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Sprouting noses

Kids hate green foods, it’s a well known fact…. that was mostly disproved in all my classes so far this week. We’ve been making one of my favourite recipes, courgette cakes. It never fails to win over the kids and the parents always tentatively try before exclaiming in a shocked voice ‘ They’re actually really nice!’  The courgette mixes into the batter and the result is a beautifully moist cake that tastes delicious.

A lot of the people that come to class do so because they have real issues with their children eating a varied range of foods. Some will eat just fruit and no veg, some just veg and no fruit and some just pasta, plain and simple and that is that! Cooking and tasting with friends can make a huge difference to a child’s willingness to try. Often the kids come in and you see them watching the children willingly munching away with slight confusion. Why on Earth are they doing that? Then as the weeks go on they realise they are the odd one out and everyone else is tasting but them and slowly a little hand sneaks towards the table and takes a little nibble! Some kids will eat food in class that they’d never try at home. In fact once a Mum secretly used to me her weeks groceries so that I could hand them to her – if they came from my house her son would eat them! Psychology plays a huge part in faddy eating. To me the classes are the ideal opportunity to address this issue, we’re using food, exploring food and so why not taste them? This week I extended the limits somewhat and must admit I worried I was being a tad too adventurous. The cakes went into the oven and the little cooks set about clearing the table and bringing over all their washing up, always good to get them trained from an early age, then they sat in their seats and eagerly awaited this weeks activity which normally involves a tasting session.

This week was no exception, only we were tasting foods even the adults recoiled at! On my plate I had a spinach plant, a raw courgette and lots of raw sprouts. The kids didn’t look fazed at all, always a good start but I was expecting it to be a bit of a challenge so we started slowly. First we tried the courgette cutting it up and seeing how it looked – cucumber was the obvious response, sweetcumber slightly less obvious! But did it taste like a cucumber? They all started munching away and soon enough the courgette has disappeared. Next the sprouts, what do these look like? Little cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuces all were shouted out responses. We spent a bit of time peeling away the leaves, making little patterns in them with our teeth and licking them to make them stick on our noses – one Mum misunderstood the instructions and merrily licked her daughters nose instead of the leaf – if stuck none the less! It seems once a child has put a piece of food to their lips they’re far more likely to then eat them.. and they did, without being prompted their curiosity got the better of them and they were soon munching on their sprouts. Next came the spinach leaf straight from the plant.

They all had a little bowl of water to wash their leaf and make it into a little boat  and then again they started munching and most finished it up! One lovely little boy who comes to class doesn’t eat vegetables at all – he left having eaten all three!

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Corn dogs

This week saw my class making lovely little savoury muffins. These little cakes are slightly heavier and more ‘bready’ in consistency to your normal cakes, contain no sugar, and can be packed with anything you like, cold cooked meats, veggies, leftovers from last nights dinner… we used peppers, tomoatoes, sweetcorn and cheese. Kids love a good cake, be it sweet or savoury, if it looks like a cake it must be a friendly food and for those less keen on anything of a veggie origin you can often convince them the extra bits are there just to make them look pretty!

To coincide with the sweetcorn in the muffins we had some fun looking at and tasting sweetcorn, most were bamboozled by the leafed corn, good guesses all round of cabbage and lettuce and even better excited faces when we peeled back the leaves to show the corn. So we had the corn but how does it turn from a cob, to a whole load of little niblets? Again most excellent suggestions were put forward from knife wielding ninjas, to my personal favourite, a dog in a machine. We think the premise of this ingenious idea was that the dog sat in the machine and nibbled off the niblets – we discussed the merits of the idea but the ultimate conclusion was that it may not pass the stringent health and safety regulations we must adhere too, shame. To prove that the corn can indeed come off of the cob we had a go at munching it off pre-cooked, cold cobs, the kids loved it and it struck me what a great packed lunch filler this would eb. Kids love the taste and they always love somethinga  little quirky. Next was the turn of raw baby corn, another dieal lunch box food, the jury was split. I’d warned them that it crunched into hundreds of little bits which felt a bit odd on teh tongue the first time it tasted them but then, once your tongue was used to the bobbles it was lovely . Some of the kids munched with dubious face waiting for their tongue to become accustomed to the rather alien texture, some gulped it down as fast as they could and others. well, they spat it straight out looking rather disgusted!

 

Photo: Yum!

 

For those of you that didn’t join us, here’s the recipe

2oz Butter – melted

6oz Self Raising Flour

1 Egg

60ml Milk

Fillings

 

* Sift the flour into your bowl and take some small handfuls of your favourite fillings and mix in to the flour.

* Stir in the melted butter

* Stir in the egg (having scooped it from your mat where it escaped to during cracking)

* Stir in the milk

* Give it all a huge mix and split between 6-8 cakes cases.

* Cook for 12-15mins at 220 oC

*

Dancing teeth and tickled tongues!

This week we’re making lemon biscuits in class, and whilst they cook the kids in my groups have been tasted various citrus fruits, oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits. Our activity time is all about exploring the foods around us that quite often we, as parents, just assume our kids know about, but a few were stumped on these, we don’t see them so maybe they grow underground? Maybe they fall from the sky? Great rationalising but sadly not! The answers we get when we probe the kids about the foods and how they grow are fabulous. Once talking about carrots I explained that they grow underground and the soil acts as a big duvet to keep them warm, the leaves grow out so they can gobble up the sunshine and feed the carrots and the roots are like teeny straws sucking up the water from the soil to give the carrots a drink and help them grow. Where does the water come from if they’re in a big field though? Thumbs twiddled and lips were chewed until a very quiet little voice whispered ‘ bunny tears? Definately up there in the top five cute moments!’

I’ve spoken before about a little girl who’d been with me for a while with various disabilities, but also this term I have a very special little girl named Libby. Libby is 4 1/2 and has Downs Syndrome. I was going to write ‘sadly has Down’s syndrome’ but since knowing her that’s not the case, there is nothing sad about Libby. There are some kids that you just want to cuddle and she is one of them. I’ll hold my hands up and openly admit that I’ve always been a little nervous around kids with disabilities but these two little girls have taught me so much, people are people of all shapes and sizes, all strengths and weaknesses, it’s that simple! She is the smiliest most joyful child I know and a true pleasure to have in my class. When we got to tasting this week her Mum looked at me and mouthed that she doesn’t like oranges, in true determined Libby fashion she watched the other kids trying their orange, took a look at hers, looked at the kids, and had a little nibble, then suddenly the whole thing was gone and the smile was very big indeed – on both her and her Mummy!

Libby and her biscuits!

I love citrus week, the faces the kids pull are always entertaining, and more often than not they’ll go back for another curious lick. One little lady couldn’t stop giggling as the lime tickled her tongue, one other described it as making their teeth dance, but nearly all tasted and I now suspect the shop keepers in the area are wondering why their grapefruit and lime sales have spiked this week! As adults we decide what flavours we think are palatable, we have so many preconceptions on good and bad flavours, at the weekend we went to a carvery and my 7 year old was decidely excited that they had both sprouts and red cabbage – it was apparently ‘epic and awesome’ The guy serving thought he was being sarcastic til he started piling them on to his plate! Unfortuantely when asked at school what his favourite foods were he forgot his love of veg and drew a huge battered sausage, ho hum.

If you fancied making some lemon biscuits yourself, here’s the recipe

2.5oz butter

1.5oz Icing sugar

4oz Plain Flour

1/2 lemon juice

Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy, stir in the flour, add the juice and knead into a ball and there you have it! Roll to biscuit thickness and cook for 10 mins at 180oC – though do keep checking as they suddenly cook!

 

What makes a cheese shape cheesy?

So, what does make a cheese shape taste cheesy? Simple enough question you’d think, but no, it had 99% of my little cooks completely stumped this week, raisins? Chocolate? Tomatoes? Even with a bit of phonetic help, starts with ‘ch’….. ends with ‘eese’ they looked well and truly bamboozled! It just goes to show how the seemingly simplest things don’t always appear so, it really is only easy if you know the answer! Having made a lovely cheddery dough, cut out lots of fabulous shapes and sent them over to the oven we set about tasting some cheeses – chedder, always popular, leerdammer with holes, one little boys mirth over these holes was particulalry sweet, Gouda and Port Salut – Gouda being 2nd in the popularity stakes. We chatted about where the cheese comes from … and then where it came from before it was lovingly put on the shelf at various well known supermarkets, and they got it in one, we make cheese with milk. We get milk from cows, and sheep, and goats… and apparently camels. We get eggs from ducks, chickens and dinosaurs though we all agreed you’d need a mighty big pan if using a dino egg, so maybe best just to stick to the chickens. As for the camel milk, well, you learn something every day! Some of the best answers are the completely innocent and often totally correct ones, where do we get milk from…. mummy. What food do we get from a chicken…. spicy wings. I don’t always get the answer I was hoping for. If I did I’m sure my job wouldn’t be nearly so entertaining!

The Humble Crumble

It’s days like this that send Mums into panic. You wake up, it’s cold, dark and wet and by tea time the sun is shining and those of us who ventured out in raincoats and jumpers are hot and sticky and wishing we didn’t have quite so much to carry! It used to be the case we’d look out of the window and decide whther it was a shorts or trousers day, but since moving up a school, my son  now has a winter uniform and a summer uniform. Summer involves a polo shirt and shorts, winter a shirt and tie and trousers. At seven years old, buttons and ties are unconquerable it seems, and so, whether he freezes or not, a summer uniform it is… Where my child is concerned a simple tie really will make a man of him!

Food is the same, after a cold play at the park, splash in the puddles or anything else you may do when the sky is black and you need some fresh air, you need warm hearty food, the most versatile of which is a good old fashioned crumble. If it’s cold they can be served with hot custard, if the sun’s appeared a nice scoop of ice cream Eaten hot or cold the crumble is the king of puds as far as I’m concerned and great to make with your children.

When I tell people what I do they often look confused, in fact I once interviewed an ex-home economics teacher, who taught in a secondary school. She insistantly told me how few things you could do with an eleven year old and so they made pizza using ready made bases and cheese on toast and that was pretty much that – she wasn’t offered a job! I suppose I expect quite a lot from my little cooks, they are given most of their ingredients and then must measure out the final one,I use old fashioned balance scales and the kids love coming to the front and carefully scooping in the flour. They measure, they squidge to rub in, they mix, they roll, they cut, they grate, they chop… they do it all from start to finish with no complaint and happy smiles. Preschoolers are capable of so much more than most of us believe, with a bit of help they can make the most perfect pastry.

Anyway, back to the crumble. here is my very simple recipe that even the kids can make.

Ingredients:

Fruit – your favourite, a mix of apples and pears is lovely, as is plum.

10 oz Plain Flour

7 oz Brown sugar

7 oz Butter

Layer the fruit up in an over proof bowl and then simple rub together all the other ingredients until it starts to go lumpy – then stop before it forms a ball. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon mix in then lay on top of your fruit.

Cook at 200 oC until nicely browned, time will depend on size of crumble!

Enjoy!

Hello world!

So, after months of wasteful procrastination, here it is, a blog for Crafty Cooks, a diary, I hope, of all the things we get up to with lots of very special children around the UK, if you want to know more about the classes and what we actually do do take a quick peek at the ‘about us’ page. My youngest son started school in September, my eldest went up to juniors, it’s on a different site where two schools combine, so a time of relative stress and turmoil. My house is empty between the hours of 8.30-3.30 five days a week and having waited so very long for just an hour of ‘me time’ I now find myself with not the slightest idea what to do with it. I’m not one for massages and pedicures, I sadly find cleaning rather tedious, and to be perfectly honest I quite dislike being home alone for such a long time and so I have upped my classes and have a whole host of little people coming, causing havoc and covering my house and its contents in a shimmery layer of flour!

This term is, I feel, going to be quite a special one for me. Having run classes since 2007 I have seen an array of children, most of whom have stayed for 1-2 years, classes become weekly coffee cornings, minus the coffee, clients become friends and shy chidren start to tell me their life stories… and sometimes to much embarrassment,that of their parents.One thing I’ve not encountered though is working in this arena with disabilities, until that is last term when a beautiful little lady joined my class. The girl in question was born prematurely and has a weakened left side, her speech is very basic but her zest for life, her joy and her excitement at coming to class is very special. Each week I feel rather humbled to have had her join me and to be able to watch her grow in strength and confidence. This term she is bringing her brother along to join in the fun, he’s going to have to work quickly to keep up! In my past life I worked for Guide Dogs for the blind and am now, once again reminded just how rewarding it can be to work with people of impairment.

I have lots of very fond memories of clients past. One such memory was the week where we made soda bread in the shape of hedgehogs, one little girl sat and painstakingly made the prickles, added little raisin eyes and sculpted a perfect tray of hedgehogs…. and then she raised her fist and slammed it down on each and every one of them in turn. The table gasped, ‘what on Earth are you doing?’ her confused mother asked. The girl looked confused and then quite simply stated ‘hedgehogs are always squished when we see them’ well, what could we say, she had a point!

Then there are the memories of success. I think feeding your child is quite often the most utterly thankless task that a mother can do, you look for recipes you think they’ll love, you cook with love and serve up with expectation. They take one look and decide there and then that your time has been wasted and a pizza would have been a far better use of your time and resources. As if this isn’t bad enough, the parents of those with a more discerning palate, also face much criticism from many piers.. and parents (often theirs) I have had many a fussy child come cooking and can honestly, hand on heart say that a lot of the time there is no discernible reasoning as to why that child is wary of food, they just are. Maybe they had reflux and food hurt them, maybe they had a bad experience, maybe they are just wary of putting strange objects in their mouths – either way such children definately exist and their parents are quite often driven to complete and utter distraction! When a child comes to class and leaves having discovered a new food that they like, that is a good day. When the (albeit pregnant and hormonal) Mum* has to leave the room as she wells up when her child crunches a piece of pepper in a bid to win a crunching competition, then looks at it in his little hand in a most confused manner before taking another bite, that is a very good day indeed!

* Sorry Nichola!