Kitchens, Part 4: Micro-Zones or “I Can’t Be the Only Whatever I Am in the Room”

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I think a lot.

It annoys even me. Or maybe, mostly me.

A blog is the logical extension of a brain like mine. In fact, I’ve always had a running blog in my own head, from back waaaaay before there was such a thing as blogs (from even before every home had a computer!)  No readers though. Just me and my brain, all by our little lonesomes, narrating my life in a continuous, endless loop.

Sometimes I catch myself standing slack-jawed in the middle of the room. I’ve been standing there for a full 5 minutes, clicking through all the possible ways, determining the most efficient way in which to execute a 3 minute task. I’ve been trying for 20 years, I can’t seem to help myself.

So, if you’re wondering, “Who the hell thinks about all this shit?” The answer is– me. And honey, it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But, the brilliant thing about the net is that, somewhere, someone might be a freak like me, and actually care to read such endless analytical blather about kitchens. Here’s to you, friend, wherever you may be.

Micro-Zones

Every family is different. Here’s our daily small kitchen tasks:

Making a bowl of cereal. Which is to say, homemade granola. I always want to put the big granola jar somewhere out of my way, but it invariably migrates right back into the prime real estate of my main counterspace. So. I’ve given up. I keep it out now. Of course, having the granola near to the cabinet (for getting a bowl) and the fridge (for getting the milk) would be ideal, but our kitchen isn’t big enough to worry much about that….

Bread. In our house we eat all homemade whole wheat bread, which means we need a place to cut it. I’m actually pretty fond of those bread boards with the slots for catching crumbs, because otherwise there’s always crumbs all over my main cutting board, then soon, all over the counter. I found this one in a neighbor’s trash, brand new with the tag still on. There was a part on the left for olives, and a part on the right for cheese. It was one of those silly impulse-buy items, all the parts are too small to be useful. But I fixed her right up! The bread board was (just barely) big enough to be useful, if you let the slice fall over onto the cheese part. I cut the olive part off, because crap just fell in there, and it was in the way. I also cut a bit off the cheese side, so that now it fits nicely right in front of the toaster oven. Perfecto! Salvage plus DIY, my absolute favorite!

those slices up on top are heels drying out for bread crumbs

Here’s another issue with homemade bread– storing it. I hate putting my good wholesome wheat bread into a ratty old plastic bag, which is as you can see, what I settle for at the moment. I dream of someday having an old fashioned bread box, the door would swing down and have an integral cutting board. But for now I’m on the lookout for the right sized, extra wide mouth canister, which is what I was using back in Cordova, and it worked pretty decent.

When we’re on PB&J kicks, I have to give space to at least the PB. But ever-present is butter, and it needs to live right by the toaster. With all the baking that I do, we go through plenty of butter, so I have no concern whatsoever that it might go bad sitting out.

Coffee. You might have heard I’m pretty fond of the stuff. Unless pregers, I’m a strict two cups a day girl. And I’m a hideous coffee snob about it. Hubby’s standards are lower, but he’ll drink as much coffee as you throw at him in a day. Between us we need a minimum of two coffee makers, neither of which is the regular plug in kind. I use a stove top espresso maker (to make myself an americano) because nothing else tastes half so delicious to my, as mentioned, total snob palatte. Hubby loves the same, but prefers more than one cup at a time. For him we have a french press.

Let’s count– so far we have two kinds of coffee pots, and associated water boiling kettle, cluttering up the stove. One of these will fit nicely on the shelf above the stove. On the other side of the room (it’s small) I have the above Coffee Zone. I started keeping it all on plate a few years ago and have thanked myself ever since. The plate contains all those damned grounds that seem to leap out of the grinder and fling themselves hither and thither every time you open the damned grinder. This plate is especially perfect with it’s speckly glaze. Of course, an air-tight jar for beans, and here’s a good tip– use a plastic spoon to scoop coffee out of your grinder and you won’t be dulling the blades every time!

I wish we had a better set up. We make enough coffee to need a square of counterspace, and a little shelf, right beside the stove. But, ya do what ya do with what ya got.

Next up: Waste Management!

PS. Please, again, feel free to chime in with your solutions to the banal everyday kitchen conundrums. I’d love the company.

Kitchens, Part 3: Work Zones

For you kitchen geek out over-analyzers left in the readership, let’s move on to my Work Zones.

Here’s the three things I do most in my kitchen (besides dishes) — cut veggies, stand at the stove, and mix up baked goodies. Borrowing from permaculture design, we’ll call my work areas “zones” and assign them numbers based on how frequently I use them. Here’s my Zone 1. My most used space in the kitchen, my Main Man.

I have always thought a window over the sink was integral to a kitchen. And I haven’t exactly changed my mind, my dream kitchen is full of windows, like a greenhouse. But if I could only have one window in my kitchen why wouldn’t I (of course!) put it over my Zone 1? It’s lovely to have a window here. As you see, there’s no kind of view, but all the natural light makes me happy.

So, what you see in this photo is, left to right:

  • an old flour bag for egg shells (I’ll do a special post for waste management later)
  • bucket with lid for compost
  • citrus juicer, out on the counter because this is the season for it
  • little toy bucket full of the cube of butter my Toddler stole off the counter when I wasn’t looking and used like playdough
  • ginormous rolling pin made from marbled maple, from a dear friend
  • three kitchen notebooks–
  • my enduring Master Recipe Book is a three ring binder that I finally made myself last year. I transferred all my scribbled favorite recipes into it, in an actual subject order, which is to say, not chronological. So now when I want to look up my Peanut Butter Cookie recipe, I don’t have to remember back to which year it was that my last lover and I were house-sitting and tripping on mushrooms and devised the perfect peanut butter cookie recipe. Instead I just look under cookies. Yeah, I know, not as fun. But lots more efficient.
  • my recently acquired gorgeous Georgia O’Keefe weekly planner is my new bright idea to take over in the reminisce department where my clinically efficient recipe book leaves off. Each year I will get a new Kitchen Journal, to record my recipe experiments and food related journey through life. Banner recipes can still be put into my Master Recipe Book, in findable order, without losing the diary like quality of my old recipe book.
  • lastly I have just a cheapie notebook for my grocery lists. It needs to go up on the wall, but I haven’t gotten it done yet.

Not shown in this photo is my cutting board, which must have been in the dish drainer. Usually it just sits right there in the middle of that square of counter space. Knives are on the wall to the right, which you’ll see in a minute.

There’s a little slot of a shelf directly below this counter, which I try to keep my favorite mixing bowl and measuring cup in. But honestly, the space has more become a play shelf for the Toddler.

When I’m standing here, the stove is pretty much right behind me. So it’s pretty convenient for cutting up veggies for the skillet and other about-to-go-on-the-stove work.

We’ll call the stove area Zone 2, since I probably spend just slightly less time standing in front of it.

In Cordova I had a lovely pot hanging bar above the stove, which I adored. Pots should always hang. For one thing, they don’t have to be completely dry to put away, which is especially useful for cast irons as they should never be left horizontal with water sitting in them. Also, I think hanging pots are gorgeous, in fact I love anything hanging in a kitchen as it breaks up the boring single flat angle of the ceiling. You may have noticed in my Cordova kitchen all kinds of shit hanging everywhere, which I know some folks would hate. But most importantly of course, hanging pots are ever so convenient. If you put pots in a cupboard you have to stack them, which means to get the one you want, you have to unstack them. A-noying! If you ask me. This also leads to lazy people, like myself, cluttering up the stovetop because we can’t be bothered to put our favorite pot and skillet back in the damned cupboard every time (hence here my cast iron unapologetically lives on one burner of the stove). When you’ve already got the coffee pot and tea kettle hanging around, it gets to be some coveted real estate stove-top.

So, back to reality. Since I can’t hang my pots here in my New Orleans kitchen, I keep my three most used on the shelf below the baking counter, which is to say, just to the left when I’m standing at the stove. It’s not too bad, it works.

Then, as you can see, coffee pot (which gets used twice/day) and kettle (at least once) live right there. Kind of annoying, but again, it works.

Utensils. I really need a jar by the stove. I hate utensils in a drawer. They get all hooked up on each other, and the one you want always migrates to the bottom. Plus, really you mostly only ever use 5 or 6 utensils right? I put the occasionals in a drawer to fester, and keep my essentials right where I want them. Note that I do try to keep one whisk and my rubber spatulas in the drawer under my baking counter.

Spices and oils, as I mentioned in my first Kitchens post, should not live above the stove. But that’s where I’ve got them, so’s they’re handy. Oh Calamity, you renegade you.

To the left of the stove (and the right of my Zone 1) is my baking area, which I’m labeling Zone 3. I definitely don’t bake every day, but probably every other.

So, this area was not really in existence till two weeks ago, when I found the computer desk (way over on the left) that allowed me to move all the shit that didn’t need to be front and center, outa the damn way! I am so happy to now be the proud owner of such a lovely little Baking Center.

On the little shelf above is all my flours. Whole wheat pastry flour, hard red wheat for bread, white bread flour, and white all-purpose. Also a big bag of fair trade sugar, my baking powder and soda, and pumpkin pie spice (which is just a great blend of my fave sweet spices).

As you can see, I have all my measuring cups out and handy, spoons too, which just delights me. I hate digging around for measuring cups. And my Kitchen Aid (quite lucky for me, the red model was on sale when I went to buy it) out so I don’t have to lift that MF out from under the counter every time I want to make bread.

The toaster oven is actually where I have been doing the bulk of my baking since we moved here. I suspect it might not save as much energy as I hope, since it’s not insulated like a regular oven and the door doesn’t have any kind of gasket, but it feels less wasteful to bake in… do I get any points for that? It came (from the thrift store of course) with that funny little rack/stand you can sort of see on top, which is just perfect for setting a hot pan from the oven on to cool.

In front of the toaster oven is my bread board. And over to the left you see, a roll of toilet paper (I have allergies which give me a perpetually runny nose, I’m never far from my TP), a container of peanut butter, and our (empty) granola jar. More on these later.

Under the counter there’s space for a few pots (you’ll notice my two most used are not there, because they’re always either in use, dirty, or in the drying rack), and some baking dishes. All those egg cartons are for my worm bin, which still does not involve worms, but really we’ll have to save that for another post altogether.

Okay, jesus, that’s enough for today! Next up: Micro-Zones!