Category Archives: Life Lessons

Defining the Job

I finally came up with a set of concrete goals for the house work. I’ve put it on the 7 levels site. You can find it here.

It was interesting to finally figure this out. The sliding scale of how much is enough has been an issue of mine for some time. It is possible to go way over the line from hoarding to OCD and the definition will also help (I think.) to keep me from doing that.

And, because of the need to find that “enough is enough” and not too much, I think the set definition will also help keep the PTSD anxiety at bay.

Another step,

HURRAH!!!

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Self-Cleaning: Charts

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used  Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Onion, basket Y+1
Onion 1/2 Scraps/T+1 scrap dish W +1 Y +2 (partial onion, scrap dish) Y +1
Knife W+1 Y+1
Counter Cutting Board W+1
Butter 1/2 Y+1
Butter Dish Y+1
Pan W+1 Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Stove W+1
Totals T 1, W 6 8 1

Above, ingredients are plain text, tools italic, areas bold, and storage containers underlined.

Total items requiring washing after cooking this two ingredient dish: 6, while there’s 7 items to put away, 1 item went to the trash, and a container added to storage. Grand total? 16 items!

Yes, there are frozen chopped onions. You’d have a container to return to the freezer or trash, depending on whether you used it all, or not. This would eliminate the onion basket, the knife, the scrap bowl, and the cutting board, their clean up of 4 items, still leaving 10 items. Not enough of a savings to me to make it worth taking up my (already inadequate) freezer space. If you use dried chopped onions? Add a bowl and water to the mix, you’ve only eliminated 2 items, so that doesn’t help much. I got 1/2 way through an edit here and realized I had to rewrite it. That’s why this makes no sense! It made sense before I mucked with it, honest!!!

I messed up. the problem with this is that it’s REALLY easy to do. I think I’ve covered it, and covered it accurately — and the next time I look at it, I realize I’ve forgotten x or y or z! Sorry.

Revision: Yes, there are frozen chopped onions. You’d have a container to return to the freezer or trash, depending on if you used it all, or not. This eliminates these pieces: onion basket, knife, scrap bowl, and cutting board. -4 And this clean up: knife, scrap bowl -2. You do still have to return the frozen onions to the freezer, if you don’t use them all, but you may or may not need a new package for them. If you take 6 items from the 16 above, that leaves 10, a fairly large savings. That said? I’m in the same boat I was before. I have no available freezer space. [Because of the insane power our old, big freezer uses, we’re eliminating it this year, so I have only a side by side fridge’s freezer.]

If you use dried chopped onions? Add a bowl and water to the mix, or 12 items total.

My solution has been the same for some time: I chop a lot of onions at once, add a stick of butter and then put the resulting quart of sauteed onions in the fridge in a quart jar.

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Onion, basket Y+1
Onions Y Scraps T+1 +2 (new jar, lid)
Knife W+1 Y+1
Counter Cutting Board W+1
Butter Y Wrapper T +1
Butter Dish N
Pan W+1 Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Stove W+1
Totals T 2, W 5 4 2

There’s 13 items there. I’ve eliminated 3 things to clean or put away by using all the onion and butter and eliminating the scrap dish.

sauteed onion

(image via google images)

The real self-cleaning part of this is that then I use 1 spoon to get sauteed onions for about two weeks’ worth of cooking. And THAT certainly makes it worth doing!

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Sautéed onions Part Y+1
Spoon W+1 Y+1
Totals W 1 2

I wonder what else I can cook in bulk, part way, so that I can do it ONCE for many meals?

The first thing I thought of was preparing lettuce, but that really won’t work, because cleaned lettuces turn brown and rot faster. (How many years did I work in a cafeteria? Too many!)

More thought required . . . .


One last chart, what’s probably the baseline.

Using part of an ingredient creates more clean up and steps than using all of an ingredient, not too surprising! I don’t think that I’d add a stick of butter to a recipe asking for 1 tablespoon because of this, but I might add a little more?

Ingredient, Tool, or Area Used Used? Recycle trash or wash? Return to storage? New storage req’d?
Cooking Tool or Utensil W+1 Y+1
Cooking Area W+1
Ingredient  100% Possible T+1
Ingredient pkg? 100% Possible R or T +1
Ingredient Part Possible T+1 Y+1 possible +1

The items which consistently make the most work are the cooking tools & utensils, which both need to be washed and put away. Cooking areas just have to be cleaned after use. Food I’ve dealt with above. So I suppose the next step is to figure out how I can use fewer tools: reuse more tools or eliminate them? That will take more thinking too.


I haven’t gotten into serving tools, etc. because my goal is to eliminate most of the prep clean up after a meal, not necessarily the serving or eating dishes.

 

Self-Cleaning Cooking. Is It Possible?

I’m beginning to think this is a pipe dream.

Even something as basic as sauteeing 1/2 an onion gets involved:

  1. Storage it came from +1 locale
  2. Cutting board +1 thing to wash
  3. Knife + 1 thing to wash
  4. Storage for remaining onion +1 locale
  5. Pan  +1 to wash
  6. Cooking tool +1 to wash
  7. Butter storage +1 locale
  8. Butter knife +1 to wash
  9. Stove to cook it on +1 locale

Potentially there 4 areas (onion storage, unused onion storage, butter storage, stove) which could need to be cleaned, 2 food remainders to deal with (the other 1/2 the onion and the rest of the butter which also might need additional packaging), and 5 items to clean (cutting board, knife, pan, cooking tool, butter knife).

From a TWO INGREDIENT cooking task, there’s potentially 11 items or locations to deal with! No wonder the kitchen is always trashed after cooking a meal!!!

My only “hope” is that if I do my 5:1 item swap, this would involve cleaning or putting away 20 items.

Honestly? I wouldn’t have expected this kind of ratio, that it takes about 5 areas or cooking tools to deal with a single ingredient.

I’m sure this doesn’t hold true through a complex recipe, (You would use the same knife to chop things, for example.)

I tried to do a count like this for the simple recipe I made for dinner last night, 8 ingredients. It kept getting longer, more complicated and then I’d see something I’d missed, and it got longer and more complex. After 3 drafts, I decided to do the simplest recipe I could think of. This one.

There are variables:

  • Was the tool already in use and re-used without washing? Certainly this could be true for the stove, cutting board,  & knife, if not the bread board, butter dish and butter knife.
  • Is the potential cleaning something done as a part of the kitchen’s clean up, rather than because of this recipe? Possibly so for the onion’s original storage locale or the storage for the 1/2 an onion, although maybe not for the storage it is put into?

I am working on a way to chart this stuff so it’s easier. In the meantime, I have relaxed. I am overwhelmed for a good reason, this is confusing as all get out and much more complicated than I ever would have figured!

stack of dirty pots & pans

More About Self-Cleaning Cooking

I have been working on this, it’s complicated!

There are these considerations:

  • Food storage: put away, recycled, or washed afterwards

There’s not much to be done about food storage. Food comes in whatever packaging or storage it does. You can repackage carrots say to share storage with parsnips, but that doesn’t change the requirement to take the food from storage and manipulate it for your recipe and return the unused portion or clean the storage item or deal with it somehow. Eliminating ingredients doesn’t change this requirement. Buying prefab possibly can, buying Bisquick instead of making pancake batter from scratch can reduce the packaging used: one box of Bisquick, instead of three: baking powder, salt, and flour.

  • Cooking tools used: washed afterwards

Eliminating or cutting down cooking tools is easier. You can decide to not use a peeler and use the knife you’ve already used to top/tail the carrots, as an example.

The easiest for me to eliminate is the tablespoon measure, it’s 3 teaspoons and I have no problem figuring that out. I sometimes look at the recipe and determine the measures required, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon. say.  Then I use, deliberately, only the smallest measure for all of them.

I will use one graduated cup measure throughout the recipe instead of using a cup measure, a 1/4 cup measure, etc. Or, I’ll use the 1/4C measure, like above. If it’s sane, I’ll measure the dry ingredients first, then the wet ones. (It’s easy to undo whatever item savings you may have doing this, because you need places to store the chopped onions, etc. for later!)

There’s a point at which this is totally counterproductive and I try and take that into consideration too!

  • Areas messed: washed afterwards

This isn’t as easy to do something about. Even when you reuse an area, a chopping board say, you still should clean it between uses. And, of course, it will need to be cleaned afterwards. You can limit the number of areas used by reusing them, but the quantity of cleaning required is harder, if not impossible, to reduce.

  • Serving tools/utensils used: washed afterwards

There are some obvious ideas, you can use dinner plates, etc. and serve everything together, instead of serving everything in separate dishes. Again, there are limits.


Trying to find ways to do this, I found this article at Bon Appetit. Here’s my comments about the article:

  • Her first idea is to use oven to table pots, instead of using pots & serving dishes.

My take is: Instead of serving items in the pot you cook it, how about plating food in the kitchen? Then the pot doesn’t need to be oven to table ready. If you have a big family or do lots of complicated cooking, this probably won’t work, but there’s two of us. I rarely use “serving” dishes. I sold all my platters because of this. I just don’t do that kind of cooking. When I take food to neighbors, etc. I use baskets, jars, etc. — no serving dishes.

  • Her second idea is to stop using multiple knives for everything, but to use one good knife instead.

My problem with this is that you increase the amount of dish washing mid-recipe, between cutting chicken and onions, say. That said? I set up a loaf pan with soapy water and put used utensils in it as I go. I try and wash them before the meal is served, to save the knives’ wood handles.

  • Number 3 is to get your timing down so as to make the best use of it.

Absolutely!

  • The fourth item on that list is an addition to 3, that is, clean whatever you can in the short down times between steps.

Again, I agree! You’d be surprised how many dishes you can wash while the micro is reheating your coffee for 1 minute!

  • Don’t use two items when one will do is her fifth idea.

I’ve worked at this for a while now. [I fixed the typo; I’m an editor, right?]

  • Item #6: Rinse and reuse prep tools rather than using new ones.

Also part of #5. In most cases, I’d probably WASH rather than just rinse. It depends on what I’d used it for, when. Rinsing the spoon you used to add the last of the spices to a cooked dish is fine. Only rinsing a spoon used for the initial mixing a dish with raw chicken? Nope.

  • Her last idea is to buy a scale and never use measuring spoons, etc. again.

That’s fine, if all your recipes have weight as well as volume measurements provided. But, many of my recipes don’t.  I’m not really interested in converting 1,000s of recipes so that I know a 1/2 tsp of salt weighs whatever it does. Might be interesting to do for some things. But even the salt won’t work, because you won’t eliminate anything: you need a container to put the salt into, to measure it. If you’re making a curry dish where all the spices are added individually, yeah, sure, use and reuse the same small bowl, but for a beef roast’s gravy?

Even if you use a scale instead of a volume measure, you still haven’t eliminated an item to wash, so like all of these suggestions, I’d take it “with a grain of salt.” [Couldn’t resist that!]


I’m not sure what conclusions this exercise gave me?

stack of dirty pots & pans

( Image isn’t mine, as usual, via images.google.com )

The four areas of mess making (food storage, cooking tools, cooking areas, and serving/eating tools)  was a moment of clarity I hadn’t had before. Unfortunately, the nature of acquiring/storing food, manipulating it for use, and serving it has only so many ways it can be simplified.

More thought required!

Making Dinner, Meal Planning, Clean as you Go Cooking,Cookbooks & Other Fantasies

I haven’t been “Mrs. Domestic” for the past few weeks, yes? When I am, I know what dinner will be by around noon most days. Today? At 5:00 I asked DH if he was getting hungry? His answer was “Yes.” so I had to figure something out.

My friend Linda came by to loan me a book earlier today, Yes, that Linda, the one who reads and comments here a lot. We had tea, but my kitchen was a disaster.

DH & I were working on other things last night, our regular Monday routine’s been blown, and I just didn’t feel like doing anything after I put the food away yesterday.

I washed a load of dishes when I got up this morning, but there was still a backlog which needed to be dealt with.

Into this chaos comes Linda. Do I think she thought less of me? No. But long-run, I had an experience I rarely have, I was embarrassed after she left. Three loads of dishes later, I had to make dinner.

So, at 5:00 p.m., I’m thinking: Hm. Nothing planned. Nothing thawed. No prefab food. What will I make?

Ended up thawing 1 lb of chicken thighs, oven fried them, same way I do to make lemon fried chicken, without the lemon sauce. Cooked sweet potatoes with onion, ginger, and dried, sweet cranberries. Added chopped pecans and bacon bits (from the freezer) just before we ate. DH made peas. It was yummy! We’ll have the left overs tomorrow for lunch or dinner.

Tell me again why I need menu planning?

Was this frugal? Probably not. Maybe I need menu planning  so I can cook frugally?

At this point, the only reason I’d really consider taking the time and effort would be if menu planning meant I could finish dinner and have little or no mess to deal with from the prep. The only way I know to do that consistently is to use prefab foods, and I won’t.

Menu planning is pushed as a way to plan your grocery shopping. I have certain items I stock my kitchen/pantry with and cook from what I have. I rarely use recipes, except as guide lines. [I looked at the oven fried chicken recipe for how much oil it specified and used less. I looked up a Morrocan recipe for sweet potato salad for how many raisins, sweet potatoes, onion, and ginger they used. Used the same amount of sweet potatoes and dried cranberries, the quantity of water to soak the berries in and how long. Otherwise? Nope.]

I suppose cooking (or trying to) since about 1967 when I took Home Ec, that the meals I’ve made good and bad have given me a certain expertise. I’m not a pro by any stretch, but after 50 years I guess I can wing it successfully (sometimes).

So, if someone has a book where the meal planning = a nearly clean kitchen when the food is served? Please let me know! I would sure love to have it! I bought a Irma Rombauer book thinking that’s what it was. This one:

Streamlined Cooking, published in 1939. I went to a lot of trouble to acquire a copy. I thought my troubles were over! But neither the listing where I’d first found out about it nor the book dealer who sold it to me used the full title:

Streamlined Cooking: new and delightful recipes for canned, packaged and frosted foods and rapid recipes for fresh foods 

I’m not a fan of many prefab foods, canned, packaged, or frosted. The rapid recipes are all right and I use the book for that. And to remind myself that all the years in the book business do not guarantee that I know wtf I’m doing when I get a used book!

There is another “streamlined cooking” book I may buy at some point, authored by a woman who wrote a book I own, about using a freezer efficiently.

That book has actual techniques in it to help save you time and effort, but it’s also obvious that the book was solicited by the manufacturers of various and sundry kitchen gadgets, or her column (if she had one?) was subsidized by them, as the book has unabashedly about 10 pages of reviewed kitchen gadgets, most of which you can’t find now.  And the book recommends products I’d love to find, but can’t. She recommends a farm which mail ordered bulk frozen sugared fruit, but they don’t exist now. She recommends various packaging materials I can’t find.

I also can’t find a copy of her hints/tips cookbook to look at, first. After the Rombauer experience, I’m loathe to buy this one sight unseen.

The best I’ve found is MegaCooking by Jill Bond, it’s a book for cooking in bulk for the freezer. Wonderful book, has lots of useful ideas about how to save time, energy and money in the kitchen, but not self-cleaning cooking — and that’s what I’m after.

I’ve always loved a good fantasy!

images

The image isn’t mine, but it made me laugh out loud. I got it via Google Images.

Two Types of Flashbacks

The last time I was cleaning 5 days a week (my goal) except for dishes/food clean up was last month. On the 15th, I wrote this blog saying, “I’m doing it!” and started waking up in full panic: heart pounding, palms sweating, shaking, the whole thing. When I have a full, emotional flashback, it’s a two-week readjustment, but not a cleaning flashback. Those take longer, about 4 weeks.

What I’ve done successfully, is to make the routines, at least a minimum of them just habit. So, for the past 4 weeks, I’ve done some laundry, but haven’t put it away consistently. Done some dishes every day, but rarely are all of them done, etc. There aren’t 4 weeks of accumulated laundry and dishes to do. I haven’t gotten much sleep and my stress levels are up, but I’ve dealt with it.

My challenge is to either 1)Try and add to what I can do in the “bad times.” or 2)Lengthen the period when I can clean. The problem with either and this challenge is that if I notice what I’m doing — the panic starts.

I’m really sick of fighting this stuff! I’m in my 60s — I am honestly, truly tired of being affected by things which happened in my childhood. But they gave me PTSD and all of it, the mess to hide in and the other events or adaptations I made to protect myself, are all wrapped together as my flashback. Push on any piece too hard and there I go down the flashback rabbit hole.

The only difference is that when I’m pushed emotionally, I have a successful route I forged back. From something like the movie thing, it takes a day or two. If someone attacks me? It takes two full weeks.

I don’t have such a mechanism for the panic attacks/cleaning flashbacks. What I originally did with the emotional ones was to recreate my growth, one step at a time away from the painful place I used to live. I haven’t managed anything except the very first steps away from the panic/stress.

  1. I understand the root of the panic.
  2. I also understand that the reason it was and is so hard to fight is that when it occurs, I’m in full fight/flight panic mode.
  3. I have realized that the only way I know which might work is to habitualize the cleaning.

That’s worked to some extent or the other.

What hasn’t worked? Finding a way to notice that I’m cleaning and not go into a full-blown panic attack/flashback.


There’s hope. Until I typed what’s above and remembered what I’d done for the emotional attacks, I’d forgotten that I ritualized the steps away from the bad old days. I did that for years until my therapist said, “Do you really have to recreate each step, one after the other these days? Next time, see if you can’t condense some of it.” And I could!

So, hope exists. But it took me 20 years or so to heal enough that I could conceive of  recreating the healing route. Twenty months longer on the cleaning/panic is about 18 months more than I want to spend….

But, of course, the being dictating the rate I can go isn’t my conscious, adult brain, but that wounded little girl, whose body remembers all the trauma. She and the body run the roadways and determine how much I can do and how fast. train image from target

My adult self just has to sit back, be patient, and wait. It sometimes feels as if I’m a passenger on an electric train. I got on, the doors closed and locked. All I can do is patiently wait until it stops!

trolley

 

Interesting!

I never thought there was more than one kind of stigma? To me, it’s all of a piece. People think less of me if I talk about the events, etc. which formed much of who I am. If I had a famous parent or such it would be interesting, but I don’t. Anyway, here’s an article about stigma, fyi.

Top 10 Mental Health Stigmas #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

My other comment about stigma can be found here.