A New Generation of Curd-Nerds

Cheese 101When locating your true calling, a commonly asked question is “what opportunity would you jump at whether or not you were paid?” The answer that trips effortlessly off my tongue is “share my insane passion for cheese, most ideally with children.”

This summer, I had the privilege of doing just that; teach two sessions of Cheese 101 For Kids at the A Little Yumminess Around the World Summer Camp in San Francisco. When my friends from the blog-o-sphere Simran and Stacie, the camp producers, presented the opportunity, I did a graceless pirouette and leapt at the chance.

In preparing for my sessions, I received valuable guidance from Lassa Skinner, owner of Culture Magazine who was also generous in providing free issues as a takeaway for campers. I offered four cheeses for tasting: fresh goat cheese (chevre), French camembert, Basque sheep’s milk cheese, and gorgonzola dolce. I wanted the campers to sample three types of milk: cow, goat, sheep; and a range of textures from soft, perishable fresh chevre to firm alpine-style cheese.

When I stood before the class of eager campers for the first time and introduced myself as a self-described “cheese nerd,” I knew in that moment that what I was doing felt very right.

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Before tasting, I encouraged the campers to utilize every sense in the process. First, look at the cheese; pick up and touch the cheese to analyze texture; inhale the aromas; finally, place the cheese on their tongue and savor before gobbling it up. I was most impressed with the adjectives (goaty, stinky, tart, mushroomy, etc.) that these sophisticated city dwellers used to describe the selections and encouraged them to write their impressions on tasting notes that I created in partnership with Stacie the resident artist and co-director. One camper amusingly described the aroma of an aged goat cheese by offering “it smells like hotel room.” Wait! What?

We ended our discussion by pondering what recipes we could create using each of the cheeses: pastas, pizzas, salad toppings, not to mention grilled cheese sandwiches and mac n’ cheese.

Not every cheese was loved by every camper, but they were adventurous in sampling each offering. I felt honored to share in their impressions and have the opportunity to infect them with my love for cheese. As I was preparing to leave the last of the two sessions, a boy walked up to me and volunteered “I think I’m going to be a cheese nerd!” I responded in kind with a super geeky high-five, then walked out into the street, beaming with pride.

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Little Dumplings

Last year, Caleb and I participated in a fabulous empanada-making class taught by our friends, Simran and Stacie of A Little Yumminess fame.

Not only did we make by hand a variety of delicious empanadas, we were also treated to a demonstration of one of their most popular recipes, easy-peasy dumplings. Following the demonstration, Simran handed out the recipe and we came away excited to re-create them at home. We had made pot-stickers and dumplings before, but I was impressed with how easy (hence the name) these were to make and how delightful they were to gobble up. It was also clear that this would be a hit with my dumplings.

After long last, it came time to make these bite-sized treats in our own kitchen. Hoping that it wasn’t too much of an undertaking for a weeknight, I shopped for the ingredients after work, picked up the kids, and drove home to embark on our dumpling making adventure. In no time, I had the ingredients laid out on the kitchen table, and Caleb and Sadie at my side ready to make some delicious dumplings. Caleb mixed all the ingredients in a bowl and Sadie assisted some. I placed the won-ton skins out on a mat and let the kids take turns using a tiny spoon to dole out the filling onto the wrappers. While the water was coming to a boil on the stove, Caleb brushed the wrappers with egg wash and both kiddos took turns folding and sealing the dumplings with their tiny hands. As busy as we were, it was a sweet sight to step back and behold.

We experimented with two different cooking methods – first steaming, then boiling. We were most successful with the boiling method – not too much water at a medium boil in a large pot. The dumplings didn’t stick together and they looked appetizing and ready to enjoy. We could hardly wait to eat them. Before sitting down to dinner, I made the easy dipping sauce from the recipe and placed it in individual ramekins. I found that tripling the recipe made enough to go around for my little soy sauce junkies.

Caleb and Sadie very quickly gobbled up their creations before I could even ask what they thought. It was evident that our easy-peasy dumplings were a weeknight hit. What a gratifying (and tasty) treat! Not just making these delicious dumplings, but having a great excuse to spend some special time with my kiddos in the kitchen, at the beginning of a busy week ahead. They clearly enjoyed taking part in the dumpling production and I appreciated how easy it was to pull together.

Make these at home (try pan frying for instant pot-stickers!) and let me know what you think! Click here for the recipe and for more inspiration, do check out my friend’s website: A Little Yumminess – it will very quickly become a favorite destination when in need of cooking and eating inspiration for your little dumplings.