Someone's in the kitchen with Sarah: Sara Campbell
SALISBURY — When we pulled up to Sara Campbell's house in Summerfield, a neighborhood off of N.C. 150, I wasn't sure what to expect.
Coming upI'm stopping by China Grove resident Karen McCorkle's kitchen to master another dish. Find out what we make in next week's Food section.
Inside was a 62-year-old woman with a wicked sense of humor and more energy than the Energizer Bunny.
Her kitchen was simple yet welcoming, with hand-sewn curtains hanging above a window where you could look out to see birds congregating at a feeder in the front yard.
When I issued a plea last week asking Rowan County residents to invite me to their kitchen to teach this hampered chef how to cook, I received far more responses than expected.
Sara sent the first one.
“Greetings and salutations, just finished your article and would like to extend an invitation to share a recipe and meal,” she wrote in an email. “People have asked me if I am the Sarah Campbell who writes for the Salisbury Post and I tell them 'No ... I spell my name without the H.'”
It's exciting to share my first installment of “Someone's in the Kitchen with Sarah” with another Sara Campbell.
I'm still sifting through responses to my column. I've heard from Catawba College student Jeremy Garner, who cooks with his friends almost every night, and Rowan County District Court Judge Beth Dixon, a mother of four who likes to explore new foods by cooking dishes from other countries.
“As huge soccer fans, on USA game days we try to cook the cuisine of whatever country the US National Soccer Team — men or women — is playing,” Dixon wrote in an email.
I'll be visiting their kitchens soon, but right now I should get back to Sara.
Country cooking was her specialty until about a year ago, when she made a drastic change. First she ditched sugar using the Sugar Buster diet, then she said goodbye to flour.
“I turned 60 and my body literally started to rebel against me,” she said. “I've got migraines and arthritis and as you get older that stuff starts staring you in the face.
“I knew I was going to have to change.”
Sara grew up eating Southern cuisine like fried chicken and barbecue.
“Yum, it was kind of like Paula Deen cooking to tell you the truth,” she said. “It was rich, full of cheeses and creams and butter and flours, all of that.”
Changing her diet wasn't easy.
“It's been a gradual thing, it hasn't been anything that happened overnight,” she said. “It's been really hard, but we like what we're eating now. Wonderful things are happening.”
These days, Sara cooks using rich olive oils and a variety of spices.
“I've always felt like herbs and spices were a gift from the first chapters of the Bible,” she said. “We never used them much growing up. This past year I have really gone into mega using spices.”
As a kitchen novice, I was curious where she learned about spices.
Sara shared she'd purchased some pre-measured kits from the grocery store to see which ones would taste good together. She also took classes at the Savory Spice Shop in Huntersville.
“Now I mix all of my own spices,” she said. “It's almost like a prayer and a dream kind of coming to fruition here in my later years when I need it.
“My tastes have changed as I've gotten older and I've really enjoyed it.”
Sara's constantly trying a new diet trend. Right now, she's hooked on The People's Pharmacy cookbooks. The authors host a weekly health talk show on public radio.
“I'm always on a bandwagon,” she said. “Sometimes my husband wonders if I'm going to survive.”
But Sara doesn't stick with one trend for too long, instead she picks out her favorite aspects of each one before moving on.
“It's just a lot of fun,” she said. “I always like to get something good out of whatever I eat.”
When Sara steps into the kitchen to create her next meal, health is in the forefront of her mind. But that doesn't mean she can't get creative.
“Cooking has always been an adventure for me,” she said.
Sara's been cooking for as long as she can remember.
“As a child I realized that eating was an important part of daily life, and I knew cooking was something I wanted to do,” she said. “Growing up, I was in the kitchen when my grandma and mother were cooking, and I came out of that kitchen basically knowing how to cook.
“It's been a natural love. “
Before any cooking got under way, Sara and I put on aprons.
“Wearing an apron feels like getting dressed up,” she said as she helped tie one around my waist. “I make them and buy them ... I've got quite a few.
“I have ones for every season — Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day.”
I picked out a beautiful patchwork apron from her collection, her latest creation.
“It's kind of a diversion for me,” she said. “If I get tired in the kitchen I say 'Oh, maybe I'll go make an apron.'”
Sara's inherited her love of aprons from her grandmother, who wore the garment every day.
“The only time she didn't wear one was when she got up on Sunday morning and went to church,” she said. “It was a natural part of what she wore every single day.”
A messy chef, Sara said she also likes aprons for their practicality.
“They are purposeful, they protect your clothes,” she said. “Back in the old days, you didn't have a whole lot of clothes and you might not have a washing machine, so you needed to take care of them.
“If I'm in the kitchen, I always have on my apron.”
Time to create
After we had on our aprons, we were ready to get down to business.
Sara started off showing me how to make a quick fruit salad.
We cut up two large apples, then squeezed juice from a tangerine into a bowl. She added a few drops of vanilla extract to the juice before pouring it over the apples.
Next, she dropped in a couple spoonfuls of gin-soaked raisins.
She lets yellow raisins sit in gin for several weeks before eating them.
“They help ward off arthritis,” she said of the trick she learned from The People's Pharmacy. “You are supposed to eat nine a day.”
The salad was topped off with chopped walnuts, which added a bit of crunch.
We tried it out before moving on to the main dish, chicken stir-fry.
The vanilla and tangerine flavors added a hint of sweet tartness to the apples. The raisins gave the combination a kick.
Before we could get started on the entree, we had to cut up the two large chicken breasts that had been soaking in the kosher salt and water, a trick Sara uses to keep it moist.
She meticulously chopped the meat into pieces while reminiscing about her days growing up on a farm, where her family raised and killed chickens to eat.
Next, we mixed up minced garlic, marjoram, ground mustard, basil, oregano and course ground pepper and added a bit of olive oil.
We put the chicken in a frying pan and added about half of the spice mixture.
As it browned, Sara shared stories about her family, which includes husband, Roy, and three grown children.
It didn't take long to realize that Sara's the cool grandma.
An amateur photographer, she created a green screen to make it look like her grandson, a Superman fan, was flying high above New York city.
After the chicken was done, she removed it from the pan, poured in some frozen vegetables and added the remainder of the spices.
She cooked the vegetables a short while, taking them up before they became soggy.
We sat down together to eat the meal, which turned out to be extremely flavorful thanks to the six simple spices.
Dessert was one of my favorite parts of the visit.
By adding a few drops of vanilla extract and liquid Stevia, a natural sweetener, and a sliced banana to plain yogurt, Sara created an easy sweet treat.
An hour after eating it, I could still taste a hint of vanilla on my lips.
Sara said her No. 1 secret to cooking comes from her mother.
“Make sure people are hungry,” she said with a laugh.
Now, that's a secret I can definitely use to my advantage.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.