Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Room by Room: Pantry

The pantry is a natural extension of keeping your kitchen organized. It holds non-perishable canned or packaged goods that you want to keep on hand for common recipes.

Not everyone has the luxury of a pantry closet or extra cabinet space. You might have to create a space: shelves in the basement or on the stairway to the basement, a rack in a somewhat climate controlled garage, or even in part of a hutch or other piece of furniture in your dining room. We converted part of a hallway coat closet by adding shelving, and then hung a coat rack in our foyer for coats.

Here's a snapshot of what my pantry looked like after a quick organizing and before I went to the store to replenish stuff that was low or used up. (In other words, it looks better here than on the average day.)

The top shelf holds a real mishmash of items. Some are too big for other shelves, but there is no real rhyme or reason. The next shelf down has baking supplies. Then we move down to kid food and soups. Then pasta and tomatoes, then sauces, beans and other miscellaneous staples. The bottom shelf has PB&J supplies and at this point in time was a temporary storage place for another container. (One of the things I realized when I organized the pantry was that I had five jars of jam! Another good reason to keep things grouped by type.)

There is no magical way to organize your pantry, except for two basic principles: (1) keep similar items together so that they are easier to find, and (2) practice first in, first out rotation. In other words, use up the oldest stuff in the pantry before you open the newer packages. Refer to the "best by" or "use by" dates on most items if you aren't sure what's oldest.

A few other ideas to make sure that you have a well-stocked but not oversupplied pantry:
  1. If you aren't sure how often you will need to replenish an item (baking soda, for instance) write the date on the bottom of the box in Sharpie marker when you open it. If you find you use only one box a year or less, don't bother purchasing another box until the current one is empty. On the other hand, if you find you are going through something often, stock up when there is a sale.
  2. Refer to the cool grocery checklist that I pictured in a previous post. Going through this list jogged my memory about some things (beans, broth) I would need for fall/winter cooking.
  3. Don't be afraid to buy a large quantity of something if it's offered at a good price. I had a coupon for my favorite cereal in addition to it being on sale. So I bought five boxes. When I need to, I use the floor of the pantry or rearrange other shelves so the purchases fit.
  4. If you have more items than you will realistically use before they pass their date, set them aside for upcoming holiday food drives. I always put out a really interesting combination of things, though I am sure to include some of the suggested items on the list!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Great Recipe Roundup

Key idea: It might take a few steps to move you into using your ideal system.
Key idea: Sometimes it helps to have someone with you, helping you tackle the problem.

Congratulations again to Erin for being brave enough to enter my organization services giveaway! We got together recently to take a look at her recipe collection, which included:
  • A binder with neatly typed out pages (and the Word documents to produce them)
  • Cut out, handwritten and photocopied recipes that were loose in a pile
  • Recipes saved in random Word and PDF documents (some with mysterious titles)
  • A set of recipes and meal planning ideas in another computer program
  • A large number of bookmarked web pages with recipes and tutorials
Erin is a fabulous cook and takes pride in making tasty but uncomplicated dishes for her family and friends. In a short period of time, I quickly learned two things: (1) while there are a lot of great recipes to be found out on the web, it would be impossible to try every recipe that looks good, and (2) it might be possible to have too many enchilada (or pumpkin) recipes!

In trying to make sense of things, I tossed out a lot of ideas for Erin to consider, but not all of them fit her style. It is important for her to be able to identify what recipes she's already made versus the ones she wants to try. She also wants to avoid printing everything out. A few of the ideas that we brainstormed:
  • Creating a page for each recipe, then organizing each category of recipe by binder, such as Appetizers, Desserts or Vegetables. This way new recipes are easily be inserted without having to type and reprint.
  • Going to an all-electronic recipe system. This isn't ideal because of the limited counterspace in her kitchen. The laptop just intrudes on cooking space.
  • Organizing recipes by cuisine: Mexican, Italian, etc.
  • Only inserting recipes into the binder after they've been tested, and having a separate folder for ones to try. However, since Erin reads cookbooks for fun, this would have been almost as sizable as the tried and true recipe binder!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Room by Room: Kitchen Makeover

My friend Rachel is one of the two lucky winners of the organization giveaway that I did in August. She and I had a blast reorganizing her kitchen one Saturday morning while the daddies took our boys to the park.

  • An older kitchen with limited counter space. 
  • A cabinet needed to be emptied and eliminated so that she could install a permanent dishwasher. Her hubby then built a tall narrow cabinet aside the dishwasher to store items like cookie sheets.
  • Finding a good place for small appliances like the breadmaker and mixer that she uses regularly.

  • A new microwave cart that also holds pots and pans, linens, and spices. This is placed where a portable dishwasher used to be.
  • Removing everything from drawers and cabinets and evaluating them. When putting them away, we consolidated them and regrouped the items by use. More frequently used items are closer to the sink/stove areas.
  • Donating unused hand-me-down dishes and promotional drinkware to the thrift store.
  • Moving a few boxes of infrequently used items to the basement, and dating the box. If she doesn't need anything from those boxes in a year, she can safely say they aren't needed.
All in all, we felt it was a very successful morning's work. After having to relearn where everything is, Rachel says she is now really pleased with a chance to get an "outsider's perspective" on the space and loves that we found ways to free up counter space.