February 12, 2019
My second word for the year is "Prepare".
I guess, like sloshing's lesson on pausing, it's a word that I bring to my work from my experience in the kitchen.
The two greatest lessons I learned in cooking were clean as you go and mise-en-place.
We would arrive at the restaurant hours ahead of opening and prepare all of the ingredients we needed at our station to prepare the various dishes.
When I was a kid, I thought that the visit to the dental hygienist was all about the polish at the end. Later I realized it was the lengthy cleaning and examination that was the key and the polish was just that - polish.
I speak at a lot of conferences and hear other speakers tell the audience that they just wrote their slides on the plane ride in.
There are some speakers who can pull that off, but the best ones spend days finding the core of their talk and reworking it so that the audience gets the most out of it.
It's not that there's no room for improvising and going off script - but the better prepared I am, the more comfortable I feel deviating from my plan.
I was teaching a class a couple of weeks ago and a student suggested we do something differently.
I looked at his suggestion and it was better than the code I had planned to present.
Everything we did in the next few hours would build on this code.
Because I knew exactly where I was going, I knew that we'd be ok using his suggestion and that the final result would actually be better.
Back to cooking.
Last night I wanted to try a recipe for Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese.
I read the recipe this weekend before shopping for ingredients. One of the items I needed was red kidney beans. I decided to buy dry beans instead of canned.
This means that I couldn't start cooking last night at 5 and expect to have dinner ready by 6.
I cooked the beans two nights ago until they were soft, cooled then, and stored them in the refrigerator.
Last night at 5, I cut an onion and a carrot.
I set a pan on the stove and turned the heat on.
I knew that by the time the oil had heated, I would have cut the garlic and bell pepper.
While the vegetables cooked, I opened the can of whole tomatoes and put the pasta on to cook.
When the vegetables were the right texture, I added the tomatoes and beans.
I drained the pasta and added it to a bowl, and washed out the pan I'd cooked the pasta with.
I topped the pasta with the sauce, and sat and had a great meal less than a half hour after I'd started.
When I was done, all that was left to clean was the pot filled with three more meals worth of sauce and the fork and bowl I'd eaten with.
Note the preparation.
I read through the recipe well ahead of time so I knew both the ingredients I would need and the approximate time it would take to prepare each. It meant that I started the beans ahead of time so they were ready to add at the last minute.
In an earlier time I might have cut up all of the vegetables before going to the stove, but over time I'd learned how long it takes me to do different things in the kitchen so I can prepare without over-preparing.
I knew what I was looking for at various stages so I'd prepared my steps and expectations.
Finally, I didn't really feel like cooking last night. I just wasn't in the mood.
But the ingredients were purchased and the beans were ready. My preparation meant that I was less likely to act on impulse and stop for fast food or a prepared meal.
This year I plan to prepare more for the tasks I need to perform professionally. Assemble the pieces I need before I write that next book, produce that next video, or teach that next class.