10 Things You Should do in the Kitchen this Year to Improve Your Life
We all need regular checkpoints to pause and take a bird's-eye view account of what's going on in our lives. I know that not everyone is super into the New Year’s resolution thing, but for those of us who aren’t quite yet mindful enough to transcend the 12-month calendar our society generally tracks time by, the start of a new year is a pretty good moment for this type of reflection. I find it incredibly cathartic and useful at year’s end to reflect on the year that was (what went well and what I could have done better) and then make a list of goals—a mix of very specific actionable items along with broader, looser concepts—that I aim to work towards in the next 365 days. And given that food is a necessary life source, it makes sense to me that our kitchens can set the scene for a number of actions that impact our quality of living and well being—in profound ways and in little details. With that being that, below is a list of things to accomplish in your home kitchen that are apt to positively contribute to your life both within and beyond what you eat this year. You'll find a blend of daily goals, occasional tasks, and simple one-time to-do's; pick one or two (or all ten, if you're ambitious) to apply to your own kitchen doings and see what kind of awesome you can wreak on 2017. You never know how much of an impact even a seemingly small action can make on your year.
1. Sharpen your blades.
Let me be the first to admit, I am terrible about actually doing this. But folks, it’s a real thing. Much like yourself, your knives get worn down with day-to-day responsibilities. Slicing, dicing, cutting, washing, being stored loose in a drawer (please don’t do that if at all possible), etc. contribute to the gradual dulling of your kitchen knives’ blades. And while a dull blade is certainly annoying enough from an efficiency standpoint, it’s also a real problem from a safety stance. You are 99% more likely to injure yourself with a dull knife than with a sharp one (this is not a legitimate, verifiable statistic… but I made it up feeling very confident that it’s probably about true). If you are using them regularly, you ought to sharpen your knives at least every 2 to 3 months. Supposing you don’t have the equipment to sharpen your knives at home, as many home cooks don’t, there’s likely somewhere in town you can take them for sharpening. Many kitchen stores, such as Sur la Table, and outdoors stores (i.e. places that sell hunting knives) offer knife sharpening services.
2. Take out the trash.
On a daily or every-other-day basis—as opposed to just whenever you can’t shove any more crap into the bag. The idea being that if you intentionally take out the trash regularly, you will never again come home to that pervasive rotting garbage odor (or sob pathetically over a torn trash bag spilling its guts out onto your floor). We’ve all been there and it’s just plain upsetting at the end of a long day. This is especially pertinent advice for those living in tighter quarters, as strong, icky scents tend to affect more of your living space. I have adopted this practice into my own kitchen maintenance routine within the past 8 months, and I can say with honest enthusiasm, it’s a small action that has made a noticeably pleasant impact.
3. Donate from your pantry.
Every so often, go shopping in your own pantry and fill up a bag with some shelf stable goods that have been there a few weeks—like unopened packages of pasta, rice, other grains, canned beans, etc.—and drive it down to your local shelter or soup kitchen. While you're there, ask if there’s anything else you could help out with.
4. Consolidate your obscene collection of mismatched plastic containers.
You know you want to. The time is now. Get that situation under control, it’s gonna feel good.
5. Use your water boiling time wisely.
I’ve been advised many times by many smart people to put a pot of water on to boil, first thing, when getting home for the day to cook dinner. Because whatever you’re cooking, there’s a good chance you’ll need it (and if you don’t, no big deal, just dump it) and bringing a large pot of water to a boil always takes longer than you think it will. And still, I never do this. Ever. Not even once. Which is only because I’m scatter-brained, not because it’s not good advice. But on the occasions that I do need a pot of water at a rolling boil, and end up pausing with the rest of my cooking until that happens, I try to use that time as a little gift to do something nice for myself. Oftentimes, for me, that something is stretching—yes, as in doing lunges at the kitchen counter. I find myself physically tensing up a lot throughout the day and I’m awful at incorporating stretching into my workout routine because “I don’t have time,” so finding little moments like this to loosen up my muscles is incredibly helpful. Even if it’s not physical stretching, I’d advise you to take your boiling water minutes and use them for something you find calming and productive.
6. Involve your kids.
I know everything goes faster and easier when you just do it yourself, but on evenings you have a little more time to spare, recruit the kids to help make dinner happen. Teach them your tricks, explain what certain ingredients are and how to treat them, have some fun, show them what a sink full of dirty dishes means in your world. The kitchen is the best room in the house for family bonding, in my opinion. Plus, the more often you do it, the sooner they’ll be in there showing you a thing or two.
7. Deal with your cast iron situation.
This either means buy yourself some cast iron cookware this year (here’s why) or be sure to properly clean and season the equipment you already have.
8. Cook at home more often.
This is something of a vague resolution that a lot of people set at the beginning of a new year, but it seems like the ones who succeed at it are the ones who attach intentional number goals to the idea before proceeding. Set a goal that’s reasonable for your household for how many nights a week you would like to prepare dinner at home, versus going out or grabbing takeout—then, put some legitimate effort into making it happen. Get everyone in your home on board and make it a team initiative. To jumpstart the process, consider taking the entire month of January off from eating out, sort of like a 31-day restaurant cleanse. No doubt, that’s a tough challenge, but starting off with an exceptionally difficult goal might be just what you need to set you up for success.
9. Cook one new food every month.
Again, setting a concrete number goal can seriously improve the odds of this actually happening. Expanding your cooking horizons can be as simple as throwing a new, interesting recipe you found flipping through magazines at the doctor’s office into next week’s dinner line-up, or maybe planning a weekend baking project to tackle something that seems intimidating but awesome, like babka, or hell—try cooking a vegetable you hated as a kid to see if you might like it now.
And on that note, just cook more vegetables in general.
10. Have someone new over for dinner.
Despite being #10 on this list, this one ranks high on my personal 2017 goals list. It may seem super easy if you’re an active entertainer (in which case, maybe your goal should be having someone new over every month), but I know that I tend to stick within a pretty regular group of dinner party partners, and very rarely invite someone who isn’t a “usual” over for a casual supper and conversation or even just for a post-work drink and snack. Having new people over and feeding them is often something of a social stretch for an introvert like myself, but it’s one that can pay off tenfold. Opening up your home and breaking bread is an excellent way to foster community, build new friendships, bolster social skills, give your eyeballs a break from your phone screen, enjoy brain-stimulating conversation, and generally show interest in faces other than the ones you look at for the majority of your waking hours. Not to mention, a dinner invite could mean a lot to the new kid at the office or the couple that recently moved in next door.