How to overcome a cooking rut

How to overcome a cooking rut


“Do you like cooking?” When presented with this question in the past, I would always respond with some form of enthusiasm (“Of course!”) or jokingly affirmative (“Duh.”) depending on my penchant for sarcasm at the time. But recently, the question has given me pause—and I’m not alone. “I’ve based a substantial part of my life and my personality on the answer to that question being yes,” cookbook author Ella Risbridger told me on a Zoom call. “But no, don’t make me cook.” Washington Post readers shared similar sentiments, expressing that they’re in a rut, lacking inspiration, and missing their mojo in the kitchen despite once enjoying it.

Part of that is because people have been forced into the kitchen more than usual over the past couple of years. “When you tell someone you have to do everything, it becomes less fun,” says Risbridger. In addition, society is going through a mental health crisis caused by all the anxiety-inducing events we endure, including global health emergencies, inflation and economic uncertainty, racial injustice, and the struggle for bodily autonomy, to name a few .

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

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

“To me, baking is a relationship, and I almost had a breakup,” says Hazan. “Desire in long-term relationships doesn’t just fall from the sky, right? You have to reinvent yourself and try new things.” One way he did this was by buying new baking tools. If you’re on a budget, you might hold off on buying a stand mixer, but look for fun spoons and spatulas that beg to be used.

Or maybe decision fatigue is what wore you down. The Eat Voraciously newsletter tells you what to eat for dinner four nights a week, along with substitution ideas based on your preferences and what’s in your pantry. Cookbook Roulette — where you grab a cookbook from your shelf, open a random page, and cook whatever dish is in front of you (feel free to go forward or backward a page for some flexibility) — is an easy way to leave dinner to the winds of fate. And if you want the added bonus of not having to grocery shop, meal kit delivery services are a great option to consider.

Find new sources of inspiration

“When you’re in a rut, it’s really important to find new inspiration, to find new ideas,” says Risbridger. It’s all about finding something that excites you. It could be completely new dishes for you or simply ingredients you’ve never cooked with or even 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 Internet or social media for free ideas. One of her favorite sources of inspiration is going to markets filled with ingredients she knows nothing about. (“In my case, it tends to be the Polish supermarket.”) Then you can ask people at the store or in your networks what to do with them, which could lead to a delicious recipe you’ve never tried before . like “a really nice conversation with a stranger,” she says. “Then you have that spark of human connection that makes it interesting to try.”

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“A really easy place to get into a rut is when you’re like, I don’t have anyone to cook for. No one will even notice if I only eat bread,” says Risbridger. Her latest cookbook, Year of Miracles, was meant to be about cooking for others, but then turned into “this book about having none of that and trying to think of a reason to cook anyway” because of the time it was written. (2020).

Now that we are not under such strict lockdowns, invite people over for dinner – depending on your comfort level – simply as guests or to ask them to prepare the meal with you. When “you have two people in a kitchen, you you feel connected,” says Hazan, who offers baking therapy as a form of treatment for his patients. (Alternatively, you can exchange meals to practice social distancing.)

Another option is to turn to family recipes. For Hazan, he began exploring his grandmother’s Syrian pastry recipes that you never bake again. “When I jumped into a totally different kind of thinking, it wasn’t just exciting, it was something that fed my soul because it was personal to me,” says Hazan. “I felt connected to what I was doing, which allowed the joy to come out.”

If you don’t have access to your own family recipes, ask the other people in your life you care about. “Even when I’m on my own physically, it’s a great way to feel connected,” says Risbridger.

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“Don’t go it alone,” says Hazan. Reach out to friends or join virtual communities that can offer support, which Hazan credits with helping her overcome her baking routine. “There are so many other people going through what you are going through. And they may not be there now, but they’ve been there before.” While he acknowledges the reluctance some may feel toward the idea of ​​reaching out “because they don’t want to burden people,” Hazan encourages you to do so anyway, because such reluctance is often unfounded.

“Often a cooking rut can feel quite isolating and quite desperate and like you’re stuck. And I think that lonely blockage is self-perpetuating,” says Risbridger. “Connecting with people and talking to them about what excites them about food is a really good way to shake things up and get a bit of perspective and feel like a person.”

“I don’t make guarantees, but I will guarantee that at one point in your life you really enjoyed baking or cooking and now you don’t, give it space to come back to you and it will,” Hazan says, quoting author Anne Lamott: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including yourself.”

Of course, you still have to feed yourself while you wait for the joy to return – but that doesn’t mean these pass-the-time meals have to be boring. “Fill your fridge with things you’re excited to eat that could spice up a bowl of rice,” says Risbridger. Some of her favorites include frozen dumplings (“The best food you can have. It’s a little bit fancy, cute little packages”), sauerkraut, kimchi, and eggs (“Egg on anything, and you’re like, oh, wow, what a table.”).

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While you wait, try not to beat yourself up too much about your long lost love of cooking. “Take the pressure off,” she says. “If you’re someone who used to love to cook, you’re going to have an idea that sends you back into the kitchen at some point. You’ll see a recipe that makes you think, “I have to make this.” “

How to overcome a cooking rut and regain the joy in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments below.

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