Salty and Sweet

image (6)This summer marks a second year of trying our own version of summer camp at home, rather than spend hundreds of dollars each week for our kids to attend theme camps.  Each day is filled with fun, low-cost or free adventures, hands-on projects, and learning about science, history, and art.  We intersperse each day with plenty of free play and add an hour of “relaxation time” after lunch so I get a break too!  A lot of Stroller Hikers have asked for more information on what we’re doing, so we’ll post about them and link them to the curriculum page of Stroller Hikes.

Summer Camp with Mom 2: Raw Foods

image (5)We started the day with a brainstorm of foods we eat raw, adding lists of pictures or words to journals.  The kids had more trouble with this than I had expected, so I added questions about what grows locally.  After we went through their lists, we pulled out a Bay Area Map, and labeled it up with items harvested from the area.  I made little post-it notes with names of foods and city names, picking cities I thought the kids knew.  Brussel Sprouts – Santa Cruz.  Strawberries – Watsonville.  Apricots and Cherries – Sunnyvale.  Fennel and Picklegrass – Alviso.  Plums, Peaches, and Cherries – Brentwood.  Cotton and Tomatoes – Bakersfield.  Garlic – Gilroy.  And more!  We concluded our exploration of local foods with a local food taste-test, with each child donning a blindfold, then trying to name a food being tasted.  The big stumpers were zucchini (confused for cucumber) and apple (confused for potato).

After a little free play, we donned our aprons from the day before, and whipped up some hummus.  Each kid was assigned an ingredient to add.  Hummus is really just a bean puree with some olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and tahini (sesame seed paste).  We also added some garlic, cumin, paprika, pepper, and a splash of water.  We used a can of drained garbanzo beans (if you peel them, the paste is smoother, but we didn’t bother).  A few whirs of the food processor later (a favorite step shared by all), and some careful tasting and salting by these young chefs, and we were diving in with carrot, celery, cucumber, and pepper sticks, corn, and some crackers.

Here is our Hummus Recipe:

15 ounces drained garbanzo beans (ideally peeled)

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (or more, to taste)

¼ cup tahini (or more, to taste)

1 clove minced garlic or 1 roasted, skinned bell pepper

2 Tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt (or more, to taste)

½ teaspoon cumin

2-3 Tablespoons water

Dash each of paprika and ground pepper


Bellies full, we headed out to Alviso for a hike.  I had wanted to take the kids to a place where they could harvest their own salt and taste picklegrass.  Alviso can get really dry sometimes, so you can walk out on the edge of an old salt pond and peel up a nice layer of salt.  Today, however, the ponds were rather wet, so we settled to sit on a log alongside one, and taste just a little salt with our fingers.  The kids also sampled pickgrass and smelled fennel fronds, which both grow wild here.

We had lunch and relaxation time at home, so the group could reset.  My original plan of a salad bar was unanimously vetoed by the kids, and they voted for PB &J.

TongueNTasteAfter our Alviso salt venture, the plan had been to take our salt and compare it in shape, color, odor, and taste to a variety of other salts.  Finishing salts are very fashionable right now, and it’s easy to find a range of them at high end or natural cooking stores, like Sprouts or Whole Foods.  My sister had sent me five as a gift, so we broke them out to do some observational science.  We made a table of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  We skipped sound of course, but all salts offered lots of observations for each category.  The kids added a dose of humor and genuine perspective to the experience.  They didn’t like the charcoal-flavored Hawaiian Salt, yet couldn’t stop tasting it.

To balance the saltiness, we did a honey taste test at the same time.  We tried three types of honey: blackberry, clover, and orange.  Honey is named for the predominant flowers being pollinated by the bees that produce it.  The kids could taste the differences, and experiencing a new taste sensation got us thinking about the different parts of the tongue associated with different tastes: sweet at the tip of the tongue, salty, then sour, then bitter along the sides moving front to back.  The older kids tried tasting honey at the tip,image (7) then at the sides, and indeed, there seemed to be a difference.  We drew a tongue and the kids added a drawing of it to their journals.  Out came more hummus and they tried tasting it in different places, too.

I was surprised how little the kids could tell me about where honey comes from.  As a very popular raw food, locally produced, I thought they could tell me a lot.  But there were clear holes in their knowledge.  We turned to YouTube for some videos of bees and bee keepers, making honey, harvesting wax, and using steam or smoke.  There were bee keepers handling the bee hives without gloves on, and the video instructed us that when the queen bees were calm, so was the rest of the hive.

We took a break to experience the harried-bee and calm-bee interaction ourselves (happily without stingers).  Out came balloons, a favorite in our house.  Sharpies in hand, the kids colored eyes and stripes on their balloons.  We had yellow bees, purple bees, and even black bees.  We bounced them around when they were calm… then stressed!  Then calm… then stressed!  Lots of giggles as we transitioned to free play.Candle

Our last activity of this busy day was to roll beeswax candles, applying the “must be tight” rule we had practiced, making sushi the day before.  After one more free play, we settled down to watch “Bee Movie,” revisiting some of the bee ecology and human dependence we had explored that day, and filling in some of the knowledge gaps kids had about the bee and honey connection.

– Debbie (Founder), Max (8), Holly (4), and Andrew

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