Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking

By the time I moved into my first apartment, I can’t say I was ever really daunted by the prospect of cooking for myself. Armed with a variety of secret family recipes and a natural curiosity to explore more exotic food options, I think I had the right mindset to experiment in the kitchen and to discover new favourites.

At that time, as an entry-level employee, without huge responsibilities on my shoulders, I had free time and headspace to play in my first kitchen. I clipped and collected recipes from newspapers, magazines and even the TV Guide, and I slowly built up a repertoire of favourite recipes.

However, in 2005, developing an intolerance to wheat products was a serious game changer as I pretty much had to toss out my recipe book and start over. Regrettably, switching out regular flour for gluten-free flour was not a recipe for success. It’s not always that simple.

Fortunately, at that point, I still had the energy, time and headspace to “play with my food” to rebuild the repertoire.

However, it was around 2012 that I started to feel a certain ambivalence toward the kitchen. Whether it was the faster pace at the office, my increasing level of responsibility, my increasing level of stress or just an overall fatigue about cooking for myself, my interest in experimenting with recipes was on the decline.

By that time, I had developed a pretty decent repertoire of gluten-free recipes that froze well. That way, I didn’t have to cook for myself (or repeat the same meals) every day. As long as these go-to recipes continued to perform well, I didn’t need to stress myself out in trying new recipes that may or may not work.

During my limited vacation time, after enjoying some time to rest and to decompress, I felt glimmers of interest in putting new recipes to the test. With varying degrees of success, I was able to slowly add to the repertoire.

Dare I say it… when Covid-19 lockdowns threw everything in disarray and we were urged to minimize trips to the grocery store to once per week, my ambivalence toward cooking turned to downright dislike. How was I supposed to know what I wanted to cook five, six or seven days in the future? The planning required to make sure I wasn’t missing key ingredients, and the coordination needed to ensure the ingredients remained fresh until they were used was a growing source of irritation.

As much as I frequently counted my blessings that I did not experience worry over where the next meal was coming from, the constant thinking about healthy meal planning EVERY DAY (with no break, since many options for take-out and restaurant food were unavailable) was not a source of inspiration nor enjoyment. I swear, I will never take restaurants for granted ever again!

But those glimmers of inspiration for trying recipes are back, thanks to retirement. In some ways, you might say that during the years I was on auto-pilot with my trusted go-to recipes, I had accumulated a bucket list of recipes that I wanted to try.

First on the list was gluten-free pie crust. As I described in my post, “Overcoming my Fear of Pie Crust”, I seem to have nailed it thanks to the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. Over my series of tests, I successfully made tourtière, chicken pot pie, steak and mushroom pie, as well as apple and pumpkin pies.

Achieving a flaky gluten-free pie crust was a major win to quickly expand the repertoire into many varieties of sweet and savoury pies.

With the success and confidence that came from the pie crust, I decided to try my hand at making America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for gluten-free pizza crust. Not only was this the first time in years that I was working with yeast, but it was also my first ever time using my partner’s stand mixer. (Yes, I just fell off the turnip truck… I had never used one before. What a revelation!)

The pizza recipe worked very well and found itself added to the repertoire after one try.

With the success of the pizza crust, came a renewed interest in checking out other recipes involving yeast or the stand mixer. I could feel the creative juices in the kitchen flowing again, like it did so many years ago.

One of the big benefits of rural life is the number of farmers’ markets that surround us, offering fresh and local fruit and vegetables. This was a source of inspiration that lent itself to a renewed interest in trying recipes to best leverage our friendly farmers’ seasonal bounty. New favourites that were added to my recipe collection included a rustic leek and potato soup and ratatouille.

Five years ago, when I wrote the blog post “Top 10 Plans for My Retirement ‘Gap Year’” I already knew that cooking and baking would be one of the things I wanted to do in retirement as they placed #5 on my list.

Now, with free time, free headspace and renewed energy, I find myself really enjoying working with food again. The fact that I don’t feel as pressed for time as I did when I was working, definitely restored the fun factor.

I now have a renewed sense of curiosity in looking for recipes my partner and I might both enjoy, sourcing the ingredients locally, whenever possible, and setting aside the time to truly get a feel for how the ingredients react throughout their preparation. Both, the process and the result, are to me part of life’s simple pleasures.

I have no plans on pursuing cooking or baking full-time in retirement. It’s just a hobby that I enjoy, that serves as another creative outlet and an artistic pursuit, when I am not deeply in the zone of a writing project.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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