It’s not a fear that causes me sleepless nights but I will admit that it does trigger a compulsion for keeping the kitchen as clutter-free as possible.
When I first moved out on my own, I always kept a pretty tidy bachelor pad. However I was a bit more lenient in the kitchen area. Without a dishwasher in my modest little galley kitchen, I sometimes let dishes go for a day or two, until there was enough to warrant pulling out the rubber gloves. After all, it was just me producing dishes, and I admit I became pretty frugal in my use of dishes (i.e., eating out of napkins or over the kitchen sink) to avoid accumulations.
But it didn’t take long for me to figure out that this approach was not entirely practical with a kitchen that was just slightly larger than a postage stamp.
Plus, when consuming all three meals at home (I lived just a couple of blocks from my office so I could easily dash home at lunch time), some pile ups came quickly.
The challenge would arise when I would attempt a slightly more elaborate recipe for dinner. To start with a kitchen where some of the measuring cups or spoons were already dirty, or mixing bowls were soaking in the sink, things got increasingly crowded rather quickly.
Stopping to wash and dry utensils, while in the middle of preparing food, was a recipe for disaster since as many of you know, it takes mere milliseconds for a pot of potatoes or pasta to go from a gentle simmer to a raging boil, potentially creating a big mess on the stove top, the burner elements and the bowls underneath them. (Note: thankfully, the design of stoves has significantly improved in the years since the 1962 model in my rental.)
Then I had to stop to clean up the mess or risk enduring the bad burning smell as the bubbled over starch kept cooking in and around the burner element.
And of course, there was no way I wanted to be responsible for setting off the building’s smoke detectors and become the subject of whispering in the hallways and laundry room. It would be like wearing the culinary Scarlet Letter of our building.
Given the emergency clean-up, a recipe that shouldn’t (theoretically) take more than 30 minutes became an exhausting ordeal lasting for what seemed like hours. By the time the food was finally ready, I was too tired to eat.
Dishes piling up in a tiny kitchen were also a menace from a safety perspective. It only took one misstep from an elbow in rush mode to knock over dishes waiting to be washed. A mess of pots, pans and stainless steel bowls crashing on the kitchen floor could have resulted in the Scarlet Letter of noise complaints. I didn’t want to be THAT neighbour.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that trying to prepare and cook in the crevices between piles of dishes felt like cooking in a straight jacket (not that I have ever been in a straight jacket, but that’s the way I imagine it would feel).
It’s not like I wanted to pull a Julie Andrews move in my own kitchen, swinging my arms around like she does when she sings “The Sound of Music.” I just wanted enough space to be able to navigate my own kitchen without crashing into anything nor delaying dinner into the next calendar day.
I recall one time when the dish rack was full of freshly washed dishes, with more dishes waiting to be done. What I hadn’t noticed was that the mixing bowl containing the ingredients for my recipe was right underneath the drip tray from the dish drying rack. It was out of the corner of my eye that I noticed a couple of drops trickle from the drip tray into my mixing bowl. Euwwww!
I was lucky that I had just washed the drip tray, so there was nothing gross dripping into my mixing bowl. Just the same, that was a life-changing lesson in better kitchen management. And for the record, no guests were subjected to that meal.
When my Barbie-sized kitchen had even the smallest amount of clutter, there was no way that I could roll out pie dough or make a pizza from scratch. Even at the best of times, I needed to move the toaster, the coffee maker and the dish rack to my little dining table to give myself sufficient counter space.
It didn’t take too many of those occurrences, feeling like I was cooking in a voting booth, for me to vow to only operate from a clean and clutter-free kitchen.
From that day forward, the day’s dishes were done and in the drying rack before going to bed, and in the morning, while waiting for my coffee to drip, I’d put them all away. It was an easy routine that prevented the formation of the CN Tower of dishes. I also started every recipe with a clean set of utensils, so there was no need to stop to wash dishes along the way, and drag out the prep time for any recipe.
In all of my subsequent dwellings, I was delighted with this modern convenience called a dishwasher to take care of much of the workload, but there were still items that needed to be washed by hand. In having learned my lesson in the first apartment, those items are handled expeditiously to keep the kitchen as uncluttered as possible.
Fortunately, today, my partner and I share a pretty spacious kitchen with ample counter space (and a dishwasher), but it is surprising how dishes for two can add up quickly. Just the same, we are in a pretty good routine of getting the breakfast and lunch dishes done when lunch time is over. And before preparing dinner, any dishes that were in the drying rack are put away so the kitchen is a clean slate for the chef that evening.
But when I see the size of new apartments and condos today, some smaller than my first apartment, I wonder how residents navigate in their kitchens if they enjoy cooking and baking.
I can only assume that if they are plagued by kitchen claustrophobia, much like I was, they will quickly figure out how to manage accumulations of dishes.
In doing so, this will allow their inner chefs to feel fully at home for the creation of their culinary masterpieces.
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