Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cooking for the Classroom

Last Saturday Helen Labun (Discovering Flavor) reviewed some new (and newish) cookbooks for kids that are also useful for teaching subjects beyond cooking. Here's a run down of what we discussed with notes and links to additional information:

Laboratory Science

Exploring Kitchen Science published by the San Francisco-based Exploratorium. This book focuses on scientific principles you can demonstrate via things in your kitchen. . . the experiments may be technically edible, but not all stuff you want to eat. It has lots of classics - the cornstarch solution that's solid under pressure and liquid otherwise, food coloring moved through celery capillaries, Mentos in Coke bottles - and short simple explanations of what's going on. Some experiments do require special equip, but mostly easy to order, inexpensive items. The Exploratorium also maintains a kitchen science section on its website, here.

Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb. This book has many of the same concepts at Exploring Kitchen Science, but with slightly longer explanations of what's going on and chapter-by-chapter groupings that lend themselves to lesson plans. It has more edible experiments than Exploring Kitchen Science but, again, they may not be things you want to eat (for example, cabbage water used in a Ph test). An old version of this book is out right now - an updated version with a more modern look is coming out this summer.

The Lemon Fizz:
(Experiment from Saturday)

Put 4 Tb confectioner's sugar, 2 Tb citric acid powder (available at Hunger Mtn Coop) and 1 Tb baking soda in a food processor and whirr to a fine, uniform powder. This is the British candy sherbet powder - like a Pixie Stick but with fizz (Wikipedia gives a nice run down of all the ways it's used). Added to lemonade or cider it makes a pleasant fizzy drink. It's a more fun version of adding baking soda to vinegar to watch it fizz up. You can take the experiment even further by making a Ph test using red cabbage juice to test for the base (baking soda) and acid (citric acid) and also the Ph resulting from the full reaction of the two. Just grate a red cabbage, let it soak in warm water until the water is well dyed, and pour through a sieve to remove the cabbage. The juice will turn color to indicate acid levels.

The fizzy sherbet powder also has historical tie ins. The search for fizzy water (and there are lots of ways to make water fizz) turns out to be an ancient one, as detailed in this BBC Food Programme episode.

Related Resources:
  • Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is the definitive science in the kitchen tome and would be an excellent reference for any adults working with kitchen science. 
  • The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is a new cookbook that reads like a textbook (that's a compliment), and also goes into the science behind the food. Lopez-Alt focuses on detailing experiments conducted to get a better outcome from his recipes. If you've ever read Cook's Illustrated and thought "I wish they went into even more detail on how they developed the recipe" then Food Lab is for you.
Social Science

National Geographic Kids Cookbook This book is full of little factoids on cooking and culture along with the recipes, arranged by year. The drawback is that it's primarily scattered factoids and difficult to use as an organized reference book, it's more of a skim-through book.

Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen. This book does a nice job of finding a diversity of fairy tales, some that are familiar and some that aren't, and retelling the story with a recipe to follow. More options than simply baking the gingerbread man. Another resource on using fairy tales in the classroom is our 2014 Author-Educator workshop by Meg Allison "Why Fairy Tales Still Matter"

Kids Cook French / Kids Cook Italian Dual language cookbooks for kids. Recipes are a good starting point for translation, since they're mostly a list of vocabulary words (aka "ingredients") plus simple sentences using a known universe of verbs. Learn culture, language, and cooking skills at once.

Related Resources:
  • International Night by Mark Kurlansky - If you're looking for sample recipes and menus from around the world, this book shares menus (with recipes) that he prepared with his daughter - each country chosen by spinning the globe and cooking from the country her finger lands on. The book is for adults, but the recipes are designed to lend themselves to cooking with children's assistance. 
  • The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman - This book offers a large collection of recipes from around the world, with sample menus. Designed for cooks of all skill levels. It's currently out of print but I believe they're reissuing it (and of course you can order it used).  
Art and Nutrition
An unusual pairing, but it will make sense. . . 

The Forest Feast for Kids by Erin Gleeson. Erin Gleeson is known for her striking food photography and particularly the use of strong color. This artistic sensibility (you can see examples at her website forestfeast.com) lends itself both to arts instruction for kids and to embracing the nutritional advice "eat the rainbow." Gleeson makes the connection to nutrition clear in her introduction, and this book really does make eating a variety of healthy food look enticing. The Forest Feast for Kids comes out this spring and you can preorder it; the longer adult version Forest Feast is available now.

Cooking Experiments: One aspect of Gleeson's recipe style of highlighting one (sometimes two) high-flavor ingredient is that it makes it easy to try out variations on her foods. The Flavor Bible and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible make experimenting with recipes like Gleeson's particularly easy. These books' authors have interviewed well known chefs to find out what flavors they combine together, then they distill these into lists of amenable flavors. So, for example, if you look up "apricots" you'll get a list of ingredients that taste good with apricots and examples of menu items that use apricots in interesting ways. In the workshop we tried Gleeson's Rosemary Shortbread with the addition of powdered bay leaves. It tasted good. If I were to buy one Flavor Bible or the other, I'd choose the vegetarian version (everything goes with bacon! We know that already!)

Related Resources:
Other posts on this website related to food and cooking in the classroom:

    Addendum on Explorers: 

    We promised the folks who were there on Saturday that we'd include these two explorer-related links:

    Now that you've read this far, it's time to change writerly hats-- this is Jane. And I'd like to give a HUGE shout out to the mastermind of these educator blogs, the woman of many hats, Helen Labun, who is moving on (and less quickly than she'd like to as we are so reluctant to let her go!) to make experimenting with food an actual job description. If you haven't yet heard about her new endeavor, be sure to check out Hel's Kitchen on Barre Street in Montpelier. Delicious international food for take-out and unique eat-in dinners with special menus each week. After last week's Indian feast we're hoping Helen will linger on Indian cuisine for a bit. We'll miss you, Helen! (but Jane will most of all!)

    Wednesday, January 13, 2016

    Cooking Experiments on January 23rd

    January 23rd, at 11:00 am in the Children's Room, Helen Labun kicks off the 2016 Author-Educator workshops with Cooking Experiments - a look at recent cookbooks for kids, the range of topics classes can explore with those cookbooks, and some interesting food for us all to taste.

    Yes, it is the same Helen Labun writing this blog, but we're pretending it's an outside presenter, and talking in the third person.

    Helen's book on how flavor works was published this fall by 99: The Press - Discovering Flavor. It contains many interesting food facts and experiments. Unfortunately, the experiments feature wine, whiskey and black coffee, so aren't a great match for the elementary school classroom, which is why we're featuring other cookbooks, not her own.

    We've previously tackled the topic of food and agriculture in the classroom in a 2013 workshop with Gail Gibbons and Abbey Nelson, the notes from that workshop are linked here. Helen also wrote a related post on the Nerdy Book Club Blog - Top 10 Books for Making Lunch.

    This time the focus is on cooking, which offers plenty of opportunities for learning about a range of topics. There's science, math (measuring), culture, history. . . even, as we'll see, art. Plus, food and cooking engages all of our senses (literally all of our senses - another thing that we'll talk about on the 23rd) making it a great vehicle for remembering information learned.

    Because this is an online preview, we can't hand out actual food samples, so instead here's a sampling of some interesting articles about food, cooking, and creative learning we can do in the kitchen. The articles are primarily for an adult audience, but you'll quickly get a sense of the different insights into the world beyond the kitchen that food can provide to cooks of any age:
    • Local author Rebecca Rupp (How Carrots Won the Trojan War; After Eli) has a regular column on the National Geographic blog The Plate exploring little known facts in food, primarily tied to world history. You can read her columns here. You can read notes from her 2013 Author-Educator talk at Bear Pond "Nonfiction with Personality" here.
    • Other interesting articles on food and social history: The Social History of Jell-O Salad (from Serious Eats);  How the U.S. Military Helped Invent Cheetos (from Wired); The United States of Chinese Food (from Gastropod).We're also writing our own chapter in social history right now with the rise of a "foodie kid" generation, as explored in this article on MasterChef Junior "Behind the Scenes at the Cutest Cooking Show on Television". Vermont has its own version - Junior Iron Chef , a yearly culinary competition.
    • Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of the new cookbook Food Lab, is known for applying the scientific method and controlled experiments to developing recipes for the home kitchen. He began studying science at MIT before deciding that his future was in cooking. Here's one example of his approach to kitchen experiments: The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. Kenji talks about his approach to food and science in "Food + Science = Victory!" from Freakonomics and in this interview with Ed Levine. On the 23rd we'll look at some scientific method-based cookbooks designed specifically for children.
    • One subset of science that's obviously a part of food is nutrition. Here are some kids cookbooks focused on that topic (note that we aren't reviewing these for the 23rd so they are simply FYI links): The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids, Good Enough to Eat, Kid Chef 
    • There's also a lot to be said about food as a way to look at art. The blog Edible Geography often features avant garde projects where art and food meet, like "Ghost Food". A particularly interesting discussion of capturing the spirit of a food through art is in this Edible Geography article "Of Sisters and Clones." On the 23rd we'll look at the work of photographer and cookbook author Erin Gleeson. You can see her work on her website Forest Feast, and her cookbook of the same name. She's coming out with a cookbook for kids this spring, and we'll have an advance copy on hand to look at.
    • You can find some interesting links to articles on how flavor works at Helen's website DiscoveringFlavor.com in the "Extras" section, which provides additional information on topics found in her book. Including videos of people eating rotted shark. Who doesn't want to see those?

    To learn more about cooking and learning in the classroom, be sure to join us on Saturday, January 23rd, at 11:00 am for "Cooking Experiments". This event is free and open to the public. Certificates of attendance are available for educators who can use this workshop towards continuing education credit. Our full schedule of Winter / Spring 2016 Author-Educator events is found at this link. 

    Monday, January 4, 2016

    Gareth Hinds & Graphic Novels in the Classroom

    Former Vermonter Gareth Hinds is best known for his retelling of classic stories (really classic, like Odyssey classic) in graphic novel form. His latest work, a retelling of Macbeth, was highlighted in the New York Times in this review from February of 2015.

    Macbeth will be a focus for Gareth this week, as he visits from his current D.C. home to meet with students at his alma mater, U-32, as well as Montpelier Middle School and High School. Increasingly, educators are looking to Gareth and other graphic novelists as sources of engaging material for classrooms. Once you see Gareth's books, it's easy to imagine how classic stories can come alive on the pages of a graphic novel.

    Gareth's next project turns to Edgar Allen Poe, and he notes ". . . I've adapted four short stories and three poems, selected from Poe's most popular works. Each piece is drawn is a slightly different style and time period, and they range from just faintly macabre (Annabel Lee) to downright terrifying (The Tell-Tale Heart)."

    Gareth talks about his work and how he thinks about it fitting into the classroom in this Teach.Com interview "The Art of Creating Classics." He'll also be a keynote speaker at the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Conference this May, in Fairlee.

    Between now and the Poe publication, you can see Gareth's illustrations in the book Samurai Rising - scheduled to be published February 2nd.

    Our Children's Room manager, Jane, anticipates graphic novels and (more broadly) comics increasing in popularity in the classroom. She says: ". . . with visual technology becoming more prevalent in children's lives at younger ages, I think this medium will be more heavily relied upon as a gateway to reading. . . we're also witnessing graphic novels win major literary awards from organizations like the ALA [American Library Association] in categories that include traditional text . . .I think we'll continue to see the bookshelves fill with new offerings from this publishing phenomenon."

    Some of these books will come from authors and illustrators educated right here in Vermont at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS). Last year, CCS graduate Katherine Roy talked at Bear Pond about using the visual techniques learned in cartoon studies to craft her first picture book, Neighborhood Sharks, which was a finalist for the Sibert Award. The notes on her talk are here. In 2014, CCS announced a new track called "applied cartooning" which focuses on the communications side of cartooning, with skills for conveying information through visual designs. Vermont Public Radio reported on this track and a workshop the Center held for educators in the piece "Cartooning Gets Practical."

    We can expect even more national discussion of graphic novels in the new year as graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang takes on the role of Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He follows the previous ambassador Kate DiCamillo. Gene Luen Yang is well known for his graphic novels "American Born Chinese" and "Boxers and Saints", as well as the Avatar series. His newest series "Secret Coders" intertwines mysteries at a strange school and information about computer programming. You can read a new interview with him posted by the Children's Book Council on the Mr. Schu Reads blog at this link.

    Publishing, teaching, and book review media outlets also see graphic novels/ books and comics as an important trend in classroom teaching. Some recent articles on the subject:
    Plus, some teachers' guides to teaching comics, found via Mr. Schu Reads:

    Unfortunately, we weren't able to bring Gareth to our author-educators workshop series (scheduling conflicts), but hopefully in the near future we'll have an opportunity to look more at graphic novels and comics used in the classroom! And don't forget that he's back in town in May for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Conference - we'll mention it again closer to the time.