Forgive me for these next few paragraphs. It will appear self-congratulatory, but I’ve had many friends and family encourage me to share what I’ve learned.

Last summer, my friend Heather house-sat for me. Later, she said that she learned many good tips from the way I set up my kitchen and the foods I purchased. She even wrote an article about it, entitled, “What I Learned From My Friend’s Kitchen.”

I was surprised. I’ve never considered myself a guru in this area. But after living in several different kitchens, I see what she means. I did set it up well. It’s designed to be used. There are multiple wooden cutting boards readily available (wood is better for your knives and provide a natural antiseptic for your food). Basics like white and wheat flour, corn meal, sugar, and powdered sugar are on the counter and only need the lids removed to quickly add to a recipe. A bowl of kosher salt is always near the stove. And olive oil should never be put away. Knives are arranged on a magnet on the wall. Wooden spoons and spatulas are next to the stove in a vase, not even in a drawer, which would add one extra step. Measuring cups and bowls are quickly pulled from the front of a cupboard. The mixer is on the counter, ready to mix.

If you find yourself doing repetitive actions such as pulling out and putting away, consider rearranging it for more handy use. If you find yourself avoiding cooking from scratch because of having to dig out certain tools or ingredients, consider either bringing the tools to the front of the cupboard or onto the counter. Arrange for success. What would make you want to cook good food?

People who need everything removed from the counters to have that clean, pristine look will avoid cooking, because everything will need to be pulled out again and put away again. No wonder people don’t bake or cook from scratch. I’ve always asserted that it doesn’t take that much more time to make a cake from scratch than to assemble a boxed version. But when I’ve said that, I’ve seen people look confused when I said it. Now I understand. What a pain to stoop and remove items in front to get to items in the back. What frustration to have to dig for ingredients with pots or pans or books stacked upon them! And then, when it is all eaten, it all must be arranged back in the cupboards. The stooping, the pulling out, the pushing in would cause anyone to buy pre-made lasagna and boxed soups and cookie dough in tubs! Families with intentions to cook good food are doomed from the start if they don’t take steps to make it easy on themselves.

Elida was surprised to learn my food budget. It was startling low to her. But staples are not expensive. Packaged food is. We buy all our beef and pork from a local farmer once a year and have it in the freezer. We ask the butcher to cure most of the pork into bacon and sausage and use that for flavor in stews and pastas. We request that most of the beef be cut in useable portions — less roasts, more hamburgers and steaks. I still have to find a farmer for chickens, which I usually buy whole at Costco and then use the pieces in leftovers later in the week. Fish is often given to us or I buy it when the price is good. Then, it’s just the vegetables and grains to compliment it: flour, corn meal, rice, pastas, tortillas, bread, cous-cous, etc. and whatever is in season for the  veggies. A once-a-month visit to Costco and Trader Joe’s gets those. And a once-a-week visit to the local farmer or store for milk and eggs and fresh vegetables is necessary. The bakery outlet offers sliced bread for almost nothing. Lunch is leftovers. The stock pot is on the stove. All of the ends of carrots and onions go into it. Add the bones. Cook it for hours once a week and you have the basis for good food. It amuses me to consider how people think this is kind of gross. But can you imagine where the stock comes from in those cute little boxes of broth? Big nasty vats of who knows what and from who knows where? Wouldn’t it be better to make your own? And it is so healthy. Jewish penicillin.

I try to follow these few rules for good health for the family. We have a bowl of fruit on the table. Those are the only snacks allowed. Fruit proves whether they are really hungry. Desserts must be homemade. Therefore, I only eat sweets when I crave something enough to make it. Which isn’t very often. I serve a small portion of everything to the kids. We usually use the salad plates to eat on. Once everything is eaten, they may have as much corn bread, biscuits, pasta, etc. as they want. But they must eat the other stuff first. Point is, everything offered is healthy. And there is always a favorite to ensure that everyone fills up. All my kids began as picky eaters. All of them have been trained out of it — that is to say, now they seem to be picky in the other direction — “Red dye gives me a headache! Can I have some carrots instead?”

But enough about that. I somehow got into giving advice about my kitchen when what I wanted to share is what I learned from my sister’s closet. I came to her house with the same three pants and the same three shirts I’ve been wearing for two months. We’re close enough that it’s acceptable for me to raid her closet. Elida called me from Sacramento. I was back at her house.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Putting our clothes away,” I quipped.

She laughed. I bought her a pair of shoes for her birthday.

“So did you buy these for me or for you?” she said.

“If you don’t like them,” I answered, “You can take them back and buy something real-nice for yourself.” I was quoting Uncle Eddy after he handed his family’s Christmas wish-list to Clark.

Anyway, she lives in a 1920’s house which means that the closets are … tiny. It is the size of a coat closet. She doesn’t borrow the other closets for her clothes. She doesn’t have boxes of clothes stored in the basement. And she always looks like a million bucks.

Since I’ve been here and borrowing her clothes, I’ve been looking pretty good myself. I walk out the bedroom door and all the girls say, “Oooh, Mommy! You’re so pretty!” They act surprised. Like they aren’t used to me looking pretty. Hmmm. What does that mean? Have I been relying too much on my mommy yoga pants and tennie-runners? Probably.

I noticed that every piece in Elida’s closet is fantastic. It looks great on Elida. She doesn’t go for a lot of basics and boring things. Every blouse is a wow. Every pair of jeans look great. Every pair of shoes are stunning. And they are all comfortable. Those sexy heels that hurt your toe? Out they go. There is only room for comfy, Italian-made, lovely concoctions that go surprisingly well with a lot of things. Did you know that red patent leather can be a neutral if you don’t have a lot of other boring pairs of shoes crowding out the space? Or leopard print boots rarely clash? She must throw something out for every item she purchases. There isn’t a single item in her closet that doesn’t do something for her.

Her closet reminds me of the meals I serve my family. Every dish available does something for them. So whatever they choose is good. There is no way to do anything but win.

I’m inspired. When I unpack, most of it is going to go. I’ll start adding a little at a time. Piece by piece, I plan to set myself up for success so that I always look good and I’m comfortable. Maybe this itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie house will work to my benefit.The closets will help.

I hope that some of these ideas inspire you too! Happy arranging of your kitchen. Happy selection of your closet.

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