Per their request, the youth cooked up chicken wings this week. The wings were air-fried, with
homemade buffalo and barbecue sauces (another opportunity for a little friendly recipe
competition between the boys and girls), arroz verde, tulsi lemonade, and fresh fruit from my
We welcomed a new resident, "P", who was very disengaged and lethargic at the start. He
later told me that he had only arrived the day before. Once we started class, "P" roused, and
he asked lots of great questions about cooking techniques and ingredients. He jumped right into
the food prep, and the eating. When he dug into the arroz verde, he said, “I’m in love with this
rice!!” It was a striking transformation, but one that we see regularly when the youth join
Cultivating Change. Jan later told me that she met "P" the day before during their writing
class, and that his improvement in just 24 hours was even more dramatic. He had described his
mood to her as “thunder and lightning.” It seemed like, at least for the moment, his storm was
"W", true to form, willingly tried every new food in front of him. As he chopped an onion for
the arroz verde, I jokingly said that I was surprised he wasn’t eating that too, which of course
prompted him to pop a large slice of it in his mouth. I enlisted him to help me prepare the fruit,
which included peaches, yellow plums, figs, and mulberries. Even though he had never seen a
fig or mulberry before, he didn’t hesitate to try them both, and happily walked out of class with
all of the leftover fruit salad.
"S" has really begun to shine in class. He is Jan’s eager sous-chef, and takes so much
pride in his work. He made both sauces for the chicken wings, and was beaming when
everyone said how good they both were. Even the girls, after later tasting the sauces he made,
begrudgingly said that his buffalo sauce was better than theirs, and I imagined how broad his
smile would be when he heard that news.
The girls, "A" and "P" were in good spirits when we arrived. As we prepared the rice together, I
asked "P" how her week was, and she said that it had its ups and downs, but she felt like
she did her best, so she was proud of herself. With that level of maturity, it’s hard to believe that
she is only 12 years old.
Tulsi (holy basil) is making a regular appearance in our menu thanks to its adaptogenic
properties, and this week we brewed the fresh leaves as tea to add to a store-bought lemonade.
After drinking one glass and then another, "A" said that she felt “saturated with calmness and
love.” Imagine what would happen if tulsi tea was available all of time at CCYC, at schools, or in
prisons? After tasting the fresh fruit, "A" asked if she could buy it off of me. When I told her
that I’d sell it to her for free, she danced around the shelter excitedly.
As we sat down to our meal, "P" said that she has been writing in the journal that Jan gave
her, and it has been helping her. We unanimously agreed that their barbecue sauce was the
clear winner, and everyone happily chomped on the wings with sauce all over their faces and
dripping down their fingers. In between bites, "P" said that she didn’t want to leave because
she likes cooking with us so much, but she wants to leave so she can go home.
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Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!