This was the fourth year I’ve taught cooking at the Run a Luncheonette Camp with Noah Mayer. Noah thinks up and organizes fascinating, hands on experiences through which children can learn about themselves and the world year round at his school and home school resource center Brooklyn Apple Academy. The cooking camp is one of many programs that they offer and if you have kids or (like me) are just interested in alternative education, I encourage you to check them out!
We run this camp every summer for a week at the Sunview Luncheonette in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The Sunview is an old, classic Luncheonette turned social club where members can hold community events, such as teaching young people how to cook and then helping them to prepare and serve a big dinner to their families at the end of the week. The woman behind the Sunview, who ran it as a diner with her husband for many years and then decided to make it into a community center, passed away last Spring. As NYC continues to grow and change, let’s all take a moment to hold her as inspiration for how true community spaces can be created and nourished. On the luncheonette website it says….”The Sunview Luncheonette is a storefront on pause, a member-based social club, a sometimes microvenue for art, poetics, regionalism, mutual aid, and commoning. It is resistant to traditional forms of commerce, commodification, and to gentrification. It is above all, an “approach,” and least of all, an “outcome.” It is unknown. It is hopeful. It saves you a seat at the counter.” Amen.
Each year, we choose a focus for cooking camp. Year one focused on food science/ magic with dairy and produced a delicious Italian menu. Year two was all about Asian Food and reducing kitchen waste by using every part of the food product. Last year, we did all vegan and gluten-free cooking. I’m sad to say that I never got a blog post up last year, but all of those vegan and gluten free recipes are up on this blog…although the kids last year created some stunning chia seed pudding recipes that really should have gotten recorded…sorry. This year, we wanted to learn more about food of the Americas (specifically Mexico and Central America). I am in no way an expert on this cuisine, so we were all learning together!
We had a truly spectacular group of children cooking this year. For the first time in all four years we had some girls (other than me)! Yay girls! This whole group was so into cooking and so hard-working that Noah and I had trouble coming up with enough cooking activities to keep them busy! In addition to having some excellent knife skills and enthusiasm for cleaning and doing dishes they had some very sophisticated, adventurous and dependable palates.
Each morning, we teach some basic knife and food prep skills through preparing all of the ingredients needed for the dishes we are making for our lunch that day. Then we lay out all of the prepped ingredients and let the kids make their own versions of each dish. Each child is responsible for tasting and seasoning their dish so that it suites their own palate. Then we eat what we’ve made for lunch. When we come up with something good we put it on the menu to prepare for the big dinner to serve the parents.
The 2018 Menu
For the table
Simple Pickled Radishes
Spicy Tomatillo Salsa
Sweet Corn and Tomato Salsa
Agua De Jamaica
Elote with a choice of spicy or not spicy crema
Freshly made Sopas with…
pinto or black beans
carrot slaw or red cabbage slaw
optional sour cream
Flan with fried sweet plantains
Some of these are real recipes. Knowing how to follow a recipe is a useful cooking skill. Some of these are sketches for a dish, because knowing how to improvise, taste and adjust a dish on the fly to suite your tastes is possibly an even more useful cooking skill!
MYA’S SIMPLE PICKLED RADISHES
- Red radishes, scrubbed, trimmed and quartered
- lime juice
Mix it all together. The radishes will sweat out bright pink juices and become delicious pickles in a couple of hours. You can store them for a long time in a mason jar in the fridge. Noah said that his wife Mya likes to refer to the pink radish juice as “The blood of my enemies”.
SPICY TOMATILLO SALSA (created by Mathilda)
- Tomatillos husked, rinsed and quartered
- poblano chili peppers
- jalapeno chili peppers
- garlic peeled and minced
- cilantro, rinsed and minced stems and all
- lime juice
- olive oil
- The Tomatillos were simmered until they broke down.
- The chili peppers were roasted whole in a broiler until their skins were charred. Then the stems were pulled out and discarded.
- The tomatillos, roasted peppers, garlic and cilantro were all pureed together.
- The salsa was way too hot! Mathilda (12 years old) added salt, sugar, vinegar, lime juice and olive oil until the balance of flavors was correct and the fire was tamed a bit.
*Please note that while Mathilda was the primary taster/ creator for this salsa the preparation of all of the ingredients was a group effort.
SWEET CORN AND TOMATO SALSA (created by Manfred)
Here are all of the ingredients that Manfred (age 8) included in his excellent salsa. The key is to taste as you add and season liberally with salt.
- chopped tomatoes
- cooked corn scraped off the cob
- minced fresh garlic
- minced scallions
- minced red onions
- minced cilantro
- lime juice
- minced fresh jalapeño (just a bit)
- cumin seeds freshly ground with a mortar and pestle (grinding by Shaina, age 7)
*Please note that while Manfred was the primary taster/ creator for this salsa the preparation of all of the ingredients was a group effort.
GUACAMOLE created by Naomi (10), Cora (8) and Mathilda (12)
Here are all of the ingredients that team guacamole included in their profoundly good guacamole.
- minced garlic
- lime juice
- minced red onion
- minced cilantro
- diced tomato
- minced jalapeno (just a little)
HORCHATA made by Mathilda (12) and Shaina (7) from the following recipe…
- 1 cup long grain white rice
- 5 cups water
- ½ cup milk
- ½ Tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup white sugar
- Blend the rice and water for 1 minute. Let stand at room temp for at least 3 hours
- Strain, add the rest of the ingredients.
- Chill and serve on ice
*Naomi (10) suggested that we make ice-cream out of Horchata and I think it’s a genius idea.
AGUA DE JAMAICA (hibiscus tea)
- 2 cups dried hibiscus flowers (Sold as Jamaica in Mexican groceries, Sorell in Caribbean groceries)
- 2 quarts cold water
- 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
- additional water
- Combine hibiscus flowers and cold water in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let the concentrate cool.
- Divide the concentrate between three half-gallon pitchers and dissolve 1/2 cup sugar in each. Fill each pitcher with additional water. If you don’t need to make this much Aqua de Jamaica all at once, you can store the concentrate in the fridge in a glass container until you want to make a pitcher.
- Serve over ice
Naomi (10) also suggested that we make sorbet out of the aqua de jamaica and I think it’s a ANOTHER genius idea.
We just boiled our corn on the cob, because we didn’t have a grill. Matilda made two kinds of crema. Both were half mayonnaise and half Mexican crema with a bit of minced garlic and lime juice. The spicy one (which was awesome) had some dry chipotle powder and dry ancho powder. Ivan (pictured above) plated his elote beautifully with a sprinkling of crumbly Mexican cheese, cilantro leaves and lime wedges.
SOPAS (extra thick, freshly made tortillas)
Everyone made a batch of dough and pressed them into thick tortillas. But there was a crew that got especially good at forming the sopas into the correct shape after the initial dry frying. Sidney (7) was an absolute sopa forming machine, but Manfred (8) Elijah (9) and Ivan (8) stuck with it through the home stretch too. They formed 75 sopas! So, this was a big job.
We used the excellent recipe and illustrated instructions from Mexico in My Kitchen. The only thing we have to add, is that we tried it with both the tortilla press and the glass pie plate method and found the glass pie plate technique WAY easier.
PINTO BEANS AND BLACK BEANS
I’m not even sure who took this on…that’s how independent this group of young chefs were. SOMEONE took the beans that we soaked and cooked and seasoned them fabulously with…
- sautéed onions
- sautéed garlic
- minced cilantro
- cumin seed freshly ground in a mortar and pestle
- dry chipotle chili powder
And then they mashed them up! I think it may have been Mathilda and Manfred who may someday soon open an excellent brother and sister fine dining establishment.
Here is a fabulous picture of Naomi’s perfectly plated soaps with pinto beans.
RED CABBAGE SLAW
Dressing made by Mathilda, veg prep by Naomi (with help from everyone)
We really wanted to make this amazing jicama and corn slaw. I was so excited to introduce the kids to jicama, as it is one of my favorite vegetables and, I think, highly underrated. Our plan was foiled though, because we could not find a single jicama that was not rotten! So, we made two batches of the amazing slaw recipe, one with red cabbage and one with grated carrots. All but one of the kids (Cora, pictured below) preferred the red cabbage slaw to the carrot slaw and I agree with the majority. Also, Shaina and Naomi like the red cabbage just plain. Anyway, try the jicama slaw recipe with either jicama or red cabbage and you will not be sorry. It’s delicious.
Noah used the classic flan recipe that can be found on the Martha Stewart website or in your copy of Joy of Cooking. He does it with plain milk (no cream, half and half or condensed milk) and skips the straining of the custard. The important thing is that it is thrilling to make caramel, at any age. The kids made multiple batches of caramel, some for the flan and some to pour over apples and pretzels. It’s magic!
We tried to make meringues out of the leftover egg whites, but the oven at the Luncheonette was not doing low temperatures so they ended up like brûlée marshmallows. If you want to make really good meringues with kids you can find directions at the cooking camp post from the first year…but also make sure your oven does low temperatures.
As I mentioned before, the whole group was very hardworking, but I want to give a few final shout outs. I don’t have many pictures of Sal because he wasn’t able to come on the big dinner day. Sal was the youngest kid at camp (6 years old) and he was fearless and enthusiastic in the kitchen. Every time the topic of doing dishes came up. he would declare “I love to do dishes!”
I also want to mention Bea (age 10, hiding under her hat in the photo below), who sharpened knives, minced A LOT of the ingredients that other kids used in their recipes and did hours and hours of dishes without clogging up the very difficult to deal with sink. Basically, she was the grease that made this year’s dinner go smoothly. Seriously, I’d hire this girl to work in a professional kitchen if labour laws didn’t prevent it.
OTHER GOOD STUFF THAT WE ATE…
We didn’t serve this for the big dinner, but for lunch one day we had steamed corn tortillas filled with black beans, fried sweet plantain, Oaxacan string cheese, guacamole and sour cream…and I might never get over how delicious they were. Here is a photo of me frying plantains.
We also dipped corn chips into melted chocolate. Here is photographic evidence of the joy…
Also! This year, Noah took the kids on field tips to…
- Smiling Hogshead Ranch, an urban farm collective whose mission is to create a culture that empowers and connects our communities through ecology, education and collaboration.
- The Museum of Food and Drink, a museum that brings the world of food to life with exhibits you can taste, touch, and smell.
PAST COOKING CAMP POSTS…