Is your kitchen still working?

Real food grain photoRemember a couple of weeks ago when my kitchen fell apart because I bought new dishes. Today I bought a new flour. Over the past couple of months, I have been gathering new grains for testing. Until today, I could find a new place to tuck the new ingredients. But I truly could not find a place for the new flour, unless I started stacking often-used items. That is something I will not do. If you must take three things out of the cupboard to use one, you will soon lose any love you have for cooking. However, this time the mini crisis caused a positive reorganization of my kitchen.

I took a look at my dry ingredient storage generally, and found that it was out of date for the way I cook today. When my kids were small, in the 1980s, I baked a lot. I made all our bread, and any treats were baked at home. Baking cookies, muffins, cakes was part of my day to day routine. I went through a 20lb bag of flour very quickly. I always had containers that would hold 20lbs of unbleached and whole wheat flour easily accessible.

By the time I moved into my present small house, I was living alone. Although my flour needs were a fraction of my large-family baking days, shortly after I moved in, I did a 100-mile-diet challenge for 100 days. I revived my baking skills because I chose to work harder while eating all local foods, rather than do without the food I normally ate. Finding local flour and grain products on the Canadian prairie was not even a small challenge, so I was back to using a lot of flour.

Fast forward to 2011. I rarely bake bread, and when I do, it is one or two loaves. I’ve discovered the best bakeries in the city, and quite frankly, especially for whole grain bread, they do a better job than I do. In fact, I rarely bake at all. My heaviest demand for flour is a couple of cups when I make pizza dough or pasta.

But when I did an inventory of my precious cupboard space, I realized that I still had a large bin of whole wheat and one of unbleached flour in my pullout cupboard. I remember being quite proud that I thought of removing one of the sliding shelves to make room for the tall food-grade plastic buckets. When I was baking a lot, it was very handy just to pull out the bottom shelf, and have dipping access immediately to plenty of flour.

But my needs have changed. I took the large bins out and moved them downstairs. I have shorter buckets for flour now, and was able to put the extra sliding shelf back in. All of my  beans and grains will easily fit on the new shelf. In fact, consolidating the grains cleared an entire shelf in another cupboard. I also have plenty of room for the white whole wheat flour I bought today, and found a forgotten small bag of rye flour. For lack of room in the flour cupboard, it was tucked in with the grains.

If I decide to bake for gifts, or discover a great new bread recipe, I can always bring the large bins up for the baking session. If for some strange reason, I start baking a lot, I can revisit the flour storage cupboard and revert. I have a feeling that won’t happen.

Now I have the delightful problem of what to put in the empty space.

Even if you have a well-organized cooking space, make a quick check to make sure you are using your space in the best way for the way you work today. Are you hanging on to habits from years past that no longer make sense, like me with my large flour bins? It took me less than 30 minutes to reorganize my space, with a little more time coming once I decide how to fill the emptly spot.

Hint: I use a lot of plastic, food-grade buckets in my kitchen. If you talk to your local restaurant, you can often come away with heavy plastic, food-grade containers in one, two and four gallon sizes. (I don’t think I have ever had to pay, though I have seen them offered for a dollar or two.) For smaller amounts of staples, like lentils or beans, the dollar stores are often your best bet.

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