Weekend Reading
February 19, 2023

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I don’t always enjoy cooking. Sometimes—and these times can last for weeks or even months—I really dread it.

I remember saying this to a good friend who’s an accomplished cookbook author and used to work in kitchens. She could sympathize, but she told me that she never really cringes at the thought of preparing dinner in the same way that I do.

I’ve spent weekends at her home, with her family, and I’ve seen this to be true. When dinnertime comes, she just gets to work, seemingly unperturbed as she peers into the fridge and figures out what to make.

She doesn’t make a big show of her cooking; she’s not enthusiastic about it in an over-the-top way. Yet she goes about doing it with an apparent ease, as if it’s just the thing one does when it’s time to eat.

If only!

When I’m in one of my “I-don’t-want-to-cook” phases, I’ll greet even simple cooking with resistance that’s totally out of proportion with what’s being asked of me. My avoidance and irritability consume a lot more of my energy than the actual cooking does.

Even when I’m in a good place with cooking—which is to say, motivated and calm—I find cooking to be difficult.

I was delighted when I listened to a New Yorker Radio Hour with Ina Garten yesterday morning.

During the interview, which aired in December, David Remnick makes the assumption that Garten likes cooking with people around.

As a matter of fact, she doesn’t. Garten states,

I prefer to cook by myself . . . Cooking’s hard for me. I do it a lot, but it’s really hard. I just love having the space to concentrate on what I’m doing, so I make sure it comes out well. Cooking’s hard . . . You have no idea what you’re going to get. Just the simplest thing as chicken can be complicated. I do find it hard. I’m not confident that it’s going to come out well, and I have to say, [laughs] I’m surprised when it does.

Same, I thought when I heard this. Same.

There isn’t much that gives me more happiness than to cook for, and share food with, people I love. But I’m much happier when I can do the cooking solo, then share the finished dish.

It’s no surprise that I’m as passionate as I am about meal prep.

I like cooking on my own for the same reasons Ina does: I want some space in which to focus on what I’m doing.

I’m a deliberate cook, both by nature and because of cookbook writing. I like to have a plan, a recipe to follow, and I often scribble down notes as I go—not when I make old recipes, but certainly when I create new ones.

I’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that a lot of what I make won’t turn out the way I want it to, but I’m particular about food, and I want it to be good. I always cook with the hope of creating something that I’ll love and want to eat again.

I sometimes have the impression, whether it’s accurate or not, that a lot of people who create recipes do so because cooking comes easily to them. They seem to take pleasure in it; many food writers say that it’s their creative outlet, and others state that it’s their favorite way to relax.

Taking a night off from cooking is how I relax.

Cookbook authors often reminisce about learning to cook alongside a parent or grandparent. Many went to culinary school at some point.

None of this is true of me. I didn’t grow up cooking. Baking was something I enjoyed, but it was mostly confined to the holidays.

Thanks to an eating disorder that lasted for longer than a decade, I didn’t start cooking until my mid-twenties.  And I learned to cook as I was becoming vegan, which meant that I was starting from scratch with a new eating style.

I’ve learned to cook well, but it certainly doesn’t come easily to me.

This is why I loved the podcast. Here’s Ina Garten, beloved by so many home cooks, including me. She’s the author of more books than I can name, and she’s saying that she finds cooking really hard—hard enough that she prefers to do it with undivided attention.

I often tell my nutrition clients that there’s a key to every locked door.

If you get overwhelmed with meal planning, we’ll find a system that’s simple enough to stick.

If you hate to cook, we’ll chat about assembling wholesome meals with store-bought products.

If you hate grocery shopping, we’ll find the best online retailer for your needs.

If you’re a picky eater or have food allergies, we’ll find workarounds; if you have to make big changes to your diet because of a health diagnosis, we’ll find recipes that make the shift feel rewarding, rather than onerous.

As someone who values cooking tremendously but doesn’t enjoy it all the time, my “key” has been meal prep. (I go into a lot more detail about my love/hate relationship with cooking in the front matter of The Vegan Week.)

After listening to the interview, I realized that there’s another key, which is for me to free myself of the expectation that I ought to be able to cook with ease.

If Ina Garten can keep cooking in spite of the fact that she finds it hard, then I certainly can, too.

Speaking of all this, I happen to be entering a “freezer week”—i.e., I have so many leftovers in the freezer that need to be eaten that I won’t have to cook at all.

I couldn’t be happier about it.

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

Recipes

I don’t do nearly enough things with artichokes. Brita’s recipe for artichokes Constantinople is so intriguing!

Megan’s vegan gnocchi with tomato cream sauce is exactly the comfort food I need on a chilly February weekend.

It’s a great time of year for warm salads, and I’ve been curious about trying a grilled romaine dish. Amanda’s how-to post is full of good tips, and I want to make her simple salad with my vegan cashew parmesan cheese.

Isabel’s cauliflower tacos look so awesome.

I’m never opposed to having dessert leftovers in my freezer, but sometimes it’s nice to make a single serve dessert when you live solo. Lindsay’s vegan mug brownie looks perfect.

Reads

1. I tend to be a real nag with my clients about protein, but I’m especially nagging with my senior clients. There are numerous reasons why older adults have higher protein requirements, and this article gives a really good overview.

2. The opposite of schadenfreude, apparently, is “freudenfreude,” or taking pleasure in other people’s successes. I loved this New York Times article about it.

3. We’ve had a taste of “weather whiplash” in New York City this winter, but nothing like what’s described in this sobering article.

4. We’re just getting a glimpse into the lives of children of the Ice Age. I found this essay fascinating and very touching.

5. I started to cry when I learned that Flamingo, a pigeon who was found dyed bright pink and released into the wild in NYC, last Saturday, had died.

There are so many animal tragedies occurring around us all the time; my reactions to them can vary, and for whatever reason, this one brought a huge amount of sadness. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to mention it here in Weekend Reading, and I didn’t last weekend.

Today, I’d like to link to a a Smithsonian article about the bird, both to foster awareness and also because I sometimes push my sadness about animal tragedies away. I do this so as not to feel overwhelmed, but it’s important for me to stay connected to the grief; it encourages me to lean toward kindness and compassion as often as I can.

If your Sunday involves some cooking, I hope you’ll be glad for the fruits of your labor—no matter how you feel about the cooking 😉

Have a nourishing day.

xo

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    3 Comments
  1. Gena,

    I read your Weekend Reading posts faithfully but rarely comment. Today I was moved to do so in response to your remarks about Flamingo. I closely identify with your sentiments around animal tragedies. Like you, I frequently find myself pushing away my feelings of deep grief around the cruel mistreatment of animals in our world; to allow them in, it feels like, would have me in despair constantly, and profound guilt over being human and knowing it’s our species that has created and perpetuated the conditions that keep animals at our selfish mercy. But, also like you, being able to connect to that grief from time to time feels healthy even though painful. I was also in tears after reading about Flamingo, who seems to have been treated as though his only purpose in life was to serve some selfish human whim.

    I also skimmed the article you linked about protein consumption in older adults. I have very limited mobility and am therefore unable to do any weight-bearing exercise. Although I’m only 41 now, I have great anxiety about what life will look like for me as I age, knowing how highly recommended physical activity is for the maintenance of physical and mental health into older adulthood. I was disheartened to read in the article that increasing protein intake without pairing it with regular exercise is unlikely to result in improved muscle retention. I could up my protein intake, but I have very limited control over the rest.

    Thanks as always for the recipes and reads.

    • Gena,

      Thank you for sharing about Flamingo. I was also saddened by the mistreatment of this innocent baby! Alanna, please know I am holding space for your fears and in fact share them as my own. I am 52, have limited mobility and osteoporosis. Consuming protein and building muscle is challenging for me as well.

      Monica

      • Monica,

        I was touched by your comment. Thank you for holding space and for writing me to say so. Wishing you well and holding space right back.

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