A Passion for Vegetables – Lodi’s Pam Castaneda

PAM CASTANEDA, Cafeteria Manager, REICE ELMENTARY SCHOOL, Lodi Unified School District, Lodi, CA

Origin: Palos Verdes, California

As Pam Castaneda (pictured left) stands in the locker room next door to her kitchen, near the Hobart stand mixer she uses to make the dough for foccacia and rolls and to mash her potatoes, we learn her heart belongs not to baking, but to fruits and vegetables. She holds a tool in her hand.

“My whole thing is using fruits and vegetables. I love this vegetable crinkle cutter. You know, kids eat a lot by the look and appearance of food.” She opens a refrigerator and shows us beautifully cut and arranged carrots and cucumbers.
Pam home-schooled her own four children for 18 years. “I integrated math and science with garden plots in my backyard. I worked with a 125 families and offered them a plot in my backyard.” Her backyard, she tells us, is about one-third of an acre, and there the kids learned how, for example, to calculate the amount of sun needed for the vegetables, and what vegetables were best grown where and when. “They could plant whatever they wanted. The backyard was like a lab for them.”

In addition to vegetables, a specialty of Pam’s, and of the district, is roast turkey with homemade gravy and mashed potatoes. The turkey breast is seasoned with sage, salt and pepper and browned, then water and onions and carrots are added. The gravy is made from the drippings, just like at home.
“Oh, it smells so good when it’s cooking. I just love this – that the aroma of roasting turkey breast wafts out. The students know when we’re cooking it.” And she adds, she serves the turkey with a whole wheat roll, baked right in her kitchen.

“I’ve been here 7 years, in the district, and I used to carve fruits and vegetables too, for special occasions.” She describes creating an elaborate pheasant centerpiece using pineapple and blueberries and a Hawaiian-themed one where shimmering blue Jell-O stood in for the islands’ azure waters.
It may be that Pam will get to practice some of her extraordinary carving skills on fruits and vegetables in the future, but for now her carving skills are focused on turkey, while the crinkle cutter takes care of the carrots and cucumbers.

Favorite tool: Crinkle Cutter and her tongue “for tasting”

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