I recently mentioned to someone that I had made enchiladas, and they asked if it was hard. My initial thought was no, it isn’t, but then I amended that: it isn’t hard now. It used to be. I remember a time when I rarely made enchiladas, when it seemed like a huge hassle to prepare the filling, grate the cheese, fry the tortillas and then drain them, dip them in sauce, roll the filling up in the tortillas, position the enchiladas in the pan, pour the rest of the sauce over them, sprinkle grated cheese over the whole mess, and finally bake them.
It sounds like a lot when I type it all out, but it doesn’t feel that way when I make them. Why? Because I make them regularly, and it’s become routine. Anything feels like a hassle when it isn’t routine, and nothing feels that way once it has.
I cook a lot, so everything I cook regularly has become routine. Things that used to create a mess in the kitchen no longer do, because I have a system, and clean up as I go. Lasagna is like that, with all its layered parts. I remember a dinner party I hosted years ago where I made lasagna, and the kitchen looked like an Italian restaurant had exploded in my kitchen.
The French have known the key to cooking efficiently for ages. They call it mise en place, which means put in place. If I start assembling enchiladas before I have everything laid out where I’m going to need it, say I’m in a hurry and think, I’ll finish grating the rest of the cheese while the tortillas are frying, the odds are better than even money that I’m going to burn several tortillas and use language I wish my kids hadn’t learned from me.
Cooking isn’t the only thing that’s like that. Everything is like that. Life is like that. Whatever becomes a routine, a habit, seems so much easier than what isn’t. Exercise, work, writing, housework, anything. It’s the routine that’s the key.
I know this in theory – we all know it in theory, don’t we? – but knowing in theory isn’t doing in practice. This is the implementation gap, that yawning chasm between ought and is that we can usually only bridge by creating habits that work.
Lately, I’ve been trouble than usual keeping my habits on track. This is a cyclical thing. There are times when my operating system functions like a well-oiled machine, and times when things go off the rails. Things aren’t completely off the rails now, but at least one of the wheels isn’t rolling along quite as it should be.
I know the reason, and the solution – more consistent habits, more thorough mise en place, less procrastination. Oh yeah, and more enchiladas. Enchiladas make everything better.