Sunday, March 6, 2011

Going back to work...& automating our household

I go back to school full-time in a few weeks, and although I can't wait to dive into the "fun" part of being a medical student (that is, actually working in the hospital, rather than taking classes), I'm also feeling apprehensive about having enough time to spend with my daughter once I'm working 12+ hour days.  As much as possible, I'd like to make sure that when I'm at home, I'm with her--or my husband--and not doing mundane household tasks.  To that end, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my plans to automate my life.  Please share any other time-saving tips you might have!

#1:  Finding a housekeeper
The plan is to find someone who will give the floors a good clean, dust everything, and leave the kitchen and bathroom sparkling once a week.  This will cost some money.  But I think that what it will save in time (not to mention a better relationship with my husband) will be well worth it.  However, given that we have two dogs constantly tracking in dirt and liberally shedding everywhere, this won't be quite enough to keep the floors as clean as they need to be now that we have a baby who can crawl, which brings us to...

#2:  Getting a robot.

Jetson Time!  These vacuuming robots have been around for years, but I've always hesitated.  Seems like now they've worked out a lot of the kinks.  It has little side-brushes for walls and corners, avoids rug fringe, focuses on dirty areas, and docks itself!  A number of Amazon reviewers who are also proud parents of young children AND multiple dogs swear by this model, so I think we're going to take the plunge.  I'm also secretly hoping that the robot-ness of it will make my husband want to take charge of making sure that the robot gets run every day or two.  Then again, he isn't the one who studied robotics at summer camp, so this may not work out the way I think it will...

#3:  Buying food
We do our grocery shopping at Trader Joe's (although we buy all our produce at the farmer's market), and for the last couple months we've been doing a lot of experimenting with the prepared foods, or almost-prepared foods, there.  The frozen asparagus risotto, for example, is quite good (especially if you add in some clams or sardines...).

We are also considering having more of our food delivered.  Since we live in northern California, there are a ton of local CSAs that will deliver a box of local organic fruits and vegetables every week.  The thing is that I really enjoy our weekly trips to the farmer's market, and I also suspect that they're good for our daughter--so I'm not in a hurry to cross that off my to-do list.  Of course, this may change once I get a taste of being in the hospital 60-80 hours a week...

There's even a local service called Michal the Milkman that will deliver dairy to your door weekly (milk, eggs, butter, yogurt).  If we do start using a CSA, I would probably sign up for dairy delivery too, since then we could get away with less-frequent grocery store trips.  Then all I would need is a bakery that will deliver bread...

#4:  Making meals
Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express: 404 inspired seasonal dishes you can make in 20 minutes or lessThe Trader Joe's Companion: A Portable CookbookAs I mentioned, we've already started experimenting with eating more prepared foods from Trader Joe's. I'm tempted to buy a well-reviewed cookbook which provides recipes based on the foods available there.  We do have one other favorite "quick and easy" cookbook, by NY Times writer Mark Bittman, called Kitchen Express:  404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 minutes Or Less.  We've probably tried about 20 of the recipes so far, and I don't think there's been a single dud.  It's a particularly good cookbook if you buy your produce at the farmer's market, since it's organized seasonally.

We're also probably going to sign up for weekly Indian food delivery from Tiffin Dinner, a local family business that delivers home-cooked Indian meals to the Stanford area; on Tuesday nights they offer free delivery to our neighborhood.  They're reasonably priced and quite tasty!

#5:  Buying household goods
I think we've found two ways to reduce the number of trips we have to make to a Big Box store to buy household staples like toilet paper, soap, etc.  First, we've switched to reusable products rather than disposables where we can.  That means cloth diapers, lovely cloth napkins, flour sack towels instead of paper towels, dish cloths rather than sponges, and glass containers or washable cloth bags for storing food rather than ziplock bags.

But we still need laundry detergent, bar soap, shampoo, toilet paper, and so on.  And then I saw this article in the New York Times "Your Money" section yesterday, about a "Subscribe and Save" service from, through which you can sign up to have them automatically send things to you every month or 3 or 6, with free shipping, and save 15% off the normal cost.  My husband and I were so excited that we immediately proceeded to subscribe for soap, detergent, toilet paper, etc.  The only thing I will say is that the quantities are sometimes better suited for a larger household than ours--there were some things we would have gotten except that we couldn't possibly use their minimum amounts every 6 months.  Still, it's a really neat idea.

Do you have any household shortcuts to share?  How do you make sure that your time is spent where it counts, rather than doing chores?


  1. Be sure to have the cleaning lady change your sheets and the crib sheet. With 3 kids 3 and under and on avg working a 50 hr+ work week, this is a major time saver. It doesn't make them that much more expensive and it takes something off of you to do list that you will need to keep track of.

  2. The answer to your bread question, a bread machine. I have been making bread with ours ever week. Super simple and cheap. You also have control what it is in it. I have one that you can delay set. There is nothing nicer than waking up to the smell of fresh bread. I have also started using Sous Kitchen and buying about 5-10 meals a month. A little expensive but less than going out to eat on those what's for dinner nights and they are really good.

  3. Lauren--sheet-changing is a good addition, I agree.

    Algea--thanks for the Sous Kitchen suggestion. We're going to try it! I agree--expensive but less expensive than going out, which is what would be likely to happen on those everyone's-exhausted-but-we-need-to-eat nights.

  4. So, I've been reading your blog anonymously up til now, but I should probably let you know that I love it! Incidentally I'll finding out where I'll be doing my OB/Gyn residency next week, and getting married in May.

    I think you might benefit from my favorite recipe, Shakshouka. I started making this during MSII, and it has become a staple of me and Matt's diet. I will make double or triple recipes, and then refrigerate and freeze portions for later. The basic idea is that you spend one free night making lots of tomato, onion and pepper stew that gets stored, and makes a fresh tasting dinner lots of subsequent nights. It is great when you're on say, your surgery rotation, and come home wanting some food that's a little heartier than a graham cracker sandwich, because in about five minutes you poach eggs in the stew, and have dinner.

    Hope you like it, and it saves you some time!


    Dice 3 cloves of garlic, and chop two onions into 1/2 square pieces. Chop one red and one green pepper into 1/2 inch pieces as well. Add to a large frying pan or pot with minimal olive oil and cook over medium heat until the peppers and onions are soft. Season as you like with what you've got around. I use lots of paprika, salt and pepper, oregano, a bit of cayenne, chili powder, cumin and coriander if I have it. Add a 28 oz can of Diced tomatoes and a small (7 oz?) can of tomato sauce. You can also just add water if you don't have sauce around. Simmer another 10 to 15 minutes to let the flavors meld and re-season if you like.

    At this point you've got two options.

    Usually, I store the majority of the stew in the fridge, and make small batches of the final dish as I feel like it. Or, you can make it all at once if you're serving a bunch of people.

    For one person: Ladle about a cup to a cup and a half of stew into a small frying pan and heat the vegetables through. Make a depression in the center of the stew and crack an egg into this depression. Or two eggs in two depressions if you're really hungry.

    For a bunch of people:
    Leave the stew in the large pan/pot, make depressions in the stew and add eggs around the pan, and then cook as for one egg. This recipe makes enough for about 6 or 7 eggs this way.

    Cover the pan and cook until the yolk is either cooked through or a little runny. Your choice. Just before the egg is cooked to your liking, you can also put chunks of feta into the stew and let them get melty.

    Enjoy with pita bread, or regular bread.

  5. Cari--hi!! Congrats on choosing OB/gyn & the impending nuptials! Thank you so much for the shakshouka recipe--this is definitely something we will try.