Fermentation is a healthy way to preserve foods, converting the starches to be more digestible and introducing living probiotic cultures into our guts to help absorb more of the food’s nutrients. Microbes are everywhere in the environment, floating in the atmosphere, in the oceans, soil, and in our guts. When leaves fall in the forest, microbes decompose them into soil-building humus to feed the trees. Microbes also decompose the food being fermented, and as they consume the sugars in the food, they produce alcohol and acids. There are two types of organisms that play a key role in fermentation and often these two types are used together: bacteria (lactobacillus and acetobacter) used to produce yogurt, pickles, and vinegar; and fungi (wild yeasts and molds) used to produce bread, wine, beer, and cheese. In the gut, these beneficial microbes keep the small percentage of harmful bacteria in check and activate our immune systems.
Fermented foods are not only good for us, but have fizzy and tart, savory and satisfying complex flavors. High quality sea salt is the key factor in fermenting vegetables in brine, a saltwater solution that acts on food by drawing water out of its cells, killing any harmful bacteria, and changing the pH of the environment. Kids can ferment their harvest by filling jars with organic veggies from their raised bed garden. Pictured above are peppers, squash, tomatoes, carrots, and rice salt (koji) with sea salt, spices, and pure water. Wash and chop the veggies to be fermented. Crush a garlic clove and place it at the bottom of a glass jar, add herbs and spices, and fill the jar with veggies leaving 1 inch at the top. Dissolve 2 tsp sea salt into ½ cup of water and pour into the jar, submerging the veggies beneath the brine. Fasten the lid loosely and allow the jar to sit on the counter for 1 – 2 weeks, depending on the vegetable, to ferment. Open the jar daily to release the pressure of the CO2. Taste the veggie to test the salty, sour flavor. Slow the fermentation by placing the jar in the refrigerator and eat within 2 weeks.
Kids can use a pastry bag to cover a cake with icing, decorate a cake, and make candies and desserts. Find a pastry bag that is durable, reusable, easy to clean, and comes in a kit with different size round and star piping tips. Kids can use piping tips with the pastry bag to create artistic cake decorations. Use the large round tip to make domed icing dots around the edge of a cake and stick a blueberry on top of each dome for a stunning effect. To fill the pastry bag with icing, fold the top of the bag out to help keep the filling from getting on the outside of the bag. Put the piping tip inside the bag and adjust the bag to fit the tip size snugly. Fill the bag three fourths full with icing and push the icing towards the tip. Twist the top of the pastry bag together and hold it there to ensure the icing continues to flow out the piping tip as the cake is decorated. When piping a design on a cake, kids can place an iced cake in the refrigerator for a half hour before piping the icing dots to make a pattern. Make the design on the cake first with toothpick marks, using a pastry bag fitted with a very small round tip.
Kids can add fresh organic fruit, herbs, and edible flowers to the cake decoration for an elegant effect by wrapping the stems with floral tape and sticking them into the icing and cake. Kids can use fruits, veggies, and spices, as natural colorings for the icing. Fruit and veggies are not only a great source of flavor inside the cake, but their vibrant colors in juices and purees achieve elegant shades of colors and flavors in the decorative icing. Pastry bags can coat the cake top evenly by making a circle around the outer edge and a spiral in the center. Kids can use a pastry bag to create divine truffles and tarts filled with organic ganache, lemon curd, or pumpkin filling. Kids can pipe icing made with healthy organic ingredients inside cupcakes and on top of cakes, cupcakes, and mini cupcakes for an artistic elegant dessert.
Kids can sprout just about any raw organic whole grain, bean, or seed in a matter of a few days for a fun addition to most any salad. Sprouts are the plants most nutritious stage, and they are concentrated natural sources of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids. In a jar with a lid, kids can create a miniature kitchen garden of tiny power packed plants. Lentils, chickpeas, and beans are rich in protein; during the germination process, the sprouts synthesize new protein and a surge of vitamins from the carbohydrates and fats. Wheat berries, rice, millet and other whole organic grains have all the essential nutrients of the grain magnified when they are spouted. Kids can combine one part whole grain, bean, or seed with 3 parts pure filtered water in the jar. For grains and beans use a ½ cup, for seeds, like quinoa, alfalfa, or chia start with 2 tablespoons. Cover the top of the jar with two layers of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, and let soak out of direct sunlight at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. Turn the jar upside down over the sink and drain the water through the cheesecloth. Remove the cheesecloth from the jar, refill with water, put on the lid, and shake to rinse. Remove the lid, cover with cheesecloth, secure with a rubber band, and drain into the sink, shaking out all the water. Kids can also use a sprouting jar with a screen lid to rinse and drain the sprouts, like in the picture above. The soaking water is rich in nutrients and can be used in soups or to water plants. To make sure that mold doesn’t grow, kids can place the jar upside down in a bowl on an angle so the sprouts can continue to drain and air can flow through the cheesecloth. Let set for another 12 hours and repeat the process until the beans, grains, or seeds sprout, 1 – 5 days. Keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days for a bright, crunchy, energy filled addition to a salad.
The Chef Knife is a large heavy knife with a slight curve of the blade that aids in the rocking motion of chopping. A professional chef will use it for everything from mincing herbs to chopping carrots to crushing garlic. There are several motions of the blade that chefs use to cut the food, with one hand on the blade and the other hand in the form of “the claw”. The claw uses the tips of the fingers and the backs of the fingernails to hold the food steady during the cut. The tips of the fingers are rolled back towards the palm so they are out of the way of the knife’s chopping motion. The chop uses the entire blade moving up and down vertically. The rocking chop keeps the rounded tip of the blade in contact with the board while it pivots down. The push slice allows the weight of the knife to slide the blade forward until it touches the chopping board. The pull slice engages the heel of the blade as it pulls back and down without touching the board. For fast vegetable work the blade is pushed forwards and halfway through and then pulled back and down, touching the board and coming up again at high speed. All these knife strokes take practice using both hands, as the claw hand uses the fingernail to slide the food past the knife. Teens can care for their Chef Knife by washing it by hand, sharpening it after every use, and putting it away in its block of wood.
The Poblano is a mildly hot bright green chili from Mexico that has a heart shape and can grow up to 3” by 6” with thick dark forest green to chocolate brown flesh. It is perfect for stuffing and is often used in making chili rellenos, a favorite Mexican fried stuffed chili. Poblano chilies are also used in salsas or roasted in strips as a garnish. Chilies are highly antimicrobial and nutrient dense. The active ingredient that produces the heat in chilies is capsaicin. Capsaicin releases endorphins in the brain and brings a feeling of well being. Organic peppers of all types are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as a wide range of additional vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients. Capsaicin helps clear mucous membranes, reduce inflammation and promote healing for a number of conditions, like arthritis and psoriasis. Ancient Mayans used chilies to treat a variety of illnesses, such as respiratory and gastrointestinal complaints. Scientists today have found that chilies have heart healthy benefits and help people who eat spicy food to live longer. Kids can make a garnish by preheating the oven to 425 degrees. Coat 4 organic Poblano chili peppers, each about 5 inches long, with organic extra virgin olive oil and roast them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper in the oven at 425 degrees turning with tongs until charred on all sides. Let cool in a large covered bowl for 15 minutes. Rub off the skin with a paper towel and remove the stems and seeds. Kids can cut them into strips and use as a garnish for burritos or tacos.
Kids can eat better and live greener by growing an organic veggie garden in containers on a patio and in raised beds in the backyard. Freshly harvested local organic vegetable varieties are superior in flavor, texture, and nutritional content to commercial produce whose varieties are grown with chemicals and chosen to travel and store well. When kids harvest their organic veggies, they can preserve some of them to stop decomposition and retain the flavor and texture of their produce for many months. Kids can freeze, dehydrate, and quick pickle their harvest to make it last and improve the quality of their family dinners during the winter, while reducing their carbon footprint. When choosing foods to preserve, kids can focus on the products they like the most and will use often. Roots, onions, and winter squashes keep well in a cool, dark storage. Kids can dry fruit for terrific on the go snacks and to add to baked goods. Kids can add salt to vinegar, with some sugar and seasonings and create quick pickled cucumbers, beets, relishes, and sauces that will last in the refrigerator and are easy to make. However, the best method for kids to preserve their harvest is freezing. Freezing does change the texture of produce, but it is not noticeable when cooking the frozen veggies and adding them to dishes. The flavors of thawed foods almost taste fresh. To stop enzyme action in veggies, kids can steam blanch the veggies for a few minutes in a steamer, put the veggies in an ice water bath, and drain them thoroughly before freezing. All cooked dishes freeze well, including fruit pies and baked goods. Kids can cook extra dishes and sauces during harvest time and freeze them for terrific meals some months later.
Freshly cooked organic dried beans are more nutritious, firmer, less expensive, and more flavorful than anything from a can. Kids can check the date on the package of organic dried beans to make sure they are fresh. As dried beans are not washed before packaging, kids need to rinse and sort them before cooking. For most bean varieties, 1 cup dried beans makes 3 cups of cooked beans. Kids can make wraps, tacos, and quesadillas with them all week. To make them easier to digest, kids can strain and cover the beans with water. By soaking the beans in water, the enzymes that cause intestinal gas are leached out. Kids can soak the beans overnight or, to make them even healthier, soak them for a couple of days to encourage them to sprout before cooking them. After soaking, drain and rinse the beans. Use fresh filtered water to cook the beans, as hard water causes the beans not to cook through or to cook unevenly. Cover the beans with 1 – 2 inches of water, bring to a boil, and slowly simmer. Smaller beans like navy beans will be done in an hour; larger beans like chickpeas can take 1½ to 3 hours of simmering over the low heat. Kids can have the beans simmering while they are doing homework in the afternoon, happy to get up and stir the beans occasionally. When the beans are almost cooked add sea salt and herbs to infuse the beans with flavor. After the beans have finished cooking and let them sit in the salted water for at least 30 minutes before serving and refrigerate them in their cooking water for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.