Our local schools have been blessed with a generous benefactor who donates Christmas presents each year to the elementary students of three area schools. In addition to providing toys, this donor also gives each K-12 student a new pair of shoes.
Since the elementary students have traditionally received their gifts after attending a Christmas program in our school’s theater, my building administration has always had my culinary students produce Christmas cookies for the children. Over past years we have baked and decorated as many as 1,200 cookies over a period of 2.5 weeks. Each child has gotten three assorted cookies.
This year we were asked to produce just 350 cookies because our administration wanted to give something other than cookies. In addition to receiving one cookie, the principal asked us to pair each crispy treat with a packet of Swiss Miss hot cocoa mix.
We spent two days baking sugar cookies and three days hand painting them with royal icing. Royal icing is made using egg whites that are whisked with cream of tartar and powdered sugar. The resulting mixture is a form of edible glue. Gingerbread houses are assembled with royal icing because the icing dries “rock hard.” Colored icing painted over cookies adds a nice decorative touch without all the mess you’d get if we used butter cream. It also adds an extra sweet crunch to the cookie.
My classes produced Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and Christmas tree cookies. After decorating the cookies, we placed each cookie in a plastic bag along with a packet of hot chocolate. Since we had a few packets of hot chocolate left over, I gave these packets to the students who had bagged the cookies.
After making the hot chocolate, the students were very quiet. It did not occur to me to question why they were being so silent As a teacher, I was simply grateful that they weren’t metaphorically bouncing off the walls.
“We should tell him,” I overheard one student whisper.
“I don’t want to tell him. You tell him.”
“Why should I tell him?”
“Because it’s a PROBLEM,” insisted the other student. “It’s EVERYONE’s problem. Do you really want the elementary kids to have this happen to them? Wouldn’t you feel bad if this happened to your brother?”
The first student shrugged. “Who cares about him? I don’t really like him anyway.”
“Now that’s just cold. Do you really think anyone really deserves this?”
“SHHHH! Chef is looking at us.”
“Chef!” announced the other student. “I need to tell you something”
Mary (not her real name) proceeded to show me her cup of hot chocolate. THERE WERE TINY BUGS FLOATING on the surface. Her honesty broke the proverbial dike and several other students then reported bugs in their hot chocolate.
When I looked at the few hot chocolate packets that had not been used, I saw several bags had tiny holes bored through the sides. At some point the boxes had become infested and bugs had dug their way inside the hot chocolate packets.
This discovery was beyond disgusting. Can you imagine the public relations fiasco that might have occurred if the elementary students of three schools had been given contaminated packets of hot chocolate? Even though we had nothing to do with the bugs, the parents would have blamed us. Some might have even blamed my Culinary Arts program.
I immediately reported this to my building admin. We were asked to remove all of the hot chocolate packets and to return them to the office. The office said they would return the hot chocolate to Sam’s Club for a full refund. The office manager also asked for a couple of packets with the holes so she could show them to customer service. I put these packets in a zip lock bag to avoid any further contamination issues.
Although we could have replaced the hot chocolate, the office decided not to take the chance that other packets could be contaminated. Even though the possibility of adding candy canes was discussed, nothing ever came of it and the elementary students were only given cookies.
Mary could have emulated her classmates and quietly disposed of the hot chocolate without saying a word. Her honesty made it possible for us to avoid what would have been a huge public relations fiasco. To show how much I appreciated her, I gave her a burger candle on the day that we had our burger party.
As to why we had a burger party, I did this to motivate my classes to give me their best efforts in producing our Christmas cookies. I know from hard experience over previous years that if there’s nothing in it for them, some students won’t pay any attention to what they’re doing and they’ll turn out cruddy products.
Since most students like burgers, a burger party seemed the best way to go and I promised my students that they could make hamburgers with all the works if they helped me meet my production goals. Admin had wanted us to make 350 cookies. We made 375 just to be on the safe side. After all, things happen. New students register. Some kid will accidentally drop his or her cookie. Just when you think that everything is going fine, life has an unfortunate tendency to throw the occasional curve ball. Having a few extra cookies is always a good idea just in case they’re needed.
To avoid further problems I also checked with the school nurse about food allergies among the elementary students. It was good that I did so because 7 of the 350 kids had allergies to gluten or eggs. Although I could have made shortbread cookies using gluten free flour, my building admin told me that they would provide alternate treats for these seven children.
Everything went swimmingly. Even though I had allocated one and a half weeks to produce our cookies, we completed them in just five days.
On the day of the burger party, the hamburger patties for each class were made by seasoning frozen 1/3rd pound patties and baking them in the oven for 30 minutes. The students had the option of using salt, pepper, ground cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. The advanced students made fries while the Culinary I students got chips. Everyone had the option of toasting their buns. In addition to ketchup and mustard I provided mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and lettuce. I even had pepper jack and cheddar cheese for students who wanted to make cheeseburgers. One minute before the burgers came out of the oven, the students who wanted cheeseburgers topped their patties with cheese. Sixty seconds in the oven sufficed to melt the cheese over the meat patties.
Since Mary is a vegetarian, I made sure that she had the option of having a veggie burger. To avoid cross contamination issues, she cooked her veggie burger separate from the sheet pans that were used for the 1/3rd pound beef patties.
The elementary kids had their Christmas assembly on Thursday and several teachers shared nice comments that the children made about their cookies. All in all our burger party and the elementary Christmas assembly was a fine way for everyone to end the week.
Semester exams begin next week and I will then be on a two week break during which time I’ll break ground to excavate a pond in my backyard. I will also resume work on my fantasy novel. I plan on reducing the inventory in my Shop Nevada store and to transfer these candles to an Etsy store that I will start over the Christmas break. Selling candles will free up space so that I may resume making additional candles.