In my second book I reference the fact that I used to be horrible at planning. It’s not in my nature to be structured and organised, but I developed it a lot over the years.
It was only recently that I realised that it hasn’t just been the Pomodoro technique, to-do lists and the Passion Planner: I also have two of my other activities to thank for the improvement in my planning and organisational skills.
Driving and cooking. I’m serious. In my previous blog I wrote about the driving, now let’s dive into the cooking.
I truly developed my love for cooking into what it is now, when I was heartbroken and living alone for the first time — back in 2015.
After a long day at work, I would just putter around in the kitchen with a glass of wine, making more food than I could eat so that I’d have leftovers for a few days. At first, that was a necessity, because I wouldn’t feel great some of those days. It was a great comfort to always have leftovers in the fridge or freezer. I started making copious amount of Italian and Indian food, and my love for homemade comfort food was born.
Then, when I fell in love with Vincent, we started cooking together, and cooking for each other. As our relationship moved from dating to serious to moved in together, we developed a love for food (and wine) together and we learned from each other and with each other about cooking, food and dinner.
I also fell in love with cooking for others. We hosted dinner parties for family and friends, and I have developed a habit to bring my pregnant or newly-parent friends food for them to heat up and enjoy in this time of their life. Coordinating that, or cooking a three-course meal for 6 to 8 people is quite a challenge.
I didn’t just learn to love cooking, I also really learnt how to do it — and do it well.
And the key to good cooking? Planning.
Cooking trains Organisational Skills
Cooking requires quite a few things in the planning and organising department if you want to do it successfully.
Thinking and planning ahead
It starts with the grocery shopping: You have to know what you need for certain dishes. But it’s not just that, it also requires mentally keeping tabs on expiration dates of the things already in your fridge and pantry, spices and staple foods that you might be low on and taking the time into account that it takes you to shop for groceries as well as cook — meaning sometimes you need to plan ahead.
I don’t know about you, but if I have to do all the groceries the morning of a big dinner party, I’m poofed before I even bring out the appetizers. So I have to make sure to do those beforehand.
I really dislike having to be in the kitchen when my guests have already arrived; our kitchen is a separate room across the hallway from the living room so it’s not very fun to be in the kitchen while you hear your friends and family talking and having a nice time. So I usually choose dishes that need minimal supervision once prepped or assembled in order to not miss out on any quality time!
Tunamelts, lasagnas, baked ziti and my infamously rich and decadent Mac and Cheese are usually winners, paired with some easy side dishes work well. When there is appetizer – main – dessert going on, I make sure the appetisers and dessert are already ready to go and just the main needs some work in the kitchen.
This skill -prepping- translates will into real life. I assemble salads for lunch before a busy workweek and I do groceries on Thursday in case of a busy weekend. I clean my desk if I have a lot of writing planned the next day.
Doing multiple things at once
Having potatoes roasting in the oven, broccoli in the steamer, chicken marinating and chocolate mousse stiffening up in the fridge: you gotta keep an eye on everything.
Cooking requires you to multitask because it is necessary for a successful meal with multiple dishes: if you want everything ready to serve at the same time for dinner, you gotta take that into account when prepping, cooking and serving!
And not just that, but my God we can make such a mess while we’re cooking. And it is so incredibly wonderful to clean while cooking, because there are all these wasted moments while waiting for water to boil of for a dish to be done. So in the mean time: throw away the plastic and potato peels, rinse bowls and put them in the dish washer, maybe clean the counter. You save yourself SO much extra time by doing this.
Whereas traditional multitasking has proven to be ineffective, there is no denying we always have several responsibilities in our life to keep an eye on. Needing to keep my eye on different pots and pans has helped me to do that. And the cleaning-while-cooking has taught me to make use of those little moments in between things. I clean a bit while waiting for my tea or coffee in the kitchen, I fold and sort laundry in Pomodoro breaks and I try to take dirty dishes back to the kitchen when I’m walking there anyway.
Cooking has taught me that.
I’m not very good with instruction manuals; I throw them out and I just turn on my new iPhone, computer or Alexa and hope for the best.
But I’m a good recipe follower, because I know that it’s worth it. Someone has carefully laid out these steps for anyone else in order to make the best version of a dish as possible, and I respect that. So I read carefully, I take it step by step — only once I have mastered the basic steps of the recipe I start faffing around and adding on.
Through that practice with the recipes, I have become more acquainted with working in steps. Taking my time going through chapters start to finish of a study book, painting an entire kitchen with Vin over the summer, not rushing but carefully starting and finishing.
Speaking of not rushing…
Whether it’s making a cheese sauce from scratch, baking a banana bread or letting a ragout get all nice and rich — for good food you have to take your time.
You can’t blast the heat on something to make it go quicker. Well, you can, but the food never benefits from it, neither in taste, texture or total experience. Custard becomes scrambled eggs, roux burns and caramelised onions become black, crispy unusable flakes. So, rushing? Not a good idea in cooking.
Plus, because you can’t always tell if something is really done yet, especially with things in the oven like chicken or baked goods, you gotta be able to be patient.
Good things take time. And so, another important skill, crucial in planning and making things work, is practicing patience. I don’t rush my writing; let it sit for a while if I think it needs to stew in my brain for a while. I don’t jump to conclusions, I wait until the actual conclusion reveals itself. In my job, I wait a few days before I reply to a particularly unfriendly email, by then the other party usually sees they’ve been unreasonable and apologises anyway.
I believe that things you do teaches and trains you in a way that will ultimately effect everything else that you do. I believe this can apply to everything we do.
How you do things in the kitchen, how you treat other people, you look at things during creative projects: stuff like that boils over into the rest of your life.
So do things, and try to do them well.