Newsletter for Alvarado Elementary School, San Francisco Adjust Background: Darker / Lighter

WHAT'S COOKING (a column by Max Millard)

Bell Market
field trip

November 2005

For the 3rd year in a row, the Excel after-school program has a weekly cooking class in the teacher's room and kitchen. The class is held Friday from 3 to 4:30 p.m. and serves about 16 students from 1st to 5th grade. Visitors are welcome, space permitting. Cooking is one of the best all-round enrichment activities because it combines science, nutrition, manual skills, literacy, history, geography, and the delight of a happy ending. Students learn to knead, grate, chop, stir, mix, sift, squeeze and strain. This year the class has made tapioca drinks, floating rice cakes, macaroni & cheese, and jam turnovers, all from scratch. Last year's favorites included pizza, cream puffs and fried wontons. The students always manage to cook and eat, clean up, and wash and dry the dishes before 5 p.m. The class is generously supported by food donations from Bell Market at 3950 24th Street. For more information contact Max Millard at .

December 2005

The after-school cooking club, which meets each Friday (or Thursday during short weeks), has been headed by Excel teacher Max Millard since it began in 2003. Max, who became a food fanatic during his 6 years as a restaurant reviewer for newspapers, sets up the kitchen and plans the recipes. Bell Markets on 24th Street provides most of the ingredients for free.

The club accommodates up to 18 children at once, but this would not be possible without the help of two skilled co-teachers, Salisa Papartassee (Fridays) and Nancy Osorio (Thursdays). Salisa grew up in the food business; her mother is a chef and her family owns 5 restaurants in SF -- Vanida Thai, Pickwick Cafe, Silky Bar & Restaurant, and two Siam Thai Noodle restaurants. The best thing, she told the club, is that she doesn't need to cook at home because she can get anything she wants from the restaurants.

Nancy, who taught kindergarten in El Salvador for 3 years, is the mother of 2 Alvarado students -- 2nd grader Justin and 3rd grader Ashley. She works at Alvarado as both a yard supervisor during lunchtime and an Excel homework teacher, but her participation in the cooking club is entirely voluntary. Both Salisa and Nancy make the class flow smoothly by keeping the students busy, helping them perform any cooking operation, and maintaining safety.

January 2006

On November 30th, three adults and 18 third graders from the Excel after-school program visited the Noe Valley Bakery & Bread Company at 4073 24th Street. Owners Michael and Mary Gassen greeted us outside and led us into the crowded kitchen, where workers continued their tasks, squeezing by us carrying trays loaded with goodies. Michael, a large, jovial man wearing a white apron, held the group's attention for 45 minutes with an entertaining lecture/demonstration. He displayed many kinds of flour and yeast, explained how bread is made, and sliced samples of flavored sourdough breads for us to try. Then he showed off his cookie dough machine -- a combination rolling pin and conveyor belt -- with which the bakery turns out 10,000 cookies each Christmastime. He even let the group handle some cookie dough, which he later discarded. At the end, everyone was given a delicious fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie and a cup of milk. Thanks Michael for giving us your time and cookies in the middle of your busiest season! The Web site is

Noe Valley Bakery
& Bread Company

March 2006

A popular site in Noe Valley for school field trips is Bell Markets at 3950 24th Street. On February 9, 18 children and three adults from the Excel after-school program went there for a tour, after making arrangements through store manager Enrico Fornesi. Laura Taylor, a 15-year employee, met us at the front and led us through, stopping to point out the different sections and answer questions. Some people, she said, work all night to stock the shelves and price the items. She explained the difference between beer and wine, demonstrated the sprayer for the fresh produce, and took us all inside the huge refrigerator where it's always 48 degrees. Then she led us upstairs -- where only employees go -- to see the long conveyor belts for moving boxes and the room where meat is prepared. At the end, Laura gave us two big packages of Valentine cookies and two bags of bright orange clementines. We ate the cookies on the way back and the fruit in the cafeteria. Thank you Bell Markets for a fun and educational trip! The store also supports the Excel cooking class each month with a $25 gift certificate.

April 2006

The Excel cooking class held its final session of the year on February 17. Due to a shortage of staff in the Excel after-school program, it was not possible for the class to continue. I started the class in September 2003 and held it every week after that, sometimes teaching two classes back-to-back for more than 30 students. But I always had another teacher to help out, for safety and practical reasons. The routine was: find out what the kids like to eat, get a recipe, practice it at home, type it up on a single page with all the cooking tools listed, print extra copies for the kids to follow, then arrive early on cooking day to set up the table and prepare the kitchen. I studied the origin and use of the ingredients ahead of time to discuss during class, and brought in food-related stories to read aloud when something was baking in the oven. The class was part science, part history, part home economics, part nutrition and part sensual delight. I felt privileged to be able to use the kitchen and teacher's room on a weekly basis, because at my previous school, the use had been strictly limited by the principal. The one constant at both schools was the kids' intense interest in learning to cook. A big thanks to the teachers and staff for your generous spirit about the kitchen, to Jose Zelada for always praising the food and never complaining about the floor, and to Bell Markets for donating most of the ingredients. It's been a good run. If anyone would like a copy of the recipes used for the class, send an email to .

May 2006

Without doubt, the favorite food of Alvarado students is pizza. That's why the biggest reward for any class is to have a pizza party. On March 29, when my Excel after-school class of third graders had all finished writing their bios for our yearbook, I ordered three extra-large pizzas from North Beach Pizza at 800 Stanyan Street. We got one cheese pizza, one pepperoni and one vegetarian special. None of the kids wanted vegetarian as their first choice, but many tried it and were converted. Later we voted on our favorites. Pepperoni won narrowly, followed by cheese, but vegetarian also got two votes. Yadira Diaz explained her vote by saying: "You can take off the pepperoni and eat it separately at the end." Jasmin Contreras said, "I never tasted vegetarian before. It's my favorite because it has a lot of things that I like -- black olives, mushrooms and onions." Erick Miranda called North Beach "the greatest pizza in the world" and Jenny Campuzano described it as "the best pizza I ever had. It was crunchy and good and not too greasy, tasty and yummy." The company has locations citywide and delivers everywhere. The number is 415-751-2300 and the Web site is