How to overcome a culinary rut

Placeholder when loading article actions

“Do you like to cook?” When I’ve been asked this question in the past, I’ve always responded with some enthusiasm (“Sure!”) or jokingly affirmative (“Oh”), depending on my penchant for sarcasm at the time. But lately, this question has given me pause—and I’m not alone. “I’ve based a large 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 shared similar sentiments, expressing that they’re stuck, uninspired and missing their mojo in the kitchen, even though they once loved it.

Part of that is because the past couple of years have forced people to visit the kitchen more often than usual. “When you tell someone you have to do something, it’s less fun,” Risbridger says. In addition, society is experiencing a mental health crisis caused by all sorts of alarming events, such as global health emergencies, inflation and economic uncertainty, racial injustice, and the struggle for bodily autonomy, to name just a few. them .

Can cooking be a balm for depression? It saved the life of one British writer.

For baker and licensed therapist Jack Hazan, finishing his upcoming cookbook Mind Over Batter caused a recent bout of exhaustion. “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 rekindle your love of the kitchen.

“To me, baking is a relationship, and I almost got divorced,” Hazan says. “Desire in a long-term relationship doesn’t just fall out of the sky, does it? You have to reinvent yourself and try new things.” One way he did this was by purchase of new baking tools. If you’re on a budget, maybe hold off on buying a mixer and instead look for fun spoons and spatulas that are just easier to use.

Or maybe you’re exhausted from decision fatigue. The Eat Voraciously newsletter tells you what to have for dinner four nights a week, along with ideas for substitutions based on your preferences and what you have in your pantry. Cooking 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 flip one page forward or back 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 go to the grocery store, meal kit delivery services are a great option to consider.

Find new sources of inspiration

“When you’re in a dead end, it’s really important to find new inspiration, new ideas,” Risbridger says. It’s all about finding what you’re passionate about. These can be completely new dishes for you or simply ingredients that you have 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 a Polish supermarket.”) Then you can ask people in the store or in your networks what to do with them, which may lead to a delicious recipe you’ve never tried before. like “a really nice conversation with a stranger,” she says. “Then you have the spark of human connection that makes the endeavor exciting.”

Our favorite cookbooks of 2021

“It’s really easy to get into a rut when you say I have no one to cook for. No one will even notice if I just eat the bread,” Risbridger says. Her latest cookbook, A Year of Wonder, was supposed to be about cooking for others, but then it turned into “this book about not eating any of this and still trying to find a reason to cook” because it was written (2020) .

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

Another option is to turn to family recipes. For Hazan, he started researching his grandmother’s house recipes for Syrian pastries that he had never baked before. “When I started to think in a completely different way, it was not only exciting, but it also nourished my soul because it was personal to me,” Hazan says. “I felt a connection to what I was doing and it allowed me to go outside.”

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

How to create a family cookbook filled with recipes from loved ones

“Don’t do it yourself,” Hazan says. Reach out to friends or join virtual communities that can provide the support that Hazan credits with helping him overcome his bitter rut. “There are so many other people going through what you are going through. And maybe they’re not there now, but they were there before.” While he acknowledges that some may feel reluctant to reach out “because they don’t want to burden people,” Hazan encourages you to do so anyway, as such hesitations are often unwarranted.

“Often the culinary rut can feel quite isolated, quite desperate and like you’re stuck. And I think being stuck alone perpetuates itself,” Risbridger says. “Approaching people and talking to them about their food concerns is a really great way to shake things up, get some perspective and feel like a person.”

“I don’t make guarantees, but I guarantee that if you really loved baking or cooking at one point in your life and now you don’t, give it a chance 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 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 enjoy eating, and that can make a bowl of rice happy,” says Risbridger. 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 anything and you’re like, oh, wow, what food”).

11 frozen dishes that our employees turn to very quickly

While you’re waiting, try not to gloat too much about your long-lost love of cooking. “Take the pressure off,” she says. “If you used to love to cook, at some point you’ll get an idea that sends you back to the kitchen. You’ll see a recipe that will make you think, “I have to make that.”

How to overcome a culinary rut and bring joy back to the kitchen? Let us know in the comments below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.