By Y. Denise Caldwell, Volunteer Services Coordinator - Fort Worth
TJJD volunteer Catherine Stephens, aka “Ms. Cassie”, held her first “Soulful Cooking” class at Willoughby House in June. Six months later, students look forward to her classes, and not just for the food.
The students say the cooking class is about more than just cooking and eating, it is about learning a variety of things, such as the meditation before and after the class that helps the youth learn techniques to regulate their moods.
“I like the meditation,” said M.L.. “I use it to calm down and to help get to sleep at night.”
“The deep breaths keep me from getting too angry,” said T.W..
“I’ve seen their confidence grow along with their cooking skills,” Stephens said proudly. “They read the recipes, they are way more confident in their techniques, like measuring and sautéing and using the hand mixer. Their cooking skills have really improved.”
The class is open to all of the youth at Willoughby House. Stephens has taught sessions, introducing the students to new and various dishes. She also teaches grocery shopping and budgeting, using coupons and grocery lists.
More than 20 students have taken at least one class, learning how to shop for and prepare delicious and nutritious meals.
Recently, four students, T.W., I.M., M. B. and M.L., cooked “breakfast for dinner” - omelets, pancakes and bacon.
The class started with a guided meditation, which captivated the boys. They practiced relaxed breathing, eyes closed, while sitting and lying down in a comfortable position. Ms. Cassie had them focus on their breathing and then picture a light and the planets and the universe, and then coming back to the light.
They unpacked the “prep work,” all of the pre-cut, chopped or cooked ingredients that Stepehens brings, and all the food for the project: two dozen eggs, a pack of bacon, a bag of flour, a pint of buttermilk, stick of butter, onions, chives (from her herb garden), sweet red peppers, blocks of cheddar and pepper jack cheese, sugar, syrup, honey, and peanut butter for the pancakes.
T.W. read the recipe aloud and the rest followed along.
Stephens taught them to crack eggs like a professional, one handed and two handed; measure wet and dry ingredients separately and to use a whisk and a hand mixer and other kitchen moves.
They tested the frying pan to make sure it was hot enough, with drops of water that had to sizzle. They lined a cookie sheet with foil so they could put the bacon in the oven, a first for them as they were used to frying the bacon.
“That was good,” said I.M. “You didn’t get popped with grease.”
The homemade pancakes were various sizes and shapes, even a Texas shaped one. The omelets were new to some.
“I knew about scrambled eggs,” said M.L. “But I never had an omelet. It was kind of strange but tasted good.”
Over recent months, the Willoughby boys have made several dishes, with students’ favorites being Philly cheesesteaks, fried chicken, orange chicken, Whattaburger-style honey BBQ chicken strips, chocolate cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies and of course, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, sunny-side-up eggs and omelets.
The plan is to create a recipe book that they can share with others and take home.
Some of the boys are already thinking about how they can use their new skills after they leave Willoughby.
“It’ll be great when I get a girlfriend and can cook for her,” said I.M.
“Girls like it when you cook for them and I like learning how to cook new dishes.”