I sometimes picture the internet, or at least the food blogging parts that I visit regularly, as a series of neighborhoods. There are some blogs and bloggers I visit so often they feel like near neighbors, and others who I know less well but who still feel as if they're in a nearby neighborhood.
One of the people who became part of my neighborhood in my earliest months of blogging was Sher of What Did You Eat. She commented on almost every post I wrote, and she was always enthusiastic and encouraging about a picture I'd taken, or something I'd written, or something I'd cooked. I looked forward to her warm and funny comments.
I was a regular reader of Sher's blog, and while she made wonderful food, I think what I really came for was the engaging way in which she wrote. Sher's writing was often funny. Daring Bakers's projects which had gone awry were amusingly described and her weekly posts for Weekend Cat Blogging were written from her cat Upsie's perspective (or sometimes another cat's or even one of the orphaned squirrels she raised) and made witty observations about things that were going on in her cat's (and Sher's) life.
There were glimpses of her life: I knew she lived in Davis, California with her husband Bob and she had a mother-in-law named Bunty. She was an attorney who didn't seem to be practicing law, but she was also a wildlife rehabilitator who hand-raised a series of orphaned squirrels that she wrote about and posted pictures of on her blog. She often mentioned her back yard vegetable garden which seemed amazingly productive. She had grown up in the south on the gulf coast and she wrote occasionally of her late mother who was clearly a fabulous cook.
There were also sad and touching posts when Sher's cat Sundance, and then her cat Upsie died. Upsie's death was particularly painful for Sher because not only had she lost her beloved pet, but she'd lost a tie with her sister, Antonia, whose life had been complicated by bi-polar disorder and alcoholism. Upsie had been Antonia's cat and when Antonia took her life she left a note asking Sher to take care of Upsie.
Sher had made references to various health problems -- she was being treated for severe anemia and had been writing about iron-rich foods she'd been eating to help address it -- but it was with stunned disbelief that I read about her death. I'd never considered the possibility of a death in my internet neighborhood, and it was impossible to believe that a voice as full of life as Sher's was gone.
Sher's own internet neighborhood was large and filled with friends. She had lots of readers, she was a regular commenter on a number of blogs, and she was a regular participant in Weekend Cat Blogging and Weekend Herb Blogging. When the news of Sher's death began to circulate, people began leaving comments about Sher, first on the post that was up at the time of her death, and then on the post her husband wrote about her death. I noticed how many of them mentioned that Sher was one of the first first food blogging friends they'd made, how she'd been the first person to link to their blog, or she was the first person to begin commenting on their blog and how much that had meant to them. Sher had an amazing ability to connect with people and welcome people through her writing.
These days in my internet neighborhood it's a little less bright, a little less warm. Sher's presence is much missed.
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Almost immediately after her death, I read a post suggesting that we honor Sher's memory by cooking a recipe from her site and posting about it. Rather than a recipe from the site, I thought it would be fitting to use a recipe that Sher emailed to me for her mother's fried okra.
Sher emailed me this recipe out of the blue two summers ago. I don't know what prompted her to do it and I never got it together to make it at the time. Part of the reason is that I've always been wary of okra -- it has a bad reputation for sliminess although having now made this I think frying really takes that away.
Here is the recipe in Sher's her own words:
I'm sending you my mom's recipe for fried okra. I like it better, plus it isn't fried in as much oil as the one I put on my blog. I'm going to go back and point that out.