I’m a fan of Oliver Burkeman’s Guardian column, and particularly of its title: This column will change your life. Awesome.
This post was Angela’s idea, actually, and the tip that will change your life may or may not be above the line. Hopefully for lots of readers, the tip that will change your life will be in the comments below.
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Nicholas calls his weekly business-shirt ironing his ‘admin.’ This post is about the admin of your life, from household management to getting the kids out the door with all the stuff they need, to organising your banking and your lunchbox. The kind of stuff you wouldn’t have to do yourself if you lived (upstairs) in Downton Abbey.
So give us your best life admin tip, ok? One little or big thing that makes your life easier. Probably something you’ve learnt the hard way, perhaps developed and refined, and the kind of thing you’d love to see other people learn the easy way (by reading it here!)
I’ve been delaying writing this for a bit since Angela suggested it, because I didn’t know what to offer as my own tip. I’m feeling much more organised and on top of life admin since we settled in Wellington a couple of months ago, but there’s nothing revolutionary about that – it’s mostly been remedial progress!
But yesterday I revived an old practice that has been dormant while I’ve been unwell, and it really might change your life if cooking in the evening is a grind in your house.
Before SBJ was born, the norm in our household was that I would cook dinner a couple of nights a week, and always make enormous amounts, so our freezer was well-stocked with home cooking (and our fridge with the kind of left-overs that don’t freeze well).
I froze lots of single servings so my husband and I could take dinner-type meals to work to the envy of nearby sandwich-eaters. It bumped up our vege intake and saved money on buying lunch.
But the real advantage was in the several nights a week when the first person to be home or hungry could put the rice on and chop up some broccoli while the tagine or casserole or curry was reheating. So little effort for a proper meal. On a very hard evening you could even just settle for the freezer meal and some toast and you’d be eating pretty well.
With a toddler in my life, cooking in the evening has become all but impossible. I just can’t drag myself through it given the energy it takes to pay attention to both him and the food, when we’ve barely stopped all day.
We had an unpleasant experience eating out last week which gave me the needed impetus to get back into batch cooking. We need to be able to eat at home without me having to gather my wits five or seven nights a week, at the worst time of the day.
So yesterday I enlisted Auntie Lydie, Auntie Laura and my husband to spend the day with SBJ, while I cooked. For the first time, I went the whole way and cooked three different dishes in huge batches: a tagine, a casserole and African beans, all with lots of vegetables (so we don’t even need to do side-dishes when we use them).
I was limited by only having one big stockpot (a bigger one is now on the shopping list for next time), but in a few hours I still managed to create:
- dinner for five people last night
- 3 ice-cube trays of casserole vegetables to freeze for SBJ
- 8 single-serve meals for my husband to take to work
- 9 dinners for our household
- 3 dinners for other households
- 2 snack-size pottles
How’s that for brilliant and amazing? It’s the first time I’ve done a deliberate more-than-tonight’s dinner cookathon, but just counting all that up, it was totally worth it, and once I get another huge pot, it’ll take a lot less time next time.
Practicalities, if you’re interested:
To make the most of your normal dinner meals:
- Invest in a very large pot
- Once a week, plan to cook an enormous batch (aim for 4x the normal amount) of something that freezes well.
I’m a one-pot cook at heart, so I favour things like chili, pasta sauce, casseroles, tagines, curries, dhal, beans, soups, cassoulet – anything you serve with a spoon
You can also freeze more elaborate things like pies and lasagnes if you’re in the swing of those, but they don’t multiply quite so easily.
- Organise or clear out your freezer so you have space for home cooking.
- Label the meals you create. My labels say things like:
African Beans x2-3, dairy-free, Feb 13.
I used to use a white-board pen to write on containers, but our stationery is in storage still, apart from, strangely, a packet of white stickers, so I used those this time. Much tidier, though more annoying to wash.
- I mostly use takeaway containers for freezing, as well as those nice Sistema boxes (like Tupperware). You want inexpensive containers that stack well to make the most of your freezer space. I don’t reheat in the plastic containers.
Cooking three different dishes yesterday was more challenging, logistically, and took all my brainpower. The main trick was coordinating which pot to use for which dish and what needed to be browned or sauteed before going somewhere else. So my tips for next time (things that will be preeeeetty obvious to most of you):
- Invest in more than one very large pot.
- Decide exactly what to put in each dish (I’m a bit more free-and-easy by preference and just use what comes to hand, but that was doing my head in yesterday).
- Chop everything before you start any cooking. It’s very satisfying to see a bag of onions turn into a bowl of chopped ones! (My new $35 Victorinox knife takes much of that credit.)
- Figure out what pots you can use for each dish, how many will fit on the stovetop or in the oven at once, and therefore what order you need to cook in.
So there’s my tip: regularly cook more than you need and freeze the rest.
What’s your tip that will change my life?