Food Adventures assistant Jenn Mack helps Charlotte place cooked sausages on paper towels to absorb fat during one of the summer camp's food activities. The camp, operated by The Nutrition Center, teaches children about healthy food and preparation.
LENOX, Mass. — Midmorning on the last day of summer camp, five girls ages 7 through 10 sat around a table studying the nutrition labels on a box of cereal, a bag of candy and a bottle of soda.
Then, they made chocolate-coconut truffles and vanilla-maple ice cream from scratch.
This was The Nutrition Center's Food Adventures Summer Camp for students 7 to 14, presented and in partnership with The Mount, Edith Wharton's onetime home in Lenox.
They listened to their teacher, Morgan Kulchinsky, camp director, and asked questions. Kulchinsky, with the help of assistant Jenn Mack, was teaching the girls — April, Charlotte, Hannah, Maddy and Margaret — how to read those nutrition labels: how many servings in a container; how many calories, how much sugar is in a given serving of packaged foods.
It was a visual learning experience.
The campers measured sugar by teaspoons into a cereal bowl — about 4 grams sugar in a teaspoon. Five teaspoons (23 grams of carbohydrates) of sugar in a one cup serving of Multigrain Cheerios 7 1/2 teaspoons (30 grams) in a quarter cup of M&Ms; about 10 teaspoons (39 grams) in a 12-ounce serving of Classic Coke.
A lot of sugar, a lot of calories, even if you stick to the unrealistic serving size on the label. Most of the children volunteered that they did not.
They measured, watched each other measure, commented, answered and asked questions. They also slouched over the tables, switched seats, twisted this way and that. You don't have to sit still at Food Adventures camp.
Drawing on Wharton's love of France and French food, Kulchinsky taught breakfast crêpes filled with scrambled eggs; omelets; fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal parfaits; and an orange juice frappe blended with vanilla and honey until it was frothy. That last morning's ice cream sauce was French chocolate ganache.
The Nutrition Center, of Pittsfield, Great Barrington and, newly, North Adams and Lenox, presents its seemingly casual Food Adventures to teach children "about nutrition, healthy food preparation and kitchen safety in a fun, hands-on environment."
A number of programs are presented in schools both during and after classes, and the structure incorporates "math, English, reading science, art, geography and cultural studies."
And, that's how the summer camp morning was.
First thing, before Kulchinsky's label-reading lesson, Diane Massey had brought the expertise of her new Berkshire School of Etiquette to that day's summer camp.
Massey taught how to set a table, how to hold a fork and knife both here in the United States and in Europe, what to do if you drop food on the floor — unobtrusively push it further under the table with your foot to pick up and throw away after the meal. And the five uses of a napkin — to start the meal and to end the meal; to wipe your mouth in a "V"; to catch crumbs on your lap and to cough or sneeze into — among other things.
"They were enthusiastic and enjoyed it," Massey said. "And, I gave an unplanned lesson on why not to interrupt. One girl just couldn't stop talking."
Massey got her to understand she would learn more if she listened more and talked less.
Other mornings of the weeklong camp, local Berkshire guest chefs brought their own interesting dishes and variety. Each child made and ate this new food as part of that day's lunch.
CHOCOLATE COCONUT TRUFFLES
Adapted from The Nutrition Center's Food Adventures recipe.
1 cup dates
1 cup pumpkin seeds
water if needed
1/2 cup cocoa powder plus more to coat finished truffles
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut plus more cocoa to coat finished truffles
Remove pits from the dates and chop them into six or eight pieces each. Measure out 1 cup.
In a food processor or strong blender, break up the pumpkin seeds to break them up. Add the chopped dates and blend together to make a crumbly paste. If the mixture is too thick, add water by the tablespoon, blending after each tablespoon until mixture is uniformly crumbly.
Add cocoa powder, maple syrup and vanilla. Blend until completely mixed.
Move mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the shredded coconut until mixture is smooth.
Using hands or two dessert spoons, roll the truffle mixture into balls the size of a walnut. If truffle mixture is too sticky to roll, place in freezer for 10 or 15 minutes to firm.
Roll finished truffles in cocoa powder or shredded coconut. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 25 to 50 truffles depending on size
Kulchinsky said children who were fearful of eating something new or a food they said they did not like became eager and comfortable with that food when they made it themselves.
Daire Rooney, with Italian and Swiss heritage, French training, local farm and product enthusiasm and chef at Allium Restaurant in Great Barrington was a guest.
So was Dan Smith, chef and owner of John Andrews, a farm house restaurant in South Egremont that emphasizes the use of local ingredients. Smith makes everything from scratch in his restaurant, including pasta and ice cream.
He taught the children how to make pasta using a machine for ravioli and fettuccine and hand rolling gnocchi and pici, a fat, rustic Tuscan spaghetti. Smith said he "had lots of fun working with the kids at The Mount."
Katherine Miller, whole food and holistic health educator, counselor and chef specializing in nutrient-dense, plant-based eating from her Kosmic Kitchen in Lee, had the students prepare vegan foods.
First, sushi rolls and wraps in both collard greens and nori, a seaweed wrap.
"I used a combo of quinoa and amaranth for the sushi. I cooked the grains in class in my Vitaclay rice cooker and I showed the kids how to blanch the greens and slice off the stem to make the wrap," Miller said.
Next, she used sunflower and pumpkin seeds with kelp powder and dulse flakes to create the texture and taste of tuna then chop in red onions and celery and stuff the salad into a tomato they cut into a flower.
Miller called the Food Adventure campers "brave and curious aspiring young chefs. They were game for anything and I truly enjoyed working with them!"
Between lessons, girls chatted, laughed, wandered, twisted, stretched, ran outside onto the grass, maybe squeezing through or under barrier tape.
Next was the day's cooking: chocolate truffles and vanilla ice cream. But ... not your typical candy and ice cream.
The truffles blended pumpkin seeds and chopped dates with maple syrup and cocoa powder. The ice cream base was milk, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Both sweets were delicious.
HOMEMADE VANILLA-MAPLE ICE CREAM
with CHOCOLATE GANACHE/SAUCE
Adapted from The Nutrition Center's Food Adventures recipe.
For ice cream:
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons add-ins like chocolate chips, berries, chopped peanut butter cups, cocoa powder, nuts
pint or sandwich-size zip bag
large plastic container with a tight lid or gallon-size zip bag
Lots of ice cubes
6 tablespoons rock salt
For chocolate ganache:
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup whole milk
Measure milk, maple syrup, vanilla and add-ins of choice into a small zip bag.
Fill a large plastic container or zip bag with ice cubes and mix in rock salt. Place the small zip bag in the middle of the container. Seal the container or large zip bag.
Shake the ice-filled container for 5 minutes, check the ice cream, and continue to shake until thick enough.
Store ice cream in the freezer.
Combine the chocolate chips with the milk in a small heat-safe bowl.
Bring a small pot of water to boil then lower heat to simmer.
Place the bowl on top of the simmering water and stir until the chips melt and the mixture is smooth.
Pour hot sauce over ice cream. Makes 1 serving
It took no time for the girls to make the truffle base. They read the recipe sheet with Kulchinsky and Mack. Teams each took a task — pitting and chopping dates, measuring pepitas/pumpkin seeds, measure cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla. They used a food processor, added ingredients, scraped everything into a bowl and got down to shaping and rolling the finished truffles in cocoa or shredded coconut — or not.
There was some very creative shaping. April made truffles the size of golf balls but, during lunch, she gave them away to Hannah who shared them with other girls. No truffle envy.
They refrigerated the truffles until lunch, cleaned up the tables and went right into ice cream making. Each girl made her own zip bag of vanilla-maple ice cream. Hannah and Margaret used cocoa to make a bag of chocolate with all that day's add-in choices — blueberries and strawberries and chocolate chips — for both of them.
They filled a couple of canisters with ice cubes and a bit of rock salt, put their little zip bags inside, closed the tops tightly and took turn shaking the canisters. Standing around, walking around, marching around, jumping up and down — shaking the canisters. Constant shaking for nearly 10 minutes turned the milk and maple syrup into ice cream.
The ice cream bags went into the freezer to rest as they chose their own lunch items, including sweet Italian sausages made the day before from scratch with chef Stephen Browning of Prairie Whale Restaurant in Great Barrington.
The girls ate their lunch sitting in the sun outside the stables they had cooked in for the week. They ate their truffles. They ate their ice cream. Their week at camp was over.
"I strongly recommend next year's sessions for any kids looking for a fun, healthy, creative way to enjoy the bounty of summer," guest chef Katherine Miller said.