Why timing is everything

Take a minute and think about our beautiful natural world and how everything tends to follow a kind of order; where trees change according to seasons, the sun rises and sets at a specific but changing time each day, and the birds know that winter is coming and begin to migrate south.  All of these things define many moments in our lives and give a resting place to know that at least something in life is following a specific timing.

Our lives in the city and as humans usually aren’t this simple.  Add in raising a child or two and expect any kind of time table you have to fall of your map.  Things simply don’t get done at the time you may have expected or wanted them to.  And if they do, it may appear to be a miracle of your day.

When it comes to cooking though, timing is a huge part of how a dish is going to turn out.  And although I believe there is definitely room for error or even personal taste, timing is simply one of those rules you don’t want to mess with too much.

Like the birds migrating south, I think there is some kind of order that decrees that the longer onions simmer, the sweeter they get.  That the more time you give a beef stew, the tenderer the meat will be.  And the longer you marinade the chicken for the kabobs, the tastier they will become.  All of these things do take time, but when you are creating a meal, these little things can make all the difference.

I often think about a story I once read about a man who visited a wise man for dinner.  When the man arrived at the wise man’s home, he was still making the soup he was planning on serving for dinner.  The man waited a long time, a very long time, while the wise man continued making the soup.  The man became impatient and wondered what was taking so long; how could soup take such a long time to prepare?

Soon after this though, the wise man served the soup and with one taste, the man knew why it had taken so long.  The soup permeated his being with a taste so sweet and a feeling so loving, he immediately forgot about all the time he had waited to enjoy the meal.  The wise man smiled and and the man, enjoying his soup, learned a lesson not only about patience and timing, but also how a single taste of soup could transform his being.

This story is a summary of what I read a long time ago and I apologize, but I do not remember the author or name of the original story.

I write the story here to illustrate that not only did the soup taste so good because the seasonings, onions, garlic and other ingredients had time to mingle together and become a whole soup instead of just ingredients thrown together in a rush.  Beyond this, the soup was permeated with the wise man’s patience, love and prayers that were sent into the soup while he was creating it.

Now, if he had been rushing around the kitchen trying to get the soup done just so that he could serve it to his guest, he wouldn’t have been able to take the time to add the important ingredients of love and patience to the soup.  It probably still would have been tasty, but the man who ate the soup would not have been changed or affected in the same way.

I know we all have busy lives and it is always a balancing act to create a meal in time for a hungry toddler or husband.  And I am certainly not asking you to do a love dance around your kitchen for hours while your family starts to pull their hair out!

What I am suggesting however is to take the extra time where you can afford it.  Spend time on the weekends baking bread with your children.  Make stews that take longer to prepare and try out the latest cookie recipe you found on Karina’s Kitchen.

During the week however, the rule of timing can also work in your favor.  There are fortunately foods and cooking methods that can take a fraction of the amount of time.  Broiling meat or fish is one way to beat the clock and make a very delicious meal.  However, while you don’t have to pay so much attention to a simmering stew, a broiling piece of steak will need your utmost attention.  No one (I know) likes their food burnt or overdone.

There are also finishing touches that don’t take long that can add enormous color and taste to a dish.  Pomegranates are in season (somewhere) and adding in a sprinkle of these red jewels into a salad can brighten it and add a yummy tang.  Herbs are another favorite of mine; sprinkle freshly chopped cilantro, parsley or basil onto your dish and watch it turn into a work of art.

Stir frying foods are always quicker than baking methods, however, this poses another timing issue.  Stir fries often have many ingredients; onions, garlic, ginger, vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchinis, mushrooms, water chestnuts and tomatoes as well as chicken or beef.  If you aren’t aware of how long each of these items should cook for, it can be a challenging feat to come up with a meal where the onions aren’t crunchy and the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

There are approximate times for each one of these ingredients; however, I will say here that it also takes watchfulness and intuition to know when to add the next vegetable.  The temperature of your stove may also vary and therefore cook the ingredients faster or slower than I suggest.  But following is an approximation of how I would create a stir fry out of the above ingredients:

  1. Cook the onions first in olive oil over medium-high heat.  Cook until they are soft and translucent – 10 min. or so.  Turn down the heat if they start to burn, or add a little water.
  2. Add in the ginger, garlic (If you want it raw for health benefits, add it at the very end) and the peppers and zucchinis – cook these vegetables for about 5 min. or so.
  3. Add in the chicken (cut into 1″ cubes) and the mushrooms and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the chicken is almost completely cooked through.
  4. Add the tomatoes and water chestnuts and cook for a couple of minutes or until all the ingredients are thoroughly cooked, but not overdone.
  5. You can add soy sauce or salt, cayenne and anything else you want to spice up your stir fry with!

You can see it is a bit of a dance when you have several ingredients with different cook times that you’re combining in one dish.  If you haven’t done this before, you will learn as you go and with each dish you create.  Most importantly, have fun while you’re doing it!  If something doesn’t turn out as expected, you will certainly learn a valuable lesson for next time.

On a final note, while the seasons are changing, take time to notice the new vegetables that are in season.  Fall time is noteworthy for apples, pomegranates, winter squashes, pumpkin, quinces and sweet potatoes.  I am not sure what I love more – the changing colors of the leaves, or the wonderful fall and winter delights that can create so many hardy and nourishing meals.  Both the harvest vegetables and the leaves are such a beautiful display of nature’s colorful rainbow before the northern hemisphere transitions into winter.

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