This week I had the good fortune of sitting in on a cooking class at Furnace Falls Farm in Lyndhurst. I must admit up front that I am a sister to Wendy, one of the owners. However, I am also known to be honest to a fault. Therefore, you are certain to receive an unbiased opinion from me.
Chef Mark Beacock greeted the group of us as we gathered around the large harvest table in the bright country kitchen. Some guys might be intimidated by a swarm of middle-aged women looking for inspiration in the kitchen, but it was clear from the start that Mark was unfettered by his mature female students.
The class was advertised as a Gluten-Free and Vegan Summer Snack Class to help those of us with dietary restrictions or for those seeking healthier snack alternatives. We received handouts with the recipe ingredients listed so that we could follow along filling in approximate measurements and preparation side notes.
Early in the class, I had to step out briefly to make a call. When I returned, I was struck by the round of laughter coming from the kitchen, as Mark entertained the women, setting the mood for the evening. Watching Mark, as he chopped and minced vegetables reminded me of watching a skilled TV personality prepare a creative and colourful dish for his audience.
The animation and quick wit, Mark delivered with comments like “punch in the face taste” and Mary Poppins quotes of “Practically Perfect,” provided a comfortable atmosphere. Those of us who might otherwise felt reservations at getting up to try our hand at wrapping spring rolls with delicate rice paper felt at ease.
Chef Mark walked us through a variety of recipes including quick pickled cucumbers, rice paper spring rolls, mushroom pate, 5-minute sorbet, salsa, and sweet chili sauce. There was even some definite pride in the participants when sampling the spring rolls because we each had a hand in making them. Naturally, the ingredients featured farm fresh vegetables from Wendy’s other nearby business Wendy’s Country Market.
Everyone enjoyed tasting the finished products and discussing what they planned to make for their family first. As each recipe was made, there was ample discussion around recipe variations and alternative ingredients. This approach to cooking is not something you can get when you are looking at a cookbook or reading a recipe on your own. The input from everyone else with varying experience in the kitchen had me taking extra notes so that I could tweak things such as using fresh stevia instead of sugar.
Mark also educated us on cooking oils and even took us outside for a brief lesson on foraging. With years of farming background, for me, it was difficult to look at a plant that I have long viewed as a nuisance weed and see something useful and even nutritious and tasty. Although, after tasting lambs quarters, at Mark’s urging, I might never look at it the same again. Similar to spinach and dare I say even tastier. This part of the evening was a definite bonus lesson.
I think it is safe to say that everyone learned something at Furnace Falls Farm last night, even the more seasoned cooks who joined us, and everyone went home with fresh ideas for feeding their family and friends healthy summer snacks.