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January 07, 2010

The Thing a Food Writer Isn't Supposed to Say

I have something to confess: over the past few weeks, I have been so grateful to have the Share Our Strength campaign to focus on and write about, because my food mojo?  Gone, baby.  Gone.  Like J. Lo's dignity.

Below is a photo of what was supposed to be a powder for the Orange, olive oil, almond, picholine olive dish on page 205.  A vanilla bean powder that used $40 worth of vanilla beans.  DOES THIS LOOK LIKE A POWDER TO YOU?

DSC_0017 (I'm not yelling AT you; I'm yelling NEAR you)

That glob of stuff wasn't even salvageable because in an effort to try and find another way to powderize it, all the tapioca maltodextrin ended up making it taste like a My Little Pony-scented Yankee candle coated in Splenda.

This next photo is a shot of my attempt at adapting the Crab, cashew, parsnip, young coconut dish on page 309, since I can't eat coconut.  I had to use king crab instead of dungeness; I diced parsnips and milk-blanched then roasted them; made candied and spiced cashews, and tossed in some Thai basil, warm chard, wild rice, and an orange-saffron vinaigrette.  On paper it sounded good.  When I tasted as I went along, things were delicious.  But everything together?  SUCKED.  It tasted terrible, was just all wrong, and really, really bad.  I threw the whole thing away.


You might be thinking, oh come on, Carol... these are elements and ingredients from Alinea recipes. You're not a chef.  Don't beat yourself up.  We love when you fail.  It's funny.

I reassuringly said the very same thing to myself, and then worked on a few other ingredients and components of other dishes.  They failed, too.  I didn't even bother to photograph them because there was really nothing to photograph.  I rationalized it by reminding myself that it's just a blog, I'm not a trained chef, and sometimes things just don't go the way I want them to no matter how much I'd like for that to happen.  I'm learning, and I have to keep trying.  But when 7 or 8 things in a row just don't come together despite my fastidiousness?  I was starting to take it personally.

I figured, maybe I just need a week or so away from the Alinea cookbook.  Give myself a break.  I watched a few old Seinfeld episodes and went to bed.  And then, the very next day?  I flipped my morning egg and it landed half in the pan, and half on the floor.  I make eggs nearly every single morning.  I bet in my lifetime I've successfully flipped more than 5,000 eggs, and on the heels of some really frustrating (and expensive) blog-related cock-ups, I'm now screwing up eggs?  THE SIMPLEST THING ON EARTH I KNOW HOW TO COOK AND I CAN'T EVEN DO THAT??!?!?!?!?? 

Oh, but wait... there's more.  

Over the next 48 hours, I:

Burned oatmeal;

Burned toast;

Cut my hand peeling an apple;

Broke the yolk on another flipping (ha!) egg;

Dropped a bottle of wine on the floor, shattering it to bits;

Dropped a 5-pound container of sugar (on my big toe, no less), sending sugar all over the kitchen floor and into the laundry room, which has cork floors, so GOOD TIMES getting granules of sugar out of cork's nooks and crannies;

Broke my butter dish;

Made meatballs that fell apart and tasted like crap;

Blew a fuse running too many appliances at once;

Overcooked some pasta and forgot to salt an entire batch of tomato sauce;

Forgot to put soap in the dishwasher before I ran it on full cycle.  Twice;

Burned a batch of chestnuts in an attempt to roast them over an open fire; and

Poured rancid milk in my coffee.

At first, I decided food was ganging up on me.  Or, maybe there was a full moon.  Or, maybe I was losing my senses of sight and smell and my dexterity as a result of growing up near Three Mile Island.  Then, I had a total Occam's Razor moment and it became really, really clear that the answer was simple: the problem was me.  I just needed to step away from that room of the house for a bit.  Everything I touched was turning to s-h-youknowwhat.

So, I waved a little white dish towel in surrender and decided to let others do the cooking for me. Maybe all I needed was a little inspiration, some good food in my favorite restaurants, some time away from my own kitchen to help get my mojo back.  On Day Two of the letting-other-people-cook-for-me experiment, I was inadvertently glutened.

You guys, I have not had gluten in my system for a very long time.  Within 45 minutes of finishing lunch, I was so very sick.  Hunched over in bed sick.  Clutching my stomach sick.  Running to the bathroom every ten minutes for the next 12 hours sick.  Knowing I was going to feel "off" for the next day or two sick.  Every single pre-diagnosis symptom returned, but was intensified and magnified x 1,000,000,000.  My face flushed, my joints ached, my temples throbbed, my fingers tingled, my insides burned.  

And... I lost it.  I broke down and sobbed, and with snot running and tears flowing and mascara smearing all over my pillows, I called a good friend and said the three words a food writer is never supposed to say: I hate food

[Actually, truth be told, there was a fourth word in there... an angry, angry two-syllable word... in between the "I" and the "hate," and I'm sure you can guess what it was.]

Because at that point, I honestly and truly hated food.  Food could blow me.  Food could go to hell.  In that moment, I never wanted to look at food, shop for food, touch food, eat food, think about food, or write about food.  I know, I know... those of us who write about food are aalllllwwaaayyys supposed to gush and love and emote sunshine, unicorns, and lollipops about every ingredient, every new discovery, showing awe, joy, and reverence for the simple pleasures of sustenance... but I just couldn't do it anymore.

It was bad enough that my cooking mojo was gone, but when my cooking mojo left, I feel like my writing went along with it.  I had a hard time pulling together my recent post about pork, because I'd made it before my luck turned sour in the kitchen, and when it came time to write about that dish (which really was so amazingly delicious; I just wish the blog post could've done it justice), I was so angry at food I could barely string letters together to make words, let alone words to make sentences.

Losing my energy and drive around food was one thing... I knew I could get through that.  But not being able to write AND getting glutened?  That sent me over the edge.  After failing at flipping a stupid over-easy egg, all I wanted was for something to taste good, and to eat well so that I'd be inspired to cook again.  And realizing that something so minuscule, so molecular, so accidental as someone touching something with gluten, then handling my food could make me so sick?  Fiona Apple couldn't have written or sung a song as angry and weary and angsty as I felt.  I was raw.  I felt like I was 13, screaming at my parents, "IT'S NOT FAIR!!! YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!!   I HATE YOU!!!!!!  WWAAAAHHHHH!!!"

Someday, I'll write about how much it sucks to have celiac.  While I'm relieved to know what made me progressively sick for a few years, I'm not one of those people who can be joyful or thankful about it or always find a silver lining.  I'm pissed and bitter about the things I can no longer eat, and having celiac makes me feel like I'm a pain in the ass everywhere I go.  I have to read every label and ask about every ingredient in restaurants, and make special requests and educate and apologize and answer questions, and it's exhausting. My friends are amazing, because they'll make an entire dinner party gluten-free when I'm on the guest list.  And my chef friends bend over backwards to make me feel welcome (and NORMAL) in their restaurants when I'm there.  But it's by no means easy to be always on the lookout, always hyper-aware, and always hoping that I can get through a meal that someone else cooked without being uncontrollably and embarrassingly sick an hour later. 

So where am I going with all this?

I was thrilled not just to be able to have something other than food and writing to focus on these past few weeks, but I also was bolstered by YOUR support of the cause and of my ridiculous antics to get you guys to donate.  Every comment, every email, every Twitter reply kept me sane during a time when I really thought I had no business writing this blog or anything about food, ever again.  Yes, I know there are bigger problems in the world than my current inability to cook, or write, or eat.  Believe me, I know that.  What I guess I'm saying is it's actually a relief to be able to admit that I said (and meant) the words, "I hate food."  Because I really did.  Being inauthentic serves no one, and I feel like we've got an amazing and smart little community here, and I'm hoping I'm not alone in the losing-your-mojo-and-losing-your-cool-about-it thing.  I sometimes have this weird misconception that I have to be perfect and 100% on my game when it comes to food, and when I'm not, I simply must find the humor in it.  Not this time.  And it felt good to let it all go.

What do you do when you lose your mojo... whether it's in the kitchen (professional or at home), at work, at home, on a project, in a creative endeavor, or anywhere?  Are you patient?  Do you soldier onward? Do you take a break?  Do you rant? Scream?  Cry?  Regroup and move forward?  Ignore it and pretend like nothing's wrong?  Go for a walk?  Blame someone else?  Fake it?  Burrow under a pile of blankets and watch bad TV?  None of the above?  All of the above?

I've spent the past two weeks watching movies, reading books (devouring them, actually), eating things other people have made me, and enjoying a really nice balance of solitude and the company of friends.  I'm slowly working my way back into the kitchen.  I made the scallion-potato cakes from Ad Hoc at Home, and they were good.  Perhaps a roasted chicken is in my near future.  Surely, an Alinea dish is around the corner.  In fact, I've got a post in the works on rendering beef fat, because one of the Alinea recipes calls for it.  And, if I can successfully oversee some fat melting in a pot, then maybe, possibly, perhaps... the mojo is back.

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Don't worry about it, Carol. We all need a time out now and again. I have horrible streaks myself - and they suck. Enjoy yourself and take a break.

We'll be here when you return. We appreciate what you're doing. Sorry you're going through a rough spot. You're not alone.

PS: You don't hate food.

oh, Carol. this is so, so aching and real--thank you for sharing it with us. I dare say that doing so will also help bring back that mojo...as much as I resist it sometimes, I do think that declaring things out into the great void can help shift the universe a little bit, too.

this may sound a little strange, but how about letting someone else cook in your kitchen? help bring the mojo back? thinking of you & wishing you luck

Thanks for sharing. As a chef, I feel also that we are supposed to ALWAYS love food, ALWAYS cook gourmet dinners. Truth is, sometimes all I want is a big bowl of instant ramen. Thanks for enlightening me a bit more about celiacs. I will look forward to reading more of your posts!

Be well, and enjoy cooking for what it is, COOKING. It's not a competition, and it's designed to feed people.... something I tell me cooks often.


Hi Carol

I'm a regular reader, occasional commenter, but using a pseudonym (for soon to be obvious reasons).

I don't have celiac but I do suffer from clinical depression and have done so for many years. I almost never tell anyone because of the stigma surrounding mental illness; I have enough on my plate. And I really don't want to commit career suicide by telling anyone in my work world about my little problem.

So...what do I do when the depression has its grip and my mojo is gone? When I feel like screaming and curling up into a little ball and yes cutting myself with a knife just because the inner pain is so bad?

I fake it. I do my damndest to act like nothing is wrong. I avoid my friends and family and anyone else I might be tempted to spill my guts to because some of them don't know and the ones who do are sick of hearing me complain about feeling sad. Instead, I work a LOT. Because when I'm working, and focused, sometimes for a little while I can forget the depression has me in its grip. And at least I'm doing something productive while I'm feeling like shit.

The consolation is that sooner or later, the depression's grip loosens. My mojo comes back.

And yours will too.

Re the celiac nuisance; I don't have it, and not that this is really anything like it, but when those who have celiac disease describe their vigilance, I'm right back in my Orthodox Jewish strict kosher-keeping childhood, where every food item had to be scrutinized and separate dishes were required for different foods and eating away from home was such a pain as to be be almost worthless. So if you don't have any already, get thyself a friend or two who keeps kosher, because they will totally get it in a way that few others will (as my friend w/CD can attest).
As for cooking mojo loss, my usual response is to eat crap for a couple days- frozen entrees, stuff I'd normally never ever even think about buying let alone eating. After that , even stuff I mess up tastes good by comparison. Ditto for writing- read some tabloids! Heck, write a tabloid-style article!

I think writing a blog intensifies our relationship with food -- which can be a good thing, or as you have found lately, a trying one.

Sometimes I just need time off from living a life (and all the food in) examined.

Good luck with your mojo. It just wants a little vacation.

Oh dear...I am sobbing with you! I am sure life will look up pretty soon!

Carol, I completely know where you are coming from...cooking is my lifeblood and I sometimes go through streaks when everything I touch turns to shit. I always take it personally and I am almost afraid to step back in the kitchen after one of these streaks. I can just say as someone who has read all of your FLAH blog and this one as well that you are a great cook and you have the passion and the right motivating forces. Don't give up... Btw I was very close to posting a rude (in jest) comment about the lack of Alinea food posts. Get back in there, start small, go bigger than a fried egg, and keep it real.

Take a step back. Go with the fundamentals. Might not be blog-worthy, but it's cold out there, I bet some stock, some vegetables, a few other bits and pieces can make a nice soup to carry you through part of the week.

Hi Carol,
Have been reading your blogs a long time but never commented. Celiac disease @#$^&. Eating GF chocolate and rereading books while drinking way too much coffee is my coping mechanism of choice. After 5 or so years the self-defense mechanisms seem to have become somewhat instinctive (never touch my face w/o washing hands don't kiss kids even my own unless they are freshly bathed yada yada yada). This is where I get my vanilla beans http://stores.ebay.com/The-Organic-Vanilla-Bean-Company_W0QQsspagenameZL2QQtZkm.
I have liked them. They are cheap enough when I ruin something it isn't such a downer.
Hope things turn around soon.

..."My Little Pony-scented Yankee candle coated in Splenda...."

Best. Food. Quote. E V E R.

you are hilarious!

BUT ... I feel your pain about the gluten! I am SO sorry to hear you got glutened, I so know how wretched that can make one feel, and it's not a quick recovery. I hope you are on the mend.

When I lose my mojo, I watch movies, drink wine, eat simple things that are safe and comforting and not always good for me, and read a lot of stuff. And sometimes do other creative things like organize, knit, sew, or just read about other people doing them. I live vicariously until I feel inspired again. Hope you can do the same! We will be here when you get it back. :)

Hi Carol,

Sorry you're going through a rough spot. I've gone through bouts of lost mojo as well....I normally take a break....cook simpler (basic eggs, stocks)...tho' Mirepoix seems to work well for me...Shop...Eat out....and gradually get back into it.

Take your time coming back..I'm sure you'll knock it hard when you come back : )

Carol, I really understand. I've lost my cooking moho as well and it's been gone for weeks. Like you, I'm on a medical diet. Not just one, however, I'm diabetic so no sugar and very restricted carbs. I'm also on the congestive heart failure diet, meaning no salt, limited fruits, only whole grains, no potatoes or rice, and very plain foods with no sauces. Oh that all sucks, but THEN I had to go on the Coumadin diet, which restricts vitamin K intake. Like leafy greens and most green veggies. TRY and follow this diet day in and day out. It's close to impossible. And that's just eating. Cooking with all those rules and regulations has totally done me in. Instead of hating food, I hate my freaking kitchen. I don't even want to walk in there.

I used to love to bake, but now the thought of going through all that work and not being allowed to eat it makes me furious. FURIOUS. I"m a bitter angry foodie and I miss being able to enjoy a meal without feeling all guilty or driving cooks all over Boston crazy asking about ingredients.

I am now living on clementines, apples, tomatoes, and apple cider. Oh, and egg salad with disgusting diet mayo. I can boil eggs. I just can't peel them very well.

Hugs. I hope it gets better fast for you.

Just stop; step back; and take your time. All the time you need. This isn't a job. We all want you well, happy, enthusiastic, and rejuvenated. We're with you all the way, and your project is not a train with an arrival date and time.

If you are a Bloomsbury or Virginia Woolf nut - as I am - get Vanessa & Virginia and smile, laugh, and cry at this lovely book. I found it mesmerizing and was shocked when I got to the end. (I was reading it on my Kindle and didn't notice how far into it I was.)

Listen to the music you love. Put iTunes on Genius and listen to what combinations come up. See a Shakespeare play. Just be still.

Hi Carol-

I thought I was alone in this "losing the food mojo" thing. I will go through a period about 3-4 times per year when NOTHING sounds appetizing, I can't muster any energy to cook or even go out to eat. It used to freak me out, being that food is my hobby and my job (I work in a restaurant and a specialty food store). So I pass the time with trashy TV, retail therapy, or even extra naps. What I have learned is that while it ALWAYS sucks, it always passes and one day I'll wake up with the urge to make a fabulous and often rich meal.

Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your struggle and being honest with your loyal readers. I know that you will get back in the kitchen and start creating those fabulous meals.

When I lose my cool, I do exactly what you do. I rant, I rave, I break down into a quivering ball of sobbing goo and I scare everyone around you, because, like you, I hold myself to very, very high standards. And after that I bounce along in a big glum funk until, suddenly on some magical day it all comes back for no good reason. I think you're doing the right thing. Stepping away from the keyboard and the cutting board for a bit and just chillaxing is great! See you soon maybe!

I had similar experiences - not as a food blogger but as a new mother - it seemed like left and right, I would fail, Fail, FAIL, and the child would scream, Scream, SCREAM. It was demoralizing, depressing, and awful, but you can't take a couple weeks off from a newborn, right? So I would just take a deep breath, figuratively gird the loins, and dive back in. Even did it sans alcohol. (Of course, there was a lot of crying on my part, and complaining the the hubby, and who knows, probably a touch of postpartum depression, but I never claimed to be a saint.)

Just as the mojo leaves, the mojo comes back again. But if you avoid the food, how will you know when the mojo returns, eh? Good luck, and be patient. I know it can be a bad place.

I'm so sorry you're going through this. But you work so hard...maybe your mojo is trying to tell you to indeed rest up and take it easy for a bit. Reboot your palate, reboot the kitchen. Laurie Colwin's piece about "nursery food" comes to mind. If you haven't read "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking" they might prove comforting. Definitely make that roast chicken. And know we're all rooting for you!

Carol, Thank you for being so honest about your experience. I go through a 3-5 day funk every month where I just can't bring myself to do anything correctly. I feel like so dumb, incompetent and isolated. But it happens consistently each month, so I've learned to prep myself for life in the kitchen to run auto cruise. I have a few recipes that use mainly ingredients from the freezer or pantry that I keep in the back of my head that have little prep involved, just set and go: oven roasted chicken, crock pot recipes which just require dumping ingredients into a pot and setting it on low, GF pasta and meat sauce.
Even though I live in a town with many restaurants to eat out from, on those days nothing tastes good, so you might as well sit tight at home and eat something that is familiar and somewhat consistent.

Hi Carol,

I just wanted to tell you that when I was diagnosed with celiac in July, my first thought (since I love to cook and to bake and, especially, to EAT) was how much worse my life was going to be, and how I would never enjoy making food ever again. I was so anxious about all the stress having to worry about gluten all the time would bring into my life! But then I remembered you writing about making some of these recipes gluten-free, and I thought, "You know what? If Carol Blymire has celiac disease and still does this blog, I can still have fun cooking and baking, and if I don't I'm just a big whiner." And I did. Do, I mean.

I hope you get your mojo back and that everything seems better, and I hope it cheers you up to know that you made a big difference to me when I was feeling really down and discouraged about this stupid disease (and boy does it ever suck to get glutened, as I discovered when I moved to Amsterdam where no one even knows what gluten is and they hide flour in everything!). You're the coolest, seriously.

And when I can't do anything right, I make chicken soup because it's easy and comforting. Also, funnily enough, making it makes me feel like I can kick anyone's butt, because it's the recipe of my grandmother, who COULD kick anyone's butt and firmly believed the soup to be the source of her power. (We were all too scared of her to investigate the truth of this claim.)

Sooo sad for you! Life is hard enough sometimes (I've had a rash of WTF-itis this week too) and I can't imagine adding celiac to it.

Hate to say it, but I think part of the problem with your recent Alinea recipes is the cookbook. You have had so many duds amongst the recipes that I'm starting to wonder if perhaps it just wasn't ready for prime time. Maybe some things just don't translate to the home kitchen?

Anyway, I hope you can ride this tornado to the end and land on your feet. You know we are all rooting for you.

I lost my cooking mojo a couple of years ago, which did a number on my ability to post on my food blog. But unlike you, I had no readers at the time - nobody noticed. I gave up on doing anything other than the very basic - scrambling eggs, opening a jar of pasta sauce - and let my husband do all of the dirty work. Eventually, a recipe piqued my interest enough to venture back into real cooking and I haven't stopped yet. Just give yourself some time, take Ceri's advice and eat lots of GF chocolate. And check in with us once in a while. I enjoy reading anything you write, even if it doesn't involve adventures in really ambitious cookbooks. :)

I jumped onto your site today to Thank, Thank, Thank you for the note you sent in response to my SOS donation. I was wicked impressed to get a hand-written note from someone I didn't even know. Clearly your heart and soul is in it.

And then I saw the post today, and found I needed so say something else too.

One of my favorite quotes was from the guy who ran the lab that I worked in for a while. He would do an orientation for the newbies about how the equipment worked, safety stuff, yadayada. He always closed with this comment.
"Some days, you are going to be on fire--everything you do is running right and you are cranking out results left and right. When that happens, don't worry about whether you've got the equipment reserved, just go go go. If you run out of a process material at 3 in the morning, give me a call, and I'll come in and find it for you."
"Other days, nothing will work. Everything you touch goes wrong. When that happens, get the @&#*! OUT OF MY LAB before you break something or I break you."
He was totally right.
And I'd like to say that I now remember those "on" days when I'm feeling "off" and take comfort--but that's just bull$h*t, I mainly feel sorry for myself. But I do remember to get the &*!$ out of the lab.

Trust yourself. You'll know when it's right to come back. We'll still be here--and if we're too impatient to wait, then we can go *@$# ourselves and get our own damn blogs. Yes?

Carol, I'm sorry your mojo is off doing something else. Maybe it wanted to escape the DC blizzard. It'll be home soon. It BETTER be home soon--we miss it, too!

In the meantime, I'd loved to see a list of the books you've read and really liked. A long time ago, you used to have "what I'm reading" on your home page; it was fun to follow that.

Hang in there. Mojo will find its way home.

A series of colonics and a fresh vegetable fast for a week will clear your body of bad mojo in many ways, all good. Then you will return to food with a clear palate and enhanced mojo : )

Oh man, I feel your pain. Well, not the celiac part, which truly sucks. But the mojo? Hell yes. I lose mine -- the writing, the cooking, even the eating sometimes -- all the time. I even wrote about a particularly awful week once. (Search on the blog for "Denver Omelette" if you want commiseration.)

But I think this post proves your writing mojo is definitely back. Way to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.

It's the blue moon on 12/31/09.

Oh wow. Thank you so much for sharing. This really is just a part of the life being cyclical thin. When I loose my Mojo....as we all do... I try sometimes to just put my head down and work through it, others I'll take a vacation/break from whatever it is, since I'm in no way patient I might pitch a fit. I never can tell what will bring me out of it and sometimes I'm not even conscious of when I crawl out from under it. It will pass. Your mojo WILL return.

Oh, goodness, it's catching. It's been a thwarty week for a lot of us, so you're not alone. Just take a break, put it away until it it's ready to behave, and enjoy your life for a little while.

Although I realize that most of the time failure teaches me so much more than success sometimes I just can't find the meaning in it. I have definitely been in your lost your mojo shoes. I'm sure it will return from its hiatus. Remember your peanut gallery is all rooting for you! You can always tell yourself what I told myself when I had an off couple of weeks professionally, personally, and in the kitchen... "I am a smart, competent, and capable person." What can I say, I was desperate and grasping at straws at the time.

Hang in there.... it happens to every human being at some point or another -¨losing¨ whatever mojo we thought was always going to be there

you WILL be back... and we will all be here, in complete awe!

I usually ride it out, do other things that I've not been able to do because I've been working on art (or cooking, or whatever) and let things take their course. I'll slowly wade back into the waters, and take my time letting myself get the mojo back. Try to be patient.

This happened to me a few weeks ago...it was like I was cursed in the kitchen, which meant I was being denied my favorite coping mechanism, cooking. That was the frustrating part...if cooking wasn't such a release for me, I probably wouldn't have been so upset by it. But when one of the chestnuts I was trying to roast literally blew up in my face, all I could think was "%#@% this, I'm finding a new hobby."

But then it got better! Little victories at first, but it was just a matter of giving my cooking mojo a timeout, to let it think about what it had done.

Sometimes I feel that once I reach the point of HATING something I really, really, REALLY love it. In a deep kind of way. There is no way to write this in a 'sane' manner... hmm!

Did have such a 'hate food' moment incidentally. I am on holiday now with family + extended family & I got stressed yesterday in the kitchen to the point I wasn't whipping mascarpone, I was trying to execute the damn thing. The dessert was the worst thing I've made in about 2 years. We all smiled & grimaced.

But the sun will always shine again... really!!


So sorry to hear about all your troubles. Celiac must suck--I can't even imagine. For a while my doctors thought I might have it and the thought of all those things I couldn't eat was so sad. Kudos to you for all the ways you're still able to enjoy food despite it.

I've always been a total foodie (and for a little while, a food blogger) too, and I LOVED to cook. I loved to share meals with my husband and family and friends, and to have people over for meals, or to go out and try new restaurants. Food was such a huge part of our lives. And then, a few months ago, my husband choked on a piece of popcorn and very nearly died, right in front of me. It was the second time he's choked, and since then, I've only been able to see food as the enemy. We've both lost (unnecessary) weight; I hate cooking; I hate eating out. Meals with friends or family give both of us extreme anxiety. It's hard to explain to anyone, and I keep finding myself wishing that no one ate meals together, there was no social eating, the only place you could buy edible things was, like, Jamba Juice. Or ice cream shops. Or maybe broth, plain.

Anyway, I really feel you on the hating-food-losing-mojo bit--it's harder than I would have expected, when food was such a source of joy and pleasure and comfort, when suddenly you just resent it. You're definitely not alone :) for whatever that's worth. I'm so sorry you've been feeling lousy, and I hope things improve for you soon. Take care!

As a professional artist, I deal with this sort of thing a lot. No, really, a lot. You seem to have a handle on it....do other stuff. I read, mostly. And feel guilty for not being productive, which is in itself unproductive. It doth suck, hugely. But it will pass. Do you know that I save up reading your blog, for a month or so at a time? Then when I'm out of inspiration I read your blog. So, like, no pressure. Hardly any.

At times like this, when you're having a wee hiatus, I go back to the French Laundry blog, foodie freak that I am.

You know, I've been reasonably successful for years. I travel the world teaching what I do. But when I have one poor sale, I agonize for days. We need to smarten up, methinks. We're doin' okay. Plus, you can dance. I would cause seismic activity, like some chubby Hadron Collider. See? I've got you worried about something else now! Job done....off to solve the Middle East crisis!


Losing your cooking mojo stinks, and getting sick from food is horrible. I gave myself food poisoning once (because I am just that awesome) and I swore that once I could lift my head off the toilet seat I would never cook again.

You'll get there. Usually I make an egg sandwich when I get into a funk like this. Or a funk like anything - egg sandwiches are the best evah.

Also, your thank you note from the SOS fundraiser made my night earlier this week. Hang in there.

I'm so sorry you are going through this. Like Alexander and his terrible horrible no good very bad day, some days are like that... Even in Australia...

Be well and know that the universe (and us) are rooting for you.
Carol G

Just stumbled across Gluten-Free Girl's success with no-knead, gluten-free bread that she says actually tastes like bread and isn't a dense brick. http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com/2007/01/i-am-stubborn-i-dont-give-up.html

I haven't tried it, but her post is inspiring. Might be a nice "homely" change from Alinea type stuff. (It's an old post, forgive me if you've seen it before.)

Carol- It's a funk. Could be winter, moon phase, hormones, or whatever. We all go through this but deal with it in different ways. I'm the analytical sort so I soldier on with the necessary things but choose another focus- if cooking is not going well I'll pick up the crochet hook or start washing walls.

Roast the chicken like Michael has on his blog- then make chicken divan with the leftovers! That's my plan for today!

We're all here for you- and like an earlier poster said- it's not like the train has to be at the station at a specific time!


I'm in the same food funk myself right now. I have no idea why, just no appetite or desire to play at all. Actually, all I really want is fresh vegetable juice, but only if someone else makes it for me whenever I want. .... yeah.

Maybe this will cheer you up a little bit? It did me.


Ok, maybe I'll break out the juicer.

I'm so sorry you're going through this funk! And I'm sorry you got glutened - one of my girlfriends has celiac and I know how much WORK it can be to avoid gluten in EVERY SINGLE BITE you put in your mouth, especially when you're not the one cooking.

I did want to thank you so much for the kind note you sent for my donation to SOS. It was so unexpected, the videos were more than enough thanks :)

Loved your post. Fear not, your muse will return. I'm an art director with a background in food, and I can tell you that having to be creatively on every day isn't easy. Neither is cooking from the Alinea cook book. You have good days and bad days.

Your blog both inspires and entertains. Take some time off. Keep up the good work. And return when your ready. Thanks for all the good reads.

You are a big part of my cooking mojo and I hope that the respect and affection in which you are held by so many of those who read you (even if, like me, they rarely comment) can contribute to bringing your mojo back. In the meantime, just bask in the love.

And I second the suggestion of the poster who's hoping to hear what you are reading.

And here is a possibly quirky idea -- PG Wodehouse loved golf the way you love cooking ... and every golfer I know has thrown a club or sworn off the links at least once. Wodehouse captures that love-hate relationship in the stories collected in his "Golf Omnibus" -- it could have a bracing effect right now .... even if you don't golf. And if it doesn't, at least you'll get a lot of laughs.

I love your sheer honesty. I have so had those days and ... weeks.


Every now and then you hear about a baseball pitcher who's having problems with his "release point." That means he's forgotten where in his throw he's supposed to let go of the ball, and he ends up throwing into the dirt or way into the air. The more he thinks about it, the worse it gets, and he just has to throw over and over again WITHOUT THINKING until he gets it right again.

I think you find yourself in a situation like that. You had a string of clumsiness, and it's left you shaken. Then your illness took you even further down. Okay, you flipped an egg clumsily. The thing to do is practice flipping thoughtlessly until it comes naturally again. (Don't practice with eggs: Use a little pancake or something similar and a cold pan so you don't make a mess until your mojo comes back.)

The pitcher knows how to throw the ball, and you know how to cook.

writer's blues ... january blues ... and a serious case of "the droppies" (as my young niece calls them) ... if it makes you feel at all better you are not alone--i just went through it myself ... decided not to blog again until inspired, took some walks in the sunshine, chatted on the phone for hours with a faraway friend, curled up by the fire for an entire day with nothing but a stack of books and faux fur blankets ... feeling much better, hope you are too

To be honest, I feel your pain.

I work in television news, and around mid-December, I hit a point where I was literally raging that it (my industry *and* how and what we were reporting as news) was total and complete baloney. (Actually, my tirade was far more profane than that.)

This was compounded by my usual seasonal funk at the over-commercialization of the Christmas season, decorations going up before children had finished their Halloween treats (not to mention which, I don't see many kids in our neighborhood anymore, the joy of pretend and trick-or-treating now lost in fear of predators and food tampering).

So when I hit a much-needed week of vacation, I did a couple of things: took a 'news diet' (literally, don't watch the news on the boob tube, don't obsessively track news/info sites) ... and dive into Michael Ruhlman's 'Ratio.' And as I was rediscovering the simple and grounding pleasures of baking bread from scratch, the funk from grinding out the same drivel every day - including my usual blog entries, which are often grounded in news/politics - eased.

So maybe your food mojo was circulating out there where it was needed, and if it was, thank you.

Carol, this honesty is why we love you. Everyone screws up in the kitchen, and everyone (I think) wants to jump up and down and yell at the food they failed at sometimes, but your willingness to share that frustration is pretty rare. Sometimes, it's funny - and I know, sometimes I can see the humor in screwing up an entire meal for my poor husband, who usually attempts to eat it - but it's not funny sometimes, too.

I had a dinner party on Saturday, and everything came out a little wrong, and I'm still a little bitter at my stupid inability to make it work. I think you've done the right thing - take a little time off, breathe, make some old favorites, and then jump in and make something crazy. And maybe stay away from sharp objects, really hot things, and restaurants that don't understand the concept of "seriously, no gluten" in the meantime.

I think Sherry's last paragraph hit on it! You danced in front of the White House, you did not get arrested, & ... it was fun. Your body is telling you, "Get out of your head! Let me play more!" So take the tap shoes out to someplace where you *can* set off the sparklers, & tap-ball-change your little heart out!

Before I even read down to the "I hate food" part, I thought, "Oh no, Carol lost the love." When I carry resentment against any thing or person - animate, inanimate, it doesn't matter, things like you described happen. So I just stop cooking, try to find the source of my resentment and then let it go. Eventually, the love comes back and I can cook again. Which is good, because my cooking tastes like crap with the love.

You're so awesome, Carol. This too shall pass.

Wow, Carol, what is going on in the cosmos? I too lost my cooking mojo in a rather spectacularly bad fashion at Christmas. I overcooked a huge prime rib roast to medium well for my family that likes it rare, to various other disasters culminating in a burnt cake that smoked out my mom's house so badly my sis had to sit on the porch for 4 hours in 41 degree weather because of her asthma. It continued up until yesterday, actually. I don't feel like trying, or writing or doing anything. Dejected.

So I'm trying a new tactic, a bubble bath with a snappy Le Bourget cocktail. It seems to be helping my overall disposition, you should try it!

Hey carol.

I just wanted to tell you what an inspiration you are and I have been a devoted reader of yours for a while, following you since you started in Carol cooks Keller. I wish you best of luck through this rut and I hope that your love for food will only grow strong from now. I also wanted to second Ceri's link of vanilla beans from the organic vanilla bean store on ebay. the beans are dirt cheap and are so amazing and delicious.

Wow, you really are going through a rough patch right now and I'm so sorry. When I lose my mojo or my life is turned upside down by illness or worry, I take a break. I withdraw for a while and slowly but surely things get better. Eventually, I find my zen place and start to get my life back. You will too. But first, it helps if you yell and scream and cry and rant about how shitty it all is.

You don't really indicate when your mojo slipped out the back door, but I wanted to reassure you were are not alone. Although I had been a mad baker woman--wowing my friends and acquaintances with my amazing culinary skills for the past few weeks, on Christmas Eve night, my baking mojo vanished.... I will spare you the gory details, other than to say there were so many f-bombs said Christmas morning as the 1st attempt at the roulade for the buche de noel turned out like wrinkled leather that Santa may never come to my house again..... and it turned out I was out of sugar, so to make the 2nd attempt, I had to open all the sugar packets I had tucked away from years of picking up one extra one at the coffee place.
Never fear, you have too much good karma built up for this to last too long, I think the universe just wanted you to take a breather!

I soooooo understand!
I came across your blog looking for recipes to adapt, as a fellow celiac, and it is inspiring!
Talk about how much it sucks to have celiac disease, imagine living in France!
So I've decided NOT to settle for "ok" gluten-free bread and pastry and I've been on this crusade to make tasty gluten-free food for about a year and a half. There have been times when I've screwed up the most simple of recipes (and found myself just bawling over it)and times when the most difficult adaptation has come together perfectly. My husband and I call it "les petits doigts" (little fingers). Sometimes you have them, sometimes you don't. Take a deep breath. Take time to get better. "Les petits doigts" will be back.

Carol: So sorry to hear that you got glutened; nothing like adding insult to injury, eh?

I too have Celiac and I too just got glutened, by a medication, no less. The medication is not new but the brand is as I had to switch because of my health insurance rules. I can switch back, but it means I'll be paying double for it. Grrrr!

I'm one of those folks with Celiac who is so very *grateful* to have a diagnosis, to have a reason for why I felt so bad (took 10 years to get me diagnosed). I find it easy to keep to the diet. But I'm not a saint, not by any means. My issue is that the gluten caused so much damage that I now cannot have dairy, all legumes (including soy, peanuts, green beans, peas), tree nuts, nightshades (tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, peppers), eggs, and all grains. This list wasn't meant to impress you with how bad I have it or how bad it could be; it just means I *really* get it when you're sad and missing a food (OMG.....to have peanut butter again!...sigh....). On top of that, when my mojo takes a hike and I don't want to think about food (which I have to do ALL the time!), I can't just reach for a quick comfort food, I HAVE to make it. There are a few exceptions (hot dogs from Trader Joe's, jams/jellies without corn syrup, chocolate) but if I haven't stocked up on those items, forget it. Some days I just eat some fruit.

When I lose my mojo, it might be reading, it might be the time sink of surfing on the internet, watching no-brainer movies (this week while feeling poorly, before figuring out what was glutening me, it was kung fu movies). Sometimes it's sobbing til the snot runs and my chest is heaving. Sometimes it's curling up in a ball, under a blanket, with the dog pressed into my hip and looking worriedly into my eyes.

Taking a break is key; mojo always comes back.

I know this is long, but one more thing. Between you and Grant, I've been inspired to do more flavor combinations. I'm an adequate cook (I follow a recipe well and can even improvise when I feel a recipe isn't working) but I need to get better if I'm to have flavorful, happy meals. Because of that inspiration, I was able to kick up the flavor of a baba ganoush that I wasn't happy with (flavor good, texture kind of funny....a chunky dip instead of smooth). So today I grabbed my jar of bacon jam (OMGOMGOMG....this stuff is *amazing*!), warmed it up, and put it on top of the baba ganoush. Holy cow! I was soooo happy to put that in my mouth!

Thank you so very much for this blog and for your honesty.

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