Archive for category Organize

The State of the Kitchen

I must admit, I fall into the category of people who swore that when they had kids their home “would not be taken over by all that awful plastic crap”.  Noooooo, our home would be free of Barbies and their spawn.  Our living room would retain its elegant appointment (IKEA circa 2007 and the random family heirloom) and our children would play with lovely wooden toys and Waldorf-inspired dolls.  Flash forward to 2011.  I step on legos as a matter of course.  My daughter has caught on to the reality that her dolls are not actual “American Girl”dolls, and our youngest routinely de-robes the Barbies and places them in unique “tableaux” all over the apartment.  Sigh.  I reach for a tomato and pick up a faux-Ken doll instead. I know I will miss this in ten  years.

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What would Ben Franklin do?

In keeping with the theme of To-Do lists, I can’t help but post this image of Ben Franklin’s daily schedule that has been floating around the web for some time now:

I love its elegant simplicity, but I can’t help but think how much it doesn’t look like the lists I make.  I mean, where is the grocery list, the overdue wedding and baby gifts to send, the after-school club to sign up for, or the laundry detergent? Of course, all those questions were answered when I came across Ben Franklin’s wife’s daily schedule. Mystery solved.

Elsewhere on the web, there are a few sites devoted to the art of the list.  One of my favorites is, Daily Routines, a compendium devoted to the schedules of interesting people.  The blog hasn’t been updated in quite a while because they are working on a book, but if you want to know how Simone de Beauvois, Charles Darwin, and Le Corbusier organized their days, this is your resource, and I am look forward to the book.  Pretty Listed is a Tumblr site that collects images of various lists and schedules.  It appears to be a great idea that hasn’t gained momentum yet, but I would love to see more submissions there.  And finally, I couldn’t resist the beauty of these lists featured on designer, Melissa Easton’s blog, Mrs. Easton.  Take a look.

Anything else?

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To-do lists and other things we write down on scraps of paper.

Janice Lowry, To-Do List, July 5, 2003

Once again, Domaphile has been on a bit of a hiatus due to late summer vacations, hurricanes and the back to school frenzy.  Lately the only kind of writing that is getting done is the utilitarian:  the making of lists, the filling out of forms, and the writing of checks.
I like to dabble in organization.  That is not to say I am actually organized, but I like the trappings of order.  Of course, as a librarian my job is to create order out of chaos, and in libraries there is a structure in place to make that happen.  At home it’s a free-for-all.  I happen to be a compulsive and inveterate list maker with a really specific system that involves a completely redundant combination of my planner and post-it notes. Not just any post-its, but the yellow 2 ⅞ by 4 ⅞ variety. If they stopped making that size, my world would fall apart.  I write almost everything down on said post-its, in no particular order, so my list often reads something like:

  •   marjoram
  • school supplies
  •  terrarium sand
  • moss- Central park?
  • worms!
  •  airplants???,
  • find hat
  • fix camera
  • sitter for 30th
  • red tights
  • elec. bill
  • EKG for cat

When the note gets too full and things get crossed out, I (gasp) re-write it, which I have heard is totally counter-productive to actually being organized.  But there is something about the act of making the list that almost feels like doing the thing itself… until later, when the list is long and the things are never done – that’s when the list can turn on you.

I am fascinated by the way people organize the minutiae of their daily lives.  Do they use planners? Digital apps like Priorities or Tasks or Things? I love me some Google Calendar, but I can’t quite get with the Tasks app.  I’m still wedded to the post-its.  Not long ago, I met with a fellow post-it using librarian friend (Yes, there are at least two of us out there…) and we went to the Morgan Library to see how artists organize their daily lives through the exhibit:  Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.  It’s a small, easily digestible exhibition that gives a glimpse into the daily lives of people known more for sweeping gestures of high art than for stopping by the store on the way home.  I love that Franz Kline’s 1960 grocery list included corn flakes, eggs, bananas and V-8.  And I swooned over painter Adolf Konrad’s packing list for a trip abroad where instead of writing everything down he sketched it out. Complete with a drawing of himself in his underwear:

Adolf Konrad, packing list, December 16, 1963. Adolf Ferdinand Konrad papers, 1962–2002. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution.

The exhibit includes all kinds of lists and enumerations, from Picasso’s handwritten list of recommendations for the Armory show to Arthur Dove’s list of abbreviations for the weather to Eero Saarinen’s most beautiful list of the qualities he found best about his wife.  But my favorites of all were the journals of Janice Lowry,  an artist I wasn’t familiar with until this show .  She intertwined her daily to-do lists with the journals she kept for over 30 years into beautiful collages that celebrate that mundane compulsion to write it all down.  Everything from buying stamps to listing all the people she needed to forgive. She died too young, but her lists are something to aspire to.  If you want to see them for yourself, the Morgan show runs until October 3rd.  Check it out and make a list.  Fall seems to be the season of organization – what do you use to keep it all together?

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An Apothecary of Spices

Not long ago, our friend, Forest, invited us for dinner at his jewel-box of an apartment in Chelsea. Forest is a designer who has helped me immensely with this blog, and we seem to  share the same inclination to put things into containers.  He lives in a studio where space is minimal, but when you are there, it feels big and comfortable.  Why? Because everything in it has a purpose – either that of use or beauty.  Perfectly edited.  But my favorite feature is his lovely collection of jars and containers used to house his herbs and spices.

For some time, Forest has been collecting old apothecary jars, antique beakers, and random glass containers to house his herbs and spices.  At first glance, the collection appears to be haphazard, but it is connected by an underlying structure of criteria: each container must be of glass and have either a cork, glass or metal cap, and they are all unified by the same label that he creates himself on a color laser printer – after that, anything is possible.  When you open his kitchen cabinet, the effect is that of visiting a 19th-century apothecary, connecting you to a time when spices were used just as much for their medicinal qualities as they were for food preparation.  There is something about putting things into special bottles that imbues them with an almost magical quality – elevating cooking to the level of alchemy.

I wanted to feature Forest’s spice cabinet for a couple of reasons: on a practical level, it is a beautiful way to organize something mundane and I am  reminded of how much the collection and display of everyday objects is somehow so appealing (see A collection a Day or Things Organized Neatly, for evidence).  Taking ordinary household spices out of their containers highlights just how un-ordinary they really are.  The spice trade has profoundly affected human history, yet I know next to nothing about it.  To correct this, I have picked up a copy of, Spice: The History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner, which is one of several books out there on this subject.  I foresee future posts on this topic as I learn more about what’s in my kitchen cabinets. I think a trip to Kalustyan’s is in order, too.

As appealing as I find Forest’s Apothecary, my spice line up is pretty basic: some jars on a rack on a wall.

Although I would love to start collecting extraordinary jars, I think I might need to start with a simpler solution. How do you organize your spices? I found this roundup of ideas on Apartment Therapy, but would love to find more.

Further Reading:

  1. Andrew Dalby, Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices, 1st ed. (University of California Press, 2002).
  2. Giles Milton, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History (Penguin (Non-Classics), 2000).
  3. Professor Paul Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (Yale University Press, 2009).
  4. Jack Turner, Spice: The History of a Temptation (Vintage, 2005).
  5. Fred Czarra, Spices (Reaktion Books, 2009).
  6. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants (Vintage, 1993).
  7. Charles Corn, The Scents of Eden: A History of the Spice Trade, 1st ed. (Kodansha America, 1999).
  8. John Keay,The Spice Route: A History, 1st ed. (University of California Press, 2007).
  9. Michael Krondl, The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice, Reprint. (Ballantine Books, 2008).

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Apartment Therapy

It was exciting to have our “dry goods library” featured on Apartment Therapy yesterday!  Most fascinating were the comments on the project: would the light degrade the food inside? Would the jars get dirty? Why the heck did you take the doors off of your cabinets?  To clarify: the shelf is part of a built-in that never had doors and is in the dining area just off of our tiny galley kitchen.  Since we get almost no direct light in our living room (sigh), I’m not so worried about the food degrading due to being stored in glass.  Overall, the project has been a success because we can see everything in our pantry and it has inspired us to use ingredients we had previously forgotten about.  Since we cook  at least 2 meals a day, we go through a lot of the food quickly, although I’m sure over time we might find that things go bad.  But not any worse than when the stuff was stashed in our cupboards.  One drawback to the square canisters is the fact that you can’t scoop things out easily because the mouths are not large and they don’t pour all that easily.  But I’ll take that trade-off for the extra space this project has given us.

I loved the suggestions about painting the cabinets or decorating them with contact paper.  Perhaps our next project?  In the meantime, I’m working on a post about spice storage (we don’t have spices in this line-up).  My friend, Forest, has a gorgeous solution for organizing his spices.  Coming soon!

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A visual library of food.

In the 15 years we have lived in New York, we have inhabited no less than 5 apartments.  None perfect, but each with their own special feature and random quirk.  Our first apartment in Brooklyn was sunny and spacious and even had a proper dining room, but you had to walk through the bedroom to get to the kitchen.  After that, we moved into an apartment with a lovely kitchen and a large walk-in closet in the bedroom (Oh closet! How I miss you so), but the livingroom/dining area – if you could call it that – was about the same size as the closet.  Thus, you could could easily cook a glorious meal, but it was hard to invite more than two people for dinner.  Our last three apartments have all been in the same building, the first was a one-bedroom, but with a proper entryway; the second had a beautiful window and open kitchen, but was still small for a family of four.  We now have ample space, but the trade-off is a small galley kitchen, clearly designed by someone who uses their own oven to store shoes.  With the help of IKEA, we did our best to maximize the space we have when we moved in and I consoled myself with knowing that none other than Mark Bittman suffered from the same problem.

Tiny as our cabinets are, we somehow managed to cram so much into them we didn’t know what we had.  So over the recent holiday break, I decided to excavate.  I found no less than 4 small bottles of peanut oil, conjuring up the several moments in the recent past when – in a mid-cooking freak-out –  we couldn’t find it, assumed we were out, and ran to the store to buy more.  There were also many a bottle of random and expired condiments (apparently in the early 2000’s we once used a bottle of A-1 steak sauce and then kept it for posterity after it expired in 2008).  But the most surprising were the endless bags of legumes that emerged from the cabinet above the stove.  Once I got it all out, it was clear that it couldn’t go back.

Lucky for us, the previous tenants had addressed the small-kitchen problem by installing a large built-in next to it in the dining area, where I had a few jars filled with foods we use on a daily basis.  Foods we used because we could actually see them.

Before

Of course, the answer was there all along – more jars!  I set about trying for find more of what I originally had, when I stumbled across a set of stackable glass canisters produced by Anchor Hocking.  To my amazement, they fit our space exactly.  It took 48 jars to cover the entire space and I was worried about how I would fill them all.  Silly me.  Apparently, I had more than 48 different kinds of beans, grains, pasta, nuts living above my stove.  But now we can see them all and are actually using them.

After

Our kitchen has now been fully cataloged and is ready to take on our recent declaration that we are going to make a whole bunch of stuff this year.  In the meantime, our new dry-goods library has inspired us to eat more cholent.

So, for all of you out there with tiny kitchens, what clever tricks are you using to make them work?

Cholent

Adapted from “Quick & Kosher: Recipes From the Bride Who Knew Nothing,” by Jamie Geller (Feldheim, 2007). Via the New York Times, published November 23rd, 2010.

Time: 12 to 15 hours

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

1/2 to 1 pound boneless beef short ribs, cut in 1 1/2-inch chunks

Pepper, to taste

3/4 cup pearl barley

1/3 cup dried kidney beans,

1/3 cup dried navy beans

1/3 cup dried cranberry beans

3 cups chicken or beef broth

2 tablespoons honey or molasses

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

Salt to taste.

1. Line the bottom of a slow cooker with the potatoes, the onion and then the short ribs, sprinkling the meat with pepper to taste.

2. Scatter the barley and the beans on top, then pour on the broth and the honey or molasses. Sprinkle with the paprika and salt to taste. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients. Cook on low for 12 to 15 hours, stirring occasionally (except during Shabbat, for those who observe it), adding more water if necessary. The longer the cholent cooks, the better it will be.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

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