Very Local Jerky

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Eastern Oregon, which has mountain ranges and scenic byways with names like “Elkhorn,” boasts a strong and proud hunting culture.  Hunting in Oregon has seen many changes and techniques over the centuries and through different cultures. So has the act of drying meat in the form of what some of us know today as “jerky.” We’ve been exploring food preservation in Mr. Flanagan’s 4th grade class and are learning about how Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have dried meats, berries and other foods for centuries.  We learned about methods for drying fish naturally in a video called Dry Fish/Smoke Fish, part of the Day in Our Bay community-based storytelling initiative in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Because our sun and heat supply is understandably short this time of year, we opted to make jerky using a modern tool: the dehydrator. Sourcing the meat was a synch. Our hunter? The fourth grade teacher himself.

For about 8 lbs mixed deer back strap and elk tip steak (cut into 1/4″ strips), we used the following recipe:

1.5 cups soy sauce (try Bragg’s Liquid Aminos as an alternative)

8 oz. orange juice

1 cup brown sugar

12 dashes liquid smoke

4 tsp onion powder

4 tsp garlic powder (not salt!)

4 tsp black pepper (use less for less spicy jerky)

4 Tbsp salt (you could use less if you cure the meat a day ahead with Kosher or sea salt)

Rub the meat with the dry spices. Heat the soy sauce, orange juice, brown sugar and liquid smoke in a saucepan until sugar dissolves. Let cool. Pour the sauce over the meat and marinate overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, dehydrate at 145-155 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 4 hours followed by 10 minutes in a preheated 275 degree oven.  I obtained the dehydrating instructions and other awesome tips from Wisconsin Extension’s Making Safe Jerky in a Home Dehydrator.  Please follow instructions carefully when drying meat to ensure that harmful pathogens are destroyed and that your jerky has a long shelf life.

Almost needless to say, the 4th graders (and anyone within smelling distance) loved the jerky!  The dehydrator camped out in Mr. Flanagan’s classroom and drew a cozy crowd during reading time.

jerky dehydrator photo


National School Lunch Program – Kids’ Roles

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The USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has implemented new nutrition standards that aim to feed our nation’s children healthier, more balanced meals at school.  Without going into detail about the program’s specific nutrition policies and reimbursement rates, I want to talk about where students fit into the picture.  First let’s get a few terms out of the way.  Some NSLP schools implement “Offer versus Serve” (OVS) at lunchtime, meaning students have the option of declining some of the food offered; this helps reduce the food waste that inevitably arises when children take food they don’t intend to eat.

Under OVS, NSLP schools offer all five ‘components’ (really similar to what we know as ‘food groups’: meat/meat alternate (protein), grains, fruit, vegetable, fluid milk), and students must take 3 of the 5 components, including a half-cup of fruits or vegetables and two other full components.  After giving this rule verbatim to our 4th and 5th graders I jokingly asked, “Confused yet?” Most agreed that the guideline is a bit wordy, and the word ‘component’ threw off a few kids. Without the fancy explanatory posters and with a shrinking lunchtime, some schools may find it difficult to instill this maxim. So we came up with a new slogan:

“Take 1/2 cup of fruits or veggies and (at least) two other food groups.”

We’ll be encouraging students to choose all 5 for the best nutrition, but this will at least start them on the right track. Using this slogan coupled with student-made art projects that show the five food groups (including highlighting milk as the main dairy component), we hope to help students see their part in the program in a fun and easy-to-understand way.  Education is also essential–the more students know about nutrition and their options, the more likely they are to see this as a well-informed principle rather than as a rule. There are important standards that underpin the original guideline–including type and amount of each component (i.e. whole grains, fresh fruits or those canned in light syrup) that we don’t feel are lost with this new catchphrase.  Before even approaching these rules, though, it’s important to teach lessons about serving sizes using MyPlate or similar materials (like Nutrition Fun with Brocc and Roll!). Once kids understand what a serving of veggies or meat looks like and how much to have per day, they’re more capable of making informed decisions about their food habits.

Please feel free to e-mail me at if you’d like a copy of the PowerPoint I used to teach students about following nutritional guidelines.  It includes super exciting animation and practice slides (so that students can look at a tray and see what components are present or missing.)  Thank you for reading!

Breakfast Quinoa with Pre-K!

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In North Powder’s Little Badgers Preschool, we made breakfast quinoa (thank you, Martha Stewart!) to see how it stacked up against popular U.S. breakfast grains like oatmeal.  The milk, cinnamon, brown sugar (or try honey!) and Oregon blueberries created a creamy, sweet and fruity combination that a majority of the preschoolers really liked.  We used dairy milk in the classroom, but when I cooked this at home I opted for rice milk and it imparted a nice semi-sweet taste. The few preschoolers that didn’t care for this dish were still brave enough to try something new–which is often what nutrition and cooking programming is all about.  We’re proud of our Little Badgers for venturing into new breakfast territory!

In the U.S., quinoa (pronounced keen-wah, from the Quechua ‘kinwa’) has become a wildly popular alternative “grain”.  Unlike true grains and cereals, though, quinoa is a pseudocereal and what we eat are actually the plant’s seeds.  Quinoa is a member of the Chenopodium family (a.k.a. goosefoot, chenopod) which includes favorites like beetroot and spinach.  While most of the world’s quinoa comes from throughout Andean region of South America, some farmers–even in Oregon–are finding success with quinoa crops grown in the U.S.  It’s definitely possible to grow and harvest quinoa west of the Cascades, and you receive the added bonus of edible quinoa leaves!  The process of harvesting the seeds by hand, however, can be incredibly slow.

When buying quinoa from your local grocery store, look for brands that are fair trade; these companies aim to provide liveable, fair wages to the hardworking growers and shippers who provide this ancient food in such enormous quantities. Even with fair trade labeling, there is still controversy in the global quinoa market.  As with the many imported foods consumed in the U.S., it’s always a good idea to research the region in which your favorite foods are grown to make sure companies are treating farmers and community members fairly.

Healthy Holiday Treats!

Parade & Bazaar 008Wintertime holidays and traditions often include deliciously sweet treats.  Even the healthiest of eaters indulge this time of year–and it’s probably because these recipes are often connected to a deeper sense of tradition, culture and identity.  Last week we talked about how fried foods commemorate oil during Hanukkah, but that doesn’t mean we want to eat latkes fried in oil every day of the year. There’s something sacrosanct about certain dishes or festivals or meals that can’t be “healthed” into something else, with good reason.  That being said, I did think it’d be fun to throw out a couple healthy holiday cookie options, and I was thrilled to see how willing and excited the kids were to try something a little unfamiliar!  Perhaps they can grow up with a new addition to a vibrant array of wintertime recipes; after all, traditions have to start somewhere.

Kindergarten and 5th grade kicked off our health holiday cookie experiment by trying healthier gingerbread cookie toppings–peanut butter instead of frosting (always check for allergies in the classroom and rules at the school about peanuts); shredded coconut for beards, hair and fuzzy mittens; and yogurt-covered raisins for wintery, snow-colored buttons!

Mrs. Scott’s 1st grade class tried their hand at no-bake mini date nut snowballs with 5 simple ingredients: dates, almonds, cinnamon, coconut and–our special additional topping–crushed graham crackers.  We talked about how some things are naturally sweet and don’t need the addition of table sugar.  These little snowballs were a huge success with the kiddos and are super easy to whip up at home!

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Enjoy your sweet treats this season and try a couple newbies, too–just for fun!

Pickled Beets with Mrs. Brown!

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Fourth graders Addie and Mackenzie help Mrs. Brown prepare pickled beets for our upcoming community holiday dinner!

Here’s a special post by Vicky Brown, North Powder’s Farm to School program manager and Food Services Director:

North Powder students have been growing beets from the beginning of our gardening adventure!  Root crops do very well in our area and we have had a bounty of beets for the last 5 years. Mr. Flanagan’s 4th grade class planted two 50 foot rows of beets and the need to reach out to those who know what to do with beets was needed!  Beets were taken down to the local food bank, used for Friday lunch bites for senior citizens, and folks came down to harvest for their own use.  A favorite of many are pickled beets and Jan Dyke, a local resident, has a great recipe! Jan’s family has been living in our area for over 100 years.  Beets have been served in the school cafeteria, have been roasted and have also been made in to Harvard Beets. Kids are willing to try new things–including beets!

Eat well ,

Exploring the Food Traditions of Hanukkah

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On Thursday, the final day of Hanukkah, our After School Garden & Cooking Club students prepared “oven-fried” latkes, a potato and onion “pancake” traditionally found on Hanukkah tables.  First the students learned about Hanukkah and how Jewish families cook fried foods to commemorate the miraculous oil that burned for eight days and nights after Jews reclaimed the Temple of Jerusalem.  After talking about Hanukkah, we put on some food service gloves and patted up some latkes!  But rather than pan frying the latkes in oil, we coated cookie sheets with parchment and oil and “oven-fried” them, following this recipe from the blog Kveller: A Jewish Twist on Parenting.  Students enjoyed eating their oven-fried latkes with unsweetened applesauce!

Pumpkin Pie (with a side of etymology…)


Today may be the best day to ask, “Was there pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving/harvest festival feast way back in 1621?”  Last week we talked about this in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade.  This beloved custard pie has become a staple on modern-day Thanksgiving tables, but the reality is that early English colonists probably didn’t even have the makings for a crust (let alone ovens) when living in early 17th century Plimouth Plantation.  Pumpkins are, however, native to North America and were used by Native peoples long before European settlers arrived–the Wamapnoag likely introduced pumpkins to colonists, teaching them how to grow and use them.  In Mrs. Marlia’s 5th grade class, we explored the origins of pumpkin pie–and the word “pumpkin.”  So here’s some pumpkin trivia for you to share during this season’s feasts:

(Our best attempt at) the etymology of “pumpkinThe English word “pumpkin” originated with the Greek pepon (‘large melon’), which was nasalized into Middle French pompon and eventually made its way into variations of pumpion/pompion in English.  Actually, pompion was likely used to refer to all squash by early English settlers. “Pumpkin” apparently didn’t even appear until the 1640s. If our beloved orange squash was indeed present at the harvest feast of 1621, it was likely called pompion by English colonists and was most likely stewed rather than whipped up into a crusty pie.  Check out this link from the Plimouth Plantation Museum for both Wampanoag and English colonist recipes that were likely around in 1621.

The first pumpkin pieThe origin of pumpkin pie is also a tough egg to crack… Early English settlers may have come up with a pumpkin pie (of sorts) by pouring milk, honey and spices into a seeded pumpkin shell and roasting it in ashes.  A “Tourte of Pumpkin” appeared in the mid-17th century French cookbook Le Vrai Cuisinier Francois (The True French Cook), which included sweetened, strained pumpkin pulp baked with some sort of pastry component.  There’s an English language recipe for “Pumpion pie” from 1685, one for “Pompkin pie” in 1796 and finally one for “Pumpkin pie” in 1845.  All of these recipes can be found at this link if you’d like to try your hand at something, well, old!