If you're getting sick of trying to come up with delicious and healthy dinner ideas for ungrateful children, you're not alone. Lockdown might be with us for a little while yet, and even the most enthusiastic cooks have their limits. Here's my final ever guide to lockdown cooking, 18 months after I wrote my first one.
1. Nothing is cheating
This is true even in normal times but it bears repeating now. Cereal for dinner? It doesn't say breakfast anywhere on the box (I know, I checked two different boxes). An omelette is a fantastic quick meal at any time of day. If you're not confident with your omelette skills go for scrambled eggs instead.
If you do feel some residual guilt that scrambled eggs or mushrooms on toast might not be the correct level of "adulting", just add a green leaf salad with vinaigrette on the side and a glass of oily chardonnay, and you've got a sophisticated little French bistro number on your hands.
And while I'm at it, a pox on the snobs who think using a bought curry paste or packet stock is "cheating". I make curry paste and stock often, but I'll still use store-bought ones when I feel like it. The idea that one is "cheating" and the other "real cooking" is patently ridiculous.
If the treadmill of 'cook, wash, repeat' is getting you down, just step off it for a bit.
Adam Liaw's souvlaki-style lamb chops (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
2. Let's take it outside
The barbecue has been my saviour in lockdown, and not just because it gives me 20 minutes outside with a cold beer and no children. It also dramatically reduces the washing up, which takes a lot of the stress out of the whole witching hour-slash-dinnertime period.
If you think about it, nearly every recipe is just an ingredient with heat applied to it, so why not make that heat come from a barbecue? I've barbecued everything from onions and sliced sweet potatoes to mushrooms, beansprouts, broccoli and corn.
Those are some recipes, but honestly, you don't even need one. Just a pot of salt and a bottle of oil and you can make anything taste great by cooking it well on a barbecue. Add a bit of chimichurri, a squeeze of lemon or even just a lug of sauce out of a bottle.
Slice this simple strawberry and cream roll cake to gift to neighbours (recipe here) Photo: William Meppem
3. Give gifts
I'm not your therapist, but one thing I've found that gives me a sense of positive purpose during lockdown is trying to help others. If you're making Bolognese, make a big batch and instead of freezing the excess, drop it (safely and legally) off to a friend to take the stress out of just one meal.
Strawberries are dirt-cheap and in season right now, so how about a big batch of homemade strawberry jam to either give away now or to stick in the cupboard to give as Christmas gifts (it'll be here before you know it)? Or blood orange marmalade? Or lemon curd?
4. Get inspired
If it's all feeling a little same-y at this point it's possible that – like half of Australia – you might be lacking a little inspiration. To say that's normal would be an understatement. I'd be worried if you weren't feeling a little flat right now.
Pick up an old cookbook, scroll through your favourite Instagram accounts or browse goodfood.com.au for a bit of extra inspiration. You never know, a recipe you have always wanted to try – but never quite had the push to actually get there – might jump out at you now that circumstances are different.
5. Give up
And if that search for inspiration fails, just give up. Order delivery three meals a day for a whole week. Live entirely on salt and vinegar chips and soda water. Present your family with an evening cheese platter instead of a roast chicken.
If the treadmill of "cook, wash, repeat" is getting you down, just step off it for a bit. Remove the thing that's causing you anxiety and you'll start to see things differently. It's not a sign of failure and it won't last forever.
A few days on the chips and no dishes might be just what you need to clear your head, and I can all but guarantee you'll be back to cooking great meals again soon, and perhaps even enjoying yourself while you do.