Amazing Buttermilk Air Fried Chicken
Air Fryer Honey-Cajun Chicken Thighs
S.’s Mom’s Mac n’ Cheese
Internet Mac n’ Cheese
Avocado Zucchini Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins
This week’s Cultivating Change was so much fun! Not only did we have Jamilah joining us as our guest chef extraordinaire, but we also had a recipe cook off. Whenever we ask the youth what recipes they would like to make in upcoming classes, fried chicken and mac n’ cheese always get lots of votes. So Jan had the brilliant idea of having a cook-off competition to judge the best fried chicken and mac n’ cheese recipes. There were six boys in class, so two teamed up with Jamilah to make the honey-cajun thighs, two joined me to make the buttermilk chicken, and then the other two prepared both types of mac n’ cheese with Jan. The plan was to have the girls from shelter judge the winners.
The energy was great in the room, with the adults getting into the competitive spirit by offering to judge the final products and stopping by periodically to watch us in action. The boys from the other chicken team also stopped by to eye up our chicken and talk smack, and everyone was in really good spirits. Two boys who I hadn’t met before, A. and T., were on my team and we had a great time preparing the flours and egg batter that would coat the chicken. I could see that T. was having a tough time understanding some of the tasks, and A. jumped right in to help him without teasing him or being rude in any way. A. later told me that he was studying nursing at his high school, and I thought that was a great career path for him having witnessed the kind and patient way he worked with T.
Once our chicken was in the air fryer, we dispersed to look at what the other teams were up to. I stopped by the mac n’ cheese table and started salivating. Both recipes looked so good. S. told me that he pieced together his mom’s recipe from memory, and Jan said that he was even doing conversions to account for the different batch size. The mac n’ cheese was getting cooked in muffin tins (of course it was—we love muffin tins!), so there were plenty of crispy edges to go with the gooey cheesy center. I couldn’t wait to try it!
When all the teams had finished up, we lined up the dishes on the table, and distributed a portion of each to all of the boys and the (many) adults who had stuck around to vote (I think they were figuring this was going to be better than whatever they had packed for lunch). After everyone had a chance to sample the dishes, we took a show of hands to determine the favorites. The clear winners were the honey-cajun thighs and S.’s mom’s mac n’ cheese. I glanced over at S. while I was tallying the raised hands, and he was beaming with pride that his mom’s recipe won. It was clearly a really special moment for him, and I was so happy that he had a chance to impress everyone with his cooking skills.
For dessert, Jan had prepared avocado zucchini chocolate chip muffins without telling the boys what was in them. After tasting them, she asked them to guess the secret ingredients, and without a moment’s hesitation D.—a boy who told us he lives on a farm and correctly identified the duck egg in last week’s class—announced confidently that it was zucchini. Everyone was stumped when it came to identifying the avocado. It turned out that the girls were not up for cooking, which meant that we had some bonus time to spend with the boys. Jan suggested that they make a batch of the chocolate muffins, so they could see how the avocado and zucchini are mixed in the batter. So while she and all of the boys mixed up a fresh batch of muffins, Jamilah and I cleaned up the dishes. It was one of the most carefree and fun Cultivating Change classes we have had in a long time. It was wonderful to have so many staff members there to join in and cheer on the boys in their culinary successes.
Pumpkin black bean quesadillas
with homemade tortillas, roasted delicate squash, and Instant Pot black beans
After so many weeks of only cooking with the girls, we are now cooking with just the boys. A. left for placement earlier in the week, and P. was making poor decisions at school and had lost her privileges. We will see what next week holds for her. I hope that the prospect of no home cooked meals with Cultivating Change will be an incentive to make better decisions, but I know that she is facing big challenges, and without A. by her side to encourage her, she probably feels like she is facing them alone.
Our plan this week was to recreate the dishes we prepared last week, only this time using all scratch-made ingredients. So instead of store-bought tortillas, Jan brought in her tortilla press and we made our own masa. I roasted a delicate squash before class that we scooped out and seasoned for the pumpkin quesadilla filling. We steamed the rice and cooked the pre-soaked black beans in the pressure cooker. We made guacamole and cut up a pineapple for dessert. It was an ambitious undertaking.
There were two new boys in class for a total of five. There is an inevitable period when people join class when the fear and uncertainty that they are feeling in a new situation comes out as teasing or jokiness. They are nervous, and then try to compensate for it by being overly confident or mean. Class began that way as we gathered around the table together to blend our own adobo seasoning. A couple of the boys were picking on S. I didn’t engage with their behavior and continued to instruct them on preparing the spice blend. I was impressed with S.’s maturity, with how he asked if he could help Jan with her preparations and left the group without ever acknowledging the others’ remarks. He was able to dissipate the tension, and the energy shifted.
One of the new boys, B., was very withdrawn, and was resistant to my attempts to draw him into the action. After we made the masa as a group, I asked if he would like to help me make the pumpkin puree. He agreed, and we started working together, just the two of us. As we worked I asked him about foods he liked and he shared some of his favorite recipes from his grandmother and sister. He eagerly shared that his 17 year-old sister is a really good cook, and it was easy to see how proud he was of her. After we finished the puree, we headed over to the tortilla press. We practiced making a few test tortillas, to make sure that we had the right size dough balls and pressure to make big enough and thin enough tortillas. Once we were pleased with the result, B. rolled the dough into golf-ball size rounds while I pressed them between sheets of wax paper on the press. In no time we had a large stack of tortillas ready to cook. We swapped jobs and B. took over on the press. He was a natural, and I could see the tension that had been on his face when he first entered the room melt away. He talked and laughed freely as we worked. I was grateful for his help as we measured and rinsed the rice for steaming, and then started cooking the tortillas in preparation for the quesadillas. It was at this point that I realized we might have been a little too ambitious in our menu planning. We still needed to cook the tortillas, fill them, and then stick them back on the skillet to melt the cheese. I stayed on the skillet while B. joined the others to take care of any final preparations for the meal.
I was a little worried after all of this work that they boys might say that this scratch-made meal wasn’t noticeably better than our packaged version from last week. I was very relieved when they said that they could really taste the difference in the tortillas, beans, and pumpkin. They said that everything was much more flavorful. It was such a hit that they were lining up for seconds, but unfortunately we had run out of time which served as a reminder why we don’t usually make everything from scratch in Cultivating Change. I guess it is better to leave them wanting more of a delicious meal though. At least this way, next time they will know not to waste precious eating time by picking on one another and will get right to the business of cooking.
Pumpkin black bean quesadillas
Apple pear carrot salad
Broccoli cheddar soup
Jalapeño cheddar biscuits
Apple pear carrot salad
With autumn officially here, Jan and I were ready to start making soups. And with the Instant Pot—our new favorite kitchen gadget—in tow, we knew that we would be able to make soups pretty quickly. We started off with the boys working as a group to prepare the ingredients for the corn chowder, so that could be cooking while we prepared the salad and quesadillas. There were three boys in this week’s session, and they all settled into their tasks very quickly. Once the soup was simmering away, we divided up to work on the other dishes. This was the second week that I worked with R. He is comfortable in the kitchen and often talks about his dad and older brother, who are both cooks. I find that it is very natural for the youth to bring up their family when we are cooking, since food is key to so many important memories for them. They open up to us easily when the focus is on the dish they are preparing and not on them directly. In this way, we are able to offer them a safe space to share their emotions without them even thinking that might be our goal.
The soup needed time to cool, so we had the boys start eating the quesadillas and salad, and saved the soup for their second course. The quesadillas were a big hit. They loved the pumpkin, which was canned, so it was really easy to use. Also, we try to make sure to give them lots of options for toppings, so that they can make their dish their own. This week we introduced papalo, a fragrant herb that is used in the cuisines of Mexico and Central and South America. Jan suggested that next week, we repeat the menu, but with roasted delicata squash and homemade corn tortillas to compare store bought versus scratch made ingredients.
The corn chowder was worth the wait. It was so flavorful, which surprised me since we threw all of the ingredients into the Instant Pot raw. We encouraged the boys to try some of the same toppings from the quesadillas in the soup. I added papalo, avocado, and roasted hot peppers to my soup. It was incredible. There was enough soup left over that we were able to take some over to the girls to try.
As soon as we arrived to the shelter and told the girls that we had soup left over from the boys’ class, they dug out the cups and spoons and dished themselves a bowlful. They liked it so much they had a second and then a third serving. Jan and I were wondering if we even needed to cook at all, but A. said that she really wanted to make the broccoli cheddar soup, so we got started. P. and I made the jalapeño cheddar biscuits while A. and Jan made the soup. We didn’t have much time to cook, since the girls were eating for the first part of the class. It felt a bit rushed, and by the time everything was on the table, there were only a few minutes left for the girls to eat and talk. They weren’t all that hungry anyway, since they had eaten so much soup at the start of class. I felt a bit disappointed, since I knew that this was A.’s last class. She would be leaving in a couple days for placement, and I wanted to hear how she felt about the transition. I wished that we kept the meal simple, and just enjoyed the leftovers from the boys’ class, which would have given us more time to sit and share. Sometimes we try to fit as many recipes into class, forgetting that it is our time together, not our production output, that feeds the change we are seeking to cultivate. I wish that I could have said more to A. before she left, about how she has grown so much and developed so many skills for how to navigate the world and her challenging emotions. That she has a great sense for food and should keep developing that talent. That we are a part of the community, and she can still come talk to us over a bowl of soup anytime she wants.
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.
Mixed vegetable frittata
Seasoned hash browns
Avocado/tomato toast on homemade bread
Berry peach mango smoothie
Peanut butter banana smoothie
The boys weren’t available for this week’s class, so we went right to the shelter to start cooking with the girls. The first order of business was to make smoothies, and the girls eagerly jumped on that job. We sampled the smoothies while prepping the food for the main course. I think they get better every class, and I like that we are in the habit of enjoying a “fancy” drink while we prepare the meal. A healthy decadence. The dishes this week shared many common ingredients, so we worked together cutting and chopping onions and peppers, and we talked about how just a few ingredients can be combined in many different ways. We collected a whole bowl of beautiful micro greens from the aquaponics tower in the multi-purpose room and seeded more vegetables in the empty pods to make sure that we have a constant supply of fresh greens for our upcoming recipes.
Back in the shelter, Jan and A. started sautéing the vegetables that would go into the frittata, while P. and I shredded potatoes and sautéed the peppers, onions, and spices for the hash browns. At one point, P. wandered over to see what Jan and A. were up to and said, “You guys are doing such a good job!” before popping back over to give the hash browns a stir. It is wonderful to see how supportive they are of one another, and how much confidence they have gained in the kitchen since the classes started. It often feels like we are just cooking a family meal together, and I quickly forget where we are and why we are there. I hope that the girls also get lost in these pleasant moments.
While the frittatas baked in muffin tins in the toaster oven*, we set the table for the meal. Jan brought silverware from her house as a break from the plastic cutlery we typically use and throw away. Setting the table is another ritual of Cultivating Change that I’ve come to love. Each week we put more care into the table, making sure that it looks beautiful, that the food is presented well, that we set a place for everyone. Jan said that she wanted to bring real silverware so that the girls know that they are worth it. That they matter. Next week I’ll cut some dahlias from my garden for the centerpiece. The girls had us each sit at the head of the table, Grandma Jan at one end and Auntie Heather at the other. Their AHHAH family. And we enjoyed another wonderful meal together with delicious food and heartfelt conversation. Just as we’ve learned how to put a kitchen on wheels, we are also learning how to take home on the road.
*It is amazing the range of foods that can be made without a proper kitchen—“cooking on a cart” as Jan always says—and we could absolutely dedicate a whole blog to that alone. We only use an electric skillet, air fryer, or toaster oven to cook everything we make.
This Feels Like Family
Jan also shared her favorite AHA moment from this past Saturday (8/14/21): "I cried as I read Heather's reflection and remembered all of the AHA moments of last Saturday's Cultivating Change program. One additional memory I have is when we sat down at the beautiful table to celebrate P.'s birthday. A. looked across the table at me and then at Heather and then at P. and said "this feels like family"."
Arroz con gandules (Rice with pigeon peas)
Quesadillas with refried beans, corn and microgreens
Salsa verde and guacamole
Tulsi mint lemonade (“The Honeymooner”)
We arrived to detention to find two new boys, S. and Q., had joined P. It’s always interesting to see how the dynamic changes with the arrival of new folks into the program, and how they have different ways of protecting themselves in the face of the unknown. Many boys start the program withdrawn and sullen, and it takes time to allow them to slowly emerge from their protective shells. Other boys are boisterous and agitated, often cracking jokes and pulling the focus away from the lesson. This is how Q. was in this week’s class. He was distracted—off talking to the adults or whispering something comical to P. as we were going over the lesson. At one point, I discovered that he secretly squirted hot sauce into the guacamole that was specially made for S., who doesn’t like spicy food.
I enjoy these shifts in energy as they arise, even if they are disruptive. They feel like waves, flowing in and out, sometimes forceful, sometimes peaceful. It is a reminder to me of what our job really is—to be consistent, to keep showing up, to be a lighthouse. At the end of class, P. told Jan that he was going to be moving to another facility this week. He expressed his gratitude for the class and lit up when Jan told him what a great job he had done in Cultivating Change and the writing workshop. I thought of his first class with us only a few weeks ago, and how lost he had seemed, adrift in the rough sea of his emotions. Here he was just a short time later learning to navigate those troubled waters.
We moved onto the shelter, where P. was celebrating her 13th birthday, and we had a special meal planned. The girls would have steak for the quesadillas and chocolate zucchini cupcakes for dessert. “Practice makes progress.” A. said it as she was grilling the chipotle lime beef that was going into their quesadillas. She was doing an excellent job, and the meat had perfect grill marks, like what you would expect in a steak house. That phrase resonated with me, because it felt like something I needed to hear in that moment, and particularly because I hoped it meant that A. was allowing herself the grace and patience she deserved to find her way back to healthy and nurturing habits. It isn’t really fair to say that practice makes perfect, and we can stop ourselves from ever taking that first step if we think that perfection is the only acceptable outcome. But if we know that each step makes progress, and that progress is the work of a lifetime, then it makes that first step easier to take. Even if it feels like you have to take that first step anew each morning on your road to sobriety, or forgiveness, or self love.
The meal was delicious and we finished by singing “Happy Birthday” as we brought out the cupcakes. After P. blew out the candles, we went around the table to share our wishes for her for the upcoming year. A. wished that P. would have the strength and courage to stay sober and make good decisions. Jan said that by taking the steps to change, P. will be the positive role model for her younger sister that she always hoped she could be. Practice makes progress.
Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho (boys) Tomato-Avocado Soup (girls)
Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Cucumber-Ginger-Mint-Lime Agua Fresca
Fresh Fruit (pears, peaches, apples)
It’s become a habit for me in class to figure out how many of the ingredients for the recipe have
come from either Jan’s or my garden. This week the tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and garlic were
homegrown by Jan, and I provided the onions, scallions, peaches, pears, and apples from my
garden. The remainder came from local farmers, and I don’t think any of the produce was
purchased at the supermarket. It’s fun for me to boast how much food we can grow ourselves.
Every week, we’ve featured ingredients harvested from the raised beds at CCYC, and this
week, for the first time, we included fresh microgreens from the aquaponics tower in the
cafeteria. It was exciting for them to harvest and enjoy food that they had only planted a few
This was W and S’s last class with us before they move on to other placements.
Understandably, their energy was low, but that didn’t stop them from wanting to jump right into
the food prep. We all pitched in a hand to prepare the ingredients for the gazpacho, and I
enjoyed having the opportunity for all of us to work together. After the veggies were prepped,
W and I made the jalapeño popper grilled cheese sandwiches. I asked how W was
feeling knowing that he was going to be at the next facility for nine months. He said that he
wished that he had people to write letters to. After class, I asked Jan if he would be able to write
AHHAH letters, and she said that she would ask CCYC if we can set that up.
Miraculously, we prepared the food with time to spare (usually we are madly rushing to finish
before dashing off to set up with the girls). This gave us time to sit and eat together, and for the
boys to write a review of the recipes and their time in Cultivating Change. It also gave Jan an
opportunity to demonstrate some breathing and tapping exercises that the boys can use to help
them manage difficult emotions. S followed along while Jan talked him through the
exercises, and it was shocking to see the transformation that took place in S’s demeanor
and posture just in the five minutes that he practiced. His face brightened, and his body lifted
out of the slump it had been in all class. It looked as if he had been somehow inflated with
sunshine. He was truly beaming.
As we rolled our carts into the shelter, the girls were applying makeup and fixing their hair. We
discussed the menu, and P tasted the gazpacho the boys had made. She decided we
should take it in a completely different direction, so this time we made gazpacho with avocado
instead of watermelon. The texture of the avocado made the soup almost like a summer cream
of tomato, which lent itself perfectly to eating with the grilled cheese sandwiches. We made two
of the grilled cheese sandwiches as the recipe called for, and the other sandwiches were to be
the girls’ creations. They piled their grilled cheese with ham, four types of cheese, peppers and
avocados. The result was a gooey and decadent crowd favorite. The jalapeño popper grilled
cheese was also a big hit, with the staff asking for the recipe at the end of each class. That will
definitely be making its way into the cookbook! I’m so proud of them for their willingness to
experiment with flavor, and impressed by how delicious their concoctions consistently turn out.
They really find a way to shine in cooking class. P, in particular, peppers our conversations
with anecdotes about what she’s learned from cooking with her mother, and it is easy to see
how proud she is to share her skills in class.
Before class ended we asked P what she would like for her birthday meal, since she will
be turing 13 on our next visit. She requested Puerto Rican food. While fruit is always the dessert
on offer during Cultivating Change classes, Jan suggested that we make her a chocolate
zucchini cake as a surprise treat to celebrate her day.
Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!