Life is not all fun, games and adventure here in Cactusland. Occasionally I have to go to work and make enough money to fund the next round of excitement. For the last two years I've been putting my undergrad to good use (novel concept, I know) by working with an agency in Kentuckiana that provides residential psychiatric treatment. Basically we're 1-2 (depending on which of our programs you're talking about) steps below a psychiatric hospital.
I currently work with lower functioning clients in a group home setting, something I never could have predicted I would enjoy. Like all kids, our kids need structure and lots of it. One of the ways we provide that is to engage them in group activities, which may or may not be typical group therapy. I'm not much for sitting around talking about feelings, so when I was brainstorming ideas for a group, there was really only one option: cooking group.
In the way that all Southern women feel food is therapy, I embrace cooking as a treatment activity for our kiddos. My Mama and Mema both have shown me how much better the act of preparing a meal can make you feel; how the simple steps of a recipe can be more effective than any amount of pharmaceutical help. I was certain that if I could get them cooking, I could help them on their path to wellness.
The first meeting of cooking group had me a tad nervous, as I wasn't sure I could maintain the interest of 6-8 kids that are known for emotional outbursts. I did spend many years teaching kids and adults, so my skills for providing informal education are there, but possibly a tad rusty. I picked a recipe for our inaugural group that I had learned on the fly with Reader several years ago: Thai Peanut Noodles. It's a homemade, decently healthy interpretation of a street food favorite and it requires a fair amount of actual cooking.
My lil cooking rockstars, 7 the first week, took to the group like ducks to water. Within our hour together they had learned how to mince, saute, boil and toss; basic ideas for an accomplished food wrangler, but heady stuff for those uninitiated into the kitchen. After my groups had finished putting together the dish we all sat around the table, Top Chef style, and tried that first bite together. I couldn't help but be impressed; they had gone to town on those noodles.
After a few minutes of slurping and chewing I suggested we go around the table and share any comments, constructive or otherwise, about the dish. The responses ranged from "This is awesome" to "This is freaking amazing." Clearly, we had a winning dish and some pretty awesome newbie cooks.
Last week we worked with eggs: scrambled, as french toast and as a fritatta. This time when we went around the circle while sampling the food I was impressed to hear some comments that actually considered why the dish was good, what could have been better, etc. It was a great group.
This week I'm teaching them easy fruit cakes: a peach cobbler, a blueberry buckle and a black forest dump cake (unfortunate though the name may be) and I can't wait. To watch these kids that so often struggle to maintain their behavior focus on food for an hour every Sunday night is amazing. They are totally engaged, involved and on task. I remain their fascinated, fearless leader. By Christmas, we'll be whipping up homemade figgy pudding. Trust.