Our summer scheme – the first ever this year – was sold out. It is hard to believe that Elements is slightly less than a year old.
Children from all over North Down and Belfast got to experience the excitement of the Northern Irish summer.
From the start of July’s scorching heat to the almost deluge at the end of the first week of August, there was always fun to be had.
As nature becomes recognised as more and more important to our well being, being part of Forest School is being seen as something which feeds all elements (excuse the pun) of our bodies and souls.
It is almost a cliche to speak about the sites which we visit as magical but this site really IS magical. The land looked after so thoughtfully by Glencraig is one of the most sensitively managed areas we have used. And yet at the same time so welcoming to people.
It has a river which rises and falls – in a very safe manner. The water is filled with trout and we spent many happy hours trying to catch them.
The children were able to watch first hand the effect of rain on these streams and due to the cleanliness of the water they were able to play in them. It is quite sad that many water courses in Ireland are so polluted due to agricultural run off. But not here!!!!
The forest is large enough for adventures to take place. Like this walk over the troll bridge. Here stories are made and come to life. Here lessons can be learnt without ever being taught. For instance… the troll who lived under this bridge. He lived there because his family didn’t want him to live under the bridges in Belfast because he did not want to eat people. So he now lived there as he caught only fish. So let us be kind to the troll and be good to the water.
Walking in rivers and chasing fish is a lost art – many children today are taught to fear the water and fire. But at Elements, supervised fun is given free reign.
Because we have a small number of children and a group of experienced and passionate teachers, we are able to carry out some very exciting but practical activities. Cooking is very close to children’s hearts and Matthew Walton our new Forest School teacher made gluten free bannock.
We also made potato gratin over the open fire. Apparently this is the best potato dish anyone had ever made!
We whittled little sticks and walking sticks! Knife skills for six to 12 year olds is something we delight in doing. Children working with fire and knives learn that these are tools which are to be respected. If they are careful with them, they will be able to be in control of the fire/ knife and something dangerous can be a help meet.
With the permission of Glencraig, we were able to harvest young sycamore trees as part of the forest management activity and turn these beautiful trees into walking sticks which were keepsakes. We made nettle cords and these were then used to create handles on the walking sticks which hands could be slipped through.
We also spent time at the beach and made rocket stoves learning how to make a small efficient fire using only a tin and cottonwool. Every day was a learning day, every minute a minute of fun and just like that it was over.
Tired but happy has to be our tagline… that and of course, the Greatest Outdoors!!!!
What is tea? Tea is simply leaves which have been dried (or maybe not dried), and then scalded with boiling water to infuse the leaves that gives you a liquid which is drinkable. You can drink tea hot or cold. You can make tea from any edible leaf or even fruit.
The tea which is used in masala tea is regular builders tea. The leaf has been fermented and then roasted to within an inch of its life which gives it that brown colour.
The word masala means mixed.
In this case it is the spices which are mixed to then give you this wonderful tea. Excellent for anytime for day.
Don’t forget you can talk about the history of tea, the health giving benefits of it, where it come from, etc if you are making it with a child. Children love masala tea, much more than coffee and it is very gentle on the stomach.
Tea – ‘builders’ tea is good. You want five or six bags – it has to be strong.
1.5 litres of water – you’ll want to make a whole load and then heat it up every time you want a top up. I can get the tea to last two days and it gets better each day as the spices infuse more.
Spices – here you can take your pick. But in general you have
Black Pepper (yes!)
My own personal combination, if you have nothing else is cardamom, black pepper and ginger. But just figure it out for yourself. It does smell like mulled tea.
Sugar/Xylitol – to taste
Milk (whole milk is best). Cow milk is a huge part of Indian culture but if you want to substitute it with a vegan option, that’s cool too.
The secret to good masala teh is a strong tea and infusing the ingredients.
Boil the water and the tea bags. Till they are quite infused.
Throw in all your favourite spices.
Simmer on low heat for about ten minutes. The kitchen should smell amazing now!
Remove from the heat and serve with milk and sugar to taste.
Traditional masala teh is served with milk. You cna choose to not have any sugar and it will still taste amazing but it sill also taste great with sugar. If you put cinnamon in, it will have a natural sweetness.
Have it with an Indian dessert like gulabjam or rasmalai.
Enjoy while putting your wildlife garden together.
This can also be used for Nettle Soup. Although it is not the right time of year for Nettle Soup. You’ll have to wait till next spring! However, if you do grow lots of spinach this is one of my all time favourite recipes. It combines spinach with curried rice. A real winner all round!
Three handfuls of spinach
1 litre of water (for the soup)
Rice – two handfuls (one handful per person)
Water – estimate for the rice. I’ll show you how!
Spices: Cardamom (1 pod is enough), cloves (2 or 3), pepper seeds, cinnamon, garam masala, mustard seeds (everything in small quantities – half a teaspoon per handful of rice). If you can’t get any of the above, just use a teaspoon of curry powder per handful of rice.
Salt to taste or a stock cube of your choice
Fresh garlic (optional)
Cook the rice. This is the recipe for a bryani/pilau rice. It is so easy to make it is like falling off a log. Here’s how.
In a saucepan, heat some oil till it is fairly hot, but not smoking. Throw in the spices/curry powder you are using. Fry for about ten seconds. Make sure it doesn’t burn. Take the pan off the fire if it start to burn. The frying releases the oils and flavours.
Put your rice and fry it for another minute or so till the rice is coated in oil and spices.
Then put in the water to cook the rice. The way my mother taught me was an inch of water just over the rice. Add a bit of salt to give it a flavour.
Now is the most important part. Get a fitting lid and put it over the rice, when the water has boiled, turn it down to simmer. DO NOT REMOVE THE LID, DO NOT STIR THE RICE. It is the steam that cooks the rice and the steam rises through the natural tunnels which are created by the water and rice. If you stir the rice the tunnels are destroyed and the rice will not be fluffy.
Watch the rice so that the water doesn’t overboil, keep it at a simmer. If the pot overboils you can just take the lid off and keep it over the pot loosely so it doesn’t do that again. But get a pot which is large enough so that it won’t overboil and you’ll be golden.
It should be done in twenty minutes or so. You can remove the lid after ten minutes to see if everything’s ok. If the rice is still a bit crunchy and there is no more water left, add a bit of water to complete the cooking. When it is done, leave the lid on, turn off the heat and then let the rice finish cooking off in its own steam. The rice should smell amazing now.
Take the spinach and blitz it with some water. It will now be an amazing green liquid.
In a new pot, put the spinach liquid and bring to a boil. If you want, you can add a garlic clove, but it won’t be necessary BECAUSE, when your rice is cooked, and your soup is ready, put the rice into the soup and then let it simmer for a few minutes.
Your Spianch and Rice Curry soup! If you have paneer, you can put it in now… maybe tomorrow I’ll do how to cook paneer.
As you are cooking, you can let your child taste the spices and talk about where they came from! It’s very interesting to see how disgusted they are when it is in concentrated amounts, but how when worked through the food these small amounts bring the entire dish to life. There is a lesson in there somewhere… maybe less is more? Good things come in small doses?
Also you can talk about rice and how it is one of the seven grains of the world. The best thing about this recipe is that there is no chilli so kids can eat it. IF you want to zing it up you can add ginger (sliced like matchsticks and fried with the spices) or fresh cut chili at this stage as well.
It is full of iron and the various spices have protective qualities e.g. cloves are good for digestion, as is garam masala, cardamom is good for dental hygiene and has anti bacterial properties. All spices are good really.
You can also talk about India, as a country, it’s gods and culture, animals there – cooking is an entry to the whole world!