This week I had the urge to try something new. Maybe it was the fresh smell of snow that inspired me–the newness of the season, or an eagerness for some creative spark in the midst of the same-old routine, or the desire to get back to the beautiful basics: cooking from scratch, creating with my hands from simple staple ingredients like flour, or the intriguing anticipation of uniting with others in a cooking community. Whatever it was, one or all of these, the idea formed itself and came to life in virtually the same moment.
On the same day that I was thinking about visiting Jill’s Table,a few things happened serendipitously. First Jill’s Table had shown up on my social media feed several times. Next I started to wonder about their cooking classes. Third, I was in food blogging happy mode, reflecting on my last comforting experience of making Butternut Squash soup and sharing it with a few friends. Then, on the same day, my coworker told me that the newest cooking classes had just been posted that very morning and we could register the following week, at exactly 6:30 am.
It was meant to be. I went online and soon enough, I was signed up for the two classes I most wanted, Pasta-Making and Easy Thai. And so, a new adventure began.
I have good cooking and baking skills but nothing high level. I can make things like Fettucine Alfredo and pan-fry up a nice garlic shrimp or some avocado dishes, but things like making pasta from scratch is something I’ve been longing to try for some time now, but haven’t found the confidence yet. My mom recently gave me the recipe for Knoepfli and Spaetzli after her delicious Swiss cooking (my favourite meal growing up was schnitzel with spaetzli or rice and pickled beet salad or tomato salad). She also gave me the pasta gadget for cutting them into tiny dumpling shapes, but I had not tried it yet.
As for Thai food, I am in love with many things Thai, and especially spicy Chicken Pad Thai, but never really saw cooking Thai as an option. I would not even know where to begin. You see I don’t just want to make Pad Thai. I want to know how to make really good Pad Thai. Mouth-watering Pad Thai! There are so many places in town that I love, and they have created a high expectation for deliciousness that I’m not sure I could ever recreate. And they all have variations of flavours, textures, and moods: some tangier, some spicier, some with lighter noodles and less sprouts, or more crushed nuts. How would I ever adapt my recipe to hit the spot?
Here, by the way, are a few of the best Pad Thia dishes I have found: Ben Thanh (downtown), Mai’s Cafe and Bistro (Wortley Village), Meesai Thai Food (Byron), Quynh Nhi (Riverside & Waterloo), Tamarine, and Mango Salad in Ingersoll. Ingersoll is a little out of the way, but nice if you are looking for a drive to get out of the city. It’s a small place with a warm atmosphere, great staff, and free parking on the street. But be warned, if you ask for medium spice, it is has wonderfully more heat than other places I have been. A strong zing!
So why does this story about food really matter? Why do any stories about food matter? Why make it, why write about it, why join a cooking class, why cook with strangers?
I haven’t figured that one out quite yet. There is something so symbolic about food and how it can become the center point of relationship. There is something about how food and cooking draws people together for a common experience and social connection. It’s the way our humanness and who we are from childhood returns as we eat food together that draws on our memories and beloved experiences of family and life together. It’s also the beautiful and unique energy and joy that comes from making and creating. And the simplicity of making food from scratch in a world that’s become really difficult with daily technology interrupting everywhere, conflict between people and groups, and all the complicated hurts, griefs, and struggles many experience during the holidays and all year long.
Also, because in a cooking class, you get to learn from a chef and also cook with other people you’ve never met, finding something in common together. Isn’t food and cooking best when done in community? Small groups slicing, mixing, learning, and tasting together? Creating food and memories? Being ‘at the table’ together?
There are so many ways to be at the table together, building closeness and understanding between us and someone else who might at first feel like other, and eventually become someone we deeply admire or like or even love. In our community house where I live, being around the table for tea or dessert or supper leads to all kinds of opportunities for sharing in each others’ lives. At the Library where I work, families, students, and newcomers learning English gather around the tables to study together, laugh, talk, plan projects. Communal learning is a huge component of our Library community experience. At Sanctuary London, we gather around 14 tables for Wednesday suppers, to have family-style meals together, serving one another and talking about our lives. On Sunday nights, we sit in a circle around a small communion table, where our faith is at the center. This month in the holiday season, the table is also a symbolic space for Advent candles and hope.
It’s up to you how or when you share your table. But I believe that sharing a meal with others, whether cooking together or simply eating together, feels far less lonely than eating alone. Food is the symbol, the yeast, the centerpiece. It’s the ingredients of relationship which can be celebrated for years. Who will you share your table with this holiday season? What kind of friendship might simmer or rise from your baking and cooking?
Note: Header photo by Sarah Boyle.