Finding flavour when you just can't get a break
The makings of brown butter.

Finding flavour when you just can't get a break

Shikha Kaiwar

I've been talking to many of my friends who create art—poetry, food, music, essays. They're all saying the same thing—that it's been really tough. Right when we feel a spark of creativity, the world pulls a bait-and-switch. A changing social media algorithm. A job loss or fear of losing one (because of course as creative people, we still need full-time jobs to pay bills because capitalism). Unbridled inflation. A health scare. A wedding to plan for a very divided family. The world has not been hospitable to the creative mind for years now, and collectively we are suffering. My best friend and I text each other these words once a week:

"We just can't get a break."

Even journaling has felt incredibly difficult. As someone who feels deeply, I rely on writing as a processing and coping mechanism, but now there's a negative cycle. I feel, so I want to write, but if I write, then I will feel more, and I am too overwhelmed by the current state of feeling so I don't want to make it worse. So I will not write and hope that these feelings drift away. But they don't.

We love a diagram.

This mental exhaustion has affected how I cook. Historically, cooking has never been a chore to me. It's the center of a three-circled Venn diagram—one each for passion, profession, and survival. I love transforming food, no matter how mundane the meal or ingredient. From morning toast and eggs to post-workout granola and yogurt bowls, it doesn't matter if I'm dreary-eyed from a bad night's sleep or dripping sweat after a run. I ask the same question each time:

"How can I make this taste better?"

This question takes up a lot of mental power that might be better used on more fruitful pursuits like how to to monetise this newsletter better or how to book the best flight with the least amount of credit card points. But the truth is that good flavours keep me going. Because to me, there is nothing more important than what we eat and how we eat it. Not even money.

That doesn't mean what we eat needs to be always healthy; importance does not equal health and I think that needs to be called out. As someone whose entire life revolves around desserts, I am no poster child of health. But I think of pastry the way I think about most food—is it making me happy? Is it creating positive energy? Is it mentally, physically, or spiritually nourishing me? Is it fun? Money might make you happy, and it might unlock some fun things, but I will fight anyone who claims it is nourishing in any way. Food—and pastries—does what nothing else can. It keeps us alive and fuels our bodies and minds. And shouldn't we want to be alive in the most free and full way?

Don't we want to taste all the colours of the rainbow?
Candy Kittens, the best snack!

As I write these words, I'm brutally aware that I haven't been connecting with them for some time. Not because I don't believe them, but because like many of my friends, I can't seem to get a break from life long enough to let my mind flow into its creative state of recipes and ingredients and 2005-era angsty prose. I haven't handled the world's fake-outs well. I hate making Reels/TikToks and being on camera (there's a reason I was back-of-house for so long!); my previous work contract fell through suddenly and I scrambled to find new work; a big mental health care has landed me in therapy twice a week while my hair falls out in clumps. And the biggest time suck—our wedding is six weeks away and I still haven't convinced my divorced parents how to behave.

So no, I'm not creating anything new for the world or for myself. I am simply trying to make it through each day without falling apart and make it through each night without waking up every hour in a panic...if I even fall asleep at all.

There is one consolation. When you've cooked consistently since you were thirteen years old, trying to make something taste good and seeking out good flavours becomes an innate quest. It's something you do without even realising it, like breathing or mouthing Nicki Minaj's verse in "Monster" when it plays on your running playlist without missing a line. Although I haven't been developing new recipes, I have been enjoying bits of joy here and there and I wanted to share them so you can try them out.

We can't get a break, but we can get a bite.
  • Brown butter on toast: One afternoon I made a pan of brown butter and my morning toast has never been the same. ASMR here, but really, just simmer butter over medium heat until it achieves peak nuttiness and aroma. Your house will smell amazing.
  • Freshly ground pepper: On anything and everything. I put in on eggs, on chicken, and in my chai. It's so satisfying!
  • Candy Kittens: These are addicting and serve no purpose except to make me happy! With flavours like guava and raspberry, they're the perfect afternoon (or after breakfast) treat.
  • Roast chicken thighs and veggies: I've been too tired to make elaborate meals so this has become a go-to. Marinate skin-on/bone-in thighs and bake at 200°C/400°F alongside some hearty vegetables like onions, carrots, cauliflower, and mushrooms. Every 7 minutes or so, toss the veggies in the chicken fat that starts releasing. You're left with a delicious one-pan meal that you can eat with rice.
  • Air fryer pastries: The only thing we use our air fryer for is to reheat pastries I buy from the bakery. I'll pick up a few pastries for the week, and each morning, we use the reheat function to bring them back to life. This is what everyone uses their air fryer for right?
  • Mochi ice cream: We're supposed to be eating healthy for our wedding but I need to eat something sweet after dinner, so these are the perfect bite. My favourite is coconut!
  • Bouillon cubes in rice: Buying stock is weirdly expensive in the UK so instead I rely on bouillon cubes. Whenever I make rice, I plop in one cube. The rice turns out nicely salted and herby which is way more fun than plain rice!
  • Natural yogurt vs Greek yogurt: Gym bros will attack me for this but natural yogurt just tastes better to me. Yes there's less protein but it's got the flavour of Indian-style dahi (aka yogurt) that I'm too lazy to make at home. Team natty yog!

I'm headed to Paris for the bank holiday weekend to spend time with my mom, who hasn't visited since she was a child, and brother, who has never been. I'm very excited to show them one of my favourite cities; next week I'll recap the trip and share where I like to hang out at when I go!