Thursday, December 17, 2009

Real Food Class

I am not sure what it is about this time of year but no matter how hard you try to simplify and not let things get crazy...they do. I am going to give you a quick run down of the past two days of my life just to give you a little idea...starting with Tuesday.

I woke up, breakfast, dropped Lil' Bit off at a fellow mama's house, went and judged a public sculpture contest, picked Lil' Bit up, brought her home, lunched, she napped, worked on a class plan for a nutrition course, took Lil' Bit to her Gan Gan's (who made a delicious Julia Child chocolate cake which I took 1/2 home and devoured in less than 24 hours ), went to teach the nutrition course, rescued a stray dog on the way home, got home and celebrated Hanukkah, went to bed, woke up Wednesday, took Lil' Bit to doc for checkup, went to a play date, went home met human society guy to pick up dog, lunched on Hanukkah leftovers, put Lil' Bit down for nap while cat peed on guest bed, stripped bed and started on mound of laundry, went to grocery store, returned home, celebrated Hanukkah early so Chef could go back to work, fed Lil' Bit, bathed her while I bid and won an amazing 9x13 Persian rug on Ebay (now that is multitasking!), read her stories, put her to bed, ate dinner in 15 minutes while reading Food + Wine, had an hour long phone interview with a couple for a wedding story article, stripped the master bed which has been Chef's flu den for the past week, washed the bedding, made the bed, and crashed out at 11:30 pm. Jeeeeze.

Of all the things that I did this week the nutrition class was by far the most entertaining. I was scheduled to teach the class to low income high school students from 5 -7 pm Tuesday night at a recreation center kitchen. I showed up at 4:30 to set up and the place was filled with elementary school students having a holiday party. The woman told me the class was postponed until 6 pm. Now if this was a poetry writing workshop, no problem...but I had an entire meal to prepare and cook with these kids.

So I left, and came back at 5:30. The kitchen was empty so I set to work doing all the prep work so when the kids came we just had season and pop the food in the oven and then talk nutrition. I wanted the menu to be simple, with few ingredients, easy for them to prepare at home and easy for me to prepare in front of an audience...something I had never done before. Yet I also wanted it to cover all the major food groups sans dairy (There was no need to have two proteins on the plate and dairy is something to be eaten in moderation). Roasted vegetables, broiled chicken with pineapple salsa, and couscous. Easy, healthy, and delicious. Well, almost.

The prep began. I chopped up sweet potatoes, green peppers, and carrots because the green and orange veggies are the most nutritious and put them in a bowl. In reading the recipe for the pineapple salsa my hormone fogged brain made a terrible mistake. The salsa called for 1 to 2 canned chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, drained and seeded. I read this as 1 to 2 cans of peppers. I cracked open the first can of peppers and tasted for heat...Yowser. Spicy as all hell. I thought to myself there is no way these kids, or any adult for that matter would want to eat a whole can of this tossed in pineapple. I read the recipe again and still misinterpreted it, but I used my own judgment and decided just to use 2 peppers for the recipe which I was doubling in quantity. Mixed in with the chopped pineapple and honey, I gave it a taste and it had a little kick, but it didn't seem too hot.

The kids arrived. 6 girls and two boys all about 14 or 15 years old. They pulled chairs up to the counter and we began talking about nutrition. The definition of nutrition is the way our body processes food in order to grow new tissue and maintain its functions. I told this crew of teens that the best way to do this is to eat "real food." I asked them what they thought was real food, the first response was from a chatty young lady who said, "fried chicken." I said, "Fried chicken is real food if you cook it at home, if you go to KFC it is fast food and that totally not real food."

I went on to tell them where you can find real food. "You can find real food at the grocery store, but usually it is only on the outside aisles...all the stuff in the middle is full of crazy stuff in boxes that is not real food." The cous cous I brought was in boxes and I passed them around and told them to look at the list of ingredients. "If you are going to buy food out of a box the best way to know how nutritious it is not looking at the nutrition facts, but instead check to see how many ingredients it has in it. If it has a bunch of crazy long words, it is probably not real food. The less ingredients the better for you."

We also talked about the farmer's market, only one or two of the kids had ever been. Live music, free samples, and lots of real food that is less expensive than the grocery store were my selling points. Plus the food is more nutritious because it doesn't have to travel as far.

I asked them what the word organic meant to them, "stuff that grows from the ground, vegetables, healthy food" were all answers. I busted out organic chicken from the refrigerator. I told them that organic food is just old fashioned food, that it is what our grandparents ate before farms became factories. I tried not to freak them out too much about the realities of factory farms, but at the same time instilled in them that eating organic meat is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

I encouraged them to try and eat one organic food a week. I explained that it is a bit more expensive, but only by a couple of dollars. "How much is a Coke from a vending machine?" I asked. "1.25" Someone answered. "That is right. And you drink it in like ten minutes. Why is it that people will spend a $1.25 on single can of soda, but not throw down the same amount for a better quality gallon of milk they will drink in a week?" That got them thinking.

The next topic was the easiest and most nutritious way to cook real food. The holy trinity of the Mediterranean....olive oil, salt, and pepper. It is what I tossed the veggies in before roasting them, and basted the chicken with a sprinkle of fresh thyme before broiling it. I made them repeat the three ingredients over and over as we talked about what we were cooking. I passed around sprigs for everyone to smell. Some of the girls requested thyme to take home to their moms and grandmothers.

When the food in the oven was finished we ate. The pineapple salsa after having sat on the counter for the hour seemed to have really heated up with spice...and it was too much for most of the kids. "AHHH!" I heard as they took their first bites. "Sorry guys! That is why it is important to taste you food as you cook it. It is the only way you will know if it tastes good." With every mistake a lesson learned.

Most of them didn't touch the cous cous, even though I tried to sell it as "like grits"... but there were a few clean plates...and everyone ate their chicken (sans salsa), sweet potatoes, and carrots. They told me that they really liked the class and asked if they could do it again...some even offered to cook me a meal.

Earlier that day I was in total Grinch mode complaining about how I am at a point where I don't have any "free time." Volunteer work, which has been a staple of my adult life, seemed uber overwhelming to me. "I have play time, pay time, and down time...but no free time. Play time with Lil' Bit, pay time to write meaningless articles, and some down time to rest my big pregnant self...but time just to hand out for free. Nope." But I had a blast doing the class, and I of course offered to teach again any time. It is all about generating that good karma.

As I pulled away from the rec center I thought what a great way to spend an evening. And then I pulled up to a busy unlit intersection where a large dog was running hog wild as cars whizzed by him barely missing him...none of them trying to help him to safety. I stopped, jumped out, and hobbled my pregnant self into the road and grabbed him by the collar. I couldn't put him in the trunk with the dirty pans from class, so he made himself at home in the back seat on one of Lil' Bit's blankets.

Just when you think you have done your good deed for the day there is always another one lurking. Tis' the season right? On a totally other note...foodie holiday gifts...we are going to jar sundae toppings...caramel and chocolate sauce. Recipe will be forthcoming this weekend! Easy on the wallet and pallet.


Bob Sam said...

Saint Francis has, once again, racked up the extra points next to your name in his book. Incidentally, he is my patron Saint. My Confirmation Name is Francis. That would make it Bob Sam Frank...Keep up the good work and if you want any chipotle tips, just let me know. I make my own. Peace & Love!

Anonymous said...

Nan, You are amazing! Teaching a nutrition class sounds great & I'm glad you pulled it off! Hoorah! Claire