Feed Your Mind with a Local Activity That’ll Give You a Break and a New Skill

Summer’s here, and with the rising temps comes an inescapable urge to plan a getaway. You can add a dose of the interesting and exotic to your week—with nary a sideways glance from co-workers or stress of packing a suitcase—with these close-to-home experiences.

Stir things up
You’ve likely stopped at Stillwater’s Cooks of Crocus Hill for a last-minute gift for the epicurean in your life. But you haven’t really experienced Cooks until you’ve ventured past the retail section for an all-inclusive, chef-led cooking class at the in-store kitchen.

From Mediterranean munchies to south-of-the-border Baja bites, there are date nights and themed cooking courses to fit any schedule. It’s like a tasty trip, without leaving your zip code. The best part? You don’t have to be Emeril to have a great time.

“Some people come ready to take notes—they’re obsessed with sushi and can’t wait to make it at home. Other people, well they just like to eat sushi,” says Susie Tucker, director of culinary sales, “and that’s totally fine!”

There’s a vibe at Cooks that’s as informal as it is informational, like learning to cook in your best friend’s kitchen—if only that friend had industrial ovens and every cooking tool known to man. Cooking surfaces are well loved. There’s a homey atmosphere, even while some earnestly jot down how-tos on cutting the perfect crust or canning the perfect pickle.

“We want to demystify the cooking process a bit,” says Tucker, who says she’s seen everything in the kitchen, from bachelorette to birthday parties—and even extended families wanting to share an experience in lieu of holiday shopping. “Food really brings people together,” she says.

In that vein, Cooks has become a local cooking resource, in-class and out. The store stocks hard-to-find kitchen tools, crop shares and a bevy of cookbooks. Every attendee gets a discount on retail goods—to be used the day of the class—so they can go home with their new favorite paella pan or Pizzelle maker. The expert advice comes free.

“We get a lot of folks who call down the road after they’ve taken a class, with their questions, mid-meal prep,” Tucker says. “We’re like a turkey hotline at Thanksgiving!”

Date night occurs every Friday, Saturday and once a month on a Monday night, with themes like top-shelf tacos. They consist of learning to create fun, approachable menus taken up a notch. During a crowd favorite farmers market class, the group walks the Stillwater market up the hill, then creates a meal from what’s bountiful that week .

Most classes last about three hours, with private bookings available. Remember to wear closed-toe shoes and dress in layers—the kitchen starts off cold so nobody faints when the ovens heat up. Beverages—beer, wine and soda—are available for purchase, and everyone goes home with a recipe packet.

Explore Your Creative Side
“Alchemy is the transformation of the common into something extraordinary,” says Pat Haug, owner of Alchemy Arts Studio in Stillwater. A medieval precursor to modern chemistry, the field was science mixed with magic—with lofty goals like turning metals into gold or finding a miracle elixir.

 Indeed at Alchemy Arts, a normal afternoon can be made magical, with glass-fusing classes offering a creative escape from the everyday.

“I think people are able to transform, too—people come in here, unsure of themselves. They get over their fear,” Haug says. “You don’t have to be Monet. Your project can be abstract or precision—that’s what makes it yours.”

Haug was a mechanical engineer for years, and fell in love with glass fusing, because of its unique mix of art and science. There’s structure and rules alongside no-fail flexibility and bright colors. It doesn’t require the same strength—or heat—as blowing glass, and there’s less skill required than stained glass. The glass is layered, molded and then fired in the kiln.

“We talk through how—and why—to put things together in a certain way to make it successful and beautiful,” Haug says. During a one-day, three-hour intro class—dubbed project classes—visitors come away with a functional set of coasters, a lamp, a candle plate or any of a number of options.

During the powdered metal jewelry class, students add texture—a pattern or the fingerprint of a loved one—to a clay-like substance that’s then made into jewelry. Multiday classes are great for return visitors who have found a passion and have a little more time to devote to the art. They can work on longer-term projects or stock up on kilns, cutting systems and tools. Alchemy is a distributor for the top brands or glass cutting systems for home studios and more.

Guests are welcome to bring food or beverages to class—alcohol is fair game—and coffee and tea are provided. The studio is wheelchair accessible, and people of any age or ability are welcome. Wear comfy clothing and closed-toed shoes because, well, “it is glass,” Haug says.

For her, creating beautiful pieces of art is only part of the goal. The other? To create beautiful experiences away from the everyday hustle. “Here you can really carve out time without your phones or responsibilities. It’s a little cutaway from real life,” she says.

Coming Next Month!
an outdoorsy staycation idea

Whether you’ve lived in the St. Croix Valley all of your life or have only recently moved into the area, we know not everyone has lots of outdoor experience. But we won’t let that stop you from enjoying the activities you see and hear of all your neighbors and friends doing. Next month, we’ll show you just how easy it is to get into the great outdoors and explore as if you’re on vacation with your own personal river guide.