Sometimes I don’t feel like cooking. Or baking. Or even stepping into the kitchen.
For most adults, those statements are familiar reflections of reality. “What should I have for dinner?” is an everyday question, with complex variables like time, budget, and appetite all contributing to the eventual answer. But as someone who loves to cook, someone who bakes at least once every two weeks, someone who has accumulated countless books about the art of food, I often struggle to admit when I’d rather be anywhere but the kitchen.
Not many hobbies include necessity. Even fewer include both necessity and urgency: as much as I can argue for the value of music, no one has ever died because they didn’t learn to play an instrument. Sometimes a hobby, like hiking or yoga, will make us healthier, but no one activity can determine a person’s daily health. No matter how we spend our free hours, we’re seeking to address deeper human needs: collaboration, community, joy, beauty, and so on. For many, food and shelter don’t have to be fun; they just have to be found.
Still, in my life and many others’ lives, cooking and baking have been conduits of joy as well as sustenance. Baking is more of a choice (bread and pastries and cookies are rarely a day’s primary fuel), but cooking meets a time-driven need. We can ignore our deeper hungers for quite a while, letting ourselves wilt into malnourished shadows of full humanity. But our bodies will not allow us to ignore our physical hunger for long. Sooner or later, even if we’re exhausted from pain, sorrow, or sickness, we’ll be prowling the kitchen for something to nibble. If you’re frugal, or at all inclined to pick up a spatula, soon enough you’ll be wanting to cook that something yourself.
When I bake, hunger is the kick to start measuring, stirring, scooping, and meandering around the kitchen in my familiar rhythms. Sometimes hunger is accompanied by a tradition, an event, a holiday: curry to eat with a friend, pumpkin dessert for a game night, raspberry thumbprints for Christmas.
Sometimes I don’t feel like cooking because nothing has joined my hunger. I’m hungry, and I’d rather make something quick and fast than make something wonderful and slow. I’m tired, and I’d rather eat and spend my time on something else.
But the same necessity that often drives my exhaustion can drive me back to what I love. The delight of “What should I have for dinner?” is in the regular, repeated asking of the question. Even if some of the answers are dull and serviceable, some of the answers might just be delightful.
Last week I made butternut squash soup, one of my favorite dishes for the cold months. I felt like cooking when I began the process, and then I remembered just how much work that soup requires:
peeling squash, chopping squash,
peeling apples, chopping apples,
peeling onions, chopping onions,
peeling garlic, chopping garlic,
and all that before the stockpot is on the stove.
I did the chopping work the night before I made the soup. I went to bed exhausted. But by the time I finished the day’s work, I felt like cooking again. My hands itched to start stirring and seasoning and blending.
When I don’t feel like cooking, I have to remind myself that my mental version of myself is much more consistent than the reality. I think of myself as someone who loves to cook, who loves to bake. Which is true, most of the time. But we often need time away from what we love. Not all the time, not enough to forget what we love, but enough time to remember why we loved it in the first place.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.