Turning up the Heat

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The library is a great place to get information on how to cook, but many libraries are going further by giving teens a place to cook as well.
Teens get cooking at their local library

Cooking for yourself is fun and healthy and a necessary skill for living on your own. The library is a great place to get information on how to cook, but many libraries are going further by giving teens a place to cook as well.

Tecumseh Public Library in Norman, Oklahoma, has hosted a couple of cooking programs for teens so far, and Library Assistant Beth Lyle said that more will be coming every few months. Near Thanksgiving last year, participants baked their own pie to take home. In another program, teens collaborated on a full Mexican dinner, and Lyle says the next program, coming this month, will be a cake-decorating class.

“The teens absolutely love it,” Lyle said. “They always ask when we’re going to do another.”

The programs are all hands-on, so everyone who attends can get in on the cooking action. Many of the recipes that the teens cook come from Teens Cook: How to Make What You Want to Eat by Jill, Megan, and Judi Carle, which Lyle said is a user-friendly book to work from.

The cooking programs are free to participants, supported by the Tecumseh Friends of the Library, a nonprofit group dedicated to raise money for and promote the library.

Tecumseh isn’t the only library to get in on the cake-decorating action, Laramie County (Wyo.) Library System hosted the “Ultimate Library Cake-Off” cake-decorating contest in March. Teen Services Librarian Beth Cook said that the idea came from John Madsen, one of the members of the library’s Teen Advisory Board. “I had recently seen an episode of TLC’s Ultimate Cake-Off and loved the theme and competition aspects, so I just went with it,” Cook said.

In the contest, teams of four worked together to decorate cakes with an Alice in Wonderland theme. The idea for the theme came from the library’s teen assistant, Andrew Asquith. “I wanted our theme to be something teens related to and literary-related,” Cook noted, and Alice in Wonderland fit the bill—with the added bonus that Tim Burton’s movie version had been released earlier that month.

More than 60 teens took part in the contest. “They took the decorating very seriously and wanted to do the best, most creative job possible,” Cook said. “Everyone was enthusiastic, excited, and very supportive of each other.” The winners received gift cards and a copy of Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. “The book has really basic tips and skills at the beginning that teens can implement without spending a ton of money on special utensils, and it has fantastic, creative ideas!” Cook said.

Watsonville (Calif.) Public Library looked eastward for inspiration for a cooking program. Last summer the library organized a program making bento boxes for teens. Bento boxes are traditional Japanese box lunches, in which the food is arranged into artful designs.

Teen Librarian Eva Nottage said that the Teen Advisory Board came up with the idea to cook as part of its Summer Reading program. Making bento is relatively mess-free and doesn’t require equipment like a stove or oven. “The teens here are very interested in manga and anime, and I’m sure that played a role in their interest,” Nottage said.

The program featured an instructor from a local community college who talked about Japan and showed participants how to create onigiri, which are shaped balls of rice with fillings that are then decorated. Since many participants chose to make their bento look like anime characters (which is known as chara-ben, an abbreviation for “character bento”), they had a chara-ben guessing contest after creation.

If you’re interested in learning to cook, check with your local library about any programs they may have. And in the meantime, try some of these books for your home cooking experiments.

Cooking up a Storm
by Sam Stern
The first of this British teen’s five cookbooks gives quick, guy-focused recipes for school nights, as well as more involved options for weekends and special desserts and snacks.

Happy Norwuz: Cooking with Children to Celebrate the Persian New Year
by Najmieh Batmanglij
This recipe collection doubles as a cultural guide, with a detailed introduction to the history and customs of the Persian New Year.

Big Snacks, Little Meals: After School, Dinnertime, Any Time
by Rose Dunnington
This book features a mix of familiar dishes and those that are a bit more adventurous, with informal instructions and an emphasis on the social aspects of cooking.

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