Just as kids love nut butters, such as peanut, almond, and cashew, kids will love nut cheeses, both cultured and non-cultured. Using the same elements of making dairy based cheese, coagulating the protein, adding lactic acid culture, and putting it through an aging process, nuts can be made into tasty cheeses. Cashews make some of the tastiest nut cheese with heart healthy monounsaturated fats , bone strengthening magnesium, and nutrients that lower the risk of weight gain. Cultured nut cheeses use fermentation and a culturing agent or two to create a more complex flavor. Non-cultured nut cheese often uses fruits and herbs to create delicious flavors of spreads, sauces, dips, and pates. The basic steps to make soft non-cultured nut cheese are simple. First soak 2 cups organic cashew nuts in water with a little salt for an hour or two to deactivate the enzyme inhibitors, leach out some of the phytic acid for better digestibility, and to make them softer to blend. Drain and rinse the nuts and put them in a food processor with ¼ cup pure water and blend until as smooth as possible. Kids can also use a blender to achieve a smooth paste with lots of pulsing, scraping, and adding of extra water. In the blender, add to the nut paste 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice and 2 tbsp organic apple cider vinegar and blend at low speed. Add ¼ cup nutritional yeast, 2 organic garlic cloves and 1 tsp sea salt and blend until smooth. Scrape the mixture out of the blender and place inside a cheesecloth bag. Hang the bag over a bowl and allow it to drain for up to 4 hours at room temperature. For a firmer drier cheese, kids can put the bag and bowl in the refrigerator overnight. This cashew cheese can be used in ravioli, lasagna, salads, sandwiches, and toast. Store the cashew cheese in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
When families grow an organic raised bed garden where they live, they have easy access to fresh organic food and benefit from a sanctuary that restores them mentally, physically, and emotionally. The raised bed can be a 5’ x 4’ wooden container in a site that gets 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, away from trees and high winds. A planter box of cement or rocks edging a wall is a productive raised bed as plants growing off the ground aren’t as easy a prey for pests and disease. Raised beds warm up quicker for earlier planting and extended growing season. Staggering the plantings of veggies is accomplished easier as kids can reach, rotate and harvest crops over an extended growing season in a small raised bed. Kids can terrace their veggie plants to capture the most sun and grow a bigger harvest by putting the tallest ones in the back and the shorter ones in front. A trellis can be attached to the raised bed to keep vines weed and water free. Kids can fill their raised garden bed with organic soil and compost from their compost bin, garden center, or local organic soil company. To save time, money, and water, kids can easily add a drip watering system or a soaker hose with a battery run timer so that watering takes place at the best time of day for maximum absorption and minimal evaporation. Filling the raised bed with fresh balanced organic soil creates a perfect start to growing abundant fruit and veggies. Kids can add castings from Red Wriggler worms that create the highest quality compost with nutrients and micro-organisms for water retention, air flow, and minerals and make the best fertilizer for the soil and the best food for the plants. Kids can hardly wait to taste the healthy variety of homegrown fruit and vegetables that they have grown in their organic raised bed garden.
Kids can plant a Native American Three Sisters Garden by planting corn, beans, and squash together in one organic raised bed garden. The beans climb the corn stalks while the squash shades out the weeds and their roots nourish each other with compatible nutrients in the soil. When kids eat them together, corn, beans, and squash are nutritionally balanced with vitamins, fiber, and proteins. Kids can make a flavor filled comforting meal using all organic, fresh from the garden ingredients. Kids can scrub and chop 1 zucchini, 1 cup golden French beans, ¼ cup red onion, 1 green deseeded chili, and 1 ear of corn. Steam the veggies until tender. Cook 1½ cups organic whole wheat penne pasta in boiling salted water. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the blender, kids can make a pesto by combining 2 tbsp organic walnuts, 1 garlic clove, and ¼ tsp sea salt and pulse until finely chopped. Add ½ cup basil, ½ cup Swiss chard, 4 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil and continue to pulse, scraping the sides occasionally with a rubber spatula, until the greens are coarsely chopped. Pour the steamed veggies in a casserole dish; cut the corn off of the cob and add to the veggies; drain and add the penne pasta; add a 14.5 ounce can of organic diced fire roasted tomatoes; pour in the pesto and mix thoroughly with the veggies and pasta. In a sauce pan, melt 1 tbsp vegan butter and toast with ¼ cup organic bread crumbs, ¼ tsp cumin, and ¼ tsp sea salt. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the top and bake for 25 minutes. Serve with a garden salad and bread.
Anything kids cook at home is more nutritious than processed, prepared, or restaurant food, which has been filled with too much added fats, sugar, salt, chemicals, flavorings, and dyes. When kids grow an organic raised bed veggie garden, they start their dish with pure real food. Salt enhances flavor, acid brightens and balances flavors, fat amplifies flavor and creates appealing textures, and cooking determines the texture and blends the flavors together.
Salt is an essential nutrient the body needs to maintain proper blood pressure, to distribute water throughout the body, and to deliver nutrients to the cells, muscles, and nerves. Because the human body can’t store much salt, we need to consume it regularly. A smaller amount of sea salt added during cooking does more to improve flavor than a larger amount added at the table. Add salt to water for boiling pasta, in dough or batter, or before grilling or roasting veggies. Salt minimizes bitterness, balances out sweetness, and enhances aromas.
Acid balances flavors by contrasting with the sugar, salt, fat, and starch in the dish. The sour taste of lemon and vinegar are used by every culture to brighten dishes around the world. Acids have many sources that vary in flavor and in the amount of their acid concentration: vinegar, citrus, tomatoes, hot sauce, pickles, coffee, and fermented foods. Fermentation transforms carbohydrates into carbon dioxide and acids using yeasts and bacteria, like sourdough bread, wine, sauerkraut, pickles, olives, and yogurt. Fermented foods aid in digestion and bring healthy bacteria into the stomach and intestines. Cooking acids slowly into the dish mellows the food, as vinegar softens the harshness of onions. Bring a chorus of acids to a dish by tasting and adjusting to lend tang and multiple layers of flavor.
Fat carries flavor and every country around the world has its own particular fat flavor. Olive oil, sesame seed oil, coconut oil, grape seed oil, and peanut oil, each have their own distinct flavor, aroma, and nutritional value. Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for human health and can be found in most of these oils. Olive oils can be fruity, pungent, spicy, or bright, as their taste varies with the region where they are produced and have a balance of both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Kids can look for local organic extra virgin olive oil and check the label for the production date, as olive oil is produced in the fall and will go rancid in twelve to fourteen months.
Kids can learn to improvise in the kitchen using these elements of good cooking with whatever they harvest from their organic raised bed garden. The big cooking secret is to stir, taste, and balance the salt, acid, and fat, adjusting the dish as it cooks.
“Biochar’s high carbon content and porous composition helps soil to retain water, nutrients, protect soil microbes, and ultimately increase crop yields while growing healthier, more productive, disease-resistant plants. All the while helping combat global climate change by sequestering and stabilizing rich organic carbon in your soil,” explained Michael Wittman.
Biochar is a charcoal soil amendment that has been made in Asia, often from bamboo, for thousands of years to increase plant productivity. Charcoal been used for years as an air and water filter. “A natural amendment,” said Michael Wittman, “biochar is a microscopic honeycomb that holds beneficial soil bacteria, moisture, and nutrients.” It can improve soil structure, reduce erosion, and do its job in the soil for hundreds of years. Like a fire in the forest leaves charred wood to enrich the forest floor, biochar enriches the soil by retaining moisture and nutrients. Bamboo biochar has ten times more surface area, a fixed nutrient ratio, more water retention, and absorbs more soluble nutrients than other biochar derived from wood, straw, or manure. Delicate beneficial fungi are difficult to keep in the soil, but biochar can build fungal qualities in all types of soil.
Touring Michael Wittman’s Thousand Oaks garden, Organic Garden Club members learned how to make biochar from wood burning in a small kiln. To keep gophers, squirrels, birds, and bunnies out of the veggies, Michael built a wire house under and around his raised bed garden and hung his tomatoes from the roof. He grows strawberries and herbs in satellite dishes for easy reach with a fire pit cover to keep out the critters. To harvest the rain water, he has two large 350 gallon tanks connected to the rain gutters from his roof with a hose at the side of the tanks to water the garden. He keeps his compost in a wire house, where he mixes it with biochar to provide a home for the growing bacteria and fungi.
The process of making biochar pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and returns it to enrich the soil and grow plants that breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. With biochar you can as Michael said, “Leave your carbon footprint in the garden…”
Kids can make a summer vegetable stew for a hearty healthy one bowl meal. Eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers have been a popular combination throughout the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. This stew adds potatoes, beans, and zucchini to make a complete balanced meal. Stewing creates a rich depth of flavor. When kids pick their summer veggies fresh from their organic garden, the dish has even more flavor and nutrients. Using all organic ingredients, kids can wash and cut 1 eggplant, 1 lb red potatoes, 1 zucchini, and 1 cup golden French beans into ½ inch pieces for uniform cooking. Mince ½ cup of organic red onion, 2 organic garlic cloves, and 1 organic deseeded green chili. In a large stainless steel pot, heat 3 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic, and chilies for 2 minutes. Pour a 28 ounce can of organic diced and fire roasted tomatoes with the juice into the pot and bring to a boil. Stir the chopped potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and garden beans into the tomato mixture, cover, and slowly simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan frequently. After 45 minutes, add 2 cups of finely chopped organic chard, 1 tsp sea salt, and ¼ tsp cumin, cover, and continue to simmer and stir for 45 more minutes. Remove from heat and add ¼ cup minced fresh basil and 1 tbsp minced fresh oregano and let sit covered for 20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Serve with bread.
Once a Japanese culinary hobby, the Bento lunch box has caught imaginations around the world. Kids and parents can create food art with healthy edible ingredients in lunch boxes. These yummy balanced meals are visually appealing with their cute character ideas and bright colors. Bento boxes are a fun way to pack to-go meals, banish boring lunches, and please even the pickiest eaters. The designs can be simple or elaborate, with the objective of showing kids what a balanced healthy meal looks like. Kids can decorate sandwiches with eyes and mouths to look like cows, bunnies, frogs, flowers, and many more cute characters. With the sandwich as the main attractions, kids can surround it with small amounts of several different foods. Using leftovers or making organic slaw, pasta, quinoa, lentils, or rice ahead saves preparation time. The ecofriendly lunch boxes come in different materials: wood, metal, and plastic. The traditional cedar boxes have a wonderful aroma; the metal boxes are sturdy; the insulated box set keeps food warm with smaller side dish containers; and the plastic box with a domed lid protects the bento designs. Special tools are available, such as cutters, punches, and sandwich presses to make the designs; bright colored silicone cups to hold small portions of fruit or salad; sauce bottles and cups to pack salad dressings or soy sauce; and antibacterial sheets that come in a wide variety of cute designs for food dividers.
Kids can make a healthy lunch by filling half a bento box with rice and half with salad greens. Kids can use a flower cutter to punch flowers out of slices of cooked vegetables, such as carrot, butternut squash, and potato with string beans cut on a diagonal to create leaves and piece of cooked broccoli for a bush and place them on the bed of rice. Kids can add raison eyes to cherry tomatoes by making a small slit in the top for the raison and cut a small wedge from each tomato to create mouths with sesame seeds as noses. Place the tomato characters on top of the salad greens mixed with a few cooked garbanzo beans. Kids and parents can choose something from each food group and from each color group to make a pretty meal with healthy ingredients and lots of love.