Friday, December 31, 2010

5 Steps to Loving the Kitchen You're In: Step 5: Divide and Conquer

From the title of this post, you'd think that I'm talking about division of labor. Sorry, but that's just a clever way to get you to jump on in and read all about it. No, I'm talking about organization. And there's no better time to be talking about this very subject. Every year, when I get my brand new calendar, I try to savor that moment when it's completely empty and fresh, nothing written on it. I am literally turning over a new leaf when I break that calendar out. So, while many of us are thinking about the changes and weaknesses we want to work on during the year, let's tackle one that sometimes goes under the radar: Kitchen Organization.I am by no means an expert on organization, but I am pretty dang good at it. I have had to be, with so many children and a compulsion to never say no to pretty much everything anyone asks me to do, I've had to be streamlined in my scheduling and also in my cupboards. You see, I am what is known as a slave driver around these parts. I have older children that I make do dishes and I have younger children that I make sweep floors and put groceries away, and they are all expected to get their own dishes if they're hungry or thirsty, so that means that things have to be find-able and logically grouped so that if you came across something you didn't know where it went, you should be able to find it based on what kind of item it is. I've divided the stuff so I can conquer the chaos. I kind of like that last bit. What a great tagline...

This concept is not new. Check out this book by Julie Morgenstern at your local library if you want a more in-depth explanation, but in it she talks about the concept of organizing by zones. This means that all the things you need to do a certain task should be kept in the place where you would normally do that task. It's like when you keep the flashlight in the garage but the batteries are in the drawer in the kitchen. That's when you not only waste time but you get frustrated that things take so long to do. So, in the kitchen specifically, I have a cooking zone. All pots, pans, strainers, bakeware, utensils and spices are located right next to the stove and microwave. I have a dishes zone. All the dishes and glasses, cups and spoons are housed right by my dishwasher, so that when my slaves, er children, do their dishes they can easily put them away. I have an appliance zone, which I am very lucky to have, where I house all of my plug-in items. There's an outlet in there, so some of them can stay plugged in all the time. I also have my measuring cups and baking needs there, since I usually only measure teaspoons or tablespoons when I'm using the mixer. I have a central command zone. This is where the bills, stamps, phone books, phone, medicines, back issues of Everyday Food, and cookbooks are. All the miscellaneous crap that you definitely need but don't want to trip over while you're cooking is housed here. I have a pantry zone. Now, I know, this pantry is over the top. But it's my one claim to fame here in this house. I have a cracked countertop but a huge pantry. It's a trade-off I'm willing to make. I also group foods by zone in a simplified way in the pantry. I have my spaghetti stuff all by each other, my gluten free stuff has its own shelf, all the cereals and chips are together, canned goods are right there in the middle, and I have a box on the bottom shelf for my kids that has "kid food" like fruit snacks, granola bars, and individually packaged fruits and applesauce, so they can get food for themselves if they're hungry. Shelley from House of Smith's has a super cute pantry project, check it out if you need a little inspiration.

Zones. What a great concept. Divide the stuff so you can conquer some chaos. Some of these cupboards need this example applied more than others. For example, the bakeware is always a mess because I have way too much of it and it's not a great place to put things away. But I took 10 minutes to purge and reorganize this one cabinet and made it work. And this used to be the tupperware cupboard which was a disaster until I realized I really needed to move the tupperware down where I could see the lids to match them up. I think I threw about half of it away because I never use it. It's all in the fridge! Ha ha ha. Purge, purge, purge. You can never do too much purging in the cupboards. Keep what you love and use, chuck the rest. And, most importantly, don't go buy more! Unless it's from LeCreuset or All-Clad...that's totally acceptable.

I hope something in these last few posts has helped you come to terms with the place you cook, and helped you turn it into a family kitchen...because that's where the magic happens.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

5 Steps to Loving the Kitchen You're In: Step 4: Surround Yourself With Beauty

I hope you're enjoying my little tangential trip into kitchen-keeping. I'm having such a great time talking about all the things I love about kitchens, it's going to be hard to stop myself when it's over. The tip for today is: understand what things, sounds, textures, smells, and objects make you happy, and surround yourself with them. This will be personal and different for everyone, as we all have a different set of ideals for beauty. For example, my friend Teresa loves modern art. She has a Kandinsky in the kitchen and Munch's "The Scream" hanging in her bathroom, on tangerine orange and lime green walls, respectively. She has bold-printed curtains with huge patterns in flashy colors. I would never ever paint my walls tangerine and I appreciate modern art but would never ever hang it up because it clashes with all my stuff. But when I go to Teresa's house, I see the way she has designed her space to work with the art she loves, and it makes me love that modern art every time I see it. My tastes aren't as vibrant, in fact they're boring in comparison, but it's what I like so I go with it. Here's a glimpse into what I keep that's beautiful to me:

I just love blue dishes. I can't explain why, but everytime I see them I am giddy. I have an entire collection of antique ones from my grandmother and I've bought more from ebay and The Old Dutch Store. I like them so much I decided to buy an entire set to use as my everyday dishes. I take care when I wash them because I like to look at them.

Music can really set the tone in my house. With so many children and so many jobs, sometimes I need a little pick-me-up or a little calmer-downer, and music does it every time. I've had my husband add one of these in every kitchen we've owned. For Christmas I got an iPod dock so I can be up with the times. Hey! You could do a whole kitchen playlist...the wheels are really turning now.I like nature and seeing the seasons change. I never ever lower the blinds in any of my kitchen windows and I try to keep them clean because I want to see the view outside. And with a mountain like that in your backyard, it's easy to love it.

In October the Nester had a series called "31 Days to a Less Messy Nest" and I remember she talked about having cute soap out to use. I found this wire thing at WalMart by the canning stuff for $4 and thought that it would be a cute soap holder in the kitchen. I have two sizes of spouted oil bottles (also available at WalMart) and one holds hand soap and one has dish soap in it. I think they're so cute sitting there on the counter together in my cheap wire container.

I almost always burn a Scentsy or a Salt City candle in my kitchen for two reasons. One, I don't like my house to smell like food unless I'm actually cooking it. And two, I like the seasonal scents that make me feel excited about whatever season I'm in. My favorite smells are Sunflower, Peppermint, and the one that smells like Clean Laundry.

There's almost always seasonal candy or items of some sort in my little jars on the windowsill. We're heading into winter's bleak stretch now, so I like to put white marshmallows and blue candy in my jars. At Christmas, it was sour candies and peppermints. Autumn is candy corn and pretzels, back to school time was crayons and pencils, Fourth of July I did cinnamon bears and those little flags, Valentine's day is usually conversation hearts and cinnamon hot lips, and Halloween was purple, orange and green gumballs and black spider rings. I have fun with it. Anything cheap and abundant that reminds me of the flavors or colors of the season will eventually end up in one of my jars. I love the seasons and that little reminder of where I am in the year makes me feel happy.

So there you have it. Find your favorite things and bring them into the kitchen with you, be it a color, a sound, a smell, anything that gives you joy to see. We spend so much time in there already that it only makes sense that surrounding yourself with beauty will make you love being there that much more.

Happy eating!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

5 Steps to Loving the Kitchen You're In: Step 3: Use White Stuff

I don't know what it is about white in a kitchen that makes me happy, but I've decided it's because white makes food look better. More appetizing, better colors, whatever it is, white and kitchens go together.

I'm not necessarily talking about cabinets (although I do love those) or dishes (those are good, too), but just the general stuff that takes up space in your kitchen. White will serve you well every time. Need an example? How about this. A few years ago when I was pregnant with one of my children my best friend Anna came over and swept and mopped up my floor for me just because. It was like a little sunshine had just perched itself in my kitchen when she did it, I'm telling you. Anyway, she chided me for not using white rags. "Why use white?" I asked. "Because," she replied, "with white you can really see the dirt, and it's way more of a feeling of accomplishment if you can see what you just wiped up." I was instantly converted to white rags, towels, and other stuff, too. Here's two more benefits of using all white towels in your kitchen: 1) bleach, baby, and 2)cheap and available. You can go to WalMart or the dollar store and spend about $10-$15 and get a whole new setup of towels for your kitchen any day of the week. And I love pulling out a clean white towel and hanging it up for the day. It just makes me happy. Another example? When I first got married my mom bought me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer that I have used for 16 years. She asked me what color I wanted and she really tried to steer me towards white because it would never go out of style. What did I choose? Cobalt blue. Yes. So in style in the 90s and now I have so often wished I had a white or stainless steel one that I could put out on my counter and appreciate as practical artwork. Cobalt blue hasn't been in my decorating palette since, oh, 1998, so it's been hidden, but well used ever since. A petty reason to choose white, but a reason nonetheless.

One more cleaning tip: after you buy all your white washcloths and you're wiping up (and seeing) all that dirt, what do you do with it when you're done? Do you chuck it in the sink in a wet, smelly ball? Do you hang it over the middle of the sink so when you turn the water on it gets wetter and never dries out and turns all smelly so that when you wipe your counters with it next time all your counters smell like mildew? No, you rinse it, lay it flat, and let it dry on the side of your sink. And you get out a clean one out every single day. I know you can afford to go out during the clearance sales this week and buy at least 7 white washcloths without going into debt. Okay, pet peeve fully disclosed. Moving on.

Another thing I like to use in white are my basic kitchen tools. I took a tip from Ina Garten's checklist for stocking your kitchen on House Beautiful's website when she said to use inexpensive crockery in white to hold your utensils and things you use every day. That way, if something happens to them and they get broken or chipped in the kitchen they're easy to replace.

So next time you need to buy some kitchen stuff, look into white. It's neutral, it's classic, it's easy to clean, it looks clean, and it's found just about everywhere.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

5 Steps to Loving the Kitchen You're In: Step 2--Keep It Clean

I remember the day I discovered that dishes were my enemy. I realized that if I left dishes in the sink, it opened a whole Pandora's Box of other messes that I was willing to let happen. It was like a mental switch was turned on in my head. There's dishes in the sink...just watch the world go need to act... Don't worry, my mother had been telling me for years that if I would just rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher they wouldn't pile up so bad. That was one of my more idiotic ignorings of mom wisdom. I kept telling myself there was no harm in letting a few dishes sit there, but they always grew into a full sink, then two full sides of the sink, then the counter, well, you get the picture.
I find that my kitchen runs much more smoothly when the dishwasher has been emptied first thing in the morning. Not that it's always emptied first thing in the morning and not that if you don't empty your dishwasher your kitchen can't be fab, but for me, it makes a big difference. If I do that one job, I don't feel like I have the chore of dishes hanging over my head all day, and I can just stick dirty ones in there as the day goes on.

Everyone's different, and all of us have different strengths, so it may be that dishes aren't your particular enemy. Maybe it's putting away groceries or sweeping the floor or sorting mail or wiping the countertop. Whatever it is, if you respect your own wishes that a clean, organized kitchen is what needs to be available in your home, then tackle that job first and foremost. To quote one of my favorite authors, Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards, "By and large the dishes come first." Truly, you simply can't focus unless your jobs are done. That being said, here are a few of my humble tips on how I like to clean my kitchen.

First of all, I like to wake in the morning (when at all possible) to this:
And I like to go to bed (when at all possible) to this:I feel like if I start and finish the day at those two points, it really doesn't matter what happens in between. You know your schedule best, and we all have different priorities, but here's what I do when I clean up the kitchen:
*Turn on all the lights in the kitchen including the one over the sink (it's hard to tackle dirt if you can't see it!)
*Unload/load/run dishwasher
*Hand wash pots/pans and sharp knives in soapy water, dry and put away
*Wipe all countertops and tables with soapy rag or Mrs. Meyer's Basil Countertop Spray
*Wipe any cabinets or handles that are dirty or sticky, or spot clean the floor
*Sweep floor, including under the table
*Declutter, remove toys or other items that don't belong
*Take out trashThis typically takes me about 20-30 minutes, depending on how many dishes I have.

Once a week or sometimes twice a month I:
*Polish my appliances with stainless steel polish
*Mop the floors
*Windex the kitchen windows (somehow we get lots and lots of handprints in there)
*Wipe the chandelier
*Wipe out the microwave *eww*

This usually adds about another 20-30 minutes to my routine.

Once a month I:
*Wash my kitchen rug
*Quickly wipe the baseboards
*Wipe the doorknobs and cabinet knobs down
*Wipe my windowsills

This takes like 10 extra minutes.

This seems like a lot when I write it down, but if I do these things routinely then the dirt doesn't really build up and it's not as difficult to keep clean. I promise. Remember, the kitchen doesn't run me, I run the kitchen.

The benefit to this is that it's much easier for me to embrace my space when I know that it's not a sticky pigsty that's been overrun by small minions. And I'm more creative in the kitchen when I'm not distracted by the mess or clutter that really only takes a few minutes to contain. The trick is, to find a routine that works for you, and then use it until it doesn't work for you anymore. Maybe you'd like to use a dish rack instead. Go for it! They are super cheap at IKEA and uber-European. Need music to get going? Turn on the headphones or bring a radio into your kitchen so you don't feel so bored. Get your children or husband involved and make a game of cleaning the kitchen. There's no rule that says you have to do it yourself. And don't underestimate the power of rewarding yourself for a job well done. For me, when the kitchen's clean, I get to go upstairs and watch Conan. Incentive, indeed.
Happy eating!

Monday, December 27, 2010

5 Steps to Loving the Kitchen You're In: Step 1--Choose to Embrace Your Space

not my kitchen...
I love kitchens. I always have. I can remember the smells from my grandma's kitchen like it was yesterday instead of thirty years ago: coffee, pine-sol, and fruit. She hung a hummingbird feeder outside the window over her sink so she could watch the hummingbirds while she worked. I never cared that the floors were orange linoleum or that her stove was twenty years old, I just remember what happened inside that kitchen when we were together: magic. I remember when my mom, stepdad and I moved into our house when I was 15, and it was the first time my mom had ever had a window over her sink. She said she would never complain about the dishes now that she had a view. Come to think of it, I can't really remember ever hearing her complain about doing dishes after that! But really, you don't need a window over the sink, granite countertops, fabulous custom cabinetry or even linoleum on the floors to create a magical kitchen for you and your family to enjoy together. I know a lot of us, (me, included) are somewhat underwhelmed by the kitchen spaces we have to work with. And when you eat gluten free, you tend to spend a lot, and I mean a LOT, more time in the kitchen compared with other people. And if you're on the tight end of the budget like me, that means you really can't do much with it other than use your imagination and elbow grease to make it somewhere you really love. Take my kitchen, for example. It has the original, 26 year old cabinets and countertops and footprint, and I have done everything within my limited power to make it pretty. I am about to show you a few pictures that may make you gasp. Here is where I cook and feed my family and test recipes for my blogging. I love my Swedish rag rug that only cost me $12 from IKEA. Here is the crack (!) in the 26 year old Corian countertop that I created one day when I left the pancake griddle on after the kids left for school. No one will repair it for me because it will void the warranty. (Uh, some warranty, I'd say.) These are the cabinets that were a horrible brown when we moved in and I have painted twice. I decided to go ahead and buy the knobs I wanted at Lowe's and go ahead and put them on the old crappy cabinets, because I wanted to look at something pretty and not wait for someday to see egg-shaped knobs and cup-shaped pulls. I did put in new appliances when we moved in three years ago, and that has always been one of the saving graces of my kitchen for me. I love my double oven and on occasion, when it's working correctly, my double dishwasher. JoLayna taught me that buying good quality appliances will always pay for itself in dividends of work you don't have to do yourself. This is my baking center, which is full of my new collection of small appliances. I am also the lucky owner of a drop ceiling and a flourescent light. Ooooh, you're all jealous now. And, the grand finale of the tour is this: Attached swinging barstools. Oh, yes, they did. Apparently these were high society in the 80s. Every single one of my children has fallen off of these and hurt themselves in some way during the last three years, one requiring stitches. And they make a really annoying "bang" when the kids get off them and they snap back into position against the bar.

For about two years now I have been really bratty about this kitchen and have told my husband all kinds of blackmail-like things to get him to pay for, finance, steal, or just plain call the wrecking crew to get this kitchen renovated. Guess what? It ain't happening. We are cash-paying people and unless we win the lottery that doesn't exist in Utah, we are just going to have to keep saving for at least a couple of years to be able to afford that. For months I have been really ticked about that. But in June, this cute boy of mine got baptized and we hosted a luncheon that day in honor of him. The day before the baptism I decided I hated the curtains and wanted to clear off all the counters, so I did. I picked out fabric I really liked and had thought about for a long time (bonus: on sale) and sewed up some curtains. You can't see very well from the picture, but they have a darling little brown velvet ruffle on the bottom. The top fabric is a cheap linen with some other name than linen that they sell at every fabric store. I only had 1/2 yard of the cream patterned fabric so I had to do strips to stretch it out for 4 windows. It seems like the finished measurements minus seam allowances were 12", 4" and 2". (Just in case you were wondering.) I filled my clear canisters with gluten free ingredients and brought them out of the baking center. They became the center of interest in my cracked-counter kitchen. (By the way, I really don't recommend sewing curtains and rearranging your kitchen the day before a major family gathering. I really don't.) I filled up my beehive-shaped canisters with seasonal candy and set them on the windowsill. But a funny thing happened. Those curtains became the catalyst for me actually enjoying this space where the people I love come and don't really care about my counter or my cabinets that hang crooked. Just like I didn't care about my grandma's orange linoleum. Once I let go of the fact that I wanted everything to be perfect about my "work zone" and let it be a place where magic can happen, it became what it was meant to be...a family kitchen. Oh, I still want gel mats and granite countertops and new cabinetry and refinished wood floors, but it doesn't define the endless possibilities that lay ahead of us when we are all there together.

So, now that I've explained my mental process in learning to love my kitchen, at least on a somewhat shallow level, here's my challenge to you: pick one thing you don't like in your kitchen that you can control and fix it. Today. I'm not talking call Home Depot and have them come fix something huge, I'm talking:
* clean out that cabinet you can't find anything in
* Find a new curtain at TJMaxx or sew one or mistreat one yourself like the Nester
* Rearrange your counter space so you have more room to roll out sugar cookies with your kids
* Move the bills and mail to the office
* Clean out the fridge
* If you've been saving for a new appliance you need and just haven't bought it yet, go order it and have it scheduled for delivery
* Do not go into debt and do not underestimate your own powers of organization!

You use the space, you know where things should go. There's about a million jobs you could choose from. I guarantee it will make you feel happier with your kitchen. Embrace your space. It's yours, make it feel like it's yours!

And, after you've done that, if you're still unhappy with your kitchen, create a little vision of your dream kitchen by finding pictures of kitchens you love and then find a common thread. When you understand what it is you like, sometimes it's easier than you think to achieve it. For example, here are some pictures of kitchens I like. My all time favorite ever in the whole world kitchen is Ina Garten's kitchen recently built in her barn on her property in the Hamptons:image from young house love

Notice the common thread? When I figured out that I was really drawn to white kitchens with black knobs and stainless steel appliances and rag rugs and goose-neck faucets, I realized it wasn't that hard to make that change in my own kitchen. I also realized I like clear things that I can see into, and I like seeing practical, everyday things almost as artwork. So I incorporated that into my display. My kitchen is far from perfect, but it is the only one I have, so I keep it clean and try to keep it organized so that I respect my own wishes to have a clean, happy, neat, tidy space. The kitchen doesn't run me, I run the kitchen. Good luck and check back tomorrow for step 2!

Happy eating!
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