Hoppin’ John and rice
Collard greens with smoked turkey legs
Macaroni and cheese
Cornbread with honey butter
Grapes and clementines
Apple cider donut holes
Mystery ingredient fudge
Pomegranate tulsi peach spritzer
In order to ring in the new year properly, we planned a Cultivating Change menu that featured foods traditionally eaten to bring prosperity and health in the coming year. Before we started cooking, we asked everyone to name a food that they thought they wouldn’t like but then did upon tasting. We offered this as a reminder to the boys that there have been plenty of times (especially in this class) when they were pleasantly surprised by the taste of a new or unusual food. This lesson would become particularly relevant when they discovered the mystery ingredient in the fudge that Jan brought for dessert.
There were only four boys cooking with us this class, and like we had been doing all month as a practice of service and generosity, we would be preparing enough food to share with the other pods who weren’t able to cook with us. This meant that we needed to get cracking. The good news was that Jamilah was teaching with us, so we were sure to get everything done in time.
Jamilah and I paired up with two of the boys to make the Hoppin’ John, rice, and collard greens. Jan would make the drinks and cornbread with the other two boys. Jan had already made the mac and cheese, fudge, and donut holes before class. Jamilah and I were working with U. and P. They are very different young men. U. is very confident and often says that he is a master chef. He does have great cooking skills, which makes me think that he must have spent a lot of time in the kitchen growing up. P. is the exact opposite. He is very tentative and lacks confidence. He gets easily frustrated with himself and often wants to give up. But he has a wonderful sense of curiosity and a gentle nature, so if you can get him to forget his fears, he is easily absorbed in the recipes and is eager to learn about how to make everything. The other good thing is that he is always very excited to eat anything he helped create. I’ve seen his enthusiasm for the food motivate the other boys to try foods that they were hesitant about.
We worked as a team to chop the vegetables for the two dishes. We would be cooking each of them in pressure cookers to make sure they got done in time. P. was really curious about the Ninja Pot pressure cooker. Together we sautéed the vegetables and added smoked turkey legs, black-eyed peas, and broth to the pot. We read and re-read the instruction manual to make sure that we had set it up properly. Then we had to wait for it to come to pressure. P. was really worried that it wasn’t working, and he kept a close eye on it the whole time. He was so concerned that he convinced me to check to make sure it was working. It was. Eventually the pressure gauge popped up and it started counting down the time until it was ready. P. watched and paced. He had lots of questions about the functionality of the cooker. When it came time to open it up, I showed him how to turn the valve to release the steam. He looked at it like it was magic.
We assembled all of the food on the table, and, although I think this every week, it looked and smelled especially delicious. After we made up the plates for the other pods and the boys had sampled all of the food, we dished out their dessert of grapes, clementines, apple cider donut holes, and fudge. Jan was giddy with excitement about the fudge. She told the boys that whoever guessed the mystery ingredient would get to have a big slab of it to themselves. They nibbled on it while guessing lots of different vegetables and spices. No one was even close, and the adults started shouting out guesses too. Everyone said it was really good, but they couldn’t quite tell what was different about it. Jan gave them a hint that it was an ingredient in something else we were eating. S. looked at the table perplexed and questioned, “Mac and cheese?” At this point Jan was doubled over with laughter. S. was nearly there, but ultimately didn’t guess that the mystery ingredient was Velveeta! Hopefully this meal was a reminder to the boys to be open to new foods and experiences in the year ahead, and to be brave, curious, and generous. They might be pleasantly surprised by result.