How to Love & Enjoy Cooking

by heather

Photo courtesy La tartine gourmande

Photo courtesy La tartine gourmande

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: you’ve worked all day and just walked in the door. You’re tired, and you’ve love nothing more than to collapse on the couch for an hour with a glass of wine and just chill.

But, you’re hungry. Which means you’ve got to drag yourself into the kitchen and actually cook something. This requires finding a recipe, assembling the ingredients (if you have all of them on-hand), prep time, and then cook time.

Gack.

What do you do? You drag yourself out the door and hit Wendy’s/Jimmy Johns/Taco Bell to save yourself the trouble. Which means you’ve spent money on something that’s completely unhealthy.

Is your hand raised? Mine sure is. I can’t tell you how many meals I’ve eaten standing up, in my kitchen, eating odds and ends (like olives, leftover noodles, and cheese) simply because I couldn’t muster up the panache to cook something I actually wanted.

So why the heck am I writing an article about how to love cooking? Because I’ve been experiencing a change of heart lately.  And I realized last night that I’ve taken a few subconscious actions that have led to this change of heart.

And there it was: a blog post was born.

How To Love Cooking

So what have I been doing lately to put cooking in a new light?

Image courtesy of seller "stilettoheights" on Etsy.com

Image courtesy of seller "stilettoheights" on Etsy.com

1. Make your kitchen a place you want to be.

Over the past few months I’ve made some changes to my kitchen. The first thing I did was paint it a very cheerful, bright orange.

This might not sound like it’d do anything for my cooking, but the truth is that it did. I really like being in my kitchen now. That orange just brightens up my day.

You know what else I did? I bought some really cool artwork off of Etsy, and hung it right where I do most of my chopping.  An example of the art I bought is on the right, from StilettoHeights. For $18 I got two completely unique prints.

I also hung up a ton of pictures from our Barcelona trip on another wall.

These small changes (the color, the artwork, and the pictures) have completely changed the personality of my kitchen. I used to see this space as a place to do stuff I wasn’t crazy about doing. Now, it’s turning into a room of mystery and character. It’s a room I really love hanging out in.

The Lesson: If your kitchen is actually a place where you like spending time, then you’re more apt to want to go in there to cook something.

To Do: If you’re not crazy about your kitchen, then find out why. Do you hate the paint? Is it too dark? Is it lacking some character?

Make some effort to turn your kitchen into a place where you really feel comfortable. If you want to hang up some crazy artwork, do it! Etsy.com is a wonderful place to find some really amazing artwork for bargain prices. And, you can feel good about supporting artists directly.

Add light. Add plants. Add color. Add some of yourself. And I guarantee you’ll be drawn to this room more than you were before.

2. Clear some space.

You might be surprised to find out I used to be a professional organizer. And you know what? Hands down, kitchens were always the most cluttered rooms in the house.

So who were the culprits?

Pampered Chef tools. The Magic Bullet. The Williams-Sonoma avocado slicer. The Black and Decker chicken rotisserie. The Kitchen Aid monster mixer. The towering pile of plastic and paper shopping bags.

You know what I’m talking about here. Many people have their kitchens stuffed with more appliances and cooking tools than they know what to do with. These appliances take up a ton of space, and probably only get used a few times per year, if that.

As a result, a lot of clutter ends up on the counters because there’s simply nowhere else for it to go. And, this can make cooking a stressful and frustrating experience.

I’ve been going through my own kitchen the past few months, donating and organizing, and I now have a lot more space than I used to. And you know what? I haven’t yet missed anything I’ve gotten rid of, and my kitchen feels much more open and inviting.

The Lesson: The less cluttered and more organized your kitchen is, the more you’re going to want to go in there to cook and have fun.

To Do: If your kitchen is overflowing with plastic bags, old appliances, faded Tupperware, and defunct Magic Bullet accessories, then it might be time to go an organizing binge. Donate whatever you can that still works, and find a local recycling facility (use Earth911.com) for everything that’s broken.

Photo courtesy Erika Rudolph

Photo courtesy Erika Rudolph

3. Cook to music.

I find that if I’m listening to music that I really love when I’m cooking, it’s much more enjoyable. I have a funky old radio that stays in there, but I also have a little boombox for my iPod that I bring in when I’m cooking.

And you know what?

I have a blast.

Lesson: Music makes anything funner.

To Do: Find a way to get music into your kitchen. Whether you click on NPR to catch up on the news or jam out to Elton John, cooking is more enjoyable when you’ve got something to listen to.

4. Change your mindset.

My biggest hangup with cooking was my mindset. I always approached cooking as the necessary evil I had to go through in order to get the prize (ie: something tasty).

But, cooking is an experience. Every step, from measuring out flour to pulling cupcakes out of the oven, is something I should pay attention to and enjoy. If I can have the mindset that cooking is just as relaxing as other things I enjoy, like running or gardening, then I can fully put myself into the experience.

The Lesson: If you can look at cooking as a journey, not a destination, you might find you enjoy the process more.

To Do: The next meal you cook, really pay attention to what you’re doing. Don’t look at those vegetables that need chopping as just something you’ve got to get done before you can proceed to step two. Really focus on chopping them up. Relax while you’re doing it. Let your mind wander and daydream.

I’m here to tell you cooking really can be relaxing. But, it takes the right mindset. I’m still working on this myself, but it’s getting easier!

5. Don’t forget the wine…

Cooking is way, way more enjoyable if I’ve got a glass of wine in my hand. Yes, I buy the cheap stuff (eco-friendly Corbet Canyon: it’s tasty, frugal, and every part of the box and bladder can be recycled…), it’s a great way to relax as I get going.

Lesson: Wine or other drinks can be a great addition to the cooking process. After all, even cleaning toilets would be enjoyable after a couple of glasses…

To Do: Buy a bottle or box of wine for your next meal. But, don’t save it for the meal itself. Celebrate the act of cooking with a glass while you cook.

6. Experiment!

I’ve been getting bolder in the kitchen. Sometimes my experiments turn out great. Sometimes, they bomb (like the vegetarian crock pot stew I made last week. I was going to write a whole post about that frugal recipe if it turned out. But, it didn’t turn out…we ended up eating pizza…)

The point here is that I’ve learned to let go of the expectation that each meal needs to be perfect. And letting that go has been really liberating. I’ve been trying more recipes as a result because I’m not afraid to try them. Cooking has actually gotten a bit, dare I say it, fun.

I’m still not into long, drawn out recipes. I don’t know if I’ll ever be. But I have gotten a bit more adventurous.

Lesson: You don’t have to perfect, can you believe it? Every meal isn’t going to turn out with Martha Stewart perfection. I know, I was shocked too.

To Do: Embrace the inherent fun of cooking. Experiment with different styles and flavors. For instance, A and I made tapas for the first time on Halloween. Did we know what we were doing? Not really. But they turned out really great! And we had just as much fun making them as we did eating them.

Last Word…

You don’t need me to tell you that cooking at home saves far more money than going out to eat. I’ve had my digressions, but I really am trying to cook at home more lately. I need to save that money, and it really is healthier. But, I think I’m doing good so far!

How about you? Do you have any tips to help me and other readers enjoy the cooking process? Any tips you have to keep yourself motivated? Please share!

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November 9, 2009 at 9:05 am

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AJ in AZ November 3, 2009 at 1:23 pm

My husband and I sit down every Sunday night, no matter what, and make a menu for the following week. It doesn’t have to be fancy, nor do you have to adhere to it exactly, but it ensures that you buy the ingredients for the meals you want to have, AND saves you from having to think of something to cook when you come home tired. If you already know what you are going to have, and that you do have the ingredients, cooking it goes back to being a pleasurable thing to do.
We have been doing this for almost 30 years now, and it works. We eat out maybe 4 or 5 times a year, and we don’t feel deprived, either.

Allison November 3, 2009 at 4:15 pm

I would pretty much echo what you’ve already written. I used to have so much more cookware and tons of gadgets compared with what I have now. However, I am a much better cook now that I have a better understanding of technique. A few quality pieces go a long ways. Most gadgets do not make you a good cook. I actually find standing at my old wooden cutting board chopping vegetables with my trusty knife to be meditative at times and prefer this to the latest chopping gadget that’s available.

While I miss the bright red walls of my previous kitchen, I have added a couple of pieces of colorful artwork to my current space and have a bright rug. Like you, I usually have music playing and a glass of wine close at hand. I also have about 50 cookbooks that I use to motivate myself to be more experimental. This year I have challenged myself to cook one new recipe per week and I’ve been doing pretty well. I’ve found a bunch of great new recipes (and yes, a few duds too). This also helps in learning to be more improvisational. If I find that I really don’t like a cookbook after making a few recipes, I give it to a friend or put it in my library donation pile.

I also try new ingredients that I find at my local farmer’s market, which keeps things interesting. New recipes and new ingredients don’t also work well, but I feel like I learn something from my failures and I rarely end up with something completely inedible so I am not being wasteful. Sure there are nights when I whip up an old standby or get takeout, but I have come to really enjoy most of time in the kitchen.

heather November 4, 2009 at 7:19 am

@AJ- Planning ahead is something I still struggle with, and it’s probably my biggest hurdle right now. Some weeks I do better than others! But I really do need to pre-plan my meals on a consistent basis. 🙂

@Allison- I second you on using the Farmer’s Market. Mine just closed for the winter last weekend, and I’m so sad! I’ve really loved going there to buy everything from leeks to eggplant, and the sheer variety of cheap, fresh produce really helped me expand my cooking skills this summer and fall. Now I guess I’ll have to get inventive at my local grocery store.

shar November 4, 2009 at 10:51 am

I hate to cook but am trying to do it more, and I really liked all your ideas…thanks for sharing

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