Saturday, 30 March 2013

Fancying A Food Truck

Our family spends a lot of time with Food Network programs on the TV while going about our kitchen tasks.  We might sneak a peek at the screen occasionally if something in particular catches our ears, but primarily we listen to it.  I believe it was "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives" with Guy Fieri that initially introduced us to mobile food stations.  In the last year or so, a new show called "Eat Street" has got us more interested in the idea as it features some trucks from Canada in addition to U.S. entrepreneurs.


The Gears Start Turning...

Last summer, at a nearby greenhouse, a bright red food truck with a black-and-white checkered border was parked...and for sale! Every time we drove in the area, I gawked at it. The price was $15,000, we discovered when we took a detour into the yard to have a look at it.  I jokingly asked a few colleagues at school if their business-minded husbands wanted to invest in it!  Larry thought having a food truck would be a fun idea when our teaching days had drawn to a close.  Alas, it was sold, but the idea had been planted. 

A week or so ago, Larry and I were talking about how many years each have left to teach before being able to retire with full pensions.  (Don't worry; the conversation was not in spoken in anger or anxiety regarding anything troubling us in our current work lives!)  I thought I had 18 years remaining but Larry said 14 was the magic number.  He suggested that, should we decide at that time we were still inclined to try the mobile food scene, we could just sell our wares when it suited us: 

  • drive up to one of the Imperial Oil sites near Cold Lake on a particular day of the week (my brother works there and could spread the word!), 
  • make casual appearances at ball tournaments,
  • visit parking lots of grocery stores during the lunch hour, or
  • head to the popular Little Leap park in town which is on a well-used walking and biking path.
  • Gregory suggested that we cater to the Boonstock crowd at the alternative music festival at Gibbons, Alberta.  He and Larry attended last year and I think I would not be comfortable nor be able to concentrate with the behaviours of the crowd as described by my son and husband!
I happened to be attending an event recently which the owner of the greenhouse was at also.  Being curious about the fate of Big Red (my pet name for the truck which was never mine), I enquired.  It was eventually sold to someone from Manitoba but Mrs. Greenhouse told me to just hit up Google and many could be found.  I did, and it was a little torturous.  So shiny!  So fun-looking!  So long to wait for. :-(  

What Shall We Serve?

My anticipation of this future endeavour was growing by the week!  Location & client ideas: check.  Place to begin the hunt for a vehicle: check.  Next consideration: What to serve?!  We've seen all sorts of options on TV for menu items.
  • Ethnic?  My side of our family isn't strongly associated with any of our European roots so I don't bring much to the table in the cultural department, so to speak.  As for Larry's heritage, Ukrainian items require a LOT of work and TLC, rolling of dough, cabbage, or tiny crepes, and we might end up having to source out someone to safely drive the truck and pleasantly serve the customers due the enormous amount of prep time!  Also, keeping perogies, nalysnyky, cabbage rolls, nachynka, and the other delicacies at safe temperatures while maintaining a fresh appearance could be tricky.  With other countries' foods, I wouldn't want to be a poser or offend anyone's heritage.  "Pass" on this one, I guess!
  • Crowd favourites from the shows?  Pulled pork with coleslaw on a good bun is something we prepare for ourselves.  Fresh waffles made into sweet portable treats or into savory sandwiches with fried chicken and the like are in vogue and we like those, too.  Fancy grilled cheese sammies are very popular in the states; the one with brie and apple or pear slices on cranberry walnut bread made my mouth water!  (Oops, there it goes again...)  Foods served in edible cones are great for walking around with and would create less waste (more on that later).  A lot of people love bacon and there are a few pork-focused trucks like Pig Vicious in Austin, Texas or BACON MANia truck in Cali.  Bacon-wrapped pickles anyone?  I'd like to offer some bacon-y delights.  I've made Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies for my class and they (the cookies!) were scrumptious.
  • Sweets only?  The Treat Truck based in Brooklyn, NY is all about and solely about the goodies.  I looove baking but am not sure if people would go for sweet stuff all the time.  I do have a brownie pan to make individual squares with different toppings and might also make them into ice cream sandwiches...  Cookies on a stick are also fun.  One could probably come up with an amusing, ironic name for the vehicle as a diabetic proprietor, though!
  • "Not gon' do it..."  Do you recall Dana Carvey portraying George W. Bush on Saturday Night Live, using that phrase?  As I've considered what foods we might carry, I also have a short list of ones which are definitely NOT going to be sold! 
    • Last weekend, I made a vegetarian Vietnamese sandwich called Banh Mi Mam Chay.  It looked so fresh and simple.  Looks were deceiving.  I had to cut a bunch of vegetables into matchsticks, make some pickled daikon and carrot, salt and slightly dehydrate some onion, and cut and remove the insides of baguettes.  Normally, I really enjoy repetitive, non-cranial tasks but I thought it was going to be a speedy idea for Monday lunches!  Although the sandwiches were tasty, there will be no Banh Mi Man Chay offered from our windows. 
    • Also on the no-no list would be undercooked burgers as we've witnessed on U.S. shows; no mooing allowed!  (Have you seen the hilarious though slightly foul meme with Gordon Ramsey and the uncooked chicken?  His anger normally makes me shirk back but the joke was pretty funny and worth seeking out.)
    • Thirdly, cake pops will probably be absent.  I have made these a few times and shall leave them to pros like Bakerella.  Getting a not-too-thick and not-too-runny consistancy of the melts for dipping the pops in was tricky, and doing it without it looking like someone with no opposable thumbs had made them was even more difficult!  

"The Wheels on the ______ Go 'Round and 'Round..."

Now what kind of vehicle would be best?  I saw the Taco Bus from Florida and thought that would be appropriate for two former teachers to drive about.  As well, our whole wedding party and immediate family were chauffered around St. Paul in one on a special day in 1996!  It might be kind of high-up for talking to customers so perhaps portable or fold-up stairs or a ramp would work.  One food vehicle we saw had a little slide down which the orders were delivered!  Fun!

"Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, what might our l'il food truck be called?"

I think The Godziukmobile might intimidate customers...people are afraid to mispronounce Godziuk, even when I tell them that members of Larry's extended family have about five different ways THEY say it!  With the bus idea, The Yummy Bus crossed my mind, but I'm not sure tough-talking oil workers would be thrilled to let that moniker pass their lips in front of their colleagues.  Something alliterated or punny would definitely be up my alley, I know that!

Watching Out For Mother Earth

I know for certain that whatever we peddle must be served with the least amount of waste possible.  Cornstarch-based paperware or edible containers (e.g. the cone idea) would interest me.  I cringe at the garbage created by fast-food places.  Did you know a boy in Burlington, Vermont, had the idea for take-out restaurants to offer people the option to have their drinks served without a straw with their drinks instead of automatically giving them out?  The young man calculated that in the U.S., the amount of straws used in a day would fill 9300 school buses.  Yikes!  This really got me thinking about what I ask for or ask to omit from my take-out orders.  Whenever I watch the food truck shows, I am eagle-eyeing what the food leaves the window in and on.  [Envision the two fingers pointing from my eyes to theirs in an "I'm watching you..." gesture.] 

Check 'Em Out!

Here is a list of some of the trucks I have mentioned and have been inspired by:

The Treats Truck 
The Biscuit Bus 
The Taco Bus  
The Perogy Boyz in Calgary
The Grilled Cheese Truck

Thank you for coming by the Island again!  If you have any suggestions for us for our future plan, do share them!  And even if you are not inclined to venture toward being a food truck owner yourself, I hope you will share your best goodies with friends and family this Easter and spring.    


P.S.  I'm having trouble with the font situation; it's nice and big on my writing screen but it comes up for you in a small one.  I only noticed after putting up the Alberta Cake post.  Sorry about that.  I found a somewhat labour-intensive way to amend the situation via html code but hope to find an easier fix by my next entry.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cooking Up A Little Learning, Social Studies-Style

I almost feel like I should reintroduce myself after such a lengthy hiatus!  Well, I can't blog when I have professional things due...guilt hinders my creativity.  Report Card #2 is finished, winter blues are on their way out, I'm completing this entry on the eve of our Spring Break, and I'm so happy to be back!

I get a lot of happiness out of exposing my students to new fruits and veggies and sharing samples of a new bit o' baking.  The teacher in me also loves to connect what we're studying to food! 


The Alberta Cake

In our lovely province, the grade four curriculum includes learning about the Alberta's physical characteristics, including its natural regions and resources.   The images of the province divided colourfully into six regions from our Voices of Alberta textbook and various websites were ingrained into our minds.  I'm not sure where the inspiration came from, but I decided to decorate a brownie cake in like fashion to celebrate our group projects in the fall of 2008.

*Note:  Please be patient about the quality of these photos - five years ago, I had no inkling that I'd be blogging in the future or would be sharing my just-for-me pictures on the www!  I don't mind if you chuckle a little with me, though...there's only so much you can improve a low-quality photo with Microsoft Office 2010!

Version 1:  2008-09

I thought the cake would be more realistic if I tried to create some of the topographical features of the province, so I piled up the chocolate chunk brownie batter as high as I could on the Rocky Mountain side and used a small offset spatula to tease the batter into mountain tops.  The foothills area was spread a little lower than the Rockies, and the Canadian Shield was a little more elevated than the majority of the province, too.


Of course, the heat of the oven softened up the features but still left some relative differences in terrain.  In more recent years, I have folded the southwest corner's parch-ment paper up and placed something solid against it to keep the mountains from spreading.

Ready for regionalization!

At this point, I thought things were progressing well.  I'd begun the project around 6:30 p.m., so the details on the digital photo said, the cake came out of the oven at 7:18, and by 9:11, it was cooling on the cutting board.  I was about to learn that there was much more work to come...a lot more! 

Icing mixing was the next step.  I used Wilton paste colouring with plain old vanilla icing from the store shelf.  No offence, but making a buttercream at that time of night would've been a painful choice and I really doubted my students' tastebuds would've discerned the additional effort!  I didn't take any photos of my icing batches but as I ended up with a lot of extra sugary spread for my inaugural Alberta cake, I baked some more brownies and made some little Alberta Cake decorating kits to sell at our Grade Four bake sale. 
By the time the cake had cooled, it was probably pushing 11:00.  I'd made the icing batches, trying to match the colours on the web image I'd selected as closely as possible.  In the process, I was reaquainted with how very greasy things get when working with icing.  I probably used half of a bottle of Sunlight dish soap dealing with the slick utensils and bottles.  On the good side, I didn't need hand lotion for a week! 
I knew back then, as I know now, that I am not that handy with an offset spatula: I do not ever recall an exclamation of "Jennifer - what a fantastic job you did icing that cake!"  I can accept my report card mark of 'Progressing' on that skill.  [That's remark's just for my teacher friends regarding our newish report card grading scale! ;-)]  I opted to use my Decorator Bottle Set and later decided to buy some Flexible Funnels to help load the icing into them after having some adventures in trying to get the goofy mixture into them.  The basket-weave tip created some texture and allowed for filling in my missed sections less noticeably!
I'm sharing the following photo of me at the end of my journey (definitely not a cake walk!) for your amusement and because of my surprise at the time stamp on the photo's details; it was 3:10 a.m.!
                    Inspiration on the left,                                          zombie on the right...

...zee mastairpiece!
Don't worry - despite the late bedtime, I was very pleasant the next morning, being so pleased with how it had turned out and anticipating how excited it would make my students.  I was not disappointed with their response and was encouraged to attempt the project the next fall.

Version 2:  2009-10

There wasn't a lot of difference between the cake made this year and the initial one except that the baker went to bed a lot earlier.  I guess I got a little wiser with another candle on my birthday cake!

Something which happened for the second year as it had with the first cake was that the kids politely insisted on being able to eat their own part of the cake.  Of course, the Boreal Forest people had to share a bit with the Canadian Shielders: if you're not familiar with Alberta's geography, the Shield comprises only 3% of our province.  (N.B. I'm not inept at basic math - I know that the C.S. icing covers more than that percentage but it would really be hard to cut such a tiny part into three pieces for each of the group members!)  I always show the kids a map of how much the Shield covers of the whole country and it's always a shock to them.  Woah!!!" is usually the response.  We've been trying to find a reliable source that tells how much of Canada the Canadian Shield covers but there's quite a variety of answers so we'll just settle with more than half.

Version 3:  2010-11

I got the idea to use pieces of a Toblerone bar for the mountain peaks on the third cake, not having anyone with nut allergies in my class that year and ensuring that my Rocky Mountain group's fingers went straight to the sink to wash after devouring their region.  There was a little region-envy but the treat of brownies with frosting was generally enough to sate them! 

Version 4:  2011-12

The Parkland area on this cake wasn't anemic; last year, one of my students had a sensitivity to artificial colours and flavours so I needed to be creative.  I remembered colouring eggs using natural dyes from plant material when I taught Grade One, so I enlisted the help of a carrot to help tint the icing.  I grated the orange root, added a small bit of water to the peelings in a little pot, and boiled the life out of it until the liquid's colour concentrated.  After straining and cooling it, I poured it into a wee bit of icing and mixed it up.  Apparently, the one carrot should've been joined by a few friends to create a richer hue since the result was the palest of yellows.  Oh well...I gave it a try and the students were just as enchanted as previous years!

(I have no idea why that touque is in the picture...
remember, not thinking about blogging at that time...
and I'm now reminded of an experience involving
the spelling of the winter hat word.  I'm pondering how
I can weave the incident into a cooking blog piece...
gears are turning...I digress...)

Version 5:  2012-13

The students in my current class have been more interested in the paths of the rivers than other years so that inspired me to kick it up a notch design-wise.  One of my young charges is allergic to almonds so Toblerone mountains were out, and iced brownie triangles made their debut.  The foothills hadn't baked as tall as I'd hoped so I tried to make rosettes.  Don't look too closely as they resemble, well, never mind... :-P   As I tell my students, a mistake is a chance to learn!

The Future of the Alberta Cake

Thanks to the advent of a new chocolate bar, the foothills will be the Improvement District for the 2013-14 version.  Envision these snuggled up to the Rockies:

I'm pretty excited to see how these look on the cake next fall!  I bought and tasted one bar just in case, for quality control purposes.  ;-) 

Thanks for not giving up on the Island and I'll try not to be so long in putting together my next entry.  I'd love to hear about and see any of your specialized baking or other edible projects for teaching purposes or that you've made just to show someone you care by adding particular details especially for them!


P.S.  If you aren't able to write a comment below successfully, kindly email me.  I've been trying to change the settings as some of my readers have had difficulty dropping me a line and  I encourage people to try again!

P.P.S.  I think I found a kindred spirit via Pinterest - check out the blog Teach-Bake-Love.  I was just giddy when I started reading Melissa The Middle School Teacher's entries.  I almost felt like making a Venn diagram to compare us; I know the intersecting part of the circles would be full of similarities!  I will definitely go through more of her neat ideas during the Spring Break and if I'm not too shy, I'll leave HER a message. :-)