Air fried chicken strips
Spanish rice and beans
Sparkling fruit punch
Vanilla & chocolate cupcakes
Fresh strawberries with homemade whipped cream
Chocolate dipped pretzel rods (thanks to Gryphon!)
It’s hard to believe that the last Cultivating Change reflection I wrote was penned in December. So much has happened in the intervening months, the most difficult being that Jan’s husband was diagnosed with cancer in January, and she has been caring for him around the clock ever since. We managed to squeeze in a couple classes in March because Jan missed cooking with the youth so much, but it wasn’t possible for us to commit to weekly classes. I fumbled to find ways to help her, and realized in the process how close Jan and I have become through teaching together. I feel like our efforts to create community at CCYC through cooking created a strong bond between us as well.
April saw us return to a more regular schedule, and it has been amazing to be cooking with both the boys and girls again. This week we cooked with the girls, and the menu was decided by A., who celebrated her birthday the day prior. As we were setting up to cook with the girls, the boys were leaving the multipurpose room, and D. and E. ran up to tell us that it was their birthday too. Luckily Jan had baked plenty of cupcakes, so we assured them that we would cook up some birthday meals for them as well.
Jan and I tend to overdo it when it comes to the menu, and usually we push cooking to the limits in an effort to make lots of delicious and healthy dishes for the youth. With so much going on right now, Jan decided that we should keep it simple—focus on a couple of key dishes, and have prepared any extras in advance.
This class, we only needed to make the chicken and rice and beans with the youth. Jan made the cupcakes and pretzel rods in advance with her grandson, and the drink and fruit would just need simple prep. The girls would decorate the cupcakes with frosting, sprinkles and fruit.
The foundation of the menu, per usual, was spice, and we made the adobo and sazon seasoning mixes used in both recipes at the start of class. We divided into two groups with one group preparing the spiced flour and breadcrumb mixture for the chicken, while the other group sautéed the onions, peppers and seasoning for the rice and beans. As soon as the vegetables for the rice and beans started to cook, the aroma drew people over. First, my assistants wandered off after they placed the first batch of chicken in the oven, drawn by the smell of the vegetables. Then the staff lifted the lid of the skillet to peek inside. Next staff who weren’t even in the multipurpose room came by to find out what we were preparing. There was growing interest in our menu and it was pulling everyone together to talk about food.
As the chicken baked and the rice and beans simmered, we worked together to decorate the cupcakes and mix our sparkling birthday punch. A. was happy to be the star of the show for her birthday, and we joked and laughed easily as we prepared dessert. There was plenty of food for the two boys’ pods as well as staff, so without complaint the girls decorated cupcakes for them and we divvied up the chicken and rice and beans so that everyone could sample the meal. I was grateful for their generosity. More than once when cooking with the boys, I have forgotten to set aside extra food for the other pods, and before I know it, the boys have scarfed down everything we prepared, leaving the other pods with nothing. Jan and I are now trying to teach in a way that we plate up food for the other pods first, and emphasize the abundance that comes through sharing with others. Food is such a powerful vehicle for creating community and modeling a culture of generosity and service. We witnessed it today in the way the girls delighted in preparing food for others and sitting down together with staff to share their creations and take pride in their efforts.
Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!