What’s Cooking

Iowa City Overnight

To wrap up the 2016-2017 Café year, the chefs took an overnight trip down to Iowa City on June 9-10th. Friday started with lunch at the University of Iowa and a tour of campus. The girls loved the huge VARIETY of menu choices in the dining hall – so many options! A couple of highlights from the tour were an interactive periodic table that you could click on and see samples of the elements. They visited the Museum of Natural History that is on campus as well. Of course the tour included what a general courses lecture hall looked like, the library and the fitness center.

After the tour it was time to go to Hurts Donuts. This little excursion was an idea that came out of a Girls With Ideas session! We were discussing how we get ideas and what inspires us. What started as a conversation about chocolate dipped bacon led to how creative Hurts Donuts was and how their ideas were different. A cotton candy donut and gum ball donut definitely are unique ideas… those were 2 flavors selected to try while at the shop. Each girl was able to get her own flavor she wanted.

It was time to check into the hotel and get some swimming time in. The Café 361 chefs were lucky to get a hotel with a water slide in the pool area. Lots of fun going down again, again, and again. We did a build your own sandwich dinner in the hotel and finished the night by brainstorming our meal themes for next year. Stay tuned for what new and creative meals are coming for the 2017-2018 year, there are going to be some fun ones!

Saturday morning came quickly and after a short breakfast at the hotel (the waffle station was pretty popular), we made our way to Iowa City High School to help pack meals for Feed My Starving Children (FMSC). This organization was founded in 1987 as a Christian non-profit that provides nutritionally complete meals specifically formulated for malnourished children. FMSC operates by a simple process. Donations given fund the meal ingredients and volunteers hand-pack the meals. The meals are donated to FMSC food partners around the world, where kids are fed and lives are saved!

Iris Strong, Youth Ministry Leader at First Congregational United Church, arranged for the Café 361 group to be a part of this mobile pack day. Some girls were “warehouse” crew which entailed keeping the stations filled with rice, protein and bags and running the full boxes over to be weighed. At the packing stations, there were a variety of jobs from scooping in the protein and vegetables, weighing the bags and sealing the bags closed. The hour and a half went by fast, especially thanks to the bumping music and positive attitudes of everyone else there volunteering. It was a fun atmosphere and the girls all said they would do something like this again. EVEN with having to wear hairnets.

The adventures continued as we headed to Zombie Burger in the Coral Ridge mall to fill growling stomachs with a cheeseburger and fries. This is a popular new restaurant in the Iowa City area that was fun for everyone to try. The trip ended with another activity brand new to most of the café 361 chefs… ice skating!

Donning their skates and smiles, the girls took to the rink and after an hour of skating were looking like naturals. For the girls who had never been on ice skates before, all of them made it around the rink at least twice. The determination was evident as they ventured away from the wall and into the center rink! I wish we could share the sounds of all the giggles and cheers. Thank you to all our supporters throughout the year who came and dined with us. We will share details for next year as soon as we get them finalized, already looking forward to it!

Year-End Fiesta

Hard to believe another year is done for Cafe 361. What better way to celebrate than with a fiesta?! Our chefs put on a classic Mexican feast May 19th, that delighted guests like always.

The menu included:

  • Black bean, corn and avocado salsa
  • Fiesta rice
  • Refried beans
  • Mexican Enchilada Bake
  • Homemade pico de gallo
  • Tres Leche Cake
  • “Church” margarita punch

Each meal, the Cafe 361 chefs sit at various tables so they can talk to our guests. This helps improve communications skills, as well as allow those dining with us a chance to get to know the girls and each other better!

During the meal, Cafe 361 chef Rosette sat with guest Karen Vlasek. Karen is retired now but she used to be a labor nurse at Mercy Hospital. This is her 4th Cafe 361 dinner she has been to. So what inspired Karen to attend? Karen is actually part of a group that is looking into starting their own “Cafe 361” on the west side of Cedar Rapids. They saw an article in the newspaper about us and decided they should start another one, focused on the west side.

Karen also said she came to the fiesta dinner to see the girls and her good experience the previous times. Rosette found out Karen has been to Mexico twice as well. Always curious to know what people enjoyed eating the most, Rosette asked Karen what her favorite part of the meal was. The enchilada bake won out! 


As this was our last meal of the year, we had to recognize the Cafe 361 girls who have regularly attended and participated this past year. We got to give medals to the first-year chefs, certificates to the 2nd-year chefs, scholarships to the 3rd-year chefs and BIG kudos to the 4th-year chefs. Cannot believe it’s been 4 years for Cafe. Check out the groups below!

Other snapshots:

A Taste of India

When you decide to do a specific fundraiser meal, you know the menu needs to be special and delicious. Cafe 361 decided to try a whole new cuisine we have never cooked before, Indian. Thus “A Taste of India” night was born. The meal prep started weeks before the April dinner at the actual restaurant, Taste of India. We had to get a feel for good Indian food and then figure out what recipes we could recreate with the Cafe 361 chefs.

Guests entered to a table set with the Naan, hummus and cilantro chutney for their appetizer. This was followed by an entree of butter chicken, Biryani rice, Indian style mixed vegetables and pakova (a cauliflower mixture, similar to falafel). The meal was finished off with not 1 but 2 special Indian desserts. These were mango lassis (mango smoothie) and Carrot Halwa.

We have to thank Taste of India for providing the Naan and Pakova, however the Cafe 361 chefs were in charge of the rest. Spices and herbs are very important in Indian cooking. With the goal of authentic flavors, there was a lot of test tasting going on in the kitchen! It paid off as the request for recipes and compliments to the chefs were heard all around.

And you can’t have an Indian themed meal without Bollywood. Three of the chefs performed a dance to an Indian song for the guests.

What a fun night for Lois Albrecht to attend her first Cafe 361 meal. Cafe chef Cindy sat down with Lois after the meal to get to know one of our guests a little better. Lois was inspired to come to the Indian fundraiser after a told her about it. She has eat Indian cuisine a lot previously. From the extensive menu, Lois’ favorite dishes were the butter chicken and the cabbage vegetable mixture.

When asked what her favorite ethnic food is, Indian and Mexican were Lois’ top 2. She did tell Cindy she would be back to visit Cafe 361 again. Lucky for Lois, our next Cafe 361 meal theme is Mexican happening Friday, May 19th!

*Due to the many requests for the Indian menu recipes, we will publish some of those in our next blog post. Stay tuned!*

An Interview with Claudia Taylor

Interview by Dynasty & Ronisha, members of Cafe 361

It’s 5:30pm on a Wednesday night and people are making their way into First Congregational Church. Down the stairs and to the left they enter the door. Is that a nightgown I see? Are those slippers… in March? Do not be surprised, Cafe 361 hosted a pajama “Breakfast for Dinner” party last Wednesday!

Guests and the Cafe 361 chefs were encouraged to dress for the occasion in their favorite pair of pajamas. At this meal, Claudia Taylor took a minute to talk to Cafe chefs Ronisha and Dynasty. ”

I’m big into breakfast!” said Claudia, when asked what inspired her to come to Cafe 361’s March dinner. This was her 4th Cafe meal this year. Last year she attended even more. Of course Claudia knew to get in the spirit and was wearing her blue nightgown. She told Ronisha and Dynasty it’s her favorite pair of PJ’s because of how soft it is.

On the breakfast menu was a variety of classic morning dishes including mini biscuits topped with sausage gravy, a bacon and vegetable egg casserole and crispy potatoes. Claudia’s favorite dish was the pecan caramel rolls, “breakfast dessert”.

Since Claudia loves breakfast, Ronisha and Dynasty had to ask what was the best breakfast she has eaten.

“It was at Perkins – egg casserole, hash browns, etc. A really good breakfast buffet.”

There are a variety of things that keep Claudia a regular supporter of Cafe 361.

“It’s always positive. I love the themes. I like how the Cafe girls all have a part during the meals and what you do, including the public speaking.”

Not long after the breakfast buffet line opened, guest’s had licked their trays clean. Soon the line of slippers and pajamas were heading back out the door and up the stairs. It was a successful Cafe 361 breakfast dinner! We’re glad our guests are willing to have fun and change things up every now and then with us.

Leadership “Styles”

It has been a month since the Cafe 361 chefs have gotten together for a Girls With Ideas session. The month of February flew by! We still wanted to share what the girls have been learning. Our last session was a creative exercise that showcased how quick thinking and crafty our Cafe chefs are. (Hidden talents came shining out!)

All the girls have discovered that there are different leadership styles displayed across the board. This session they were able to see how having a variety in leadership can be beneficial. Team-building is important to Cafe 361 and we began by splitting the girls into 3 teams.  Their mission? Design stylish outfits for girl leaders, take photos of the styles and write an inspirational caption. The catch? The teams could only use newspapers, plastic wrap and tinfoil. No tape included! With a 20 minute time limit, we watched as the girls dived into their task.

When the 20 minutes was up, the final results were extremely impressive. Their outfits proved communication, creativity and problem solving are all skills these young women have. More importantly, their captions around the inspiration for the outfits they created showcased what they see value in.

Group 1: Don’t judge yourself. Be yourself.

Group 2: Every leader isn’t the same, some stand out.

Group 3: Simple is stylish. Keep it simple.

All three finished looks! Each different and unique. We are excited to continue the Girls With Ideas curriculum this month. We will learn about different ideas and brainstorm our own coming up in March. Stay tuned to what happens next!


A Cafe 361 Interview with Barb Jackson

Co-authored by Hayley, member of Cafe 361

When Café 361 started, there was no expectation for how long it would continue. As we are halfway through our 4th year, we know our success is only possible with the support of our dinner guests. Barb Jackson is one of those guests who has attended Cafe dinners since the beginning.

When asked what brought her to January’s Asian themed dinner (Monday, January 16th), Barb said, “I love watching you guys [Café 361 chefs} grow up!” Her favorite part of the meal was the chicken skin, the coconut rice pudding with Asian pears and the almond cookies. This was a specially prepared meal; the Café 361 girls had the opportunity to cook alongside three local chefs from area restaurants.

Cobble Hill sous chef Elliot Brown, the Pig and Porter sous chef Jake Wegmann and chef Brett Scholl of Lincoln Wine Bar in Mount Vernon spent the afternoon teaching and diving into the action. Helping the girls, they all prepared shrimp and vegetable spring rolls, Thai chicken with rice noodles, coconut rice pudding and almond cookies.

The January Café dinner was also a salute to woman leaders. Barb Jackson said an important female leader in her life is her daughter. Barb said she wanted to be an artist and worked towards that goal even though people laughed at her. Perseverance is a quality we want all our Cafe chefs to develop.

Wrapping up the interview, the chefs of Café 361 are always curious about food traditions of their guests. Barb said a favorite tradition for her family is a Christmas morning brunch. Thank you to Barb and all our Cafe dinner guests who have supported us in the past and continue today.

*Also, be sure to check out an article by the Cedar Rapids Gazette about Cafe 361’s January dinner!

Winter Lock-In & a Merry Christmas

As December is filled with holiday parties, family gatherings and community events, Cafe 361 takes a break from preparing a community meal. Instead the Cafe girls got together for a night of fun.

Included in this evening was starting a new leadership program called “Girls With Ideas“. This interactive curriculum included getting to know each other better, brainstorming how to start and end our sessions and a game of leadership bingo. We will share updates as we continue meeting with the girls and working through the new material. Our hope is the Cafe 361 chefs will identify their leadership qualities and idea-generating skills within.

Of course we can’t have a Cafe 361 event without some sort of food activity! The girls had a sugar cookie decorating contest. Hardest decision of the night was what frosting, sprinkles and toppings to use. Our girls have big imaginations. The creativity continued with making Christmas gift bags. Hot glue guns, ribbon and patterned paper galore. Everyone voted for their top 3 favorite sugar cookies and gift bags, the top choices getting little holiday prizes.

The winter lock-in concluded with a movie, popcorn and hot chocolate before bed. Those of us who volunteer with Cafe 361 were glad we had the opportunity to celebrate a little of this holiday season with the girls. Christmas break is now in full swing and we are planning another winter get together during this time.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A Cafe 361 interview with Patti Thacker

By Nikki Techau, member of Cafe 361

I had the chance to talk to the most loving person you could ever meet in Café 361 and her name is Patti Thacker. Patti Thacker is a community volunteer, she is a political activist and she is a fragrance expert at Younkers.

Her favorite part about our meals is that every meal and everything we do, we do with love, and that is something she really loves about us. She has been to every meal that we had up to when we started (which is amazing). And she really loves us. She was inspired by a close friend to come, and now she loves it so much that she never wants to leave!

Patti’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition at her house is the gathering of family and friends, because what’s better than to spend the holidays with the people you love? She cares deeply about that and it shows tremendously. Something that is very special to her during the holidays; and I think that this should be really special to all of us, is that to her it is better to give than receive.

Patti is a special woman who has been with us from the start and she will continue to be with us for years to come. That is why I interviewed her. Like she says her favorite four lettered word is love, and that should be everyone’s favorite word throughout the holidays.

Recipe: Corn Casserole

Everyone loves a good corn casserole! Here’s a great go-to recipe the girls enjoyed making.

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Recipe: Asian Cabbage Salad

A great combination of Asian flavors made this salad a hit on Comfort Food night!

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