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One of the new boys, B., was very withdrawn, and was resistant to my attempts to draw him into the action.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.
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Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!