Ever the diligent volunteers, my friend Chantal and I arrived at Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School to support our new pet project, Recipe for Success. Founded by philanthropist Gracie Cavnar, Recipe for Success is a non-profit charity that has been active in five fortunate Houston I.S.D. schools for the last four years.
The primary goal of RFS is to combat childhood obesity. Students are taught that nutritious food comes from the ground and not at a drive-thru window or in a sealed plastic bag or box. The Foundation hopes to increase the students’ awareness and appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables by teaching them how to garden and harvest their crops. They then use the produce in simple recipes using basic cooking techniques.
To help inspire the kids, well-known local chefs volunteer their time in the classrooms. With the help of Houston’s own Monica Pope of t’afia, chef participation has grown to include the likes of chefs Randy Evans, Robert Del Grande, David Luna, Randy Rucker, Bryan Caswell, Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera and many, many more.
Rodriguez Elementary is lucky to have chef Mark Wilson as its full-time instructor. Here he assists students with the dressing for 1-2-3 Salad.
A former Broadway actor, musician and playwright, chef Wilson does an excellent job of capturing the students’ attention!
Students took turns at whisking the vinaigrette to the count of 10. As an added bonus, the ever enthusiastic Chantal, a Belgian Francophile, broke out into her native French and taught the kids to count from 1 – 10! They also learned a new word – emulsion. They’re not just making any old salad – this is a gourmet salad with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese and walnuts. Love it!
At each participating campus, the Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ program uses an organic garden as an outdoor classroom. This expansive garden at Rodriguez Elementary has about 18 raised beds. Each grade level is responsible for three of them. I came away with a bunch of the most beautiful flat-leaf parsley that you will see in my next post.
Let’s see how big this pumpkin can grow!
These basil plants are setting their seeds. Here the students learn about perennials and planting from seed.
Newly harvested sweet potatoes and delicate lettuce leaves. Look at the size of those tubers!
Believe it or not, after the dressing was made, there was a mad dash to do the dishes, which I’m sure rarely happens at home! Chef Dwain, an intern with RFS, prepares sweet, salty, bitter and sour ingredients for a tasting of flavors – and a fancy new word entered their culinary vocabulary: UMAMI
The view from the dishwashing stand is to this pretty atrium: bird feeders, a small pond, fruit trees, potted herbs, raised beds, a compost barrel and a busy teacher named Mrs. Silverstone!
Decorated pots in the atrium.
This cutie enjoyed sweeping the floor.
All in all, the students are exposed to healthy cooking ingredients which have sadly become foreign to many households. Most students loved the salad and also the feta cheese and asked for more - a sure sign that young palates are much more receptive to delicious and healthy fare than we give them credit for.
Our beautiful Houston fall weather prompted a fun picnic between the vegetable beds. Students lined up for a ‘wrap’ of salad greens served with their own home-made salad dressing served by Mrs. Silverstone and Chantal. Many came back for more…and more. It was an encouraging sight!
This 1-2-3 Salad includes fresh mixed salad greens and is supplemented with nuts, grains, cheese and just a little bit of sugar (in the form of honey in this recipe). It provides more precious nutrients than the oppressively sweet cereals and processed foods targeted at our school-aged children.
1-2-3 Salad, adapted from the original recipe by chef Monica Pope
2 - 3 large handfuls of mixed lettuce (choose a mixture for color, texture and flavor), washed and patted dry on a towel
¼ cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)
½ cup fruit (dried or fresh)
¼ cup cooked grains or pasta (quinoa, orzo, couscous)
¼ cup cheese (feta, parmesan, blue cheese)
For the dressing: (use about half of this recipe for 4 people)
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Make the dressing by putting balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk quickly to combine. Add olive oil, drop by drop, as you whisk the dressing quickly. The dressing will thicken and emulsify and resemble a deep caramel color. Set aside.
To assemble the salad place in a bowl the lettuce mix, nuts, fruit, grains and cheese. Check the dressing: if it is very thick, add a little lemon juice or water to it. Add 1/4 cup of dressing and toss to combine all ingredients. Add more dressing, if desired. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if necessary.