Kitchen Magic: Becoming an Intuitive Cook

Don’t you love it when you go off-script at dinner time, working with what you have, and it turns out awesome? Yeah, that’s some kitchen magic: when an un-planned, improvised meal turns into a satisfying eating experience for all involved.

This happened to me the other night. I had some brown rice, onions, and a boatload of zucchini and squash because summer. Sure, I could’ve sauteed up the veggies and piled them on the rice but we didn’t just want food. We wanted dinner. A meal. So I took to the internet for an Asian-inspired sauce that fit the limitations at hand, as I was out of ginger and finding an Asian dish that doesn’t involve fish sauce, oyster sauce, eggs, or the like, can be tricksy. Soon we had a delicious supper that rivaled any take-out (sauce here) and will probably be in our rotation from here on out.

I am not a recipe writer by any means, but it’s a regular thing for me to take bits a pieces from several different recipes alongside whatever ingredients I have in the pantry to come up with something quasi-unique. There is a lot of freedom in this, am I right? Improvised cooking makes eating at home more fun, more creative, more cost-effective, and a lot less stressful. You feel in control of things without being glued to the page (or screen).

That said, I love a good recipe and I use them most of the time. Following recipes gave me confidence in the kitchen. Cooking from recipes is how I learned measurements and best practices that allowed me to go out on my own. Maybe you’re already there. Maybe you’re a natural. I wasn’t. By the time I got to college, I hadn’t cooked much at all and I didn’t really get into cooking until about two years later. I was a late bloomer.

I still apply many of the same principles to plant-based meals but, let’s be honest, it’s a little different. I won’t lie and say plant-based cookies is just like mainstream cooking. There’s a bit of a learning curve. But once you get the hang of it, become familiar with the ingredients that pop up over and over, and gradually restock your pantry, it gets a LOT easier. Trust me.

My New Year Must-Reads

I know we’re almost halfway through January, so some of us might be over the new year hype. But I stay in the new year mindset until at least February: refining what I want to accomplish for the year, seeking inspiration and, usually, doing lots of reading. I have a few favorites that I come back to over and over again, especially when I want to create some momentum in my life. Since it’s a new year, and also the first year of a new decade for me (Hey there, 30), I’m re-reading all of these to make this year one of my best to date:

The Eight-Step Home Cure, by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. This home cure bible from the design blog giant Apartment Therapy touches on a very important subject: home health. At the beginning of a new year, I love getting my living space in order, decluttered and fresh so that I can focus on other goals. This book tells you exactly how to do that. This is not a picture book, it’s a lot of text with specific action steps, so you can e-book this one.

The 4-Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss. This one is old enough to have several editions out on the shelves, but I think the message is timeless: don’t wait for retirement – live now. Tim teaches us how to engineer a more efficient and effective work life to create more time for passions, hobbies, travel and everything else. If you’re unhappy in your job, this book will change your life. And even if you have no desire to work for yourself and travel the world, this book will inspire you. I’ve read it at least three times already.

Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, by Geneen Roth. Roth got a lot of attention for this book after a run on Oprah, but after reading it myself, I feel the attention is well-deserved. This book is hands down the most insightful book about the psychology of eating, how to create a healthy relationship with food and never diet again. I don’t “diet” and this book is one of the reasons why. Losing weight is one of the most common new year’s resolutions and I think this book can keep us all grounded as we work to look and feel healthier in 2014.

The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought it was Just Me, by Brene Brown. You can’t really talk about food without talking about shame, and you can’t talk about shame without talking about Brene Brown. Her research about shame lead to discoveries about the relationship between being vulnerable and what she calls “whole-heartedness”. I don’t know about you, but I would love this year to be about creativity, connection and bravery–and all the things whole-heartedness entails. If you’ve ever dealt with perfectionism, Brene Brown is your girl, as she is mine. (Watch this animated short about empathy narrated by Brene.)

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. I finally got around to reading Rubin’s happiness manifesto last year and it really blew me away. I always thought my happiness was directly related to how well things were going in my life, but this book taught me that the little choices I make every day have a profound impact on my happiness and joy. Rubin takes both a scientific and personal approach to discovering how to be happier and the types of activities related to happiness, leaving us with specific action steps for creating a more joyful life, each day. I think the hype is real on this one. Read it. And be happy.