Monday, January 17, 2011

After School Special: Brainfood

Feed your mind and the rest will follow....

During my first volunteer shift with Brainfood -- quite possibly my favorite after school food education program in the city-- the focus was on whole grains. (What are the chances? I worry that I'm going to develop a reputation as someone obsessed with roughage. I swear I'm not. Though it is important to include in a healthy diet....) As I stood by as an adult mentor, students chopped and grilled and roasted quite the feast, in this case millet burgers, quinoa salad, a hearty veggie chili, and some forbidden rice with coconut milk. Yum. You must guess by now that the way to my heart is directly through my tummy: I've been volunteering with the same group of young adult from high schools around the city every Tuesday night since.

Since that fateful and delicious first experience working with the crew at Brainfood's Columbia Heights location, I've been enamored with the program's careful cultivation of meaningful relationships between teens and adults as students develop valuable team building, time management, and culinary skills. Mentoring had been my favorite part of teaching, back in the day, and it felt amazing to be back in such a role. After only a couple of months, the students and adults I work with feel like an integral part of my life, and I find myself especially looking forward to Tuesdays. And then there are special events like the holiday party: so much fun!

(I guess they like me well enough, too, including me among the group's compiled affirmations and thank you notes posted on the wall at the holiday party last month. I almost cried when I happened upon the yellow sign with my name on it while wandering around with Carina's camera to snap pics of students decorating gingerbread houses or enjoying food that they'd prepared with friends and family, it was so unexpected and sweet.)

I've learned a lot so far from the students as well as Amy, our fearless leader. Just when I thought I knew everything there was to know about chicken -- I had learned to adeptly roast and carve one up awhile back at CulinAerie -- last week Amy went and taught us all about different methodologies for preparing healthy and tasty alternatives to fried chicken. (Or at least healthier: one recipe had an awful lot of mayonnaise, but it was still baked rather than fried and used cereal as the crunchy coating. It was soooo good. I found myself, as the kids did, going back for seconds. And thirds. I mean, come on, who can resist homemade ranch and honey mustard dipping sauces?) And there was the spicy but irresistible tortilla soup from the week before: I hovered nearby asking students about the kinds of foods they liked to make at home as they expertly diced jalapenos and onions, then slurped up a second helping after everyone had their fill during the closing meal. I had to go home and make some myself!

I'm missing them this week. It feels a little funny not meeting -- school's out for the MLK holiday -- but I'm looking forward to next week when we dive back into the kitchen. Soon we'll be wrapping up the segment on chicken and starting to dabble with sauces and seafood. Mmmm.

Enticed yet? Should you be interested in helping out at Brainfood, they welcome volunteers. There are long-term opportunities (they ask weekly volunteers to commit to coming in once each week from September through May), concentrated stints (like the summer program), and one-time events (for guest chefs/speakers). It's time well spent. And they even feed you at the end.

[Photos courtesy of Brainfood.]

1 comment:

  1. This program sounds fantastic. I know so many people my age (mid-20s) who don't know how to cook. And it's not even like they're from disadvantaged backgrounds - they just never learned! I think it empowers these kids so much to know these skills and know they are capable of taking care of themselves food-wise.


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