Fun Fact: A single, basic domestic kitchen can give you nightmares… not figuratively… literally! I mean, waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night, cold sweats kinds nightmares. I just had a week’s worth of those. I’d wake up sweating profusely, my already troubled sleep completely shattered by images of my kitchen on fire, or all my utensils turning to sand, or opening the fridge to find it filled with foot long maggots… yeah.. Kitchens can cause nightmares.
And like all dreams/nightmares, these had a root in reality and I didn’t need a shrink to tell me that. I’ve had a tough time getting a handle on things but I ain’t the sort of crazy to give up, plonk down in the middle of the kitchen and cry hysterically.I’m the sort of crazy that pulls every movable object out of the kitchen and restarts. I’ve done that thrice since we moved into our place and after weeks and months of trial and error, I finally have some kind of control over my kitchen. It isn’t as efficient as I’d like it to be, but still, a meal that would take me 3 hours to prepare now gets done in 45 minutes to an hour. What did I change? Just a few things…
1. A Place For Everything: And everything in its place. Mom wasn’t kidding! My great grandmother used to say, keep things so orderly that you should be able to find them in your sleep.
Assign specific places for everything. Ideally, all the utensils, grain jars, spice jars etc that you use on a regular basis should be within reach from where you stand to cook. Make circles of proximity from your cooking position and arrange things in outward circles according to frequency of use; the most frequently used being the closest to the rarely used being the farthest. It makes cooking much less of a run around the place and you save energy as well as time. This will require some trial and error but you’ll eventually find your groove. Also, make it a conscious habit to put things back into their assigned places the moment you are done using them. Keeping things for later only adds to the stress and makes cleaning up a harder chore. A clean, well organized kitchen contributes to your peace of mind.
2. End-Of-Day Wipe Down: No matter how hectic a day you’ve had, make it a habit of leaving your kitchen clean when you go to bed.
This generally means putting the left overs into the fridge, taking out the trash, piling the used utensils in the sink and wiping down everything. Through the day, when you use small objects like knives of potato peelers etc, instead of dumping them in the sink, try washing them immediately and keeping away because chances are, you’ll need them before your maid does the dishes. But definitely do clean up before tucking in for the night. That way, when you enter the kitchen in the morning, it is clean and fresh and one less thing to do. In the long run, it also keeps your kitchen cleaner for longer.
3. Make A Schedule: This might sound a little OCDish but it is not.
Make broad categories of dishes per meal and schedule them according to the days of the week. Pick a few breakfast items and keep two or three options for each day of the week. Then make broad categories like ‘pulaao/khichdi’ or ‘continental’ or ‘chicken/fish’ or leafy vegetables’ etc and put them in for lunch and dinner through the week. This way, you can plan well in advance without going into a tizzy every day about what to cook or what to buy. Keep several options for each meal on your schedule so that you are not restricted to a monotony and make sure you don’t decide to cook more than one complicated meal every day. If nothing else, it saves you the effort of trying to figure out what to cook; its all there, tacked up on your fridge!
4. Take Breaks: A stressed you is a messy you and that spells doom for the kitchen. So take a break.
Take breaks while preparing a meal. Drink water, play music while you work. It all helps. And every once in a while, shut the kitchen. Go out to eat or order in or ask your better half to take over. The moment cooking begins to feel tedious, take a break. Stress sucks all the joy out of cooking and if you are not used to it, it will completely turn you off. So make sure you allow yourself that much needed break.
5. Innovate: Routine can become boring and get you stuck in a rutt. Unstick yourself. Try something new.
Pick out a recipe you’ve never tried before. Make your own recipe. Or learn how to ‘recycle’ leftovers. Trust me, it is enormous amounts of fun to serve a dish made of leftovers and no one figures it out till you tell them. innovation in the kitchen brings life to the mundane, day to day routine. It builds confidence and gives you something to look forward to.
Cooking can be fun. Therapeutic. I always think of that line from Julie and Julia: “I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say ‘nothing’ I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.” It really is. You can get lost in your kitchen… and you can find yourself. I know the everyday mundane tasks make it very difficult to think so but trust me, the kitchen can be a glorious place. You just need to know the secrets.. 😉