If you would walk up into the Garden Classroom any morning or in the early afternoon on Monday or Tuesday, you would find yourself in a whirl of activity! Young naturalists, scientists, gardeners, artists, builders, cooks and adventurers are pursuing their passions. These young learners are engaged in a variety of activities such as exploring the source of “why the sticky stuff (goop) melts” (not my words), working together to make a “fort” out of cloth and clothespins, carefully observing and noting the changing chrysalides, combining primary colors to create an original paint chip/sample and, in the most active place of all, cooking up a storm in the newly opened Mud Kitchen.
The newest Solana Beach eatery, located near other, more established restaurants, has received 5 star reviews from chefs and customers alike. Once a neglected planter, the Mud Kitchen has slowly evolved over the last couple of years from a simple place to dig featuring a few pots, pans and utensils, to a fully stocked kitchen featuring a stove and any tool needed to make an individual snack or feed a crowd. With the addition of several canisters featuring ingredients such as fresh rosemary, sand or coffee grounds all seasoned with a few shakes of birdseed, wonderful culinary delights are available for your dining pleasure!
Often dressed with a lovely orange blossom (freshly plucked from the ground), bowls of fragrant soup, entire cakes, and cups and bowls of coffee are lovingly prepared for any passing customer. These chefs are so enthusiastic about their cooking, they will actually search out customers and entice them back to the Mud Kitchen with an inviting culinary masterpiece.
These dishes often start out in a massive pot, with lots of contributors. The chefs need to negotiate their use of space, ingredients and equipment. While they are “cooking” important life skills are being practiced.
As ingredients are being mixed together, a chef becomes a scientist as she attempts to dilute the sand or coffee grounds with water or reverse the process by adding more solids. This simple manipulation of liquids and solids is captivating and an indispensable lesson in chemistry. This principal needs to be understood as a first step in becoming a world class chef! Others have been observed pouring water back and forth between two containers while exploring the properties of water in its liquid state.
As spoons were stirring, coffee pots dripping, and cakes baking, one chef realized the public needed to be informed about this dining endeavor. I pointed out that there was a chalkboard available and she proudly wrote out, “Our Coffee Shop.” I’m wondering how the sign will be used in the future. A menu perhaps?
As the Mud Kitchen starts to close down for the day, some challenges arise where our cooks need to work together to get through their shift successfully. Ingredients start to get low, and there won’t be a delivery until the next day! They do get creative and look for other sources. Wood chips are popular and add some unique texture to the dishes. Mud is also interesting and adds a dark, rich color. Sometimes, one of the chefs will volunteer to get more sand and happily share it with everyone else.
I watched as the coffee grounds were close to running out at the end of one shift this week and pointed out that there was no more available. One chef looked up at me as she was scooping the grounds from the canister into a bowl. I suggested that she check in with her partner to see if it was okay to take more. The other chef was amicable to the request. It is important to be kind and considerate, and sometimes a little reminder is needed. Practice makes perfect!
After the closing of the Mud Kitchen at the end of each shift, clean up starts. Everyone pitches in. (Sometimes a “supervisor” has to search for the cooks. There isn’t a separate crew for washing dishes, although sometimes a bystander will volunteer.)
Some wash and others put the pots, pans, utensils and plates away. The supervisor helps in this step. While keeping everything nice and tidy, following directional cues, such as put that “little bowl inside the big bowl,” put that pan “underneath” the shelf, put the tea pot “on top” of the bench, is the real focus and purpose of this job. (Besides if everything is “in its place” the chefs will know where their favorite tool is stored.) Every few moments, the jobs switch. The supervisor also lets the crew know how much the next shift of chefs will appreciate how clean the Mud Kitchen was left for them.
So, what rating will you give this new and up and coming dining option? Please stop by and try it yourself and see what is on the menu and more importantly, what the “chefs” are learning about science, math, language, literacy and working together.
If any member of the Hanna family or a friend of The Garden Classroom wishes to help out, we could use any type of spice that you may be needing to throw out because it has lost its flavor or scent. This is a fun addition to cooking with mud and sand.