Monday, May 26, 2014

Finders eaters

After being up to my elbows in berries yesterday -- making strawberry jam, balsamic roasted strawberry and chocolate chunk frozen custard, gin and berry cocktails, a glaze for part of a late lunch of swordfish and grilled asparagus, and of course scarfing a hearty handful of whole ones as I bustled around the kitchen -- one would think that I'd have had my fill of luscious red berries for awhile. Nope.

I'd splurged on a flat -- yes, that would be *6 quarts* -- of strawberries at the Bloomingdale farmers' market yesterday morning, and yet the discovery of one single, perfect, red berry in a planter next to the front steps as I came home this evening had me giggling like a schoolgirl. There's something special about harvesting ones I've grown myself. And getting to them before the neighborhood squirrels, I mused as I promptly popped the strawberry into my mouth. Rodents 0: Me 1. (Considerably better than last year's record -- rats 6: me 1.)

As I tell the kids at school: you need to be diligent if you want to get to the berries first. Keep an eye on those strawberry plants. They turn red, they're yours. Finders, eaters!

your friendly-neighborhood food educator

Friday, May 16, 2014

Points for cuteness

While it is true that technically my background is in secondary education, I find myself working more and more with younger kiddos. It is a different ball of wax than working with the high schoolers, with whom you can reason and debate in an organized fashion. There's more giggling, and certainly more hugging when 1st graders are involved. I remind myself that these activities are just as important as developing skills like, oh, following directions or being able to walk more than 10 feet without tripping over one's own feet. In life, you can earn points for sheer cuteness. And they do.

Last Thursday, when I was working with a preK class, one little boy "planted" his pole bean seedling by digging a 6" deep hole and burying it when I wasn't looking. I assured his flustered classroom teacher that I didn't expect all of the plants to survive, and that her student inadvertently helped to build our soil. I showed him how to plant near the soil surface "for next time" (though I'm thinking I might have this little kiddo stick to something harmless like counting lettuce plants when I am not monitoring him individually).

No, no, the photo above is of his classmate planting things just like I showed him. The bean plant grave digger will remain anonymous. Unlike the radish ripper, caught here on camera just before the act....

When a 3rd-grader's hand -- completely independent from the 3rd-grader to whom this hand was attached, he insisted -- spontaneously pulled up an under-developed radish during my after school program the other day, when we were supposedly observing our garden with our eyes, not our hands, what did I do? Yell at the kid? Chastise him? No. That never helps anyone. Pointing out that it would have been even bigger and even more delicious if he'd waited another week or two ensured that other tiny radishes nearby wouldn't suffer the same fate. And turning the "accidental" harvest into a competition whereby the best radish portrait artist got to take home the errant radish kept nearly a dozen kids focused on observational drawings for a solid 15 minutes.

Even the ones who normally have a 15-second attention span. (The lesson here? Make it a competition: even if the prize is an undersized root vegetable, they'll work for it.)

Though there were some strong contenders, in the end it was a 3-way tie... and in their typically generous fashion, the 3 winners split the tiny radish between them. And hugged me on their way out. Yep, points for cuteness.