Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Secrets of a Working Mother, Part 2

My mother used to tell me when I was young in Hokkien "mee gia si xi ae, dao nao si wa ae", loosely translated into "things are dead, your brain is alive." What she meant is to be creative, to think out of the box, or basically to use your head.

This phrase was ingrained into my head since I was young. But it was only when I was in my early thirties that I truly appreciate its magic. Do you know that we can and in fact should start preparing when we have got little pockets of time available? That is one reason why I join the Toastmasters Club. I find time to polish up my speaking skills so that I can cut down the time spent to perfect that presentation. The fact is certain core skills are transferable.

This simple but powerful concept applies to managing a household. And today, the focus of my post is that of cooking dinner in a jiffy.

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

There is a lot of work when one is in the kitchen. However we can definitely cut down certain work. And as far as possible, we should get whatever help that is available. One of which is the scaling, cleaning and cutting of fish. Another is the choice of whether to take meat slices or minced meat. My choice is the latter as it calls for the least work at my end and I can always summon the help of the butcher.

Another is that of garlic - a omnipotent herb used in Chinese cooking - which will enhance the taste of cooked food. I will usually buy the bottled chopped garlic from supermarket. Of course, you could spare the time, you can also chop the garlic yourself. I will then fry them "in bulk" and wait for them to cool before storing them away in the refrigerator. This was one lesson I learnt when I was in the States. My batch of garlic cloves was on the verge of going bad. Following a hunch that cooked food could be kept longer, I embarked to chop the garlic and fry them. Today, this method not only spare me the agony of peeling and chopping garlic everyday, the golden fried garlic bites are also more fragrant.

Weekly Grocery Shopping

For me, the preparation for a five-day dinner menu starts early - in fact the Saturday before the coming week. I will do marketing every Saturday morning at the crack of dawn so that I could complete the preparation by 8 am. I need to do so as thereafter I will have to send my two boys for their tuition later.

I love to shop at wet market because of the personalised service which I received from the stall holders especially after I become a regular. My weekly grocery items include fish (usually a mix of red snapper, cod fish, salmon and at times, pomfret), minced pork and eggs. These are almost my staple.

For the fish, I will get at least five fillets or more - nicely cut in the portions which I will need to cook each time. I seldom buy a whole fish, if I do, it will almost invariably be white pomfret and a big one. I will request the fishmonger to help me to debone the fish and cut into slices. These variety of fish may cost a little more but think of the time savings in cleaning the fish at home. Not only that, these fish is already a winner in the taste category, one cannot go really wrong in cooking them. But make sure, they are fresh. It is not difficult to know which stall sells the freshest fishes - just head to the most crowded one. You can also perform the "eye test", fish fillets should look firm.

In the case of pork, I used to get lean meat but found the cutting cumbersome. So nowadays, I stick to minced meat. Again, I will get the butcher to help to put them into four to five packs - with each pack enough for one time use.

With most of the work done by the friendly neighbourhood market stallholders, I just need to do a final round of washing the fish fillets. Next, I pack them into "one-time" portions before whiffing them into the freezer.

After I send my two children to their tuition, I will next head to the nearest supermarket. Items which I get from the supermarket are tomatoes (usually about five medium-sized one), DoDo fishballs and needle mushrooms. At times, I also stock up small tins of baked beans, sardine cans, preserved "cai xin" and "giam chye" (salted vegetable). Like it or not, sometimes we need some variety in our food and they may not be healthy. But I believe in giving in a little to that urge so that it will not grow sinisterly into a dark desire. That is all for this post, coming up next is the menu and how to section in my next post.

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