How to overcome a cooking rut

How to overcome a cooking rut

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“Do you like to cook?” When asked this question in the past, I would always respond with some form of enthusiasm (“Of course!”) or a joking affirmative (“Ohhh.”) depending on my penchant for sarcasm at the time. But recently the question got me thinking — and I’m not alone. “I’ve based a significant part of my life and personality on the answer to that question being yes,” cookbook author Ella Risbridger told me during a Zoom call. “But no, don’t make me cook.” Washington Post readers share similar sentiments, expressing that they are stuck, lacking inspiration and lacking mojo in the kitchen, even though they once loved it.

Part of that is because over the past few years, people have been forced into the kitchen more than normal. “When you tell someone you have to do something, it’s less fun,” Risbridger says. In addition, society is undergoing a mental health crisis caused by all the troubling events we are experiencing, including global health emergencies, inflation and economic uncertainty, racial injustice, and the battle for bodily autonomy, just to name a few.

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

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

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

Or maybe decision fatigue has worn you out. 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 you have in your pantry. Cookbook Roulette – where you grab a cookbook from your shelf, open to any page, and cook whatever dish is in front of you (feel free to go forward or back a page for some flexibility) – is an easy way to put down dinner on the winds of fate. And if you want the added bonus of not having to go grocery shopping, meal kit delivery services are a great option to look into.

Find new sources of inspiration

“When you’re in a rut, it’s really important to find new inspiration, new ideas,” Risbridger says. It’s all about finding something that excites you. It could be completely new to you dishes or just 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 visiting markets full of ingredients she knows nothing about. (“In my case, it’s usually the Polish supermarket.”) Then you can ask people in the store or in your networks what to do with them, which can also lead to a delicious recipe you’ve never tried before like “really nice a conversation with a stranger,” she says. “Then you have that spark of human connection that makes it exciting to try.”

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“One really easy place to get into a rut is when you think there’s no one to cook for. “No one will even notice if I just eat bread,” Risbridger says. Her last cookbook, The Year of Wonder, was meant to be about cooking for others, but then became “this book about having none of it and trying to find a reason to cook anyway” because of the time when was written (2020).

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

Another option is to turn to family recipes. For Hazan, he began researching his grandmother’s recipes for Syrian sweets that have never been baked before. “When I got into a whole different type of thinking, it was not only exciting, but it was something that fed my soul because it was personal to me,” Hazan says. “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 for those of other people in your life who you care about. “Even when I’m alone physically, it’s a wonderful way to feel connected,” Risbridger says.

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“Don’t go it alone,” Hazan says. Connect with friends or join virtual communities that can provide support, which Hazan credits with helping him overcome his rut. “There are so many other people going through what you’re going through. And maybe they’re not there now, but they were 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 hesitation is often unfounded.

“Often cooking can feel quite isolating and quite frustrating and like you’re stuck. And I think that single-mindedness is perpetuated,” Risbridger says. “Connecting with people and talking to them about what excites them about food is a really nice way to shake things up, get some perspective and feel human.”

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

Of course, you still need to eat while you wait for the joy to return—but that doesn’t mean these meals to pass the time have to be boring. “Fill your fridge with things you’re excited to eat that could make a jazzy rice bowl,” Risbridger says. Some of her favorites include frozen dumplings (“The most delicious food you can eat. It’s such a little luxury, little packets of niceness.”), sauerkraut, kimchi, and eggs (“Egg on everything and you’re like, oh, wow, what food”).

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While you wait, try not to beat yourself up too much about your long-lost love of cooking. “Release the tension,” she says. “If you’re someone who used to love to cook, you’ll get an idea that will bring 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 culinary rut and get your joy back in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments below.

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