Mise-En-Place

I heard this story on NPR recently.

Oh, wait. It was over a year ago, but I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since so let’s pretend like the date on this story is 2015, not 2014.

No need to listen to it right the second (unless you want to, I’ll still be here when you return) but it introduced me to the concept of mise-en-place.

The system that makes kitchens go is called mise-en-place, or, literally, “put in place.” It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.

It’s that thing they do on cooking shows where they have all of the ingredients out in cute bowls in the right amounts before they get going. IT’S A REAL THING, not just something they do for TV.

I’m naturally a spastic kinda person. I don’t do much calmly or deliberately because I’m always worried about being late or doing the next thing. It used to drive my Dad crazy and he even had this way of mocking my craziness when I would get so spastic that something inevitably ends up spilled or broken. Not just with cooking, but with life. I tend to be in a rush to do everything. Not because I’m always late, but because I’m always afraid of being late.

Now, I do try to not do this. I try to go from task to task without frenzy so that things get done right and nothing gets broken, but I am going to be the person who is trying to do 14 things at one time and ends up putting the baby in the refrigerator and the milk in the carseat.

Hearing this story (recently!) triggered a visual reminder in me of the way you can apply organization to process to slow things down and make everything a bit more deliberate. It’s something I’ve been trying to apply to my life, the idea of preparing for a task before haphazardly executing it. I’ve been working on it for awhile now (a year, I guess) and I’m starting to see it kinda become habit in some ways. I’m no where near where I want to be, but I’m glad to step back and see progress.

There’s just something about being deliberate about a task that seems to make it so much more important. Even if it’s inherently mundane. I got behind on folding clothes recently so I just threw it all on the dining room table, pulled up a comfy chair, and slowly went through every piece and organized it in piles. Usually this task is done frantically in the laundry room amidst the dirty clothes and baskets and towels, but that day? It just felt like so much more important of a task.

(I haven’t done it that way since though.)

At night or in the mornings when I sit down with my bullet journal to plan my day, I try to get all of my supplies and have them on hand and spread out around me and I really think about the day and how I want it to look. I mean this both in terms of obligations (what all I want/need to get done) and in terms of aesthetics (do I want to put stickers or washi tape on the page I’ll be looking at all day?). It is always why my compulsion now is to give myself at least 90 minutes to prep for my day before I have to leave. So I have time to be deliberate with lunch-making and day-planning and laundry-doing, instead of just running around like a crazed mania trying to GET THE SHIT DONE. (Unfortunately, on days like today when I need to leave at 4:45am, it means I have to get up at 3:15am.)

I like it. I probably still look like a spastic adult with late-onset ADHD, but relatively speaking, things are a lot calmer in my daily life. I even try to do it at night with the kids now that we have our nightly ritual of aromatherapy massages. Bedtime tended to be really frantic as we’re always heading to bed later than I intend. But it turns out, it’s hard to fall asleep if you end the day that way. So now I try to get the bed ready and get the oils or lotions out that we’re using, and we calmly do head massages before bed. It’s deliberate. It’s in place. It’s peaceful.

It’s not me screaming, “WHY AREN’T YOU IN BED YET, IT IS 9 O’CLOCK!?!?!?!”

So. Mise-en-place. A thing that is helping me be more deliberate about my actions so that the mudane becomes important and special and I don’t break all of my dishes trying to put them up while simultaneously packing lunches and cleaning the fridge.

Because that franticness has gotten me NO extra time in my life for the last 30+ years. Whereas mise-en-place makes me feel like I have extra time simply because I’m taking more time for the daily responsibilities and trying not to always feel rushed.

My Dad would have NO USE for that mocking routine anymore.

Except that I’m still a klutz so even if I’m being deliberate, I’m bound to break stuff at least 14 times a day. Mise-en-place has not miraculously gifted me grace, unfortunately.

One Comment

  • Grace

    Well, congratulations. It’s always a work in process, isn’t it.

    I do cook and bake that way, though, learned from attending 3 or 4 cooking classes back in New Orleans. So much easier. Actually, faster too! And hubs can sous-chef for me – chopping, peeling, measuring, etc.

    As always, you rock, and your thoughtful posts are a pleasure.