Mise en place

Mise en place is French for “putting in place” (thank you Wikipedia). It is a phrase used in the culinary world, typically referring to the preparation and organization of ingredients. When I am cooking, I always feel so much better when I take the time to prep – to mise en place – my ingredients.

Just this past week we celebrated both my baby girl Clare’s first birthday, which also happens to be her great-grandmother’s birthday. We were enormously blessed to have Grammie, as we are fondly calling Ben’s grandma, visit us and to be here for their birthdays. Typically for birthdays we let the birthday person pick the dinner. Since Clare is only 1, we decided Grammie might make a better dinner choice. She asked for something Italian, which is great for me and my cooking comfort zone. I’m not sure what I would have done if she had said, “You know, I’d love some Thai food.” I’d like to think I would have figured something out, but it probably would have kept me up all night wondering if I could pull it off.

The saved frozen batch - I was so excited to eat I forgot to take a picture of the final product! So just imagine the cheese is ooey-gooey and everything is hot and baked
The saved frozen batch – I was so excited to eat I forgot to take a picture of the final product! So just imagine the cheese is ooey-gooey and everything is hot and baked

Anyway, long story short, I decided to make stuffed shells. Basically, think lasagna but instead of layers like a cake, the ricotta cheese and sausage/ground beef mix is stuffed into a jumbo noodle shell and then baked in a marinara sauce and covered in more cheese – delicious! But, very time consuming if you don’t plan and mise en place well. Thank goodness for Grammie who is so helpful in the kitchen.

Interestingly, I head a talk a number of months ago from a chef about how the practice of mise en place is more than just ingredient preparation, it can actually be a model for life. A big point was not about the preparation, but the clean up. This chef talked about how you can’t have a good, orderly kitchen if the dishes are stacked up. If he had a chef that chopped vegetables perfectly every time but consistently forgot to clean up the cutting board and knives used, that chef would not go far.

I’m the kind of person that is great at the prep, not so great at the immediate clean up. It always gets cleaned up, but not usually in a timely manner. Grammie, on the other hand, is an immediate cleaner. We can create a lot of dishes, quickly, especially when I’m cooking something with a number of components. On a typical day, all those dirty dishes would pile up in a somewhat haphazard stack, all waiting to be taken care of at the end of the day. With Grammie here, my stack would magically diminish each time I went to add to it. In it’s place were neatly organized clean dishes on the drying rack, waiting to be put away. It was delightful!

Grammie showed me this week the virtue of really completing a task, start to actual finish. How easy is it to be distracted and to not finish what you were doing. If you have kids (or even if you don’t, just insert your own examples), some days it feels like it is impossible to actually complete anything. Then, at the end of the day, you look around and there are rolls of toilet paper sitting on the printer, laundry baskets with folded clothes on the couch, dishes in the sink, and legos mimicking a mine field on the carpet.

The choices I make throughout the day impact my mood, my relationships and my sleep, basically everything. When I am on top of completing the things I start, I feel better. I look around my house and I see that the dishes are done, the floor is swept, the laundry is put away. I have a greater abundance of patience, tolerance and compassion for my children because it isn’t being used up by needing patience, tolerance and compassion for myself and my unfinished tasks.

So thank you Grammie, for giving me such a beautiful example of how to complete tasks. The time spent finishing the task is well worth the extra minutes. Actually, I think that the tasks are done faster when you go start to finish, rather than start, stop, start, stop, start, stop, finish at the end of the day or the next day.

Do you find the same for you?

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