Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Home Keeper's Timing

Kind hearts are the gardens
Kind thoughts are the roots
Kind words are the flowers
Kind deeds are the fruits

Take care of your garden
And keep out the weeds;
Fill it up with sunshine,
Kind words and kind deeds

Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

Timing is an important part of a home keeper's activities. This is especially important in cooking. When planning a meal, consider how long it will take you to prepare each item from beginning to the table. Consider what you can do ahead. Also, consider what can cook by itself while you perform some other chore connected with the meal.

When determining your total cooking times, don't forget to include time to thaw items from the freezer, to chop vegetables, to set the table, to carve meat, to drain vegetables or pasta, or to put ice in glasses and perhaps pour the drinks. There's much more to the total preparation of a dish than just the cooking time. Once you've thought through the timing of your various dishes, make a written or mental schedule of what you will do when. Meat usually takes longest to cook of the dishes in a meal, so chances are you will start by preparing the meat and by starting it to cook.

Those of us who have been cooking for some time generally have an innate sense of timing a meal that we have developed from experience. However, even for those of us who are experienced cooks, it's wise to give some thought to the details -- especially if we are trying new recipes or if we are preparing a festive meal for extended family and friends. Also, we may need to pay more attention -- even to the point of writing down our entire meal plan -- if we are distracted by something, such as a new baby or extra guests in the home or even simply not feeling our best on a given day.

One easy way to serve a meal with everything timed perfectly is to choose a hot main dish, with simple side dishes such as vegetables and bread. If you plan to offer a starter, choose something that can be prepared ahead of time and served chilled. Also, prepare a dessert that can be prepared ahead of time and served cold or at room temperature.

In a way, timing a meal involves "backward" thinking. In order to have the tea made, I need to start the water by _____. In order to have the bread warm, I need to pop it in the oven at ______. In order to have the meat made, I need to start it by ______.

Sometimes, you'll be preparing items in the oven that require different temperatures. For example, you may need to take the meat out and keep it warm or carve it while you pop rolls in for a few minutes.

For even experienced cooks, if you are preparing several dishes for a large crowd, it helps to write your plan down.

If you're having people over after church, prepare what you can the day before. For example, you can bake a loaf of bread, make a congealed salad, prepare a dessert, set the dining room table, fill salt and pepper shakers, make iced tea or lemonade, stir up a vegetable casserole to be baked on Sunday, etc.

You will also be able to accomplish a few things that morning. For example, you can set your meat in an oven with the timer set to start it and stop it at the correct time. Or, you can fill a crock-pot with items to be cooked. You can measure coffee and water in your coffee pot, though you won't want to start the coffee until you are ready to serve it.

Try to have most things done so that your family and any guests will not have to wait more than a half-hour until dinner is on the table.

If you have had children in the home for some time, you have probably learned to rely on their help in bringing a meal together at the right time. This is not only helpful to you, it is excellent training for your children. Once your last child has left home, however, you may have to re-think how to prepare the meal by yourself, with perhaps a little help from hubby or guests.

The art of timing is useful in other areas, as well. For example, when planning a garden, you must think about when the best times for planting and harvesting. Careful attention to timing will enable you to stretch your garden's capacity. For example, you can plant early crops, such as lettuce, and then re-plant with a later-yielding vegetable.

Also, when gardening or landscaping, it's important to know the timing when it comes to hours of sunlight the various places in your yard get. Since this is likely to vary from season to season, it's important to observe your yard throughout the year to get a feel for the various amounts of sunlight.

When preparing for holidays, sewing something for a particular occasion, or otherwise working toward a specific deadline, consider the timing of each step you must accomplish. Again, "think backwards", and jot down when you need to start each step on your calendar. Breaking your work into small, timed steps will prevent you from having to rush at the last minute. Be sure to allow some "padding" in your scheduling, as you may not be able to proceed from step to step as quickly as you think.

Employ "backwards planning" and a sense of timing when you must catch up on many household chores during a day. Think through which chores must be done and make sure those take priority in your day's scheduling. Consider how you will work in the various steps for each chore. For example, you might throw in a load of clothing to wash while you vacuum your living room. Or, you might spray tubs with cleaner and let them soak while you do something else. Then, come back to the tubs and wipe the cleaner away. Be sure to think this through, though ,and don't just flit from thing to thing. Otherwise, you will become distracted and go on to one thing without ever finishing the other.

Great house keepers give attention to timing in all things, from the big picture of when to perform seasonal cleaning down to the smaller issue of how best to use the next five minutes. As we mentioned with cooking, the longer we have kept a house, the more we have an innate sense of what must be done when. Even so, it's still wise to plan carefully. Those of us with more experience will be able to "get by" winging it, but we likely won't experience the joy that comes from using our time to its best advantage.

Happy Home Keeping!

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