July 015The end of an era.

If I had been pulled over by police on Monday afternoon, I surely would have gone straight to jail. By no small miracle, we managed to cram twelve whole children into the Rav4 and there was not a pocket of space to spare. Somehow we chugged our way across Mariscal Lopez unnoticed and made it to the warm enclave of the C family home to celebrate the very last day of Lo’s Kitchen.

I always knew it would feel this incredulous in the moment, but it truly is hard to believe I am finally on the tail end of my Paraguay commitment, reflecting back on a year and a half of cooking workshops. As a token of my enduring love for my faithful crew and a last ditch effort to ensure they won’t forget me too quickly, I compiled two years worth of recipes into a keepsake cookbook for each individual. Prior to space formatting, the tome was fifty plus pages. That is not only a lot of paper, but also many weeks of developing culinary skills and seeing the Lord’s goodness manifest in the establishment of deep rapport and trusting friendships.

What a blessing it has been to take something I deeply enjoy (food and consuming it) and turn it into a ministry opportunity, which against all odds blossomed into one of the most fulfilling aspects of my time in Paraguay. The Lord has been gracious over the last month in generously giving me glimpses of the fruit resulting from seeds planted over the past two years. This cooking class clausura was one such instance, and I am thankful for the affirmations that this season has not been in vain.

After lunch and an exhortation to my students to keep up the cooking, I started packing the kids back into my car. Just before T squeezed in, she thanked me for the cookbook. She sheepishly continued, whispering in the same breath like one big, hurried hashtag, “I-didn’t-like-the-fried-rice-but-lasagna-was-my-favorite-you-changed-my-life.” and dashed into the car for cover.

I could not ask for anything more.

July 006July 007July 010July 025July 014

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May 055A faithful crew.

Kids can be so easy to impress sometimes. It’s great.

Tonight in cooking class, not only did the lesson feature instant ramen as its main ingredient, but I actually stumbled upon the recipe on Buzzfeed of all places. I really don’t impress myself sometimes.

Considering this venture was high-risk for repulsive results, the actual outcome was pleasantly delicious. I even convinced my students to try a flavor-concentrated sauce with their crunchy cakes and half of them loved it. They were most impressed (lots of oooh’s and ahhh’s and even applause) by my one-handed pan flip, so it was a pretty good day all around.

You know you want to try it.

Pan-fried Ramen Cakes
From Aunt Peg’s Recipe Box
Serves 5

1 large carrot, shredded
1 medium zapallito (looks similar to zucchini), shredded
4 green onions, chopped
2 packets of ramen
4 Tbs. flour
3 eggs
Oil

Cook the ramen in boiling water for just two minutes and drain. Place the ramen in a medium bowl, and add the carrot, squash, green onions, flour, and noodle flavoring packets. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Add the eggs to the noodle mixture, stirring quickly to avoid clumpy cooked eggs.

Heat oil in a pan, and when hot, plop down a small cup of noodle mixture. Flatten into a pancake and cook until crispy. Flip the cake over and fry until golden and cooked through.

Serve with a sauce made of equal parts soy sauce and red vinegar (I used about 2 Tablespoons each), and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Enjoy with the nostalgia of college days.

May 047May 048May 046May 053May 054The girls were making him giggle. :)

Hiking 007Cake and cream. These kids’ dream.

Sometimes cooking classes are really weird. There are Mondays when I am exceedingly enthused to demonstrate a delectable and innovative recipe, and the group reaction will be decidedly lackluster. Then there are other weeks, when I have barely scrabbled together enough functional ingredients to produce a mediocre dish, and the kids will clamor for moremoremore and talk endlessly about how this workshop was their favorite. I am unsure I will ever catch on to the Paraguayan palate.

I tried to adapt my dependable, go-to recipe for Peanut Butter Blondies to feature the perennial South American favorite, dulce de leche, instead. I was not pleased with the first round of results, and even after further tweaking for Lo’s Kitchen, the recipe still needed work. But the kiddos raved about it and immediately made noisy plans to get together to bake the dessert for Mother’s Day.

Shrug.

Cooking Class 023A world of crazy.

“You know, I’m going home in less than four months,” I casually dropped to the kiddos after I asked many of them where they had disappeared to over the summer. An obvious, guilty silence fell over the room, bringing pause to the cookie rolling and evasive alibis they tried to feed me.

Then all at once, they started back up, “Are you serious?” “Forever?!?” “Will you come back?” “Why??”

Over the din of a thousand questions, S laid them all to the wayside with an incredulous and borderline frantic, “WHO IS GOING TO TEACH COOKING CLASSES THEN???” This was S, who in a country where boys tend not do anything in the home and especially not “womanly” tasks such as cooking, and who a year ago, had never cut a tomato in his life, expressing regret that these culinary workshops had a rapidly approaching expiration date. My heart overflowed.

These cooking classes have been my pride and joy, and more than that, a saving grace. To put it crudely, they feel like the only thing I have done here that someone else hasn’t ruined for me, and I cling to the victories they bring. They are a reminder that even when there is not much immediate fruit in the seeds I’ve planted these past years, there is still the chance that these kids will find better things in their future because they were loved in this time in their lives. Love covers over a multitude of terrible things (and perhaps not coincidentally so do cinnamon sugar doughnuts).

But truly, it has been a privilege to couple a passion with a unique opportunity to form meaningful relationships with teenagers we have struggled to reach. Perhaps unorthodox, perhaps not so sustainable as a ministry, but somehow still a channel to speak cupcakes, cuisine, and most importantly, hope into the lives of the young and vulnerable.

This past Monday was the first class after a frustrating hiatus of absence and what seemed like apathy. But then SEVEN kids showed up, including a teenager I have been trying to get into the church since I arrived in Paraguay. Everyone was on their best behavior, and some were even demonstrating to other less frequent attendees, how to level off the flour cup and how to test the concoction in the oven for doneness.

Then T smoothed the icing on the cake of an extra sweet afternoon, “It’s been so long, [Lo]. I’m sorry. Can we make doughnuts next week?”

Cooking Class 017Terrifying.

Cooking Class 009A wonderful sight to behold.

Cooking Class 016I still don’t get who Marcos is?

Cooking Class 001Workin’.

Cooking Class 020Coco balls.