There's a condition affecting quite a few of us, a result of being isolated for seven — or is it eight? — weeks now: I'm calling it "cooking fatigue," a result of being mostly responsible for three meals a day as well as home-schooling children, doing your own work, playing games, walking the dog, and whatever else you are called upon to do.
Suddenly, it's time to fix dinner. Again. Though the meals may be simple, the act of planning and doing it is getting to a lot of us. I love preparing, cooking and eating food, and I'm still familiar with this affliction — I've felt it, and I don't even have a family or a dog to look after.
The cure? Keep cooking, only with modifications.
Shari Mukherjee, a recent finalist on Gordon Ramsay's "MasterChef" show, has two young children and offered some valuable advice.
"Give yourself a little grace. Simple and easy are OK. In fact, I opened a can of green beans the other day, and that was the boys' lunch. I didn't feel guilty about it for a second," she said.
She also looks for shortcuts.
"When I'm making rice in my rice cooker, I put the rice and water in, but then place a steamer basket on top with six or more eggs in it, add the cover and let everything cook. When it's done, I have rice for dinner and likely leftovers for another meal, plus hard-boiled eggs for breakfast," she said.
"With everything going on in our lives right now, it's OK not to love cooking," she said.
She also warns about burnout.
"You need to take care of yourself, or it may show up in what you cook," she said.
She shares recipes on spicedupmom.com.
If you feel you're in a recipe rut, this is also a good time to pull out a long-forgotten cookbook and see what strikes you. Or try cooking or baking something outrageous, just because. I'm thinking croissants from scratch, or puff pastry. Any vegetable recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi will likely be new to you, as well as delicious, and doable. Or go ethnic with a curry, a Greek moussaka or an Asian grain bowl.
Amy Lorber, co-owner with her mother of Figure and Gardenaire products, came across a monkey-bread recipe she hadn't made in decades.
"It was like being with an old friend," he said.
She also suggests mixing things up at mealtimes, like dinner for breakfast, or vice versa, or a meal of small bites and snacks. Spices and herbs are also good ways to give ordinary foods more distinctive flavors. Figue also has a recipe club where members receive recipes and tips once a month. For more information, visit figuemn.com.
Then there are those like Allie Good, whose energy and creativity are fueled in the kitchen by whatever ingredients she has on hand. No cooking fatigue for her. Leftovers turn into gourmet fare, and with her core ingredients of parsley, cilantro, cabbage and red onion, you can only guess where they may turn up — a chopped salad? A stir-fry? She also says she hardly ever uses a recipe. Were we all so creative.
If you're looking to get re-inspired, there are online cooking classes on YouTube, a treasure trove of classes led by by Gordon Ramsay, Tyler Florence, Jamie Oliver and others. There are also "MasterChef" cooking schools, which charge varying fees. Look for Allrecipes Cooking School, America's Test Kitchen Online Cooking School, as well as those headed by Thomas Keller and Wolfgang Puck.
What's also interesting is a phenomenon from years back: the recipe-exchange chain letter, now online and called the Quarantine Recipe Exchange. Several versions are making the rounds, and I was invited to three in as many days. Something like that could also get you inspired and re-energized. So for now, pour yourself a glass of wine and start in. It's almost time for dinner.
Shari's Easy Banana Bread
3 medium ripe bananas, smashed
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon raw sugar crystals (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prep a loaf pan (or muffin tin) by spraying with nonstick spray, buttering or using parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine melted butter and smashed bananas. Using a wooden spoon or whisk, mix well until there are minimal lumps — it should be fairly smooth. Add the egg and stir to combine (some small lumps are OK). Add the sugar and mix well before adding the flour, baking soda and salt.
Stir until everything is combined, being sure not to over-mix the batter, then stir in any add-ins if using (chocolate chips dried fruits, nuts, etc.) and mix gently until they are incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Top the batter with some raw sugar crystals, if using.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove bread from oven and let cool a few minutes before carefully removing from pan. Cool bread on wire rack for about half-an-hour before slicing into it.
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.