowerment within each child.

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From Asian Salad Rolls, Roasted Chicken (as seen in the photo above!), Pastas, Salads, Wraps and Infused Waters, we did it all plus a few more depending on the group. Also new this year was taking the groups to Whole Food to learn how to shop on a budget. The older group, 10 to 13 yr olds, learned how to either work together in groups or shop individually with only $5 each to then create a recipe when they returned to camp. It was awesome to see the final creations which included: Tomato Lentil Soup, A Crostinni Hors D’Ouerve with Chicken Sausage, Avacado and Cheese, French Toast, and a Fruit Crisp too. It was great to have a handful of new volunteers and a couple of fabulous staff to help me manage the various degrees of organized chaos. Chase Ando and Valerie Song from AVA Gardens brought in their enthusasim, energy and passion for food during the week with the older kids. We all had a blast!

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In between all the camps, Sprouting Chefs was also funded to oversee and maintain the Forest Grove School Garden during the summer.

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Bursting with life at every turn, Garden Work Bees ranged in activities from watering, harvesting both crops and seeds, planting out more crops, composting and weeding.

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Families from the school’s Garden Club, Forest Grove Alumni and a handful of volunteers from BDO, a new corporate sponsor all came out throughout the summer. Many folks ask how to care for a school garden during the summer and what has been working really well for a handful of schools Sprouting Chefs oversees is a simple volunteer schedule that gets created just before school ends. Parents from the Garden Clubs are asked to sign up for a week to water and care for the garden. In the end, only about 9 families are needed and the families feel really good about caring for the garden and helping their community.

What is needed to maintain a school garden in the summer: access to a hose and water source, someone coordinating the transition between the families usually via email, and a strong knowledge of what each garden space needs. Some of the Forest Grove Families took on more than 1 week, their dedication and commitment to the garden was that strong.

Always in the back of my mind as the summer days passed was the fact the kids in the school would be back soon and to make sure there was something for them to discover and admire about what they had planted in the spring.

Garlic was harvested in July and cured for the Fall Cooking Classes, the Labyrinth was redefined as the grass had grown in and the front garden area was thoroughly watered and weeded all ready for the kids to enjoy again.

When it comes to fall and preparing for the new school year in the garden, the biggest crop and excitement is around our tomatillos. For the past few years now, the kids at Forest Grove have been learning about preserving and then selling Roasted Tomatillo Salsa at the school’s Christmas Craft Fair. Out of the sales and interest, the students then estimate how many more new crops to plant for the following year.

Sadly, the Christmas Craft Fair is not going ahead this year so Garden Club will be creating the salsa to sell to the community  in another way; either via the Burnaby Farmer’s Market or at the upcoming Fall Community Event we are creating with the school.

The Fall Community Event will be a set of 6 in school Cooking Classes with the Intermediate students ending with a celebration where the school community and a few local community groups will come together for a lunch. Another exciting and new adventure for Sprouting Chefs as a pilot project that may become an event other schools can also create with our help.

 

2014 Summer Reflections – A Mixed Bag of Seeds

Today is September 22, the first day back to school for kids in BC and almost the first day of Fall 2014. Naturally, I am inspired to reflect back on these past few months of growing, planting seeds and harvesting an abundance of growth at the school garden at Forest Grove Elementary here in North Burnaby, BC.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the education system in BC, have a quick glance here at a rundown of what has transpired over the past few years coming to a head these past few months. There are several sides to this story so please, if you do want more info, there are several links to read online. This is just one via the Vancouver Sun.

School officially ended for us on June 13, 2014, although at the time on the day, none of us knew for sure that this would in fact be our last day at the school. As such, there was a huge range of emotions; from hopeful that things would work out and we would be back for Sport’s Day events, end of year assemblies and Grade 7 graduation ceremonies to the extreme of cleaning everything out of classrooms and saying final goodbyes. Without knowing for sure, most of us just hoped for the best despite a huge amount of uncertainty.

June 13 for me was crazy busy. I had 2 cooking classes during the day, hosted a visit from Edible Vancouver Magazine to witness our potato harvest with a Grade 5/6 class and also hosted an end of year (as I was pretty sure it was the end of the year) celebration with the Garden Club where one of our main funders was paying us a visit.

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Thank goodness for the Labyrinth!

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Walking the Labyrinth one last time at the end of the school year did wonders for me; I could ground myself after a hectic day, remind myself what truly was important and enter the paths with a deep sense of gratitude as I led my Garden Club Members through the winding paths to do the same. Our visitor from the McGrane Pearson Foundation was impressed to say the least as he left with his bag of harvested greens from the garden.

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Without knowing for sure when we would be back, I was grateful for at least knowing there would be funding coming in for me to take care of the garden over the summer as well as a couple cooking classes with the summer program hosted at the school via The Grove Childcare Society via the grant we received via Metropolis at Metrotown.

It was a quiet summer of Work Bees mostly attended by my own two reluctant children and a handful of other families popping by throughout the summer. Yes, my own two children now are finding it difficult to go to the garden “again!” as their Mumma brings them more than they would like. Thankfully, they do still help water, plant seeds and are also given the camera to take photos as a way to keep them entertained.

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It’s always a magical time in the summer watching plants growing from seed to sprout to seedling to full on fruit bearing plant. I marveled at the corn plants that started out from an Orville Reddenbocker (yes, the K’s grew popcorn!) container in the K classroom that have now grown ears of corn. The sunflowers that always bring smiles to everyone who sees them, tower a good 15 feet above everything also reminded me of our smallest students who earlier in April planted them. I tried to take as many photos as I could of these beauties not knowing if and when the little ones would see them again but luckily there are still a few in bloom today as the kids headed back to school. It’s always the goal for school gardens that we instill a sense of appreciation for growing food from seed. Having the most exciting time of growth happen when students are not around is always a question schools face of whether or not they grow anything in the summer.

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The goal at Forest Grove was to plant out and tend for as many fruits and veggies as possible so that there was a crop to harvest for this Fall’s Cooking Classes that are set to start in October. So naturally, we did have a crop and garden to tend to in the summer. I believe we achieved this goal as the pumpkins, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash are all almost ready to harvest. Our beloved tomatoes sadly caught the blight but luckily I managed to save two ziploc bagfuls of ripe ones that have been frozen ready to cook with the kids. We also had our first crop of rainbow carrots and planted a succession of radishes which several of our students in the summer program really enjoyed.

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The most excited new crop we have growing still are the tomatillios. I point these out to all the kids visiting the garden as they are a fascinating plant that are also quite delicate as they look like paper lanterns. Little fingers have been trying to squish them too which then kills the fruit trying to grow inside. Perfect opportunity to teach both patience, kindness, and being gentle. We’ll be harvesting these as they ripen to eventually create a “canning” session with my older Garden Club students to transform them into salsa verde to later sell at the Christmas Craft Fair. Our principal is excited about this opportunity to teach the valuable lessons of seed to plate to market!

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Swiss chard and kale have been really abundant this season with a whole separate side crop of chard that has leaves grown the size of some of the small preschoolers. I encourage families to take as much as they like home to cook up the same way as bok choi (sauteed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper finished with some stock or water) served on the side as greens for dinner. The possibility of this crop growing over winter is very good as it has grown and survived before in the past couple of years.

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So with the official day of Fall 2014 starting tomorrow along side of the first day the kids are back for a full day of school I am hopeful for many “Seeds of Intentions” to flourish:

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  • To have a good crop of Garden Club Members with open minds and open hearts who are willing to connect to nature, themselves and each other
  • To cook some amazing new recipes with the 12 Divisions at Forest Grove Elementary using as many ingredients as possible from the school garden
  • To expand the Sprouting Chefs programs to other interested schools throughout the Lower Mainland of BC
  • To inspire other willing, open minded, open hearted individuals to join me on my journey to plant seeds of various virtues from love to forgiveness, courage to kindness with children through planting school gardens and cooking what we grow

Experimentation – Solar Ovens and Lavender Cupcakes

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The idea of building a solar oven to cook something from the garden was inspired by one of the first parents who helped us build the garden in the summer of 2011. Neil and I were sitting at the garden one day in the extreme heat when he told me that you could easily build a solar oven with the kids and do a slow cooked recipe. At the time, we had little growing and less opportunities to create the solar oven so the idea sat shelved until this summer.

Eddie, a leader from The Grove Childcare Society and volunteer teacher in the school who’s been integrating curriculum all year with the various classes took this task on with great enthusiasm. Although he wasn’t able to attend the cooking class at the Grove during the week I was there to cook with the kids, he did manage to build the oven before he went on vacation.

We didn’t know for sure if the solar oven would work. We didn’t know it would cook anything let alone keep it warm. The weather had been really amazing with lots of sun in the past but there was no way to predict the future. All these factors were translated back to the kids. Despite the “unknowing”, we tried anyway because as Master Yoda says: “Do or do not. There is no try.”. So we did. We threw some sliced onions wrapped in foil, split up cloves of garlic, a head of garlic sliced open all drizzled with some olive oil, salt and pepper and a pot of pre cooked veggie soup to simmer.

All the kids were fascinated by the oven; each taking a turn to go outside and check on it. We even had the young 3 to 5 year old group come out and look. They asked questions like: “How does it work?” “What’s making the food cook?” These were just the questions needing to be asked. There was even a brief conversation about renewable and sustainable energy with a very bright 9 yr old.

The day started a bit cloudy but by 10 am, the sun was out full blast. The oven had to be moved with the sun a few times and it blinded you to look into it as it was just like staring into the sun. By 2 pm, the foils were warm and the onions and garlic were slightly translucent, yet not quite roasted. Anyone who has tried roasting garlic knows that this process takes time anyway and at the very least, an oven at about 300 degrees.

We used the garlic and onions in our spanakopita during the afternoon cooking session.

So were we successful? Was the solar oven worth the try? It was a free left over box and a few sheets of aluminum foil. The result wasn’t a meal to serve to the whole group and there certainly isn’t a need to patent the invention. But the oven did, ahem, spark curiosity and a few healthy conversations. Most of all, I’m hoping it encouraged the group to try, experiment and see what happens.

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Lavender Cupcakes

Sound and even look a bit weird at first but the idea comes from the fact we try to use as many things we grow in the garden in recipes we cook with the kids. Lavender isn’t exactly edible but I was able to find a few sources of inspiration.

I first saw this recipe in Forever Summer, a cookbook by my personal domestic goddess idol, Nigella Lawson. As you can see from the link photo, the cupcakes looked whimsical yet delicate and fun. The recipe called for just a few drops if not just one drop of violet food coloring and a small sprig of lavender on top. Interestingly enough, I actually couldn’t find the original Nigella Lawson recipe online but it is in her original Forever Summer cookbook.

If you do want to look into Nigella and what makes her so fabulous, I actually encourage you to You Tube her and watch a couple of her episodes. Her food writing and recipes are so inspirational. Plus she keeps her nail polish in the fridge and munches on her leftovers in her pj’s!

Harvesting the lavender on the Saturday Work Bee, the lavender was at it’s peak and just finishing it’s blooms. Some buds were not yet open and this didn’t seem to matter. After drying for just 2 days, the cooking class was the following Wednesday, I removed the buds from the stems and layered a tsp or two in between layers of about 1 cup of white sugar. Yes, I used white sugar…only this once though I promise! In the middle layer, I broke up an old vanilla pod and the result was truly heavenly smelling.

The volunteer I had helping me the day of the cooking class wasn’t told to process or grind up the sugar mixture and simply added the whole lot to the cupcake batter. Wow, the result was really an experience. I can only relate it to “having a bath in your mouth” To some this might sound quite distasteful but really, it is worth a try. And all the kids did without much hesitation at all. None were left and little complaints were heard either.

Summer can provide the most amazing opportunities to spark creativity, inspiration and love of food. Gardens are at their peak afterall and if all you do is try a few recipes inspired by summer, you are at least sparking the imagination of your kids to plant seeds of fun, growing and cooking with food of all shapes, colors and sizes.