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The Pulse: Learn To Cook On Your Lunch Break

I have been avoiding cooking, lately. Moving, the heat (I have no AC) and just being generally busy, have put meal planning and grocery shopping at the bottom of my to-do list until I attended one of Laura Cavender’s cooking classes this past Monday.

The Summer Lunch Break Series is a weekly class hosted in the summer by Oryana Food Co-op, and taught by Laura Cavender. The series runs every Monday through July and August and will focus on a different theme or ingredient each class. The classes are taught outside, and as a bonus I got to to experience Laura’s wonderful cooking.

Monday’s class focused on cooking with wine, something I’ve always been intimidated to do. My dad notoriously ruins chili or pulled pork by over zealously pouring beer in them, and it’s broken my heart on more than one occasion. Laura teaches from a place of sincerity and accessibility which makes the idea of cooking with wine and fresh ingredients no so daunting.

Laura began working at Oryana over six years ago, helping with classes, doing in-store tastings and teaching basics classes on a small scale. These basic classes covered things like how to cook quinoa or roast radishes.

“I’ve cooked for my whole life. I cooked as a ship’s cook for a long time.”

She started teaching the full cooking classes that she teaches now four years ago at Grace Episcopal. Because Oryana is so popular, it can be challenging to find space to teach cooking classes.

“Our store is just bumping. We’re full of food that we’re selling. Our café is full of people that are eating the food. [We’re] re-thinking and trying to be creative on where we can offer classes.”

Hence, the Summer Lunch Break Series being taught outside, and really, who’s complaining about that? The first dish that Laura showed us how to make is mushrooms and spinach in white wine sauce. Laura explained that cooking with wine is as simple as choosing a wine that we like the taste of. I take note of the way Laura chops an onion and a clove of garlic. Her methods were more efficient, and definitely safer than the way I typically chop an onion. She walks us through each step, showing us the pan as she goes.

The finished mushroom and spinach dish is incredible and something I felt could be attainable at home. She served the dish with a piece of bread made from Traverse City wheat, and I could feel my body’s gratefulness for consuming real food, and not another microwaved bean burrito.

My fellow class attendees are big fans of the dish as well. There are 10 of us, and it really feels like we’re all taking a lunch break together. The attendees asked thoughtful questions and made playful jokes throughout the class. Oryana puts on over 60 cooking classes a year, many of them being free. The community loves the classes and many times they’ll fill up.

“At that point it’s not about marketing it’s really about, how do we get our community eating better? We can sell food but we’ve gotta create that bridge where people don’t feel intimidated,” Laura said.

Teaching the classes are fulfilling for Laura because she believes that everyone deserves to live more abundantly. She described living abundantly in class as little facets of everyday life that make life better. Things like sleeping on freshly washed sheets or adding a slab of fresh tomato to a grilled cheese are such seemingly small, simple things, but yet they make us feel good. Cooking for yourself, and cooking fresh foods are a part of providing abundance to one’s life.

“I have this really special role where I get to see people enjoy the food. Maybe they’re cooking with a veggie that they didn’t think they liked, and then they try it and love it.”

This was the case with me. I am not one for mushrooms, at all. Upon arriving to the class and seeing that the main dish of the class was a mushroom dish, I felt that the universe betrayed me. Upon trying the mushroom dish, I was in heaven. I felt so inspired that I plan on making the dish for a house guest coming to visit.

We enjoy a salad made with homemade red wine dressing, croutons made from bits of the toasted, Traverse City bread and big slices of crunchy cucumber before Laura pulls out her bowl of truffles that the heat has gotten the better of. The dark chocolate and red wine truffles are mostly melted, no fault of Laura’s own, but she takes it in stride.

“I hated what happened with the chocolate, but I’m thankful for those moments because I think it humanizes it a little bit.”

Laura stressed that cooking is not about perfection. She referenced how beautifully curated her Pinterest boards are and how although it’s nice to look at, it’s not real life. She also referenced Julia Child dropping a chicken on the floor and just being able to laugh it off.

The Summer Lunch Break Series is a great way to learn new skills in the kitchen, or if you’re like me, great inspiration to start cooking for yourself again. There really is a direct connection between what we eat and how we feel. Laura’s recipes were surprisingly simple and not too ingredient heavy. Even if you’re not planning on using new cooking skills, the class is still a great way to spend lunch. A three course meal outside for $15 is a deal. Either way, your body will thank you. The classes run every Monday through the end of August from noon to 1pm.