A Clean Kitchen is a Happy Kitchen

The pantry is a great starting point for organization. If your kitchen is anything like ours, it’s the first place to get out of control. One way to prevent this is by making sure there is a place for everything, even if that means having a basket specifically for items that don’t go anywhere else.

I see lots of pantries online that are major investments, but we don’t have the kind of money to spend on fancy containers and baskets. I bought three small plastic baskets for around $1 and some canvas bins that were also $1. Any other containers were things I found around the house: spare wicker baskets, ceramic containers I’ve replaced, an old recipe box. When looking for pantry organization inspiration, the ones on Pinterest were gorgeous but would never work for us – especially as we’re renting and can’t make any permanent changes. So here’s a guide to my average pantry!

On the bottom shelf I use these canvas bins found at Christmas Tree Shop for holding our cookbooks. I used to keep them on a bookshelf in the living room because there just wasn’t space in the kitchen. Then I got tired of them not being accessible and also not looking so great. The bottom shelf is kind of a mish-mash. It houses all our extra pasta boxes (thanks Cosco!) and glass milk bottles to return to the farmers market for a deposit refund.

Now let’s get back to the top. The first shelf is home to a random assortment of goodies. I don’t do too much baking, but I keep a basket of ingredients like cocoa, vanilla extract, and food coloring. I always keep on hand popcorn seeds for a quick, healthy snack. I then keep all the boxes of food in the back because with my new diet they’re for emergencies only. The basket is for daily vitamins, then the glass containers are full of tea.

As for the next shelf, I keep yet more tea (flavored tea) in the recipe box. It houses them perfectly and since I don’t print recipes it’s not something I need. Other than that, I keep all my oils and vinegars together on the left and spices in the middle. For all those spice packs I used to have falling through the cracks, I use an old utensil holder. Here, behind the tea, is my basket of randomness. It currently houses sunflower seeds, almonds, and coffee pods (because we drink too much coffee to use the single cup side of our coffee maker).

And then I have what is primarily the canned good shelf. I bought this wooden over-the-sink shelf before I realized how impractical it is. Then I realized it fit magically in the pantry to provide another shelf. It cost maybe $5 at Big Lots and it works perfectly. I have a basket specifically for rice and rice noodles then a small jar of Chipotle peppers. Instead of having a thousand boxes of spaghetti, I got this container for it but then realized we don’t use it enough to justify leaving it on the counter.

Like I told you, my pantry isn’t pretty and it may not even look organized to the average reader, but it works for us. If you want matching plastic container or cute labeled baskets, then go for it! But a clean, organized kitchen makes it so much easier to get in the habit of cooking and you can see everything you own at one glance.

*Sorry for the poor photo quality. My camera broke ages ago and I’ve been using my iPhone ever since!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

We’re currently living in a rental townhome with no yard, which is deeply saddening when you have a strong desire for a vegetable garden. Making the best of things, we set up some pots on the deck and filled them with our favorite herbs, tomatoes, and peppers. We’ve been doing this for a couple years and are still learning new things, like what size pots are right for each plant.
I’m not the greatest at starting from seed (what’s the opposite of a green thumb?) so I always make sure to buy healthy plants that have already started to mature. I’ve found things I’m good at (thyme, mint, peppers) and things I’m not so good at (cilantro, tomatoes, dill). I always have a few in between things that still need some work like basil (something keeps eating it) and parsley (it doesn’t seem to like extreme heat).

We constantly experiment with size and depth of planters because sometimes suggestions don’t always work. I planted patio tomatoes in a gigantic container and we’ve still only seen about two. Last year I bought them in a hanging basket and they thrived. We also had better luck with peppers when they were deeper, but smaller, containers.

Even with the hassle I’d say having your own garden is worth it. Of course it would be easier in a yard with access to a hose, but sometimes you just have to do the best with what you’ve got. In the end it’s so satisfying to just walk out onto your patio and pick your own ingredients. It’s the only sure-fire way to know how your food is grown, afterall.
My favorite thing to eat straight off the vine is tomatoes. The flavor is entirely different from something you’d buy at a grocery store or even a farmer’s market. I was told from a very good source that when vegetables are transported from farm to market, it’s difficult to not refrigerate them. Refrigerating alters the flavor and texture of tomatoes so you may have never had the pleasure of tasting what a tomato should really taste like. This also enables you to pick them when you want to. We tend to want them a little underripe but you may want them just ripe or even overripe.
There are plenty of fancy kitchen herb growing kits at home & garden stores with fancy stands and tiny pots. We bought one and it’s still in the box. I would suggest going to a garden nursery in spring and getting exactly what you want. I was amazed at the selection. Culantro? Apparently it’s a much stronger (and hardier) version of sister cilantro. The downside is that it’s also much sharper, akin to a weed. I also purchased some chocolate mint which is delicious, delightful to smell, easy to grow, and with it’s purple vine and deep green leaves isn’t so bad to look at either. You’d be amazed at the variety of mints from just your average mint to pineapple. Oh, the temptations!