Women from around the Flathead Valley gathered in the Whitefish home of Glenda Smith on July 10 for a unique learning opportunity. Smith has attended a few workshops with Julie Laing, creator of the Twice as Tasty blog, and decided she wanted a personalized one for herself and some of her hiking friends. Their subject matter for the day: Indian spices.
The Indian Spice workshop is not one of Laing’s standard offerings. But Smith wanted something a bit more out of the ordinary.
“The women in my age group are pretty accomplished,” Smith said.
So she decided to go with something less familiar. Also, Smith has a personal family connection to India, has traveled there, loves the food and wanted to bring that to her own Montana kitchen. So Smith brought in Laing for a day of mixing, grinding and preparing two basic spice mixes for Indian dishes.
As the women gathered around the table they get their first glimpse of the project ahead of them. They will be making a Basic Indian Masala (Curry Powder) as well as Garam Masala. But unlike shopping for these in a store the women find tins of the individual ingredients and start with a chance to experience the color, flavor and scent of fresh ingredients.
“The keys to buying all spices are to always buy fresh, buy small, and buy whole,” explains Laing. By doing so, cooks get to work with spices at their most aromatic. If anyone is skeptical, that evaporates instantly as Laing presents the women with two versions of curry to smell. The first is a store-bought curry, which to an American nose smells fine. That is, until Laing opens the metal tin with a much smaller, but dramatically more fragrant curry Laing made in her own kitchen. Everyone is instantly hooked and excited for the work ahead.
Making your own spice mixes, especially from whole spices, is labor-intensive, but with eight friends gathered together, two large batches of each mix are quickly completed. Once the ratios are mixed together the group moves from the table to the kitchen where they will toast the spices in a heavy skillet until they begin to release some of their aroma, and then will use a coffee grinder to grind them into a fine powder. Laing suggests storing spices in jars or opaque containers. Kept out of the light and heat; spices are best within three months.
The workshop wrapped up with fresh vegetables and aromatics chopped up and sautéed as dinner for the gathered crew. They also got to take home samples of both mixes they had made.
“Food is an easy thing to share,” Laing said. “People may not want to hear about your politics or religion, but 90 percent of the time, if you offer them food, they’ll take you up on it.”
WORKSHOPS LIKE this one are a direct result of the Twice as Tasty blog, which Laing began writing in June of last year. The blog grew out of Laing’s personal eating habits and her desire to always be asking “how can we make this ourselves?”
Laing said she wants fresh ingredients as much as possible, which is not always easy. Laing described the conditions in Northwest Montana as combining a “clay soil, heavy shade and a 90-day growing season.” Added to these restrictions, Laing and her partner George live in a 500-square-foot cabin with only 5 feet of counter-top space. And yet, Laing still finds her life and options abundant. In the “about” section of her blog, Laing writes: “My partner and I now process 200-250 jars of food a season, dehydrate a winter’s worth of herbs, fill a 5.5 cubic-foot chest freezer, and have a fridge full of homemade condiments and bases. Our bounty inspired this blog.”
As the blog has grown Laing has found an unexpected demand for in-person teaching. For some, reading a blog and tackling a new recipe can be daunting.
“People want a more hands-on experience,” Laing said. “I am doing these workshops in their homes, their kitchens, the spaces they use every day, with the tools they have on hand and with a group of their friends.”
Laing has done more than a dozen workshops, with subjects like cheese and yogurt making, sauce making and risottos. She even had one group request a workshop on salad dressings. She is planning workshops on canning as well as handmade sourdough pizza-making. The workshops are designed for 4-8 people. The standard workshops range between $20-$35 depending on ingredients. Even a custom workshop like the Indian Spice was only $40 per person.
“I don’t want this knowledge to be just for people who can afford to have a personal chef come to their kitchens,” Laing said. “I’m the type of person who gets so much more pleasure out of sharing what I know, than just hoarding the knowledge for myself. It’s more fun to teach someone how to make yogurt, and then hear back from them about what their doing and what they have stocked up in their fridge.”
Laing guards her time by limiting herself to only one blog entry per week (compared to multiple blogs per day by professional full-time bloggers). For Laing the personal connections are one of the best rewards.
“What I love is that my subscribers are a dedicated crew — they return every week, they participate, they comment, they email questions.”
For more information, visit https://twiceastasty.com.
Photographer Brenda Ahearn can be reached at 758-4435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.