Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Potluck: Kitchen Rehab

Do you like your kitchen?  Does being in your kitchen make you feel happy and relaxed?  Or do you dread a stint of cooking because you just don't like working in that space?  Do you have things arranged for your convenience?

Are you hanging on to stuff you haven't used in years just because you haven't gotten around to having a garage sale or loading up a box for the Salvation Army?  Do you have a jar of cloves in the back of your cupboard that has been there since the turn of the century?  (Come on - I know you have some old stuff around.   I finally tossed a bag of dried bean curd sheets a few months ago because I never did figure out what to do with them.  It killed me because I HATE to waste food.  But sometimes you just have to admit failure and move on.)

I am not going to recommend a $50,000 kitchen renovation, complete with the latest trendy countertop surface or new type of cooktop.  I am going to suggest that you set aside several hours this month to clean and organize and improve what you have.  This will cost little or nothing, except your time.  This will help you become a happier cook which will inevitably lead to becoming a better and more productive cook.

You know better than I what is driving you crazy in your own kitchen.  Maybe it is a dark corner that needs better lighting.  Maybe it is the utensil drawer that is so full you never can find the tongs when you need them.   Maybe it is ten boxes of old and half eaten breakfast cereal sitting on top of the refrigerator.  The horror.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Take everything off your countertops and all available flat work space in your kitchen.  I mean everything.  Scrub all the surfaces.  Now put things back - but I want you to think carefully about each item.  Do you really need all the tschotkes that you have taking up valuable real estate?  Set priorities.  Make sure cutting boards, peelers and knives are in a place that is very convenient and accessible.  Same with spices, herbs and salt and pepper.  I like keeping a basic supply of oils and vinegars close at hand too.

I really like good lighting - natural or otherwise - in a kitchen.  This is one area where you might need to spend a little money.  Maybe you need a new fixture or even an electrician to add some new wiring.  Maybe you just need light bulbs (time for LED's?) that pack a bigger punch.  We have long and dark winters in Minnesota.  Lighten up your kitchen.  This might be more effective than anti-depressants.

Make a little pile of the tools you use all the time.  For me it is a few spoons, rubber scrapers, whisk, tongs and potato masher.  I find it convenient to use some of my prime counter space for a few crocks that hold utensils.  I also have one drawer chock full of things like a cherry pitter, cookie cutters, thermometers and other small but indispensable items.  I may not use them every day but I want them close by when I do need them.  If have a pile of items you never use - pass them on to someone who will.

If your knives are not sharp - do something about it.

Pots and pans
Decide which ones you use the most.  Put them where you can easily reach them.  The roaster you only use once or twice a year?  Put it in the basement, the apartment storage closet.  You get the idea.  

The cupboard
Go through the boxes, cans, jars and bags.  Are you EVER going to use the can of fermented lettuce you picked up when you visited Chinatown in Chicago? No.  The answer is no.  Toss it.  Grieve.  Move on.
Once you have tossed all the old stuff or the stuff you are truly never going to eat, then do a little organizing.  Plan some meals to use up what you have.  Stumped?  Go on Featherstone's Facebook page. Ask for help.  "What can I  cook with x, y and z?" See what happens.  I promise to help.

Herbs and spices
Take an inventory.  If something is really old and has lost most of its flavor, out it goes.  Make a list.  Go to your favorite co-op and restock the basic herbs and spices that you think you need.  You don't want to be making chili and find out that you are out of chili powder and cumin.  Make sure you have some bay leaves around - I use them all the time in soup stock. 
Don't forget dry mustard powder - also a staple in my house. 

I hope you have fun with this project.  Let me know how it goes.  Maybe we should have an annual exchange of cooking tools and utensils and appliances for Featherstone Farm members?  Help useful things find a good home and encourage us to keep our kitchens lean and mean.  Do you think that is a good idea?


  1. Like cleaning out your closets and donating the "almost-never-wears" to the church ladies who run the resale shop in town and sell your forgotten sweaters for $5 to somebody who thinks they're a treasure.

    See "The Purge", my next post (tomorrow?)

    Great idea, and don't forget that kitchen things are highly prized comodities at resale stores.

    Donate! There are people out there who really need the stuff that's gathering dust in your house. And the few dollars that your donations get at the resale store go for very worthy causes. Everybody wins!

  2. Thanks - this is the push I needed to get my kitchen back in shape.