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A home cook’s manifesto: Let’s lower our expectations

Are food editors like me totally lying to you when we tell you a dinner dish is “easy” and will take you no time at all?

Food writer Elizabeth Dunn put us on notice the other day with her essay The Myth of ‘Easy’ Cooking. Yeah, myth. What does she mean by that? Of course there’s such a thing as “easy” home cooking… isn’t there?

Yeah, no. Easy home cooking is a unicorn.

Dunn describes spending her days at work gazing at “unimaginable cooking projects” that are only pretending to be quick weeknight meals. “They might as well be skyscraper blueprints, so improbable is the possibility that I will begin making my own nut butters, baking my own sandwich bread, or turning that fall farmer’s market bounty into jars of homemade applesauce,” Dunn says. And then after work, she returns home with just enough time to feed her 1-year-old peanut butter toast before putting him to bed. So much for that “easy” home cooking.

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It’s not just the cooking itself that’s more time-consuming than we like to admit. It’s everything else — it’s grocery shopping, it’s meal planning, it’s emptying the dishwasher so you can reload it with the dishes in the sink so you have an empty sink to wash your produce, it’s the cleanup after you’re all done. I know it all too well.

The truth is, cooking a variety of nourishing meals night after night comes at a cost. You’re paying with your sanity, or you’re trading off much-needed weekend rest and recreation, time with your family doing something they want to do — that is, not cooking.

On top of that, the holidays are here, and we’re going to want to bake cookies. So. Many. Cookies.

But can we get a reality check here? I think this is a problem mainly for food lovers and cooking enthusiasts. Our expectations are high because we know what’s possible. People who don’t like cooking simply don’t, no guilt. It’s those of us who do love (or at least like) cooking and feel passionately about food who torture ourselves with thoughts of culinary heights we’re failing to scale.

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As we begin the holiday madness, I want to make a call for sanity. This is a really good time of year to burn out in the kitchen. How about we not this year? Want to bake holiday cookies? Offset that labor, and order pizza. Got a school concert to attend? Cereal for dinner. We’re about to throw a bunch of tempting recipes at you this month here at SheKnows. Consider them options, and pace yourself. Seriously. We all love holiday food, but when it stops being fun, we need to pause and check our expectations. Maybe reconfigure our plans.

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Let’s give ourselves a pass. Just do what’s best for your physical and mental health. There’s no dinner police. No holiday baking quota. Just millions of people just like you and me, staring wearily into the refrigerator, wondering what to eat.

I solemnly pledge to not go crazy-pants in the kitchen this year. Who’s with me?

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