As a person with special needs, 20-year-old Moira Morgan can do so many things in the kitchen, thanks to a little help from her 22-year-old sister, Elizabeth.
The two sisters cook meals together in their Naperville home but also in Cooking 101, a Western DuPage Special Recreation Association class designed to help people with varying abilities learn food preparation basics. Elizabeth teaches the class, and Moira is one of the eager students.
The class is presented in the kitchens at the 95th Street Center in Naperville.
“We have all different ability levels in the class,” says Elizabeth, who is an English teacher and teaching assistant for a multi-needs classroom at Neuqua Valley High School. “Some students might need more help, and we come up with adaptive ways so that everyone can participate. It is a very hands-on class where we practice skills like cutting, chopping and measuring. We try to focus on things they could do at home independently.”
Fall class projects included making enchiladas, finger sandwiches, fruit salsa, egg in the hole and empanadas.
Each class offers different skills and dishes, Elizabeth says.
“I try to give them recipes for a variety of things they could eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert,” the sister says. “I simplify the language in the recipes for them. Sauté becomes ‘cook in frying pan with a spatula.’ I also break everything down into steps so the recipe is easier to follow.”
Elizabeth strives to come up with adaptive ways for all students to feel involved. So if the class is practicing cutting skills with apples and a student has low muscle tone, she gives that student butter to cut instead of apples. Elizabeth brings in additional instructors so that class instruction can be given in groups of four or five students.
Elizabeth also will substitute ingredients in a recipe to make interesting variations. In a class featuring empanadas, she helped students make an apple variation and a chocolate-spread marshmallow version.
Moira enjoys taking her class and is proud of her sister.
“My favorite thing that I made in class so far is enchiladas. The hardest part was cutting fruit,” says Moira, who does not like having her hands sticky from fruit juices. To help overcome this, Moira cuts a few slices, washes her hands and then does a few more slices. The cutting may take longer but the job gets done.
Elizabeth explains that the goal of the class is to help students feel more independent.
“If you know how to make a few things, you won’t starve,” she explains. “I try to show them things that are fun, simple and healthy. We also have everyone clean up after making something because that is an important part of cooking.”
Moira agrees that learning to cook is an empowering skill.
“We all need to learn how to cook, so we can someday have our own place,” she says revealing her desire to be able to live away from home.
Elizabeth enjoys cooking out of class.
“I like making savory things more than sweet,” she says. “When I cook, it is a big production. I like making dinner, especially Italian food.”
Two recipes that were popular in the class were a simple butter cookie with just five ingredients and a fruit salsa with cinnamon chips. Elizabeth shares them here.
Know someone who really likes to cook and is good at it? Contact columnist Judy Buchenot at Buchenot@comcast.net.
If you go
Who: The Western DuPage Special Recreation Association offers classes for special needs individuals and partners with associations, including the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association.
What: Cooking 101 is a basic kitchen skills session
Where: Naperville Park District 95th Street Center, 2244 W. 95th St., Naperville
When: Jan. 18, Feb. 8 and 15
Information: Call 630-681-0962 or visit www.wsdra.com
Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Chips
Fuji apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup oil for frying
6 10-inch flour tortillas
In a medium bowl, mix together apple, strawberries, kiwis, bananas, lime juice, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cover and chill in the refrigerator about 20 minutes. Heat oil in a medium heavy saucepan to 375 degrees. Slice flour tortillas into triangles. Carefully place tortilla triangles into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Place 3 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon in a large plastic bag. Drop fried tortilla triangles into the bag and shake to coat. Serve the warm cinnamon chips with the chilled fruit salsa.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
2 cups powdered sugar
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups butter
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter. Set aside until cool. In a large bowl, mix together sugar and flour. Stir vanilla into melted butter and add to dry ingredients until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips and spread onto a large (about 10-by-15-inch) cookie sheet with half-inch sides. Press dough into the cookie sheet so there are no cracks. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the edges are light brown.