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How Rediscovering Cooking Helped Me Prioritize Work-Life Balance

The image is divided into seven panels horizontally, each displaying cooked meals.
COVID-19 lockdowns have cornered me into cooking and it has changed my life. Photos courtesy: Niharika Jain. Illustrations by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada

Mental Health

How Rediscovering Cooking Helped Me Prioritize Work-Life Balance

'It reminded me what I do for a living doesn’t define who I am.'

I always knew I could cook, but I just never did.

I went independent as a graphic designer in December 2018, and threw myself into 16 hour work days, hustling between clients and administrative work that the freelance life brings. The dream? A small design studio in a few years. I love what I do for a living, and that’s all I did. My relationship with food was instant — I ordered in for the most part of last year.

And then, the world changed.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it the endless lockdowns which cornered me into cooking. What started out as a simple need to feed myself rapidly evolved into an exciting adventure, unfolding in my tiny 5 x 8 kitchen. I had landed on a new planet.

Cooking literally and figuratively has given me food for life. Ironically, this lack of normal life has actually given me more life as I made time to cook. I started calling friends to just stay connected, but stumbled upon their foodie sides. I was saved from insipid noodle soups and learned that there are no shortcuts and no running away from those binding agents for those cutlets — for them to actually form as cutlets.

A 2 by 3 panel showing images of cooked meals.

I officially started adulting and invested in an oven while learning that baking is far less forgiving than cooking.

In the humdrum of these monotonous and some long and lonely days, I had found my “something new” to look forward to. As I scavenged through various delivery apps, I slowly stocked my kitchen with every ingredient needed to cook anything from cutlets to curries to cakes. I invested in kitchen tools, I learned how to mince garlic properly, I finally inaugurated my two year old food blender. I stuck two plants outside my kitchen window to add that personal touch and discovered that nice, yet affordable chopping boards are a thing. I officially started adulting and invested in an oven while learning that baking is far less forgiving than cooking.

I made everything from gnocchi and ramen to a variety of familial recipes, and experimented with cuisine from South India. Along the way, I tried my hand at dumplings, cakes, tikkas, custard, wraps, falafel, pita bread, paranthas (which seem deceptively simple). I discovered curry leaves are basically the baddest herb and that unravelling hung curd from under the cheesecloth is deeply satisfying.

A 2 by 3 panel showing images of cooked meals.

I hope to host a feast for my family and friends, and I hope I never tire of cooking.

The cooking has obviously been rewarding and the food, I dare say, has been mostly delicious, but I also discovered that it’s a very meditative activity. I was not only very present while cooking, I’ve now become mindful about what I’m eating. I googled gluten to really get to know it better and I’ve also realized how wasteful I was. I learned that a kilo of parsley can probably stuff a pillow case and get you a good night’s rest —  that is if you can sleep off your ordering blunder.

This is no exaggeration, but rather, a very accurate hyperbole; cooking saved me in the time of the coronavirus. It sparked conversations with people I didn’t talk to much. I deepened some friendships, and made new friends in lockdown as I merrily spammed my Instagram family with what I was going to devour for dinner that night.

Cooking reintroduced me to that elusive work-life balance that I had abandoned in the throws of the hustle, and also reminded me that what I do for a living doesn’t define who I am. As I try to plan for future projects in these uncertain times, I have to actively think if it’s going to be too much on my plate, pun very much intended.

I hope to learn, grow and get better at cooking and as the world heals from the virus, I hope to host a feast for my family and friends, and I hope I never tire of cooking. I am now working towards having a small design studio with an attached kitchen.

If you would like to donate for COVID-19 food relief, please check out Akshaya Patra.


Also read: Feeling the FOMO with Lockdown Insta Challenges? Here’s What You Can Do Instead


 

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