Do you ever get the feeling that you're getting further and further from the sources of your food? To me, it often seems like everything is so pre-cut and packaged and continually available that we begin to forget that the things we eat (in the best case) come from the earth, and have a connection to our local climate and geography, and to the changing of the seasons as we orbit the sun. I'm always seeking ways to get closer to the source, so when I learned that Spork Foods, the cheery culinary sister act out of Silver Lake, was holding a class on spring's seasonal and local foods, I jumped on it. And people, it's good.*
Spork Foods is Jenny and Heather Goldberg. Jenny, a vegan chef who studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, handles the culinary side of the business, and Heather, who's worked at TreePeople for years (and is an awesome local musician) handles the rest. Now, I am not vegan or even vegetarian for that matter, but sometimes I like to pretend. My experiences have been hit or miss, but I always know to trust Jenny: her foods are healthful and truly delicious.
The classes work like this: you step through a perfectly appointed Silver Lake living room to the kitchen, where you take a seat at the long counter with your fellow students in this intimate, informal class. From here, the magic begins. This isn't a hands-on, everyone-cooks kind of class, so you just have to sit back and pay close attention as Jenny wows you with her delicious ways and her pearls of wisdom. How many of you knew that Meyer lemons and bay laurels (which produce bay leaves) are local to Southern California, hmm? Or that apple cider vinegar stimulates the digestive system? Lucky for us, Jenny is constantly betraying the semi-medical secret double lives of her ingredients as she cooks.
Because of the subject of this particular class, the focus was on fruits and vegetables, so there weren't too many exotic meat substitutes or other wacky replacements (not that there's anything wrong with those -- in a previous kitchen encounter, Jenny taught me to love seitan**, and I'm still an ardent follower). But a few simple vegan preparations made sense: curdle your soy milk with a bit of vinegar to get 'buttermilk' for your strawberry shortcake, Chef Jenny teaches us. And to top the shortcake, she made a whipped 'cream' from chilled coconut milk that was so delicious, it could stand on its own atop any dessert, vegan or not.
The kitchen was wild with vivid colors: beautiful spring peas from the farmer's market, just plucked from the pod -- some plump, some tiny -- would make the frozen variety cower in shame. Sturdy rainbow chard, with bright red veins running through its deep green, kept its color as it was sauteed with cremini mushrooms and white beans as a filling for elegant phyllo purses. Strawberries, carrots, and bright basil oil kept our eyes as stimulated as their aromas did our noses. As we savored all this, the class is so well-timed that before we know it, a full multi-course meal had been prepared before our eyes.
At the end of the class, we sat together at the table to dine -- and really, between carrot soup, phyllo purses, warm new potato salad, and an awesome strawberry shortcake (comforting and ultra-fresh at the same time), it's quite the feast! Between oohs, ahs, and satisfied grunts, I got to know my classmates: a South Bay make-up artist whose car is powered by 'veggie' fuels; a stalwart vegan who swears by her strict diet for saving her health, her sleep habits, and her life; and a vegetarian newbie trying to spice up her cooking repertoire. Despite the vegetable love in the room, I never felt cast out for my carnivorous tendencies. I guess everyone knew that anyone can benefit from a Spork Foods class. If you know what's good for you.
The schedule of classes for April, May, and June is up on the Spork Foods website, and includes yummy topics like Southern Food, Mother's Day Brunch, and Amazing Vegan Desserts. Check it.
* Full disclosure, just so we all start on the same page: I paid for my class, but the Goldbergs are old friends, and I've been a fan of Jenny's unique style of vegan cuisine for years. But really though, it's good.
**Don't be fooled by the disgusting-looking seitan pictures on the linked Wikipedia page. Clearly the photographers have not been schooled by Chef Jenny on the best brands to buy, nor the best ways to prepare it.