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.
Owls are garden friends at the Las Flores Community Garden, where two owl nest boxes were built on strong posts along the fence, as in the picture above. Owls are great hunters of rodents and help keep mice, rabbits, and squirrels from eating the growing veggies in the garden. Owls don’t make their own nests; they take over useful structures and abandoned nests. Barn owls, which are the size of cats, are the most likely garden partners. Kids can attract owls to their garden by building a sturdy wooden owl house that is the right size for a pair of barn owls and their young. Kids can build the wooden box 38 by 18 by 12 inches with the entrance 6 inches above the base of the box. The oval entrance hole can be 4 ½ wide by 3 ¾ inches tall and should be facing the north to keep the sun from heating up the box. The house need a drainage hole on the bottom and should be cleaned out once a year. Place the owl house high on a post or on top of a structure. In the midwest, there are almost no barn owls left because they are not at home in large fields planted with neat rows of chemically sprayed GMO corn or soybeans. Owls like meadows, grasslands, and open areas where mice and other small prey animals live. The Las Flores Community Garden sits in an open area with lots of rodents for food and two nesting boxes for the owl families.
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.
Kids can grow organic blueberries in a large pot on the patio for a handy super food that sweeps away free radicals, is antibacterial, heart and brain healthy, and high in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. For a tasty snack with a fruity burst, kids can make these healthy treats. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Kids can wash 1 cup of fresh organic blueberries and put them in a small bowl with 1 tsp organic maple syrup, 1 tbsp cane sugar, and ¼ tsp cinnamon. In a large bowl add 1¾ cup organic whole wheat pastry flour, take 2 or 3 tbsp of the flour to stir with the blueberries and set the small bowl aside. Combine the rest of the flour with ⅓ cup organic sugar, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tsp organic corn starch, ¼ tsp sea salt. Cut into this mixture 6 tbsp cold organic vegan butter. Kids can mix with a fork or their fingers until mixture has a coarse crumb consistency. Add the blueberries. Mix ½ cup organic unsweetened almond milk into the flour mixture and stir until well blended. Turn dough onto a floured bread board and knead gently 8 to 10 times. Roll into a 9” round and cut into 8 equal wedges. Cut each wedge into 3 triangles. Place triangles 1” apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 15 minutes, until lightly browned.
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.
Kids in Spain and Portugal have been eating gazpacho as an appetizer for centuries. Gazpacho is a delicious cold raw soup made in the blender with fresh from the garden organic veggies, rich with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. As kids prepare the veggies, they can put three fourths of each of the rough chop veggies in a blender and one fourth in a small bowl. Kids can wash and chop 4 large organic red Brandywine tomatoes, 1 organic cucumber, 1 small jalapeno, seeded, ½ organic bell pepper, ¼ cup organic red onion, 1 organic celery with tops, 2 cloves organic garlic, ¼ cup organic extra virgin olive oil, 1 fresh juiced organic lime, 1 sprig fresh oregano, 1 tsp sea salt, ½ tsp cumin, 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper. Cover the blender and puree until smooth, about 5 minutes. Take the veggies in the small bowl and chop and mince them into small pieces. Put the veggies in a container, pour the pureed tomato mix over them, stir, and cover with a lid. Cool in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve with fresh basil leaves.