Small Space. Big Life.

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The Airline Galley Kitchen

Like a lot of people who live in small houses, we have a relatively small kitchen. I call it the airline galley and joke that I should have gone to flight attendant training to learn how to cook in it. We have all the features that make small kitchens so…. special. Like a fridge crammed into the corner so you can’t open the door all the way, less than 6 linear feet of counter space (conveniently broken up into small, just-barely-not-usable pieces), a hood that recirculates cooking fumes and grease through the kitchen/dining room / living room, giving it both the smell and the cleaning opportunities of a run-down diner, and a “pantry” that is really just a glorified cupboard. The oven door and the dishwasher door cannot both be open at the same time, as they bump into each other if they are. There is no reasonable way for two adults to share the space unless they are a). a couple snuggling, b). Have no concept of personal space (see item a) or c). have ways of existing outside of the space-time continuum, while still being able to stir the tomato sauce so that it doesn’t stick.

We would call it tiny, except we are well-versed in Real-Estate-Agent-Speak, so we know that our kitchen is actually “cozy.”

Since we love to cook, we have quite a bit of cookware, including several specialty items (a blender we use for making salsa, a cake pan with mini-cakes in the shape of ladybugs on it, a sushi-rolling mat) that aren’t used regularly but which get trotted out occasionally for some off-the-beaten-path food experimentation. However, a recent post at Miss Minimalist got me thinking — what’s my bare-minimum kitchen kit and kaboodle look like?

I thought at first that it might be more of a camping kitchen — you know, titanium pots, whisper-light sporks, maybe a blue-speckled enameled coffee mug tossed in for ambiance and, oh, yes, a tremendously cool rocket stove that can burn used dryer lint and heat water in five seconds over a flame that looks like it was inspired by the NASA rocket launch program, a roaring funnel of blue-flecked golden fire — but then realized — no. I like camping. I like cooking outdoors. But home-cooked, from-scratch meals are important to me and our family, and we cook at least two hot meals every day. Plus, I don’t have a good place to store all the dryer lint I’d need for the amount of cooking we do. It just wouldn’t be practical.

Other reasons this wouldn’t do? Camping cookware is often lightweight (for easy packing) and modestly sized (for smaller groups), and would simply be an exercise in frustration for me if I was planning on using it daily. I’m already cooking on a finicky electric range, with a main back burner that switches to “high” without warning (again, a special feature that makes our kitchen unique); I don’t want to be battling too-small and flimsy cookware while I’m at it.

So what, then , would my bare minimum kitchen kit look like? Well, it would look something like this:

1. A steel flat-bottomed wok (with a lid). It is simply the most versatile pot in our kitchen. Because it has a rim diameter of 16″ or so, tapering to a flat bottom of 6″, we can (and do) use it as a small skillet to fry or scramble eggs, as a saucepan, as a saute pan, as a soup/pasta pot, as a steamer (with the addition of a steamer basket) and as a prep/mixing/salad bowl. We can take it camping and cook over a fire with it; it can hang by its handle (ours has two, one on each side, instead of a long single handle, and I really like this feature). It’s basically nonstick when it’s well seasoned. I love it.

2. My Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Soup pot, braising pot, bread-baking pan. Emergency door stop.

3. Our 9″ seasoned cast-iron skillet. It can double as a cake pan, as well. Hey, I didn’t say I made fancy cakes. (Except: See #9 below)

4. Our 2 quart Le Creuset sauce pan. Durable, perfect for cooking cereals, sauces and reheating small amounts of soups. It also holds a single batch of homemade play-dough well. Stands in for small dumbbells when I get the urge to tone my triceps while whipping up some grits (or, if I’m feeling classy, polenta).

5. My Global-brand Japanese Nakiri chef’s knife. This is a forged knife with a handle that isn’t riveted on — it’s an integrated part of the knife. I find it easy to use, well-balanced, strong, and will never again have to deal with the knife handle rivets breaking and the handle disintegrating in my hand, which has been the tragedy that has taken our last two chef’s knives.

6. A corkscrew.

7. A large, rimmed, steel cookie sheet (a half-sheet). These are impossibly useful, doubling as prep surface, cooking surface, storage surface, baking sheet, and make a swell stand-in hand fan for when you overheat the oil in the wok and smoke out the kitchen. (There’s a reason I think these things are indispensable).

8. A nice, big, composite cutting board with a handle. I love tossing ours in the dishwasher after breaking down a chicken on it, and I find it easier to keep in place on our countertop than a wooden board.

9. My Bundt pan. It’s a unitasker, but I am a firm believer in the Power of Bundt to make an everyday cake seem particularly special, not to mention easy to cut. I’m not giving this rippled ring of Middle America dessert nirvana up.

Oh, I probably should toss a wooden spoon and vegetable peeler and soup ladle and stainless steel colander in there somewhere, along with our $10 digital instant-read thermometer (which has really calmed down our barbecued chicken adventures; I no longer feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette with salmonella). I am also deeply attached to my stand mixer and food processor. But when it comes down to it, the list above (with the exception of Beloved Bundt) is the core of our kitchen.

What do these things have in common? They’re durable. They’re multitaskers (well, mostly). They’re a pleasure to work with. They aren’t gimmicky. Above all, they perform consistently and well over time. They endure.

In fact, we’re expecting this lineup to endure for a very long time. Long enough, perhaps, for Bundt cakes to come back into fashion.


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