I’ve had an amazing life! Part of the responsibility that goes with such a life is to give back. I haven’t always felt this way, but for the last 15 plus years I’ve done my best to give back to this abundant world in which we live. It’s hard to find a better way to give back than mentoring fatherless boys. I started back in 1975 while on active duty in the US Coast Guard in New London, Connecticut. I had the privilege of mentoring a 9 year old boy living in the projects of New London with his mom and three or four sisters.
It’s been so long ago I don’t remember the exact number of sisters, but this kid needed a positive male role model. It was a lot of fun hanging out with the boy, and I might have done a lot more of it but I was transferred to Alaska ending our relationship. After I was discharged from the USCG an inconvenient lifestyle kept me out of mentoring for a lot of years. Lucky for me I got over it and rebuilt my life. I’ve been able to mentor several boys over the last 16 years. Two of those boys participated in a lot of cooking with me. They learned quite a bit about cooking, and I learned a lot about teaching cooking to kids from that experience so when I moved to Maryland in 2009 and started a new phase of mentoring for Catholic Charities at their St Vincent’s Villa, and Villa Maria complex I was ready to take it to the next level.
Now these boys at St Vincent’s and Villa Maria were being held in a residential treatment facility and they were not all suited to cooking lessons, not all kids can be around knives and such. With the matching of my fourth mentee it was all about to change. This boy liked going down to the kitchen at the Mara Pre-Voc Center with me and we cooked up a bunch of fun stuff. My boy loved the mixing, cooking and tasting process, but he really shined when going back to the unit and gave away most of the goodies we had just made. It was a significant self esteem booster for him, and I loved watching him gift the goods to staff and the other boys each time we returned from our cooking lessons. We also would gift some of the goodies to the Volunteer Coordinator, Miss Lauren, who was liking what she saw. One day Miss Lauren asked me if I’d like to start a cooking club for on of the girls units.
Knowing that most of the kids couldn’t be trusted around knives and other kitchen equipment I had some interesting thoughts about 10 girls in the kitchen for a cooking class! However we jumped into the design phase of the St Vincent’s Cooking Club and fired off a grant proposal to fund the project. It took a couple of months to find out we were turned down, but luckily we found enough support from the good folks at McCormick’s Spice Company who have supplied volunteers and some of the needed items. We had our first cooking club at the end of April, for the older girls, and the next one the first week of May. Both went well and I had a lot of fun, as did the girls and two boys that were moved into a new co-ed apartment.
They learned about making home made applesauce, and the different types of apples for baking, or eating raw. Some of them got to handle a vegetable peeler for the first time, and all the older girls peeled an apple for the project. The smell of cinnamon was in the air and there were high spirits in the kitchen when we dished up the applesauce for all to try. Now this was not sweetened with sugar. Just a tablespoon of honey went into 11 apples worth of applesauce and they all loved it. We plan on having the cooking club the first Wednesday of the month for the older girls unit and the second Wednesday of the month for the younger co-ed unit all the way into December for the finale. Life isn’t easy for these kids and if we can teach them a valuable and fun lesson we have accomplished something good. Who knows how they will look back on this experience years from now? I feel like it is a great success already.
Today I was invited by Miss Lauren to attend the quarterly staff meeting so I could add a little something after the powerpoint of the cooking club. I had not seen the pictures of the kids in the kitchen before today, or the poster boards they have already made with pictures and notations of the first cooking club. I was truly touched by this, and am so happy they appreciate our little club. I’m not allowed to post any pictures of the kids due to confidentiality rules, but believe when I say there were some world class smiles on their faces. I can however post some of the thank you letters I recieved from some of the older kids I did a career day talk and demo of stove top popcorn in April. It’s not all that often I see tangible proof that I’m helping the kids I volunteer to help, but today I received plenty, and that’s why I give back all I can.
Fast and Furious popcorn video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mc0pPIbqBz0
1/3 cup popcorn
2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon Spike Seasoning Salt
1/2 teaspoon jalapeno powder, optional
In a 4-5 quart cast iron or enamel cast iron pot with a lid heat oil until just about smoking. Add popcorn and put lid on loosely. With hot mitts or hot pads grasp the pot by the handles and shake occasionally while the popcorn is popping. You need the lid to be loose, not tight fitting or the steam will turn the popcorn tough. Once the popcorn is popping well, about 1-2 minutes turn down the heat to about medium and take off the stove when popping slows to a few seconds between audible pops. Dump into a big bowl and sprinkle half of the Spike and half of the jalapeno powder and stir. Repeat with the rest of the Spike and jalapeno powder. You can pour 1 tablespoon of melted coconut oil over it at this point if desired,(I do).
Note: It takes just a bit of practice to do this without burning the popcorn. It’s best to give it a few tries until you master the uniqueness of your stove, and pot. It’s worth it in the end. Jalapeno powder can be purchased at Penzey’s Spices Stores or online at penzeys.com or my favorite spice store Market Spice in Seattle and www.marketspice.com You can also use ground black pepper, ground white pepper, Lawrey’s Seasoning Salt, or many other seasonings you might like to try. Be creative!