Posts Tagged ‘The Effective Kitchen’

In case you missed the beginning of the series, you can find the intro post and part 1 here.

Now that you’ve gotten rid of the mind clutter that is ‘the perfect kitchen’ and accepted with love & vodka (or love of vodka – that’s okay too) who you really are in that room, giving thought to what you actually use your kitchen for, what comes next?

Lean into the habits that help you.

This is the part where I tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, I hung out with a single mom who kept a pretty fine looking apartment. I’m serious – there was a kid there and the place still looked normal. Anyway…when she went into the kitchen to cook, she would have her son sit at the table and color. He was old enough that he didn’t need a great deal of supervision playing but enough that she still wanted him to be in the same room with her. He was content with the coloring. But every time she went to cook dinner, she would call him in, then tell him to go get his crayons and coloring books, then have to go chase him down when he didn’t come back right away, then deal with a meltdown if he had to step away from whatever had distracted him before he got to the crayons…yaddah, yaddah, yaddah…and about 20 minutes later, she’d actually get to start cooking dinner. With both of them frustrated.

On her kitchen table was a lovely little basket of fake flowers.

I ask you, how would this scenario have changed on an almost daily basis if instead of flowers, that little basket contained crayons and there were some coloring books stacked up underneath it? If the first time she called him into the room, the supplies were already there and the kid could sit down and get on with the rainbow-making? She’d already formed the coloring habit but she hadn’t fully leaned into yet by having the right tools handy.

You already do the things that help you live your life.

You already have those actions imbedded into your daily habits. So put the tools in place to be successful in that spot rather than try to change the location of the action – lean into the helpful habit. Like where you put your mail down – I’ve mentioned this before – no matter where you open up a spot to put the mail elsewhere in the house because it’ll look nice, because that’s what a foyer is for, because it should go there… you’ve programmed yourself to open mail in a spot that is natural to you. So set yourself up for success THERE – in the natural spot. Put a wastebasket there for junk mail & torn envelopes. Maybe a little container for the mail you need to keep and deal with later.  You don’t need to do that anywhere else in the house if you’re set for success where it’s natural to you. Should is irrelevant in the face of what is.

Most of us do not have company every single day.

But, you say, that wastebasket won’t look good when company comes over! We can’t have that there! It’s not as pretty! Yes, there is a certain joy that comes with having the house look nice just for you – but, most of us don’t have company every single day and being comfortable has it’s nice-ness too. You can move the conveniences when you entertain. You can empty the wastebasket & put it in a closet for the day. You can put the basket of flowers back on the table and tuck the crayons in a cabinet. The people who aren’t going to give you any warning before they stop by already know what a mess you are, the rest of the people you can fool when they call ahead.

Also, there’s a funny thing about leaning into the habit – when you put the right tools in place – the whole house seems to get neater of it’s own accord.  There’s less picking up to do before company comes over because you haven’t been dumping things in all the wrong places. It takes 10 minutes to sub out flowers for crayons & tuck an emptied wastebasket into a closet. It can take an hour or more to start sorting all the mail you’ve thrown in 3 different places on the route between where you do put the mail and where you think you should put the mail.

I mentioned that for my house, my husband’s coat and work boots tend to end up in the kitchen – and that the dog runs in and out of the kitchen door. That those things are going to keep happening no matter what we put in place in that room. So, to lean into those facts & habits rather than fight with them, when we gutted the kitchen, among other changes I factored in a windowseat into that big space where there was nothing. Right next to it, we put in a little bookshelf – which we use for shoes/boots on the bottom shelf. Towels to towel off a wet dog stacked on another shelf – and the top shelf has baskets for dog things – leashes, medications – things that used to end up piled on the old kitchen tables. Before it ALWAYS!!  looked like crap and there was this ‘flight of the bumblebee’ cleaning that took way too long every time we had people over.  DROVE ME CRAZY!! It’s absolutely amazing how much neater that section of the room looks on a daily basis now that we are set up to support the habits we already had rather than trying to force habits we didn’t want (eating at a table in a room we didn’t enjoy being in).

[Sidebar: This is the place where I am total blogger failure as I forgot to take pictures of my kitchen for this part of the series. Dear Blogpeeps, I O U windowseat photos. Love, Bloggerfail]

Because it’s nicer in the room in general and our needs in that space are being met, we both spend more time in there. While I’m still the primary chef in our house, Eric volunteers to cook more often & sticks around to help me when I cook – or at least keep me company while we listen to the Reds game.

He still has to go hang his coat somewhere else though. I can’t buy into that habit. But now that the whole rest of the room looks much nicer – he clues into getting that coat picked up far sooner now. I rarely have to say anything.

Again, it doesn’t take gutting the room to make that happen. Small, subtle changes can make a huge difference!

So, with these actions you take in your kitchen that don’t necessarily relate to cooking, how can you set them up for success? What tools do you need in place to help them truly flow if you lean into them? Would a small shoerack by the kitchen door catch those bike cleats that keep ending up in a heap even though there are 16 empty slots on the shoerack in your closet? Would some legos better suit your kitchen table than fruit or flowers? Or a basket of powerbars & Gu to remind you to grab one on your way out the door to run/bike?

Welcome to the first installment of my attempt at doing some regularly scheduled programming!

In case you hadn’t already noticed, I suck at regularly scheduled programming – if you didn’t notice yet, please don’t go back and notice it now.  Let’s pretend I’m good at this. And that I’m caught up on NCIS. ‘k?

First off, let me tell you what I’m working with here –

My kitchen is kind of a weird L-shape in a 115-yr old house. When the house was built, the kitchen was square, it did not have electricity and what is now a pantry was a pump room to bring water into the house – because that was fancy at the time. Thankfully – all of that has been changed!

The L-shape comes from a bathroom that was added in at some point, so yes – I have a bathroom off the kitchen. Not what I would choose if I were designing the place, but I love my house and there’s no moving that bathroom.  When I bought it, the kitchen looked a bit like this:


For the record, that was ALL OF THE COUNTERSPACE and almost all of the cabinet space in the entire kitchen. There was only 1 more small cabinet over the stove. I was producing entire meals on the space taken up by that blue bottle in the photo – about 1.5′ x 2′. No dishwasher, so one side was constantly dedicated to a dishrack – and I’m a coffee lover, so the other side had to hold a coffee pot. I bought an extra large cutting board and put it over two of the burners on my stove to try and make more counterspace. 

On the other side of the room – the other end of the ‘L’ – NOTHING. A kinda big, completely empty space except for a radiator.

Also, the whole thing was FUUUGLY. And even if we had gotten more creative about things – there were only 3 outlets in the entire room – one each for the coffeemaker, refrigerator & stove. Priorities. Seriously folks, it was sad. BUT we made do – for 6 YEARS.  I’ll fill in a little more about how in coming weeks. But it was truly a ‘love the one you’re with’ Stockholm syndrome situation.

Thankfully we saved our pennies, gutted the entire room down to the studs and made it look a little more like this:


Complete with dishwasher and glass of wine. And a lot more of my personality.

So how – other than showing off part of my remodel – is this effective?

Well, when we had the old kitchen, a LOT of things about that room annoyed the living crap out of me. Not just the lack of counterspace or fugly cabinets. But other things – for instance, the other half of the ‘L’ where there was absolutley nothing. We kept putting different sizes of tables there. A long one up against the wall. A round one we refinished ourselves. A small square one with plants on it. Because if we found the right table, we might actually sit in there and eat, right? Wrong. No matter what table was there, it just wasn’t a room we wanted to eat in.  I’ve never been much of a fan of eat-in kitchens. I kept trying to force the space to be one because it made sense. That’s what the big space was for, right? Except that every time we put in a new table & chairs, we ate at it for about a week then we just piled on mail and receipts, the husband’s work coats, keys and lots of miscellaneous junk. Same stuff – different table.

What’s that – same stuff?

Yup, same stuff. Kept ending up in the same place over and over and over again. No matter what kind of furniture went under it or how many times I picked up a set of work overalls, looked at the husband and said ‘explain to me again why these belong in the kitchen’.  Same stuff. And the mismatch between the stuff we kept putting there v. what repository we had to put it in/on (the table) was an endless source of aggravation. Because a kitchen table isn’t built to hang coats.

Through years of trying to force that kitchen to be kitchen-like, and years of treating that kitchen as only semi-kitchenlike, I’d never stopped to ask:

What am I actually using this room for?

Most of us cook in a kitchen. But that’s not the only purpose my kitchen serves. In my house the kitchen has the door the dog runs in & out of – wet, muddy or otherwise. It’s the room where I load in groceries. The husband comes in that door and immediately drops his work coat, sundries and stops to take off his work boots.  It’s the room where I sing & dance around while I cook or do dishes. It’s the room you pass through to reach the bathroom (which has no storage and so bathroom supplies end up in the kitchen storage). It’s the room where we open some of the mail and drop receipts on the counter. It’s the room where homebrewing beer occurs.

Lots of functions that aren’t about cooking – or even eating – even if some of them are kitchen-related.

So the first step in making my kitchen more effective was to stop trying to torture it into the fixed-idea of a kitchen that The Brady Bunch ingrained in me. To stop focusing on what we think we should use the space for and HONESTLY recognize what we do use the space for.  What goes on in the room? Is it the room your kids color in? Or the place you kick off your bike cleats when you come in for a ride? Do you drop the mail on the counter every day even if there’s a basket for mail in another room by another door? Do you eat dinner over the sink even if there’s a table across the room?

Your kitchen isn’t only a kitchen. Take a good look around. Other than cooking food, what do you ACTUALLY use the space for? What goes on in there?

But but but but but – it’s Wednesday! not Thursday!

I’ve just started a Thursday post series and already, I’M DOING IT WRONG!!! HA!

So last night, I started writing up some of the things that are in my head for tomorrow – trying to get a good draft – when finally, I looked at it and went – WOW! That’s a lot of words.

Okay, maybe it was more like ‘wow. that’s a lot of words.’ This is me – if you read me, you already know brevity ain’t my thing. But seriously, there were a lot of words there. Even for me.

So I decided to break it up with the old adage of  ‘tell’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em’ running through my head. Also running through my head: I wonder if this ’em person is related to Prince with that symbol in their name. Because that makes sense to this one synapse I have that tucks behind my right ear.

So to tell you what I’m gonna tell you – what is The Effective Kitchen going to be about?

There are people out there who do the recipe thing and do it very well. I really enjoy cooking, I’m pretty darn good at it and I frequently invent new dishes for our household, but let’s leave the recipe thing to the recipe bloggers. This will not become a cooking blog.

There are people out there who do the nutrition thing very well. I do my best to be well-informed on that subject as well and use what I know in my day-to-day eating habits. But…let’s leave the nutrition thing to the people who have that as an expertise as opposed to a hobby.

The Effective Kitchen is about the gap I’ve noticed in all these recipe and nutrition blogs, where no one talks about HOW they run their kitchen in the midst of all that recipe and nutrition blogging.

How are these expert kitchens set up? What do they look like? How are they laid out? What small appliances do they have and which ones are on the counter? Do they do a dinner straight through to prep it or in steps over a few days? HOW do they function in getting the recipe testing and the nutritional assessing done? Is my cutting board collection logical or am I slipping into hoarder territory? I see a lot of finished product out and about in the world, but not what lies behind the curtain, so to speak.

So that’s what I intend to show you – behind my curtain –  the tools I have to use, the way I set things up, things I’ve found that save me time. Anything I can think of that might be helpful, including the kitchen sink. Come on in!

What makes me qualified to write about this?

Peeps, one thing I excel at is being efficient – effective – streamlined in my ways of doing things. It’s a gift people actually pay me for out in the real world. If you want to find a way to do something faster, better, stronger – let me look at the cogs & puzzle pieces that make it tick. When I understand the dynamics in play, I’ll find a way to make it work for you – better.

Also, I’ve a long history of having tiny or oddly-shaped, under-equiped kitchens in old houses or strange apartments, for the type of cooking I like to do. I’ve done a lot of “making do” and been able to produce some fabulous food. So I’ve got some words to offer to people that don’t have a lot to work with.

Why is this important to write about?

When you’re an athlete, particularly a long-distance runner or a triathlete spending long hours training in a day – alongside the work schedules that most of us non-professional athletes have – you don’t have much time or will to spend in the kitchen. When you’re a working person, tired at the end of a long day – whether that work is chasing around children or a 40-hour cube standard week – you might not have much time or desire to spend in the kitchen. You want to get in, get food in the piehole, get out.

Because even if you love cooking, there are days you don’t love cooking.

Because I can’t count the number of times a recipe advertised as a 15-MINUTE-FAST-NO-PREP-RECIPE took me 45 minutes just to read through and gather ingredients, only to realize that the writer used a Cuisinart for everything and I still had 3 hours of pre-Cuisinart-owning chopping to do. In my house, BC means the time “Before Cuisinart”.

This is important because a love of cooking often has zero to do with how many spatulas you own and at the end of the day – whether we love cooking or not – food needs to get in mah belly! I am a girl who gets the grumpy hungries – so sometimes food needs to get in mah belly FAST!

So, The Effective Kitchen. I plan to give a shot to writing about it. I hope you enjoy reading about it and that you ask me lots of questions. I’d love to get your feedback as we go along.

Please come visit tomorrow! I’ll be in the kitchen.