"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Positive Influence

Let's face it, ladies (and gentlemen), we don't all enjoy sharing our kitchens with others. "Too many cooks . . ." and all that. I think that's a terrible shame because we have so much to teach each other. No matter how good a cook you are, or how experienced you are, or how well you know your way around a kitchen, you can always pick up another little tip or trick by collaborating with another cook.

Which brings me to my point: I used to have a huge kitchen that worked perfectly for me, not because it was the perfect kitchen, but because I had learned to adapt and I had adapted my surroundings to suit my needs. But my BFF had much to teach me because her kitchen was so different from mine. Her style of cooking is worlds away from mine. Her habits and manner of organization in the kitchen (and throughout her home) are vastly different from mine. In the time that I lived with her, I picked up some great habits that she taught me. And that's just one reason for which I will be eternally grateful to her for that time.

So, this week's post is dedicated to "Mom." (I call her that online to preserve her anonymity.) Here is a handful of the most useful kitchen tips I picked up from my BFF during my stay:

Hand Wash Your Cookware and Your Favorite Dishes

Okay, before you object, hear me out. I'm not saying every dish every day, but think about it. My personal worst habit has always been running the dishwasher then not putting my dishes away. Then the new dirty dishes pile up on the counter as I use the clean ones from the dishwasher and it gets to be this vicious cycle.

The argument for using our dishwashers so much is that they tend to be much more energy efficient than hand washing and they use a hotter water, so they "sterilize" the dishes. All well and good. AND many of us tend to put cookware in the dishwasher because most brands, of both cookware and dishwashers, these days can handle it.

BUT your dishwasher does not, as a rule, get your cookware as clean as hand washing, so half the time we end up scouring pots and pans before they go in, or after they come out, of the dishwasher. What a waste! Just hand wash the cookware and save the space in the dishwasher for actual dishes.

Also, everyone has that favorite mug. You know the one I mean. It's the one from that trip to the Poconos, or the one your kid made you in ceramics class, or the one your friend Courtney gave you for your first Christmas in Oklahoma. Don't put it in the dishwasher and only use it once a week; hand wash it and use it every day.

darn thing keeps trying to sell me insurance
Use Two Kitchen Sponges or Scrubbies at a Time

I used to have one of those wand thingies that had the soap in the handle and the scrubbie on the end for washing dishes. I used rags, or paper towels, or disposable kitchen wipes for cleaning.

First, lets talk about the wipes and paper towels. How many of those are you throwing out every day? Every week? I'm no tree-hugger, but really, it's a lot when you think about it. And how much do you think it's costing you? It adds up. Buying inexpensive kitchen sponges saves you some money in the long run and means less crap in our landfills. Personally, I make my own. (You may have seen my crochet patterns.)

"But they get naaasty!" you whine. Yes, they do. But if you run them through the dishwasher on the top rack, it cleans the nasties out of them. If you make your own, you can just use each one for one day, maybe two, then throw them in the laundry. (But they're so small, I wash mine in a lingerie bag so I don't lose them.)

AND here's another tip: Wet the sponges with water and a little white vinegar and pop them in the microwave for 60 to 90 seconds. This sterilizes the sponges. It also makes the microwave easier to clean inside because the steam created loosens up all the stuck-on nastiness that happens in there. The vinegar is a natural disinfectant and also helps get rid of the stink of the burrito you heated in there last week. Yeah, okay, the vinegar doesn't smell so pretty, but that odor dissipates pretty quickly, unlike that burrito. The smell of that thing could linger as long as a dip in the Bog of Eternal Stench.

So why TWO sponges? One for washing dishes, because that wand never works as well as you think it will; and one for wiping down surfaces, because you really should have a separate one for that. If you're afraid you won't be able to tell them apart, then use two different types, or colors, or clip a corner off of one. My BFF uses a plain sponge for surfaces and a sponge with an abrasive/scrubby side for dishes. Unless you make a huge mess on the stovetop (like letting a pot of milk boil over . . . again) you probably don't need a scrubby side for surfaces.

Use a Pump Dispenser for Your Dish Soap

This was a "duh!" moment for me. Why wouldn't I do this? I use a pump for lotions and liquid hand soap, for bubble bath and shower gel. So why would I not think of using one for my dish soap? I find I end up using less soap because I have fewer "oops" moments, like using too much or dropping the bottle. Just a quick pump or two on my sponge, and I'm good for the few dishes I have to wash. Done!

In fact, I like this one so much, one of the first things I did when I moved into my new place was find an empty pump dispenser. (Easier said than done, so I cheated. I emptied a spare bottle of hand soap into a plastic storage container so I could use the pump.)

Clean the Kitchen Before You Go to Bed

Nobody wants to wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes, and goodness knows what's lurking on your countertop in the middle of the night. I like to sit down and check email over my morning coffee. The last thing I want to be stuck doing is washing dishes or wiping down counters.

My BFF, by example, got me into the habit of doing all of that before I settle in for the night. She's better about it than I am. She tackles most of it immediately after dinner while I may let it sit for a little while, but 99% of the time, every dish is washed, dried, and put away before my head hits the pillow AND I have, at the very least, given the kitchen surfaces a good once-over.

Keep a Coffee Can in the Freezer

My mother always kept a coffee can under the sink for draining grease. When the can was full, obviously, she would throw it out. My BFF does the same thing. The difference is, she stores the can in the freezer rather than under the sink. (Why did I never think of that?) You see, the fat that you drain into that can gets rancid pretty quick and doesn't smell so pretty. It's not usually invasive; you only really smell it when you open whichever cabinet it's stored in, but leaving it in the back of the freezer, or even the back of the fridge (on the bottom shelf, which is the coldest spot in the refrigerator) means no smell.

I've seen other tips for disposing of kitchen grease, like pour it into a bowl lined with aluminum foil, then throw it out once the grease has cooled. But they tend to be wasteful. Aluminum foil is pricey; coffee cans are free. I'm cheap; get over it.

Stop Using Zipper Bags

I love zip top bags. I use(d) them for everything, but they get to be expensive when you're constantly using them. And let's face it, washing them is not really an option. They get nasty. They are made to be disposable and really aren't good for more than two uses even if you are brave enough to use them multiple times.

The solution: Think about what you use those zipper bags for and make sure you have plenty of plastic storage containers to fit your needs. Don't whine to me that you can never find the right size lid. Most manufacturers have made that task amazingly easy by making containers that only need two or three different lid sizes. This means if you stick to one brand (buy a bunch when you have coupons or when they're on sale), you should be able to lay your hands on the right lid in seconds. Some even make lids that attach to the bottom of the container when they're not in use, so you can't lose them.

The best part is that even the cheapest of the cheap containers are sturdy enough to go from freezer to microwave several times without cracking, and when they do eventually need to be thrown out, they can go in the recycle bin. (They're also inexpensive enough that sending guests home with leftovers means you don't have to ask for your container back.)

I still keep a box of gallon-sized bags in the cabinet, but these days, I only use about one a week.

So there you have it. Yeah, yeah, I know they're all no-brainers, but that's why we don't often think about them. Now go play in your kitchen.


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