It's been a terrific fall for Pacific Northwest mushroom hunters - which means there's an amazing bounty available right now at farmer's markets and stores. Chanterelles starred in the Grow Afterschool kitchen this week, with delicious chanterelle tostadas their cooking project. 

We used a simple recipe from herbivoracious, and all learned a thing or two about how to choose and clean mushrooms.

A few tips:

1. Choose mushrooms that are firm and plump, with no bruises or slimy spots
2. Clean mushrooms by brushing dirt (and you bet there will be dirt!) off with a damp paper towel, or a small soft brush designed for cleaning mushrooms
3. Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the refridgerator

For more tips and recipes, check out the Oregonian's ode to mushrooms

Every week, Grow Afterschool students cook a dish that features fresh seasonal produce. Staff finds recipes in a variety of places: Some are created by us, some are from favorite cookbooks, and for some we turn to the wide, wild internet. 
To make sure dishes are healthy, and that kids can play an active role in preparation, we keep a few things in mind as we're recipe hunting:
  • Recipes should feature fruits and/or vegetables prominently, particularly fruits and vegetables that are in season locally  
  • Recipes should use fresh, natural, not-processed ingredients 
  • Recipes should be low in sugar and other add-ins so often used to "hide" a healthy ingredient (think candied yams)
  • Recipes should be easy to prepare and serve
  • Recipes have significant opportunities for hands-on participation by students, whether it’s measuring, simple cutting, prepping veggies (i.e. shelling peas or hulling corn) 
Happy first day of Grow Afterschool! It's been a busy summer for the Let's Grow team - check out the Thursday Table section of the website to see what we've been cooking with our Northwest summer bounty. Summer certainly keeps on giving, with some crops - like corn and tomatoes! - still producing.

Grow Afterschool will be featuring tomatoes and sweet corn in our first recipes of the school year. We'll be posting those in the recipes section, and offering tasting, cooking, and gardening news from the Grow kitchen and gardens, right here. 

Here's to a great fall! 
Chef Carla Manuel gets kids to help make a yummy peach and avocado salsa at Unthank Park before the film "Ratatouille" starts for Movies In the Park.
Are you in need of some easy recipes for your next summer barbeque, but don't want to bother with the grill? Chef Carla Manuel showed families at Unthank Park for Movies in the Park and at Sunday Parkways in North Portland's Peninsula Park how to get everyone involved in the kitchen, without spending hours of prepping the meal.

Kids learned how to make:
  1. Peach & Avocado Salsa
  2. Carrot & Mint Salad
  3. Thai Pineapple Salad
  4. No-Cook Blackberry Chutney
  5. Tabbouleh Lebanese Salad
  6. Greek Salad

In addition, kids put their taste buds to the test and sampled fresh and local produce like peaches, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and tomatoes! For a refreshing and fun way to cool off, kids also tried infused waters.
People gather around at Peninsula Park to take part in a cooking demo by Manuel.
Summer is finally upon us and that means it's time for fun outdoor activities, backyard barbeques, and weekend getaways! 
The Let's Grow team at Portland Parks &Recreation would love to hear about your adventures this summer.  With that said, we'd like to introduce you to the Let's Grow garden gnome. He may be small but he loves to explore as much of the big world as he can! Will you show him around Portland this summer? He is a perfect travel buddy and is easy to fit in your pocket. 
Help the Let’s Grow gnome keep track of his to-do list by snapping photos of his adventures!

He even made a list of things he wants to do before school starts again:
-Take a hike in Forest Park
-Grow (and eat!) fresh herbs        
-Practice his yoga moves
-Drink a lot of water         
-Visit a farmer’s market
-Swim at a Portland pool   
-Shuck an ear of corn
-Try out  every swing in the neighborhood       
-Play leap-gnome 
-Pick berries 
-Cook a Thursday Table menu every week
-Plant a garden for fall       
-See a movie in a park      
-Learn a new outdoor sport or activity, like Frisbee or hula hoop or bocce
-Walk to the top of Mt. Tabor
-Climb a rock wall  
-Cool off at a splash pad
-Make big smile with a slice of watermelon
-Dance at a summer concert
-Grill fresh vegetables 

Hope you are up for the challenge! Send photos and stories to Portland Parks & Recreation for sharing on the Let's Grow blog at www.letsgrowpdx.org... just email them to anna.norman@portlandoregon.gov!

Herbs are great to have on hand when you are cooking in order to give  dishes great flavor. So try making these easy and fun herb planters with kids next time you want do a craft project. Enjoy!

Sturdy 1-liter plastic bottles with caps
Utility knife
Label remover or vegetable oil
Potting soil
Herb seedlings

  1. For each planter, mark a line 5 inches from the bottle’s base. Use the utility knife to puncture the bottle at the mark (an adult should do this), then use scissors to cut all the way around the bottle at the mark. Remove the label, using the label remover or vegetable oil to get rid of any extra adhesive.
  2. With the cap in place, invert the bottle’s top portion and insert it into the base. Fill it partway with soil. Transplant a seedling, adding soil and pressing it gently until the seedling is secured in the planter.
  3. Lift out the soil-filled top portion and remove the cap. Add about an inch of water to the planter’s base, enough to cover the lip of the inverted bottle top when you replace it. Give the seedling some more water to help it get established, and then place it in a sunny spot. Following the care instructions that came with the herb, add water as needed to the planter’s base.

Say goodbye to April showers and welcome in May! The sun is out and so are the farmers markets. Enjoy the warm weather with fresh produce, samples of homemade jams and honeys, and live music. Check out the Oregonian’s helpful guide for a market open in your neighborhood.

And why not get the whole family involved? Get kids excited about grocery shopping at the farmers market and try doing a fun scavenger hunt. Here's a list of questions to guide your hunt:

1. What season is it now?

2. List 3 fruits and 3 vegetables that are available at the farmer’s market today.

3. Name a fruit or vegetable that comes in many different varieties at the market. ­­­­­        a. Name three of the varieties:

4. What is your favorite fruit or vegetable at the market right now?

5. Find a farm that is less than 100 miles from the market.
        a. Name the farm:
        b. What do they grow? 
        c. Why is how close the farm is to the market important?

6. Name a fruit or vegetable available at the market that you’ve never 
    seen before.

7. Ask three vendors what time they woke up this morning, and how long it took
    them to get to the market.

8. Find a purple fruit or vegetable.

9. Find a vegetable that grows underground.

10. What is the most interesting thing you found for sale at the farmer’s 
        market today?

And don't forget to check out the seasonal Let's Grow recipes to help with your shopping list before heading to the market!

Avocados have been showing up in a few of our Grow Afterschool lesson recipes, like tofu lettuce wraps and guacamole, but they can be tricky to cut. Check out this easy step-by-step video from Epicurious for the next time you have to prepare a dish with avocados!
March is a perfect time to get out in the garden and plant some peas! This cool-season crop thrives in the Northwest and is a great food staple for every garden. Get inspired by some of the pea trellises built by GROW Afterschool students at Hillside and St. John's Community Center. The trellis design possibilities are endless, so get building and make your neighbors jealous by spring time! Check out pictures below!

PP&R garden guru Dani Ferguson and students planted a few of the pea seeds in a seedling tray, which will be grown indoors, so they can compare the growth process to those planted directly outside.
The Hillside gardeners are pleased with the results of their first pea trellis!
PictureThe pea trellises at Hillside look like a success! Ferguson and students fashioned the trellises out of bamboo sticks and garden twine to make a teepee-like structure.

St. John's Community Center also seized the opportunity to plant peas in their raised beds. Student gardeners from the "Sunflower" group built their pea trellis in a vertical formation.
Students (from left) Francis, Ryder, TJ, Ava, and Shaylee strike a pose in front of their pea trellis at St. John's Community garden.
The gardeners learned how to read a soil thermometer in order to know when the ground will be at the desired temperature to plant crops.
Instructor Brooke Hieserich (left) taught her Sunflower group how to grow their own sunflower seeds.
Does your garden need some sprucing up? No matter what level you are at in the gardening department, there is always something easy to grow. You can start small and simply focus on trying to grow a mini herb garden. Who knows, maybe by summer you will be growing kale! Okay, well let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

February is a great time to focus on growing seedlings indoors. Sometimes cool season crops are easier to grow inside due to chilly temperatures outdoors. Cultivating seeds inside will give them a jump start to germinate and grow. Chives are a foolproof seed to grow indoors. Here is how: