A couple of years ago, my food-writing friend Andrea Weigl sent me a big envelope full of letters.
She was giving away a meal-planning book, so she asked readers to tell her why they needed it. She didnt expect what she got: Letter after letter from people who were overwhelmed by the task of putting supper on the table.
She was so saddened, she shared the letters with me. Misery loves company, after all.
The letters didnt surprise me. Over almost 25 years of food writing, Ive heard endless variations on dont cook/hate to cook/afraid to cook.
Ive also heard from the opposite camp: People who love to cook and approach it with delight. Thinking about the difference between the two led me to ponder what the happy cooks do that make a difference.
So, heres my guess at the 10 habits of happy home cooks:
1 They make a meal plan. Even if they have to change it later in the week, it gets them in the habit of thinking about meals as daily events. And when you have a plan, you can relax a little.
2 They dont overcomplicate things. Elaborate systems for filing recipes or tracking coupons are just systems that have to be maintained. The simplest system is the one that matches how you actually use information.
3 They dont turn on the oven or fire up the grill without thinking a couple of meals ahead. Planning ahead gives you breaks during the week and keeps cooking from being drudgery.
4 They keep a running shopping list, whether its online or stuck to the refrigerator. Its more fun to cook if you know youve got ingredients on hand, and shopping with a list saves you money.
5 They take some pride in it. Teaching yourself how do something is an accomplishment. Pick a cooking skill and keep trying until you get good at it. Then pick another one.
6 They arent afraid to substitute. So the recipe calls for tarragon and you only have oregano. Or the recipe calls for green beans and you only have zucchini. Mix things up. Its how you learn to get creative.
7 They clean as they go. One reason people think cooking is too much work is because they have habits that make it more work. Before you start, get all the ingredients out, and then put each thing away as you use it. Or fill a sink with hot, soapy water so you can add pans to soak.
8 Theyre always trying something new. Youve never seen that vegetable or tasted that grain? Google is a cooks best friend.
9 They figure out a few conveniences that dont sacrifice quality. If using pre-cut butternut squash means youll use more butternut squash, thats not a bad tradeoff.
10 They learn to accept disappointment. So you made something that didnt turn out like you wanted, or you tried a recipe and didnt love it. Relax: Another meal will come along in just a few hours.
How about yours?
If you have a habit that helps you love cooking, send them to me at email@example.com. Ill share them on my blog. If misery loves company, so does happiness.
Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis blog Ill Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less