There have been times when, whether I was making dinner for my family, or preparing for friends to come to a dinner party, I just didn’t “feel” it. I was tired, usually a state I don’t like to admit to, but it happens to everyone. A normal person would just resort to pasta; not me. I would persist with whatever amazing dish I’d decided to make, wrangling it into reality.
Just Add More, And More, And...
Those times were so unfamiliar that when they happened, I didn’t know what to do. So I’d push myself to make something happen and add more. Spices. Honey. Wine. Cream. Onions. I was always determined to make whatever I was doing work, and it would get worse instead of better. It wasn’t spit-it-out awful, it was just not what I wanted to eat or serve.
Sometimes It Escapes Me
It took me years to accept that even though I love cooking more than life itself, sometimes it escapes me. Now, I recognize the moments and do something about it, before I waste a lot of time. Here are my “solutions”:
- Scrap the more involved menu and transform the ingredients into a beautiful composed salad, with olives as an appetizer and fruit for dessert. Super simple; the great products take over for my lack of juice
- Make pasta and serve it with the simplest, best sauce I can think of (one of my favorite: toasted breadcrumbs, olive oil, garlic)
- Go to the freezer and see what’s there; half the time there’s an amazing meal lurking
- Call my friends and see if they can help out by bringing the bread, the cheese, the wine or something. This is a very French thing to do, by the way
- Make a game with the kids by telling them they’re having breakfast for dinner, and serve them soft-boiled eggs with toast OR play that game with yourself and whomever is dining with you.
The Juices Can Disappear for Writing
The same lack of juice can happen with writing. How many times do I come up with the perfect chapter opener or the award-winning sentence, which I note down and proceed to build a piece, a chapter, or a book around. Hours go by as I struggle, writing, reading, re-writing. I duke it out, try to manhandle the words into something I like. Often the result is tepid. Who wants tepid?
Over the years I’ve learned that if I don’t feel it, it isn’t there at this second and I need to do something to make it come. I don’t panic. I don’t reconsider my career and decide to become a neurosurgeon. I realize it just means that right now I’m tired, distracted, I really want to do the laundry or make some cookies or think about something else. So, here are some solutions that work for me to get the juices flowing: They each involve about 25 minutes away from the struggle which, by the way, is much less of a struggle when you return:
- Take a nap (there is no shame and all to gain from this)
- Get up, get out, and move your body. Bicycling is great, walking is too.
- Do yoga
- If you’ve got a pool, jump in. Save the shower for later, though.
- Mix up a batch of cookies. You can bake them later
- Read the poem that grabbed your attention earlier
- Put on the music loud and dance
You will come up with your own solutions. Or use mine!
What follows is a great cookie recipe.
Good luck and Bon Appétit!
A RIFF ON GRANDMOTHER’S GINGER COOKIES
2 cups (280g) all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese
2 teaspoons ground ginger
A pinch of Piment d’Espelette
12 tablespoons (180g) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
¼ cup blackstrap molasses (the only kind easily available in France, and its gorgeous)
1 large egg
1. Sift together all the dry ingredients onto a piece of parchment paper.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
3. Line two baking sheets with parchment (you can use the parchment you sifted the ingredients onto).
4. Mix the butter in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer until it is soft and fluffy, then add the sugar and continue mixing until the batter is light. Mix in the vanilla and the molasses, add the egg, and after scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing until everything is thoroughly combined, slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until they are thoroughly blended into the butter mixture.
5. Wet your hands and roll the dough into rounds the size of a small golfball – about 1 tablespoon of dough and place them on the baking sheet, leaving about ½-inch (1.25cm) between each ball.
6. Bake in the center of the oven until the cookies are puffed and baked all the way through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough.
7. If you don’t eat up all the cookies at once, the others store well in an airtight container for at least a week, and are fabulous dipped into hot coffee or, for the juveniles among you, cold milk!
About 40 cookies