Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kidz Magic Cupboard Project

This summer, in addition to entertaining visitors and travelling, I was part of an amazing project working with volunteers and the keenest kids on the planet. (I've hinted at it over the summer) But let me back up a bit.

When I moved to Halifax, a number of years ago, I was looking for somewhere to volunteer, and contribute to the community I live in.  Naturally, my focus was on food.  How could I help?   In Toronto, I was part of a group of lovely ladies who cooked up and served monthly Sunday Dinners for Fife House, an AIDS support organization.

I was checking out different, but food related organizations to join and found Feed Nova Scotia.  They do awesome work throughout the province.  I think their Mission Statement says it all....
"FEED NOVA SCOTIA is a charitable organization that helps feed hungry people by collecting and distributing food to more than 150 member agency food banks and meal programs, while at the same time striving to eliminate chronic hunger and poverty through research, awareness and support programs."
Several  elements I'm passionate about came together...

  • Jamie Oliver - I've been following him since he was the single Naked Chef, loving his "easy peasy" recipes and then his incredible drive to provide healthier meals for families, first in England and then in the US (his famous Food Revolution) and Fifteen, his foundation to provide kitchen-based life skills for "young people needing a break in life" ;  and PLEASE check out his speech at One Young World conference.
  • Reading about other chefs in Canada and the US who are creating excellent kids cooking programs to educate the future on better ways to eat;
  • Loving local, fresh produce and the farmers who nurture them; 
  • My own little grandsons and, with their mother, looking for healthy, kid-friendly food choices; and most importantly...
  • That we don't have to look far to see poverty, hunger, obesity... etc., they exist in our own backyards.  
So after Dianne Swinemar, Executive Director of FEED NOVA SCOTIA and I sat down to chat, it was obvious that we had similar passions about providing all of our youth with positive choices.   Check out their awesome LEARNING KITCHEN program.   We dreamed about a program for young kids ( 8-12 years old) in community centers of their member agencies where we could engage and excite kids and help them feel comfortable in the kitchen and to create magical meals all by themselves with nothing more than basic staples and tools.

Three years later, with some wonderful Corporate sponsorships, we developed a summer pilot project...and Kidz Magic Cupboard was born.   A six week program, one afternoon a week (three hours), led by volunteers, for 10 kids (8-12); at three of FEED NOVA SCOTIA member agencies.   Lots of play while dishes are cooking (everyone's favorite game was the "Black Box"  actually a ziplock baggie with slips of words instead of real ingredients.  Kids pull out 4-5 "ingredients" and create a recipe, then draw a picture of it and share your "dish" with the rest of the group.  It's hysterical).

On to the recipes... developing the program, I wanted to make sure that the recipes were simple and that even 8 year olds with minimal help from grownups could put it together with common ingredients and the simplest of tools.  My favorite is Stone Soup which starts with the telling of the old parable

The Story of Stone Soup
Once upon a time, somewhere in post-war Eastern Europe, there was a great famine in which people jealously hoarded whatever food they could find, hiding it even from their friends and neighbors. One day a wandering soldier came into a village and began asking questions as if he planned to stay for the night.
"There's not a bite to eat in the whole province," he was told. "Better keep moving on."
"Oh, I have everything I need," he said. "In fact, I was thinking of making some stone soup to share with all of you." He pulled an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and built a fire under it. Then, with great ceremony, he drew an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.
By now, hearing the rumor of food, most of the villagers had come to the square or watched from their windows. As the soldier sniffed the "broth" and licked his lips in anticipation, hunger began to overcome their skepticism.
"Ahh," the soldier said to himself rather loudly, "I do like a tasty stone soup. Of course, stone soup with cabbage -- that's hard to beat."
Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a cabbage he'd retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot. "Capital!" cried the soldier. "You know, I once had stone soup with cabbage and a bit of salt beef as well, and it was fit for a king."
The village butcher managed to find some salt beef . . . and so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there was indeed a delicious meal for all. The villagers offered the soldier a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refused to sell and traveled on the next day. The moral is that by working together, with everyone contributing what they can, a greater good is achieved.
Serving amounts depend on how many ingredients are added to the pot.
The Recipe
Medium pot
Liquid measuring cup
Vegetable peeler
Small & medium sharp knives
Cutting board
Measuring spoons
Dry measuring cup (1/2 cup)
Soup bowls
1 stone, big enough that it won't get lost in the soup (quartz is a good choice because it won't break down in cooking) … not really!
4 cups of water or chicken broth
plus any of the following:
1 tablespoon butter or cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped fine
1 large carrot, cut into coins
3 medium red-skinned potatoes (unpeeled, and cut into halves)

1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 large garlic clove, pressed
1 medium zucchini, diced large
1 medium yellow squash, diced large
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 cups cooked pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

1.    The first step is for your child to scrub and wash the stone thoroughly. Then, for an extra cleaning, she can drop it in a pot of water to boil while you prepare the rest of the soup together.  Or you could just pretend
2.    In large pot, melt the butter or heat the oil, then sauté the onion on medium-high for 2 to 4 minutes.
3.    Stir in the rest of the vegetables then add in the water or broth.  Bring it to a boil.
4.    Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for at least 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.   Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
5.    If you add cooked pasta, add it in the last two minutes of cooking.   Or you could add some pasta (1/2 cup) 5 minutes before the end.

The Fancy French Toast, mac 'n cheese and mini-pizzas (the kids even made their own pizza dough without yeast!) were all well received.   
And they even got to take some of what they cooked home with them (top photo)... along with the recipes, so they could do it all over again.  The response, week after week was awesome and the kids so proud of themselves.  
Now let me ask you to think about what you can do in your community to get kids engaged in the foods they eat and making them all more self-sufficient in their own kitchens.. 


bellini said...

This is an amazing project Ruth.Jamie would be proud of your initiative because it all does begin with our children.

Ruth Daniels said...

It was amazing. The kids so excited, week after week. I do hope we can keep it going.