The ‘Climbing Tree’

The other day I took the daycare friends to our ‘climbing tree.’ Just naming it that gives this poor, fallen, barkless, excuse of a tree some dignity. In reality it is just an average size, dead tree clinging for dear life unto the crook of another tree. But for 3 and 4 year-olds? It is magical!

Now The Climbing Tree happens to be next to ‘Pathetic Creek.’ This creek, as you might already imagine, is most often nothing more than a trash littered trickle, but in the early spring and during the fall rains it actually takes on the figure of an almost believable creek. The dilapidated, trailor-park-left-overs bridge adds to the ‘charm’ and character this, one of our favorite play places.

Making 'Creek Soup'

Making ‘Creek Soup’

Now, late in the season as it is, we were excited to see many kinds of mushrooms on our little adventure and the creek was nice and full, the perfect place to send our new fungal friends for a swim. After a large stick was added for ‘mixing’ it was quickly decided that we were making Creek Soup. The mushrooms were in, and now long grass was added for ‘noodles,’ moss became ‘meat,’ and leaves of varying sizes became ‘cabbage’ and ‘herbs.’ I was amazed at the creative ideas coming from the children, and their eagerness to collect ingredients was wonderful. Eventually it was time to go home for lunch and Creek Soup would be left to ‘simmer’ for another day.

But did it have to end there?

20160630_143751The kids had really come up with a very good combination of ingredients that would really make a great soup. A real-life soup. It was decided. I would take the 5 year-olds to the store at nap to help pick-out the ingredients for bring Creek Soup to life in our kitchen and for their lunch.

What I liked about this experience was the number of ways the children were involved in creating each part of it. The creek play was inspired very little by my suggestions and they certainly ran with it on their own. At the store the boys worked from their own experiences to decide that cremini mushrooms would be tastier than white ones, and that the Chuka Soba (chow mien) noodles looked more interesting than the familiar flour noodles they usually eat. We also go to pick-out and learn about some fresh herbs.

Using their main list of ingredients, (mushrooms, cabbage, noodles, meat, and herbs), with their help I was able to piece together a soup that I felt the children would enjoy eating but could also help to make. It would be a beef based Asian style soup, with lots of chunky things, noodles, and sweetness. (That was going to be my secret weapon to insure they would actually eat the soup we made.)

The serrated plastic lettuce knives are PERFECT for children of all ages to begin learning kitchen and cooking skills.

The serrated plastic lettuce knives are PERFECT for children of all ages to begin learning kitchen and cooking skills.

Using plastic lettuce knives all of the children helped with the prep. There were no rules about what the mushrooms needed to look like, and if the cabbage was a little large I just ripped it smaller. Everyone, ages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 5, got to help cut in one way or another, and we all got to explore the way that thin rice sticks puff almost instantaneously when added to hot oil.

Now the big question with children is always, “Will they actually eat it?” Well, out of 5 children served 4 children went back for seconds. I’d say that was pretty darn successful!

The moral of this story isn’t really about coming up with a great recipe or getting children to eat cabbage and mushrooms. It’s that we can encourage our children create their own ideas about food and cooking, whether it’s just make-believe or letting them pick out ingredients at the store. Get your children in the kitchen with you! Let them learn about food prep, (again those plastic knives are amazing for children!) and introduce them to new flavors. I always say that, especially with children, food always tastes better when you make it yourself!

So whether you use our recipe for Creek Soup or you are inspired to create your family’s own, I hope our experience encourages you and your family to spend some time together in the kitchen. You will all be better for it!

The children prepped A TON of mushrooms and cabbage!

Creek Soup {or} Ginger Sesame Beef and Noodle Soup

By:the children of Duleys’ Daycare
Serves: 6-8


  • 1/3 head* of green cabbage, chopped
  • 1 pound* Cremini Mushrooms, quartered or chopped
  • 1 pound of beef, cubed
  • 1/2 cup of chopped leek
  • 3 T Better than Beef Bullion
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T ginger paste
  • 1 T garlic flakes
  • 1/4 t toasted (or regular) sesame oil
  • brown sugar, to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 package chuka-soba noodles (~6 oz)
  • Maifun (rice sticks), fried for garnish
  • cilantro – course chopped
  • basil – course chopped

*Because I was throwing this together with the children I didn’t actually measure the amount of cabbage and mushrooms we used. Add however much you prefer.
…To be honest I didn’t measure much of anything, including the water, but this should be a reasonably accurate recipe. *WINK*


  1. In a large pot (5 or 6 qt) add the cubed beef and cover fully with water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 1 hour until tender.
  2. Using your beef water add as as much more water as you need to end up with a pot about half full. (more water can be add more later if desired, and bullion can be added if you find your soup to be too thin.)
  3. Add the cabbage, mushrooms, leek, bullion, soy sauce, ginger paste, garlic, sesame oil, and chuka-soba noodles. Bring back to a boil and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
    Add brown sugar if desired – as little as a tablespoon, or as much as a 1/4 cup+. This can be a ‘magic weapon’ for picky children, creating a sweet teriyaki-like flavor.
  4. Make your crispy rice sticks while your soup boils, (or any other time really since they don’t need to be kept warm). Bring a few table spoons of vegetable oil to temperature (around 160, or when a sprinkle of water ‘reacts’ in the oil) and use tongs to add a small clump of rice sticks to the hot oil. The sticks should instantly ‘plump.’ Turn the clump and fry the other side. Remove from oil and let drain on a paper towel lined plate. Add salt or seasoning such as Simply Asian.
    This can be eaten as a snack, side dish, or an accoutrement to the soup.
  5. Serve the soup in a wide bowl with the fried rice sticks, and fresh chopped cilantro and basil to be added as desired. Sambal Oelek, gochujang, or Sriracha are also great spice additions to one’s dish, depending on personal preference.

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