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I think I've lost my cooking mojo

Help me hounds....please. I love to cook, but life seems to get in the way lately. Single empty nester, I'm spending too many hours at work, have traveled a little bit lately and haven't cooked anything in the last 2 months, at least (and cooking pasta doesn't count). I've done take-out, eaten out, heated frozen items from TJs, and stayed at work (and done take-out there) pretty much since the beginning of April.

My usual cooking routine includes a Saturday morning trip to my local farmer's market for fresh fruit and veggies, then I prep/cook all of my bounty on Sunday night along with some protein (usually chicken or fish) and some starch to go with it. That gives me enough meals for the entire week that I can simply reheat or supplement as needed. A few times I also made a good green salad as I was trying to eat healthier.

I continue to clip and save recipes, prowl the various chowhound boards for food ideas, and kept up my desire to eat well. I just haven't cooked.

I'll go back to the farmer's market this weekend for the first time since the beginning of April and almost fear it. I think I'll be overwhelmed by the new spring produce and buy too much (I have a tendency to do that anyway) but I'm afraid it will go to waste if I don't get up off my butt and cook it.

Has anyone ever lost their cooking mojo and if you did, how did you get it back? How do I get back in the saddle again?

Many, many thanks in advance.

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  1. Naw, you haven't lost it. It's there. It'll come back. You're fine. Don't be guilty.

    For me, reading favorite old cookbooks, or cooking mags, or watching my favorite chefs on TV does it.

    Have you considered throwing a potluck dinner or brunch? You contribute a dish, and your friends bring something too?
    Might be fun.

    1. been there many x's actually. i get my mojo back a few ways.

      i accept dinner invitations and let other people cook for a while.
      i dine out for a bit.
      i head to a farm.
      i eat light for a bit.
      eventually all of these things and the smell of my own kitchen cooking brings me back.
      but i've learned not to force the issue
      when my mojo is absent my talents tend to be too.

      embrace the break.

      4 Replies
      1. re: HillJ

        "when my mojo is absent my talents tend to be too."

        Thanks for this - I never thought about it till now, but I'm the same way. My off weeks are when DH gets to menu plan and cook!

        1. re: truman

          truman, you're fortunate to have a dh that can step in. my man is not home on a similar enough schedule for me to work his mojo into mine :) at least not in the cooking/baking dept!

          but i agree taking time off is good medicine.

          1. re: HillJ

            I too wish DH could step in and take over. I've really taken over the cooking role and his skills never evolved past bachelorhood. I wind up giving him instruction and eh, might as well do it myself!
            He tries, bless his heart.

            1. re: monavano

              I'll tell him you are impressed - but to be honest, his nights/weeks include a lot of burgers, tacos, and spaghetti. :) That's fine with me, as all I have to do is clean up...

      2. Just commit to cooking a limited amount each week. Don't press yourself to get in elbow deep into a complicated recipe. Choose only 2 in season items of produce and walk away!
        I know it's hard. I do the same thing. And I go to way too many markets in season!
        I recently skipped several weekend morning markets. which is our routine. I just got burned out and was doing all my shopping at supermarkets.
        I feel charged up to go to the markets now, what with it getting exciting this time of year.

        1. I took a thai cooking class, which really motivated me. I had not lost my cooking mojo, but it did ramp up how much I cooked. Because it was something different from what I normally cook, it introduced me to all sorts of new ingredients, which motivated "field trips" to stores I never would have known about, and drove me to experiment on what i'd learned. And the class was fun, and connected me to others who like to cook.

          As a caveat, I am fortunate enough to live in an area (SF area) where there is a plethora of cuisine variety. Had I lived in a comparative culinary desert, I would not have gotten as much out of the class, since a big part of the fun is the shopping for ingredients which may be unavailable elsewhere (and on-line shopping is no fun).

          So, just an idea to consider.

          1 Reply
          1. re: MagicMarkR

            A recent trip to H Mart (huge Asian market) got my mojo going again. I went to get ingredients for making Bo Ssam and came away inspired by the ingredients which were new to me.
            I also find inspiration dining out. Two recent restaurant visits had me leaving with a dish in mind to recreate at home.

          2. Thanks for all your responses and encouragement! I've just got to get going and stop making excuses, I think.

            Pinehurst, a potluck is a good idea. I was thinking of doing something when my son comes home for a visit so I might ask for some contributions, which I normally would never do.

            Monavano, I don't really cook anything complicated, I try to keep things simple but a limited amount does make sense. I guess I shouldn't approach it as I did before, 3-4 veggie dishes plus the protein, etc. Maybe just the really in-season veggies instead of those plus what I can always get.

            MagicMarkR-I'm also in the Bay Area (live on the Peninsula and work south of Market) PLUS I work for a catering company. No lack of inspiration on that front but what we serve is pretty much beyond my modest skills and besides, eating our food can actually dampen my appetite. Yesterday I had left over food from a client lunch-roasted chicken with grapes and rosemary, 3 veggies and panna cotta for dessert. Monday's lunch was a thai beef salad. So when I get home, the last thing I want to do is cook or eat anything interesting. I've got a great farmer's market close to home so I've got to get back there.

            Thanks again for the ideas and inspiration, and if anyone else has ideas, please chime in!

            2 Replies
            1. re: alwayshungrygal

              Ah. Then maybe the solution is to find a different job :-)

              1. re: MagicMarkR

                Great idea but I've been here too long to even think about starting over somewhere else. My goal is to retire in about 4-5 years and then volunteer at a food pantry or something like that. Cooking for fun, rather than selling food, would be wonderful and hopefully, much less stressful.

            2. It doesn't matter, provided that there is no ecenomic necessity to cook. If not, cooking should not be a chore but should be undertaken when the spirit moves you. There are many good meals to be had which require no (or very little) cooking.

              1. I'm not sure this is helpful, but when I lose my cooking mojo, I just wait for it to come back, eat simple meals, focus on another interest, or perhaps nothing at all, and it always comes back eventually.

                Sometimes the best thing for fatigue is rest. :)

                3 Replies
                1. re: inaplasticcup

                  It's just good to know you're not alone in losing your mojo now and then. I pride myself on my cooking skills and genuine interest in food and techniques, so when I'm feeling lackluster about it, I want it back, fast!
                  But, you're right. You just have to wait to be moved again.

                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                    Yes, this what works for me. It seems to go and then all of a sudden I have a burst of interest so I just assume it's normal ebb and flow.

                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                      often i find the "finding and trying good restaurants" mojo takes it's place.

                    2. I understand what you're going through. My "funk" has lasted quite awhile this time. I'm just tired of planning meals, grocery shopping, and cooking. I'm tired of picky kids who want good food but don't want to offer ideas or help. Lately, I'm just as happy with a bowl of cereal for dinner. I would love if someone would just take over my kitchen for awhile and I could just show up & eat.

                      On the plus side, it's summer so I can do a little less planning and my husband will eat anything I put in front of him, so that helps. I can shop for a couple days at a time instead of the whole week which lets me be a bit more creative.

                      I know you said you're an empty nester, but I've found that having the kids plan & cook one meal each during the week takes some pressure off me. It's harder during the school year when they are in sports, but I'll take what I can get.

                      Another thing that I do is I cook a number of dishes on the weekends for easy lunches or dinners during the week. It takes up some serious weekend time, but it really does help during the week when I get home & don't want to cook.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: jcattles

                        I too am happy with just cereal, or slapping a pb& j together for dinner, but feel so guilty for DH.

                        1. re: monavano

                          I do feel guilty also so I try to cook even when I don't want to. Some days though, I'm just like he is a grown man, he can cook for himself or grab something out. :)

                          1. re: jcattles

                            Exactly. He survived bachelorhood for a while, so a couple days here and there won't hurt!
                            I think about my own mom and how she cooked dinner the majority of days and I give her such credit for doing it day in and day out, especially after she went back to work FT.

                      2. I'm actually struggling w/ that lately too. My SO has been traveling for work during the week so it's just me, and the weather is heating up and just nothing sounds good, other than junk food. I'm also trying to use up what's in my pantry and freezer to get me through June and that's not helping either because it's a lot of boring stuff that's left.

                        I bought a few new (well used) cookbooks to help me get re-inspired. I have one waiting for me at home to read tonight. I know the COTM in May was helpful to get me going for a bit, but I've fizzled out again.

                        1. I just got my mojo back after about a 6 week hiatus. During that time I still checked out food porn and added new recipes to my files but never really did much with any of it.

                          When I realized my mojo was missing, I started making a weekly list of what sounded good that I might make in the upcoming days. Granted, I rarely got to any of them. I would highlight what I actually made in red each week. Out of maybe 30 things on the list, I would make maybe one or two and often they were just snacks.

                          I would also list what I ate every day. I snapped out of it when I looked back at how little I was eating and how it was entirely lacking in variety. I was basically living on melted cheese on toast, poached eggs and beans, cottage cheese, a salad here and there and pureed vegetable soups if I could even muster that.

                          Once I realized I'd been a complete bore and not very healthy, I told myself "enough".

                          I've promised myself to make at least 4 meals a week that have a bit of variety.

                          So as of this week, I've made a Thai fish curry with lots of veg, homemade black bean burgers with avocado and chipotle aioli, spring pea, mint and feta fritters with a yogurt sauce.

                          Maybe not so exciting but just forcing myself to start again seems to have gotten me out of the rut.

                          An observation that I've made about myself; when I lose my cooking mojo, I also seem to lose a taste for meat at the same time. Weird.

                          1. Thanks again for all the great ideas and general support. It's great to know I'm not the only one who goes thru this.

                            You would think that a full time job dealing with food would help, but, not always. Too much mental and physical energy spent dealing with food issues leaves not much left sometimes, unfortunately. Lately, all of my clients want new and different menus (can't ever repeat last year!), and less money to spend. Very frustrating!

                            Now I'm looking forward to the farmer's market Saturday. I can't wait to see what's there!

                            Thanks everyone!

                            1. Such a compelling appeal! I get it; I'm a single gal so I cook to please myself. And if I don't wanna, which is often, I always have easy stuff on hand, for instance:

                              --baguette slices that I've toasted all at once in the oven with olive oil, s+p. I always have them in a ziploc; they keep forever.

                              --stinky,runny cheese to heat up on my baguette toasts.

                              --grapes or other fruit to have with the cheese and wine

                              --soup that I store in single-serve amounts in the freezer (currently have poblano-spinach-cheese from my last cooking craze), also Trader Joe's tomato-pepper soup in pantry

                              --Bell & Evans chicken tenders in the freezer; good for cooking up, adding to salad

                              --salad stuff, to which can be added kalamata olives, or add veggies from the freezer like peas, TJs roasted corn, etc

                              --farro, which is easy to cook and makes a tasty cold salad when chopped veggies, feta cheese, kalamata olives, minced banana peppers, herbs and vinaigrette are mixed in.

                              --small pop-top cans of tonno tuna; add capers, lemon juice, s+p. Also perfect for a salad nicoise.

                              --Artichoke hearts; roll in egg, seasoned breadcrumbs and pan fry in olive oil. Make dip of mayo, lemon juice, s+p.

                              --Tortillas to make grilled fish tacos. Purple cabbage last forever in fridge; that plus avocado and spicy stuff. Done.

                              I don't often get into the whole dinner thing, just bits here and there that, as a whole, end up being what I'm in the mood for.

                              1. Similar threads show up periodically on Chowhound, you aren't going through anything unique. And the fact that food is your livelihood compounds things. There is no way you can get away from food, and most of it probably kinda mediocre with a few highlights here and there (no reflection on you, just the nature of the beast.) Just take the hint from Little Bo Peep, leave it alone and it will come home.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  Thanks for the reassurance, but I'm not sure what you mean is mediocre...can you explain? As for me, I'm a decent cook, not focused so much on technique (no foams for me) or complication. For me the simpler/tastier, the better. I just don't have the time or patience anymore, if I ever did.

                                  As for my company....well, it's pretty outstanding. I can't go into details but suffice to say, I ain't staying thin working here. It's definitely high-end quality and creative/trendy but within the limits of our client's budgets. All of our first time clients are blown away by our quality and presentation. And no foam here either....

                                  Little Bo Peep will return, I'm sure. Thanks again!

                                2. Spend a week eating food that makes you think "I can cook much better food than this". Eat food from places that you usually think are beneath you.

                                  1. Reverting to cooking for one was quite a shock for myself. Loss of the house, which was the party location, was another. I went from cooking for up to 50 with no notice to cooking for me.

                                    I reverted to my bachelor habits of purchasing and cooking. As I was in Germany then, I go to market almost daily. I cook only with fresh ingredients. This is facilitated as there is no fridge on my boat. My oven is cast iron on top of my propane stove. And I always have ramen noodles for the nights when I just want to sit and look at the stars.

                                    1. Well hounds, I'm back in the saddle again! But in a small, simple way.

                                      I went to the farmer's market and yowza!! So many changes since I was last there. There were a few new stalls (Frog Hollow!! We use their peaches at work) and some stalls were rearranged, which was a bit confusing. And the produce!!!!! I bought 2 pounds of cherries (and have already eaten about half), peaches from Frog Hollow, asparagus, strawberries, summer squash, nectarines and some prepared foods from local vendors.

                                      I cooked Saturday night, and roast some chicken breasts (using a simple Italian marinade), roasted the asparagus, steamed the squash and made couscous. I'm not sure what I'll do with the peaches and nectarines...might just eat them as a snack.

                                      My son comes home this week for a few days, and his schedule permitting, I'll make dinner for him. I got broccoli and pork chops at the supermarket so I'm prepared.

                                      Thanks again for all the advice and support. What a wonderful community Chowhound is!

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: alwayshungrygal

                                        Someone made this nectarine pizza over on the Dish of the Month thread and it looks quite delightful :) http://www.alexandracooks.com/2010/08...

                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                          I made that recipe with peaches, nectarines, blue cheese & basil using Alex's grilling guidelines, posted the blog photo without attributing the blog source (big oversight on my part) and that part of the DM thread was taken down.

                                          FWIW, while it was an oversight on my part in forgetting to introduce the recipe link the pizza was excellent; one I've continued to enjoy.

                                          Bad HillJ, delicious recipe. I hope you'll all give it a try!

                                          1. re: juliejulez

                                            OMG that looks awesome! I suppose I could simplify it and use a prepared crust since I don't have the patience to make my own. I was thinking of a salad of some sort, I've got some spinach handy but a pizza would be a complete meal. I might improvise even further and add some sliced red onion to add some zip to it.

                                            THANKS!

                                            1. re: juliejulez

                                              OP again here. I made the nectarine pizza tonight and it was fantastic! I used a small Boboli crust and goat cheese and it was absolutely delicious. I've got to make it again...soon! Good thing Boboli crusts come in a 2 pack.

                                              I think my mojo is back, not as much as I want but at least I'm thinking about cooking and trying new recipes again. I tried a new chicken dish last night and if I hadn't dropped the pan (the chicken didn't hit the floor, but still) it would have been a complete success, not a partial one. At least I tried...

                                              Thanks again for the recipe and to everyone for their ideas and support. Chowhounds are the best!

                                              1. re: alwayshungrygal

                                                Good for you, alwaysh! It's always nice to read your posts.

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  Why thank you HillJ and likewise! I'm flattered that my humble posts (and I'm not looking for flattery here) are well received. I try to speak to truth, whenever possible.

                                          2. I think the desire to cook is just like other desires, particularly for mid-life women. There are days when you want to, and days when you don't.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. I lost it for a while a few months ago but it sort of just reappeared. The best thing which helped me was just browsing websites and going to the store and browsing it as well and just picking up ingredients which were interesting and thus forcing myself to learn to use them somehow.

                                              1. if you can afford it, buy yourself a new toy. a new knife, saute pan, grill, slow cooker etc. always fun breaking in new toys. also try a new cooking technique, like sous vide or something.

                                                1. Are you part of a supper club? Maybe watch some fun food centric movies I bought my grandfather a cool book about gourmet cooking for one( you dont say if your single so sorry if that was rude) . Do you read? Book clubs sometimes are a fun way to challenge yourself to create menus that go with the book of the next meeting???

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: girloftheworld

                                                    No I'm not part of a supper club but would love to be. A book club is also a great idea. I read voraciously but commiting to a schedule such as one for book (or supper) club is daunting, with my work schedule. And I was never been good at "assigned reading" no matter what the book was.

                                                    Both are good ideas tho. And yes, single as noted in my original post. It wasn't rude to ask. Thanks for responding.

                                                  2. I'm glad you've got your mojo back :)

                                                    Just thought I'd add for future reference, Pinterest can be an A-MAZING source of inspiration.

                                                    I just wander through the boards of things I've pinned in the past and can usually find something to light my fire again.
                                                    I feel like I go on about Pinterest a lot, but I really do find it invaluable. These are my boards if you are interested:

                                                    http://pinterest.com/ursyten/boards/

                                                    Similarly, visual recipe searches such as tastespotting and foodgawker can be a great source of inspiration as well:

                                                    http://www.tastespotting.com/
                                                    http://foodgawker.com/

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: ursy_ten

                                                      I agree, I will often just go to to Pinterest and type in an ingredient or a craving (e.g. poached egg) and just browse the pins and gather a lot of ideas. I do this at foodgawker.com as well. Aside from sites with pinned recipes, sometimes I find reading yelp.com or local restaurant review sites with images can inspire me.

                                                      1. re: ursy_ten

                                                        Thanks for the suggestion. I've not used Pinterest yet but I'm sure I'll get there soon. I have no lack of inspiration, I literally have hundreds-if not thousands-of recipes carefully organized by ingredient in binders for easy reference. I continually prowl websites and blogs for new ideas and keep collecting more, even when I wasn't cooking. And again, I work for a catering company, so just putting together menus for my clients gives me ideas to consider. My trouble is, or was, lack of time, motivation, and energy. I just needed to get out of my rut and get back into it.

                                                        I'm going to try at least one new recipe every week, but still keep the process simple. Nothing too complicated, but again focusing on ingredients over technique.

                                                        Thanks again for the idea, it's a good one!

                                                        1. re: alwayshungrygal

                                                          You're welcome!

                                                          I think I get what you mean about working in the food industry. I used to have two jobs in my youth - one in the kitchen of a coffee shop during the day and the other as a waitress in a restaurant by night. After spending all day and night around food 7 days a week, I often found that I was "all fooded out" - didn't even want to think about it when I got home.

                                                          It's a bit different now that my every waking hour does not revolve around food.

                                                          Another idea I find useful is to get hold of something I'd never cooked before and find out what to do with it. I did that with an artichoke just last week!

                                                          1. re: ursy_ten

                                                            "all fooded out"

                                                            Yep, you got it. Some work days are all about food, some day are all about logistics.

                                                            This week, I've got a client tasting. 6 items for breakfast, 36 items for lunch, 7 lunch desserts, 13 reception items, 3 reception desserts. This is not typical for tastings, rather more the extreme, but still... I won't want to eat for 24 hours afterwards. And when I think about the labor and prep for some of these items I(and they're not really that complicated), it seems daunting to even think about trying to be creative at home.

                                                      2. Interesting you should post this now. Recently I too have felt like I've lost interest in what has been a life-long passion.
                                                        I can buy anything I want to eat any time I want.
                                                        Ironically this causes a dilemma. For some time I'd make huge 'BB's etc to give to the kids.
                                                        The other day I visited a small restaurant owned by the chef.
                                                        Something happened. He prepared three small 'Aps' which were exquisite! I realized that going back to the basics was some place I needed go.
                                                        Last night was a small peice each of fresh ling cod and some steamed/satued snap peas from our gareden with OO/a pinch of fennel/lemon juice/s/p/home made Japenese mayo