One thing I’ve really missed during the pandemic is the ability to travel and explore new destinations. Even with my twins, we’ve somehow managed to take trips to unfamiliar places, learn about other cultures and try the customs and the food. And while I’ve done plenty of cooking during quarantine, I also missed the fun of getting together with others for classes, like the ones offered at The Farm Cooking School in Titusville.
The school recently reopened with social distancing measures and other safety protocols in place – masks are required to be worn throughout the class (except while eating at your own socially distanced table) and class sizes are limited and held outdoors whenever possible. On a recent Saturday night, the kids stayed home with the babysitter and my husband and I attended Shelley Wiseman’s Mexican Street Food class. (The classes aren’t just for couples – they are perfect for friends, family, solo students and there are even kids’ cooking classes and virtual classes, too.)
The menu sounded enticing – we were going to make bean, goat cheese and adobe shrimp sopes, crispy fried chicken flautas with salsa verde, seared marinated pork and pineapple tacos, classic margaritas and even a tequila-lime marinated fruit salad for dessert. When we got to the barn, we joined 10 other students who were there with their own small groups. Everyone was wearing a mask and instead of their usual communal seating, groups were seated at their own tables.
With Rickie Lee Jones playing softly on the stereo, Chef Shelley called us up to the work counter and went over the menu we’d be cooking that evening. Shelley lived in Mexico City for years, so we got to hear stories of shopping for ingredients at local markets and even got to try out the tortilla press she brought back from her travels.
My husband jumped right in, toasting chiles in a skillet for the adobe marinade. I cut up some fresh kiwis for the fruit salad and the other students all took turns with multiple different tasks. While our groups kept a safe distance, there was a wonderful, warm feeling of having a communal experience – the simple act of chopping vegetables, kneading dough and plating dishes had us working together which is something I hadn’t realized I had been missing.
On a farm in New Jersey, we all got the chance to taste the flavors of another country and to get hands-on in making a dinner we would all get to enjoy. After several hours which included carefully cooking our own homemade tortillas on the griddle, it was time to mix up a big batch of margaritas. As one of the other students salted the rims of mason jar glasses, we watched as Shelley expertly poured tequila into a large pitcher, adding fresh lime juice and a special citrusy syrup and mixing the whole thing together. The group toasted our efforts and a feeling of good cheer reverberated through the barn – a buzz you simply cannot get having Zoom cocktails over a computer.
After so much hard work, the plates now seemed to come together quickly – luscious sopes with Shelley’s homemade goat cheese topped with shrimp, our crispy flautas looking delectable on a bed of fresh greens. The food we had made was authentic and somehow both simple and elevated – and tasted great because it was a shared experience after so many months eating meals in our own little bubbles.
By the time we had finished dessert, I was full, not just on food but on the rich experience this cooking class had provided for us – a chance to safely be around other people, to have an experience that allowed us to work together and create something and the opportunity to taste the flavors of a faraway place. Although we may not be able to sit at communal tables and travel to foreign countries just yet, a class at The Farm Cooking School was a way to take off – and at the same time, appreciate what was right in front of us.