Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

seed saving of the kakai

What to do before the weather dips below zero degrees and damages the still-green tomatoes dangling from your plants?

What to do when you want to help farmers and gardeners grow beautiful heirloom pumpkins next year?

kakai pumpkin intro

Well let me tell you!

Last week we had the pleasure of hosting volunteers from ING Direct Canada  for the day. And boy, did we need them with a full-day of harvest activities at both Winchester and Sprucecourt!

ing team fantastic!

Tasha, Alycia, Jen and Dwayne were wonderful volunteers and I know the children really appreciated their company.

comparing pumpkin seeds

In the morning we brought these beautiful Kakai Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) that we procured from our pals at Chocosol to a grade 3 & 4 class at Winchester P.S.. Kakai pumpkins are a Japanese or Austrian variety (depending on who you ask) with gorgeous green and orange stripes, easy to carve skin that are perfect for children’s little hands, and hull-less dark green seeds that are coveted for pumpkin oil production and very tasty to eat!

sorting seeds and making pumpkin mush

The students got their hands dirty removing the pulp and sorting the seeds out in order to engage in the age old activity of seed saving. These seeds are going to be dried and given to Chocosol farmers and gardeners so that that they may grow these pumpkins out on a grander scale. Apparently these seeds go quite well with cocoa. Mmmmmmm.

kakai carving

It was fun to also design the carvings.

designing carving


One of the students even found a kakai pumpkin sprout growing inside!
kakai pumpkin seed sprout!

Scar face kakai pumpkin!
scar face pumpkin

At the end of the pumpkin session I got the students to estimate how many more pumpkins we could potentially grow. If you start out with 5 pumpkins, and end up with approximately, oh let’s say, 1500 seeds, how many pumpkin plants will you end up with? And if each plant produced 5 pumpkins each, how many pumpkins will you end up with in total?!!?!? I like to incorporate mathematics when I can. (GO MULTIPLICATION!)

kakai seeds & maths!

In the afternoon, the ING team and I were able to work in the Sprucecourt staff kitchen with a group of grade 1 & 2 ESL students making tomato apple chutney, using green tomatoes from the school’s garden.  We also planted some plum trees of the Prunus domestica variety, a gorgeous dark purple or yellow specimen. So fun! Even when the onions’ fumes made a bunch of us cry, we still toughened up and kept going.

cutting onions and crying about it!

How to use knives 101.

tomato apple chutney making

Prepping the tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic!

making chutney

Green tomatoes from the Sprucecourt school garden!
green tomatoes from the sprucecourt garden!

Adding onions and garlic!
adding onions & garlic to pot!

Adding brown sugar!
adding brown sugar!

Mixing some spices in!

Ready to cook down!
ready to cook!

A good day’s work I say and all around good times!
Shout out to: Tasha, Dwayne, Alycia and Jenn from ING Direct Canada; Ivan and Michael from Chocosol; and Lauren, Mable, David, Cassie, and Liz.


The children at Sprucecourt ate the chutney on crackers the next day! Yum!

And we got this lovely e-mail from one of the Sprucecourt teachers that I have to share:

Hey Sunday,

I just wanted to thank you and Xuan-Yen for the “Chutney” workshop with the kids on Wednesday at Sprucecourt.  They had a wonderful time with the experience and we got some great writing (and tasting) opportunities out it.  My students loved it and were talking about it for the next two days.  Xuan-Yen, it was wonderful working with you.  I would love copies of those pictures when you get a chance to put up on our bulletin board.  I took some more of them writing the steps and ingredients out and tasting it.  If you are interested I can send them your way. 

Also, we would be open to any other workshops before the big freeze ends the season.  If not, definitely in the spring.

All the best,

                   David Cunningham


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how much does that squash weigh?
Food is something that is important to our well being as a necessity of life but is often not paid attention to.  I was born and raised in the city of Toronto and grew up thinking I knew everything about food and where it came from.  Little did I know that people around me and myself barely scraped the tip of the iceberg.

Growing up as a kid I had to be cautious around food due to my sensitivities and allergies.  It didn’t help that my mom would make sure I didn’t eat foods I haven’t eaten before which can be a potential allergen.  As I hit my teenage years I started to explore other foods with the support of my sister who motivated me to try new foods and to not limit myself.  With the benefits of exploring new foods there was consequences that came with it and it ended up in me lying in a stretcher while paramedics hoisted me up into their ambulance van.

During my senior years in high school I experienced a wake up call at the dentists office where I received 6 fillings in my top front row.  This is where I chose to cut out most of the foods I was eating like chocolate, candy, chips and soda.

Over a period of two and a half years, I’ve made a huge transformation in the foods I eat to assist my healthy lifestyle.  All I wanted 2 years ago was to feel better about myself, improve my asthma and find alternatives to my allergies so I didn’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.  With these goals, I’ve come a long way with doing my own research and purchasing whole foods and snacks without preservatives and additives.  The only problem I have now is the fact that I am limited on finding healthy food that is safe for me and is sustainable.

Also the opportunity last year to work with Green Thumbs and Youth Voices helped me be more aware of food security issues in St. James Town and fresh local food at farmers markets.  Now I enjoy walking into health food stores and organic markets because I feel like I am not only doing a favor for my body with high quality food but I’m also doing a favor for the environment.  Another thing people don’t realize is that by investing in high quality food now, we can limit the medical expenses in the future.

In the present, I have made a huge impact on what my parents purchase and bring home.  With my knowledge I have been able to educate them about certain nutrient dense foods and proper food preparation.  Now I find my mom buying organic carrots and organic spinach and cooking with nothing but extra virgin coconut oil.  Even though my parents don’t agree with everything I tell them I’m glad they support me in my future endeavors.  With all this previous experience, I’m excited to attend Ryerson University for Nutrition and Food in the fall to really learn in depth.  I’ve always had a stomach for good food and a thirst for knowledge.

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November school gardening in Toronto

The school food gardens in east downtown Toronto have been blessed with an exceptionally long and warm autumn, making for a lot of harvested greens, fruits and vegetables like mouse melons, tomatoes, ground-cherries, sunberries, peppers, lemon cucumbers, lettuce, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, okra, coriander, Chinese chives, Tulsi and Genovese basil, dill, bok choy, thyme, and many other varieties by the children.

One of the students new favourite revamped workshops is Nutrition All-Stars. This workshop incorporates harvesting, a fun and competitive nutrition knowledge “game show” challenge, and a food prep component. Children got to make their own homemade salad dressings with herbs from the garden in wide-mouthed mason jars and than taste their creations with greens such as kale from the garden. Each group got to name their salad dressings too. My favourite so far is Magnifique Saladinia Cocktail, which came about because the group members working on the lemon juice, honey, garlic, parsley and chive based dressing could not decide on one name. So combine all three! Amazing!


speciale and magnifique saladinia cocktail Carrots

In terms of building, children and youth have taken advantage of this lovely weather to build more garden beds with Henry’s earthblock bricks from Fifth Wind Farm at three locations.

The Grade 7 students from Ms. P’s class constructed another new earth block bed at Winchester P.S., bringing the total number of food beds over 14 at their school, three constructed out of the sustainable sun-dried local material!

building the earthblock bed

At l’école Gabrielle-Roy the grade 5’s built a new bed too, with some adjustment. Students had to stagger the bottom layer, leaving gaps in between blocks, because we were not able to cut a hole in the concrete in order to allow drainage. This week, we had a giant garden overhaul, where the students ranging from kindergarten to grade 6 worked together to add compost and mulch the beds, and secure and water the seedlings (using the spiffy rainwater collector system the hired youth build over the summer) under the cover of the hoop house. They named the hoop house “Petit Allan Gardens”.

Also, children from the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club in Regent Park helped build an awesome retaining wall at Riverdale Farm in our after-school program.

Other activities still ongoing: composting (Composters of the Month, Build a Worm Bin Compost Challenge), garden club, seed saving, garlic planting, garden prepping for next spring, and season extension (i.e. growing greens under cover!).

Faire un noeud pour "Petit Allan Gardens" Ajoutant de la paille dans le potager de l'ecole

Our garden season extension methods include constructing hoops houses over some of the earthblocks so that we can continue to grow greens all winter long AND get a head start next year!

Green Thumbs was also able to participate at the Eat-In Ontario event in October with various organizations and individuals. 700 GTA students ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12 participated in various curriculum linked garden, food and environmental workshops in front of Queen’s Park.

Also notable was the first Growing Up Together workshop for educators, a collaborative between Green Thumbs Growing Kids, FoodShare, Toronto Public Health and TDSB EcoSchools. Our first session entitled Tasting the Seasons included workshops on planning a food garden on schoolgrounds, a lesson in food miles, incorporating herbs from the garden into pesto making, green smoothies, food safety in the classroom, garlic planting and etc. Thanks to all the teachers, students and educators that made it!

tasting the season workshop tasting the season workshop

Other significant workshops: garden clean up at Allan Gardens with the women from the Centre Francophone de Toronto, and a workshop with 20+ youth from UforChange.

All in all a lot of experiential programs encouraging healthy eating, physical activity and local food consumption!

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It’s March and we can just taste spring in the air, even if there is still snow at our feet. Greenhouse programming will be starting soon, which we are really excited about.

Meanwhile we at Green Thumbs are finishing up our winter programming in classrooms – Colour Me Healthy (a tasty nutrition workshop for grade 1 and 2), Food and Media (a critical look at food marketing workshop for grades 4 and 5), Design Your Own Garden (self-explanatory!), and Mystery Vegetable in A Box (an adaptation of Harvest Blanket from last year for the Kindergarten crowd – a great way for children that age to develop descriptive vocabulary).

This entry however is about cooking with the Eco Club. A couple weeks ago, a group of girls and I made apple crumble with maple syrup (and no sugar!), but I forgot to bring the camera. Thankfully, I didn’t forget this week as a group of four boys and one girl made vegetable jalfrezi, using Jamie Oliver‘s Food Revolution book (the British edition is called Ministry of Food) for recipe inspiration. The best part without a doubt was making the jalfrezi curry paste from scratch.

spice tray

According to this site, Jalfrezi, ‘Jal’ or ‘Jhal’ means spicy hot in Bengal, ‘frezi’ may be derived from Urdu meaning ‘to fry’ or ‘stir fry’. The beauty about curries is that there are so many different variations and nuances to the flavourings – one can adjust accordingly to what they have at their disposal and also their personal preferences! And the students definitely had their opinions about the outcome of our dish and what it should taste like.

We toasted coriander seeds, two types of mustard seeds (rai and sarson), fenugreek seeds and cumin in a little cast iron pan. N. was particularly vigilant hovering over the stove, giving the pan a shake. Him and P. took turns.

spice toasting spice toasting close up


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The second group of students, all girls, from Eco Club decided on making jerk chicken and a rice and peas dish, after much deliberation. Once they saw the recipe, there was no question about what they wanted to make! We used the Stop’s cookbook, which was a favourite of all the Eco Clubs students when we perused piles of cookbooks earlier in the month. They had been hesitating between making jerk chicken with rice and peas, and also wanting to make coleslaw, cheddar biscuits, Broccoli Leek soup, Joshna’s Vegetable Chile, and about a dozen other recipes. I think they also liked the colourful photos that displayed the dishes tantalizingly!

We met up first period to get the marinade ready and so that the chicken would be able to soak up all the lovely spices and herbs.

eco club cooking eco club cooking & planting

This group of students, all girls, also made a salad and were keen to experiment when making the salad dressing. I taught them the basics of making a vinaigrette and they took it upon themselves to grate some fresh ginger – M.’s idea actually. We took turns trying out the dressing, dipping lettuce leaves and sweet pepper to taste, pretending to be food critics.

Garlic and dried thyme from the Winchester garden were incorporated into the recipe. Scotch bonnet pepper seeds were collected and planted under the grow lights in the teacher’s lounge while we waited for the chicken to cook in the oven.


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Winter is a good time to stay indoors and focus more on learning food preparation skills. Also to eat yummy hot foods to fill our stomachs and warm us up!

Eco Club cooking

This week we launched a new cooking program with the Eco Club at Winchester P.S. We are lucky that the school has a kitchen in the art room that isn’t used in the afternoon, and that both teachers and administrators were happy to let us use the space. Even Ms. Charmyne, who makes the students delicious meals at the school for lunch and who uses the garden produce and herbs in her cooking when it is available, lent us some of the kitchen ware we needed. 

The first group of middle schools students decided on making a lasagna (based on Jamie Oliver’s book Food Revolution) and a salad to go with it — just to make it healthier. The week before they planted some Genovese basil under the grow lights we’ve set up in the teacher’s lounge. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready for this week! 

Eco Club cooking

We made a salad with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red pepper, grated carrot and bosc pear. The dressing was made out of lemon juice, olive oil and minced garlic. It would have been nice  to incorporate greens from our own gardens, but so far the salad greens we have growing under cold frames outdoors are still teeny tiny, just like the basil.  The reality too, is that most grocery stores do not have local produce. 





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