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Boringly tidy or artistically messy in the kitchen? It might be boring, but order helps you focus.

Thu, 24 November, 2016

I am a neat person. It’s in my genes, although more superficially neat than my mother whose floors could have had surgery performed on, let alone eating off them. I turn a blind eye to mess inside as long as outside is clear: don’t look in my cupboards and you’ll be impressed with the order on the worktops.

I am well-organised and I like planning. I can sometimes amuse myself mentally breaking down a task into stages or lists, I love lists. And anything that can be counted I welcome enthusiastically: topping and tailing fruit or veg (especially strawberries), scrubbing new potatoes, stoning cherries. Even numbers good, odd numbers all right - it’s the process of counting that matters.

When I cook, there’s none of the creative chaos that’s supposed to surround inspired artists (or cooks). No tumult of unwashed dishes, discarded hurriedly in creative frenzy. No spoons abandoned in blobs of deliciousness on the hob, post-tasting. No expensive spices spilt over the worktop, dripping fragrantly onto the floor covered in peelings and egg shells. No razor-sharp knives or cleavers stabbed into the wooden blocks in a moment of artistic exasperation.


My spices are neatly lined up on the counter. The utensils I’m going to use, pre-planned, are at the ready. A waste bowl for the peelings waits with a peeler ready inside and a couple of paper towels right next to it. The pans for the action are all out on the hob, the butter softens out of the fridge and the meats are at room temperature. The taster and the stirrer (two different spoons, but of course) rest on a small plate prepared just for that purpose. The kettle’s full and has just boiled.

God almighty: am I boring.

Well, yes I am. People (even, or perhaps especially, my near and dear) have described me as exact. Ah well, let’s be honest: obsessive, retentive and anal. I’ve been accused of throwing tantrums if objects are not returned to their rightful places (never have thrown a tantrum in my life). I have also been suspected of getting up in the night and rearranging things, only so I could throw a said tantrum (ditto). And whilst I will admit it upsets me a little if cutlery isn’t aligned properly in the drawer, the rest of it is lies, all lies.

However - on the whole it pays to be slightly obsessive about neatness and order. It makes cooking easier.

If you’re prone to mild panic when things are going wrong (burning, sticking, drying out) it is handy to have the next cooking steps physically prepared, in view and lined up. You won’t waste time frantically looking for a slotted spoon while the cauliflower is turning to mush. You’ll get your stir fries to the height of excellence by having all the ‘adding next’ ingredients at hand in little bowls. The marinade will have just the desired flavour if it’s prepped in advance. And you’ll not run out of mixing bowls if you do your washing up on the hoof.

I’ll go further - to avoid too much stress when cooking something particularly complicated, for a dinner party or to impress - make lists, mental or written, of everything you’ll need to do, in the right order. Include ‘prepping utensils’. Include ‘peel garlic’. Include ‘warm up plates’. It can definitely help - as long as you don’t screw up the planning stage… From experience: a little bit of OCD in the kitchen has never done anyone harm.

 

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