Ā Kul-lin-eree Ri-trēt
When people in may family settle in on a moment of nostalgia it almost always centers on food....and when I say food I mean the kitchen. It didn't matter how big or small the kitchen was - and we've had some family members with kitchens the size of a postage stamp - it's always where the family congregates. It's where family pitches in, where glasses of wine or sweet tea is poured, and stories are swapped. Despite the nostalgia of it all a kitchen that doesn't serve you well can be laborious instead of one's culinary retreat. Yes, you heard me -- a retreat. For me creating a meal is akin to delving into my artistic zen place. My canvas for the evening might be as simple as a tomato bisque and grilled cheese sandwich or as adventurous as a seafood paella. The complexity of one's dinner menu is minimus really. It's the process - from the precision of a good knife, or your Nana's favorite dutch oven (that you inherited), to the considered presentation of a plated meal - it's an all-encompassing artistic expression that is enjoyed in the moment and captured in memory.
As you leave your nostalgic bubble reality sets in - insert the scratch of a record, immediate silence, followed by pregnant pause. For those that have never actually seen a turntable, photos can be found in the Britannica Encyclopedia, for those unfamiliar with an encyclopedia, well...there is always Google. In reality it's the practicality of a kitchen that is notable here... and there is nothing more exhausting than a combative kitchen; a kitchen with a lousy floorpan and/or lacking in storage space. If you rent your home a remodel isn't an option; if you own your home a kitchen remodel can easily become the largest upgrade expense when it's all said and done. So what
I believe a well purposed kitchen comes together in four layers. The first layer and most important aspect of any kitchen is - does it work for you. A kitchen that works for you will usher in an unexpected level of ease and enjoyment. Even if you can't change the footprint you can redefine it. My current kitchen is a rather "slim" galley kitchen seriously lacking in storage space. My home is not large and a floorpan remodel (aside from the expense) wasn't an option. I realized that I had to recalibrate the "dream-kitchen" fantasy in my head and find a way to make the kitchen work for me. It has taken a lot of trial and error to be sure so I thought I'd share what worked and didn't work for me...bits of knowledge that apply to any kitchen. My hope is that by the end of this post you can look at your kitchen as a space that allows you to be creative and enjoy cooking.
In reimagining my galley kitchen (what little of that there is) I first considered what would make the biggest impact in my culinary world. Second, could I make it more functional, while budget friendly, and largely within my skill set. I saw a few of things right away that could have a significant impact for me - the sink, the counter tops, and storage. The sink was a standard shallow two-basin metal sink with the most impractical faucet...and the disposal...well that sounded like a possum screaming in holy terror! I replaced my sink with a large stainless steel farmhouse sink, installed a faucet with a spray function that afforded ease of movement in the sink, and a new garbage disposal - possum-free.
The counter tops were formica and rapidly approaching their third decade - very dated and unattractive. Have y'all checked on the cost of countertops in this century? I almost cried, except I'd remembered to bring my flask. But then I recalled an old dream of mine...the beautiful, yet humble butcher block counter top. To me, they are warm, welcoming, and best of all functional. After a trip to my local Ikea I was in counter top business. I finished the kitchen by adding a simple tile backsplash that complemented the wood counter tops. In the spirit of full disclosure, everything but the countertops were on sale so I was able to update my little kitchen for roughly $500 (in 2017).
What I could not afford to do was change the cabinets (I want my drawers). They are actually in pretty good condition but there was apparently a tree famine when mine were installed because there are simply not enough of them. I needed storage! The current cabinets are standard fare - doors for the lower cabinets with space hogging slide-out shelves. I am not a fan. Drawers are much more practical to me and will be in my dream kitchen. They allow for optimal storage space and are easier on the body. Let's face it, who really wants to get on the their knees and pull everything out just for that one item in the very back of the bottom shelf. Moreover, storing pots in the oven is not ideal though I know we all do it. My oven is simply not big enough to hold my collection. I do have a pot rack from my previous house, but the cathedral ceiling in my current kitchen made it prohibitive for me to install; so it's tucked away awaiting its return to center stage. But then I remembered the Julia Child kitchen layout in the Smithsonian and stole the idea...sorta. I took a wall in my kitchen/dining area and turned it into a pot rack of sorts using wood, stainless steel bars, and hooks. It has was worked out marvelously!
I also found storing glasses, dishes, serving bowls, etc. in the upper cabinets frustrating. They took up soooo much space and I am vertically challenged. Saving the dishes (cajun for "putting them away") on the second and third shelves simply wasn't working for me...for my back or the lifespan of the dishes. Since I don't keep a doomsday-prepper stash of canned and dry goods on hand I actually had wasted space in the pantry. So I repurposed it. The pantry became the new home for all of my glass and "dishware"; and I stored the canned and dry good in the upper cabinets.
Next was the counter space situation...or more specifically the lack of it. I never realized how much real estate a knife block consumes on the counter. So I organized them in a drawer on a knife mat...which I'm finding I like much better. I can select the exact knife I'm looking for without having to pull each one from the block. Sweet.
I then had to take a moment for some deep inner reflection, to come clean about my addiction, perform my own intervention. So here it goes, "Hello, my name is Zanna and I'm addict, a utensil addict". When it comes to cooking utensils they seem to multiply like cottontail bunnies in the wild. So pull them all out, and I mean ALL of them. Pull aside you habitual go-to's. For me, its my olive-wood spatulas and spoons...I love the warm and swirly wood grain but I had a gazillion of them. So I dug up my Sherlock Holmes deerstalker, cleaned the lens on my monocle, and proceeded with an inspection. I set aside duplicates and then pulled out the ones with cracks or chips - typically the older ones - and retired them. I have gone from 30-35 wooden utensils to 8! Four currently in use and a set of four as replacements. Moving on to the the specialty items. I personally found it easier to whittle these down. I once again pulled out my go-to's; and was left with a quagmire of items resembling an otters den. Anything I had not used in the last 18-24 months received a resolute "bye-bye". I mean really, who needs three garlic presses, four sets of measuring cups, five sets of measuring spoons, and six ice cream scoopers? For clarity, some of the accumulation was due to a duplicate utensil collection used for cooking competitions and some of it was admittedly retail therapy. But...I have consistently paired down the collection over the last two years to what I use on a regular basis and everything else has been given away or donated. It actually been quite liberating.
All in all, when setting up - or recalibrating - your kitchen, you have to do so in a way that works best for your cooking habits in the space that you have. There should be logic to its arrangement - an ease that should feel somewhat natural (at least minimally painful). Take a moment, or an afternoon, to reevaluate - no, reimagine - your kitchen. Is there anything that you can change that is within your budget? Can you easily access Nana's dutch oven or is it a laborious and knee bruising operation? It may take a couple of rearranging experiments to get it right for you...but that's ok because you learn was doesn't work. Once you've reimagined your space you have set yourself up for the next layer of a purposeful kitchen - tools of the kitchen trade. See you then!