From There to Here

Sara Blake | COOP

Where do your earliest memories take you? When you think back as far as your mind will allow, where do you arrive? When I wax nostalgic, cooking and food are always there: the smell of hot vinegar and dill filling the kitchen, waiting to transform ordinary cucumbers into my father’s homemade pickles; sitting on the back porch, snapping string beans fresh from the garden, the green grass tickling my toes; gently rolling molasses cookies in a bowl of sparkling sugar, watching them bake, and sneaking one before they’re completely cool.

Sometimes, however, my memories take me in an altogether different direction. I can clearly remember sitting at the dinner table refusing to eat a pile of peas, which were getting colder by the minute. My parents were not for wasting food, so I sat there, staring at those peas, resenting those peas, unwilling to give in. In the end, however, the peas (and my parents) won.

I ate them with contempt, but I ate them, nonetheless.

That scene would play out more than once over the course of my childhood, sometimes with beets, spinach, or the occasional serving of meatloaf. The opponent didn’t matter, as the standoff was the same; avoidance followed by refusal, followed by eventual surrender. For some, such an impasse could lead to a major grudge against food, but for me, an alliance was formed.

My parents and I didn’t know it at the time, but their insistence that I sample and finish what was served to me lead to a deep appreciation for food. I learned to be grateful for what was grown in our garden and thankful for home-cooked meals, always served at 6 p.m., always at the dinner table. I learned that everything was worth trying at least once, that peas and beets were actually delicious, and I eventually discovered the pure joy of preparing food for myself and those I care about.

Sara Blake | COOP

My relationship with food and cooking has allowed me to try some really wonderful dishes over the course of my life thus far; char-grilled octopus in Florida, foie gras and Sauternes in Paris, muffuletta in New Orleans, even reindeer in Norway.

This relationship has also allowed me to experiment in my own kitchen. I’ve made plenty of messes, burned my fair share of food, and discovered along the way that I can, in fact, cook a live lobster and roast a perfect chicken. My kitchen is my creative space; a place in which I can make mistakes, recover from them, and try again. It’s my laboratory, my playground, my magic carpet to the far culinary reaches of the world.

I began writing about food and cooking in 2008, in a now-defunct blog I started: Hold Very Still. That blog eventually turned into Stalk My Kitchen, which I began in 2011. I’ve also been lucky enough to work as a correspondent for the Omaha World-Herald. I’ve reviewed several restaurants as well as written a story about the curious and delicious nature of ethnic markets, most specifically, the Asian Market here in Omaha. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive husband and lovely friends who are ready and willing to try anything I create in the kitchen.

Next to cooking, writing has to be one of my favorite activities, and I am beyond thrilled at the opportunity to make new culinary memories with the lovely ladies here at COOP.

All photos by Hooton Images.