To begin, let’s just say I was getting so bored and tired of cooking in general. It was becoming a chore I would dread in my head daily. I have to imagine, I cannot be the only stay at home mom who tires from just thinking about what in the world am I going to make today?
I’m not your typical stay at home mom, in that at the age of 48 I rolled into becoming a mom after 27 years of working mostly stressful jobs with very little time off or free- kind of like always being on. And before marrying my hubs in 2016, I spent 14 years being single and taking care of just myself drumming to a career-focused beat. Now a part of that for sure included entertaining and loving to cook for whoever would come over, or even cooking at a friend’s house, but there were no rules, and certainly no structure. I cook if I want and when I want. Or maybe I don’t cook at all. My choice. Plus an always super busy work and social schedule lead to a lot of poor eating habits. Breakfast, skip it. Coffee is fine. Lunch, maybe at my desk or maybe not or just grab something quick in between meetings. Dinner? Maybe, but cook it for one only to be stuck with the same dish for days? A few times I’d overload the containers with pasta sauce or soup, but otherwise no thank you. Trader Joes specializes in small meals I could make and not be chained to. A nice charcuterie plate with wine was all good for me. When dating my now hubs we’d go out, sometimes we cook, but no schedule there either. We were both used to independent busy lives for a very long time. We’d rarely sit down for a meal unless it was out. Yeah, binge watching tv and eating on the couch vs. the table was a regular thing. Oh man, but we loved to go out to eat. We’d easily spend hours savoring our meal. Even in the busy Bay Area when they are trying to rush you wherever you dine, we would sit down and state, look we don’t want to be rushed we are going to take our time enjoying our meal together. Ahhhh. I remember those days!
Enter momhood. Cook, cleanup, cook again, cleanup. Repeat. The monotony of cooking was taking the joy of something I really liked to do. I missed the excitement in cooking. Most likely because cooking was on my terms in those pre-mom days. Gosh, I used to spend hours pouring through recipe books looking for just the right combination of dishes for dinner parties, lovingly planning all the details. And when it came time for cooking, taking the best ideas from 3-6 recipes to come up with something I felt a part of, was fun. But with online sources and a shorter timeline, my cookbooks gathered their space on a shelf and just stayed there. My collection of books were also reflective of my travels, so it was always in the back of my head, I should cook that dish from that book from Italy, France, Portugal, etc. But the ease of looking online won. However choosing, which is always my challenge, what to make could often be overwhelming. I’d at least still refer to the cookbooks occasionally.
In all this cooking as a mom, we would dine out of course. So it wasn’t like I have to cook every single meal every day. I did not sign up for that. In fact, I like to orchestrate it to not cook everyday and put concentrated effort into a few dishes and let it ride throughout the week. I find it difficult to serve food that I have not in some way modified or changed, to make it more than what it would be otherwise- just out of the package. Perhaps this is a control issue and slight obsession, that anything I serve at the table has to have some personal touch by me. That’s how it is and how I think. You’ll never come to my house and get frozen pizza that isn’t doctored. Fair to say after SIP I’d have a hard time even serving a frozen pizza given the new pizza dough skill I have recently learned.
In the midst of my boredom when SIP began, I literally thought, oh my gosh, what am I going to do now, I have to cook every meal every day. But I also realized all I have is time now. There’s no rushing from here to there to go somewhere. All I have is time. Which theoretically means I could plan. My planning was just around grocery shopping since we opted for delivery, it took a lot of time to get my list down so reordering was a breeze.
My boredom with cooking is partially because I actually do not like to plan everyday what I’m going to cook. I might change my mind, or not want that, so I don’t like to commit to a long-term or even short-term schedule for food. I confess that’s my biggest dilemma. I really admire those meal planning friends that I have. It’s just not in my DNA to do that. I do however, like to shop in such a way my family can survive in the house eating at least two weeks. Perhaps that’s just in me, from coming from a family of five kids, where there was always just enough. I like surplus. I like to overdo. I always buy or make more than I need and still usually question, is there enough? Since SIP I’ve learned the pantry is my friend. Make sure it’s stocked up. We have more condiments and sauces than I like to admit. But it turns out, all of this is well planned by accident because I was very prepared for SIP without even knowing it. I’ve got immediate backups to everything, including a fridge in the garage that has become a mini grocery store. My husband used to think it was ridiculous how much we had vs. what he sees get used, not so much anymore!
As you know from my posts, I’m a huge fan of helpful appliances that make my lack of planning easier, like the Instant Pot. I still love it, but since SIP I use probably 75% less because I have time to cook without a rush. All I have is time.
Chef Michael Symon (who is proudly from my hometown area of Cleveland, Ohio) started cooking from his home on Facebook live when SIP started and I started watching. Personally I don’t like many cooking shows. I feel like they are super unrealistic and so canned. My kitchen looks nothing like perfection ever when I’m cooking, and neither do I. I have been yearning for a cooking show that speaks to me. And I don’t mean simple. I mean real. After watching Chef Symon’s live from his home 30 minute unedited “show” I was inspired. I really connected with it. I loved the humor, I couldn’t believe the questions he answered with kindness and humility, and found the recipes to be actually practical, but still felt culinary. Consequently, I also realized, I have a lot to learn from him and was very open to improve my skills. I love learning and educating myself, so this was an opportunity for me to do that as well. I was so excited when he “mentioned” my version of his shrimp scampi on Instagram #symondinners. I felt like I was recognized by a rock star. If you haven’t watched @chefsymon Facebook unedited live series, go and watch them. They are all so good and definitely will serve as my reference point for the idea bank. Bravo to the Food Network for showcasing this way of approachable, realistic, live cooking.
So I started pushing myself. To step away from what I was doing to save time, and try new things, even bring back old things. But just do something positive to keep me sane in the kitchen. In our little family, with a toddler, just in the past six months we’ve become more disciplined (I don’t like that word but that’s really what it is) and accountable for structured eating. Because you have to with a child. We sit at the table a long time, mostly I do, with our daughter who is either not interested in eating, wants to do something else or just doesn’t want to sit and eat. It’s a challenge! But we do it because eventually this will feel normal.
With SIP halting all of our activities that normally would push the priority to sit down to dinner nightly, I started to really stick to a window timeframe to eat together. Most of the meals I was making were new dishes, so it changed my attitude towards this forced structure. It became interesting. I also started paying attention more to timing in the day, thanks to napping (our toddler loves to nap), did some of my prepping then, which freed me when our daughter woke from nap, she became more of the assistant in the process instead of getting in the way of what I was trying to quickly put together. I wouldn’t say I planned exactly, but I had a lot of new things to cook and try thanks to Chef Symon’s shows and my slew of cookbooks previously sitting gathering dust on the shelf. I’d start with what I had in stock or check his menus for the week, and make something new. Before SIP I was challenging myself to cook one new thing a week. Since SIP 3 out of 6 things I cook are either new or a new version of something.
Cooking has become much more enjoyable and fun. And I think for sure it has brought my little family together at the table more. That’s a benefit I could never have imagined because of SIP.
If there’s anything I’ve learned at all from SIP is that when you have time, use it wisely to better yourself. Hone a skill. Learn something new. Since SIP I decided we would try to start a garden from those plants we started to grow to teach our daughter. I’ve painted and crafted more than I thought I ever would with our daughter. And I’ve even taken craft classes for just me. Chalk art and drawing, things I’m not great at, became fun challenges to see if I was even be able to do it.
When I first I met this situation with resistance and then resilience, I actually ended up finding more joy for myself than I would have thought possible in a time, when I like everyone else I know is missing the normal.
I ask myself though, how good was that normal for me? And I hear a different answer than I did before SIP became an all too familiar acronym.
So we cook! We try new things. We push ourselves and we learn and grow. Quite possibly this is the most cooking growth I’ve experienced in a long time. And I’m having fun in the kitchen again. The JOY of cooking is back.
Here’s a compilation of the the mostly new dishes I’ve made March 15 – May 17. I’ve blocked out the dishes I didn’t make (for the takeaway I was supporting) for purposes of this post.
What has SIP made you do differently? Anything impact you to drive a change in your behavior?
Please stay safe, healthy and sane.