Kitchen fatigue: Here's how to beat pandemic weariness and spice up your meals
Some strategies for getting out of a meal-making rut
The early days of this pandemic were terrifying. I spent the first week glued to my screen. I watched every news conference, obsessed over case numbers and signed up for three different streaming services.
Through my social media feeds, I could see that friends and family were doing the same, but gradually things changed.
Fear was replaced with sourdough, banana bread and pitch-perfect flaky pie crust. Anxiety was channelled into impressive kitchen projects. The kitchen became a source of joy.
Well, that has passed.
Most people are back to making the same five dishes on rotation and trying to pass off cleanup duty to their roommates and partners.
We can do better. Here are my tips for fighting kitchen fatigue during a pandemic:
Use an old tool in a new way
Use a tool that's been gathering dust, or use an everyday tool in a new way. I use my box grater daily for cheese or lemon zest, but I never grate horseradish and I never grate ginger. This week I'm going to make a horseradish mayo and those tiny holes are going to transform the rhizomes of my ginger into a beautiful paste for a cake recipe that I plan to take to the next level. You can use the box grater to make carrot latkes and potato boxty. There's so much potential in each kitchen tool.
Turn to comfort foods
A chill in the air is coming, which means we can put a ban on the herb-laced quinoa salads of summers. Now is not the time for heath and wellness; it's the season of long-simmering stews, homemade apple butter and from-scratch macaroni and cheese. Embrace the foods that bring you warmth.
My personal favourite comfort food is a rich ginger cake. A pulpy mystery novel, a hot cup of tea and a big slice of this cake are my ideal rainy-day fall combination.
Get inspired with cookbooks & online resources
Most libraries are now offering pickup and drop-off services. Spend an hour or two perusing a collection of cookbooks — but don't just check a book out! Commit to creating at least two recipes contained within the tome.
I just borrowed Magnuss Neilson's Nordic Cooking (Phaidon Press, 2015). Admittedly, I'm not going to make his recipe for puffin soup (very frowned upon and illegal here in Newfoundland), but I am going to challenge myself to break out of my rut and recreate two whole recipes.
Play with a new-to-you flavour
If new cookbooks and old equipment can't bust you out of the depths of kitchen fatigue, try playing with a new flavour. How about bakeapples? A rare yellow berry found in the bogs and barrens of Newfoundland and the subarctic mainland might be just the inspiration you need.
If you tend to live off supermarket rotisserie chicken, this is a great time to try some wild game. Or pull a complete 180 and soak some cashews for a week of vegan meals. I'm not that familiar with using miso, so I'm going to incorporate it into a dessert this week. I'm thinking pumpkin, miso, sesame and chocolate pie. Will it work out? Maybe not, but that's not the point.
Take solace in seasonal cooking
The colour palette at the market is beautiful right now. We have dark kales, deep purple eggplants, bright orange squashes. Head to an open outdoor market and buy a seasonal ingredient that you've never played with.
Your money stays in the community, the food hasn't travelled far and you'll be excited to work with the bright colours and fresh produce. I recently treated myself to a massive braid of local garlic, and it's improved the quality of my life.
Travel through recipes
The notion that traveling might not be recognizable in the future is one of those pandemic worries waking me in the middle of the night. The remedy? Bring the outside world into your home through recipes. Also, don't make these recipes in a cultural vacuum; read about their history and the way they've transformed through time. It's about appreciation, not appropriation.
Why not travel through time, too?
I collect old cookbooks and through this I've learned that cooking could be wacky in the Fifties. There was so much aspic (solids set in gelatin). A holiday meal in the '50s wasn't complete until a salad jiggled.
Trying some monstrous, strange casserole or neon green cocktail from the '80s might be the thing that gets you excited about spending time in the kitchen again.
Put your kids to work
Your kids don't have to file taxes, pay for high-speed internet, or deal with any of the grownup stressors that have turned your hair prematurely grey. This frees up a lot of space for creativity. I'm constantly surprised by what kids can whip up in the kitchen; they've come up with some unique flavour combinations that wouldn't occur to most. Additionally, teaching your kids to cook gives them an essential life skill.
Last week I wanted dessert, but I didn't want to take on a massive project in the middle of the week. So I bought mini tart shells, placed an Oreo on the bottom, swiped on a layer of peanut butter, topped the peanut butter with another Oreo, and baked the whole thing for 15 minutes.
Was it a monstrosity? Yes. Was it delicious? Also yes. Shortcuts are OK! Use canned tomatoes instead of homemade sauce! There's no shame in the pre-made salad dressing game on a Wednesday! Cutting yourself some slack in the kitchen is important.
Listen | What can you do with berries? Quite a bit! Listen to this recent episode of CrossTalk, with host Ramona Dearing and guest Andie Bulman:
Eat outside the house
Cooking in the outdoors is one of my favourite activities. Recently, I did moose sausages and homemade molasses bread in the cast iron, above the open flame. The smoke added so much flavour and the bread soaked up all the ropey syrup-like juice leaking from the sausages. It was heaven.
If you can't cook outdoors, then still take a break.
Designate one day of the week as "Takeout Day." The restaurant world is hurting and your dollars can help prevent a death rattle. Plus, takeout day is something to look forward to, and that's very precious right now.