By the time I left DC in August, I had almost completely stopped cooking in the galley kitchen I shared with two housemates. The problem? It was too small, I whined, too dingy, and painfully uninspiring.
I’ve been living with a host family here in Georgia for two months as of today, and I’ve learned a thing or two about making do with a decidedly proletarian kitchen. And about not complaining.
My host mother Shushana has spent the last 30 years preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily for her family and guests in a kitchen not much larger than many American bathrooms. Her “counter space” consists of a one-foot square patch of ribbed metal next to the sink, and half of her storage space is in a cupboard outside on the adjoining balcony. Water stops running from the faucet without warning nearly every day, and electricity is temperamental. Still, the feasts she prepares whenever guests pop over are as expansive and generous as any Better Homes kitchen could offer.
Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up while watching Shushana make the most of her small space:
- Buy only foods that serve multiple purposes. In practice, this rule generally leads you away from prepackaged snack foods like chips and cookies and towards whole ingredients like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. HoHos, for instance, are good for only one thing: eating straight out of the package. Cheese, on the other hand, can be eaten as is, chopped into salad, sliced onto sandwiches, grated into omelettes, melted onto pizza, or made into cheesecake.
- Shop often and buy little. Cook a meal with what you’ve bought as soon as you get home so you have less to store.
- Cut back on the condiments. These bulky bottles and jars take up an inordinate amount of space and often sit for weeks or even months at a time between each use. Remember that many condiments can be made at home from fresh ingredients: make a small batch if you just want to try a recipe once, or make a very large batch and preserve it in canning jars which can be stored outside the refrigerator. (Try this recipe for fiery Georgian ketchup.)
Preparation and Meals
- If you have a table in the kitchen, make it a drop-leaf and ditch the full-sized chairs. Use stools that fit completely underneath it instead.
- Consider the table expanded counter space. Keep it free from papers and other clutter so it will be available for chopping, mixing, rolling, and eating.
- To reduce the variety of ingredients you need on hand at any given time and to simplify grocery shopping, choose one national or regional cuisine and cook recipes from only that repertoire for a month. A fun way to do this is to “cook the book“: work your way through an entire cookbook based on one cuisine.
- Don’t have room for a drip-brew coffee maker or espresso machine? Switch to Turkish coffee. You can brew a cup on the stove in less than two minutes. (A French press or drip-brewing a single cup at a time through a filter are also good options.)
- Keep your kitchen pristine. A clean kitchen seems immensely larger and more appealing than a crusty one. If it’s really so small, it shouldn’t take long to wipe the table and counter after every use, put tools back when you’ve finished with them, and give the floor a quick sweep a few times a week.
- Wash pots, pans, and dishes immediately after using them.If they’re clean and not languishing in the sink with food scraps all over them, you won’t be tempted to get another one dirty the next time you cook something, exacerbating the mess. You’ll need fewer of them.
- Monitor how many pots and pans you actually use regularly and give the rest away, or store the essential specialty ones in an out-of-the-way cupboard or closet.
- Don’t overcrowd your refrigerator and freezer. Conduct an inventory once a week and throw out anything old, unappetizing, or mysterious.
- Get rid of your dinner-sized plates, or use them so sparingly that they can be stored outside of the kitchen. (I’m serious: most of the meals I’ve eaten in Georgia have been from plates no larger than 6 inches across.) It’s been shown that smaller plates lead to smaller portion sizes. Not only will your dishes take up less space, but so will you!