Monday, May 23, 2011

Teaching Kids to Cook at the Farm Museum

Carroll County Farm Museum and fair grounds

By Ed Bruske

aka The Slow Cook

On Saturday, daughter and I drove 50 miles up Georgia Avenue to Westminster, Md., and the "Go Local Fair" to give a demonstration on how kids will eagerly engage with fresh, healthful food if you give them a chance to participate in the preparation.

We arrived with three big traveling bags of food and equipment. I had agonized over what, exactly, to make for this event and finally decided on three dishes that cover some of the basics of seasonality, simplicity and essential cooking techniques that I try to teach in my food appreciation classes. We would begin with a simple "summer squash carpaccio,"--sliced raw zucchini seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice, garnished with fresh goat cheese and a chiffonade of basil--then a salad of asparagus and butter lettuce dressed with a freshly made mustard vinaigrette, and finally crepes stuffed with local strawberries and whipped cream.

I was prepared to do this without and cooking facilities or even running water on site. Good thing, because all we had under our tent were two folding tables on which spread our ingredients and prep the food. Our tent--one of several on the museum grounds--was just around the corner from grass-fed burgers sizzling on the grill. We shared the space with a local home-brewing club. Next door was a woman selling tomato plants. Other vendors were hawking rain barrels and solar attic fans.

Billed as one of the "featured presenters--along with an edible landscaping specialist, an electrical engineer on the subject of electric bicycle commuting, and a dairyman who uses robotic milking machines to produce 62 million pounds of milk--I was sandwiched between an extremely well-attended talk on bee keeping, and another on raising chickens. Fortunately, the handful of parents who attending my portion of the program had brought plenty of kids. Two young boys joined daughter in helping to prepare our three dishes.

It all went by too fast--pretty hectic, I'd say. It was all I could do to keep track of the ingredients and keep the kids busy. But they did a great job slicing the zucchini and trimming the asparagus and spinning the lettuce and finally cutting the strawberries and making the crepe batter. I had already cooked some asparagus and crepes, so we weren't exactly waiting for things to finish on my little portable butane burner. But I did give a demonstration on how to cook a crepe--except I was distracted by the whipped cream portion and the crepe got a little burned.

One of the boys, who said he made plenty of Italian food at home, reprimanded me for suggesting we slice our fresh basil. "The Italians don't cut basil," he said. "They tear it." Good for him. But that would make our chiffonade pretty difficult, I replied. Nevertheless, the kids tore and did not cut the basil.

Our plate or zucchini carpaccio, assembled by one of the boys, looked gorgeous and the vinaigrette came out perfectly. The crepes--stuffed with strawberries and whipped cream, the folded--also looked gorgeous. All of this food we were able to pass around on plastic plates, so everyone in the audience got to sample. All this in--including the setup--in 50 minutes. I had barely had time to break everything down and move it off the tables so the chicken lady could begin her talk.

What I tried to emphasize to the parents were some of the lessons I've learned teaching my food appreciation classes the last five years--mainly, it doesn't really matter much what you cook, as long as you get kids involved. They love to work in the kitchen if you give them a chance and will happily spend hours with a vegetable peeler or a salad spinner. Sometimes they will actually eat healthier foods when they are given a chance to help in the preparation.

Daughter and I washed our bowls and knifes and whisks in the bathroom, then headed for the Green Akeys Family Farm tent to sample one of their grassfed cheeseburgers. We passed on the hand-cut French fries from AW Boys Fries, but we did stop on the side of the road for a soft-serve ice cream cone. Daughter declared it the best soft-serve ever. All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday in May.

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