Gifts from the Kitchen: Rosemary Ginger Syrup, Peppermint Pretzel Sticks, and Pomegranate Chocolate Bark

IMG_1408For our last class before holiday break, I promised the kids we would make gifts. Choosing a recipe proved difficult, however. Cookies? Bread? Jam, jelly, pickles? Granola? One of my favorites, spicy herbed nuts?

Kids being kids, nothing delights like candy, so when a poll of Facebook friends leaned toward peppermint bark — the best use of candy canes imaginable — I decided to shop for chocolate, which can be expensive. Adding pretzel sticks to the mix would require less , so I decided to do that and make a gift of the good stuff (70% Theo’s). Who doesn’t like to dip things in chocolate? Candied orange peel, dried apricots, or figs are tasty alternatives. Onions, scorpions, and watermelon are probably not.
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To up the festive quotient, I wore a Santa hat, set out cheddar and crackers, and put on some holiday music to greet the students. But first, I told them, we have serious business to cover, and wrote on the chalkboard: “Food is not just fuel. Food is also _____. They cheerfully called out options: Tradition! Family! Fun! Decoration! Taste!

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Yes to all of that. The “story of food” aspect of the Nourish curriculum is something I return to frequently; it helps balance the nutritionism or reductivism of corporate marketing (low fat! enhanced! fortified!) and the food Puritanism that can divide us socially, with vegans one end and omnivores on the other. While it’s great to familiarize kids with nutrition concepts — particularly the value of biological diversity — no rarefied scientific or culinary knowledge is needed to eat well. Reading food labels is good, but learning how to cook unlabeled food is better, and knowing how to eat the rainbow will generate better health than any government-issued pyramids or pie charts.

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Next, I jotted “food justice” on the board and asked if anyone knew what it meant. The kids looked into their teacups. Does it mean when you cut some cake to share with your sibling, both pieces have to be the same size? Silence. Does it mean that everyone, no matter where she or he is in the world, should have enough to eat? Vigorous nodding, and grim expressions.
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Kids know. This generation may be more aware than any previous of the inequities in our society. By the time a child in Seattle reaches middle school, even one with a low FRE (free and reduced lunch) population like McClure, it is amply evident that not everyone starts on the same base. As I looked at their serious faces, I momentarily regretted bringing up the topic, but what better time to talk about hunger than the holidays, when toy drives and Salvation Army kettles are everywhere, donations to food banks spike, and  kids are called on to give as well as receive? I encouraged them to feel the discomfort about fairness that the subject deserves, but not to despair. They can do things, now as students and later as leaders in their families and communities, to address hunger and promote food equity. It begins, fundamentally, with placing a high value on sharing. We discussed ways to share food: invite someone to dinner, make soup for a sick neighbor, take groceries to a food bank, donate to Heifer (where you can buy perpetual food sources in the form of animals, e.g., goats, pigs, ducks, and even honeybees.

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Having talked more than usual, I was eager to begin the practical part of the lesson, beginning with a gift the kids would make for themselves: an enfused syrup they could use in January to flavor their tea (we didn’t have enough jars to send it home).  We used a 1:1 ratio of water to sugar and added chunks of fresh ginger from the freezer (the best place to store it!) and rosemary from my garden. The fragrance was lovely.

While the syrup simmered on the stove, we sampled fruits that are popular during the holidays: kumquats (“mini oranges!”) and pomegranates. The kumquats were too bitter for some, but the pomegranates were a hit, and deseeding them involved vigorous whacking with a wooden spoon. Whacking was also required to crush the fancy organic candy canes. Unzipped from their cello wrappers and sealed in plastic bags, they were whacked, stomped on, and smashed with rolling pins, but they resisted. Organic sugar is apparently less brittle-making than corn syrup. We finally resorted to butcher knives, making acceptably small chips and a good deal of candy dust. The kids were self-disciplined about not snacking as they worked, but a stern tone was needed to draw their attention away from the candy so I could explain the kitchen scale.

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After they had learned how to tare (zero) a scale so a container isn’t weighed with its contents, they divided into teams. Those who had not tempered before tended the double boilers, and the rest prepared an assembly line with bowls of pretzel rods and foil-covered baking sheets. Their eagerness to get their hands dirty was palpable.

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One side of the table dipped pretzels in white chocolate, the other in dark. The kids rotated stations so those who wanted to dip got a chance to dip, and those who preferred to sprinkle got to do that.

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What a grand mess was made. Soon five cookie sheets of pretzel sticks were full, and each student invited to sample their handiwork. Who would have guessed that kids would love 70% chocolate? Into the small amount remaining, they stirred pomegranate seeds, swirling the white and dark chocolate together for a marbled effect. One of the students would take this treat home for her dad, who can’t eat gluten.

IMG_1440When the dishes were cleared, plenty of chocolate and fruit consumed, and messy hands washed up, the kids got busy wrapping their gifts in cello bags tied with garden twine. I  encouraged them to personalize the little tags, although some of them chose not to. Perhaps they didn’t want to decide, right then, who deserved such a grand gift. Perhaps they would share it with friends on the bus ride home. No matter. It’s all good.

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“Life is sustained by food and food is life, thus, to give food to others is like giving life to them.” Mahabharata

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RECIPES
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Rosemary Ginger Syrup

A lovely addition to sparkling water, herbal tea, or lemonade. Makes about 2 ½ cups.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2 cups of water
  • 4 or 5 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 inch knob of fresh ginger, roughly chopped

Directions

Mix ingredients in a small pot over medium-high heat. Once syrup reaches a boil, turn heat to low and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat and steep 30 minutes. Strain and refrigerate until use.

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Peppermint Pretzel Sticks

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 pound white chocolate, chopped
  • 6 ounces candy canes or peppermint candies, crushed
  • Two 12-oz packages whole wheat pretzel sticks

Directions

  1. Melt dark chocolate over a double boiler until smooth.
  2. Dip ⅔ of pretzel stick in chocolate, wiping excess on rim of bowl, and set on foil-covered baking sheet. Sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy.
  3. Repeat with remainder of one package of pretzel sticks.
  4. Melt white chocolate and repeat process above. When set, package in airtight tin.

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Pomegranate Chocolate Bark

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds

Directions

  1. Melt chocolate over a double boiler. Remove from heat.
  2. Mix about half of the pomegranate seeds into chocolate.
  3. Spread on foil-covered baking sheet and sprinkle with remaining seeds.
  4. Refrigerate until set, at least 30 minutes.
  5. Break into pieces. Seal in tin, or put in pretty packages for gifts.

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Tags: , , ,

Categories: Dessert, Gluten-Free, Kid Favorite

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