For the first Christmas of our nascent relationship, I was particularly fraught with worry about what to get Justin as a gift. I was so worried, in fact, that I had a discussion with him back in November about setting a price limit on our gift-giving, so that neither of us would be made uncomfortable by a disparity in spending. As is my custom when facing a difficult decision, I asked basically everyone I could think of for advice on the matter, and finally, with some advice from my brilliant aunt, Lisa, I settled on what to get: a cooking class.
That is not to say that I thought Justin needed cooking lessons; in fact, everything I've eaten that he's made for me has been quite tasty. Rather, cooking is something we both enjoy, and enjoy doing together, so I thought it would be nice to incorporate that into our gift-giving. Also, I've gotten to the point in my life where I don't really like giving gifts of material objects. As evidenced by the Cookie Bonanza, wherein I give edible presents to most of the people on my Christmas giving list, I prefer to give presents that won't sit around gathering dust. I prefer to give people memories instead, whether it be the memory of a delicious cookie, or the memory of a shared experience. So for Justin, I thought the memory of taking a class together, about a hobby we both enjoy, in which we could learn valuable skills to enhance our performance of said hobby, would be a great idea.
With the help of the Tribune's annual listing of locations in the city that offer cooking classes, I ultimately settled upon a knife skills class at The Chopping Block, a local chain of combination gourmet shops/cooking schools. The knife skills class would strengthen our fundamental kitchen skills, by teaching proper knife care, and hopefully increasing our speed and accuracy while chopping. Since I wanted Justin to have something to open when we exchanged gifts, I ended up taping a description of the class to a plastic knife, placing it in a box, and wrapping it. It still took a bit of clarification when he opened it last week, but thankfully, he was excited about his gift. We went to the class tonight, and both of us enjoyed it.
The first part of the course focused on educating us about the various types of knives and their functions in the kitchen (with a few thinly veiled sales pitches for the featured cutlery, which was available for purchase in the retail area of the facility, with a student discount, no less), and instructing us on the proper way to sharpen, hone, and clean our knives to maximize their longevity. Most of this material I already knew, from my association with Katherine, who once had a job selling Cutco products and is now an evangelist for proper knife-care, but I was shamed slightly into using larger knives. Apparently, it's common for women to prefer smaller knives than are appropriate for the kitchen task at hand, and I am no different, which is something I'll have to work on.
The second half of the class was dedicated to teaching us proper chopping techniques for common vegetables like carrots, onions, celery, peppers, and herbs, and allowing us to practice for ourselves. For my usual purposes, the ability to chop celery into equally-sized cubes is a bit fussy, but I was enlightened by their advice on chopping carrots -- something with which I've always struggled. However, my main hope for the class was improving my efficiency in cutting onions, easily my most-hated kitchen task, and I'm not sure I learned anything of assistance there.
Nevertheless, it was a fun and educational evening, and I'm happy that I got to share it with Justin. I would definitely take more cooking classes through The Chopping Block -- they had a great set-up, and the instructor was entertaining and very knowledgeable. Their prices are a little steep, so it won't be something I'll get to indulge in on a regular basis, but the next time I'm looking to expand my culinary repertoire, I'll be sure to think of them.