Saturday, September 3, 2016

What's Working in My Kitchen

Do you get frustrated in the kitchen? I sure do! I hope this post gives you some ideas and resources to make your time in the kitchen a little more pleasant and productive. I'd like to share some items that I've been using (which I am not selling and in no way profit from sharing) and strategies that are keeping me a bit more sane.

That's my youngest daughter up there, happily helping out in the kitchen. I'm glad somebody does this without being asked! She's home schooled, so she has a bit more time than the other four kids who live at home. My teens are so busy with high school and middle school that they tend to ignore the mess and wait for someone else to clean it up. I had them taking turns unloading the dishes and taking out trash, but here is what's working so much better. I have to pick one or two teens up after ROTC competition team activities each weekday afternoon. In exchange for the ride, the deal is they have to do a kitchen chore right away when we get home. While they don't always get it done (sometimes they walk straight to bed and crash) they are doing chores more promptly and cheerfully. I have the same deal if they miss the bus and need an early morning ride. Works for me!

This same youngest daughter loves to cook, and we work well together in the kitchen. She often makes me breakfast, lunch, or snacks just to be nice. Every time we're in a store with a home goods section, she wants to check if they have Kitchenaid mixers. She's obsessed with them, even though it's not likely I'll ever buy one!

Even though I'm not in the market for a Kitchenaid, I try to keep my eye out for products that will make it more effective and efficient to work in my kitchen. After she ogled the mixers at Sam's, we saw this.

But instead I decided to buy this. I stocked it with disposable dishes, napkins, bottled water and tea, powdered drink packets, popcorn packets, and other things I like handy. More paper plates and cups means less dishes!

I thought of buying a matching dark paper towel holder but decided to be content with this one we've had for a while. I found the paper towels at Walmart and stocked up. BLISS is the name of our home school so I snapped up a bunch.

I like little things, too. These bag lock clips from Publix (less than $2 per package) are a perfect alternative to frustrating twist ties on bread bags.

My bread is in a large white wire basket on the counter, just behind the bin that holds reusable water bottles and smoothie mixing cups. I can also slip the bread bag locks onto the wire basket when they aren't in use.

This counter was completely different just a week or so ago. I moved the little shelf from the counter where I put that big three tier rack thingy.

I had a four slice toaster but it took a lot of room. There are less kids at home making toast now, so I figured the smaller one at the left would be fine. 

I also had a much larger electric skillet which I used nearly every day since some of the burners on our old stove don't work. Unfortunately, the glass lid suddenly shattered with a loud pop when I was making bacon. Boo for lost bacon! Since the skillet also took a lot of room, I decided to buy this smaller one, which cost half as much. (The brand is Bella. It was $20 at Walmart.) Ironically, I later found an extra lid for the big one when I was cleaning our storage room. So now we have both. I keep the big one in a cupboard now. The new one slides nicely under this wood shelf.

This area is now also our smoothie making center. The small blender can puree frozen fruit for the kids. I don't have a large blender anymore. I have bought several in the past few years but the blender jar has always broken. It either falls out of a full sink, gets crushed in a full sink, or gets knocked off of a full counter. So there's that. No more. They have to make do with that little blender with the plastic cup.

I found the three plastic storage canisters at Dollar General for about $3 each. The key is that you don't take the lids off to get food out since they flip open. One of my big frustrations is kids getting out food containers, losing the lid, and putting it away wide open. Ick. As it is, I have to save extra peanut butter lids and milk jug caps for when we lose the current ones. Anyway, I love love love these canisters. One has stevia sweetener, another has chocolate protein drink powder, and the other has peanut butter powder. The pink cup/lid below is about $6 at Walmart. I can use it to shake up my protein powder with almond milk and/or regular milk without using a blender.

I actually like these blue cups better. I bought two of these at Publix for about $2.50 each. They are smaller, which is a better serving size for me, and they fit in the dishwasher better. This is also a great size for tucking in a purse for traveling, so I've already packed one away for a trip I'm taking next month. I don't want to risk it getting lost before then.

What I love about both kinds of cups is that they are so easy to clean. No place for yuck to hide in the cup or the lid!

Contrast this to a squirt style bottle lid I just threw away today. EWWW!

I bought this one a while back but have never ever used it. It has a juicing section to make fruit infused water. I thought it was cool but I just haven't been motivated to try it. And it gets in the way. It's going in my giveaway pile along with a bunch of other kitchen clutter that wasn't "sparking joy" in my soul. I guess you could say this is one thing that's not working in my kitchen. Oh well.

We've been using Anchor Hocking glass bowls with lids for months. I bought three sets which each have four different sizes of bowls. Then I threw out most of my plastic Rubbermaid storage containers. The glass bowls can go in the refrigerator, microwave, and oven, which means I use less dishes with leftovers since I can take it right out of the fridge and heat it up. I can also see what's in them, so I'm more likely to use leftovers before they go bad. These are definitely keepers in my kitchen!

I bought this wood spice shelf with steps at Walmart to replace a lazy Susan carousel.

Last week, I bought several mini green kitchen accessories. The grater is only a few inches high, perfect for shredding just a little cheese for a single serving without dirtying up a big grater. (We don't actually grate cheese often. I buy shredded cheese in bags.) The measuring spoon is adjustable. One spoon, many sizes!

Look at these little rubber tipped tongs compared to the big ones! They take a lot less room, which is good because I often keep them on the shelf by the toaster for getting toast out without burning fingers.

I've had this big red food chopper tool for months. You can use it to break up ground meat while it's cooking, as well as mash up soft fruits and veggies into small pieces. But compare the thickness of the blades with the little green one I just got at Bed Bath and Beyond. The smaller one does a better job because the blades have more of a thin chisel edge. And it takes less room in my utensil jar.

I also got green spatulas and a small rubberized whisk to match! Cute, yes?

My kitchen is dark green with a butterfly theme. This is what I had on the back of the stove last week.

But now it's almost autumn! While I'm not switching over the decor for the entire kitchen, I am adding in a few touches for the season.

This is my new stove decor. The little pumpkin is a salt shaker from Cracker Barrel. The pilgrim figurines are flat on the back, so they stand nicely against the stove back splash.

I brought out the autumn hot pads and dish towels, too. They go in a basket on the microwave.

Since we don't usually use the right hand stove burners, I put this rack here for drying dishes. We can move it as necessary.

Parchment paper on cookie sheets saves washing time and prolongs the life of the pans.

Another basket on the microwave holds scissors, kitchen shears, tape, a dry erase marker, sticky notepad, and other things I might need to open, fasten, or label food packages.   

My kids like to eat baked potatoes for snacks but they always go rotten if we leave them in the cupboard. I tucked a big bowl of raw potatoes in between the microwave and sink so they're easy to wash and bake, without getting in the way on my other counters.

This basket holds measuring cups for baking, as well as our vintage crank hand mixer.

While I was editing the photo above, I realized there was a dirty item in the bin that isn't even a baking cup. So I went through the basket and sorted out what didn't belong.

This is one of the items I found misplaced in the baking cup bin. It's a small crinkle cut chopper that I bought recently. I haven't even used it yet!

One of the biggest hassles in my kitchen is the sink. My kids tend to pile the dishes on top - that is, if they even make it that far. I regularly have to round up dishes from other rooms, checking in the couch cushions for silverware, under beds for cups... Either way, look at the crime scene I found this afternoon! Yuck! How can I even get to the faucet to wash my hands or rinse off a dish?

I dutifully set out to rinse and stack the dishes in preparation for loading the dishwasher. But...

While rinsing, I discovered that my sink drain was clogged. Neither side would drain. If I ran the disposal, the water from the left side would back up into the right side along with a bunch of drain crud. Then the right side water level would go back down, but only because it was draining back into the left side again. Blech! I took all of the dishes out and stacked them on the stove. Then I bailed out the dirty water with a big cup into my utility bucket that I use when I do tie dye. 

Then I reached for a bottle of Drano Max Gel. I used the whole thing as recommended for the worst clogs. I took about a half hour for the clog to clear. Next I had to scrub down the sink to get rid of all of the stinky dishwater residue.

Then I finished rinsing and loading the dishes. Ah!

Another problem we have is that the sponges and dish brushes get buried in the sink because the kids don't put them back where they belong. I just bought a new clean set of green brushes for dishes and popped them into a pretty canister. The detergent, dish soap and hand soap have their own plastic tray. The sponges have a little dish.

I don't want the dish brushes and sponges to get mixed up with the sink cleaning brushes because the latter get quite germy. So I bought blue brushes for cleaning and put them in a well labeled plastic flower pot on the opposite side of the sink, along with disinfectant cleaning wipes and powdered scrub cleaner. Now if everyone can just remember which to use!

Coming down the home stretch here. Long blog post, eh?

I was presenting a Homeschool Hangout morning retreat for a bunch of ladies with two friends recently. Jennifer's session was on homemaking. After some introductory inspiration, she asked each of us to share the one chore that gives us most trouble, and she would tell us her best tips for that area. 

My trouble spot? I have a hard time getting motivated to make dinner every night for a few reasons. It's hard to work in the kitchen when it's messy. My kids are busy and it's a challenge to get all of us to the table at the same time. I do a lot of chauffeuring near dinner time, and I'm usually tired at the end of the day. I could never find the ingredients I needed. And isn't it easier to pick up a rotisserie chicken or frozen convenience foods at Sam's Club, a pizza at 7-Eleven, or a bag of Wendy's burgers? (True confession time!)

As I was thinking about this later, I realized I just need to make my kitchen work for me no matter what it takes and no matter who is helping me. If I personally clean and tidy the kitchen every day, they are more likely to keep it that way. It's too easy to dump more mess on top of an existing mess, especially if you can't even get to the sink faucet because it's so piled with dishes. Am I right? That's why I've been looking for all of these ways that I've shared to make kitchen life easier.

The evening after the morning meeting, I was finally ready to tackle my two freezers with newfound enthusiasm and determination. I have a big freezer drawer at the bottom of my kitchen refrigerator. (Which, by the way, I hate. I much prefer a regular freezer door at the top of the fridge. The drawer is a pain in the butt. Understatement, there.) I also have a chest freezer in our storage room. Everything was all mixed up in both of them. I took some time to think it through before I did anything. After I formulated my strategy, I took everything out of both freezers, and cleaned them out. I found a lot of unrecognizable food to throw away. This process also meant de-icing the chest freezer. My 13 year old son saw me leaning into the freezer to do this, and grabbed the spatula from me to finish the job himself. Kudos to him! There is hope in the universe!

I determined that the kitchen freezer should be for food the kids need to grab for a quick meal or a snack. In the left bin, I stashed lunch items like burritos, pocket sandwiches, microwave dinners, pierogies, single serve chow mein noodle & veggie packets, etc. In the right bin, I put breakfast foods like sausage links, waffles, and bags of fruit for smoothies. Weeks later, this freezer is still organized!

The storage room freezer is all mine! This is the dinner prep freezer. This is where I stash frozen vegetables, skillet dinner kits, raw meat, and meat that I've cooked and divvied up into gallon size bags for quick prep later. Yes, this freezer is also still nicely organized with very little effort weeks after I cleaned it out. I'm delighted! I can find what I want! And I'm making dinner more often!

Just two more pictures, and these are actually not in the kitchen. Instead, they are of things that used to be in the kitchen but were taking too much room.

Since our cupboards are full of other food, I used to store plastic cereal containers on top of the refrigerator. However, my youngest daughter couldn't reach them and she's the most frequent cereal eater. So I set up a cereal bar on a shelf in the dining room right next to the kitchen counter. I also put the kid vitamins there and the extra protein drink powder there.

The china cabinet, which I bought at a thrift store last year, holds all of our company dishes down below. This is the hutch on top. I just put my apple basket decor up for the autumn season. Isn't it lovely? This is also where all of my cookbooks go since there is no room in the kitchen. I always wished there was space above my kitchen cabinets for baskets and plants because they look so pretty there in other kitchens I've seen. My kitchen cabinets go to the ceiling, but now at least I have one place to get the same effect!

That's it for my kitchen (and dining room) this time, but here are some related posts with more ideas and information!

What's working in YOUR kitchen? Do tell!

God bless!
Virginia Knowles


  1. That's a whole lot of ideas. Never seen those bread ties. We don't have a Publix here.

  2. Making our homes work for us, instead of against us, is the best thing we can do for our time, I think. I love all your ideas and new tools. Keeping everything where you need it makes so much sense!

  3. I need some of those bread bag clips. My kids always leave the loaves open and the bread dries out. :/