Raise your kitchen game


How many times a day do you get reminded about being more organized? I bet you have at least a couple of apps on your phone to help keep you on track. Your work station might be exactly what you need to be at your most efficient. But how organized is your kitchen? This week I’m going to offer a bunch of hacks for you, making your kitchen set-up better, and in some cases, even more cool.

Let’s start with the easiest spots, the sort that we mostly assume are going to be a mess. Our little hideaways often end up being places we continue to fill up, always thinking that we will sort through all those “good things” at some later date. We just never manage to get around to it, so we keep closing the door. Here are some steps to rectify that. Let’s pare down that stuff.

Under the kitchen sink – The key here is simple: reduce the number of cleaners, scrubbers, brushes, etc., to one kind per purpose. Pick your favourite disinfectant, cleaner, spray – anything you use on a regular basis. If you need to have more than one brand in the house, find a storage space somewhere else for it (the laundry room, perhaps). Then maximize the space by hanging baskets on the doors, using the pipes or a tension rod to hang spray bottles, and corral similar items or things for a certain task in one area or container.    

The junk drawer – let’s face it, the best start here is to start over: empty the drawer. Using the corral theory will work here too; boxes or plastic containers that have lost their lids will work well (stick to square edges to maximize space). Ice cube trays work great for small items. When you put things back in, think again about having too many of something. Keep only what will be used regularly. 

Now that you are in the swing of things, carry the theme throughout the kitchen space. Simple tips to remember when you corral your items:

Maximize space – use stackable storage that you can see through. Use vertical space with hanging baskets for bags of snacks and produce. Don’t over-purchase, rather keep only what you will use between shopping trips.

Label everything – leftovers have a better chance of being used if you remember what they are, and jars of spice or powders can be easily mixed up. Containers in the freezer should be dated as well, so you can use them in a timely manner.

Combine overstock bags in a bin or box – bulk items like grains, nuts, dried fruit can be put together in a bigger (labelled) bin in your pantry. This keeps them from breaking and spilling and keeps handy stock in a reasonable sized container.

Other ways to maximize and organize your space involve thinking outside the lines:

Try dividing a drawer on the diagonal to hold extra-long utensils and shorter ones in the same drawer without tangling. Storing baking trays and muffin tins on their sides is more efficient too; add a tension rod in a cupboard if needed to divide the space.

Use a non-slip mat if you don’t want to divide a drawer but don’t want to fight through a sliding dangerous mess. They work wonders to avoid chips when stacking platters and bowls too.

Don’t be afraid to move things. Maybe those oven mitts could hang on a hook at the side of the oven or a cupboard drawer instead of being in a drawer? Wine glasses could hang under an upper cabinet instead of being inside it, knives could be on a magnetic strip on the wall instead of in a knife block… keep your mind open to new ideas.

In the spirit of keeping things handy, you can think of rotating seasonal items too, if you have extra storage space somewhere. BBQ accessories can be put away in the winter, and Christmas cookie cutters can be brought out only when needed. 

Organizing is also about planning, so think ahead to stay ahead of the mess. Look in the fridge before you shop to make sure you don’t buy that extra cucumber or lemon if you don’t need it. Plan on how you will use leftovers too – for lunch or turned into something else a few nights later? (Then they don’t go fuzzy in a back corner.)

Just like chefs prepare their “mise en place” when cooking a dish, having your kitchen space prepared for use makes it easier for you to perform at your best. You might even want to take on cooking a more challenging recipe. At the very least, you won’t curse every time you open that junk drawer overflowing with bits of everything. 


Advocate with your plate

When I was a kid, we were told to eat a balanced diet of the four food groups in the food pyramid and that would keep you healthy. End of conversation. Talk of allergies was rare, and people who ate a different kind of diet were those from another part of the world, where they had different foods. It was that simple.

Nowadays, the world is a bigger place, with bigger ideas. Intensive farming on a mass scale has become the norm. Climate change is affecting crop harvests and growing seasons. International transportation of food is now common throughout the year, so people in more places eat everything from everywhere. 

It turns out, this equation doesn’t work long term. Our planet can’t sustain what are currently doing, and apparently, it’s been trying to tell us that for a while. Drastic changes are required. Some of these changes involve altering our diet. How we eat has become a statement of how we live.

The latest trends in how to eat are led by the release of research projects. 

  • Many studies show that with an increased population and more developed countries now eating a Western diet with meat, we simply cannot raise enough animals. It takes too much land to house and feed them, and the carbon emissions created are damagingly high. The result: We need to eat less meat and dairy.
  • More and more people are developing allergies and intolerances to various foods and food groups. Some studies suggest this has to do with the increased processing of foods, from chemicals used in farming the ingredients to the greater mechanization of preparing final products. This achieves more homogenous foods that have a longer shelf life, but those man-made additions to the recipes don’t agree with some folks. The result: We need to offer substitutes for nuts, flour and sugar.
  • People lead increasingly busy lives, and many are looking to grab food on the go. But all the packaging created for portable food is piling high and recycling is not enough anymore to keep our planet clean. This trend breaks into two, with one option being an effort to keep the take-out platform, and the other being a switch to the “old school.”
    • If you are picking something up on your way, use your own container. This is not only for water and coffee; now many restaurants will fill your lunch containers or offer a meal in edible packaging. All kinds of wrapped dishes (think lettuce, tortillas, rice, etc.) now replace plastic film and take-out boxes. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your own drinking straw and cutlery.
    • If you want to make a bigger change, go back to cooking at home. All kinds of cookbooks and videos abound on how to cook a meal quickly. With a plant-based diet, many dishes take less time to prepare or can be cooked ahead and stored in the fridge. This method is especially useful for people who have allergies, as it allows them to totally control the ingredients used in their meals.

The biggest challenge at the dinner table when I was a kid was eating all the food. The crusts on my sandwich should be consumed because there were other kids starving in Africa and I shouldn’t be wasting. I had to eat my vegetables because they were good for me. Kids today, when they have the time to sit down with their families together to have a meal, must think about how to be responsible citizens for our planet. 

In our house we have not moved to an entirely plant-based diet. We do eat much less meat than we used to. We buy ingredients that are in season and as close to home as possible to minimize the carbon footprint. We buy items from smaller farms or companies to support them and their less invasive practices. And we take our own straws and cutlery with us everywhere, along with travel mugs and water bottles. We shop with net produce bags and reusable grocery totes.

There are a lot of changes to be made to get back to any kind of sustainability. But let’s not despair. Rather, let’s resolve to act. Anything you do will make a difference. Sharing ideas with others helps remind us all to be accountable. 

I’ll close with a quote from the poster child for our times, Greta Thunberg. A child’s perspective focuses on the future, and that is what we need most.

"It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make changes required possible.”

Are you ready for 2020?

The new colour for 2020 has been announced by Pantone (it’s called “classic blue” in case you’re wondering – a colour that instils a sense of calm).

And fashion has options for everyone, according to the forecasts by stylists in the know.

If you’re into the fitness craze with virtual classes like Peloton, you’ll love the tight leather looks, and the psychedelic prints will flatter your fit form.

But if you’re still working on your perfect body, hang in there – puffy sleeves and peplum tops that flare out at the hips will flatter all kinds of body types, as will the vertical stripes becoming popular.

The '70s are back, with a vengeance.

Of course, my interest in trends is more in the kitchen than the closet. After reading through the words of wisdom from many food pundits, I found the most common crazes happening in North American kitchens.

Some trends aren’t new at all really, but someone decided they now qualify as popular.

Does that happen when they reach the population at large, say through grocery stores or chain restaurants? At our house, these trends are more regular everyday parts of our cooking and eating regime:

Using edible flowers and wild plants in season

As a food geek lucky enough to have a garden, this one is not only easy but fun. Everything from dandelions safe from roaming pets to blossoms to herbs are fodder for my imagination. In winter I use dried herbs, flavoured oils and vinegars and even infused sugar and honey in my cooking and baking.

Zero waste cooking

I’ve been trying all my life to minimize wasted food, and not just by including a compost in my kitchen equation. Better calculations about portions while shopping and cooking as well as more planning with leftovers are my latest efforts to get right down to zero.

Sustainable to-go food

I was born of hippie parents, so re-using containers is in my blood. Nowadays, things like beeswax food wrap and cloth bags work wonders for daily shopping and food storage as well as taking things on the go.

With lots of plant-based recipes, it’s easy to have dishes that can safely be left at room temperature as well. (And if we could just stop buying all that bottled water, maybe we’d make some serious progress…)

The next category of trends seems to be a new twist on old favourites. There’s something to be said for a bit of familiarity in our diet, right?

Tweaking something can be a pleasant way to gently push one’s comfort zone limits.

Wood-fire cooking

This is now all the rage, and since more and more people have either purchased, constructed or found a place to go with a wood oven everyone is starting to look beyond pizza for choices.

There is a basic human curiosity with cooking using flames, so it makes sense that this is part of the current evolution of outdoor cooking.

Ethnic cuisine

A sense of adventure is important if you want to vary your diet, but it’s hard to go from meat and potatoes to eating chocolate covered ants in one step. Perhaps that’s why the ethnic eating trend always follows the travel trend.

Both Vietnam and West Africa have been popular destinations in the last few years, so it follows that their cuisines would become of bigger interest in our part of the world. Having just travelled to West Africa, I can offer a big thumbs up on this trend – check it out and odds are you’ll find something intriguing enough to try at home.

The last category is, of course, the avant-garde. Innovation is a part of evolution, so pushing the envelope often causes new trends to be formed. Marketing doesn’t hurt here, encouraging us to be a trendsetter and lead the wave.

Often these food trends are inspired by what’s popular elsewhere in our lives.

Mood food

This is the food trend that connects with our heightened awareness of better “wellness” in our lives. How certain foods make you feel is the theme here; for example, you might feel more relaxed after your turmeric latte or camomile tea.

This trend is moving beyond simple supplements to specific dishes, many of them geared to help us relax and de-stress, focus or gain energy when we need it. Restaurants are expanding on the idea of ambience by including it in the food experience; this is now called gastrophysics.

Indigenous produce

Here we have the trend that offers us a way to represent a respect for another part of our local world.

We focused on farmers with the “eat local and seasonal” trends, and now we look to history and indigenous communities to gain a local understanding in a big picture perspective.

This trend looks beyond bannock and candied salmon for even more practical wisdom in using locally sustainable ingredients. Do we dare dream that reconciliation could be furthered around the dinner table?

I can’t help but wonder if the reconnection with the 70s is what has drawn us to a search for a more integrated awareness in what we will be eating this year.

Is this food revolution, with so many changes in how we are eating and what is on our plate, akin to the sexual revolution from fifty years ago? It’s a big mouthful, that’s for sure – so I’m going to ponder it more in next week’s column.

Till then, bon appetit – whatever you’re eating.

Kick new year's stress

New Year’s is a time known for resolutions; we start new regimes and make new goals.

  • Gym memberships go up
  • Diet plans are popular
  • Planners are filled with steps needed to change our lives for the better.

It’s always a stressful time, but when the new year is also the start of a new decade, it turns up the pressure. People feel like they have to perform.

I like the idea of taking stock of one’s life when the calendar starts afresh, but I also think setting oneself up for success is important.

Many gym memberships are hardly ever used, becoming a wasted expense and no improvement in one’s fitness level. The same is true when lofty goals are set that involve so many steps as to seem overwhelming.

I am not a life coach and my focus here is generally food and drink, so I don’t want to pretend to have a grand solution.

I do know what’s worked for me, though, so I am going to share it in hopes it might help ease the stress you might be feeling with that new calendar glaring at you.

Without further adieu, here are my top five tips for retaining one’s sanity at the start of the year, while still feeling like progress is being made in becoming a better version of oneself.

Give yourself a break.

In the same way that we can’t eat all the time (although we try our best during the holiday season), we need to make sure every moment isn’t occupied with “to-dos.”

If you like the SMART goal acronym — remember the A stands for attainable and R is for realistic —Include a goal that reminds you to have fun in life so you can enjoy the process.

Integrate your efforts.

Keeping with my theme of eating and food, I can remind you that eating well is about balancing the nutrients and portions.

Living well is about being active and thinking positive, and making a plan that allows you to eat your meals at proper times and include activities to balance your schedule.

Think of goals that fit, like getting a 10-visit pass to a gym if your schedule doesn’t make a full membership financially smart.

Do something with others to help get you over any humps.

This one does not mean get a friend to join you in eating a tub of Haagen-Dazs if you have a rough week. Rather it’s about having someone to help you be accountable at the gym, or who can offer you more healthy recipes or financial tips.

Asking for help from friends is part of setting ourselves up for success.

Include rewards in your plan.

Yup, this means you get an occasional cookie, or a caramel latte or whatever makes you smile.

Using the SMART acronym again, keep the rewards specific so you don’t get off track. And keep the rewards coming.

They shouldn’t just be at the finish line; you deserve to enjoy the accomplishment of completing steps and stages of a grand plan. (This is akin to dipping your finger in the cookie dough — no guilt is necessary here.)

Review your progress and adjust your goals if necessary.

We get to use the last of the SMART letters here: M is for measurable and T is for time-bound, which means you can track exactly how well you’re doing (then you know when you deserve that reward).

It also means you give yourself a chance to adjust your plan if the rest of your world changes.

Don’t beat yourself up if your goal is no longer attainable at that point in your life – just choose a new goal to keep moving forward. It’s like when you try a new recipe and it flops.

You review your work and decide – can you do better the next time you make it, or is it a bad example for you? Maybe it required more skill than you had just then or equipment you didn’t own.

You might notice I didn’t focus much on the added pressure of a new decade. I don’t think you should bother with this either. Just because the year is a nice round number doesn’t make it any more important than any other year.

This applies for your age too.

My hubby likes to say that we deserve to celebrate every year with great enthusiasm, as each new year we get to celebrate is a lot better than the alternative – not being here at all.

Here’s to a New Year full of all the things you want. At the top of my list is good health, happiness, and quality time with friends and loved ones.

Those goals make the other achievements easier to reach.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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