Our Story—How A Couple Cooks Began

Many people ask us how we got started cooking together. It all starts, really, on the first day of freshman year at Indiana University. I (Sonja) was a young music student from Minnesota; Alex an art major from Indiana. They say that love at first sight is real, and though we couldn’t articulate it, we found it the day we met on our co-ed dorm floor. When Alex finally asked me on a date; I said no. But he was persistent--and I knew in my gut that I would eventually give in.

I finally did, and we got married a few years later. We bought a little 1920’s bungalow in Indianapolis, with a white picket fence and a tiny galley kitchen. And a dog, naturally. After settling in, we decided the next step in life was to invite guests for dinner. The problem was, we didn’t know how to make dinner. Our normal rotation of cheesy microwave meals, breakfast cereal, and fast food tacos certainly wasn’t going cut it. I was completely helpless when it came to the kitchen. I didn’t know the first thing about something as simple as boiling a pot of water for pasta.

A couple friends of ours had us over for dinner one night and made us homemade sushi. We were stunned: homemade food could taste this good? We decided it was on: we’d have this couple over to our own place and try to one up them with our non-existent cooking skills. The theme would be French food, which seemed “fancy” enough to impress.

To get us started, my first boss lent me a cookbook written by a woman named Julia Child (the name was meaningless to me, since this was just before the popular Julie and Julia movie). But as I paged through the book, Julia’s personality burst into life. Here was a woman passionate about the act of home cooking, who assured me I could make an omelette with the ease of a Frenchman. Alex’s confidence to try new things and zest for learning made him my perfect teammate, and after hours of planning and preparation, we concocted a fancy French dinner of lamb and mashed celery root for our unsuspecting guests. It turned out, well, delicious. We were hooked.

One meal turned to dozens, and soon we were cooking almost daily. Inspired by Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters and Mark Pollan’s mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” we began eating one from-scratch vegetarian meal per week. A new rainbow of flavors gradually came into focus, like seeing in a new dimension. Our local farmer’s market became a playground for fresh food sold to us by the kindest people we’d ever met. The year’s rhythm of tomatoes and peaches and kale and squash became our muse.

How was it that we spent so much of our lives not knowing food could taste like this? And that I, the girl who couldn’t so much as boil a pot of water for pasta, could actually learn to cook? And that it could actually be fun instead of feeling like a chore?

After living 25 years in a society obsessed with doing anything but cooking, we were finally learning to feed ourselves. It was 2010, so naturally, we decided to start a blog to document the process. We called it A Couple Cooks. Over time, we’ve learned cooking can be pretty simple, and developed a philosophy around it called Pretty Simple Cooking.

Hear us share our story on the A Couple Cooks podcast, Episode 28: Our Story.

Read more about our personal story of cancer, miscarriage, & adoption.