Bread Magic in the Kitchen

When I arrived in the kitchen last Monday, my coworker Charles said he left a gift for me on the spice shelf. It was these beautiful block prints,  made by  Vermont artist/activist  Jabari Jones, who is donating the proceeds from the prints to the Vermont Black Lives Matter organization.

They are postcard sized prints, each with a proverb about bread.

I've been thinking of how to display them, and of the timeliness of the gift, as I try to work on this post about bread at BCS.

Community Bread started just about a year ago, after I decided to get everyone to try making all of our own bread at school together.  But really it all started with the bread poem, another gift from a coworker, right around the holidays in 2015.

If I could work the oven
 I'd like to cook a bread
big enough to extinguish the hunger
of everyone, all the people
who have nothing to eat.
A bread bigger than the sun,
golden, perfumed
like violets.
A bread like this
I would give to feed
all of India and Chile
the poor, the children,
the old, and the baby birds.
That would be a day to memorize:
A day without hunger!
The most beautiful day in all of history.

-Gianni Rodari

The caption from my Instagram post of the poem:

I immediately loved the very first line of the poem, because it got  to the heart of how I felt about cooking for others. To me, "If I could work the oven" meant "If I could figure out this problem of hungry people, of getting everyone enough, if I had that power, this is what I would do." Of course, in my heart, I would bake a magical bread that would erase the problem on a global scale.
In reality, in the kitchen, what could I do to work that oven? School lunch had already come so far,  with our self-designed menus and everything made from scratch. But we were still buying not-so-great processed bread for sandwiches, or to eat with soup or stew, or for toast in the morning.  I did my best within our budget, but it wasn't ideal. For about the millionth time since starting the job, I imagined baking bread, lots of bread, in the school kitchen.

I was (and still am) a complete novice bread baker, though I loved the process with all my heart and was eager to learn more.  I knew our staff was full of baking enthusiasts and I knew that each classroom enjoyed baking with kids regularly or at least once in a while.  So I had an idea. I would bake as many loaves as I could every Monday and Tuesday, and any classroom that wanted to could bake as well. Together, we'd come up with bread for everyone for the week.
 I thought that would be a powerful thing for a kid who was coming from a food insecure situation, to learn how to bake bread, this building block of basic nutrition, and share it with their friends and teachers at mealtimes.

Bread is elemental. It's literally a symbol of nourishment, of "we have enough".  Our goal has always been to fill BCS with this feeling. We want kids to know it's a place where, regardless of what the world is like outside, their needs will be met. Their bellies will be filled.  Thinking this over I realized, this was it. This was how to work the oven. We could teach kids the skill of bread baking, while teaching them that they can take care of each other. That's what communities do.  That's how we get everyone fed.

I presented the idea to my amazing coworkers at our winter In-Service and we all baked focaccia and talked about what we find therapeutic in cooking and baking.  Community Bread at BCS was born.

group baking

At first I expected a complex baking schedule would be a necessity. I imagined rotating classrooms and days of the week based on the menu. But in practice it's been a much more fluid process. 
Basically, everybody bakes. Sometimes we coordinate, often we don't. Kids are so steeped in the process they can do it with little direction. Everyone eats lots of homemade bread (and other amazing goodies). 
Now it's a year later, and community bread is going strong.  Baking has become a part of the school culture as well as incredible curriculum. The toddlers and their teachers bake so often, it's unusual to enter their classroom and not smell something wonderful in the oven, or on its way.  The preschools bake every week, often producing half of the bread we serve everyone for lunch. 

The kids feel so much pride in baking to feed the whole school, and I'm just proud to be a part of it all. When I get to school in the morning and the preschoolers are busy in their classroom, dusted in flour from head to toe, kneading together, I can't help but think -we're doing it. 

We are working the oven!

Focaccia with Friends - BCS recipe

 Sprinkle 3 tsp dry yeast and 1 tsp sugar over 2 1/2 cups warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for a minute or two, then gently whisk in 1 cup of unbleached flour. Let this sit for five minutes or so, then add 2 1/2 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp honey, and 2 Tbsp olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate. Start adding flour a cup at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon, and then eventually using your hands, until it forms a shaggy ball. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes, dusting with flour when necessary to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth and springy. Clean and dry the bowl, then swirl it with olive oil. Add the dough and roll it around to oil the whole surface. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 400
Uncover the dough, and using a sharp knife, divide in half. Do not punch it down! Lightly brush two rimmed baking sheets with oil. Turn out half of the dough onto each tray. Use your hands to press it into a rectangle, reaching the edges of the pan if you can. Use your fingers to make indentations every 2 inches or so. Lightly brush the top of the dough with oil, and sprinkle with salt and  any herbs you like. 
Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. 


Things to do with Roasted Carrots

It's mud season in Vermont, which means seed starting, tiny sprouts poking up out of ice patches of mud, and deep yearning for fresh vegetables. It's the time of year when BCS director Sarah and I start dreaming of summer fruit and salads from the farm share, and cursing potatoes, carrots and cold storage apples - the foundation of our winter veggie diet.

Even so, I'll keep trying to come up with tasty easy ways to use ALL the root veggies while we wait for herbs and greens and all that jazz. Soon, soon. In the meantime, maybe give recipes these a try.  The BCS family loves them.

Roasted Carrots with lots of Garlic, Green Onions, and Za'atar

6 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and sliced into coins on the diagonal
3 or 4 scallions, sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves, minces
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp za'atar spice mix

Preheat oven to 400
Toss the carrots with the oil and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl, then spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes, then check. You want some browning on the edges of the carrots for the best flavor. When they're ready, take them out and sprinkle the scallions and then the za'atar over the top

**secret tip - many roasted veggies are delicious with a little plain greek yogurt on the side, plain or with a bit of sriracha stirred in**

Here's a link to a cool recipe for making your own za'atar, if diy is your style.
Otherwise you can find it at most natural food stores, or middle eastern markets if your lucky enough to have any nearby.

Roasted Carrot Soup 

6 cups carrots, peeled and sliced into coins.
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp butter - unless you want this to be vegan, in which case coconut oil will do nicely

Preheat oven to 400.
Toss carrot coins and onions with olive oil and spread on a large rimmed baking sheet.
Roast at 400 for about 20 minutes, until everything is softening and you get a little caramelization. The brown bits are what make the soup, so let the veggies go until you get there.
When they're ready, transfer them to a nice sized stock pot with the veggie broth, salt, pepper, turmeric, and cumin and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so. Then remove from heat, add the butter or coconut oil,  and use your immersion blender to make it nice and smooth.
Gently reheat through.

I strongly suggest you serve with a dollop of plain greek yogurt and some za'atar sprinkled on top. Also delicious: crushed pistachios,  some crushed red pepper, sriracha,  a drizzle of coconut milk... you get the idea.

Recipes from staff lunch....

When our staff gets together for In-Service I make lunch. Since we have a lot of different diets to accommodate, I just start with a vegan menu and work from there. For our three-day work session a few weeks back I made a big batch of roasted red potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, and garlic and used it for a few different dishes. 

Vegan GF Roasted Veggie Gallette

This was tricky.  I love making pie crust, but I'm a a devoted butter fanatic. Baking without it makes me nervous. But I forged ahead with a gluten free baking mix and vegan shortening and.....I actually made a decent pastry. There were no leftovers. I'm sure everyone was more interested in the filling anyway. I'm gonna take it as a win though. 

2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix
1/2 cup vegan shortening
1/2 tsp kosher salt
a Tbsp at a time of ice water

I was afraid to use the food processor for the first bit - which I freely admit I do when I'm making regular old pie crust - and went for the pastry cutter in a big stainless bowl I'd chilled in the fridge for a half hour or so. Once the mix, shortening and salt were all nice and crumbly I added a Tbsp at a time of ice water, working with  my hands until it all came together. It never quite got to that cohesive, buttery feeling I'm used to when making pastry. It was much, I don't know, sandier than usual. It reminded me of that kinetic sand stuff my kids like to play with at the science museum. I added several more spoons of ice water than I usually do. But eventually it held enough for me to form it into a ball and wrap it in parchment. After   some consideration I decided not to refrigerate it because it felt like it might get even more crumbly if it chilled. I rolled it out into a right away between two lightly floured sheets of parchment, then carefully transferred it to a sheet pan and threw that in the fridge while I got the filling ready. You want a rough oval, about 12-14 inches in diameter, and no more than a 1/4 inch thick. 

1 medium butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cut into thin, 1 inch pieces 
2 medium red potatoes washed and cut into thin, 1 inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp each fresh thyme and rosemary, roughly chopped
handful of sliced scallions 

Preheat oven to 400 
Toss squash, potatoes, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl, spread as evenly as possible on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 7-8 minutes. You just want to give them a head start before the actual bake. 

Put it all together
Grab your pastry. Take the veggies out of the oven and sprinkle the fresh herbs and garlic on top. Toss a bit to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer about 3 cups of the mixture to the center of the pastry - which is still on the parchment lined baking sheet. You'll have some left over. No worries, we'll get to that. Spread it out toward the edges of the pastry, leaving yourself a few inches all around the perimeter. Gently, gently fold the edge in as you move around the oval, folding over and inch or so of the filling. 
Bake at 375 for about 35 minutes or until the filling is caramelizing in places and the crust is done everywhere, flaky and (hopefully) starting to brown.  It stayed pretty light, especially in absence of a milk or egg wash, which was tough for me since I love a good caramelized crust. But don't leave it in too long or you'll overcook the filling. 

Once it's out sprinkle the sliced scallions on top and slice it up.

Lemony French Bean Salad 

So, now you'll have some leftover roasted veggies. Here's what you do. 
Steam 4-6 cups of french beans until they are juuuuust past crisp tender. Still a bit of crispness, but not too much. Check after 4 minutes and go from there. 
Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. 
Add whatever remaining roasted veggies - up to 2 cups.
Now make some dressing. 

1/3 cup olive oil
3-4 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp each salt and pepper

Whisk well, drizzle over the salad, and toss it all together. If you have any more fresh thyme laying around sprinkle it on top. Serve with lemon wedges. 

Next up, roasted carrot soup with greek yogurt and za'atar. Come on back.

Kid Made!

My husband Sam and I collaborate on a weekly video series for Parent.Co - Kid Made!
We feature (mostly) healthy recipes kids can help make, and love to eat!
Here's one of my favorites from a while back, Sweet Potato Nachos. They are perfect for a (surprise) snowy weekend at home (in April, ha ha!).