I planned an afternoon baking cookies with my friend. I wanted to bake small batches, adjusting the dough each time. By the end of this, she was irate: “It took too long!”
“Oh, sorry, did you have something else to do?”
“No, but I don’t want to stay in the kitchen any longer than necessary.”
“Oh, I thought our plan was to hang out in the kitchen together?”
Clearly my idea of “baking cookies” was socio-spatial, and hers was production oriented.
We debriefed. She had raised three children. The kitchen had been a space of endless toil.
I work long days on self-defined projects interwoven with shopping and snacking. For me the kitchen is a destination for contemplative munching, stirring, and assemblage, a sensual pause between tranches of production.
I understand that people have different histories and emotions attached to different kinds of effort. What I don’t understand is what people want to finish laboring in order to do. Swipe through foodporn on instagram? Watch a cooking show on TV?
As I travel through kitchens, I realize that most kitchens are not nice places to be. They are uncomfortable, overwhelmed with clutter, and defined by drudgery.
So here’s a brief guide to re-socializing your kitchen and making it one of the most sensuous rooms in your house. In order of priority:
- Comfortable chairs, at least one, preferably three. Comfortable unupholstered chairs exist, but they are rare and unlikely.
- A dishwasher that does not require pre-washing.
- A garbage system that is a pleasure to use and is not visible when sitting in the chairs.
- Marie Kondo it. Get rid of EVERY item that you do not LOVE with great joyfulness. If it’s rough in your hands, get a better one. If it’s ugly in any way send it away. The ordinary everyday tableware is what you will use the most. It should be the most expensive and pleasing!
- If your refrigerator, drawers, or pantry is overstuffed, reduce the contents by half, knowing well that you still have 10 years of tea and noodles.
Everything you touch and look at there should be part of the feast of delight.
My preferences include:
- Raw wood countertops to create spacious space to directly slice vegetables, roll pastry, and even safe for hot pans (I do use a designated separate board for onions and garlic, so as not to foul the next slice of bread of fruit). Even if you stain or burn wood, it can be sanded unctuous again.
- The sink can be an unpleasant place. One of my friends wipes it after every use, which is a big improvement. I hate wet sponges because they always threaten to be smelly, so I use silicon sponges for hand-washing dishes. I have my favorite hand-soap next to the sink so that I can feel completely refreshed after dirty jobs, although I try not to have any by putting dirty things directly into the dishwasher. I also have a towel designated for clean hands only and another designated for counter cleanup. I always use paper to clean up dairy-based spills on the counters which reduces the chance of bad smells in cleaning cloths.
- No knife blocks, most of those knives never get used. Buy expensive knives that feel like part of your hand, and you only need one or two, a chef’s knife (I prefer santoku shape) and a paring knife.
- No plastic. It’s ugly.
- Matched, stacking plates, glasses, and cups. So much physical and visual clutter is caused by assorted mismatched tableware. I also prefer white.
- Silver-plate dining cutlery. It’s warmer and more beautiful. You can put it in the dishwasher, so long as you get rid of all your stainless to avoid mixing it up, and place all the stainless utensils and cookware at a distance on the upper rack.
- Cast iron, carbon steel, or enameled cookware without plastic handles: easier to clean than stainless steel, can go from stovetop to oven, and nonstick without toxins.
- I try to keep my pantry and fridge as lean as possible so that I can’t forget anything that is there. I only buy things that I use regularly and plan to eat soon. If something is missing, that’s a chance to go for a walk, or improvise.