Category Archives: book review

Kitchen Feng Shui

So…I’m not a resident of NeatFreakStan…I’m sure my friends would be shocked if I even got a tourist visa. But even I know that without some kitchen feng shui, your cooking is dead (or at least, miserable!). A few weeks ago, I helped someone reorganize her kitchen. This kitchen was a rather hardworking one – meal/beverage preparation up to four or five times a day! It’s amazing how many things were so out of reach or otherwise difficult to use.

I told her that the space was limited, and she should treat her kitchen as if it was downtown Tokyo or New York – not a square inch to be wasted! That means…stuff that she uses all the time, she could assign to premium real estate, such as the cabinets nearest the stove or even the countertops themselves .

In deciding where to put things, I weighed a few factors:

  • frequency of use;
  • reachability; (yeah, might not be a real word but this is the INTERNET!)
  • bulkiness, weight or other barriers to use; and
  • visibility.

So…these are the things I did to help…

Prioritized (what I wanted)

I went through a “diagnosis” stage to figure out the major uses and the really big obstacles – just figuring out how she (and everyone else) actually used the kitchen.

Identify the Nonnegotiable (what was not going to happen)

Despite my non-expert (yet fabulous!) opinion, I knew that there would be things that I could not change or affect. It was extremely important to learn what she was willing or able to change: (1) she did not want to spend any money (and we did not); (2) some storage she designated as “off-limits” or display-only; and (3) there were many things she was not ready to throw away (argh!).

Execute (what actually happened!). Lots of decluttering. Out with the unused plastic food storage missing lids, glass jars, containers, or any other things that never get used. Moving things around. As Nike says, Just Do It!

***warning: ranting starts now***

It’s actually pretty frustrating to see clear potential (in this case, in a kitchen) totally stagnated – and rendered into something that hinders people. I saw stagnation, stagnation, stagnation – everywhere! But there were a few standout culprits:

  • Culprit #1 was a large rolling cabinet that never got rolled anywhere. Its depth, one foot, ensured that anytime she reached for plates in the overhead cupboards she was extending her arm fully and possibly having to get tippy-toed to reach certain ones. I moved the rolling cabinet so that it was out of the way.
  • The kitchen had an OK amount of counter space. However, jam jars, peanut butter jars, condiments, and totally miscellaneous snacks (Culprit #2) occupied major aspects of usable space (instead of being relegated to…STORAGE!).
  • The pantry, and other food storage was definitely Culprit #3 – no one could find anything! Marinated artichoke hearts, etc., would simply disappear one week after purchase…leading to repeat purchases of the same items! I found FIVE, five, FIIIIIIVE 28-oz cans of enchilada sauce (or like nine POUNDS of it!!!)…where no one has made any enchiladas…for the last year!

*** end of ranting…almost time for a pretty video…***

As a result of my help, not only does she report that her kitchen is easier to use, she is making changes – on her own initiative! This makes me SO happy, and makes me feel like I helped her get some positive momentum (and gives me greater optimism about my own decluttering!). Sometimes it really does help to have someone else look at your stuff, so that you don’t have to do things the same way, over and over again. You can do it better! That’s pretty much the backdrop of the plot in Kitchen Stories – the Swedes actually studied ergonomics of the kitchen in the 1950’s!

P.S. The music in the film is nice!

P.P.S. Been wanting to write about this book somewhere on the blog – I loved reading Justin Spring’s The Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook: Everything You Need to Know About Setting Up and Cooking in the Most Ridiculously Small Kitchen in the World–Your Own. Got it from the library a few months ago because it looked cute. Who knew it was actually useful? He teaches readers how to organize a small kitchen in personable, enjoyable prose. Hello – he even gets into issues like lighting your kitchen! He presumes the absolute worst space situations – and still helps you pull off beautiful dinners. Once you start reading the recipes, it becomes very clear very quickly that he just might know what he’s talking about…the guy grew up on a 36-ft boat. I still need to try his toaster oven Shirred Eggs. Basically, butter a ramekin, put the egg in it, sprinkle some herbs / cheese on it, pop it in the toaster oven and take your morning shower. BRILLIANT!!!

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The Pressure Cooker Gourmet, by Victoria Wise (mini-review)

Last year, I purchased “The Pressure Cooker Gourmet.” Long before I had a pressure cooker to call my own, I was apprehensive about fending off kitchen explosions and the psk-psk sound – is the noise inspiring or anxiety-provoking?

Ms. Victoria Wise reveals that these formidable tools are quite easy and safe to handle. More importantly, she employs the rare skill of explaining how the food actually works. The relevance of connective tissue in a roast. That sort of thing. All the recipes seem to have a manageable number of ingredients – most have no greater than ten. She is ultimately practical about technique/preparation, which I appreciate. For example, she encourages the reader to take advantage of the extra time the pressure cooker affords with “embellishments and finishing touches,” such as garnishes or other little delights that move a meal from basic to sublime.

This book was the tipping factor that helped me decide to add my beloved 6-quart, stainless steel Presto to my culinary life. Oh the romance!