By John Carlson—
Ball State University’s Emens Auditorium has always been great at providing entertainment.
Not so much.
That changed recently, though. Perhaps to remind folks it’s riding out the pandemic’s deleterious effects along with the rest of us, Emens brought “Food Network Star” personality Jyll Everman to Muncie, virtually, for a free on-line cooking class.
Nancy and I being a study in contrasts, we were buzzed about this, it being one of the few interests we share. She’s always looking to expand her kitchen skills by cooking things. I’m always looking to expand the size of my pants by eating things.
The evening of the Zoom lesson we were primed and prepared when the virtual gathering of thirty-some local culinary students, all in their own happy cooking spaces, came on-screen. Some were singles, some couples, but all were surrounded by the ingredients needed for the class. Hamburger or other ground meat. Green and red chili enchilada sauces. Cheese. Chopped onion and jalapeños. Avocados. Chocolate chips. Select spices. A lime. A mango that’d really hurt to have bounced off your forehead by an NFL quarterback.
Oh yeah, plus Jyll …
Jyll’s nice. She’s blonde. She’s perky. She’s also a Packers fan who lives in Green Bay, Wis., the heart of American Cheese Curd Country.
Plus she’s a super quick chef in her professional kitchen. It’s attached to her business, Gather On Broadway, an impressive special-event facility located up there where the bratwursts flow like wine. Dishes to be prepared during our one-hour lesson would be guacamole, a chocolate dessert sauce, and freezer burritos.
Why freezer burritos?
“Everyone is in the mood for burritos,” Jyll noted, giving voice to a belief many of us have considered having tattooed someplace on our bodies.
Well, I have anyway.
From the start, Jyll set a sprightly pace. In no time Nancy was whirling like a dervish to keep up. And yet, tears cascaded from her eyes in gratitude for my selflessly encouraging her through this emotional shared experience.
OK, actually she was chopping onions.
“It’s vapors hitting your eyeballs,” Jyll explained.
Guess it was’t that emotional for Nancy after all.
As the onions browned Jyll mixed them with the meat, noting she preferred using a potato masher to mash it into an easily edible concoction.
Soon enough, both Jyll’s and our meat/onion mixtures were sizzling on their respective stoves, at which point the young mother hinted at just how much she loves her chosen profession. She knows fellow mommies who rhapsodically tell her, “My favorite sound is my children laughing.”
Jyll’s favorite sound?
She also offered further evidence of her rigorous belief in the right and wrong ways of tackling kitchen tasks. “I hate garlic presses,” she declared. “They get it all mushy. Garlic is not something you measure. You measure it with your heart … and your soul.”
Right then, Nancy flashed me a fleeting look that said to strike “garlic press” from her Christmas-gift list.
The burrito filling completed, Jyll offered a quick lesson in wrapping them, incorporating the requisite tucks and folds. On Nancy’s first try, she seemed overwhelmed by having only four seconds to master the ancient mysteries of tortilla origami. By her third burrito, though, she looked ready to take on that part-time job at Taco Bell I keep urging her to apply for.
Before long, we’d moved on to the guacamole. Following Jyll’s instructions, Nancy expertly de-seeded a couple avocados, if you can call those golf ball-sized nuts inside avocados seeds. In turn, Jyll reminded the cooks to never wipe their eyes while chopping jalapeños, always buy mangoes that have a little “give” in them no matter their color, and if it remains hard as a rock … slice it and dice it “and call it a mango salad.”
Along the way, she discussed her favorite pans (“I worry about how heavy they are. A heavy pan is a good pan. I make all my stuff in cast iron.”) and knives (Asian ones and the brand Henckel are her favorites).
As for her chocolate sauce, it was an eye-opener. Who’d have thought ingredients like cayenne pepper and salt could make for such a sweet taste experience?
Jyll and a bunch of other chefs do, that’s who, noting salt magically opens up the flavors in a chocolate sauce that’s being poured over fruit, ice cream, pound cake and such. If you’re making a dessert, she advised, put a pinch of salt in it.
So, how did Nancy’s three dishes turn out? Wonderfully! The chocolate sauce is now in our fridge in two empty jelly glasses, waiting for a pound cake to show up at the house. The burritos were very tasty at lunch the following day and again at supper that night, not to mention the next morning at breakfast.
And the guacamole?
Ahhhh, the guacamole. It was fabulous, just gone way too soon. Luckily, Nancy now knows how to make us some more.
That means Jyll proved to be a remarkably good instructor during an hour-long lesson conducted from hundreds of miles away. At its end, some of the amateur chefs were ready for another lesson, Nancy included. In short, Jyll imparted the heart of her cooking philosophy, noting she had eaten some of the most beautiful foods in the world that … wait for it … “tasted horrible!”
Her ultimate advice was for her students to broil, bake or fry four little letters into their consciousness: MITG, meaning Make It Taste Good.
That’s what happened at our house, thanks to Jyll and the folks from Emens.
John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.
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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three. John’s columns appear on MuncieJournal.com every Friday.