Turkey Pumpkin Chili
Passion tea with lemonade and cider
Chocolate covered pretzels
Zucchini avocado chocolate chip muffins
The energy was low and distracted when we arrived in detention, and as soon as Jan announced the menu to the boys, B. grumbled and said that he wasn’t going to eat the chili. A., who had been so animated and chatty the week before, was slumped over and wouldn’t utter more that two words. It looked like the camaraderie of last week was a distant memory. We broke into teams, with Jan’s crew working on the tea and pupusas. Like last week, I was with A. and T., and we would be making the chili and pretzels.
As we gathered our ingredients, I tried to engage A. to see if he would talk about what was bothering him. He wouldn’t budge. I shifted my focus to T., when we had a confusing conversation about the Descendants, where I thought that we were talking about the rock band, but we were actually talking about a Disney movie. Luckily A. could see what was happening and set me straight, and that was enough to help him forget his worries for the moment. He slowly started to warm up and became more and more involved in the task at hand. One of the supervisors kindly came over to give T. some help with the vegetable prep, and A. took charge of the cooking. T. had never operated a can opener before, so we showed him how to use it and had him practice on the cans of beans, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and pumpkin. By the last can, he was able to do it on his own. He asked to try the pumpkin, and I explained that is what goes into pumpkin pie. He wondered if we could make pumpkin pie in the next class, so Jan suggested pumpkin pie cream cheese muffins, which everyone got excited about.
A. was doing a great job cooking the chili, and the aroma of it started to fill the room. His pride in his work seemed to lift his spirits, and he commented on how good the chili looked. Once we added the final ingredients, we left it to simmer while we melted the chocolate to dip the pretzels in. The whole time A. spoke animatedly about the recipes he wants to make, and if we could help him eat well so that he can stay in shape during the off-season of football. We chatted away about food while we dipped the pretzels, and B., S., and T. popped over to sneak pretzel rods out of the tub while we worked. With everything ready, A. started ladling out bowls of chili. B. said he wasn’t going to have any, and S. said he would only take a little bit without beans. A. told them that he didn’t care because that would just leave more for him to eat. We convinced everyone to at least take a little bit to taste.
It grew quiet as everyone ate, and then suddenly B. announced through mouthfuls, that “we could open up a shop, because [the chili] is banger!” Several boys went back for seconds, and they used the cheesy pupusas to sop up the chili. At the end of class, they divvied up the pretzels and I had to keep an eye on them to make sure that they wouldn’t take the ones saved for the girls. They left with full bellies and big grins, the feeling of which I hoped would tide them over until we could cook together again.
There was still plenty of food from the boys, so we decided to share the leftovers with the girls and bake the zucchini avocado chocolate chip muffins that we didn’t get to make with them the week before. This week C. was more relaxed around us and accustomed to life in the shelter. She helped to make the muffins and really enjoyed the chili and pupusas. I was pleased to see a bit more of her personality peeking through, and hoped that it would continue.
P. told me that she would be leaving on Wednesday to go live with her mother. It seemed like she said it with an equal mix of excitement and hesitancy. I encouraged her to cook lots of meals for her mom to show off everything she learned in Cultivating Change. She assured me she would. Since A. had left shelter for another placement, I noticed that P. had lost her spark. I missed seeing the two of them joking and laughing while doing each other’s hair when Jan and I walked into the shelter for class. I wondered if A. was experiencing the same struggles without her friend, P. I was worried about what kind of support P. had back home to help keep her moving in the right direction. I hoped that A. would get home from placement soon, so that the girls could continue to offer each other the same encouragement and strength at home that they so willingly gave each other at CCYC.
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Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!