Sometimes you don't realize you're in a rut until you've fallen very, very deep inside of it. This winter I was in a lunch rut — unable to decide what I wanted to eat on almost a daily basis, and almost always winding up eating some boring version of a grilled cheese or a spinach salad or resorting to takeout. As someone who loves to cook, even if it's just for myself, this felt a bit like a major fail. Why wasn't I whipping up delicious, tasty dishes that were healthy and gorgeous, like everyone else on my Instagram feed?
The reason is because I was very, very bored. Bored with my fridge contents, bored with my pantry, just plain bored. I was also freezing and tired of the long, cold winter we were enduring, which is never a good spot to be in when you need inspiration.
Then, one day, the woman in front of me at the meat counter ordered some honey maple ham, which all of a sudden sounded delicious. (Have I mentioned I'm pregnant? Cravings that come on suddenly have also been messing with my mojo.) I stepped up to the counter and ordered myself some ham, and some cheese, and bought some nice brioche buns, and resolved to have an elegant ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, with a side of crispy chips (ahem, pregnant).
Once I got home I realized that somewhere deep in my pantry closet was an unopened jar of some fancy mustard. I sought it out, smeared some on my bun, threw in a ripped up romaine lettuce leaf, and dined on a simple but delicious sandwich made heavenly by the addition of that mustard. It was sweet and bracing and laced with garlic, total gourmet mustard that was light years beyond the yellow deli stuff.
Since that day I've been humming again at lunchtime, after a few days of browsing our local specialty markets for some pantry picker-uppers that could elevate my simple ideas into things of greatness. I highly suggest you do the same. A few jars of pickled fennel, creamy lemon curd, and exotic olives can jump-start your palate in the way that no inspiring cookbook can, lending new flavors and textures to your standby salads, sandwiches, and yogurts. Go forth, and shop — I'll be here, dipping my carrots in some roasted garlic hummus swirled with creamy labneh.
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