It is easy when looking for a job to center around what one can do. But what ends up mattering more to an employer is how you will work, much more than what you can do. Today we started class talking about pride of work, being proud of how you work as a way to gaining the kind of experience and work ethic that is useful in any job. When it comes to the less glamorous tasks such as cleaning, once one student starts jumping in, the rest soon realize it is not a big deal and cleaning as a group goes pretty quickly. Luckily, with cooking in class we have the bonus that they can see and taste the results of their labor — a quicker connection to that kind of pride in how we work, a tangible chance to get to a sense of accomplishment. Pride of work comes before much of what we think needs to happen to get a job and the only way to get it is to do something, anything and to do it the best you can.
I don’t talk much about my afternoon class – we only meet once a week for a few hours. The style of the class is similar in professionalism, just a little more relaxed since we try to cook and eat in the two hour period. There was a recent request to work with fondant, so I managed to get some in the house this week. It is very fun roll to out and lay onto a buttercream filled spongecake and decorate. We also made chocolate leaves using camellia leaves as templates. Two hours sped by quickly.
P.S. Cake walk is a term that infers doing something is easy (“it’s a cake walk”) or, if you’ll forgive the parallel terms, “a piece of cake.” Originally it was a form of group dance that civilized people of moderate means did as a polite activity while socializing. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes not, but you always made it look like it was easy. Just like these students did this week.
They each have accepted the challenge. My two classes will compete with each other in gingerbread house making – the class with the most points wins! We will have pictures next week but I am happy to say that the students came up with this idea and the parameters. Judging is on Thursday December 17.
Scholastically speaking, it is great to see many of them do things they normally shy away from, like math, double checking measurements and planning. Even down to the careful counting of the candy to make sure everything is fair and square.
Vocationally speaking, the classes have been more orderly than usual. I haven’t even had to ask anyone to clean! Thank you Hays House Museum (in Maryland) for these pictures.
This may not be the most appealing picture to most of you, but it is definitely appealing to us! My students have been patiently upbeat about the way we have been cooking in here, using a rice steamer to boil water and a convection oven to heat pans hot enough to simulate sauteeing. But we all know that those aren’t ways to cook regularly. Thank you, THANK YOU, to all the people who have made it possible to take this next step into real cooking. The students are noticing.
To see our wish list of initial items we need, please click here.
Soon we will be able to use the range and expose students to more “normal” ways to cook which helps in two directions – the timing and understanding of a range for a professional chef in one direction, and how to cook healthier food choices using your stove at home in the other. What will we cook first???
This week, instead of telling my students what we were going to make, I let them take a turn. We sat around a cluster of cookbooks based on soul food, cajun and creole cooking on Monday, with my thinking we would use this opportunity to get into menu and “prep” planning. It turned into the unexpected, which is one of the reasons I was eager to jump into this job in the first place.
The students not only learned that we can’t throw it all into a bowl on the last day and have everything we want ready to eat, but more importantly, that all this wonderful cooking they have wanted to do takes experience and attention to detail too. It brought up the subject on how much of authentic American cooking is at risk of being lost. We have so many recipes, but which one shows you how to make your own family’s version? You have to find out from your own family. One student in my 3rd period class took the reins on documenting a recipe with her family’s real macaroni and cheese, so we documented it while we made it. It allowed us to get beyond the “oh you just make it” and show ourselves the kind of detail one needs to know to effectively pass along a family recipe. When she saw the recipe in print (she chose the name “Smackin’ Mac N’ Cheese”), you could see her pride. It helped them also realize that while the exact measurements are not that important all the time, understanding how everything goes together so that it will turn out the way you want, is important. And that it is worth documenting.
For my 2nd period class, we were again lucky, this time with one of our volunteers – she grew up in Louisiana and when she saw the Jambalaya recipe we chose, she offered to write up her own family recipe. Pure gold! Again, very simple, but it helped the students recognize the value of each of our family’s heritage and that sharing recipes is a common ground to relate to people we don’t even know very well.
The meals? They came out well, perhaps not as well as if grandma cooked them, but this time, that made it even better.
A school-wide Thanksgiving feast has been a tradition at Ida B. Wells for years. The kitchen becomes a kitchen again in a different sense and we serve up a classic fare for the student body. Teachers brought in cooked turkeys, hams, mashed potatoes and salad.
This year, my students contributed a few pies, and did much of the prep work. While many of them were suspicious of the pumpkin pie we made, there is a magic pride that happens when you see your efforts put on a plate and served to others – and then see them enjoy it. I had a few students come up to me and say how good it was too.
And this apple pie? I had to fight people off so those who made it could at least see the results!
Thank you to Mrs. E. & Mrs. J. for carrying the responsibility for this feast for so many years and for sharing those valuable pearls of wisdom into this year. We hope you will be back in full force next year.
c) We can do this without a stove, thanks to our rice steamer. Rice steamers can take a little bit of time to boil the water, but ours, which normally burns the rice, was completely up to the task (thank you Martin Aquino for your step by step enthusiasm in your 2007 blog entry about trying this out).