Finding a Cure for Kitchen Fatigue

Saturday strolls through the bountiful harvest at Lane County Farmers’ Market in downtown Eugene yield both social and culinary pleasures. Almost always, the outing provides encounters with friends who share a delight in fresh, local produce.

At a recent market, my spouse and I were admiring rhubarb and strawberries when we stopped to chat with another couple. While she flipped the screen on her phone to show me photos of their new puppy, our husbands jockeyed opinions on the best way to serve morel mushrooms.

They were comparing recipes and swapping tales of cooking successes when she and I exchanged a knowing glance and a contented smile.

“Are you done with cooking, too?” I asked in conspiratorial kinship. It’s been a few years now since the joy of cooking began to recede from the hours I spent in the kitchen. After years of heady infatuation with cookbooks and classes, the kitchen began to lose its magic.

What had once been a place of therapeutic chopping, steaming, stewing and baking at the end of a working day slumped into the category of tiresome tasks and chores. Serious kitchen ennui.

After 40 some years of kitchen duty, I was ready to retire. Apparently, I’m not alone. Admissions of kitchen fatigue seem as common among my contemporaries these days as recipe swapping once was. And no wonder: There’s no gold watch at 65 for those whose work includes planning and preparing family meals. No hanging up the apron a final time. No retirement plan in this job description.

At the Saturday Market, my friend and I were counting our blessings, quietly grateful that happy chance had led us to partners whose arc of kitchen curiosity arose later in life, at a time when our own enchantment was fading.

Not many family cooks, we realize, are so fortunate. But this freedom comes with handing off more than the stove. It comes with letting go of control.

For years, the food of daily life fell to me. On weekends, my spouse and I happily shared counter space in the kitchen if friends were coming for dinner. I planned the menus; he did the chopping. I cooked; he cleaned up. We were a team, but I called the shots.

It changed the year that I got a publishing contract and a manuscript deadline for my second walking book. The sous chef stepped to the stove and offered a gift of support for my work. He’d handle planning, shopping and dinner prep until the book was done.

Very soon, it became clear to me that he had been waiting for this opportunity. Chunks of meat began to dominate the menu. Sauces spilled across the dinner plate. Plastic bowls of leftovers multiplied in the refrigerator as he devoured cookbooks and food magazines, feeding an adventurous appetite for new flavors.

New Chef creates New Menus

“On Monday, it was Pork Stew Provençal with Olives and Fennel for dinner. On Tuesday, Chicken Tangine with Lemon and Olives. Wednesday brought Mustard and Tarragon Braised Lamb.” I wrote in a holiday letter that year. “On Sunday, I turned to the chef with a plea: “Please! How about a simple roast chicken with steamed broccoli on the side?”

My book deadline came and went, but he stayed in the kitchen, gradually moderating his menu in response to appeals for an unembellished piece of grilled salmon. It’s eight years now and he’s still there, planning, shopping and preparing most of the meals we eat.

Less fortunate is the acquaintance who recently confided she was beginning to understand the appeal of retirement living communities that serve prepared meals. She’s been on kitchen duty for half a century, raising three children, feeding a spouse, and working at her own career. She’s had enough, but what can you do, she shrugged?

An answer came from the friend I lunched with a few days later. She credited the rise in meal-in-a-box food delivery services with averting mutiny in her kitchen. Weekly deliveries of pre-ordered meals bring ingredients and recipes for dishes she can produce without a lot of thought or time.

Her relief at discovering the ease of packaged meal services sent me to the Internet where I quickly discovered that meal delivery service is not a passing fancy. It's a mega business.

In a 2017 online article, Money magazine reported that more than 100 home-delivery meal services in the United States now compete for your grocery budget. Services range from pre-cooked microwavable meals to packaged ingredients with recipes to cook at home, eliminating shopping and menu planning, A recent Wall Street Journal business article reported that grocers, including Kroger, Walmart, and Costco, are jumping into the meal-in-a-box market.

In the interest of responsible reporting, I thought I should give this product a try. Because it was easy, I went to the website of the food delivery service tested by my lunch companion. It offered a variety of dietary plans including lean and clean, paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian. I settled on Mediterranean and chose three entrees to be delivered in a single shipment to my door. Total cost of the order, $78 or $13 per person per meal.

The box arrived with an icepack for meats and three paper bags of ingredients for the selected entrees. First up was Braised Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Artichokes, and Almond-olive relish. Preparation, including cooking, took me about 35 minutes.

It wasn't really a full meal. For that, I might add a salad or steamed rice. But even without those extras, it filled us up and tasted good. It introduced ingredients in combinations we hadn’t tried before.

As we cleared our plates, the resident chef in our kitchen agreed—flavors and products in the boxed meal kit could compete with fresh-from-the-market ingredients.

Still, the box was just a test, he insists. He hasn't yet spent enough years at the stove to feel cooked out in the kitchen. I'm content to leave it that way.

Carolyn Scott Kortge of Eugene is a former Register-Guard editor and writer, and author of The Spirited Walker. Contact at spiritedwalker@gmail.com.


Not the Retiring Type

by Carolyn Kortge

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