I’ve spent the last few months preparing to move out of Ida B.Wells worrying about how to teach a culinary arts class without cooking. “Well, it’s not really a culinary arts class,” I’ve always told people. It is a work simulation class using culinary as a theme. Um, and that culinary part? It is a huge part for me, bigger than I first thought. It is what automatically connects us, automatically equalizes us, and with our combined efforts, feeds us on many levels.
I have been moping a little that I won’t have the thrill of the stove, the splash at the sink, or the pressure of the period ending bell to accomplish what we’ve been able to these last 5 years. That and attitudes have been wafting through the halls, perhaps we might be assimilated into the larger school site that will host us? After all, we are a small, alternative school floating quietly on a increasingly crowded sea of requirements. We don’t fit a mold for good reasons. But one can’t plan anything when your attitude focuses on impending doom. Instead of planning, you develop a planitude – an attitude that distracts you, like a dark fog.
Then a few weeks ago, I got to sit down with the project team to go over the renovation plans as respects my classroom, a basement area that has been Ida B. Wells’ cafeteria over the last 30 years (although every year I’ve been there I’ve inched into a bit more of it).
And as I sat there, with all these experts, seeing on the official black and white architect’s layout that they are building a real Culinary Arts classroom, with a full hood and ansul system, I started to get excited. All this trouble we are going through moving out is for good reason – our building is old and broken. And I have proof on these pages (which I’ve been carrying around with me like a security blanket) that we’ll be able to support students who need an alternative better than ever when we return in 2016. It really is happening.
Now to get back to teaching and taking care of the students moving with us, with all the value, respect and hospitality we can muster. There will still be bumps in the road, but it is heartening to see a glimpse into our future like this one.
It is always hard to capture pictures of our students as we lead into the Long Table Dinner, it is just too frantic. But once things calmed down, I found a stack of index cards from our students, describing their most memorable moments from class that week. Hands down it was the making (and tasting) of the upside down plum cake for our sixth Long Table Dinner Event on October 23rd. We used a flat of organic Last Chance plums from a local farmer’s market, they were delicious, and indeed the last plums of the season.
There is something magical about upside down cake. You have this butter-sugar mixture that you swear will not become caramel. Then you place fruit on top of it, pour cake batter over it and cross your fingers as you slide the pans into the oven.
More often than not, the magic of the fruit talks that butter-sugar mixture into melting into a luscious caramel. It is an exciting moment as you invert the still-hot cake and watch this delicious mixture step down from the pan. If the fruit gets stuck to that pan bottom, just coax it out with a metal spatula – it is an easy repair job if you catch it right when it is coming out of the pan. We used smaller cast iron pans (#5), easier to handle when hot.
The recipe we used is easy to find (see below), which we adapted here and there, substituting some almond flour and creating a vegan version, using almond milk and applesauce for the dairy.
And for those wheat free guests? We sliced fresh plums, tossed them in sugar and lemon juice, garnishing with dollops of cream. Link to Simply Recipe’s original recipe is here, with our gratitude!
My most memorable meal was definitely the pasta and tiramisu. It was better than the clam chowder and lemon meringue. The day we had the meal was very exciting because it was the first time eating the stuff we made ourselves. The feel of the room was very exciting because we were about to eat. The pasta meal was memorable because it was very delicious, especially the tiramisu that K, G, and I made. ~ W.L.
This is about the first time I ate clam chowder. I was in culinary class, sitting alongside my two friends. The meal consisted of grilled prawns, two pieces of bread, sauteed greens, and the clam chowder. The prawns tasted really good, the sauce on them was awesome. The greens, however, were a bit too bitter for my taste. I helped making the bread and it tasted good. There was also tiramisu, which I made the cream for and it turned out really good. The star of the meal was the chowder. It was delicious. The chowder was creamy while the clams tasted incredible. The taste was definitely memorable. ~ K.C., about our 11/7/2014 menu
A beautiful Indian summer day. Generous, neighborly friends. Digging and watering. Our garden is taking shape thanks to many people, some of whom I haven’t even met – yet. Thank you, friends.
We are entering into our 3rd week of school and now that the “back to school” social excitement has pretty much run its course, it is interesting to see students in class turning towards getting down to real work. The biggest barriers many of them have are often around trust – trusting one’s self most of all, especially when you are doing something you’ve never done before.
I know how that feels when I’m in the garden. I’ve planted plants, but never seriously helped grow food before. I’m not sure what the final results will look like, and there are many influences that I can’t foresee and that I don’t have any control over. Toto, I don’t think we’re in my familiar kitchen environment anymore.
Trust aside, I am also realizing that once you get started, growing food has a magnetism – you want to see how those plants are doing, which on this weekend, feels much like that wonderful feeling my great grandmother used to describe when you know there is a good book waiting for you at the end of the day. Now I want to visit the garden to see what is waiting there too. How lucky we are to have this luxurious chance to learn in this way, with a safety net of great farmers not far from us should our yield fall short.
Meanwhile, our class will be getting our teamwork and cooking skills together so that when this garden is producing, we will have a rare chance to harvest, cook and serve this delicious fare to ourselves and perhaps also to our Long Table Dinner guests… in about 8 weeks, I trust.
Stopped by school today, with less than a week before teachers head back. It is a bit of a ghost town, maybe due to the crews that come through over the summer to rewax the floors, or the summer program which “borrows” the building for a month but without any reference points on where things belong. It takes me a few extra days to put the furniture and equipment back, repaint the chalkboard (which I may not get to this time) and see what’s what. A good time to get mentally ready.
And then every year, I notice the reality that I may find things out of place like that ghost town, but it still feels pretty desolate once I’ve put them back. Being a school where students catch up on credits means people blow through here in comparison to a regular high school. It is amazing that we can even build the relationships we do with our students, with the shift change tempo of our quarter based school year. But I know the family feel of the school will come back, it does every year, a real tribute to the value of our students. And that means when they are not there, it is pretty empty.
So I went home and immediately got out more seeds to plant. A good cure for desolation. Now that I’ve figured out a useful purpose for those egg cartons, my back deck is starting to look like a nursery. Whatever we can do to keep things lively! The sprouts pictured are sunflowers (thank you Will Allen & his Good Food Revolution). Put 1/4 cup in a quart mason jar and you get almost a quart of sprouts in about a week. To eat. Small satisfactions really count on days like these.
We’ve had some good results these past few weeks as we get ready for our next Long Table Dinner on March 6th (sold out already!!!). One side project was to find a crispy garnish that would also be tasty and light. Kale chips fall apart, but then we happened on this…
Yes, parsley crisps. You make them just like kale chips, getting rid of most of the stems which turn stringy. Then (when my back was turned) the genius part happened:
They put salt AND ground black pepper on them before baking.
Next up: we were given these oranges, 2 cases of little sweet mandarins. The peels were very tasty too so we made them into candied orange slices. I love making marmalade, but it is, frankly, a labor of love. So much work! These sliced up fairly well and took to being simmered in sugar syrup quite happily.
Now that we’ve canned most of them (for Long Table Dinner guests to take home if they like), we wanted to figure out the best use for the extras. So we’ve been making various versions of a delicious chili sauce:
It is great to witness the students getting excited about experimenting with recipes and enjoying the results. Even though the Long Table Dinner is sold out, let us know if you want us to share any of the recipes. A super special thank you to all of those who have been helping us get ready and get the word out. We are so grateful!!!
Every quarter has some level of new mix at our school. A funny mix of fresh start and unexpected change. That is where returning students are a huge help. They bring experience and sometimes can even make doing dishes seem cool. For me anyway. The trick is keeping them interested in doing more than they ever have before, particularly when they enjoy what we have done in the past.
Still, here is one returning student’s review in the first week of the quarter – the first day we pulled out recipes. Who ever invented colored dry erase and sheet protectors was genius. Happy New Year Everyone!