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Surviving in a Small Kitchen (For Those Too Broke to Eat Out)

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Ever since my food processor inspired me, I've been searching for ways to improve my tiny kitchen experience. Complaining about it didn't work, and requests to my apartment manager to renovate my kitchen went ignored (just like all my noise complaints about the asshole bass player who lives upstairs, and all the pleas to fix my temperamental toilet). So, I consulted books and blogs, looking for how-tos for have-nots. Here the five best tips I picked up for making a small kitchen work. None of them excuse the shameful layout of my apartment, but they make cooking in it much more pleasant.

Hang everything If you have it, you should get a hook for it. Hanging my pots and pans from the ceiling cleared out a cabinet and the drawer under the oven and eliminated the angry clanging that ensued whenever I needed a pan. Unhooking a pot from overhead also feels about significantly safer than when I crawled on a hot stove to reach a pan in the overhead cabinet. Now, I kind of want to hang up my cookie sheets and loaves of stale bread to make a giant, crude wind chime. Because food is art, or feeds the soul, or something similar. If I had knives, I would store them on a magnetic strip adhered to my back-splash. That is, if I had a back-splash. If I did, I would also have a narrow shelf and put things there.

Any space is counter space Elegant design is for people with more than 7/8 of a counter top. Jillian Pierce, of the blog She Knows, says to place the microwave on the refrigerator. I say to balance cutting boards and baking sheets on unused burners or sofa arms or lidded trashcans. I put mine on the floor once, and it was terrible. Don't ever do that.

JG Kitchens suggests installing shelves on the backs of doors so cans of Pam and seasonings can move off the sacred counter and into the pantry. My pantry door is flimsy and fits crooked, but I managed to put up a few shelves using Command Strips, and freed up another drawer.

Ration your tools The Kitchn says the only things you need are a good knife, a good pan and a wooden spoon (level of quality: optional.) With those and my skill level, I expect that I can make a fantastic bowl of Campbell's soup.

They make the argument that we should forgo our many kitchen tools to return to the ways of our ancestors. I disagree. I'm pretty sure my ancestors were Polish dirt farmers. Maybe they churned butter using the milk from an emaciated cow. I don't know. I'm not churning butter. I have sissy arms, and a butter churn takes up too much space in the kitchen.

There's a point buried there, somewhere.

In any case, use a fork instead of a whisk. Don't collect wooden spoons. That thing you have to peddle to make it whisk something? You must be joking. Have just one set of reliable cookware. At my apartment we have a salad spinner, but we have no business having one. We also have three spatulas, two pans that are the same size and a broken pair of tongs that usually has to be fished out of whatever I'm cooking. All of these superfluous things take up space and lead to frustration, which leads to aggravated drawer-closing, which leads to smashed fingers and jostled flatware, which, if you're following the flowchart, leads to tears. I think I would cry 20 percent less if I had one good spatula.

Ration your appliances Appliances take up counter or storage space, so choose wisely. I like my food processor because it saves me the time and space of cutting boards and knives. Smitten Kitchen knows of mixer that wears enough hats to do the work of several machines, with the proper attachments. I broke up with my toaster and now make toast in a frying pan. I have a small, single-serving coffee maker. I should get rid of it, but if I had the money to buy coffee every day, then I would have the money to move to a bigger apartment.

I think George Foreman grills are a waste of time because they take up too much space and I hate wrestling it into the sink, but a lot of my small-kitchen friends think it makes grilling meat much easier (easier than, I guess, squeezing an entire grill in your kitchen.) I'm happy frying meat in my one small pan, stored overhead on a hook, but fine. The grill can come too.

Besides those things that do the work of bigger things, other appliances should move out to make room. A loaf of store-bought bread is more practical than a bread maker. Nobody here really needs a deep-fat fryer. Or that milkshake maker. Take it back to the store, now.

Fewer dishes When I moved in, my roommate and I had dueling sets of dishware. Two sets of plates, bowls and glasses took up too much space. We had mismatched mixing bowls that sat next to each other in the sink, beneath the crusty serving dishes. And also, no matter how small your kitchen is, the only thing more shameful than dishes in a sink are dishes in a bathtub. I run my dishwasher like crazy, which makes my roommate cringe when he opens the utility bill. He says we should clean everything by hand, but I say we're neither homeless nor pioneers, and so the dishwasher will not be a special treat reserved for birthdays and Christmas.

I digress. Buy mixing bowls that fit inside of each other (taking up a quarter of cabinet space) and are also nice enough to double as serving bowls (Smitten Kitchen offers a nice set here.)

Follow City of Ate on Twitter: @cityofate.

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