As a teacher, I’ve taught yoga, ballet, jazz, water aerobics, dance aerobics and of course cooking classes. But this week’s Blog is loosely based on my years spent teaching kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. I LOVED doing that!
Establishing “classroom helpers.” Always a fun and creative endeavor for teachers working with any age group, especially the very young. The most coveted job in my classroom was the assignment of “Miss Deborah’s Glasses Monitor.” For those of us who can remember holding our hands together in prayer to be assigned the job of cleaning erasers, given permission to stand outside in the halls and slap together erasers dispersing the white chalky powder they collected during the course of the day, then run through clouds of dust completely forgetting what we were out in the halls assigned to do, weeell, Glasses Monitor tops that! In my classroom Glasses Monitor would stop whatever task they were currently engaged in, painting at the easel, playing dress-up in housekeeping, building with wooden blocks or assembling the newest version of Mr. Potato Head. This most responsible child of children would stand erect and proud when the call came . . . “Where are my glasses?” Their work would begin, frantically searching high, (and mostly low), in search of Miss Deborah’s spectacles. This was the most serious of hide & seek games, no fooling around. Failure to locate them in a timely manner would mean other classmates were allowed to join the search. A big disappointment to this Type A child, at the tender age of five.
And lest we not forget those “Special Days of The Week” such as Backwards Day, still universally popular. A half day spent telling others what you “don’t want,” “where not to stand,” and of course showing up to school with your shirt on backwards, pants on backwards, (every teacher of the very young knows what a chore that can turn into), shoes on the wrong feet and eating dessert first at lunch time! My personal favorite “Special Day of The Week” was “Whisper Day.” A half day of speaking in very quiet tones I declared on the fly during circle time when the noise and chatter of my students was more than my hangover could bear. Believe it or not they did it.
But let me tie my pre-K, Kindergarten reminiscences in with food. One of the most agreed upon concepts among the very young is the idea of “the farm.” Everything they eat, whether at home or in restaurants, comes from “the farm.” Eggs, meat, fruit, vegetables, bread, popsicles, cheese , you name it. When reading stories about food or doing one of my “cooking” sessions, I’d asked about a specific ingredient, “so, where do you think this came from?” the answer was always, “from the farm Miss Deborah.” And note, not just a farm, it was “the farm.” Was I to blame for this broad stroke of an answer? After all I had spent a school year taking them on field trips to apple and orchards in connection with our applesauce making lesson. A farm, in their young, un-bespectacled eyes. We visited fish hatcheries, avoiding the end of line as that is usually too graphic for most of us to bear. Then return to the classroom to prepare “kicked-up” tuna salad. During our end of day circle time, their best part of the day was visiting “the fish farm.” Of course trips to small ranches where families had chickens, permitting children to collect fresh eggs, amid free roaming pigs, ducks, dogs, cats and goats so obviously met their definition of “farm” who was I to correct?
To those Pre-K and kindergarteners who are now twenty to thirty something, I am hoping you’ve had an opportunity to visit or even work at a real farm. (If any of you are working on a Monsanto Farm, put yourself in a timeout corner right now). I recently had an opportunity to visit a farm. One with almost every type of fruit, vegetable and grain imaginable along with animals raised specifically to harvest for our tables. Our hosting family was knowledgeable about all aspects of wholesome practices in tending to their food crops and farm animals. Pleasant and generous to a fault, they insisted my friends and I stay for lunch, their biggest meal of the day. Working-hands down, the meal we feasted upon was one of the most delicious I’ve ever eaten! Simple food, simply prepared. No exotic or hard-to-find seasonings. No stock or reductions to prepare then push through a chinois. No special equipment, only a cutting board, which was outside, an actual tree stump, oiled, cleaned and seasoned. I’m certain the board added flavor to the food, a good knife and fresh ingredients that really were “from the farm.” Recipes? There didn’t appear to be use of a single one.
The tasty pork was boiled until tender in seasoned water, sliced then served on a platter with fresh, sweet white onions. That’s it. The side dish of yucca, also known as cassava or manioc, is a staple at family meals. Actually a root vegetable with a tough brown skin that when peeled reveals a crisp white flesh, reminded me of jicama. When cooked, the yucca becomes sticky, with a delicate sweetness to it. They served it on a bed of rice and black beans. Our salad, another straightforward presentation consisted of farm fresh tomato slices, rounds of cucumber, shredded cabbage and large leaves of romaine topped with thick slices of Gouda. The bread was more cracker-like, light with very little salt added. Fresh papaya was also placed on the table for us to enjoy. After a hard morning of touring and learning, they poured me nice cold beer to enjoy with my meal. I ate like a man . . . who was a teacher . . . visiting a farm.