On being wrapped up


Some of the 150 pounds are dehydrated, some in salsa, some in jam, but most are still frozen for future snacks

Passion is a curious thing.  Its pursuit, on occasion, excludes all other things, and this can be a problem.

I’m not doing any on-the-couch time, no analysis here, but my passion for good, real food has led me to be a bit nutty as far as volunteering for our daughter’s school goes.  I am not at the point of needing an intervention, but doing the school garden and rethinking how the school supplies, cooks, and distributes its food to the children has been a rather time-consuming affair for me these last few months.

Both gardens are weedy, but both populations (home and school) are well-fed due to my efforts, as well as the efforts of many others.

Here’s the passion:  I feel absolutely HORRIBLE, and sorry, for people who aren’t eating the way my family eats.  Is this some kind of epicurean snobbery?  No.  Simply, we eat fresh, whole foods, year-round.  Minimal processing, minimal transport, tasty simply by the fact that it’s real food, not too far from its origins.

Here’s a typical snack rundown for a typical school week:

  • Monday:  Fruit day.  Apples, pears, peaches and blueberries are in season.  These are served raw.  We’ll have apples throughout the year, but we have applesauce, peach and pear butter, and lots of frozen fruit for the rest of the year.
  • Tuesday:  Vegetable, Parent-instigated food day.  Roasted potatoes from the garden are next Tuesday’s snack.  Hummous and classroom-made pita, our jam with school-made crackers or oat cakes, etc.
  • Wednesday:  Muffin Day.  We make the muffin mix (actually, the kids make it and bag it) and a child from each classroom takes the bag home.  The basic mix requires you add two eggs, a quarter cup of oil, and some water.  You can add fruit or nuts or a crumbled topping as you wish, but the mix is nice by itself too.
  • Thursday:  Chips and Salsa Day.  We’ve made salsa for the year at my house.  Black bean/corn, regular, tomatillo (salsa verde), peach, and cherry salsas are in the pantry and in the freezer.  The chips come from a reliable manufacturer in Chicago, where our students practice their Spanish when they make the monthly order.
  • Friday:  Classroom-supplied Snack Day.  We have given each class suggestions, and the school has crock pots, hotplates, toaster ovens and electric griddles to use.  So, classes might make Stone Soup (where each child brings in something to add), or even make tortillas from scratch (or at least a bag of masa harina) for quesadillas.  Either way, this is a way for the children to directly participate and also to really see what it takes to produce a small snack for the entire class.

We have other irons in the fire, too.  We are getting a milk share, and will be using the milk to make yogurt, yogurt cheese, kefir and smoothies for Monday’s Fruit Day with the older kids.  The milk will also be used for baking.  (It won’t be directly consumed because it’s raw and we don’t want the hassle.)  Trips to a beekeeper and a cider maker and a maple syrup maker (sugarer) are scheduled for October.  I have a 20-gallon crock in the Upper School’s classroom (grades 5-9, 9-14 year olds) that is currently filled with brine and cucumbers, and in three weeks will be filled with shredded cabbage for kraut.

Where is your passion taking YOU?

Mine has been keeping me away from the blog, unfortunately.  I’ve been thinking of you lately, though.

18 responses to “On being wrapped up

  1. Wow girl, you have been busy! Congrats to the hubby on his show…just amazing. Looking at some of his work, my hubby said “that man’s not an artist…he’s GENIUS!” (you may, or may not want to pass that along!) 😉 So, you won’t drink the raw milk huh? That’s interesting! We loved ours.

    • Hi Ang! I will drink raw milk, I just don’t want to freak the parents out, making them sign forms, etc. In other words, raw milk still has a bad rep amongst the ignorant…plus, the dairyman isn’t so happy the milk is going to a school for the same reason, so we told him all the milk will be processed and not drunk raw. Stupid rules. And I hope you’re feeling better, kiddo. And: I won’t tell Tom! No need inflating egos unnecessarily….

  2. I am so jealous!!! That sounds fantastic. And I love that the kids are involved.

  3. Wow, talk about a dramatic difference when compared to the crud that is dolled out in public schools. Years ago my wife tried to talk to the school (public) her children went to about changing the menu a bit…but apparently you cannot change a state dictated menu plan of corn dogs, cheesy nachos, tater tots, and other greasy mutations they chose to call lunch. Obviously she bagged her kids lunches herself but that does not go over very well when all their friends get to eat the so called “good stuff”.

    You might never know what an incredible difference you may have made in some of those children’s life long eating habits. Children learn at an early age to like or dislike certain foods and a junk food diet can be a tough one to change later on in life. My wife and I are extremely impressed with the fruition of your efforts thus far. Good job. I wish we could send our grandson to your school.

  4. That’s impressive! What a great education the kids are getting about different types of food, culture, the efforts and rewards of good food.

  5. Fantastic, El. This kind of thing is still a pipe dream here in the District of Columbia. But we’re working on it.

  6. The snacks sound really, really wonderful! And to think this is happening in my own backyard. Just stupendous.

    Locally sourced, homemade snacks are something I struggle with in our household (aside from local whole or frozen fruit) due to time constraints , but you’ve given some good ideas here. Maybe I can do better…

  7. Have you shared your bag of muffin mix recipe? If not, would you mind doing so? That is a FABULOUS idea.

  8. How many kids are in this school, El? You’re doing a great thing teaching them about real food.
    I’ve been pondering the elitist label, too, because I write so much about grass fed beef and worm-eating chickens and their eggs. And raw milk, and good local butter, and of course farm-fresh vegetables and fruits. I buy all my food at the FM or the Co-op. It’s a little more immediately expensive, but the cost of antibiotics and hormones in feed-lot meats to our health is simply outrageous in the long run. So what’s expensive?

  9. you should write a post/series/book on getting involved in school nutrition. like, how-tos. i bet a lot of parents would find it inspirational and helpful.

    i would like to snack at your daughter’s school!

    and, i would like a 20 gallon crock.

  10. My passion for growing food and buying in season has our family not deciding on dinner and then buying the ingredients…we now do the opposite. We have a counter full of ingredients that the earth presented to us and we are required to figure out how to enjoy them all before they go bad. I love it!

  11. So. Impressed. This is wonderful, and I also wish everyone could eat the way the kids at your school snack.

    My all-consuming passion these days? http://preservingtradtions.com/ . Have taught canning and pickling and such this year, plus work days yielding 52 pints of salsa and 70+ pints of jam. Next weekend, we learn how to kill, pluck, and clean chickens.

  12. I want to go to your daughter’s school! Seriously though, you are making such an impact on all the children with the activities and exposure that you are giving them. Its a window into something that most kids never get to see, sadly. With the food, the field trips, and just the process of thinking of these ideas, they are very lucky. How do the children themselves react to it? How old are they (i.e. is it across several grades)?

  13. Our new school seems remarkably free of a lot of the hassles of the local district’s approach to food, but I wonder what kind of regulations we’d crash into if we tried this. Maybe when the garden there is up and running we can think about it.

    Or maybe I’ll email you a list of questions when I get my thinking cap on.

  14. Just yesterday I said to my husband that I understand where the phrase “…the best thing since sliced bread” came from. The growing/harvesting/storing/cooking/baking of our food takes up so much of my time. I’ve only been on this path about a year, so I’m hoping I find a better way to manage all that needs to be done. I can’t imagine ever going back to eating how most people eat.

    My daughter just started kindergarten and it is one parent’s responsibility each day to bring a snack for the entire class. Everyone was told to bring healthy snacks only. So far they’ve had goldfish crackers, rice crispy treats, cupcakes, animals crackers, applesauce and juiceboxes. My daughter told me she didn’t want to eat the group snack from day one. She said she asked her teacher if it had chemicals in it, and that she was told it wasn’t organic, so she didn’t eat it. She did however bring home the unopened package and ask that I read the ingredients to her. After an email to her teacher we’ve arranged to have her bring in her own snack and water daily. I’m thrilled to have a five year old who understands the importance of eating healthy. Perhaps all our time in garden/kitchen is paying off.

  15. Hey all, a little background so you don’t think I am some kind of food-crazed superwoman: The school (a private one, 130 kids from 9 weeks to 9th grade) has always had snack, but we turned it into Slow Snack following Slow Food about 3 years ago. Restarting the garden last spring was also hitting the reset button on really trying to source things locally. WE did realize it would be a lot of work for us in the beginning, over the summer, to get the pantry stocked with jams, salsa, and pizza sauce, and the freezer filled with frozen fruit and chopped veggies. We now have a chest freezer filled with flour and produce. We are aiming for the Snack to be as simple a process as possible during the time when we working parents have no time to help, that is, during the school day!

    We also have a hot lunch program that another couple of parents run with a local caterer. They serve fairly swanky fare, locally sourced when possible, but the kids have been rebelling against the butternut squash soup and salad and are insisting on Chicken Tenders. And, these parents caved. (It’s no wonder my kid isn’t getting the lunch.) But, well, I just wanted to paint the picture that this is NOT paradise, it’s a working, poor school, with maybe a bit less bureaucracy to crack through than your average public elementary school. And yes: we battle the processed food battle Every. Single. Day.

    Ang, thanks again!

    Plantmama, and thank you too.

    Mike, I wish your grandson could go too! It’s a really wonderful school, with lots of energy and great ideas. I think the biggest thing with kids is really teaching them that Cooking Is No Mystery. The classroom-prepared snack day is going to be doing just that!

    And oh, EJ, food is fun, too, right?

    Ed, I know you’re working on it just as hard as I am. It’s a struggle.

    Jen, I need to update my Local Sources tab at the top, as there are lots of places to get stuff from that I am not mentioning. Plus, you’re still in Kzoo a lot too, right? There are tons of places there that you should be able to visit and stock up with. It’s on my list. All the tabs above could use some work. Sigh! AND: I will have to post the muffin mix recipe. It’s not mine but we’ll be making another 30 pounds of it soon!

    Sharon, I know. We’re taught that it’s wrong to spend money on food, and that’s dumbdumbdumb. I don’t think people need a daily steak but having a mixed quarter, say, of a grass-fed beeve is a wonderful way of eating well for most of a year. (And eggs. Don’t get me started!) We’re subsidizing ill health, subsidizing our health “industry” simply by eating cheap food.

    Serina, thanks, that’s a good suggestion. Seeing as I seem to have so little time lately, you’re still right, I probably should try to give some pointers as we’ve had real ups and downs over the last 3+ years. And that 20-gallon crock was a HUGE SCORE. I will document that fermenting process surely.

    JCC, doesn’t that make you feel like the most creative person in the world? Look at the counter and say “What dinner will YOU be?” and then make it. Thanks for sharing that!

    Emily, exactamundo, these kinds of things really do get you going, don’t they? I envy you your wonderful progressive corner of the world but I do know that even in a great place like AA there’s a boatload of folks who’re still not at all on board, so you’ve got lots of work ahead of you. The chix class sounds quite worthwhile, for sure…

    Yeah, MC, I am surely not doing it alone, and yeah, it’s a big age range. But really, things like trips to a beekeeper and a sugarer are pretty much average things to do around here. It’s a good thing! Now, just got to get all those kids cooking…

    Stef, go ‘head and email; I would be glad to help. Otherwise, all I can say is “baby steps,” as nothing happens quickly. We keep stressing the SLOW in Slow Snack. If it were up to me I would clap my hands and implement severe changes instantly, but…go slow or you’ll spook ’em and piss them off! It’s happened! Luckily we have had a bunch of administrative changes occur and all signs are pointing to yes, as the 8-Ball says.

    Lindsay, don’t worry about how much time it’s taking. It takes a year or two (sorry!) to get the swing going but once it happens you’ll learn how to shave WEEKS of time off the process (I promise!). Anything new takes a lot of time, especially with all you guys have started this year. Next year, just think, you won’t need to build a new garden! Lots more time! But that is quite touching about your kindergartener. Our girl of course gravitates towards the crap because she’s denied it at home…which is fine, may as well bite the apple and see what happens. And maybe just working with your girl’s teacher will help, with helpful suggestions. I am sure the teacher doesn’t like sugared-up kids crashing on her.

  16. Oh! The kids get to go ‘sugaring ! I am so jealous! I grew near several “Sugar Shacks” and there is no place on earth like the inside of one of those on a cold northern spring day. Very rare those places seem to be nowaday. That”s probably one of the reasons I pay like a million dollars for a bottle of the genuine article. I am convinced that if I get to go through the “Pearly Gates” It will smell like the downwind side of a sugar shack.( and babies and clean airdryed sheets..)..

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