VAN WERT — What do you do when you have too much bacon for a recipe?
For Christina Flinn, the answer is obvious.
“Then we have to find another bacon recipe,” she said as she traveled around First Presbyterian’s basement kitchen handing out kitchen platitudes and tips to a group of teenagers using frying pans and cutting boards.
Thursday night’s menu was an extensive one — mixed berry tarts, shrimp, turkey piccata and savory beans with bacon bits — all prepped by teens with The Marsh Foundation as part of the school’s Independent Living Program.
Coordinated by Flinn, the program was created to ease teenagers into adulthood by giving them some of the necessary skills that your typical high school doesn’t teach. Calculus may be able to help with critical thinking. But it doesn’t help with budgeting (or cooking for that matter), and those are the type of everyday life skills that teens in residential and foster care may not be learning.
The IDL program was created to meet that need.
Thursday night, Flinn taught Cooking 101. Between lemon cutting demonstrations, grease removal tips and explanations on how to work within time constraints, she would flutter around the room to make sure recipes were followed and encourage students to think through the problems that presented themselves — like, “How do we make ice water with no ice?” or “Will wheat flour work if we don’t have processed flour?”
In more advanced cooking classes, Flinn presents teenagers with a mystery box of food and asks them to prep a meal from random ingredients.
It’s something Jayla Taylor would be experienced with. The 15-year-old spent most of her time Thursday night a few steps away from the stove top, flipping turkey cutlets and dipping them into breading to give a nice golden hue to the turkey piccata. She was the mastermind of Thursday’s meal, choosing the recipe and helping coordinate the group.
Due to dealing with Type 1 Diabetes, Taylor said she likes to show that a strict diet doesn’t mean that food has to be bland. She has plans to eventually pursue a career in the kitchen and is currently studying culinary arts.
“To me, (cooking) is interesting,” Taylor said. “I like cooking for other people. It just makes me feel happy. I just like that feeling and thought.”
Later in the night, she would combine some of the cooking grease with broth to create a good base for the meat, boiling it and letting it absorb the flavor.
A few steps away, Steven Bear, 16, was crisping bacon, which he later cut into fresh bacon bits.
“I know my way around the kitchen,” Bear said. “I cook for myself a lot.”
Since his father worked a lot of nights, he said, he quickly learned on his own, and the results — a few strands of crisp yet not burnt bacon — showed off his skills.
Other teenagers around the kitchen were mixing dough, prepping shrimp and chopping parsley all to be ready within the next hour.
Outside of the kitchen, Flinn teaches less flavorful lessons, such as bill paying, budgeting, taxes and insurance. Some teenagers are already pulling in paychecks, some through Marsh Foundation summer work, but for those without, she’ll set up bill-paying scenarios and faux budgets to ensure the teenagers can work through and understand where their money goes, while also being able to set some aside for a rainy-day fund. She also helps prep resumes to ensure teenagers are ready to start applying when they make that transition into adulthood.
“It is boring to talk about money, but when you have to balance a checkbook and figure out how to pay the bills on time and have money left over to eat, there is more of an impact,” Flinn said. “Often our youth have no idea how to begin. They they suddenly have to do it when they go out on their own. With projects we do as part of IDL, they are able to make mistakes, ask questions and learn so that when they have to do these things for real, it is not so scary.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.