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Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking

I’ve started watching a new show from the Food Network called The Julia Child Challenge. In it, the competing home chefs have to make dishes that are inspired by Julia Child, and they also see snippets from episodes of Julia’s cooking shows.

And it’s clear that while Julia did not write the cookbook The Joy of Cooking, joy was certainly what she felt in the kitchen.

But I know that’s not the case for a lot of people. For many, cooking can feel like a chore, especially for those who live alone. But I wonder if the problem isn’t cooking, but rather feeling pressed for time, or feeling like you don’t have the energy for it.

No room for cooking

Katherine May talked about this in her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. When she was ill, she started cooking again, which made her think about why she’d stopped to begin with.

“[In] the last few years, cooking has been pushed out of my life, along with its accompanying pleasure of shopping for ingredients. Life has been busy, and in the general rush of things, these vital fragments of my identity has been squeezed out. I have missed them, but in a shrugging kind of way. What can you do when you’re already doing everything?” (p. 19)

Oddly enough, this is similar to how I felt during the first year and a half of the pandemic, though for somewhat different reasons. I know a lot of people got into baking (all that sourdough bread!) and doing more creative activities during that time, but for me, it was the opposite. I felt like I had just enough energy to get through the bare minimum and couldn’t bring myself to do more. And that included not doing much cooking.

Admittedly, I didn’t have lots more time on my hands the way some people did. Work continued as usual, just from home, and the cats were happy to have me spend what was formerly my commute time playing with them. I also had new things to figure out, like learning how to do video editing for my church, and I simply had no mental space or energy left for cooking, among other things.

Oh, I still did basics like steam veggies and make the occasional soup, but nothing that required much advance prep or planning.

Finding joy in cooking again

Now, though, that’s changed. Around the beginning of this year, I started feeling a bit more energetic, like I could start doing more than the minimum.

This means that I’m having fun starting to look through recipes again to see what strikes my fancy. And since I don’t work on Fridays, that’s become my cooking day. Mind you, I’m not doing anything as complex as what Julia Child did, nor am I using nearly as much butter, but I’m enjoying it again, this wonderful alchemy of taking different ingredients, putting them together just so, and ending up with something that’s so much more than the individual components.

The same is true for baking. It’s fun to try new things, like recently using some leftover Marshmallow Fluff to make frosting (it’s very tasty, particularly with chocolate cupcakes).

I also remembered learning from The Great British Baking Show that it’s possible to use aquafaba (the fancy name for chickpea water) as an egg replacement, and I even found a recipe for egg-free angel food cake that I want to try. It feels exciting to think about, though a year ago it would have felt daunting.

How do you feel about cooking?

I realize that none of this means that everyone will enjoy cooking. You may still find it a chore and not worth doing just for yourself.

But before you decide that for sure, maybe give cooking or baking another shot on a day when you have plenty of time (if such days exist for you). It doesn’t have to be a complicated recipe, but maybe try something new, and be mindful while making it. And who knows? You just might enjoy it.

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