Saturday, February 20, 2010

Experimental Cuisine

I've been trying to get my kids more involved in feeding themselves, and not just in the "open a box of cereal" sense. Growing veggies is a great way to get kids to actually EAT veggies, as they get to see the food progress from seed to plant to fruit, and tasting the resulting produce is as much fun to them as showing off a picture would be after they had worked on for hours and hours. Teaching my kids to cook is also a part of the plan, partly to make sure they know how to make healthy food, and partly because someday I really would like to be able to delegate some of the family cooking duties.

Seeing as how it is also Science Fair season at school, we did a three-fer Saturday activity. We set up Michael's science experiment, an aquaponics (that's aquaculture combined with hydroponics) fishtank & growbed, and a traditional seedling flat for comparison.

Of course, if you are going to do aquaponics, you need fish for the aquaculture half of the business. We had a few dozen mosquito fish in the tank, which had been filled up with nice clean(ish) rainwater, for most of the winter. But they're the size of guppies, and they don't poop all that much. You need fishpoop to fertilize the hydroponics half. So the kids and I trucked on down to little Saigon, to an Asian market with a nice big tank full of live tilapia. the Hispanic man (I couldn't help wondering, in how many different languages could he say "do you want this cleaned and fried?") behind the meat counter looked at me funny when I plunked a bucket full of fishtank water on the counter and told him I needed four LIVE tilapia, but he got out his net and did what I asked. It was a longish wait, so the kids poked around the seafood section. We came home with four large live fish, a fresh but dead squid, and a half-dozen shrimp, also recently deceased. My children were delighted.

The four fish were quite confused (if I am any judge of fish expressions), but happy to be poured into the tank when we got home. 200 gallons of water is much more comfortable than 4. They promptly parked themselves on the bottom of the tank, so we couldn't get a picture right away.

Meanwhile back in the kitchen, Jon boiled water for the shrimp. the kids got a kick out of how the shells changed from grey to pink when they cooked, and Jillian (7) asked me if that was an "irreversible change". I didn't teach her that phrase, so I guess the public schools are doing something right. Michaelson went after the squid with a knife to show us all how he had dissected one in summer camp last year. He didn't care much for gutting it, but the chickens were delighted that we fed the offal to them, rather than throwing it away. If you've never seen chickens chasing each other around with squid innards dangling from their beaks, you haven't lived. I'm just saying.

We looked up an episode of "Good Eats" (which takes the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" approach to cooking - my children love it) on Youtube to see how to fry squid properly. This ended up being my job. Call me crazy, but I am more confortable with my children using sharp knives than I am with them plopping food into 375 degree frying oil. I didn't get a photo of the resulting calamari because is was so darn good and was eaten so quickly. The tentacles were a little chewy for my taste, but the rest was fantastic! If the results of the rest of our day's efforts turn out half so well, Michael will have a very good science fair project this year.


  1. Sounds like good times! And calamari, yum!!

  2. that was a productive too!

  3. Fantastic science project. I think from now on I will refer to my homestead as a "white trash science experiment."