Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Surprising Guest Post (even for me!): the 80/20 Rule

I arrived home from BlogHer last night, and I think I have a lot to say.  I even had a post planned for today.  But it turns out that my husband also has something to say, and asked if he could guest post here.  How could I turn that down?

I talked a lot with the other BlogHer attendees about voice this weekend, about the fine line between telling our own stories and telling other people's stories for them, about the choices we make to include or exclude people or aspects of our lives from our blogs, and it occurred to me today that there's something about putting a voice in context that can give it another dimension.  It's like reading a character in a novel.  We love the monologue if the writing is good, but we read for dialogue, too.

I'll be back tomorrow, but tonight, here's another voice from my house.  Unedited, because you deserve to hear it like it is.  I'll be curious to know whether it helps you to imagine dialogue in my small corner of the universe.  He'll be reading the comments, so feel free to leave one for him, or for me.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Let me introduce myself: I am known as "S." here, J.'s husband. While J. was away at BlogHer the past few days, I played stay-at-home dad, and walked a few miles in her shoes. Part of that walk involves cooking dinner and trying to live up to the high standards that Justine sets for meals in our house.

I am an engineer, and one of the rules of thumb I use frequently is known as the 80/20 rule. Although it has many incarnations depending on your field, for me it means that the first 80% of the job is accomplished with the first 20% of the effort. Taking this one step further, it means that the remaining 80% of your effort is spent doing tasks that aren't necessarily very meaningful. Often those tasks need to get done, but not always. One place with some leeway is cooking.

There is a certain joy in preparing a meal completely from scratch, and assembling it all yourself. It is your creation. It is unique. It feels like you've accomplished something. Unfortunately, it is also a great deal of work. It's even more challenging with a one year old pulling at your legs and demanding constant attention. This is an opportunity to apply the 80/20 rule and make life a little easier.

Although J. shared a pizza recipe with you recently, the job of pizza-making is usually mine in our house. About 80% of the effort (you know where this is going) goes into making the homemade crust. I've experimented with many variations on the crust over the years, including different flours and herbs, trying to make it just right. Last night I didn't. I cheated and tried out a pre-made frozen pizza dough from the grocery store. The result? Certainly not as good as from scratch, but still tasty and it sure did save a lot of time.

Is it really "cheating" to use pre-made ingredients in your cooking?  We all do it to some extent. Many ingredients require inordinate effort, equipment, or time to make. When a recipe calls for yogurt, cheese, mustard, pasta, or a pickle, I think most of us just pick those off the grocery shelf, although we could make it if we chose. This ingredient "self-sufficiency" falls along a spectrum. At one end, if you avoid the pre-made ingredients altogether, it's an impressive statement of purity and devotion. At the other extreme, filling up your shopping cart exclusively with frozen TV dinners won't lead to very interesting blog posts (*Blog Owner's note: assuming you're writing a blog that discusses food, of course.  And even so, there are probably, somewhere out there, amusing TV dinner blogs) or nutrition awards.

Where do you place yourself on this spectrum? Is there an ideal range that one should aspire to? Or does it vary from meal to meal or based on the time you can make available on a particular day?

If you'd like to try my "cheater" pizza, the recipe is below. From start to finish it took just under 40 minutes, and it was enjoyed by both kids and by me. It also used up some of the leading edge of the tomato bounty from our garden and CSA.

Preheat oven to 450 F with a pizza stone in the oven. While oven is warming, slice enough tomatoes to cover the pizza in a monolayer (did I mention I'm an engineer?) and place on a paper towel to absorb some of the moisture. Don't worry about getting the slices too perfect -- that's an 80% task. Grate 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Roll out the dough to the size of your pizza stone. Brush with olive oil and place the tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with cheese, and add a little salt and pepper to taste. Spray on a little more olive oil. Place on the hot pizza stone and bake until crust browns (but cheese isn't burnt), about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place some fresh basil leaves on top. Slice and serve.

Finally, remember to remove the pizza stone from the oven before your wife tries to make cupcakes in the oven the next night.
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6 comments:

Audrey said...

This is a great post! I don't think there's anything wrong with "cheating", though I had the same..am I cheating.. feelings recently when I used flat breads to make mini pizzas for dinner instead of making my own dough like I usually do. I just didn't want to deal with the hours of rise etc that I usually do. oi. It was tasty too! I like your cheater pizza recipe and I will add it to my try-it recipe rotation!

Mud Hut Mama said...

I think the amount of "cheating" absolutely varies from meal to meal and sometimes there is just not enough time to do it all from scratch so you do the best you can with what you have. Your pizza looks delicious!

KeAnne said...

Love this post! I work with a bunch of engineers, so I hear about the 80/20 rule ALL THE TIME. We try to make as many meals as possible that are mostly homemade. I don't think it's necessary to make my own mustard or cheese or even pastry (maybe one day), but we do make our own marinara sauce and I try to limit the amount of processed foods we eat. But yeah, it depends on the day and how busy we are. I think if most of your meals aren't completely from a box, you're doing better than a lot of others.

Andie said...

How wonderful to hear from you, S! Love the pizza recipe. I don't think there is anything wrong with cheating. It depends on the time/worload factor. We don't use many processed ingredients as a rule, so I think our cheats fall more into the usual conveniences - tinned tomatoes, pita bread instead of pizza crust, that sort of thing.

Justine, I hope you really enjoyed BlogHer. I think this is a great post. The thought of allowing my husband to write a guest post on my blog scares me to bits, ha ha! :)

Emily @ablanket2keep said...

Nice to meet you S! Great post. My Hubby is an engineer and I have never heard of this from him. Gonna ask him about it. I don't think cheating is bad at all. I always weight the task against spending more time with friends or family. Some times the food wins and sometimes the people win.

It was awesome to meet your wife in NYC. We will definitely be getting together again.

JustHeather said...

The amount of 'cheating' definitely varies from meal to meal. Somedays there is plenty of time and desire to make everything from scratch (minus the cheese, yogurt, mustard, etc) and other days, you just want the meal done faster.

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