I’m Done Cooking For the Rest Of The Year
This year I have cooked prolifically. As our global, uh, situation spiraled out of control in March, I helplessly began making and freezing a ton of soups and stews because what else was I supposed to do? I baked my obligatory breads like everyone else. Spending more time at home in my kitchen made me more inclined to nourish myself with food I already had at home. Lots of salads with homemade dressing. Lots of braised chickpeas. Lots of chicken thigh skillet meals. Lots of meatballs with various accoutrements. Plenty of cookies.
The apotheosis of my casual home-cooking peaks every year at Thanksgiving. Every year I look forward to the holiday. Even this year, knowing I would be cooking for just three other people in my quarantine pod, I was thrilled by the prospect of having a Thanksgiving meal that was entirely my own—no dry turkey in sight. I love cooking for my friends, and not being able to do it all year in a meaningful way has sucked.
But as Helen Rosner articulated so beautifully in the New Yorker this week, cooking burnout is real. I am so tired of cooking. I’ve been doing it so much this year. If all I had to do was cook all day, like the born-again tradwife influencer I follow on Instagram, it would be fine. But unfortunately I must live a life that requires me to have other obligations, so to cook at the end of a long day feels like a chore and not something that sparks joy in my life.
I had even taken pains to make sure Thanksgiving would be extra easy this year; I picked up stuffing (challah, with apples and chestnuts) and mashed potatoes and gravy from R&D Foods on Vanderbilt. I didn’t even realize I was sick of cooking until Wednesday, the day I traditionally look forward to as prep day for the main event.
I’d left myself five dishes to put together, but I looked at my shopping list and my schedule for cooking on Thursday that would ensure a 6:30 p.m. dinner and I wanted to scream. I did not want to make the cauliflower gratin, or the sweet potatoes, or even the seafoam salad. I wanted to sleep for 12 hours and wake up on Thursday morning well-rested and not have to do the dishes. For the first time in my life I briefly envied the people whose Thanksgiving contributions involve putting on a collared shirt and showing up on time for appetizers. It felt insane to be cooking a literal feast for a tiny group of people this year in particular.
Here’s Helen in the New Yorker, explaining my angst in a nicer way:
… It feels all the more acute as we round the corner to Thanksgiving, a day that has come to rely on the terrible notion that a home-cooked meal is essential, and that the work of cooking it ought to be both all-consuming and undertaken without complaint. This is a lie in any year — not only is it perfectly fine not to make turkey, it’s perfectly fine to try and then fail, or to outsource the meal, or to reject the holiday altogether. This year, when the still-unchecked spread of the covid-19 virus means that gathering in close quarters with loved ones seems reckless, and dangerous, the idea of cooking a grand, communal meal feels all the more dissonant.
Anyway, I sucked it up. I went to Cervo’s and I picked up the piri-piri chicken and the 18 oysters we had decided to get in lieu of a turkey. I realized I didn’t know anything about storing oysters so I came home, put the oysters in a large Tupperware container, and then put that Tupperware in a big plastic bag full of ice, and then shoved that into an empty crisper drawer, and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t kill anyone via mollusk food poisoning the next day. I made the mignonette and put it in the fridge to uh, marinate. I prepped the cauliflower gratin, did everything but cook it, and then covered it in foil and stuck it back in the fridge. I made the hot honey butter and roasted the sweet potatoes. I made the seafoam salad and put it in a mold to set overnight.
The Jell-o Salad Recipe That Made Everyone Mad At Me Last Year
For as long as I can remember it sat, every November, on our Thanksgiving table, next to the turkey and the stuffing…
But it wasn’t fun. A big reason why it wasn’t fun—the main reason—is that typically I’m home in in Hershey, Pennsylvania making this stuff the day before Christmas with my mom and my sister, and not doing it alone in my apartment while the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City plays in the background. My roommate and I are currently in a cold war-style beef with our landlord, who lives downstairs and would prefer it if we were never at home during the pandemic. It is really fucking terrible to feel uncomfortable at home, that I’m somehow imposing in my apartment by living in it. So I made all the food, but it felt robotic, like someone else was doing it. Like it was just another weeknight dinner of sheet-tray meatballs and vegetables or something.
None of this felt fun in the way it usually does. I woke up early and in a bad mood on Thursday, already thinking about putting together the kale salad, and set a reminder on my phone to take the chicken out of the fridge an hour before I wanted to roast it. After the rain stopped in the morning, I went for a walk through Fort Greene Park, snaking around through Clinton Hill and back to my apartment. I sat in the park across the street and watched some kids playing flag football; it reminded me of my family’s Turkey Bowl pickup football games in years past. I got a coffee and picked up a bouquet of flowers for the table and came home and turned on the dog show and realized that maybe making my own traditions were okay, in spite of how much I loathed the looming necessity of putting together dinner.
My boyfriend and a couple of friends came over in the middle of the afternoon and my mood immediately brightened. Demo brought his mom’s Greek lemon potatoes recipe, which he learned from her via FaceTime from couple weeks ago. Noah brought spiked homemade horchata and a pumpkin pie. Chase came with a sweet potato pecan pie and a loaf of Japanese milk bread, both of which he made himself. We had all been extra careful prior to Thanksgiving in terms of Covid stuff, but it still felt novel and a little illicit to be gathered inside my apartment with the windows open, the fan on full blast, and the air purifier humming away. I don’t think there had ever been more than three people in my apartment at once since I moved in in June.
We drank several bottles of wine, everyone loved the roast chicken (all credit to Cervo’s, as all I did was put it in the oven), and I made all the boys watch the Thanksgiving episodes of Gossip Girl. We drank a lot of horchata, which was very spiked. Chase shucked the oysters I picked up from Cervo’s and it felt new and nice to do something so decadent and different for Thanksgiving. After dinner, Demo and Noah cleaned up my kitchen, put leftovers in the fridge, and did the dishes. I sprawled my extremely, painfully full body across the couch, waiting to die and/or be summoned for dessert.
I had made it through a day and a half of cooking I barely felt capable of doing. I felt exalted, satisfied, but mostly, I didn’t want to touch another cooking utensil again for the rest of 2020. Chase and I ate leftover pie for breakfast this morning and I assessed the leftovers situation in my fridge. Plenty to get me through the weekend. I considered the possibility of eating a vegetable untouched by butter or a cup of olive oil in my near future and mentally vowed to pick up salads from Mr. Mango for lunch next week. I’ve reached the end of my 2020 cooking capabilities. For Christmas I’m ordering a pizza.