Monday, December 04, 2006

Dry Spell

I seem to be experiencing a food dry spell. It’s kind of like being frigid or impotent, only the problem isn’t sexual, it’s culinary. I go through periods when I just can’t think of anything good to eat. This can last months (as it has in this case). I mentally run through everything I can think of to eat—both “good” things and just plain crap—and none of it appeals. That’s not to say I stop eating during these periods, I just feel like there’s an empty space in me that’s not being filled. I’m taking in nourishment, but it’s not nourishing my spirit. Whenever this happens, I’m always reminded of the scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Cameron is lying in bed, taking his blood pressure readings and his temperature, and Ferris calls him up to come over and play hooky. Cameron refuses on the grounds that he’s too sick, hangs up the phone, and mutters to himself “I’m dying.” The phone immediately rings, and it’s Ferris, who says “You’re not dying; you just can’t think of anything good to do.”

Often my attempt to shake myself out of these episodes involves the purchase of cookbooks. I’ve tried that this time, and it doesn’t seem to be working (eight really huge cookbooks later). My hope is that something in these cookbooks will appeal to me and send me to the kitchen newly inspired. I see lots of things I’d like to make, but so far nothing has grabbed me in quite the right way. I’m going to have to stop buying cookbooks, though, because I don’t have room for any more.

Sometimes I wind up eating out. This used to happen a lot when we were first married. I’d plan menus for several months running, and then my creativity would just dry up. No matter how many books, magazines, or websites I turned to for inspiration, I just couldn’t get into the groove. So we’d find ourselves eating in restaurants instead. Not always fast food, and not always high end fancy places either—usually a local Thai or Indian place, but we always ordered fattening things, and then were left with nothing to take for lunch the next day, so we’d have to have lunch out too. Now that we have four kids, this solution isn’t practical, either from a financial or a schedule standpoint. All of our kids go to bed fairly early, so by the time we finish work and pick them up at daycare, we would have about 20 minutes to get them to a restaurant, get them fed, and get them home and in bed before the meltdowns started.

Another technique that I’ve employed in the past is to buy a whole bunch of specialty ingredients, in the hopes that they will inspire me. Sometimes it’s a nationality that takes my fancy—Asian, Latin American—and other times it’s produce or meats. I’ll buy winter squashes or a pork roast with the idea that I’m going to make squash soup or puree, or slow cook the roast and make pulled pork sandwiches. Most of the time I don’t use any of the ingredients. They sit on my shelves and collect a lush coat of dust, or the produce rots in the vegetable drawer and gets thrown out.

I think my current (quite lengthy) rough patch is caused in part by the kitchen I have. We’re living in a rented house, and the kitchen is just not mine. There’s too much about it I don’t like. It lacks atmosphere; I don’t like to be in it. It’s got brown everything, and the layout is too wide open. The stove, sink and refrigerator are clumped in one corner of the room, and the rest of the space is taken up with counters that are practically unusable because of the positioning of various cabinets. The distance between a useful countertop and the stove is around 8 feet. The execution of any recipe involves walking at least a quarter of a mile, by a conservative estimate. We’re building a house of our own, which will have a kitchen I do like, but that’s a ways down the road. I never realized until we moved into this house just how much influence a kitchen can have on one’s willingness to cook.

I think it’s less décor than it is layout. Many years ago, when I first started cooking, I lived in a house with a similarly hideously brown kitchen, but the layout was good. I wonder, though, if the fact that I was new to cooking and therefore excited about it had anything to do with that willingness to cook in that ugly kitchen so long ago. Would I, given the same kitchen today, be as enthusiastic as I was when it was all new? Or would I feel as I do now, that there’s lots of good stuff to make, but I just can’t find the motivation to spend time in that horrible space?

I keep trying to think of all the things I cooked in my old kitchen, but I can’t remember much of anything except a casserole that’s an old stand-by that I’ve made here (it turned out fine, but didn’t work to break my funk), and some mushroom crepes that made my husband very sick, and so are right out. But I’ll keep working on it. It’s very hard to be food obsessed and feel like you’re culinarily frigid.

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