By Erin Porteous, CEO
I’ll admit I’m not the most in-the-know person when it comes to pop culture. Like many of you, I’m a working parent with a partner, family and friends, and a love of the great outdoors, which doesn’t leave much time for watching – let alone binge-watching – the latest Netflix show.
I spend plenty of time on my phone and computer at work, starting early in the morning and working until late at night, so if given the chance to step away from screen time, I take it. I probably never would have discovered the delightful Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat if a friend hadn’t cheerfully insisted I watch it. Based on chef/author/teacher Samin Nosrat’s best-selling book of the same name, the show is part travelogue, part love-letter to food and the perks of fresh ingredients, and a buoyant celebration of the pursuit of home cooking.
But what I love most about Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is the way Nosrat distills the art of cooking into four essential elements that shape cuisine around the world. By understanding how salt, fat, acid and heat affect taste and texture, and learning how to strike the right balance between them to achieve maximum deliciousness, Nosrat makes cooking accessible to even the most fledgling kitchen beginner. With this she provides inspiration and a fresh perspective for intermediate-to-experienced chefs.
I come from a family lineage with cataloged and stained recipe cards that have been passed down from generation to generation. And while I consider myself a decent cook – thanks to my mom and her commitment to making home cooked meals for our family, despite working the night shift at the hospital throughout most of my upbringing – my true passion in the kitchen is baking. I love to bake so much that, when I was given the chance to audition for The Great Holiday Bake Off on the Food Network, I carefully crafted my submission. This was my opportunity to be a TV star! It was the middle of summer and the judges called for all desserts to be holiday themed. Now, this was before the modern day luxury of Amazon Prime delivery, so trying to find crème de menthe and candy canes in the middle of summer was more nerve-racking than the actual audition. I’m proud to say my concoction impressed the judges, but apparently I don’t stir up enough drama for reality TV, so I wasn’t selected for the show. Chalk it up to a fun experience. I bake on, undeterred!
It’s no surprise, given that I work with children for a living, I filter most situations through the lens of their affect/impact on kids. Nosrat’s novel approach to culinary teaching got me thinking about the essential things kids need to thrive and become healthy, functional adults. Note that I didn’t say “what kids need to be successful.” Success is subjective and depends how you define it. (Do you determine success by how much money you make? How far you’ve gotten in your career? How fast you ran that marathon? Whether you get married and have children? How happy and content you are?) What I want to identify are the fundamental ingredients that every child – regardless of where they are raised – needs, in order to grow and mature into human beings, who are capable of taking care of themselves, navigating challenges, making the most of their potential, and creating their own definition of success.
Children’s Hospital Colorado offers their insight into “What Every Child Needs” by detailing, “eight essential requirements for kids to become happy, successful adults.” I would advocate that we can boil it down even further to four critical categories: Security, Consistency, Love and Education. And while these are by no means the absolute right answers, they are foundational ingredients for all children to thrive.
These are the basics every kid needs to ensure their survival: food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and safety from harm. Many of the children we serve at Boys & Girls Clubs Metro Denver come from food insecure families who don’t enjoy the luxury of eating three meals a day. Some of our Club kids experience homelessness on a regular or extended basis. Too many of them are exposed at a very young age to violence and substance abuse in their families. But when they walk through the doors of our Clubs after school, they know they are safe. They know they will get a hot dinner. And they know we’ll be there again tomorrow.
Kids need a sense of belonging, structure and stability to feel safe. It’s the foundation from which they can explore the world around them, form friendships and relationships, learn values, and model healthy behavior. Our children crave limits and guardrails, until they come of age to start rebelling against them. Being consistent in everything, from showing love, to setting boundaries – especially when our kids start pushing back against them – is one of the hardest aspects of parenting… teaching… or being a trusted adult in a child’s life. By working hard to keep our Club doors open, and honoring Boys & Girls Clubs’ commitment to engage, nurture and champion every child in our care, we help provide consistency in the lives of children who, all too often, live in chaotic environments where they’re forced to grow up too fast.
Fifty-something years ago, The Beatles gleefully suggested that “all you need is love.” While it’s not quite as simple as the Fab Four suggest, “Love Is One of Four Essential Things All Humans Need” is clearly less catchy. No matter how you sing it, feeling loved is the key ingredient to flourishing joyfully. Who doesn’t want that for our kids? When we feel loved and important (appreciated, wanted, seen, heard, valued), we are primed to unabashedly explore our curiosity, pursue our interests and develop our talent. We can muster the courage and grit to lean into tough times, and we learn how to give and receive love in a healthy way. At Boys & Girls Clubs, we strive to give our kids the emotional support they need to blossom, despite the challenges they face outside their Club community.
Whether it comes in the form of traditional schooling, home schooling, street smarts, life lessons, or a combination of some or all of these approaches, kids need a blend of scholastic fundamentals (ABCs and 1-2-3s) and life skills (problem solving, conflict resolution, social networking, etc.) to be able to make their way in the world. (Or, as Millennials call it, to handle “adulting.”) One of the most vital lessons, in my humble opinion, is to teach our children how to empathize with others. Empathy helps us better understand and connect with people, and this one skill can open minds and open doors to a multitude of opportunities, ideas, and experiences. Our Club staff support and deepen the learning trajectory for our kids, from kindergarten to high school graduation, through homework help, hosting classes in everything from arts and crafts to computer science, and even assist our older Club kids with job and college applications.
Like the way salt, fat, acid and heat can be combined to achieve maximum palate pleasure, these four essential child rearing ingredients, work together to chart a path toward healthy adulthood. Striking the delicate, but necessary, balance between the four can be the most difficult part. For example: providing security, love and education to a child is vital, but if they are given inconsistently, this can undermine the child’s ability to trust, let alone absorb their benefits. The next time I feel overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting a one year-old daughter, fiercely toddling into her “terrible twos,” I’ll go back to basics. Are my husband and I giving our daughter security, consistency, love and education? Is anything out-of-balance? Do we need to make any adjustments? Do we need to turn down the heat on this situation, or let it simmer?
In the meantime, I’m grateful to my friend for nudging me to make some screen time for Salt, Fat, Acid Heat. I love discovering and learning something new, especially when it gives me fresh perspective on other topics close to my heart. Nostrat’s original approach to cooking has given me new ways of thinking about parenting and the work we do at Boys & Girls Clubs. And for this I say: My compliments to the chef!