Monday, August 2, 2010

Kitchen Woes

Today, the Pioneer Woman, in a post all about open shelves (which prior to reading this post, I would have called insane in a heartbeat and moved on with my life) said, "I guess when you cook often (daily), an act as simple as opening and closing cabinet doors can wear on you after awhile."

And, yeah. Wow.

I really don't cook much any more. At all. I mean, yeah, I make supper almost every night for my family. It's typically hot, if that's what you mean by cooking. I've sort of settled into this rut with mealtime, though. Some of it can be blamed on my budget. It's hard being creative without the resources. Some of it can be blamed on time. I've got basically an hour between getting home and the beginning of the bedtime routine on a normal night. But some of it should just be blamed on the blah's.

The other night I made lasagna. Because I had noodles in the cabinet and wanted to get rid of them and move on with my life. Also because it is both The Husband and Brynna's favorite dish and nearly the only way I can either of them to glance sideways at a salad.

Anyway, I was kinda excited about the prospect. Ten minutes later, I was tired and wanted to go sit. Why? Because of my spice cabinet.

I've struggled my entire adult life with my spices. Spice racks tend to not have enough room for me. Fancy chef-type solutions tend to cost more than my kitchen. So, I've always just had a cabinet, where I shove all my spice bottles. For some strange reason, this cabinet tends to be the one that is hardest to get to and up the highest. Why? I dunno. Maybe I'm a masochist.

In any case, the list of spices I dump in lasagna is decently long, and therefore, requires quite a bit of digging. I hate the digging. I hate that I always discover that I am out of parsley, but because I personally find parsley to be useless, I never seem to buy any more and just dump in a little Italian Seasoning. I hate that I seem to have 7 bottles of cumin, but 0 cinnamon. And I hate that as soon as I am done with the dumping I close the cabinet with relief and promptly forget about (or block) the whole traumatic experience.

I've considered many, many solutions and none of them have ever made me even a little happy. I've considered making a wall o spice using Alton Brown's method and I think that might work best, but I haven't gotten anywhere with that.

And, really, it's not just about spice storage. That's obviously part of it. Because of the whole popping into my mind and causing a blogrant, I know that's part of it. But, it's not everything. Or, rather, it is everything. All my kitchen stuff is haphazard. I have three silverware/utensil drawers. One of them, I can't open without opening the oven first. Because my oven is too big. There is no rhyme or reason as to what item is in what drawer. Oh, there has been. But I'm not willing to take over the chore of doing dishes just so things with blades stay in a blade drawer.

And cookware - don't even get me started. I don't have much, understand. I have an unnaturally large collection of Pyrex, though and everything just sort of gets piled places. Not to mention that there are quite a few items that don't seem to fit anywhere (like pitchers) and get stuck on top of my kitchen cabinets. Which requires my tall, tall husband's rescue or a chair.

Sometimes, I have these decorating breakdowns. Moments when I realize that I just can't take it anymore. Since I've moved into the new house, I've waited for my bedroom breakdown. Some other time, I'll bitch about the ridiculous layout and the fact that my side of the bed has to be against the wall or we can't fit in all the furniture. And there's not that much furniture.

It seems though, that thanks to the Pioneer Woman and her ode to open shelving (which I'm still not sure I could handle. I mean, I am just not that tidy) I think the kitchen breakdown is coming fast. And since I'm broke, broke, broke, why don't you all help me out?

Who has storage issues in their kitchen? How do you deal with it? What makes it work or makes it break down into total chaos? What solutions have you discovered that work for you?


Mrs. Allroro said...

I know I always go into way too much detail on your blog when you ask for advice, but I don't know how else to do it. :-) It's how I am.

I have two spice racks, because I got two for my wedding. I keep one on the counter and one in a high cabinet. Pretty soon after we got married, I dumped most of the contents of one of them, washed out the jars, ripped the labels off, and refilled them with indian spices and replaced the labels with those little circle yard sale stickers. So I keep my american spices in a cabinet and my indian spices on the counter. I have three tupperware type rectangular containers full of indian spice refills, becuase they're sold in big bags. I have one for byriani (those spices I really only use for biryani), one for seeds and seed powders (because there are a lot of those), and one for the rest. I have a few loose bottles of american type spices. That's it.

Even though we live in a pretty small apartment, I think our kitchen has decent cabinet space. that may be part of my organization. And also I didn't decide on the arrangement. Some friends who helped us moved just started putting things away. At first I panicked and thought I'd rearrange later, but they did a really good job. I've moved a fw things around, but mostly everything's still the same.

I have one cabinet for baking stuff (ingredients) and another for baking pans and such.

I think another advantage is that I'm tall. But I do keep a step stool in my kitchen. It's a one hand deal that I can grab easily, and I just jam it between my fridge and the wall. I think every woman should have one.

I use pretty much the same five pots/pans for everything.

One more advantage may be that we try to make most things from scratch, so that's less stuff in the pantry. And I have a dishwasher. If you don't have one, there's no hope. (Unless you get in the habit of making sure all of your dishes are clean and put away before you go to bed. But that's a big commitment.)

Suze said...

I had the same spice issue until a couple of months ago when I went to Ace hardware and picked up a couple of lazy susans (let the jokes commence ha ha ha) for 7 bucks each and it made a big, huge difference in how long it takes me to find things. In fact, I wonder if lazy susans might be the organizing solution for my whole house (sadly, probably not!)

I still need to rethink the way I store dry goods. We use a lot of beans and grains and that sort of thing (hippie food, ya know) and right now it's all just kind of piled up. I'd rather have sturdy stackable containers to hold all those things.

Jessi said...

Mrs. A - My super long posts and your long comments go perfectly together. Don't ever stress it. I'm linking a couple of your ideas, too. I just really want all my spices together I think.

Suze - I hadn't thought about a lazy susan. You know, one of my issues is that the good organizing stuff requires you to dump the spices out of the bottle they came in and that would totally alleviate that issue. Hmmm... Food for thought.

Becca said...

FWIW, I've lost count of the number of times I've reorganized my kitchen in the 8 years we've been in our house. Tom has been further tweaking it now that the kitchen is his. It's just now starting to settle.

I am one of those who must keep things in the open or I forget about them. But, I like counter space. I have two crocks next to my stove for utensils--a ceramic one for baking (whisks, wooden spoons, silicone spatulas) and a stainless steel one for cooking (ladel, potato masher, serving spoons, pasta fork). I picked out the 3-4 wooden utensils I use most and keep those handy. Everything else goes into the drawer.

For spices, I use a wooden CD organizer with six square compartments. That sits on the counter against the wall. Total size is about 18" x 12" by 6". Everything I use, except my salt cellar and pepper mill, fits in those compartments. I used to use the bottle the spices come in but that started looking ugly; a year ago I bought a bunch of spice jars online (4oz and 9oz sizes), printed labels, and transferred everything over. Now I can easily buy those envelopes of spices in the Hispanic aisle when I need a refill, and those envelopes are much cheaper.

I had an old over-the-sink shelf from an apartment that didn't fit over the faucet at the house. I put that on the counter and keep some storage containers and cookbooks on it. It fits perfectly under the cabinets and keeps the counter underneath clear.

For oils and vinegars, I keep usable amounts in squeeze bottle on the counter. The Costco-sized bottles stay in the pantry. I have a cute crate I found at Goodwill that holds the squeeze bottles so they don't get spread out. I got the bottles from a restaurant supply online.
Every so often, when we move stuff around, I pack of box of stuff I don't use much or don't like for whatever reason. That box goes in the garage. If I need something in the box, I am free to go get it. Anything still in the box come fall goes into the annual yard sale.

My weakness is Pyrex. I have a ton of modern clear Pyrex, and even more vintage Pyrex that I pick up from Goodwill. I use some of the vintage stuff and I have one pattern I'm collecting for resale (Butterfly Gold, if you're interested). I'm in the process of weeding out which patterns to keep and which to sell. It's a sickness--I see Pyrex, I must have it. I have some Fire King too, but not as much. My Fire King gets used for mise en place--the custard cups are perfect for that!

Tom made the biggest change based on his restaurant experience--he created stations on the limited counter space. Three areas: one area next to the sink with cutting board, knife block, Cuisinart, and compost bucket for prep; a baking area with the mixer and a marble board on the counter, and a third area in the middle where the spices and oils are. In the cabinets above and below the baking area, he has all his baking supplies, utensils, pans, etc. The cabinets above the cooking area have all the plates and bowls, and the cabinets underneatch have the pots and pans. All pot lids go in the oven drawer.

I also have a stainless steel four-shelf pantry rack squeezed into the kitchen. I keep my sheet pans and other thin items on top help in a filing-folder holder. All the storage containers for rice, beans, pasta, flour, and sugar on the rack. Tom gets flour and sugar from Costco, so there are two shelves devoted to four huge buckets for white sugar, brown sugar, AP flour, and bread flour.

Sorry for the long comment. I could talk about kitchens, like, forever.

Becca said...

Re: storage containers--there are some I've bought on sale at Amazon. Most come from Goodwill; I sometimes find old sets there for a great deal. I use different sets for different purposes, like all my rices in one, types of beans in another, and helps me stay organized. For the larger bulk items we actually use plastic closet containers--as long as the plastic is clear, marked PP, and number 4 or 5, it is food grade. We buy a lot of these staples in bulk from natural market, so we need a lot of containers.

Jessi said...

Becca - Thanks for the advice. I especially like the idea about the CD organizer. I'll have to think that through.