Bonding over our love of cooking

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A photo of pink heart-shaped cookies presented in a pink and white heart-shaped ceramic box, on a round pink tray decorated with a white doily, surrounded by of other pink baked goods and pink decorations. Pixabay

Valuing experiences over possessions, backed by science

Before my husband Sean and I were married, we would spend a romantic evening together cooking dinner as a date night. It was a relaxing way to unwind after a busy day. Plus, we both love cooking.

This year, I scoured the Internet for something special to do to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I came across the Schoolhaus Culinary Arts website. It’s a local cooking school which has a motto, “There’s a Chef In All of Us.”

A few years ago, we took an Italian cooking class from that same school. We really enjoyed it. The in-person class took three hours, from preparing the food to enjoying the meal. There were about 12 people in that class.

Fast forward to 2021. When I learned there is a virtual option, I eagerly signed up for the cooking class. A few days later, I got an email with a copy of the recipes and list of equipment needed for the class. There was also a list of ingredients for us to buy ahead of time. Included in the email was the Zoom link for the class. The cost of the online class was one-third of what an in-person class would cost. (Being a student, I love that I am able to save some money.) Schoolhaus has been offering these classes online since April 30, 2020.

I counted down the days until the day of class.

About 10 minutes before the class, we set up our laptop in the kitchen. The internet connection is particularly finicky, so by the time we sign into the class, we are five or six minutes late.

When we log in, Aimee Schulhauser, the Owner and CEO of Schoolhaus, is already cutting heart shapes from the puff pastry for the dessert. I apologize profusely for being late. Aimee cheerfully welcomes us. She advises me to preheat the oven to 425F to our dessert. Then she gives me instructions for making the dessert. I preheat the oven before I frantically start rummaging in the fridge for the puff pastry and searching for the parchment paper to line the baking sheet.

I realize I have no heart cookie cutters. I run over to our printer and grab a piece of paper. I grab the scissors to cut a heart template. I hurriedly start using a steak knife to cut out four pastry hearts.

At this point, my husband is already in the kitchen on high alert, waiting for instructions. He spreads some Nutella in the middle of each of the hearts while I grab a small bowl to pour a splash of milk into it. I also fish out the pastry brush from our utensil drawer so Sean can brush the borders of the pastry before throwing puff pastry into the oven – just in time to start making the main courses: herb, wine, and bacon chicken and lemony spaghetti.

This breakneck speed continues for next hour.

Thankfully, Aimee is very patient and constantly checks in with all of us to see if she needs to wait for us before she moves onto the next stage of cooking. We are all preparing the meal in real time in our respective homes. Aimee is extremely patient to answer all of our little questions, like mine, about how “small” to cut bacon into “small pieces.”

It is sometimes a bit frustrating not getting confirmation if our cooking is on the right track.

And the pace is exponentially faster than what we are expecting. At this point, I am very thankful that Sean has worked as a cook in a professional kitchen before. He keeps up with the rapid-fire instructions, although he isn’t too pleased about being rushed.

In the end, we make delicious food, despite Sean’s doubts. The meal is so good that we plan to add these recipes to our repertoire of dishes.

Later in the evening, I scroll through my social media to read about my friends’ posts. Most people are showing off the flowers, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolates, baked heart-shaped cookies they made to celebrate the holiday.

One of my Toronto friends posted an Instagram picture of the meal she and her husband prepared together from another online cooking class. While she comments the meal was tasty, she says she’s glad she and her husband don’t run a restaurant. Sounds like they had a stressful, but memorable experience cooking, too.

Some people don’t see why it’s worth paying for lessons and stressing over cooking in your own kitchen when instead you can spend the same amount of money for a meal at a fine-dining restaurant – especially on special occasions like Valentine’s Day.

But there’s something way more satisfying about sharing an experience, especially with your loved one, than receiving material gifts. There’s actual research that backs up the idea that people prefer receiving some kind of experience, such as cooking lessons or dancing lessons, than receiving gifts.

A Cornell University Psychology Professor, Thomas Gilovich, studied happiness for two decades. He discovered that experiences, not things, make people happy. Receiving material possessions can make people happy, but only very briefly. People get “used to” possessions. But people remember experiences in the longer term. There’s also the anticipation of an experience, which can be more enjoyable than waiting for a material possession.

In Gilvich’s 2012 study, he found out that people had more regrets over not having experiences than owning possessions. Part of the reason why experiences matter more to people is that we are social beings. Experiences are not usually done in isolation. Experiences are usually shared with family or friends. People are more likely to vividly remember their first date than what birthday gifts they received as a kid.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate getting gifts from my husband. I love that he surprised me with flowers for Valentine’s Day this year. But flowers won’t last forever. The memories and the harried experience of cooking a killer meal with my partner will be harder to forget.

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