I know of some people who can cook vast quantities of delicious food, and be relaxed and waiting half an hour before guests arrive, with food fully prepared, and kitchens cleaned. Sometimes they have considerably less workspace than I have but still emerge smiling.
On Wednesdays we usually have a colleague or two of Richard's to lunch. Our lunches are basically cold: bread-based, with salad veggies, cheese, marmite, etc. In the summer we have grapes to follow, most days (local Cyprus grapes are excellent in season); in autumn and winter when I'm more inclined to spend time in the kitchen, I'll often make some kind of cake if guests are coming.
So, today I planned to bake gingerbread. Easy-peasy, throw the ingredients together, put mixture in a lined roasting pan, 40 minutes in the oven. I didn't plan to make any bread as one loaf wouldn't be enough for six people, so Tim went out to buy fresh bread from our local baker's.
Then I thought about some soup. Nothing complicated: just a leftover vegetable soup. My 'more-with-less cookbook' suggests putting any leftover veggies, rice, pasta, cooking water etc in a large plastic container in the freezer. Then, when it's full, cook them all together with a bit of extra water, liquidise, re-heat, and serve. I had collected a box of this kind of leftovers, so stuck it all in a large pan and put it on to simmer.
Then I remembered we had run out of home-made lemonade, there were no useable lemons in the supermarket last week, and our bottle of commercial lemon squash was almost empty. The boys and I mostly drink plain water, but Richard likes some fruity concentrate added, as do the guests. So, as we had some oranges (and more on a tree outside) and half a litre of frozen lemon juice (though no peel), I decided to try and orange squash drink from one of my recipe books, that uses both oranges and lemons. Not difficult, so I washed and peeled the oranges, squeezed the juice, and prepared it.
I started all this about nine o'clock, thinking that would give LOADS of time.
By 11.15 I thought I was well-organised. Gingerbread was in the oven, orange squash was cooling in its pan, soup had finished simmering and was also cooling, prior to being liquidised. Tim had made some egg mayonnaise too, and that was in the fridge. Both the boys asked to do tests for their home education coursework at that stage, so I went through to the dining room to supervise those. Dan's was fairly quick - only twenty questions, not particularly difficult, on New Testament church history. Tim's was a maths test, but it was from a workbook he had found fairly easy, so even though maths tests can take an hour or more, this one was only about 25 minutes long. I marked the tests, then returned to the kitchen to take out the gingerbread - which, I was pleased to see, seemed to have cooked perfectly.
I scooped out about a litre of the soup, added a little extra water, and liquidised it.
Then... I wondered where to put it! I couldn't return it to the same pan, since there were another couple of litres of mixture that also needed to be turned into soup. I couldn't put it in one of the small saucepans, or it would overflow. The pan I needed to transfer it to was the other large one currently containing cooling orange squash.
I temporarily abandoned the soup in the blender, and started to strain the orange mixture. It made about two litres, so I bottled that and put it in the fridge. Then I had to wash the pan, which was a bit complicated because the washing-up bowl had been moved to the side of the sink, and the sink itself was full of pans, mixing bowls and spoons from making the gingerbread.
Eventually I had a clean pan to transfer the soup to, and was able to liquidise the rest and then put it on to simmer once more, now looking like soup rather than sad watery vegetables. So that was fine..
Trouble was, by this time the kitchen was in utter chaos. Then I remembered that I had a load of laundry to hang outside, and when I opened the back door I saw that two loads of yesterday's laundry was still hanging out. Totally dry, but it had to be sorted and put away.
So at 12.30 I collected up each person's clean, dry laundry, and put it in the relevant rooms, then hung out today's wet stuff. At 12.45 I cut up the gingerbread and put it on a plate, then began the mountain of dish-washing.... and gradually felt less and less relaxed. Not that it would matter if the kitchen was still a mess, of course; I just couldn't understand why, with four hours available, I couldn't succeed in making ultra-easy soup, fairly-easy lemonade, and reasonably-easy gingerbread AND have a clean kitchen at the end of it.
The soup tasted all right - better than I had expected, actually. The orange was popular although I thought it had a slightly bitter aftertaste. The gingerbread was fine. Half of it's gone in the freezer for some future occasion, along with about half the soup which wasn't finished, so it was all worth doing. I just wish it didn't take me so long to cook things that are basically so straightforward.