One of the aspects of who I am is a computer programmer. I’ve spent years and years finding ways to organize things (pieces of code, data entry fields, processes involving humans and barcode scanners, you name it) in ways that make things flow better. Changing environments to be more conducive to a desired outcome. My most recent environment/programming project is our kitchen.
I want to make bread more often. So I moved the breadmaker off the hard to reach top pantry shelf to a kitchen cupboard (causing other things to move about). It removes an obstacle to homemade bread, making the change easier. I like using the vegetable steamer so I moved that off the top shelf too. The top shelf now has breakfast cereal. We just don’t eat that stuff, never have, although I lived off it as a child. The vegetable steamer is an easy healthy way to cook, so make it easier. Meanwhile the plastic bin full of snack items has been pushed to an inconvenient to reach back corner. I built some under-the-sink bins to store recycled items to promote easier recycling (going all the way to the garage means some recyclable items just end up in the trash during a busy day).
But wait, I’ve got to slow this down and just talk about mason jars for a few paragraphs. I went out and bought a shitload. Well mason jars and some other types of jars, there’s a lot of variety available. If I’d purchased exact matching sets then at some point in the future we would’ve needed more and they’d stop matching so I decided to go intentionally eclectic from the start. Some from Ikea have build in handles. Some acrylic ones from bed bath & beyond (I call that place my mecca) include an absolutely huge container suitable for flour but it was quite expensive. The cheapest and most versatile are simple mason jars (walmart.ca is atrocious, sorry no linkage). Big 2L ones, little 250 mLs and everything in between. I even found some alternate solid plastic lids. I decided wide mouth mason jars are absolutely the way to go – especially if I’m hoping to get a measuring spoon in there.
Buying bulk is cheaper and having attractive (at least to me) containers to put them in is an incentive to make a trip down the bulk isle. It also seems many organic ingredients are easier to find in bulk (I’ve become a big fan of Save-On-Foods). You can buy hot chocolate mix and M&M’s in bulk but typically bulk means healthier more primitive ingredients that I wouldn’t be ashamed to put on display, even if no one else is looking in our pantry but Janine and I (and Nathan if he can get to the dog food. Kid loves dog food for some reason).
Before the mason jar revolution, I knew that if I hunted in the back of the pantry somewhere I would find cornmeal, a plastic bulk bag of raisins, a huge bag of skim milk powder. At the front of the pantry was boxes of rice mix, instant mashed potatoes along with boxes of healthy stuff too. Don’t misunderstand me: we had a good & healthy pantry. I wanted to find a way to emphasize those good cooking ingredients, make them easy to handle and find, as well as deemphasize the easy to stack boxes. Some boxes contained organic whole wheat pasta, some were more questionable.
Now, I can see everything. The jars are easier to rearrange and sort through than plastic bags with the result that I find things quicker. If I don’t know what it is, I turn it upside down. More obscure jars have masking tape on the bottom with the contents written on them. I’ve never purchased lentils before this week. I’ll probably know what they are two months from now, but maybe not. Same for pot barley. And I feel so stupid asking my wife “what’s this?” because sometimes I like the illusion that I’m independent.
Some jars have instructions from a package taped to their side. Last week I briefly wished I hadn’t tossed out the how-to-cook rotini instructions when I’d transferred them from box to jar. Y’know what? I still don’t know how long to cook them but I kept tasting the pasta and I figured it out. Boil salted water then add pasta. The rotini I replaced it with came from the bulk isle and I’ll feel a little more confident when it comes time to cook those.
Also I bought bulk Maynard wine gums and they’re in a jar too. I need to make sure the record clearly states I am no perfect granola crunching preacher. The best way to avoid the bad stuff is not to bring it into your home… but if you never bring the wine gums into your home, then how will they ever enter your stomach? Clearly, the wine gums needed to be purchased. Logic dictates.
The wash cloths and tea towels were always badly stacked and falling out of the shelf conveniently located above the stove on a shelf even I (at 6’0”) couldn’t reach. So I moved them down to a drawer at waist level. The drawer of Tupperware was too full, causing them to break and get stuck when opened, so they moved to a bin in the pantry. Some of the lesser used pantry items, like tins of coffee beans and a 10lb of rice have moved to the basement (there are smaller mason jars and acrylic containers in the pantry that are periodically refilled). The good china was rarely used, so Janine’s just moved them from a primary kitchen cupboard to an inconvenient top pantry shelf (the shelf didn’t exist last week, Janine installed a new one). Now that’s a good thing because we’ve got a bunch of new free space in the kitchen and I’ve been noticing how our gadget drawer has gotten too full of gadgets and it would be nice to move those somewhere…
The kitchen remains in constant flux but my hope is that each time it becomes a place that’s a little closer to perfection. Like a good piece of software or an exquisitely designed website. One that subtly guides you to find what you need exactly when you need it. Where the things you’re supposed to be doing, like cooking with organic flour, are easily located on the toolbar button. It will still support obscure unadvised uses, like providing potato chips, but accessing those functions requires a little more work. This is where a witty one-line sentence should go that summarizes everything.