How to overcome a cooking rut

How to overcome a cooking rut

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“Do you like to cook?” I used to either enthusiastically answer (“Of course!”) or affirmative (“Duh.”) to this question, depending on my current penchant for sarcasm. But recently the question got me thinking – and I’m not alone. “I’ve built a significant part of my life and personality around the fact that the answer to that question is yes,” cookbook author Ella Risbridger told me on a Zoom call. “But no, don’t make me cook.” Washington Post readers have shared similar sentiments, expressing being at a dead end, lacking inspiration and missing their mojo in the kitchen, despite once loving it to have.

Part of this is because people have been forced into the kitchen more than normal in recent years. “If you tell someone that you have to do everything, it’s less fun,” says Risbridger. In addition, society is going through a mental health crisis caused by all the anxiety-inducing events we must endure, including global health crises, inflation and economic insecurity, racial injustice, and the struggle for physical autonomy, to name a few.

Can cooking serve as a balm for depression? It saved the life of a British author.

For baker and licensed therapist Jack Hazan, finishing his forthcoming cookbook, Mind Over Batter, recently caused a bout of burnout. “It was caused by pressure, insecurity, monotony and insecurity in what I was doing,” he says.

If any of those feelings are familiar, here are some strategies to rekindle your love of the kitchen.

“For me, baking is a relationship and I almost broke up,” says Hazan. “Desire in long-term relationships doesn’t just fall out of the sky, does it? You have to reinvent yourself and try new things.” One way he did that was by Purchase of new baking tools. If you’re on a budget, maybe hesitate about buying a stand mixer, but instead look for fun spoons and spatulas that beg to be used.

Or maybe it’s decision fatigue that has worn you down. The Eat Voraciously newsletter tells you what to eat for dinner four nights a week, along with ideas for substitutes based on your preferences and what you have in your pantry. Cookbook roulette — in which you grab a cookbook from your shelf, open a random page, and cook the dish in front of you (you can go forward or back a page for some flexibility) — is an easy way to make dinner that way left to the winds of fate. And if you want the added benefit of not having to shop, meal delivery services are a great option to consider.

Find new sources of inspiration

“When you’re stuck, it’s really important to find new inspiration, to find new ideas,” says Risbridger. It’s about looking for something that excites you. These can be completely new dishes or simply ingredients you’ve never cooked with or seen before. “Buy cookbooks from people you don’t know,” she says, and if you don’t want to buy new cookbooks, turn to the web or social media for free ideas. One of her favorite sources of inspiration are markets full of ingredients she doesn’t know about. (“In my case, it’s more like the Polish supermarket.”) Then you can ask people in the store or in your networks what to do with them, which could also result in a delicious recipe that you’ve never tried before than “a really nice conversation with a stranger,” she says. “Then you have that spark of human connection that makes it exciting to try.”

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“A really easy place to get bogged down is when you’re like, ‘I don’t have anyone to cook for.’ Nobody will notice if I only eat bread,” says Risbridger. Her last cookbook, The Year of Miracles, was supposed to be about cooking for others, but ended up becoming “that book about not getting anything out of it and trying to make up a reason to cook” because it was written ( 2020).

Now that we’re not under such strict lockdown restrictions, depending on your comfort level, you can simply invite others over for dinner or let them cook the meal with you. “When you have two people in a kitchen, you feel connected,” says Hazan, who offers baking therapy as a form of treatment for his patients. (Alternatively, you could do a food exchange to practice social distancing.)

Another option is to turn to family recipes. For Hazan, he began exploring that of his grandmother Recipes for Syrian baked goods he had never baked before. “Being immersed in a completely different way of thinking was not only exciting, but it was something that nourished my soul because it was personal to me,” says Hazan. “I felt connected to what I was doing, which brought out the joy.”

If you don’t have access to your own family recipes, ask about those of other people in your life who are important to you. “Even when I’m physically alone, it’s a nice way to feel connected,” says Risbridger.

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“Don’t do it alone,” says Hazan. Reach out to friends or join virtual communities who can offer support, which Hazan credits for helping him overcome his monotony. “There are so many other people going through what you’re going through. And they might not be there now, but they were there before.” While acknowledging the reluctance some may have to the idea of ​​speaking up “because they don’t want to burden people,” Hazan encourages you to do so anyway to do, as such hesitations are often unfounded.

“Often a cooking rut feels quite isolating and quite desperate and quite like being stuck. And I think the lonely stuckness will continue,” says Risbridger. “Reaching out to people and talking to them about what excites them about food is a really good way to shake yourself up and get a little perspective and feel like a person.”

“I make no guarantees, but I guarantee, if at one point in your life you really enjoyed baking or cooking and you don’t now, give it space to come back to you, and it will,” Hazan says, quoting a Quote from author Anne Lamott: “If you unplug it for a few minutes, almost anything will work, including you.”

Of course, you still need to nourish yourself while you wait for joy to return — but that doesn’t mean these pastime meals have to be boring. “Fill your fridge with things you love to dine on that could liven up a bowl of rice,” says Risbridger. Some of her favorites are frozen dumplings (“The tastiest food you could ever have. It’s such a bit of a luxury, little packets of yummy.”), sauerkraut, kimchi, and eggs (“Egg on everything, and you’re like, oh, wow, what a meal.”).

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While you wait, try not to get too upset about your long-lost love of cooking. “Take the pressure off,” she says. “Anyone who used to love to cook will have an idea that will send them back to the kitchen at some point. You will see a recipe that will make you think, “I have to make this.” ”

How do you overcome a cooking routine and regain joy in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments below.

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