Weekend Reading
December 8, 2019

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

It was a spectacular week of recipe fails around here, which is why I haven’t had anything to post. Not just recipes that needed fine tuning, mind you, but real duds.

It was frustrating. Needless to say, I reacted by bearing down and retesting everything, which only resulted in repeated failures. Finally, I decided to take a real break. I took the end of the week and the weekend off from cooking, assembling simple stuff and focusing on my baking adventures instead.

I’m not unaccustomed to periods of being uninspired in the kitchen. The past few month have been an especially long stretch. I started to feel reluctant about cooking during the end of my clinical internship, and I haven’t quite gotten my energy for it back since passing my exam in September.

It’s not really about effort, since I’ve been baking up a storm and loving that. It’s more about limited creativity and enjoyment. Baking soothes me right now because it allows me to immerse myself in a predetermined process. It’s work, but I don’t have to make decisions as I go. Cooking is intuitive, and for whatever reason, I’m totally out of touch with my culinary intuition at the moment.

I mentioned all of this on Instagram, and I was grateful to get a lot of validating responses. Cooking can be so wonderful and rewarding, but it’s important to talk about the fact that it can be a drag, too. It’s frustrating to put time and effort into preparing a meal from scratch, only to end up with something that you don’t want to eat. Not to mention the regret of having wasted ingredients.

One reader pointed out to me that cooking is often assumed to be intuitive and easeful if you have a knack for it, when it fact it goes through periods of being stagnant and difficult like anything else. I’ve definitely found this to be true, and the stale periods have gotten more pronounced since cooking became part of my job.

If I’ve learned anything through recipe development, it’s that creativity goes through natural phases, and it really can’t be forced. There are lots of things that I can muscle through when I’m unmotivated, but creative work isn’t one of them. So, I’ll allow my mini-pause to last as long as it lasts. I hope you’ll all be OK with more “assemble-and-eat” recipes and baking recipes than usual 🙂

Last week, I wrote about advent as a season of remembering that life exists on a spectrum with both suffering and joy. That lesson was driven home for me, albeit in a small way, with my cooking experiences this week. The struggles, I know, will make way for deeper appreciation once I’ve found my flow in the kitchen again.

Happy Sunday, friends and food lovers. Here are some recipes and reads.


So impressed with the flaky layers in Valerie’s vegan biscuit pot pie!

I love the simplicity and flavors of Lisa’s vegan bombay potatoes.

Red cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables: I love that it’s available nearly all year round, inexpensive, and so nutritious. And this looks like a lovely, fresh winter salad to use it in.

A nutritious recipe for vegan cauliflower steaks with lentils and romesco from my friend Cadry.

Finally, I can’t stop staring at Marly’s spectacular vegan apple pie.


1. An interesting read on the necessity and difficulties of removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

2. I love seeing mainstream coverage of vegan holiday recipe and entertaining ideas.

3. I was concerned to learn this week that work requirements have changed for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes referred to as food stamps) recipients. Hundreds of thousands could lose access to the program.

4. New reporting on how social media use may be associated with disordered eating in young people. Good motivation for those of us who use it in a professional capacity to reflect carefully on the images and words we’re sharing, and I’ve taken it to heart.

5. Via the New York Times, one mother’s process of advocating for an autism diagnosis. I thought it was a touching meditation on the intuition that parents develop about their children and what’s going on with them.

I wish everyone a restful Sunday night. And hopefully this week I’ll have some food to share. Even when cooking is hard, I need to eat, and I’m my best self when I’m eating things that give me pleasure! Till soon.


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  1. I have never thought about recipe development like writing before, but your thoughts on this really hit home. I’ve experienced some great highs in the kitchen, where everything seems to be clicking. It’s wonderful! But there are the lows, as you describe above, where nothing (and I mean nothing) seems to be boring right! I agree with your approach to take a break. I’ve also found just going back to some of my favorite, basic recipes helps. It’s like the famous story of the football coach talking to the team who is not doing well, holding up a football and saying, “this is a ball.” I also love Julia Cameron on writing and she says we must give ourselves permission to write badly. So, maybe our recipe fail periods means we’re giving ourselves permission to cook badly. It’s ok. Ahh, you’ve caused me to think/type out loud because if I sound like I’m being prescriptive, it’s really more self reflective. Thanks so much for an engaging post. I’m certain I’ll be musing on it all day! 🙂

    • Aww, Marly, these are wonderful musings and additions to the conversation. Thank you. I’m glad the post resonated.

  2. It is sad to see the decreased spending on SNAP. I worked briefly at Aldi’s and it was a branch that had a particularly large amount of low income families come in. I would say maybe as many as 40% of people used SNAP, people I worked with used SNAP, and I would say people who were on these programs were not buying just “junk,” not to say this is really an issue (more like a reminder that if fresh healthy food is available low income families will get them)

    Also quick thanks/shout out to the article about picky eaters during the holidays! It can be hard not to judge (oh man, I cry a little seeing how little nieces ate during thanksgiving) but then again my kid ate almost entirely potato chips on thanksgiving and at a party so, who am I to judge? I know that what kids eat at a party isn’t a sign of their overall nutritional intake. They are just able to enjoy the other activities and company more than adults, I would say.

  3. Thank you for sharing my red cabbage salad. You’ll be pleased to know that the recipe came about somewhat accidentally after a failed attempt at a more savory dressing that I couldn’t use. The route to success in the kitchen is a process not an end point. What I like about your process is that you clearly have standards that you aim for. I think that’s what recipe development is all about. Have a great week and thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Sara! That’s very validating, and I appreciate your saying it. And it’s a beautiful salad. I’m excited to try it 🙂

  4. Dear Gena, I’ve been somewhat removed from online activity, due to a little travel at Thanksgiving and then the meltdown of my laptop, which had to go away to be repaired. I’m typing on my old dinosaur which cannot use updated browsers so I’ve often been looking through the old “window” and can’t be as efficiently interactive as I’d like. I’m looking forward to going back and seeing what you have to say about Advent, and I wanted to tell you something that I hope will sweeten your bout of recipe fails. That chocolate pie recipe you posted brought back such delicious good memories for me–both non vegan and vegan. When I was a girl my Dad got me a cookbook called the Mother Daughter Cookbook, and there was a conventional chocolate pie I masted even without my Mom’s assistance. I made that on special occasions all through out my life until I was diagnosed with MS. Some years after that I had a young ativist family stay with me after their house was destroyed by fire and one of them made me a chocolate pie for my birthday very similar to yours, only with a store bought graham cracker crust. Then this past Thanksgiving in Portland Kelly made 3 pies: my began pumpkin pie, a vegan chocolate pie almost Identical to yours and an apple one. So I wanted to thank you for eliciting all those beautiful delicious memories. Your times of “fails” will come and go–it’s good your following the baking muse right now–I have found that to be very stabilizing as well. All these reads look like things I’d like to check out. I, too, was very concerned about the food stamp situation. Anyway, wishing you holiday cheer and ease with all that comes your way this season. Much love–

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