I am on a one-person campaign to get more people back in the kitchen and back to cooking. Why? Several reasons, all of them important: so people will eat healthier, so families will eat together, and so local farmers will be more likely to be patronized (and therefore profitable).
This campaign means I spend a lot of time thinking (and talking and writing) about food and farmers and recipes and dinners and stuff like that. But then it hit me that maybe some people don't cook for a totally unrelated reason: Maybe some people are put off by their kitchens.
I had this epiphany because one of my many freelance writing jobs involves writing about kitchens once a week. That means I spend more time thinking about kitchens than the average Bear (or the average American!). In addition to that, I have an ongoing point of contention with The Hubby, because I insist on getting the dishes all washed, dried and put away before bed while he wants them to sit out and dry overnight (mostly so he doesn't have to feel guilty about drying them), plus I try to sweep the kitchen floor before bed too, which also bugs him as something that "can wait." But hold on: Putting off tasks like sweeping or putting dishes away does not make that task go away! It just moves those tasks to the next day's list, making that list even longer. I was getting tired of this argument until I read this article on 5 things to do in the kitchen before you go to bed. Then I felt justified. So now I just clean up the kitchen and ignore him.
But thinking about cleaning up the kitchen before bed (and arguing about it) got me thinking: Maybe people are less likely to cook because they walk into a kitchen that's unusable! I'm not talking about a kitchen that's unusable because the fridge is on the fritz, or the oven doesn't work. (Heck, I have TWO ovens and the handles are now broken off of both, so I know a thing or two about "unusable" appliances, sadly.) Maybe people walk into the kitchen and see a sink full of dirty dishes, mail all over the counter, someone's craft project taking over the kitchen table, and cat food scattered across the floor.
Would you want to cook in that kitchen? Me either! In fact, the first thing I do before I start dinner is wash the breakfast and lunch dishes that sat in the sink all day, as well as clear off the counter. No matter how late I am starting dinner prep, if there's clutter to work around, I can't work around it. First the clutter goes, then the cooking starts.
If a cluttered, unusable or unwelcome kitchen sounds even a little bit familiar to you, here are five tips that might make your kitchen more usable, welcoming and likely to get cooked in...so you can get cooking some local food and support those local farmers. :-)
1. Clear off the counter: I don't know why it is, but we seem to have a knack for cluttering our counters. On mine right now sit a microwave, a mixer, a radio, an empty canning jar, a coffee maker, a soap dispenser, a bowl full of eggshells, a compost bucket, a fruit fly trap, a cookie far, a knife block, a cutting board, a butter dish, a sugar bowl, and an antique coffee can full of cooking utensils...and I have a tiny kitchen! I can tell you right now, this woman is going to be doing some decluttering in the next week or two! Because that stuff just gets in my way when I am cooking, and THAT makes cooking more of a hassle.
2. Keep up with the dishes: We don't have a dishwasher for a couple of reasons, so I have nowhere to hide dishes until they get washed. Instead, they sit in our deep sink until I get them done. Sometimes they pile up more than other times, but at some point every day, every single dish, pot, plan, glass and fork is washed dried and put away. This can happen at your house in the morning or at night. It's no fun, and it feels like a never-ending battle, but keeping up with the dishes will give you room to work when you are ready to cook...a clean slate, if you will.
3. Clean as you go: I know some cooks who just pile, pile, pile up the dishes, pots and pans as they're cooking until at the end of meal prep, the kitchen looks like a war zone. That would stop me from cooking for sure! Instead, I find it's a lot more efficient to clean as I go, washing and putting away one pot while moving on to another, etc. Constantly wiping down the countertop helps too. That way, once you're done cooking, cleanup is minimal...and not intimidating!
4. Have lots of towels: I made my first husband crazy in all kinds of ways. One of them was my seemingly indiscriminate use of kitchen towels. He'd complain about how many towels I went through while cooking, which made no sense to me since I did all the cooking AND all the laundry, but I still hear his voice when I toss yet another towel into the laundry basket, and I still know my way is fine. I keep LOTS of towels around because I clean as I go and I like to simply toss the used towel and grab a clean one and keep going. Running out of towels while cooking, on the other hand, would be frustrating. So I have lots of towels. :-)
5. Respect your space, and make the family respect it too: Keeping the kitchen clean so it's ready for use is kind of like keeping your living room picked up in case you have company, or making your bed in the morning. Learn to respect the space that's used to nourish your family, and teach that family they need to respect it too. Remind them of the common-sense rules about if you get it out, put it back, etc.
I can't guarantee putting these tips into practice will make you want to spend every evening in the kitchen cooking a local food dinner. But I can guarantee that making even a little effort to make your kitchen a place that's usable will go a long ways towards making that local food feasting possible!