Lost your cooking mojo? 5 ways to get it back

pIzza fella

if only pizza could be the answer every day

If you usually love to cook, ending up in a slump can be difficult. You might be recovering from an illness or suffering from burnout at work. Maybe the last few recipes you tried didn’t quite do it for you or your family, or perhaps these days you just. don’t. feel. like. cooking.

Unlike other creative pastimes, cooking is also a means to an end, and even though you don’t want to do it, you’ve still got to eat. What’s worse, if part of your identity is wrapped up in being proud of your cooking skills, it’s easy to fall into a bit of a shame-spiral that can make coming back to the kitchen even more difficult.

I’m here to say it’s ok, it’s normal, and it happens to everyone.

Here are 5 ways to get your mojo back:

  1. Can’t someone else do it? Sometimes you just need a break. Is there anyone else in your household who can pick up the slack? Every adult needs to know how to cook simple meals, even if they don’t like to. It’s just part of life. Can you order in? Pick up a ready-made meal? These aren’t long-term solutions, as they will hit you in your wallet, along with filling you up with sodium, fat and hidden sugars. But if you need a night or two off, go easy and give yourself some room to breathe.
  2. Watch or read (the right kind of) food porn. Don’t tune in to shows, cookbooks or websites featuring aspirational, gourmet cooking with tons of ingredients and fussy, time-consuming techniques. It will only make you feel worse about your slump. Instead, stick to simple recipes designed to get food on the table – fast, with short ingredient lists and time-saving suggestions.
    • Some favourites:
      • The Kitchn. This link goes straight to their videos page – I’m much more likely to be entranced by something if I watch a video rather than reading a recipe. At very least I need an awesome photo.
      • Jamie Oliver’s latest Channel 4 series, Jamie’s Quick & Easy Food and tie-in book 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food didn’t just get me out of my recent slump, they inspired this post as well.
      • Buzzfeed Food. I can’t think of a better place to watch cooking videos, find recipes or simply remember that food is supposed to be fun. Also good for silly quizzes, if nothing else grabs you.
  3. Cook in advance on the weekend. Truth time – I absolutely detest cooking from scratch on a weeknight when I work in an office. I’m often tired and cranky when I get home from my commute, so my cooking mojo is always at its lowest ebb. A recipe that may have sounded amazing on Saturday afternoon will probably be too much work for me by the time Tuesday evening rolls around. Thanks to this prized piece of self-knowledge, I do most of my cooking on the weekend – usually big pots of soup, chili or stew for portioning and freezing, roasting a large chicken for lots of leftovers, and roasting trays of vegetables to use throughout the week. And low-key weekends are also ideal for trying new recipes.
  4. Fall back in love with your kitchen. Go through your pantry staples, organise your spice rack, de-clutter your cupboards. Clean out the fridge and freezer. You may rediscover ingredients you bought with the best of intentions. If they are non-perishable, use them as a jumping off point for a future recipe. If they have gone bad, chuck them out and remember to go easy on yourself. This decluttering task can be a bigger job than you think – definitely order pizza that night.
  5. Get some new gear. Once your kitchen is feeling organised and calm, consider rewarding yourself with a new piece of equipment – anything that you’ve always meant to get to make things easier. A mortar & pestle? A new blender? It could be as simple and cheap as replacing a cookie sheet, or as luxurious as a top-of-the-line food processor. Celebrate your new purchase with that recipe you’ve been meaning to make for ages.
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Taking my joy from… 5

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Winter can be charming if you look at it a certain way. There’s less pressure to be social, and I can’t think of a better time of year to pick up a book, make a cup of tea (or pour a nice whisky), and listen to the wind howl. It’s a time for dreaming, planning, and quietly working on projects. Here’s what’s been making this chilly season A-OK with me:

  • This Scheepjes gradient yarn, World Scoop Whirl in Licorice Yumyum – is slowly being knitted into a simple poncho, with hopes that it will be ready by spring. I can’t wait until the yarn starts to change from white to silver, and then to a rich purple.
  • Yotam Ottolenghi’s Curried Lentil and Coconut soup. I’m obsessed. I want to cook it for everyone. And I can, because it’s vegan for god’s sake.
  • I don’t think I’ve raved about The Good Place yet. Such a good show, with lots of great dialogue and fantastic sight gags that reward a re-watch. Netflix.
  • Also being a mega nerd by re-watching Battlestar Galactica –  it’s been perfect for getting over a nasty bout of bronchitis. Amazon Prime UK
  • Picked up Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food and binged his Channel 4 programme. I have been extra busy lately, so the simple ingredient lists and quick techniques are really winning me over.
    • If you would like to watch Channel 4 online in Canada or the US, there are lots of fantastic VPN options out there – my favourite is TunnelBear.  Phil, if you’re reading, it will work for the BEEB as well.

My favourite cold and flu remedies

honey

honey – the superstar in my cold-fighting arsenal

Hola! While everyone I know has been in Mexico lately, Jeff and I have been trying to recover from forking bad colds while huddling under blankets and catching up with The Good Place.

I don’t want to sound like a baby, but man oh man, British colds hit me way harder than Canadian viruses and tend to linger for weeks. In my Toronto life, it was usually enough to get extra rest and fluids right when I first felt the ‘impending doom’ feeling hit my sinuses and expect to ride out a miserable two or three days if I caught it fast enough.

But when I’m ill here in England, I’m constantly looking for a Victorian fainting chaise longue and coughing like a consumptive. I keep expecting my doctor to prescribe a month at the seaside.

It’s no surprise that I’ve had to ramp up my approach to recovery and healing. I realise there isn’t anything super groundbreaking in this post, but if you’re anything like me, the stuffier my head gets, the foggier my brain gets, so I thought it would be helpful for my next cold to have all my favourite remedies listed in one place.

Toronto me felt that merely staying home and taking it easy was enough when I would begin to feel ill; now I literally take to my bed whenever I can. I find a book or box set that’s interesting-ish but also won’t be a big deal if I nod off. Podcasts are great for when I want to rest my eyes but worry about getting bored.

So that’s the resting part of the equation. On to the fluids:

  • Tea, and lots of it. Caffeinated black tea if I simply must be awake and alert for a while, but more often I switch to a lemon-ginger infusion. Twinings Lemon & Ginger is a staple here at Casa Hewer, but Pukka Lemon Ginger & Manuka Honey is another recent fave. If I have a persistent cough, I prefer adding a squeeze of actual honey to the Twinings version.
  • If I haven’t had any painkillers for a number of hours, a shot of bourbon added to the lemon-ginger-honey tea is a nice send-off for a nap.
  • Sparkling mineral water has lots of fizz and bubbles to soothe my sore, scratchy throat. I avoid soft drinks these days, although I might consider ginger ale for an upset stomach.
  • Chicken broth, chicken noodle soup, vegetable broth if you’re vegetarian. I wish I had a ramen or pho place nearby.
  • And when I am beyond tired of not being able to breathe through my nose, I go for some sinus-clearing Thai Tom Yum soup, or Chinese Hot and Sour soup.
  • During particularly bad bout of bronchitis, I went online to look for home remedies for a cough, and found out that avoiding dairy was the wrong plan for me – a cup of warm milk with honey at bedtime is a very effective way to stop coughing long enough to fall, and stay, asleep.
  • And also on the liquids continuum – nothing beats a long, hot shower if I’m able to stand upright without feeling faint or dizzy. Sometimes it’s easier to sit in front of a bowl of steaming hot water with a towel draped over my head.

I don’t go in for drugstore cold remedies as a rule, but lately I’ve had no choice but to pull out a classic from my childhood: Vicks VapoRub.  I completely forgot how soothing this stuff is. I make sure I’m wearing pajamas I don’t care too much about. Not that I can smell anything anyway, but that stuff is as greasy as the day is long.

I recently discovered the trick of taking a teaspoon of honey to stop coughing, so now I do that instead of having a lozenge. I save hard candies for coughing jags when I am out and about in the world.

I always forget to do this until it’s too late, but getting a couple of boxes of extra soft tissues is a necessity when I’m constantly blowing my nose. And I wash my hands every single time I blow my nose or touch my face.

And it may be obvious, but these super bad colds have scared me into taking even better care of myself when I am healthy – eating properly, getting enough sleep, and paying attention to my body’s early warning signs.

If you’ve got a favourite cold or flu tip, please feel free to share in the comments. And has anyone ever tried the trick of applying Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet to stop coughing? I’m super curious.

Paris, encore

Paris in winter.jpgExcept this time, I didn’t have jet lag.

This won’t be a super long post. If you plan to visit Paris, you already know what you want to see. There are enough amazing resources out there, and your imagination has already been captivated by films, books and tv shows. Just go with it. And don’t forget to wander.

Instead, let me tell you about some favourite little experiences that made this trip sing. It will soon be clear that we stayed in the Marais district.

  • Bonjour Vietnam: Reader, I am not ashamed to say I actually shed a happy tear upon tasting their pho. That delicate broth had perfectly balanced flavours, better even than anything in Toronto. I thought I’d been eating pho in Leeds, but I was wrong. It’s a tiny spot. We lucked out by arriving at 6:59 pm on a Monday evening in January, but make a reservation. 5th arrondissement
  • La Chaise Et Le Vin: A lovely wine merchant with lots of space to relax with a glass or two, steps from Place des Vosges. Incredibly knowledgeable proprietor will steer you to a great glass or bottle. Le Marais
  • America and Paris have strong emotional and historical ties, and this extends to their food as well. We didn’t bother with bistros for the most part, especially the overpriced ones that appear on almost every corner. (Make Yelp your friend to avoid the worst). Being a bit homesick for North America led us to Breakfast in America and Schwartz’s (no affiliation with the venerable institution of smoked meat in Montréal). Both great spots for unpretentious, belly-busting meals, perfect for long walks in chilly weather. Le Marais
  • There is one bistro we bothered with – Vin des Pyrénées – based on this rave review from TimeOut, and I’m very glad we did. I’m still thinking about those fondant leeks. We went back the following night to their beautiful, über cool cocktail bar upstairs. Le Marais

We went ever-so-slightly off the beaten track with our art gallery and ancient cathedral choices, choosing Musée de l’Orangerie and Musée d’Orsay over the Louvre, and Sainte Chapelle instead of Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle.jpg

 

Taking my joy from… 4

IMG_5504It’s the shortest day today. The sun will set in Leeds at 3 forking 46 pm! I’ve almost gotten used to it, especially if I distract myself by staying busy around dusk. I also have a little ritual of lighting candles and these days, the Christmas lights too, of course.

I’m still riding the Christmas high the way a hawk uses warm air currents to stay aloft, and I can smugly say my Christmas shopping is finished. This is less admirable when you understand how short my list is and how convenient online shopping makes things. And I know I’m not alone when I confess that I’ve picked up a few wee things for myself as well.

  • Top of the list of things bringing me joy is this Luchador Ice Tray from Kikkerland. I was scanning HomeSense for silly gifts under a fiver for a family game, and found this offbeat bit of awesomeness. I had been looking for the perfect soap mould for ages, as I need tiny soaps for my downstairs loo and I think these guys will be the perfect size, and will make me happy every time a fresh soap is needed. Also, I just love Kikkerland products – every time I’ve simply had to get a little something, it usually ends up being something they’ve designed.
  • My annual night in watching Love Actually. Naysayers, leave it alone. I like it!
  • I can’t reveal any secrets, but there’s been a giftie or two that I’ve bought for loved ones that I simply cannot wait to see their reaction. I love finding perfect gifts, even when mere hours before I had no idea what to get until hitting the shops. I really should have more faith in stores making it ridiculously easy.
  • My home office window looks out over our street. The other day I saw a couple walking home while lugging their Christmas tree, and the smiles on their faces was the essence of the holidays, right there.
  • Jeff has been playing Christmas carols to prep for gigs, and right now he and a friend are jazzing up Silent Night on their guitars – it’s beautiful.
  • And finally, one more impulse buy while out shopping. I love these so much, and they look beautiful during the day too:IMG_5496.jpg

Well, my darlings, it’s near enough to the Big Day to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! If you’re in charge of cooking, may your turkey be moist and succulent, your dressing just sagey enough, and remember it’s ok if some of your sides get a bit cool while you’re juggling everything. As long as the gravy is hot, you’re golden. And make someone else do the washing up.

Taking my joy from… 3

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Harewood House

It’s now early December, a glowing time of year. I’m finding it ridiculously easy to take my joy these days, and I hope you all are embracing the season in your own big or little ways. Our Christmas season is always pretty chilled out – my family and friends have never really gone overboard, which makes everything a bit more sane.

So these days, I’m taking my joy from:

  • Christmas lights and decorated shop windows – in Leeds city centre, in Chapel Allerton, any other town or city I’ve visited lately has been filled with festive fun and has my heart brimming. Bonus points for the rare snowfall in quaint, charming Knaresborough last week.
  • Indulging my inner kid with a chocolate advent calendar. So far I haven’t jumped ahead. So far.
  • A bit late to the party on this one, but This is Us has me hooked. All the feels!
  • Spotify’s Christmas Classics playlist – just a nice mix of the Christmas songs you didn’t know you wanted to hear.
  • Victorian Christmas at Harewood House – this was a beautiful day out, made even more fun by sharing the day with good friends, surprisingly mild, occasionally sunny weather, and the wisdom to visit on a quiet Monday morning.

‘As ithers see us’

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
– Robert Burns

Ok. I get it. The parts of my life that I make public – especially on social media – seem enviable: living in a new country, surrounded by beautiful architecture (more on that later), easy access to awe-inspiring countryside and quaint towns, with dazzling European cities a short plane ride away. Career is doing quite well, marriage is going strong and we have a cat that really loves to cuddle. Living the dream? You fucking bet I’m living the dream. And I give thanks for all of these things every single day.

I struggle a lot with what to post on social and have done so ever since Jeff and I crawled out of student debt and were finally able to think about travelling further than Montreal. Some people genuinely want to see and hear about our experiences and actively request photos and status updates, especially of our adventures while living in England. Others, and I know first-hand because I was this person for many years, might find it frustrating to scroll past travel photos, especially if they’re at work and it’s not Friday afternoon yet.

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Hello from #whitby! #daytrip #199steps

A post shared by Heather Hewer (@heather.hewer) on

A few years ago, I read, loved, and thought an awful lot about this piece, 7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook. To my eternal amusement, an acquaintance on Facebook actually posted it and suggested that his Facebook ‘friends’ should follow its advice. An excellent candidate for a brisk ‘unfollow’.

I try not to fall into any of the annoying categories the writer listed, and often ask myself if a post fits his criteria – is it:

  • interesting?
  • informative?
  • funny/amusing?
  • entertaining?

Now I realise there’s nothing more tiresome than a person who thinks they are funny, and isn’t, and I know my limitations – I can’t tell a joke worth a damn, for instance, but I like to think I’ve made a few people laugh over the years. I try not to complain, in real life or on social. I think that whining online (or worse, ‘vaguebooking’) is deeply boring, especially if the person complaining isn’t receptive to suggestions or solutions. That said, my stance changes completely if we meet up for a cup of tea or a glass of wine –  I’m all ears and sympathy.

When posting, I like to share interesting articles, tag people in recipes that are right up their alley, or support a restaurant, jazz venue, musician or product I particularly like. I’ve worked in social media – I know how much every single like, retweet, share, or comment can mean to the person responsible for engagement. But I don’t always manage to stick to these guidelines, and if everybody did, our feeds would be nearly empty, with tumbleweeds and suggested posts rolling through them. You can’t just ‘fix’ people like that, any more than you can control a party beyond food, drinks, places for people to sit, lighting and music.

And this criteria gets really murky when it comes to travel photos. If one were take a hard line with that article, travel photos are an instant ticket to being insufferable; reeking of ‘image crafting’, ‘attention craving’, ‘narcissism’, and ‘jealousy inducing’. But what about the people who truly want to hear about these trips? What if I’ve taken a photo I’m proud of? What if posting from the city I’ve travelled to is the quickest way to let my loved ones know I landed safely? What if friends and family miss us, but also understand that we are taking advantage of an amazing opportunity and want to see the evidence? What if they are -gasp- happy for us?

I’m not going to stop posting travel photos. It’s enough that I’ve given my cat her own Instagram account that people can choose to follow or not.

I’m also not going to tell you about the not-great parts of my life. Why would I? And I certainly wouldn’t do it in a forum like this. But just like everyone else, I’ve had them. I’ve got them. One of these days I’m going to actually create the t-shirts I keep meaning to, that simply say:

You don’t know.

Because You. Don’t. Know.

We’re all just walking around, doing the best we can every day, even if our best isn’t always that great.

When I was very young, most of my world was bland, mediocre, if not downright ugly – my family’s church springs to mind as a particular example of hideous modernity.  It was all an affront to the eyes of a bookish, romantic girl fascinated by old stone buildings, Victoriana, fairy tales, princesses, hobbits and pretty things. I once wrote an exam at Guelph C.V.I., one of the oldest schools in Ontario, and thrilled at its ‘oldness’ – the closest I ever got to feeling like ‘Anne of Green Gables’. That girl is still me, and I delight in drystone walls, hedgerows, 18th-century stonework, rolling hills, fields of grazing sheep, and the stunning cathedrals of Yorkshire, England, Great Britain, and Europe.

But bless, I also know the power of the Unfollow button, and it’s there for a reason. Use it. Nobody needs to know.