“The real joy of cooking is the alchemy of combining ingredients, be they animal or vegetable in origin, in dishes that become much more than the sum of their parts.” – Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
It doesn’t matter how many things I cook, I am consistently amazed at how a few simple ingredients can be magically transformed into something that is both satiating to the appetite and to the soul. Cooking is the one creative outlet that I have maintained at least a semblance of consistency with in my life and I keep finding new inspiration and excitement from it. Obviously this is because I have always loved to eat and I am constantly reminded of the need to feed myself. Now, as I am working on taking a gentler and more mindful approach to my mental and physical health, all of the practice I have had in the kitchen is paying off in dividends.
I am a lifelong failed dieter, but diets are a thing of the past now aren’t they? These days it’s all about ditching the packaged and processed and returning to simpler times. Cooking from ingredients that are recognisable for what they are, turning our backs on the middle aisles of the grocery store, filling our plates with plant-based foods. This approach has been working very well for me because it just makes so much sense. Why on earth would I want gloopy soup from a can when I can have the homemade option for the same cost per serving? Of course it’s the effort that often gets in the way. Reframing the idea of effort as creative outlet instead has been helpful.
I have an enormous collection of cookbooks. They take pride of place in my living room because so many of them look amazing and I like spending lazy time on the couch poking through them, reading recipes and adding to my cooking knowledge. Unfortunately, in the past the cookbooks have actually hindered my progress in cooking from scratch rather than helped it. I would literally thumb through a cookbook, read all about preparing a complicated recipe and upon realising I didn’t have quite the right ingredients give up on the entire venture and opt to order takeaway instead. Or I’d painstakingly search for recipes to fill the week, make laborious shopping lists and buy a ton of groceries, only to decide on Wednesday that I didn’t feel like cooking or eating what had sounded so good on Sunday. Then I’d order takeaway. And at the end of the week I’d toss out a bunch of wilted vegetables. It was a disaster.
In my new creative approach, instead of shopping for specific recipes I simply buy things that are on special or in season at the grocery store, bulk the shop up with a few staples and treat the whole week’s cooking like a little bit of a game. When it comes to the end of the week I’ll challenge myself to use up the leftover ingredients in the fridge and then use whatever comes out of the challenge to inform the rest of the week (see my black box challenges here and here). I love a challenging puzzle, so I’ve turned my healthy eating into just that; I’ve gameified my kitchen. Now when I read cookbooks I’ll come across ideas to use typical leftovers and get excited about the possibilities. I create new combinations in my mind and the inspiration follows me into the kitchen.