Stories from Home and Kale Sesame Salad

curly kale

We serve a lot of vegetables at BCS. And we are often asked how we persuade the kids to eat them. When we talk to folks from other schools like ours we hear many variations of "we WANT to serve more vegetables, but the kids just hate them" or "the kids will only eat baby carrots with ranch", or " I can't stand to throw away a salad after no one touches it".
The truth is, we don't have a quick answer to the question.  What we do have are a few concepts we believe in when it comes to feeding, teaching, and caring for  young kids.

One is shared responsibility, which I wrote a bit about here.

Basically we believe that kids should ultimately be responsible for what they eat - assuming they are choosing from options provided for them by adults who have their heath and well-being in mind. We believe that kids are competent learners, and that they should be trusted to try things out in their own time. We know that it can take several offerings of a new food before a child accepts it. We are also aware of the cultural impact of this model. Meaning, we know that a family's economic status changes their ability to repeatedly offer expensive fresh foods to their kids only to have them rejected. Wasting food, or spending money on food that might have to be thrown away is simply not an option for most low-income families. But low-income families shouldn't be forced out of healthy food choices.
At our school we strive to offer at least a temporary fix for that problem with our food program,  during the precious, early years we spend with our kids and families. Of course we aim to waste as little food as possible - because we have to maintain the bottom line for our program. But we also encourage kids to put something new on their plate, even if we know they may not eat it the first time. Or the second, or the third. Just serving oneself some kale sesame salad is an important step toward food literacy, and we applaud it, even if it takes a few attempts to bite into that kale.

We also believe that the emotional tone of the kitchen, and the mealtime, contributes to the ability of kids to regulate their bodies and eat well. In other words, even in the kitchen, or maybe especially in the kitchen,  relationships are front and center. How do we gather together? How do we interact at meal times? How do we all support each other to get what we need to get through our day?
Well, we wash our hands, we take some deep breaths, we find a seat and serve ourselves. We pass to others. We remind each other to take what we need, and give new things a try. We remind kids that at school, we will always refill the bowl if it's empty, until everyone has had enough.
And we tell stories.
I'm a talker. It's how I relate, get to know others, and show others who I am. I'm always working on quieting down and listening, but it's a challenge for me. Often when I'm engaged in conversation with someone else instead of really listening closely I'm scanning for details, looking for common ground and  thinking of what I'm going to contribute next, as soon as I can. I do this not because I feel my experience is more important than my chatting partner's, but because  I desperately want to connect, with everyone. To show them that I understand and empathize, and to point out our similarities. I understand that part of this is my own desire for validation, and that's why I work hard on listening without planning my next interjection. Practicing active listening with kids is my favorite, because often their verbal communication is less straightforward, so I have to double my efforts to get the thread of what they're saying and follow it.

But like the young folks I cook for, I have a lot to say! And people, especially kids, are naturally curious about others and their lives. So awhile back I started telling stories about my family during lunch time. I remember how it began. When my daughter Sadie was born I took a few months off. When I returned to work she came by with my husband to nurse every day while lunch was wrapping up. The kids got to know her a bit, and often asked for more information about her - what was she up to when she wasn't visiting BCS? I started telling them little stories while they ate - about how many times she woke up during the previous night, or funny things her older brothers said or did to make her smile. As Sadie grew the stories became more involved. The one about her crawling into the corner of the bathroom while I got her bath ready one night, picking up a daddy long legs and trying to eat it when she was about 7 months old remains a favorite to this day.

Soon I was telling a story every day. Sometimes a new one from the night before, sometimes an old favorite like the spider story. Now that we have a dog, stories about Izzy (our 2 year old rescue mutt)  are very popular. Mostly they're just little snapshots of life with my family.
After a while, telling stories from home became part of the culture of lunch time. Kids began telling their own stories to the folks at their table and sometimes, like me, to the whole room. They began requesting stories from their teachers, from Sarah and Ruthie our directors, and from subs and visitors  at lunch. Everyone, with very few exceptions, obliged.

These days, if you visit the kitchen, you will likely be asked to share a story.  Sarah has several, but often retells a wonderful story about her mom and dad noticing a bear in their backyard while getting ready for company to arrive. Ruthie tells a preschool favorite about her dog, Wilma, sneaking out of the backyard and running away only to  eventually be found a few blocks away at a restaurant near her home. Teacher Gabrielle tells an exciting, suspenseful, and ultimately reassuring tale of losing one of her red rubber rain boots trying to swim for a rowboat in a slightly icy pond as a kid. Teacher Charles tells a sobering tale about stealing lollipops that were unfairly reserved for one single kid with an allergy in his kindergarten, while everyone else got crackers.

After she'd experienced a year of lunch time stories, Gabrielle commented  how therapeutic she thought the ritual was for the kids.  I asked what she meant, and she explained that for many of the kids we work with, whose lives outside of school are often traumatic and chaotic, listening to and sharing simple stories about family life seems calming. By telling stories we get to practice sharing, but also listening -really listening- to each other. Something I'm working on just like the preschoolers. And getting to know each other by talking about our families strengthens the relationship between everyone in the community - kids, teachers, even visitors.
If you come to eat with us at lunch you'll hear our stories, and we'll invite you to tell yours.
The stories let everyone know - you belong here, and we care about you. We are caring for each other.

So, about that Kale Sesame Salad!

Recipe Serves 6 as a side
 6 cups Curly or Lacinato Kale, ribboned
(here's a great tutorial on slicing the leaves thinly from the smitten kitchen)
1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dark sesame oil
3 Tbsp tamari
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Toss the kale, cabbage, and red onion in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk the sesame oil, tamari, honey,  and rice vinegar until smooth.
Pour over veggies in large bowl and toss to coat. Add the sesame seeds and red pepper flakes if you like and toss again before serving.
This is great as a summer side, or as a main dish salad with some grilled chicken or pan-fried tofu.
The dressing recipe can be doubled or tripled, and is delicious on cold noodles and pretty much any other raw or roasted veggies - especially green beans!


salad ready for serving

Corn Bread - my absolute favorite recipe

Corn bread!!!

Much like my journey to (hopefully, someday) banana bread enlightenment, I've been on a long quest to make the perfect batch of cornbread. By perfect I mean great texture - moist (ooh I hate that word but I can't come up with another to convey what I need right now) not crumbly, sweet but not too sweet, just the right amount of saltiness, golden brown on top and bright yellow inside, with some real corn flavor. I like spicy versions with jalapeƱos, versions with whole corn kernels, and cheesy versions with cheddar or pepper jack right in the batter. But I wanted to come up with a recipe that was just straightforward and delicious, suitable for serving alongside sweet or savory stuff. I think I figured it out. The answer was, of all things, applesauce.
This is the way I make it for school lunch, and we don't ever have leftovers. Here, check it out.

the batter 

Just Really Good Corn Bread

Preheat oven to 425
line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper so there's overhang on all sides

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

Stir eggs, buttermilk, and applesauce together in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture all at once and mix just until everything is combined. I cannot stress this enough. Lots of cornbread recipes give this direction but I'm convinced it really is the key to making cornbread come out with the perfect texture. Let there be lumps! Then scrape it all into your prepared pan and bake for about 20 minutes - or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Every oven is different, so I suggest checking it after 18 minutes, just to be safe. You don't want to overbake.


Sunday Home Bake - Peach Oat Crumble

I had these few peaches hanging around, we were out of cereal and well, here we go again.
Sunday bake.


the batter. Cal said, "That looks terrible." Not entirely untrue, but the crumbs look promising


the crumbs have been deployed


I knew those crumbs looked promising.

a very late breakfast is served

Peach Oat Crumble

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats - not quick cooking
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2 1/4 cups fresh peaches, peeled and chopped
2 eggs
1 cup coconut milk - the sure rich stuff in the can, not the carton
1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup almond flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
5 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
pinch of salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl and use your fingers to pinch together until you have a crumbly mixture with different sized clumps. It's great to have some larger chunks of butter!
Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350.
Line a 13x9 inch baking pan - at least 2 inches deep - with parchment paper so that some hangs over each side.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mis eggs, vanilla, and coconut milk.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the wet ingredients slowly into the flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon just until it all comes together. Don't overmix!
Add the peaches and fold in gently.
Spread the batter in your lined pan, and sprinkle the crumbs as evenly as possible on top of the batter.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, except for maybe some sticky fruit.
Let cool for an hour before cutting, if you can.


Rice, Beans, Tortillas... and Shared Responsibility

Black bean, rice, and cheese burritos are a favorite at lunch. But not everyone approaches a burrito in the same way.

separate elements

neat and tidy


We use our simple rice and beans recipe and give kids options on the table. A platter of tortillas, a bowl of rice and beans, shredded cheese, veggies, and salsa. They decide what goes in their burrito, or if they roll one up at all. We believe in division of  responsibility when it comes to feeding kids, especially kids who are dealing with food insecurity or other kinds of trauma. The model, designed by Ellyn Satter, is outlined here: divisionofresponsibilityinfeeding.php, and it basically states that adults can choose when children will eat, and what is available, and children will decide what to eat and how much. 
From the ESI site:
The Ellyn Satter Institute is named for Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Family Therapist and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding, who pioneered the Satter Feeding Dynamics Model and the Satter Eating Competence Model. She is the author of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, which is the gold standard for feeding children. In her transformative, practical, theoretically sound, and evidence-based conceptualizations of eating and feeding, Satter emphasizes competency rather than deficiency, providing rather than depriving, and trust rather than control. 
As therapeutic caregivers, we love this. We believe that quality care and education for young children  is incomplete without a strong nutrition component that's an integrated part of the day, the school culture, and the curriuculum,  and we love how Ms. Satter's model emphasizes not just providing children with enough healthy food, but teaching them food competency. An understanding of food systems around them, and how different foods affect them. It stresses helping children recognize and respond to their hunger in appropriate ways. It also promotes a positive relationship with food, and the community one eats with regularly - whether that's a family or group of classmates. We feel like this is a powerful way to interact with kids around food, and we practice it everyday at meal and snack times.

I'm working on a longer piece about our ideas around food and feeding kids, and how they fit into the interconnected systems we believe need to work together to make a high quality early eduction program. To make a school really work for all of its children, families, and staff.  I'm developing this whole thing about how relationships are all we really have in this world, and we can't raise children, or teach them anything, without stressing healthy, loving, respectful relationships above everything else. And how we can't talk about relationships without talking about food. But I'm getting way ahead of myself. It's Sunday night and I need to get off the computer and plan out my Monday morning. More on all of this later, but for now, here's our recipe for tasty rice and beans for burritos.  They make a great Monday night dinner.

Basic Rice and Beans
2 cups short grain brown or basmati rice
2 cloves garlic
1/4 medium yellow onion
2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
black pepper to taste
1 tsp cumin

Cook  rice according to package directions. For extra flavor, cook the rice in veggie broth.
Set aside.
Mince  garlic and  onion. Saute in a Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat until fragrant, but not browning. Add  black beans, drained and rinsed. Season with salt, pepper, and cumin, and mix well.
Toss with the cooked rice, and a pat of butter.

Homemade salsa
3 medium Roma tomatoes, chopped
3-4 scallions
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
a handful of cilantro leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until mixed, but not smooth. Leave some texture!

Roll up with some cheese, or add cooked beef or chicken, avocado, pickled veggies, roasted veggies, crunchy veggies, etc. You get the picture.


Quick Pickled Veggies

 These are a favorite at BCS. We first learned about the magic of pickled veggies from our friends at City Market, first with a simple lactofermentation, salt-brined recipe. This one, to be exact, for sunshine pickles.

We loved those so much we moved on to slightly more involved pickling - with quick methods like this one here. You make a quick boil of vinegar, salt and sugar, add cold water, pour over your veggies and a little fresh dill in a quart jar and you're done. Pop them in the fridge and start enjoying deliciously pickled goodness on everything in like, an hour. Or wait until the next day if you want them to reach maximum quick pickle before eating. Either way, they'll stay at their 24 hour flavor and color in the fridge for up to a month.

Use single veggies - carrots, green beans and cukes work well - or pile up the colors like we do. In this batch we layered red cabbage, red and orange peppers, carrots, yellow peppers, and green beans, all thinly sliced.

Here's the video! We love these on hot dogs, yes, but also on top of rice, grilled chicken, on a cheese sandwich, on a GRILLED cheese sandwich, alongside quesadilla, in tacos... you get the idea.

Happy Pickling!

Friday Food Bag Recipe - Orzo Salad

Take Home Bags this Friday had ingredients for a simple Orzo Salad we love.
A box of orzo, butter, spinach, garlic, BCS-grown herbs...

toddlers with teacher Miranda picking basil for take home bags

feta, eggs to have on the side, and raspberries just for fun.

packing up the bags - check out those herb packs!

Summer Orzo Salad

You need:
 1 lb orzo pasta
4 cups baby spinach
2 cloves of garlic, minced
a handful of your favorite fresh herbs, roughly chopped (we used oregano, sage, and basil)
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 Tbsp butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste
juice from 1/4 lemon

BCS basil

herb assortment

Cook orzo according to package directions in a large pot of salted water. Reserve about a 1/4 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta.

Toss the baby spinach with the hot, cooked pasta and the melted butter. Add the garlic and herbs and the reserved salty pasta water and keep gently tossing. When everything is well combined, add the feta and toss again. Add a shake or two of black pepper and taste. You might need just a tiny bit of salt, or the salted pasta water and feta might be enough. Just before serving squeeze the lemon juice over the top. If you love lemon feel free to serve with extra lemon wedges on the side,

Vegetarians might like this with a fried egg or two on the side. I like a fried egg with just about anything, honestly.
If your family eats meat this is perfect alongside some grilled or roasted chicken.


Sunday Home Bake - Pear Cake with Dates and Cashews

Some Sundays I wake up and think: You know, I really want to bake something delicious and take pictures of the process and then write about it a little. 

Today was one of those days, so I drank some coffee and looked up recipes for pear cake, since I needed to use up the ridiculous pears from halfway across the planet I bought at Costco in an ill-fated attempt to get my 13 year old to eat something - anything- other than cereal and quesadillas. I thought he liked pears. I was, apparently, wrong. 
Anyway, I found a recipe for blueberry crumb cake and I thought I'd just switch out the blueberries for pears, but then I found a little pack of dates I had hidden away and decided to throw those in too. 
I also changed the crumb topping to more of a crispy, sugary, cashew brittle-ish kind of thing.   And the combo of the dates and pears make this dense, almost fudgy but somehow still coffee cake-ish texture. It was really, really good. 

So, no, it's not a summer recipe, but I'm going to file it away for fall and then make it repeatedly. 

Pear Date Cashew Crumb Cake

5 Tbsp butter, cut into 5 pieces
1/4 sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped raw cashews

1 2/2 cups chopped ripe pear
2/3 cup chopped dates
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a few grates of fresh nutmeg
6 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs at room temp
1/2 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 350 and position a rack in the middle.  Line an 8x8 pan with parchment and set aside. 

Make the crumbs - pulse all ingredients except nuts in a food processor until crumbly crumbs form. transfer to a small bowl and stir in the chopped cashews. Cover tightly and refrigerate while you make the cake batter. 

Put butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment and beat until light and fluffy - 3-4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing on medium, then the vanilla. 
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another bowl. 
Add alternately with the coconut milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. It will be a pretty thick batter. Gently fold in the chopped pears and dates, then use a rubber spatula to get it all into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top a little, then get your crumbs and sprinkle evenly over the top - it will seem like  a lot but go with it. 
Pop on that middle rack and bake for 40 minutes - then check it. The original blueberry recipe said 55-65 minutes but I know my oven usually needs about 5-10 minutes less than many recipes call for when I'm baking sweets. Mine was ready in about 50 minutes total, but make sure you check yours at 40 just in case. 



fruity batter

the sprinkling of the crumbs is complete


more cake

happy me

happy Sunday