Lessons learned

Lesson of the day: It’s easy to learn when you are doing something you love!

Case and point #1: Although it’s never “easy,” it’s definitely less hard to wake up for 8 a.m. class when that class is for marathon or half-marathon training.

This morning, I was even ready to go despite wind chills in the negative double digits. I even fueled (and warmed) up with a classic bowl of peanut butter and jelly oatmeal.

Consumed: 1/3 C multigrain oatmeal cooked with 2/3 C water. Mixed with a spoonful of sunflower seed butter, blueberries and grape jelly.

Similar to my bowl of oatmeal, I wasn’t looking too pulled together this morning. With multiple, multiple layers of sweats, I was actually kind of embarrassed to ride the bus — And that’s saying something. Fortunately, I fit in with the other runners at my class, so my mortification subsided for a while.

From this point, the classes will be structured workouts consisting of either intervals, circuits, hills or fartleks. Today, though, was the last lecture day. Guess you could say I got all dressed down with no place to run. Sigh.

I managed to pull a quicky transformation in the locker rooms by changing into some more acceptable clothes.

Fast-forwarding through classes (which were actually interesting), it was time for lunch. I was actually pretty starving by this point, having gone from my 7 a.m. breakfast to a lunch time past noon. Good thing I had a filling meal…

Consumed: Sweet potato and tofu burger on a sandwich thin. Served with a simple salad of carrots and Italian-blend cheeses with a homemade Dijon vinaigrette. Also paired with a non-fat vanilla yogurt.

The star of the show was definitely the sweet potato burger, which was part of a batch I made last night. In addition to the primary flavor of sweet potato, it was also packed with flavors of parsley, tomato and Indian spices. Holy yum!

Usually, lunch indicates that I am passed the mid-point in my school day. Sadly, in today’s case, I was just getting going — I had more classes that lasted straight through 5 o’clock. By the time I finally got out, grabbed a bus and made it home, I could have easily passed out on my bed for a while. However, I resisted this urge, because I had somewhere very, very important to be: The Community Mercantile for a cooking class on “Wonderful Winter Vegetables!”

I’d been dying to take a class at “The Merc” for a while now, but was just too cheap to go for it. That’s why I was so happy when my future mother-in-law asked if I’d like to go to a class with her!

Unfortunately, there was some sickness running around their households, so she told me she wasn’t sure that she could actually make the class that we had pre-paid for. Still wanting to go, I ran through a few scenarios: Go alone? Go with Dan? Take a friend?

Not really wanting to go alone and knowing that Dan had to study, it worked best for me to take a friend. With all the details nailed down, all it took was for me to show up and learn!

Never having taken a class at The Merc, I didn’t really know what to expect. Accounting for this, I showed up a little early to grab a couple of seats.

I knew we were in business when a woman with a chef smock walked up. After an introduction, I learned she was Paige Vandegrift, a London-trained chef who has also worked in France. Basically, she knew her stuff.

Note: She also has a blog, so she must really know what she’s doing! (;

Then we got going…

Butternut Squash, Wild Mushrooms and Fontina Pizza: I’d heard about butternut squash on pizza but had never tasted it, so I was interested to learn how it would turn out. Paige thinly sliced the neck of the butternut squash and gently roasted it. Meanwhile, she sautéed the wild mushrooms (which I must say are SO MUCH MORE flavorful that the white button variety!) and prepared an infused oil sauce with olive oil, garlic, pepper and minced rosemary.

She also gave the tip of laying a little cheese below the toppings. That way, the topping would remain “anchored” to the pizza. Brilliant!

Celery Root and Apple Salad: To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly had celery root before. It was just one thing I passed by in stores and never paid attention to on menus. For that reason, I was extra interested to see what Paige would do with it.

She began by slicing away the gnarly outer layer, which exposed a much more delicate looking inside. Then, she julianned it and softened the slices in some lemon acid. Meanwhile, she julianned a Granny Smith apple and whisked up a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. She tossed this all together with minced parsley, raisins and walnuts.

Consumed: (Forefront) Celery root and apple salad. (Background) Butternut squash, wild mushroom and Fontina cheese pizza.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon: After reading the title, I knew this was going to be a no-taste recipe for me. Still, it helped me pick up on a few new techniques. For example, I never really knew what braising was! Now I know that it is defined as cooking something in a little bit of fat (which could be olive oil, but was bacon fat in this case) and then moistened with liquid.

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Capers and Olives: The most interesting part of this dish was that Paige cooked the pasta in the same water that she had boiled the broccoli in. Not only did this make things easier, but it was also a good way to really subtly infuse the pasta with a little flavor. The other way to give the pasta some flavor was by tossing it all with a sauce of garlic, olive oil, capers, lemon and olives. Oh my gosh, this was so good I didn’t even get bothered by the olives, which I usually dislike.

Consumed: (Forefront) Orecchiette with broccoli, capers and olives. (Not consumed in the background was shredded Brussels sprouts with bacon.)

Ultimately, I walked away with new tips, new techniques and new cooking obsessions (remind me to infuse oil more often!). Now, I just have to save up my money so that I can go to another class!

Questions: Have you ever been to a cooking class? If you could design a dream class to take, what dishes would you learn how to make? If you could teach a class, what signature dish would you make?





11 responses to “Lessons learned

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