Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Learning to love your small space.

I made chocolate chip cookies last night, and it got me to thinking. Well, that plus a conversation I had yesterday morning with some coworkers who couldn't believe that my apartment really is only 350 square feet.

I love living in a small space. Do I wish I had a guest room so that I could trade my AeroBed in for something my guests look forward to napping on? Of course. And do I wish I could have more than six people for dinner? Damn right I do.

But, overall? I love my tiny apartment. It keeps me organized, it keeps my packrat tendencies in check, and it makes me creative. Nowhere is this more evident than in my kitchen.

People often ask how I manage to cook so often (and, sometimes, multiple courses for so many) in such a small space. Don't I go crazy from the mess, they wonder - and where on earth do I store all my gadgets? And, wait - you don't have a dishwasher?

Well, last night I realized I live my cooking life guided by a few easy principles, ones that apply equally to those of us with teeny kitchenettes and those of us with giant expanses of range and marbletop. I hope you find these maxims as helpful as I do - and I hope that you'll add your own in the comments!

Visual organization is key.
Even if you don't consider yourself a terribly visual or design-oriented person, there's no denying that organization in general calms the mind. For me, organizing my space according to a mix of usefulness and visual cues helps me feel in control and ready to cook at any moment.

For example, I group my assorted tools (spatulas, wooden spoons, salad servers, tongs) in two Ikea (You'll see that name a lot in this post; can't beat 'em for value when organizing.) planters, where they're organized by color. Reds, pinks, oranges on the left, and blues, greens and yellows on the right. This means everything is out and accessible, but looks neat and tidy to the eye. I do the same with my cookbooks (and all my books, actually), which are grouped not only by color, but by height.

Maximize your space.
Whether you have a small space or a large one, you probably want to maximize its potential. I've fit the accoutrements of a well-equipped kitchen into a 10x10 space by going vertical and using my walls. I store everyday pantry items, my food processor, my champagne and dessert wine glasses and my most-used cookbooks in one of Ikea's Billy bookcases. A frosted glass door hides the jumble (see maxim number one, above).

My knives are stored on a magnetic wall strip instead of in a bulky knife block, and I've placed magnetized birds and two big magnetic pin boards above my kitchen cart and next to the stove, respectively. These let me pin up reminders - but, more importantly, give me a place to tack up recipes while I'm working with them, freeing up critical counter and table space. And recently, I've been seriously considering a vertical pot rack - the perfect, apartment-friendly way to use an empty or awkward corner.

Don't be afraid to mix & match.
Don't be precious about where you keep your stuff - if you need more kitchen storage, why not use your linen closet, or your hall closet? My extra baking supplies reside in my linen closet, right next to a basket full of my evening bags. My linens live in storage boxes in my sleeping space. Works for me.

Plan, plan, plan.
Whenever I have a big dinner, I spend a little time the week before planning out the work schedule. Having a set order in which to do things keeps me from having to make unnecessary decisions in the heat of the moment, and makes things run much more smoothly overall. It will also help you identify any potential conflicts with equipment or counter space - always key in a smaller kitchen.

Clean as you go.
Once you've started cooking, clean as you go. You won't need five of everything, which saves space, and you'll have regular breaks in the action to think through your plan. Plus, it means you're washing stuff before the food gets all caked on.

Cook. Often.
The more you cook, the less scary it is. The highs will always be high, but the occasional low will bum you out less if you understand what you're doing and know where you went wrong. Plus, you'll never get yourself organized in quite the right way if you can't try out your system on a regular basis. So cook a lot - even if it's just a simple pasta or a roast chicken - it does a kitchen good.


Dolce said...

Well thought and organized! I think Smitten Kitchen also had (and had) tiny kitchens, and just like her, you can bake pretty much anything if you want to. I think she even did a wedding cake in there !

Richard said...

I loved this! And might I humbly request a "Queenie's Gift Guide" and/or Christmas Wish List?

Meg Blocker said...

@Dolce: Thanks! I really can do just about anything in here...a wedding cake scares me on a couple of levels, but none of them is an issue of space!

@Richard: Thanks! Oh, a gift guide is in the works! Should be up this weekend... :)

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