Senses of Living® Décor

Autumn 2007 - Summer 2008
© 2008 by Bret S. Beall


I’ve been spending a lot of time in my kitchen recently (and not doing much writing). With spring upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, I’m preparing my kitchen and all of its components for the upcoming harvest season.

As you probably know, I’m a huge promoter of eating locally as much as is possible, and freezing local produce for use throughout the winter is a great way to accomplish that. That’s what I do every summer and autumn, and my life throughout the winter and early spring is greatly enhanced nutritionally, financially and via taste and flavor.

But, soon the new crops will be available, and I want to restock the Magic Freezer with new treats. Additionally, over the winter I’ve done quite a bit of thrift shopping, and my kitchen and dining room are not quite as well organized as I’d like, due primarily to too much multi-tasking (as a side note, I’m still working on a lifestyle article about the evils of multi-tasking, so I won’t go into that topic here except to point out that multi-tasking has caused one of the most organized people on the planet to become disorganized … don’t let this happen to you!). Having previously written about kitchen organization at http://www.god-dess.com/webhintsJuly03.html, I knew what I needed to do; I just needed time to do it!

One of the keys to becoming organized is to deal with each task individually, complete it, and move on to the next. That’s how this article is organized, taking each topic individually, addressing it, and then moving on to the next. Here goes:

Be Practical

One of the most useful and practical ways to organize your kitchen is to purge examples of uni-tasking: those pieces of equipment that perform only a single purpose. I must give credit to Alton Brown for popularizing the multi-tasking philosophy, though I was espousing it before he cooked his first fish. Some examples of my purge of uni-taskers include my garlic press (my paring knife does the best job), my garlic roaster (it never worked as well as garlic heads wrapped in aluminum foil), my omelet pan (the gift of a dear friend, but it had to go when a skillet does the job better), and an empanada press (there are better ways to make empanadas), among others.

I recently came across a website featuring some ridiculous examples of uni-taskers endorsed by one of the world’s top chefs. I love his food (having eaten in his restaurants many times, and enjoying my experiences immensely), but I don’t think you need any of his uni-taskers (and if you already have them, donate them to a charitable thrift shop). I am fairly certain he doesn’t use them himself:

That said, I have a uni-tasker that I happen to love: my rice cooker. I don't ever want to be without it. I can cook a batch of rice without paying any attention when I’m cooking at home. When I’m doing cooking demonstrations, it's ideal for cooking rice when I’m using my portable gas burners to prepare the actual recipes I’m teaching. My rice cooker is the exception that makes the rule: No uni-taskers.

Be Ruthless

If you haven't used something in a few years, consider donating it. If it’s non-functional, recycle or toss it (seriously, we need to reduce landfill and preserve resources, so I throw away as little as possible during my purges). I did this with a set of fancy antique tinned pans that I bought at a thrift store because they were gorgeous, but which I never used; I set them free by donating them to a charitable thrift store in Chicago. My espresso/cappuccino machine also falls into this category, but I confess that I’m not ready to donate it yet. On those rare occasions that I make espresso or cappuccino at home, I’m grateful to have it. And because I’m always developing new recipes, I’m hanging onto my bread machine and my toaster oven, even though I don’t use them very often (in fact, both are energy efficient alternatives to using the oven, something you should think about). But very few people are into recipe development, so consider purging (and donating) equipment you are not using.

Be Flexible

In my previous kitchen organization column, I emphasized avoiding organizing a kitchen around the ubiquitous “kitchen triangle” theme (refrigerator, stove, sink), because we really must consider the relationship of workspaces to these three appliances. I’m reiterating that admonition here. Workspace is the most important criterion, and if you have any choice in placing workspaces, allow as many as you can. I placed a kitchen island in the middle of my kitchen to provide the best work space possible relative to the refrigerator, stove and sink. Functionality is the key to kitchen organization.

In that same organization column, I shared that I have no kitchen cabinets. Instead, I have two large pantries. In an ideal world, I’d have shallow pantries, but only one of mine is shallow, and the other one (my food pantry) is quite deep (as deep as a closet, as it is a reclaimed closet), so I use three techniques. 1) I employ a prioritization technique, where less frequently used items are placed in back, and frequently used items are in front. 2) I use stacking elements to allow easy access to ingredients, and 3) I keep a flashlight in the deep pantry to let me see what is in the back, so nothing gets lost. Well, almost nothing; no one’s perfect.

Be Creative

Since moving into the current Casa Beall, I have used a large glass fronted hutch (that matches my dining room table, both bought at a thrift store) to display my mother's fine china (and other items). That china (pure white with a platinum rim, and many interestingly shaped accessory pieces) helped shape my current table-setting and food-serving esthetic. I’ll continue using those dishes, and never get rid of them as they are my only complete set of dishes, serving twelve. Nevertheless, I keep getting more vintage dishes, also in white and in interesting shapes, worthy of display. What’s the solution with a limited amount of display space? I yanked several portions of my mother’s china (cups, saucers, small plates) and moved them into a less visible storage area, because I rarely use them, but they are attractive and should be retained with the set of dishes for use when I have a larger group to entertain.

Be Healthy

Make sure that everything in your kitchen (and dining room) is healthy. I’ll be addressing three areas of health: hygiene, food safety and psychology.

Hygiene: Keeping your kitchen and dining room well organized allowed you to keep it clean. Keeping items put away into their proper storage areas allows you to wash down surfaces (but please do NOT use antibacterial soaps and washes; you just need plain ol’ soap, and you don’t need to contribute to the evolution of resistant bacteria in the world). Clear surfaces can easily become clean surfaces. Also, when you take your beautiful fishes out of the cupboards and hutches, you may need to wash them or wipe them off; even when enclosed, dishes and glassware can accumulate an amazing amount of dust which can be inconvenient if you pull your dishware just as you are serving (trust me, I’ve done this, and have learned the hard way!).

Food Safety: Given the volume of content prior to this category, would you believe it is this notion of food safety that inspired this column in the first place? Yep, it was an article in a recent issue Real Simple® that discussed general expiration dates and times that were quite mostly incorrect, and which would only contribute to wasted food, reduced financial capacity, increased landfill and unnecessary microbial fear. In general, here are my criteria for evaluating the safety of food. If you are dealing with dried “anything,” you can keep it forever, being aware that flavor decreases with age. If you have canned food, it will be fine unless the can has “bloated” or “expanded,” indicating the work of bacteria on the product; remember, too, that the older the can, the less flavor the food will have. If you are dealing with refrigerated food, I rely on my senses: Does it smell bad? Is it discolored? Is there visible mold or bacterial action? Is it slimy to the touch? I could explain how to salvage all of these, but for general guidelines, follow your senses, and if in doubt, just cook thoroughly, cut off offending parts, or wash first. Toss the items as a last resort. Finally, with frozen food, freezer burn is the only real enemy, as it imparts a nasty taste. Try to use frozen items within a year of freezing, and if you can’t, cook it thoroughly and add lots of seasoning to offset any possible unpleasant flavor (I’ll admit to keeping a whole chicken in my freezer longer than I will admit; I thawed it, boned it, and cooked it in a spicy gumbo that tasted fantastic.).

Psychology: Clutter negatively impacts one’s psychological state. Clear surfaces, with everything in its place, and easy to access, will facilitate anything you want to do, and make you feel good about doing it! Books have been written on this topic, but you just got the take-home kernel of all of that research.

Be Friendly

I’m going to end with the most fun part of organizing the kitchen and dining room, and that’s cooking for friends. Even though I often purge the Magic Freezer and refrigerator for myself, creating meals for my work week, it is when I have guests that I can really purge. I know that sounds strange, but I often buy luxury ingredients on sale, and put them into the Magic Freezer in anticipation of visits from special friends. As I prepare this column, that’s exactly what I’m doing, having created four days of menus to take advantage of some amazing ingredients in the Magic Freezer that will wow my special guest. I absolutely love sharing these ingredients, transformed into original culinary creations using my Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® guidelines, with my friends. The refrigerator will also be cleared of many ingredients during the visit of this special guest. The end results are that we will have fantastic food while clearing space to take advantage of the coming growing season. I’ll be maximizing efficiency while maximizing daily living. That’s what GOD-DESS is all about.

If you’d like me to make a presentation on organizing kitchens and dining areas, or developing recipes using what’s already in your freezer and refrigerator, for your company, club or organization, just contact me at 773.508.9208 or email me. Minimize waste and inefficiency. Maximize flavor, health and time. Enhance all aspects of your life. That’s what I can help you do.