Friday, December 04, 2015

Great Gifting: The Gift of Class(es)

Making lists, checking them twice…and don't get me started on the whole naughty or nice thing. It’s all too much to keep track of!

So I say opt out, walk away, leave it at the door. No one I know needs more stuff, and the idea of the holidays—and, come to think of it, life in general—is to share joy, spread peace and love and generally try to make the planet a better place, right?

Jessica Hansen's couples date night classes at Middleground Farms.

I've sworn off the kinds of gifts that require displaying or dusting, preferring instead to give items that are 1) consumable or 2) useful in some way. That means no tchotchkes or gewgaws allowed. And though I could never convince my mother of this, gift certificates, especially for learning experiences, are the gift that keeps on giving.

Ben Meyers' sausage-making is perfect for a budding charcutiere.

One that's been particularly well-received, and that I've found personally rewarding even if it's given to someone else, is a gift certificate for a cooking class. Learn basic kitchen skills like how to use a knife more effectively. Create an ethnic feast of the classic flavors of Asia, Europe or India. Has someone in your family decided to become a vegan? Or developed an intolerance or (heaven forfend) an allergy? You can find classes for all of these, from your youngest giftee to great-grandma. Contact any of those at the links listed below for gift certificates.

  • Portland's Culinary Workshop (top photo) offers classes for all ages (plus camps for kids) and an astonishing and wide-ranging roster of learning experiences too long to list here, but all are excellent and taught by professional culinary instructors. Seriously, you can't go wrong.
  • Old Salt Marketplace offers butchery, sausage-making and seasonal cooking classes to adults of all skill levels. I've given these classes as gifts and have heard nothing but raves about owner Ben Meyer's ability to make these skills accessible (and fun) for the home cook.
  • The Kitchen at Middleground Farms in Wilsonville has a wide range of cooking classes for individuals and couples (think date night), all taught in a state-of-the-art kitchen by self-described "accidental farmer" and terrific teacher and chef Jessica Hansen. I've experienced her in action and she's awesome.
  • Cook With What You Have offers individualized instruction with chef and local foods maven Katherine Deumling who makes it a joy to cook with fresh and seasonal ingredients. She also has an online recipe collection available for simple, quick and family-oriented meals that would make an awesome (and ongoing) gift.
  • Turnip the Heat Cooking School has kids classes that can't be beat and that are perfect for the aspiring chef in the household. Owner Joanna Sooper also teaches classes for teens and adults, and makes it tasty, too, since most classes include a shared meal. I would have loved taking one of these when I was young!

Others offering cooking classes include Proletariat ButcheryElder Hall, the Portland Meat Collective and, occasionally, Zenger Farm. If you've taken great cooking classes at other places, please feel free to share them in the comments at the link below!

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