The Lousy Cook Takes a Cooking Class

Curry! Amanda Coba teaching at The Book Larder, recipe from Anna Jones's "A Modern Way to Cook"
Curry! Amanda Coba teaching at The Book Larder (Anna Jones recipe)

Hot on the heels of acquiring my first new set of pots and pans since 1987, I signed up for a cooking class.

My 30-year-old pots were a gift from my parents, in hopes, I think, that I wouldn’t move back in with them. Again. Rather impressive that I’ve used the same cookware since the advent of Prozac and The Simpsons, though my set has dwindled to three pots and two lids (two pots have no lid; one lid doesn’t match any pot, but I hate to toss the lid, since it’s good for extinguishing fires). Especially impressive since it’s glass cookware for a klutz (the other day the Man I Married asked me if dropping things was a sign of MS, and I asked him if insensitivity was a sign of divorce).

New Recipe in New Pan: no-drain spaghetti that makes its own sauce, a new perennial fave in our house
New Favorite Recipe in New Pan: no-drain spaghetti that makes its own sauce (Anna Jones recipe). The Little Man didn’t even complain about the kale.

I needed just one small pan with a lid to poach an egg. True to American consumerism, single pans did not come with lids; only pans in sets came with lids. So, after years of resisting, I broke down after finding a reasonably sized set rather than a bloated set that Alice Brady might need to feed a family of eight. Thus, the cost of one poached egg was a complete cookware set that included a spatula and serving spoon.

The kind of cooking class I signed up for didn’t much matter. My goal was to do fun and unexpected things during my birth month. On the 1st, I saw Rick Springfield at a casino with a friend I adore but hadn’t seen in a while. Her invitation was totally out of the blue and a kick in the pants. Speaking of pants, Rick Springfield still looks mighty fine in his though he’s nearing seventy. He got so close to us in the audience that Paullette could have touched his mighty fine bum, for research purposes, but she refrained.

The out-of-my-box evening with Paullette gave me the idea of peppering the rest of the month with new things and seeing tried-and-true friends I don’t see enough of. I’m moving more slowly these days, so birth month sounded more my speed than birthday.

Amanda's Vertical Sweet Potatoes
Amanda’s Vertical Sweet Potatoes (Diana Henry recipe)

I hadn’t taken a cooking class since circa 1988, when I worked in the macrobiotics industry and took a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner class from my boss’s eventual wife—the one who later, after becoming his wife when he finally divorced his first wife, tattled on me to my boss while in her lace teddy when we were back in our shared hotel room after working a natural foods trade show in Anaheim. (She kept interrupting me while I tried to wax poetic about our seaweed and twig tea to potential consumers, so I finally gave up and got a natural facial at the booth next door. Those folks slathered something on me and dried it onto my face with a hair dryer, one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, so I’d already been suitably punished for leaving my booth, though I looked terrific in a Joan Baez meets Joan Rivers sort of way.) Back at the hotel room, while undressing, my boss’s eventual wife called my boss and repeated to him every complaint I’d made that day. The most shocking thing to me was that macrobiotic wives wore lace teddies. Like, as part of their normal, everyday undergarments. I expected cotton granny panties, but I suppose a teddy is a good illustration of “holistic,” though for me that would mean spending my whole day getting in and out of the thing every time I had to pee, which was a lot when downing buckets of twig tea like I did in those days. Maybe macroneurotic women wear lace teddies because getting one up and down for every trip to the loo requires a series of yoga poses.

My Vertical Sweet Potatoes
My Vertical Sweet Potatoes (hey, I’m short)

I had thought the natural food industry would be stuffed full of nice people out to save the planet in peace and harmony, but the industry was pretty much stuffed as full of nuts as the Chestnut Loaf she taught me to make for Thanksgiving’s main course.

With my cooking mantra of “more is always better,” my loaf fell apart and required a spoon rather than a knife. Somehow, my aunt and uncle suspected that a Chestnut Loaf wasn’t going to be as satisfying as a Tom Turkey, so they arrived for the family meal with a fully cooked bird.

As I began investigating options for a cooking class a quarter-century later, the vast quantity of cooking class options in Seattle astounded me. In the late 80s, there were maybe two options—natural food cooking classes through the local co-op, which is where I took Miss Teddy’s class (did I mention that she had bad teeth?), and noncredit classes through the community college, which do not exist anywhere on the radar of a 25-year-old.

Chickpea Tofu: WHY?
Chickpea Tofu: WHY? (Anna Jones recipe)

Now you can’t throw a chestnut (did I mention that she got pregnant on purpose to get him to marry her and that she wore a wedding dress to emphasize her fertility?) in Seattle without hitting a cooking class. There are more than a dozen cooking centers, and almost all of the classes were already sold out. Apparently Seattle is littered with people who have the time to not only take cooking classes, but to cook on a regular basis meals that require lessons. My guess is that none wear lace teddies but most wear Spanx. Times have changed.

So I signed up for the only cooking class that still had room. Which just happened to be for vegetarian cooking. Though it was about trying new things, turned out to be more about revisiting old things—like Rick Springfield’s music. There were no chestnuts involved (did I mention that my boss, who was bald and wore mauve, later divorced her, too?).

First I went to the wrong place for the lunch-hour cooking class. I thought I knew where “the” bookstore in Fremont was, but I had no idea there was a “new” bookstore that sold nothing but cookbooks (The Book Larder). Turns out it’s been there for five years. While parenting, I’ve missed out on a few things, it would seem. I was the last to arrive.

Chickpea Tofu I made at home. Um, why?
Chickpea Tofu: As misguided an endeavor as a Chestnut Loaf. Frying it helped.

I wore the same khakis I’d been wearing for three days. I figured I was going to get covered in flour and grease, so why get spiffed up? Might as well just give those slacks one more wearing and do a load of laundry when I get home. I also left off my rings, so they wouldn’t get dropped into a pot of whatever it was I’d fail at later if I tried it on my own at home.

But here’s what happened: I watched a gracious young woman–Amanda Coba–cook lunch, while simultaneously giving a talk on things like the world history of curry (London had a curry shop before it had a fish and chips shop). And then I got to eat all of it.

Now that’s what I’d call a fun cooking class.

Amanda asked us if we’d ever had the experience of chocolate “seizing on you.” Yup, it seizes on my thighs every time I eat it.

Amanda spent considerable time with me after class, like a bonus therapy session in which I tried to explain the clashing forces of a decent vegetarian cook raising a boy who was used to McD’s for breakfast, Denny’s for dinner, and candy and soda at midnight. Now I was a lousy cook, and nobody was happy (except the Man I Married, who continues to like whatever I set in front of him, though his habit of humming while eating something he particularly enjoys doesn’t manifest much these days).

“You’re trying to rediscover the joy in cooking,” she finally surmised as she showed me books she thought I might like.

“Yes! That’s it!”

In the spirit of new pans and new beginnings, I bought my first cookbook since the glory days of pioneering vegetarian Mollie Katzen–back when cookbooks were published in paperback, something that seems to have gone the way of vegetarians drowning everything in cheese. And I proceeded to make the most time-intensive recipe from the book, Chickpea Tofu: not tofu served with garbanzos, but tofu made from chickpeas rather than soy. The first question to ask is why? Not why I would make it, but why anybody would make it? Unfortunately, I didn’t ask this question until after I spent two days making it. The boys loved it, but next time I’ll just stir fry garbanzos and store-bought tofu. The Man I Married gets a faraway, dreamy look in his eyes whenever I mention the Chickpea Tofu and says, “Too bad you don’t want to make it again. I sure did like it.” (Subtext: you must not love me very much if you are never planning to make Chickpea Tofu again.)

I signed up for another lunch-hour class with Amanda the following month. Many of the same women attended the class. And no wonder. What a treat to watch someone cook for us while we did absolutely nothing.

For Thanksgiving, I’m making the Vertical Sweet Potatoes, my name for the Diana Henry recipe taught in class. As a side dish. The Man I Married says he’ll make the gravy, because gravy stresses me out. Coming from a man who has never used a recipe beyond that on the back of a Trader Joe’s frozen meal, that’ll be an enterprise that’ll likely wind up an old chestnut I’ll be recounting a quarter century from now.

He’d better not scratch my new pans.

Not that I have a long memory for mishaps or grudges.

Can cheesecloth used for making Chickpea Tofu be reused? Anybody?
Can cheesecloth used for making Chickpea Tofu be reused? Anybody?

* * * * *

In the way of kismet, Amanda’s boyfriend’s mom is a foster mom and a blogger, at This Old Mom. Her latest post (which includes a heartbreaking story about how teenage foster girls are often given a Norplant implant without thought for side effects or difficulty of eventual removal) is here.

Image Credits:

Amanda Coba Cooking Curry: The Book Larder Facebook Page

All other photos by Jennifer D. Munro

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