Gardening is work. Teaching gardening is work. We all have to learn this lesson today.
The kids’ version: double digging the wheat field so they can get their wheat planted before the rain comes. Lots of days we do tiring physical work until we are ready to move on to something else, but today we actually need to finish the job so we are pushing through tired arms and some creative non-cooperation from Wild Child, involving multiple time-consuming trips to the water fountain. (Smart kid, he understands that it’s really hard to say “no” to a drink of water.)
My version: having to ask for help when the going gets tough in my brain. My arms are tired, too, but it’s my patience that gets the real workout. Wild Child is just riding that line today, almost almost almost crossing it but banking on the adult’s ability to absorb large amounts of disrespectful behavior. He knows perfectly well that we try our best to keep him here with us instead of in the office. An ecosystem can absorb and adapt to a large amount of toxic additions, until it reaches a tipping point and things start to die off. My patience, like a fragile salamander, is joining the endangered species list. So in the break between the first and second garden groups, I put out a call for help, and get some habitat restoration for my soul. We garden teachers hold each other like that, help each other restore balance: “Remember all he’s dealing with at home, remember how he has to hold so many things together, remember. And here, have some more mood-brightening soup.”
Before class, bake a kabocha squash. Have a raw one as well, to cut into halves and have the kids scoop out the seeds for saving, before putting it in the oven to bake for the next group. Kabocha is one of those great secrets of the squash universe. Why oh why did we grow up eating only acorn and butternut when delicata and kabocha exist? The kabocha is, well, an ugly squash, like a splotchy green pumpkin, unless you are an heirloom vegetable geek, in which case you find it “gorgeous, luscious, stunning.” Seriously, we are vegetable geeks here, as the children do not tire of pointing out. But they also do not tire of sneaking little bites of the baked squash, which I pretend not to notice as they scrape the flesh out of the skins into bowls. (I do, however, make them wash their hands again, because I am a nurse and thus the obvious enforcer of hand sanitation.) After the first taste, Wild Child keeps insisting that “it is not squash, it is a yam,” never mind the thick green skin in his hand.
Meanwhile, have someone chop up an onion and sauté it till it’s translucent, add a pinch of salt, cover and cook on the lowest heat until you are ready to use it. Just before you pull it off the stove, stir in some curry powder. With group two, I let the kids take charge of the curry powder and we had incredibly spicy soup—they also opted to add some grated fresh ginger and press three garlic cloves in—but the class, despite my worries, LOVED it. I gave small “taste” servings first so we wouldn’t end up with a lot of waste (we thought it might be too spicy for the worms) but every single child came up and asked for more. The enthusiasm of the cooks, which led to the spicy soup in the first place, was apparently infectious. No stuffy sinuses after this class!
But to back up: to put the soup together, combine the squash flesh, a can of coconut milk, about 2 cups of water, and the onion/garlic etc mixture in a large pot. Heat, blend (one of those blendy-things you can stick right down in the pot is a lifesaver, as long as you don’t lift it up too high and spew scalding soup all over the kids watching), salt to taste* and serve!
*Group one didn’t curry & ginger up their soup and they wanted to add a lot of salt to give it flavor, but group two’s concoction hardly needed any at all.