Thanksgiving leftover makeover
Turkey and fixings quesadillas
Potato pancakes with scallions and cheddar cheese
Sweet potato pancakes with garlic and mozzarella cheese
Cultivating Change got off to an uncertain start when Jan called me as I was driving to CCYC to let me know that we wouldn't have class because there wasn’t enough staff coverage. Like everywhere else, CCYC was experiencing pandemic-related staff shortages. We were really disappointed, especially because we had so many leftovers from the Thanksgiving meal that we didn’t want to go to waste. I suggested that maybe Jan and I could cook the food ourselves to be delivered to the youth, so that they could at least sample the recipes. Jan told me to come to CCYC regardless while she called the supervisor to see if that was an option. By the time I pulled in to the parking lot, Jan said that staff had arranged it so that we most likely could cook with the boys and deliver food to the girls.
When learning to cook, it’s just as important to know how to breathe new life into leftovers as it is to be able to cook from scratch. Jan suggested that we use the Thanksgiving meal leftovers as a base for new dishes. One of my very favorite things to make from leftover mashed potatoes is potato pancakes. You can add any seasoning or ingredients that you have on hand, and they are super quick, easy, and tasty. Since there were plenty of sweet potatoes as well, we figured we would make both types to see which was the crowd favorite. All of the other leftovers were put out with tortillas and shredded cheese, and everyone was free to assemble their own kitchen sink quesadilla. I loved seeing how many vegetables ended up in the quesadillas along with the turkey, stuffing, and cheese. The green beans were an especially big hit.
Early on in the potato pancake making, W. and T. started to argue and things got heated pretty quickly. Jan de-escalated the situation by having the boys breathe and talk through their perspective. The technique was so effective that the boys calmed down before my group even knew what was going on. I only learned that anything happened when Jan told me about it after class. Luckily, my group of boys was completely oblivious to the whole incident.
As we were finishing up cooking with the boys, one of the staff came in to say that the girls were able to come in to cook with us as well, so everyone was going to have the chance to participate in this week’s class. Once again, I was impressed by how willing the staff was to go above and beyond to accommodate Cultivating Change.
After the boys ate and cleaned up, two of the girls in detention joined Jan and I in the multipurpose room. As soon as we got started, one of the girls, H., started acting out. She said that she wasn’t going to eat anything that we made, and that she hadn’t eaten the Thanksgiving meal that we had prepared for her earlier in the week either. Anything we suggested, she shot down. She didn’t want to help make the food. When I showed her the ingredients in the potato pancakes, she said she wouldn’t eat them because she doesn’t like egg. When I suggested that she try it, she flatly refused. It went on this way for most of the class, until everything was assembled, and everyone else started sampling the food and saying how tasty it was. Someone suggested that she taste a bit of the sweet potato pancake, which she begrudgingly did, and then said that it was actually really good. She said that it was the first time she had ever eaten sweet potato, and she couldn’t even tell there was any egg in it. One of the staff members laughed about what a hard time H. gave us about the food only to like it in the end. When it came time to offer their feedback, H. had so many suggestions for foods that we could make next class. When I asked her to write them down, she said that she wasn’t able to because she couldn’t spell. One of the staff members then offered to help her spell out the words, and she eagerly handed us a list of four or five dishes she expected us to make next time.
As we were washing dishes after class, Jan made the observation that the only difference she could see between the girls in shelter and the girls in detention was the color of their skin or their gender identity. It was hard for us to differentiate between the struggles that brought each set of girls to CCYC, or the struggles that they experienced here while trying to deal with their situation. To us, it all looked like trauma, and the girls in detention were just as worthy of (and just as eager for) the support of people who were able to see past the labels that had been put on them.