The Great Veggie Challenge: Dinner Finale

I just finished teaching a six-week course at Anser Charter School entitled the Great Veggie Challenge. After planting potatoes, touring organic markets and preparing a whole host of vegetables at my house, we celebrated by visiting Peaceful Belly to harvest vegetables and cook for parents. 

Just the other day, Luke told me that his last day of the Veggie Challenge was his favorite CBC (Community Based Curriculum) day ever — even better than all the Jumptime classes. I knew that was saying a lot and I couldn’t have agreed more — parents and children had a wonderful time at Peaceful Belly Farm.

The farm is aptly named. Peaceful was the first word that came to mind as I drove up and saw beautiful rows of vegetables packed beneath a glorious backdrop of rolling hills. I was ready to be a farmer from the word go, and I think many of the children felt similarly.

Upon arriving, we spent the first few hours harvesting vegetables for our dinner, led by Peaceful Belly’s lady-in-charge, Josie Erskine. Not only is she a farming extraordinaire, but she was amazing with the children as they listened and followed her lead intently.

First, the group harvested asparagus. From a personal perspective, I’ll forever be reluctant to eat store-bought asparagus after tasting the vegetable immediately after being picked. Josie shared with us that the flavor of asparagus changes within five minutes of harvest. I now know this for a fact!

Immediately after we picked two buckets of this wonderful vegetable, we cut off the ends and immediately placed it in water.

Next we picked lettuce….

Washed the lettuce…

And the boys were in charge of spinning the lettuce before storing it in the refrigerator.

The children then got to go for a truck ride to harvest baby turnips and green garlic (more on this later!).

Last on the harvest list was picking rhubarb — and the children got to dip it in sugar and taste it immediately upon picking it.

I am sad to say I have no photos from the actual dinner preparation as things got a bit more hectic than we had expected, thanks in part to a delayed yeast reaction and flour shortage. Nothing like planning an entire dinner around pizza and not having functional dough for the task at hand. (Though I have committed the recipe to memory and even shared it last week in my blog post, my brain mysteriously doubled the amount of water needed, thus throwing off the entire dough-making, kneading and rising process. Not to mention, the local market had no flour so we had to send one of my course helpers, Alicia, to a local pizza joint to buy back-up dough! At least we had a few laughs over this “minor” mishap).

The children were incredibly helpful at prepping all of the wonderful vegetables and fruit, a task which took the better part part of an hour (along with help from some nice moms!).

Josie also shared with us a wonderful recipe for green garlic pesto that we used as a pizza topping. None of us had even heard of green garlic before this evening, but it was love at first bite! Though I don’t think she measured anything, I can tell you that she combined the green garlic, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, walnuts and olive to create this sensation that made pizza taste like a million dollars!

When parents and children started to arrive, the children started rolling out pizza dough and creating pizzas. Concurrent with all the excitement and activity, a spring thunderstorm came upon us — making the evening all the more memorable!

Though we made a traditional red sauce/mozzarella pizza for the younger children, the rest of our pizza creations were loaded with vegetables. My personal favorite was pesto with squash, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, mozzarella and ricotta.

We also made baked ratatouille, based on this recipe found at Plantbased on a Budget, which was gobbled up in a matter of minutes.

And due to popular demand, we made a last minute bowl of pasta, mixed with leftover veggies and pesto.

For dessert (darn I wish I had a photo!), we made a delicious rhubarb crisp, loosely based on this recipe found at Taste of Home. Many thanks to Autumn’s mom Sidra for jumping in to help us on this one – as the rest of us raced around the kitchen preparing and baking pizzas, serving salads and taking orders from the children, who did a magnificent job waiting on the guests at our dinner party.

And speaking of Autumn, my favorite quote of the night was when she told her mom , “I don’t think I want to be a waitress when I grow up.”

Many thanks to Alicia and Alyssa who helped me throughout the entire course. The Veggie Challenge was much more enjoyable with your company.

Josie and Clay Erskine — your farm rocks! Thanks for sharing the delicious produce and your wonderful facility with the children and their families. It’s a night I’ll always remember — despite the botched pizza dough, lightening and thunder!

And last but certainly not least, I appreciate the seven children for taking the Veggie Challenge. It goes without saying that you passed the course with flying colors!


Melinda Hinson