Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I teach French at an all-boys school in Toronto. When I tell people that I only teach boys, many wonder what this is like. Many think I am crazy too! I can tell you that it’s definitely not a job for everyone – going into my first year, I knew that it would either be a job for years or, well, not. I’m now in my twelfth year teaching there and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Certainly, teaching boys-only requires a different approach, a different energy than teaching in a co-ed environment but I maintain that I’m a better teacher for this experience. Often, when I read job descriptions for other, non-teaching jobs, I think I’m lucky because I practice so many different skills every day in my job that many people wouldn’t necessarily associate with teaching Thinking on my toes? Check. Flexibility? Check. Negotiation skills? Check. Learning how to compromise? Check. I could go on and on!
Many of you will also know that alongside French, I have been lucky enough to teach the boys cooking in after school clubs for the past seven years (you can read about one of those clubs, Les Petits Chefs, here) and, in a way, it has totally transformed my teaching too. Getting to know the boys in a non-academic environment (outside the classroom) has been the key to better, in-class relationships (and better attitudes towards French in some cases!). It’s wonderful to see boys come to cooking club and, in most cases, absolutely shine in this area. Boys for whom French might not exactly be their favorite subject, boys who find French hard (it IS hard!), boys who learn by doing – cooking offers them a way to show me a different side of themselves as learners and I couldn’t be more happy that I get to see this.
As well as noticing how much I am benefiting from interacting with the boys on a different level through cooking club, over the years, one thing that I have noticed is the rise in allergies and food intolerances I’m seeing. When I first started the club in 2010, I had the occasional peanut allergy. Over recent years, I’ve seen all sorts of different and new-to-me allergies that have really kept ME on my toes as the person who shops for the ingredients each week. I spend an inordinate amount of time shopping for ingredients, reading labels, corresponding with the parents about this or that ingredient and it’s been a really interesting experience (and educational for me too!).
But this hasn’t just been an educational experience for me – I always talk to the boys about any different ingredients we have used and why. As an educator, it’s my job to prepare the boys for life in the real world and as my goal is that they leave school with some notion of cooking, many of them with intolerances and allergies really need to be aware of the foods they can and can’t eat/ use in cooking. Last term we had a gluten and dairy intolerance in my younger students’ club, Cooking Basics, and while, for the most part the gluten issue didn’t impact the recipes we were making, trying to limit dairy seemed a little challenging (and I really felt for the boy – I certainly could not live without my French cheese fill when I am there over the holidays!). In a number of recipes (mac and cheese, chili, fajitas, curry) we came across some form of dairy product – often in the form of Greek yoghurt – but in consulting with the boy’s mum, I learned that a lactose free sour cream would definitely work. As such, GayLea lactose-free sour cream made its way into my fridge and the fridge at school and has a pretty much permanent place there. It’s lovely and thick (not fat-free) and, as one boy said, “it just tastes normal”. Perfect!
For this month’s Gay Lea recipe, I’ve chosen to make a soup that uses pantry and fridge staples (including that lactose-free sour cream). As it’s chilly outside and dark when I leave work each day, I’m not a huge fan of shopping daily like I am in in the warmer weather, so having a pot of soup either ready to make (since I already have the ingredients) or ready to eat is my idea of a perfect dinner – no shopping and hardly any prep! This soup is a family favourite (from my mum’s recipe binder) and it’s the type of recipe I love to teach the boys too – real food that is simple to make and nourishing. You don’t get much better than that! The sour cream adds a, well, creaminess to the soup and, for kids, tones down the paprika, while the green onions add a nice crunch and some freshness.
Easy, comforting soup that used fridge and pantry staples.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 small onions (300g total), halved and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons paprika powder
- 454g (1lb) ground beef OR a mix of ground beef and pork
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large potato (300g), peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
- 1 can (796mls) diced tomatoes, and their juices
- 500mls (2 cups) beef stock
- Gay Lea lactose-free sour cream
- green onions, sliced finely
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
- Sauté the onions and garlic until they are just starting to colour (approx 5 minutes), stirring constantly.
- Add the paprika and stir to coat the onions evenly. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Add the ground beef gradually, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and cook until it's browned.
- Add the salt and pepper and the potato and stir to combine.
- Add the tomatoes and stock and bring the mix to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low-medium and simmer for 20 minutes until the potato is soft.
- Serve the soup topped with sour cream and the green onions.
Disclosure: I am part of the PTPA Brand Ambassador Program with Gay Lea, and receive compensation as part of my affiliation with this group. As always, opinions expressed here are my own and I only write about/ recommend products I use and love. If you know me in real life or follow me on social media, you’ll know that writing a French food cookbook requires ridiculous amounts of butter so this campaign is a perfect fit 😉