Be patient and keep your hands clean could be lessons for everyday life and wellness, and on a recent Monday a small group of children learned those teachings and more from a famous chef in the commercial kitchen at the new Calistoga Boys & Girls Clubhouse.
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill in Yountville and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena, and an emeritus board member of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Helena and Calistoga, taught the club members how to make lasagna that included homemade ricotta cheese and dinosaur kale (also known as Tuscan or Lacinto kale).
Before it went into a pot on the stove to become cheese, John Watanabe, Pawlcyn’s husband, doled out small dollops of buttermilk to taste, one boy dashing to a sink to spit it out, others finding the buttermilk tasty.
Small hands shot up in the air every time Pawlcyn asked for volunteers to help with such things as stirring the pot for making cheese or browning the ground beef.
Pawlcyn said she chose lasagna because most kids like it, it’s easy to make, and it allowed for a demonstration. In the interest of time she opted to make only one pot of freshly made ricotta – that was later mixed in with more store-bought cheeses – to show the children how easy it is to make something from scratch at home.
“See how we’re getting little curds forming at the edge?” Pawlcyn pointed out as she scraped the sides of the pot of simmering buttermilk.
“One thing about cooking is you have to be patient,” she said. And “always keep your hands clean” so that germs aren’t passed on to others in the food handling process.
With clean hands ready, Pawlcyn demonstrated how to remove the rib of the kale and safely chop it.
“Curl your knuckles under” while cutting to protect your fingers, she instructed.
Wasting nothing, after the bottled marinara was added to the cooked ground beef Pawlcyn told the young chefs to add a little water to the jars, shake them up to grab the remaining sauce and add that to the mixture.
A little freshly grated nutmeg, some salt and pepper for additional seasoning, more cheese and ready-to-bake lasagna pasta, and then the assembly line construction of all the ingredients were ready for the club members to prepare small individual pans of lasagna for each to take home. While the lasagna cooked, Pawlcyn gave them the recipe and directions, which they wrote down with pad and pencil.
“They’ll learn it that way,” she said.
Learning healthy habits is a theme of the cooking class and the “Healthy Habits” program of the national Boys & Girls Club program, said Lainey Cronk, unit director at the Calistoga Clubhouse.
It is one of several programs that “emphasizes healthy living and active learning,” and this one “in particular focuses on giving kids skills to choose and create smart, balanced food options,” she said.
“With our food-centered activities, we try to hit on both those elements — the choosing and the creating. We want kids to better understand components of what makes ‘healthy’ eating; and we want them to build basic — and sometimes a bit more advanced — skills in the kitchen with food preparation, ingredients knowledge and safe cooking,” Cronk said. “In the past, we worked on these goals with a single-burner hotplate and a blender. Needless to say, that glorious kitchen opens up a lot of potential.”
The kitchen, along with the rest of the new facility, was celebrated at a grand opening ceremony on Oct. 7, the day before the wildfires broke out.
Calistoga has a greater number of obese children than neighboring St. Helena, making the Healthy Habits program essential in Calistoga, said Trent Yaconelli, executive director of Boys & Girls Club of St. Helena and Calistoga.
“We’re trying to teach them the difference between a handful of Cheetos and a handful of carrot chips,” he said.
Lower incomes leads to purchasing “cheap food” and oftentimes cheap food is unhealthy, Yaconelli said, leading to obesity and diabetes.
With so many great chefs throughout Napa Valley, Yaconelli said there is hope that more professionals will volunteer to lead other cooking classes.
“The kids would be delighted if there were other volunteers who’d enjoy leading a group in a cooking or baking project,” Cronk said.
Because the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga are supported by the community, not by fees, donations are always welcome, said Megan Warde, development and marketing coordinator.
“Donations could be put to work getting kids access to some more unusual and often more pricey ingredients,” Cronk said.
For anyone interested in volunteering, call Cronk at 707-709-6950. To support the Healthy Habits program with a financial contribution, call Warde at 707-963-8944.