I love taking cooking classes. It’s so much fun to be with other folks who — as hard as this is to believe — are as culinarily-challenged as I am. Yes, it’s true — there are a few of them out there. However, it’s also true that most cooking-class students are talented and innovative food fans who want to improve their skills and increase their repertoire. I mainly just like to eat. Every once in a while, though, I am able to impress. Such as during a recent class I took at the Shoals Commercial Culinary Complex. “Ah, you’ve done this before,” the instructor/chef said as he observed my onion-chopping technique: While keeping the ends intact, slice the onion in half and then half again to give yourself a flat base to work from, remove skin but don’t slice off ends, then make horizontal cuts and then vertical cuts and then cross-cuts, resulting in quick and easy diced onion. Of course, I learned that from my friend Sherry, who is a Shoals-famous cook and cooking instructor now working far away from home. Temporarily, we all hope. I mean, the chef teaching in her absence at the Culinary Complex is a nice guy. He knows what he’s talking about and is helpful and patient and everybody enjoys his classes. But is he Southern sassy? Does he know the difference between oatmeal and grits? Is he willing to stop at every Starbucks he sees on a road trip? Come home, Sherry! We miss you! I’ll even chop up some vegetables in your honor.
Going to my brother’s house in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is like going to a restful mountain retreat. In fact, six years ago when my then-husband-to-be and I were thinking about where to get married, we considered Mark and Tammie’s house — although I don’t think we ever told them that. (So, Mark and Tammie, would it be OK if we laid claim your house for a weekend and invited 200 people over? Thanks!!!) Anyway, when they bought their house on the side of Lookout Mountain, the interiors were sort of dark and chopped up. Since then and after much hard work, they have let in the light and gone bright and airy by taking out walls, adding light-colored hardwood floors and sticking with minimalist decor. I especially love the kitchen, where they took off the cabinet doors to offset the dark wood. Bonus: Everybody gets to see their collections of colorful vintage espresso cups, bowls, glasses and other dishes, although, as my brother pointed out, sometimes you have to wipe off your chosen dish before you use it if it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. But that’s a small price to pay for fabulousness, don’t you think? Their bedroom continues the theme of calm and serene, with pale green walls and light-wood furniture. If you didn’t know this family but you walked into this house anyway, you’d know instantly that the folks who live here are creative and artistic and love being outdoors. And they are.
And speaking of creative, I kept telling my husband I was going to cover a “Cooking with Ginger” class for the TimesDaily — the newspaper I freelance for in Florence, Alabama — and he was bitterly disappointed to find out I was not making a Gilligan’s Island reference. But I did learn that ginger is an incredibly flavorful and versatile … herb? spice? … that will brighten up everything it’s added to. Younger Daughter has taken to putting some in the fresh juice she makes, and after this class I’m adding ginger along with the onion-garlic stir-fry duo to everything I get a saute pan out for. Read more and get some wonderful recipes at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100421/ARTICLES/4215001