With the boys:
Tortizzas (tortillas with mozzarella, tomato, cucumber, avocado, feta, and a yogurt honey sauce)
Instant Pot applesauce with Jan’s homemade zucchini bread
Honeymooner (lemonade with tulsi tea and honey)
With the girls:
Spicy miso eggplant
Instant Pot applesauce with Jan’s homemade zucchini bread
It was a great day! We were finally back with the boys, AND P. and A. were both still in the shelter. We’ve been trying to showcase ingredients two ways, so that the youth can develop an appreciation for food in different contexts. For the boys, we focused on tortillas, and prepared breakfast burritos and tortizzas, a recipe that Jan found. When she showed it to me before class, I wasn’t quite sure if it would be something that would go over well. I couldn’t have been more wrong! They were delicious. The boys devoured them. It inspired us to think of other tortizza flavor combinations that we could concoct for the cookbook. That is what is so great about Cultivating Change. We can test and troubleshoot recipes, and be pleasantly surprised by what is a big hit. The opposite is also true, and equally helpful. Sometimes I’ll think that a recipe will be a sure winner and it ends up being a complete dud. Well, there were no duds in this week’s class. The applesauce was also a snap and very tasty. I harvested some apples from the orchard on Friday and dug out my old fashioned manual apple peeler, corer, slicer. I’ve always thought that it was an amazing machine, and I was pleased to see that both the girls and boys enjoyed its magical simplicity. Especially the part at the end when you can pull the peeled and cored apple off of the spike and it twirls open in one beautiful, long spiral. We cooked the applesauce in an Instant Pot, which I’d never used before, so it was a learning process for all of us. I’m so glad that Jan thought of bringing it, because it allowed us to set it and forget it, which is definitely an advantage when you have such a short time to prep, cook, eat, and clean up. I was a little worried at the start of class about being able to complete everything on time, since this was our first week back with both groups (it makes me wonder how we ever used to cook with three classes!). When it was time to eat, I happened to set all of the plates of burritos at an empty table, and I was pleased to see that the four boys sat together, right where the plates had been set. Normally, the boys tend to spread out and sit alone, so we’ve never had that family dinner table feel that we get with the girls. I will make a mental note to continue to set a table with the food, so that boys get in the habit of sharing their meal.
With the girls, we focused on eggplant as the theme ingredient. Eggplant is tough, because I feel like people either love it or hate it. We went with Asian flavors and had a spicy version and a sweeter version to prepare. A. was in charge of both dishes, and she totally nailed them. It is not easy to cook eggplant well, but she is really learning to read the ingredients to see how they should be cooked. I couldn't eat enough of the spicy miso eggplant. The girls enjoyed the tortizzas and applesauce as much as the boys. And it goes without saying that the zucchini bread disappeared as soon as it hit the table. P. does not like tomatoes, to the point that she wouldn’t even cut them for the tortizza recipe. But she said that she would taste the tortizza for me, and as soon as she took a bite, her eyes lit up. For her comment, she wrote, “I never liked any of this, but I like it now :)” She confided to us that before CCYC, she didn’t like avocados, which floored all of us, since per her request, we bring them every week to include in the meal. It’s inspiring to see their willingness to open up, be vulnerable, and try new things.
Shredded chicken chimichangas and taquitos
Pineapple jalapeno salsa
Pico de gallo, guacamole, and roasted shishito peppers
Watermelon herb agua fresca
Mini pineapple upside down cakes
The plan was to be back with the boys this week for the first time in over a month, but we got the news early Saturday morning that they had lost their privileges, so we would be working with the girls only again this class. Both A. and P. were still at CCYC, although for how much longer was the question. P. told us that she would have court in a few days to determine where she would be living. It looked likely that A. would be moving into a residential program within a few weeks. Understandably, their energy was low, and I could tell that they were distracted. Despite everything that was weighing on them, they started unloading the carts and setting up the stations without a pause. After so many weeks of Cultivating Change, their bodies knew the drill, even if their heads were elsewhere. Once we were moving, it didn’t take their minds long to find their way back to the room, and they were quickly joking and laughing with us.
Jan and A. were making the chimichanga filling, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Every few minutes, A. would pop over to offer me a sample of what they were mixing up. “Miss, try this,” as she proudly handed me a sample of what she had made. The girls have gained such confidence with seasoning and flavors that they barely look to the recipes anymore. It’s energizing to see how genuinely pumped they are about cooking.
As we sat down to eat, P. mentioned how sad she will be when A. leaves for her placement. She teared up imagining A.’s name being erased from the resident whiteboard. As we looked at their names on the board, A. laughingly mentioned how she hasn’t earned any demerits the entire time she has been here this stay. She told us how many times she lost privileges when she was at CCYC a year ago, and how her temper made her lash out at residents and staff, verbally and physically. She opened up about how much her behavior has changed in a year, how she can see that she has matured, and that she isn’t so reactive anymore. She said that now when stuff happens or people do things to upset her, she is able to just push it all aside and not let it affect her mood. It was a very powerful realization by someone so young. We congratulated her on that growth and reassured her that those tools will serve her well when she moves to her next placement.
We dug into the pineapple upside down cake, which was much more sugary than our usual fare, and P. quietly told me that it wasn’t our best effort. She said that she much preferred the zucchini bread that Jan made. I was thrilled to hear that, since it showed me that their palates are changing and they are seeking out more nourishing foods. As if to drive the point home, one of the counselors popped in to the shelter at that moment to ask if the girls wanted their lunch trays from the cafeteria. In unison, they called out a resounding, “No!” and turned back to the table to grab another chimichanga.
While we washed dishes at the end of class, Jan and I discussed how grateful we are for the longer sessions with the girls. Having the chance to sit around a dinner table and talk allows the girls time to open up and voice their concerns. That didn’t happen when we needed to race from detention to shelter for back-to-back cooking sessions. It also gives us the opportunity to really sit and listen, which helps to build the trust needed to share personal breakthroughs like the one A. had today.
Cheese fondue with broccoli, carrot, bread, potato and apple
Chocolate fondue with banana, strawberry, fig, marshmallow and pawpaw
Mixed berry smoothie with Asian pear
The girls had requested a fondue meal several weeks back, and Jan fortuitously found a $4 fondue pot at the thrift store only days after they made their request. Once Jan strategized a way for us to prepare a COVID-safe version of fondue, we were ready to roll. Most cheese fondue recipes call for wine or beer, so our challenge was to devise an equally gooey and delicious version without alcohol. We replaced the wine with chicken stock, and added ample amounts of Gruyere and cheddar cheese. P. was in charge of making the cheese fondue, and it came together in a snap. While she prepped that one, A. took charge of making the chocolate fondue. The girls had the option of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, and they voted for a combination of the two. While they diligently stirred their mixtures, Jan and I prepped the vegetables and fruits.
Before I left work on Friday, I noticed that the pawpaws were just getting ripe at the orchard, so I grabbed a couple to bring with me to CCYC. Even though pawpaws are native to this region, most people have never heard of them, let alone tasted one. I shared with the girls how they are the largest edible fruit native to North America, and that they are closely related to tropical fruits such as custard-apple and soursop, so they taste surprisingly exotic. I was excited to see how interested they were to learn about the fruit and try it. They are really adventurous eaters, and their enthusiasm draws in the staff, who frequently stop by to see what we are cooking up and join in the meal.
This was certainly one of the quickest meals we prepared, which thankfully left us plenty of time to eat. There wasn’t much talking at first because everyone was savoring the cheese fondue. I would have guessed that the girls would have eaten more of the chocolate fondue, but everyone kept coming back to the cheese and vegetables. By the end, A. and P. were picking off the last bits of cheese from the pot until it was clean.
We chatted, laughed and ate until no one could eat another bite. At the very end of the meal, A. suddenly grew sullen. She stopped engaging in the conversation. Jan was able to coax out of her that she was most likely going to be leaving the shelter soon and moving to a different placement. We have developed such a wonderful weekly routine through our shared meals, that I allowed myself to forget that it would come to an end at some point.
Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!