Part of it is because people have been forced into the kitchen more than normal these past couple of years. “When you tell someone you have to do something, it’s less fun,” says Risbridge. Additionally, society is experiencing a mental health crisis caused by all the anxiety-producing events we are enduring, such as global health emergencies, inflation and economic insecurity, racial injustice, and the struggle 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 the pressure, by the uncertainty, by the monotony and by 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 affair with the kitchen.
“For me, baking is a relationship, and I almost broke up,” says Hazan. “Desire in long-term relationships doesn’t just fall from the sky, does it? 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, maybe hold off on buying a mixer, but instead look for fun spoons and spatulas that beg to be used.
Or maybe it’s decision fatigue that has worn you out. The Eat Voraciously newsletter shows you what to eat for dinner four nights a week, along with ideas for substitutions based on your preferences and what’s in the pantry. Cookbook Roulette – where you take a cookbook from your shelf, open it to 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 a way to simply 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 mess, it’s really important to find new inspiration, to find new ideas,” says Risbridger. It’s all about finding something that excites you. It 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 going to markets full of ingredients I know nothing about. (“In my case, it tends to be the Polish supermarket.”) Then you can ask people in 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 exciting to try.”
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“A really easy place to get into a mess is when you’re like, I have no one to cook for. No one will even notice if I eat bread,” says Risbridge. Her latest cookbook, The Year of Miracles, was intended to be about cooking for others, but then it turned into “this book to have none of that and trying to think of a reason to cook anyway” because of the time it was written (2020).
Now that we’re not under such strict lockdowns, invite people over for dinner—depending on your comfort level—just as your guest or for them to prepare 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 to his patients. (Alternatively, you can do a meal exchange to practice social distancing.)
Another option is to turn to family recipes. For Hazan, he started exploring his grandmother recipes for Syrian pastries that she had never baked before. “When I jumped into a completely different kind of thinking, it was not only exciting, but 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 family recipes, look for those of other people in your life who you care about. “Even when I’m physically alone, it’s a great way to feel connected,” says Risbridge.
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“Don’t go alone,” says Hazan. Reach out to friends or join virtual communities that can provide support, which Hazan credits with helping him navigate his baking journey. “There are 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 the reluctance some may feel to reach 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 routine can feel quite isolating and quite desperate and like you’re stuck. And I think being stuck alone perpetuates itself,” says Risbridger. “Communicating with people and talking to people about what excites them about food is a really good way to shake yourself up and get some perspective and t ‘felt like a person.’
“I don’t make guarantees, but I will guarantee that if at one point in your life, you really enjoyed baking or cooking, and now you don’t, give it space for it to come back to you, and it will,” Hazan says, to quote a quote from author Anne Lamott: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Of course, you need to feed yourself 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 can fuel a bowl of rice,” says Risbridge. Some of her favorites include frozen dumplings (“The most delicious food you can have. It’s a small luxury, a few good parcels”), sauerkraut, kimchi and eggs (“Eggs for everything, and you’re like, oh, wow, what a meal”).
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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 a person who has enjoyed cooking before, you’ll have an idea that gets you back in the kitchen at some point. “You’ll see a recipe that makes you think, ‘I have to make that.'”
How to overcome a cooking problem and regain the joy in the kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.