How I'm getting out of my cooking rut

What do you do when something you used to love becomes a chore? This has happened to me more than once with cooking, and no surprises there really – cooking can be so fun and creative, but it's also something that usually has to be done every single day, after expending most of your time and energy on other activities. It's not the perfect context for enjoyment.

 Lamb meatballs in avgolemono. Image:  The Guardian

Lamb meatballs in avgolemono. Image: The Guardian

For me, a bit of a mental shift was required. I've mentioned before how we do My Food Bag and what we do in the weeks when we don't get meal delivery. Most of the time, I don't love cooking that way, and that's okay with me – we have to eat! But that's because I don't really count it as cooking. It is something different, and cooking is when I have fun and get creative.

I realised the difference during the Christmas holidays, when I had a whole afternoon to get into my in-laws' kitchen and cook dinner for all of us, as well as some willing grandparents to look after Amelie. I chose what I was going to make in the morning (this part is as fun as the creation itself), headed out to buy the ingredients, and spent hours cooking in a relaxed and non-demanding way, knowing I could take the time to make something new and delicious for us all to enjoy.

I can't cook that way every day, nor would I want to (what's that they say about moderation?) But as part of my kind-of New Year's resolutions – or rather, little things to change and improve to make my life better, as I'm thinking of them – I made myself a deal that I would regularly make the time to cook this way. To keep myself honest, I actually set myself a challenge of cooking something new to me every month, as well as buying the very best of everything that I could afford (no compromises!) Unsaid in that challenge is that it has to be something with a certain level of intricacy that'll stretch my cooking skills – this is a challenge, after all.

We're into March now so it's time for round three. In January I made these lamb meatballs in avgolemono, and in February I made this aubergine salad with saffron yoghurt (twice, actually). This month I'm leaning towards something that'll make the most of these last days of summer. Any ideas for me? 

7 favourite foodie Instagrammers

Food is just the best, isn't it?! I got the chance to do some proper cooking over the Christmas break (e.g. cooking complicated recipes for fun, not just throwing some stuff together after work because we need to eat) and it reminded me how much I love really great food. I'm trying to cook something a bit more involved on a weekly basis now, and Instagram is proving to be a great inspiration. Here are some of my favourites...

Food52

A New York favourite that goes heavy on the pasta. I strongly approve.

 Image via  Instagram/Food52

HalfBakedHarvest

Tieghan just obviously has so much fun with food! And she's even written a cookbook off the back of her blogging, which is so impressive.

Ottolenghi

Yes, I'm a little obsessed, but Ottolenghi recipes are always worth the effort (and then some). His passion for the ingredients really stands out.

Williams Sonoma

Another New York favourite! Last time we were there we stayed so close to the Columbus Circle store...it was heaven. Williams Sonoma is cooking paradise.

La Cigale French Market

An Auckland institution. Pastries as far as the eye can see (and some delicious fresh veggies too).

Dish Magazine

Another NZ goodie. Mostly simple, beautiful food celebrating the amazing goodness we get here.

Smitten Kitchen

So much amazingness...but let's be honest, it's mainly about those puddings.

I know there are so many more I've missed! Who are your favourites?

Do your children eat dinner with you?

 Eating an early dinner in Takapuna one evening.

Eating an early dinner in Takapuna one evening.

I was brought up almost always eating dinner with my whole family, and without thinking it through too much I always imagined Amelie would do the same. Right now, however, her bedtime is between 6.30-7pm and by the time we're all home, unpacked and ready for the next day, there usually isn't time to eat together and still get Amelie in bed on time.

Thankfully, this doesn't mean it's always impossible. Occasionally we cook an extra meal over the weekend and have it for dinner on a weeknight; sometimes we have leftovers, and there are always weekends of course. On these nights, H1 and I eat earlier than we'd prefer, but it's worth it to get the time to eat with Amelie. I want her to learn that eating together is the norm, and that it's a lovely way to spend time with people you care about. I also find that she eats a lot better when she's eating with us – she's less likely to play with her food or throw it everywhere, and apparently our meals are consistently more appetising than hers (even when it's the exact same food). It's not unknown that we pretend to take spoonfuls from our own plates to give her so she'll eat it.

I also think it's best for her to eat the same range of foods as we do, and not to restrict types of food from her (as long as it's reasonably healthy). This has resulted in a couple of interesting situations – some tears over chorizo, when she realised she didn't like it as much as she thought she would when she demanded it; olives all down the front in a similar situation – and some surprising ones (like the time she decided she loved the saffron yoghurt in this recipe!) We try to trust her to work out for herself what works and what doesn't for her. This part's not too hard, fortunately – we save a small amount of our dinner so she can eat it the next night; we go out to eat a reasonable amount and ignore the kid's menu; and, of course, we try to get that time to eat together fairly regularly. It's really nice for all of us (in fact, it was one of the things I listed as needing more of in 2018 to keep me happy) and I'm grateful that it works well for us now.

How about you? Do you eat as a family, or do the children eat separately? Are weekends treated differently from weekends? Is it important enough to you that you compromise on things like your preferred dinner time to make it happen, or would you rather wait until your children are older and have a later bedtime?

A weekend of eating

 A rainbow of carrots. Image:  Food52/Instagram

A rainbow of carrots. Image: Food52/Instagram

What are your plans for the weekend? We're in the city this weekend and I'm hoping to go check out the Parnell Farmer's Market. I've been to La Cigale so many times but I didn't know about this alternative until recently – it's at the other end of Parnell and looks to be more produce-focused. I'm always looking a great farmer's market in the city and I'm hoping for good things, this being one of the few things that I just haven't been able to recreate from my New York life (until now, maybe?!)

I'm also brunching with some friends at this charitable café. Again, I've never been there before, and it's just down the road from me! Looking forward to it.

Some good reading for your Friday...

It is hot in mostly un-air-conditioned Auckland right now, and some office workers are being driven to desperate measures. Made me giggle.

I just love Ottolenghi, and these summer recipes look amazing.

Cape Town is about to run out of water. Such a bizarre and scary story.

Minimalism is great and all, but I do believe everyone should own at least one ridiculous thing that they don't regret buying.

I bought this incredible book last year but just loaned it to a friend and it reminded me all over again how great it is.

If you're in Auckland, have you been down to Silo Park this summer? It's such a nice chilled place, especially for being in the middle of the city. This car boot sale of the future looks fun.

Have a lovely weekend!

A few good things

A recurring cold is trying to take me down but I WILL NOT allow it. Except for Friday and Saturday that is, when I spent most of my time cuddled up under a blanket on the sofa, sleeping. I hate being unwell so much but clearly I needed to give in and stop fighting. Napping is very unusual for me, so when I just fall asleep like that something is wrong. There have been some good times though. It's not all doom and gloom. It never is! Hope you've all enjoyed a more successful weekend than I have and have been celebrating a few good things of your own. Happy Monday! 

 Felt much better Sunday and escaped to the beach for a walk with my lovely little family. It was gorgeous out! Midwinter sun is such a treat.

Felt much better Sunday and escaped to the beach for a walk with my lovely little family. It was gorgeous out! Midwinter sun is such a treat.

 Auckland from on high. Cranes cranes cranes, as far as the eye can see.

Auckland from on high. Cranes cranes cranes, as far as the eye can see.

 A bit of contrast – the city from down low. Amelie loved watching this bird from the safety of her makeshift picnic blanket.

A bit of contrast – the city from down low. Amelie loved watching this bird from the safety of her makeshift picnic blanket.