Usually, I love to cook, and my kitchen is something of a refuge. I used to find similar moments of peace in the bathroom, but I don't think I'm alone in finding that 'personal' hygiene moments are now rare. The toddler bursts into the shower room every morning, often with my knickers on her head, sometimes with maracas, and this week with a grandparent in tow. It's very relaxing.
So, the kitchen is my haven. Apparently I am a touch 'territorial' there; not quite to the point of urinating around the threshold, but the way my pelvic floor is heading this may change soon.
But recently, at the mercy of pregnancy cravings and energy slumps, cooking has felt like a chore. My plans for dinner frequently lose momentum throughout the day, before morphing into 'something on toast'.
Food is important to me: I'm obsessive about ingredients and believe that good food nourishes mind, body and soul. I also believe that cooking for loved ones can be an act of love in itself. But I'm not sure that my husband would see last night's offering of beans on toast as symbolic of our great affection.
I'm keen to get back in the foodie zone and do some cooking whilst I have at least one hand free. At this stage of my first pregnancy the freezer was stocked with several month's worth of meals. It currently houses two slices of bread and half a tub of lemon sorbet, which I am prepared to fight for.
So, I decide to try applying some mindfulness to my cooking. With a new baby arriving any day, fitting in relaxation time is going to be even trickier. But being focused and present during everyday activities might bring a few extra moments of calm to the day. It might also stop me burning stuff.
So here's how I plan to try Mindful Cooking:
- Look at ingredients, their colours and textures, with fresh eyes.
- Consider where they originated from, how they grew or were produced and their journey to my kitchen.
- Tune into the changing smells and sizzles. Notice how they trigger changes in my body. Do they make my mouth water, or stomach rumble?
- Notice my mental and physical reactions to cooking. Is it bringing pleasure or satisfaction, or is it a little stressful?
- Try and stay focused on the experience of preparing food. When my mind skips off, be aware and guide it back to the pans.
- Try not to think of cooking as a chore, but as a way of nurturing myself and my family.
It does not start well. Being mindful in the kitchen with a two-year-old sous chef is not easy. I'm watching the pasta bubble away and contemplating a courgette, when the toddler tornado approaches and demands to help with the cooking. She believes that stopping by to stir whatever's on the hob constitutes cooking; a mind-set I suspect she inherited from her father.
Soon, the kitchen is chaos and I'm in crisis management mode. I realise that cooking is a microcosm of my life in general; continually planning the next step, inept multi-tasking and a large dose of 'winging it'.
After a week, aside from a vaguely meditative moment making some crumble topping for a family gathering, I realise I haven't prepared a single meal mindfully. I delay this post, and try again for another week.
It's a toughie. In the kitchen I am rarely just cooking. There is usually also some tidying, cleaning, laundry and conversation also taking place. And often a toddler driving a plastic car into my legs.
But slowly slowly, I notice a slight shift. The main thing is a change in perspective, as I begin to view cooking as a chance to nourish our growing family, rather than a chore at the end of a long day. This prompts me to order a few new cookery books, and plan to try out one new recipe a week.
Secondly, I start to appreciate the alchemy of cooking and to enjoy the sensory experience it offers. Not all the time, but certainly more than before. Most importantly I feel some of my old excitement about food return. And the freezer is full.
A word of caution: preparing food mindfully offers no guarantee that it will be consumed in the same way. Or, indeed, at all (Toddler - I'm looking at you, kid).
Finally, here are a few sources of recipe inspiration that helped to reignite my love of cooking:
Vegan, but easily adapted for meat eaters. I've had 100% success rate so far with these recipes, and all were toddler and husband approved.
Very family-friendly (great weaning ideas), simple, ingredient-focused recipes, and I enjoy Sara Forte's soothing writing style.
Simple, imaginative and tasty ideas for cooking for (and with) young kids, as well as the family as a whole. And some very clever veggie hiding...
Fresh flavours, great combos and a really easy site to navigate (you can filter by season/ingredient/diet/meal). And there's a book just out.
Super reliable recipes, lots of kid-friendly options, and foolproof instructions. I love the white bean guacamole and umami sun-dried tomato and almond burgers.
Drop me a line with any other recommendations!
This post originally appeared on 52 pauses, a weekly blog about mindful living and positive parenting.