When we were first married, my husband went into work every day to regale his colleagues with the “utensil count” from the previous night.
You see, I had joined the Cooking and Crafts Book-of-the-Month club, and new members got four books for a dollar. I got Joy of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and another Julia Child cookbook — I can’t remember if there was a fourth book or if the two volumes of Mastering took up two credits.
|This is not a cookbook I got back then: I don’t know where I got it, but it’s really cute. I might have shown you before, but I was using it yesterday, so I wanted to share again!|
Anyway, the whole Julie & Julia thing burns me up, because I totally worked through “Mastering” before that girl could even read. I didn’t do a recipe every day, because I was also a full-time student, and I didn’t make every single recipe, because who wants to make some of those things (cooked celery? no thanks), but if there had been blogging back then, wow, I would have been all over it.
We had a small kitchen in an apartment in a neighborhood above Georgetown (where I had transferred after getting married) in Washington, D.C.
|It has all these super cute illustrations…|
|And then, randomly, it has these super cute illustrations.|
By the way, for those of you breathlessly awaiting the story of how I shorted out the building (and if you were really breathless, you’d be dead, because that was a while ago that I mentioned it, so it’s good you didn’t give it a second thought), maybe you can picture the little portable washing machine in this kitchen that served, when the lid wasn’t open, which was usually, as much needed horizontal surface area.
This washer and my exasperating hastiness were the cause. The washer plugged into the wall above it and a little to the side. Of course we didn’t have a dryer. I don’t remember how we dried most of the clothes! We must have done something. But as to shirts, why, I had the idea of hanging them on hangers and letting them dry like that, only, I needed somewhere to hang them from.
For whatever reason, at that moment I couldn’t think of any better place to hang the shirts than on the plug, which was large and jutted out of the outlet in that way that large plugs do; and was not quite tightly plugged in.
Immediately, as any sane person would have predicted, the wire hangers slipped off the plug and onto the exposed metal.
I think I knew that could happen, but I thought that a) they would probably slide down the cord onto the floor, so that wouldn’t be so bad and I’d be a little more experienced when I thought up the next place to put them, or b) there would be not much consequence if they went the other way. However, the electricity shorted out for the whole building. There was quite the ominous silence after a hail of sparks.
I had to call the super and he was not excited, and by not excited I mean swearing at me, about going down into the basement (which you accessed from outside), where there was about a foot of water standing at all times. I don’t blame him, but I also didn’t quite explain what had happened.
Anyway, getting back to the kitchen, I was usually hungry and I think we can see that when confronted with a question, I tend to choose the complicated answer.
And Julia Child’s idea of master recipes that you, well, mastered in order to learn technique, appealed to me. Of course, Phil loved to eat too, and he, always nothing if not affirming of whatever interest I have, amiably insisted on doing the dishes, if I wanted to spend my time whipping up French delicacies for him.
After a full day of classes and extra-curriculars, I would come home, take a stab at, not housekeeping (I would not use that word; too exact), but let’s say some sort of chaos containment. There was also a good amount of novel-reading and studying. Then I would eventually open the cookbook to see what I would make that night.
Then I would go grocery shopping.
|Why I doubled this recipe I’m not sure. I was in exploding mode, I guess…|
|California raisin (actually fig) bars. I didn’t do them quite right, and I don’t know if you can see that cookie layer, but it’s there.|
Need I say, dinner was usually quite late. Quite.
At the time and for many years afterwards, Phil got about five hours of sleep by preference (I guess — I have no idea when he got up!), so he didn’t care how late it was, and hey, I was getting up at 9 am anyway, having carefully scheduled no early morning classes. He was quite happy and content to start doing dishes at about 11 pm — he still says that he was just reveling in the good luck of having found someone to cook for him!
And then there was the hilarity of, as he told me long afterward, being able to go into work the next day and simply drop the number: fifty-three. They all knew what that meant: I had used fifty-three items in making dinner the night before, all piled up in the sink, all lovingly washed by my sweet man.
Most things are worth going through for the story, we have always firmly believed! Even knowing now that all those people were (rightly) judging me doesn’t detract from the contentedness we shared. And hey! I learned to cook!
Later, when I realized that it was just unreasonable to expect a man to come home from work and clean up after your gourmet productions, I confronted my inefficiency for myself. And that’s when I learned what “clean as you go” means, because do you not agree, the few of you who are still reading, that some people are born knowing what that means and others aren’t, and no one will explain to the latter what it is?
The truth is, people like us think it’s dumb and inefficient to put things away and wash up as you are working, because there is working, and there is cleaning. It seems like a waste of energy to mix them up, and it is. We’re right!
Well, I will explain it, since yesterday I had one of those days when even knowing how I can be, I was astonished at the explosion I caused. I was working on making bars from that cookbook, above, and also meatballs. For whatever reason I ended up using every appliance, among other things, I own, just about. And the bars are…a little weird. But the meatballs were good.
|This photo doesn’t show what’s on the left, namely, the island, also piled with dirty dishes.|
If you are in the dark about how to avoid an exploding kitchen, read on. If you don’t even know what I’m talking about because you never make a mess in the kitchen, never you mind.
|At least I’m down now to soaking bowls. The counters are clean!|
Clean-as-you-go can be summarized in these ideas, I think:
• You know when you would normally start your supper preparations? Start 20 minutes sooner.
• Before you get going, make sure the counters are cleared off and the dishwasher is empty (make a kid do it). If you don’t have a dishwasher, make sure the clean dishes are put away and the sink is empty.
• As you work, think in terms of “stopping points” or “pause to clean up” rather than clean-as-you-go. When something needs to simmer, or bake, or sit, use that time to assess the things you have out. Can the spices be put away all at once now? Will the food processor be used again? If not, put it in the dishwasher now. Can I at least soak these bowls, conveniently providing myself with hot soapy water for quick turnaround of utensils? Can I wipe off a counter while I’m stirring occasionally? Great, that puts me ahead.
• If you have several things to make, do plan them out so that you can use certain utensils in “hygiene order,” without washing them in between. And then clean up in between those several recipes as much as possible. It’s hard to have the mess of three courses at the end, but not a big deal to clean up after any one.
• Use your 20 minutes at the end to whisk everything into the tub of soapy water or the dishwasher, put ingredients away, and wipe up the counters. Your dining self will thank your cooking self, and supper’s aftermath will seem a lot less overwhelming. Try to sit down to dinner with the food prep cleaned up. It’s amazing the difference to your attitude it can make, to have even a few minutes in between the mess and the eating!