The kitchen was a forbidden zone for me. Less than a year from my hospital discharge for atypical anorexia at the age of 45, my focus was just making sure that I ate enough food to satisfy my dietician. The thought of enjoying cooking, eating or anything associated with food seemed to be an impossibility.

I was intrigued by the selection of Sohla El-Waylly's cookbook for the book club, so I purchased a copy and began reading. The introduction to the book which described her learning style and granted permission to fail drew me into the book further. I read the first chapter on taste with a mix of trepidation and fascination which then morphed into deep curiosity. My initial foray into cooking focusing on cucumber salads and raithas had mixed success. My reticent teenage son was completely shocked to see me not only in the kitchen but with a hot pan of oil frying shallots. Although I would describe the culinary outcome of this first attempt at cooking as less than fantastic, the overall impact was life-changing for us. I started connecting with my son in the kitchen in a way that I never could have believed possible. We have now started cooking together several times a week and my other two sons have joined us in our cooking adventures.

Together, we have optimized poached chicken, explored the wonders of bone broth, feasted on cheesy macaroni pomodoro, and of course appreciated the delectable chicken soup with masa dumplings. Our next challenge will be the future brownies. I enjoy every moment of time in the kitchen with my family including both the cooking and more importantly the eating. Thank you so much for selecting this book and introducing me to this brilliant, empowering chef.

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My first memory of cooking is one of the first memories I can remember; I was 7 or so. My mom and I were making six week raisin bran muffins; the batter was in the fridge in the big jadeite green Tupperware bowl with a lid and I scooped out enough for a few muffins for me and my mom and baked them every day for us. But my mom told me that I was in the kitchen with her as soon as I could dump and stir. Cooking and baking has served me well over the years, taking care of my parents and myself. I have my specials that I can whip together without thinking too much; an excellent brownie recipe that takes just 5 minutes of actual work, a quality loaf of oatmeal honey bread, and a meatloaf that made me & my mom happy are the things that are in my brain forever and they fill my soul with a bit of contentment in this world.

My biggest roadblock to cooking is being a disabled person with chronic pain and some days, extremely little energy to do my normal activities let alone stand by the stove and stir. I've gotten better at sitting to do prep work but it's difficult to make my entire day's diet balanced-ish when I can't stand for more than 3 minutes. That's the biggest block to cooking; I love to cook and it makes me despair a bit when I can't feed myself because I hurt too much.

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Start Here was on my Christmas list this year and I was thrilled to see it was on this year's book club list. I'm a longtime home cook and have developed my skills over the years, but am only recently starting to consider that this approach that Sohla takes of teaching the technique and science behind methods allows for true learning (vs. following lists of steps over and over without picking up the underlying techniques).

Over the past month, I've picked up poaching (a method I'd never been too keen on using), and discovering that poached chicken can be "actually good" just as Sohla says, with the right preparations of dry brining and seasoning the poaching water. It's been so useful for make-ahead protein for wintry salads at home - during the time of year that I'm trying to pack in lots of nutrients and leave the house minimally.

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Growing up, my mom was queen of semi home made dinners. A frequent dinner was a Mrs. Budd's frozen chicken pot pie with homemade mashed potatoes. It was delicious and one of my favorite dinners as a kid. But it didn't really give me much of a blueprint for cooking and family recipes. Fast forward to present day and here I am in my early 40's wanting to learn how to cook more technically and cook things that would be befitting of someone in their 20's. Enter Start here.

My goodness, where has this been all my life? Like Sohla, I need to know the why's of things and she does this in such a way that is easy to understand. Usually I find recipes that have more than 4 or 5 ingredients daunting, but not so with this book. I also struggle with organization and knowing what to prep first but she breaks it down so easily. Here's what I made so far.

-Charred lemon risotto. Surprisingly easy though labor intensive with all the stirring. Why do professional chefs on Chopped think that they can make risotto in 30 minutes or less?! I'll never know but this was a win even though I could have cooked the rice more.

- Cheesy macaroni pomodoro. Epic win. I'll never buy boxed pasta and jar sauce ever again.

- Braised chicken thighs with salsa verde and zucchini. Semi fail, semi win. This was my first time cooking with a dutch oven so silly me left the lid on while searing the chicken so I was left with soggy skin. I took it off and ended up shredding the chicken and mixing it with the salsa verde and zucchini sauce and it was delicious.

- Waldorf salad with honey mustard buttermilk dressing. Sweet, salty, crunchy, delicious.

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