Monday, October 1, 2018

Building and Creating Flavor

The gardening is on hold as our campus gets new soil, more outdoor play areas and landscaping.  The Wellness education and cooking are going strong.  4th and 5th grades began by reviewing the 5 basic flavors - sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.

Not everyone enjoyed the umami experience.  It was important to taste all of these flavors on their own before adding them together to build flavors.  Each flavor was added to water so the students could taste the bare flavor.

Next we tasted the flavors in combinations and recorded what we thought of each. The salt, lemon and chile was the favorite combination.

Now we were ready to create a combination to test these flavors.  We made spinach and cucumber salads with a citrus dressing.  This spinach represented bitter, the citrus was sour and sweet because we used lime and orange.  Unfiltered olive oil has a bit of umami and was a great means to discuss good verses bad fats.  We added a touch of salt to the dressing. We allowed each person to put fresh milled pepper on their salad if they wanted.  This added a touch of heat if they wanted it.

The students practiced their skills of chopping, washing, whisking (good emulsion conversations about oil and water), mixing and collaboration.  Good cleaning skills came in handy after we were done. 

This experience gave them a new appreciation for what our school chefs, Chef Kimberly and Chef Wayne, have to do to cook food that 350 different people with different tastes all want to eat.

Recipe -
6 cups of Spinach, 1 large cucumber

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 orange and 1/2 a lime
salt and pepper to taste

Add some sliced almonds or pecan pieces for a bit of protein.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It's a new school year and we are off to a great start.  

The students reviewed their skills for successful learning.  One technique they discussed, and demonstrated, was how to quietly keep your body moving so you can concentrate.  Who needs fidget spinners when you have self-taught techniques!

Other skills for learning included focusing, internal talk, being aware of surroundings and being assertive (not to be confused with aggressive) when others are disturbing your learning.

Next week we start in the garden and that is the most anticipated part of Wellness Class.  Check back soon for what happens next.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Yogurt Parfait! Now for breakfast.

The basic skill of cutting is much more fun to learn if the end product is tasty.  Kindergarten learned the importance of washing hands, following instructions, cutting skills, patience and creating yogurt parfaits.  Students came to our parfait station in groups of 4 or 5 and worked with our volunteer Tracy and me to carefully cut strawberries which we added to the blueberries.  Then every student got to try a parfait withe fruit yogurt and honey.

Tzatziki Sauce and Basil Pesto get the school year going.

We had dill, cucumbers and basil in abundance in our garden due to all of our summer rain so of course, we made Tzatziki sauce and basil pesto.   The 2nd and 3rd grade classes made Tzatziki sauce and tried it with crackers (rice crackers on hand just in case we had unknown allergies the first week of class) and rated the taste.  Out of the 88 children who tried it only 2 rated it as "yuck".  During the last tasting, one of the students asked if our UT Elementary Chefs Mario and Kimberly would use it as a dressing for the salad they serve every Friday.  They said yes!  The kids loved it and we have anecdotal evidence from the kitchen staff that they ate more of their salad this day.


Tatziki Sauce -

1(8oz) container of Greek yogurt
1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp lemon juice
1 medium sprig or 1/2 Tbsp dill
1 small clove garlic, crushed

Put everything in a food processor and blend (or finely chop and stir vigorously).

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour on salad or use as spread on bread or crackers.

Basil Pesto - 

2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup lightly toasted pecans
1 small clove garlic
dash of cayenne (optional - I use this at home, not at school)

Put everything in a food processor and blend.

Add salt and pepper to taste.  Spread on vegetables, bread or crackers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Our Families Make the Difference

All generations are on board for the UT Elementary Green Day.  This is when we come together to complete large projects on the campus grounds.  For our recent green day we revamped both PreK outdoor areas, built compost and leaf bins, repaired the wheelbarrows and garden cart, removed Bermuda grass from the vegetable gardens (as best we could), organized the Little Longhorn League shed, sanded the hand rails on the deck (splinter hazards) and deconstructed decaying outdoor furniture.

Our campus is the product of our giving families.  They assist us every time we ask for help.  The students genuinely enjoy working with their families.  The week following Green Day is full of "my family fixed this" comments.

All the families enjoyed a hearty lunch supplied by Chipotle.  A meal is always better when you can share it with extended family and friends.

Thanks to Ashley, Leo and Patty with Chipotle.  You make the work rewarding.

And thank you to our UT Elementary Families.  We would be able to be us without you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Making Change at the SFC Downtown Farmer's Market

The Farmer's Market experience was far more than we expected.  We knew it would be fun.  We didn't know the extent of the real life learning that would occur.

The long term goal of our Farmer's Market attendance is to make the Wellness Class Cooking Program self-sustaining.  We utilize some of our garden produce for the Cooking Program but have to supplement many items and keep a steady supply of pantry goods such as olive oil, spices, sea salt and lemons.  The funds also cover the initial and replacement costs of our small kitchen tools.

Our perennial herbs are the staple market items.  We trim these early in the school year to encourage new growth.  Fresh herbs are better for cooking.

We harvest the new growth from the perennial herbs and as much of the basil, an annual, as we can.

We have a great set up for washing, drying and bundling our herbs.  We group them with rubber bands and attempt to make them equal sizes.  All of this happens in the garden.

The next step is to store everything for the night.  On Saturday morning I gather all the supplies and meet some of the UT Elementary families at the Sustainable Food Center's (SFC) Downtown Farmer's Market.  The set up is minimal and gives us time to meet our neighboring vendors.

Now, the fun begins.  

The students are running the stand which means they need to communicate with the public and make change.  The students tell the customers about the various herbs we have for the week; basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary and Mexican Mint Marigold.  Customers ask which herbs the students like the most and how they might use the the herb.  The students are asked about our school and the gardens.  We also have seed cards for sale and the customers want to know what a seed card is, how they are made and how they are planted.  

Once a customer makes their decision, the students begin their mental math.  We do not have calculators, just eavesdropping adults.  The students total the purchases, collect the payment and make change.  Making change with real dollars and coins is very different than using play money in the classroom.  Using new math skills with several adults around and relying completely on mental math can be a bit intimidating but the students handle it with grace.  So do the customers.  Everyone who comes to the stand either helps engage the students math skills or is patient while the students figure out the totals.

And the big discovery?  You can barter!  One bunch of rosemary can get you a glass of lemonade.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The First Few Weeks -Gardens, Courage, General Health, and Pesto

The beginning of the school year is a great time to get the gardens ready for the Fall planting.  The 100+ degree weather and 40+ days without rain have left the soil dry and compacted.  The students discovered that a little water in the garden makes the weeds easier to pull and working with your friends makes it much more fun.  We have gloves available for everyone but this seems to be a very personal choice.

They have loosened all the soil, pulled out the weeds and trimmed the herbs.  The herbs are cut back to encourage new growth.  We will be selling our herbs at The Sustainable Food Center's Downtown Market.  We have basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and Mexican mint marigold to harvest.

The 3rd-5th grades discussed what courage looks like and interviewed each other  and performed skits about times to show courage.  We also discussed what can cause stress, how to manage stress and how to avoid it.

The younger grades focused on back-to-school Health basics.  We reviewed what lice are and how to stop them from spreading.  We discussed how germs spread and practiced washing our hands.  We also discussed what an emergency is and practiced dialing 911 on cell and old fashion phones in case of one.  What caused some inner chuckles for me was answering all the questions about what a phone receiver is and how to use one.  Cell phones we have down, but telephone receivers are now a history lesson as well.

Practicing our healthy habits is an essential component for our students.

The best part of the start of school is making pesto from the basil which grew tall over the summer.  Six simple ingredients come together to create and entirely new experience.

The first step is to wash all the basil we harvested and then work together to pick all the leaves fro the stems.

We use 2 cups of fresh basil leaves.  We roast 1/2 a cup of local pecans, which are a good substitution for pine nuts, for 5 minutes.  This brings out the oils and flavor of the pecans.  We put these in a food processor with 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese and juice of a 1/2 a lemon, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil - all to taste.

Of course, the pesto tastes much better on freshly baked crackers.  Baking also gives us a chance to discuss the chemical changes caused by the heat vs. the physical changes of mixing the pesto.  We also talk about the exact measurements required in baking.


The students learn the technique of use the back of a knife to scrap the extra flour from the measuring cup.  They measured the 3 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of salt.  Next we combined the wet ingredients, 4 tablespoons olive oil and one cup of water, and poured them into the center of the mixing bowl.

Next we combined the wet ingredients, 4 tablespoons olive oil and one cup of water, and poured them into the center of the mixing bowl. Stirring the dough is very important.  Too much stirring and the dough is tough - too little and the dough is not mixed.  It is also very important to stir with style.

The students took turns rolling out the dough.  They learned how to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or the pan.

They also perforated the crackers to give them
an authentic cracker look.  Chef Mario baked them for us and then we all got to try our freshly made pesto with warm crackers.  It was a big success and we have more basil growing.

During the first few weeks of the school year we have set a fun and active tone.  We learn new cooking skills, how to identify lice and keep them from spreading, how to stop germs from spreading, and how to make delicious snacks from our garden produce.