secrets to wonderful cooking: stay focused

So, you have your recipe, your food, your plan, your space, and your tools.  Now, comes the work.  This is the most important part of all.

I’ve noticed a lot of disasters in the kitchen, that don’t come from ignoring the recipe without understanding the reasoning behind it, come from getting distracted.  If I have any trouble with cooking nowadays, it’s usually because something happens, the kids get hurt or fight or get into something, the phone rings, etc. etc. and before you know it you’re staring at what was originally a good meal and wondering what you can squeeze out of the budget so your family can still eat… something. You have no idea what.

This is usually when you’re tempted to order pizza or get a bucket of chicken.

Evaluate your plan

Two things help a lot in this situation.  First, make sure your plan is a workable plan.  If you have a full-time job, make sure your meal plan fits around that.  If you homeschool, making sure you have a hassle-free lunch plan is essential.  Trying to chop up a relish tray and make dip and a quick bread or, oh, better yet, crackers, yes, homemade crackers and soup and a salad and… well, you get the idea.  You end up starting on lunch in the middle of school and can’t really give yourself to either.  I’ve tried to get around that by either having something really simple like sandwiches, or something that’s made the night before.  Leftovers also work really well.  Whatever you have in your life, it’s usually possible to cook around it.

So, as you implement your plan, write down in some accessible place near your recipes what worked and what didn’t.  If you found out the dish was too complex, write it down.  If you found it was too time-consuming, write it down.  If you discovered it’s workable if you prepare some of it ahead of time, or that you found out you could freeze it, write it down.  Then, adjust your plans accordingly.  This should take care of a lot of problems before they start.

Stay focused

When you’re first learning, set some boundaries.  Get the kids involved in something that they can do on their own that will also keep them busy and in your eyeline.  Don’t answer the phone.  Most importantly, use a timer.  If you have to have multiple timers set, do it.  Do not do any cleaning that would take you out of the kitchen (this is also why you have the kids doing something nearby).  If you have a dish that has a wait time and you know you get distracted easily, get a book and sit in the kitchen to read with the timer in plain sight.  If a kid wanders off and gets into something, do what you have to do, but get the food either at a point where you don’t need to focus on it, or shut it off.  I know that sounds like something obvious, but if you’re just learning and your kid does something really horrible, sometimes you can forget whatever you’ve got on the stove.  Oh, and when you clean it, use a timer to stay on track.  The point is to get back to the meal as quickly as possible.

If you do all that and find yourself drifting into space, then the problem is not external.  More on that in a later post.

Next time, I’ll talk about the importance of attitude.

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