A Tale of Five Kitchens
A combination of factors has dictated that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I am not a fabulous cook, nor am I particularly fond of it (I’d rather wash dishes), but I do churn out the necessary meals day in and day out. But, because of the time I spend in food prep and clean-up, I think of my past houses in terms of the kitchens. Yes, I remember our bedrooms, but whether they were 90 square feet or 250 square feet didn’t matter much to me, it was the kitchens that truly defined our living situation. So, let me introduce you to my kitchens.
Kitchen the Fifth: I am currently blessed by my kitchen situation. Actually, I would say that it’s been my favorite kitchen thus far, even with the glaring lack of a pantry. It’s a good size (especially considering our overall square footage) and has a wrap-around style that gives me lots of counter space. I also love that, although open to the main room, it is a dead-end, so no one is using it to get to the back yard or the garage. Less traffic.
Kitchen the Fourth: Enter what I am sure will be the largest kitchen I ever live in, it was almost too big. I had lots of counter space, lots of cabinets and a walk-in pantry that I loved. But, the size made things less efficient in a way, because I had to walk/reach farther to get there.
Kitchen the Third: This kitchen was small and L-shaped, but our table was right there and I relied heavily on it as a temporary workspace for food preparation.
Kitchen the Second: This kitchen was awful, even for two people. I’m pretty sure it was designed to heat food up in the microwave. Really, the only thing that made it bearable was the thought of Caroline Ingalls’s cooking situations. When I took people on a “tour” of our apartment, I would start with the smallest unit: the hall closet. Then I’d move on, increasing in size, to the smaller master closet, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the larger master closet. (By the time we’d been all these places, they had walked through the living room and bedroom twice each. It was a very thorough tour.) I do not exaggerate when I say that I could stand in our kitchen, one set of fingertips touching the wall over the stove, while the other set reached the wall behind the sink. I had about 5 feet of countertop, broken into three chunks (1’, 1’, and 3’). I had to get truly creative to cook in this kitchen.
Kitchen the First: I have nothing to say about this kitchen. It is not memorable, so it must have done its job without being either spectacular or annoying.
Since you don’t want to spend all Saturday morning getting to know my kitchens, I’ll get to my point. I have lived in enough different types of kitchen to have developed some ideas about them. And, being the person I am, I have prepared a way to share those ideas with you.
I think of my kitchen as providing two types of spaces: storage and workspace. By design, cabinets and shelves are obviously intended for storage, as is the dishwasher and the refrigerator. By the same token, your stove top is ideally suited to being a workspace. Your sink and countertops could go either way. Personally, I prefer to use my sink as a workspace, having it immediately available for the odd spaghetti strainer or a quick veggie rinse. Therefore, I do not store dirty dishes in my sink. I use countertops both ways. I store a water filter and produce bowls on one counter, and keep my utensil holder, salt and pepper, and cutting boards on a counter near the stove. There’s also the space to the left of the sink for dirty pots and pans and the space on the right where clean ones are drying or waiting to be put away. There is also the semi-permanent presence of culturing kefir in one corner. I stringently adhere to the practice of keeping my workspaces free from stored items. I can quickly wipe up any messes and always have these spaces available on a moment’s notice, no need to clean the kitchen before I make dinner.
Here are some general kitchen tips I’ve picked up along the way to make my space uncluttered and efficient:
Establish a workspace for food prep. Every kitchen needs this. Without this space, even the most committed will find it cumbersome to make meals for their family. It does not have to be large, but it must be preserved for food prep only. Seasonings, knife blocks, and oil have no claim to this space. My food prep area is about three feet long, located next to the oven so that I can preside over hamburgers and chop an onion.
Consider getting rid of your knife block. They’re so bulky. Wall-mounted magnetic knife strips were a wonderful idea. If I had limited cabinet space, I’d buy one. I keep my knives in a drawer which I lined with that non-stick shelf liner to keep them from jostling around and getting damaged.
Don’t keep things that are broken. Seriously! You’re never going to get around it figuring out how to make it worth keeping, trust me. Don’t believe me? How long have you had that spiralizer with a broken handle? Have you fixed it yet?
Make sure all your food storage lids have containers to go with them. Don’t keep the extras unless you routinely use a container or lid without its other half. Make sure you use every container you keep.
Match lids to pots. Don’t keep extra lids.
Designate a space (drawer, bag, whatever) for plastic grocery bags. They’re handy to have, but not if they take over your life. Once that space is full, toss out your extras.
Open and close each drawer. Was that easy? If not, you know you need to clean that drawer out! Every drawer should be easy to open so that you’re not wasting time in the kitchen.
Be honest. I know you bought three dozen Mason jar a couple years ago, thinking you’d start canning. But, do you can? If so, great! If not, send those jars to Goodwill and bless someone else who thinks they want to can.
You know those potholders that are too thin? Yes, those, the ones that practically burn you every time you use them. Just do yourself a favor and throw them away.
Think about groups of non-stackable items in terms of how many you need at a time. At one point, I had about twelve mugs. This was three times as many as I needed since I had never used more than four at a time.
Evaluate stackable items as separate units. I had two sets of bowls for over a decade and realized that I really only used the biggest two from this set and the biggest one from that set. Getting rid of four bowls might not seem earth-shattering, but is nice to quickly grab the bowl I need instead of lifting the smaller ones out first.
Do you have a lot of seasonal kitchen stuff? A Christmas platter, Thanksgiving tablecloth, and Easter Bunny salt and pepper shakers? I will not command you to get rid of them, but if you only use them for the assigned holiday, you might want to consider getting year-round items.
Clean out that junk drawer and replace it with a miscellaneous drawer. Keep odds and ends here that you frequently access, but throw junk away.
Think multi-purpose when you purchase new items for your kitchen. I love that my enameled cast iron can be used in the oven and on the stove top.
How do you make your kitchen work for you? Let me know in the comments below or on facebook. I love to collect new ideas.