Home is Where the Heart is, Or the Kitchen is the Heart of the Home
Every time I step into the kitchen to get to cooking for the up coming weeks, I get a little excited. The atmosphere is soothing, with music playing quietly in the background while I burn a candle, and the lights are a bit dimmer than usual. The setting is cozy, warm and inviting. This is my image of what the Danes call, Hygge. Not to mention all of the delicious meals I make!
And there’s also a similar feeling when I’m cooking dinner with my family on Friday family dinner nights. It’s a little different however. We all pitch in and lend a hand so the pressure isn’t all on me to get it done. But the feelings of cooking something tasty together are the same. With the added bonus of good conversation. The music still plays in the background while a candle is burning, adding the “cozy” or Hygge to the night’s event. All in all a great experience.
So I wasn’t all that surprised when I came across this article on “The Good News Network” about how taking a cooking class has a magic pill like effect on our physical and mental well-being. This was great news, and collaborated on what I was already feeling about the experience. It got me thinking about what the elements are that come together to make a house a home? And how do we create those elements for ourselves? I’ve got a few ideas on the matter. Let me show you what I’ve come up with.
The Elements Of A Cozy Home Start In The Kitchen
As I’ve said above, there are a few important components to building a comfortable, inviting home. For me, the number one element is cleanliness. If my living space isn’t organized and clean, then my mind isn’t able to rest. I keep focusing on the different aspect of what’s bothering me, what’s out of place.
For example, if my bedside table isn’t clear of clutter, I feel ill-at-ease. When things feel like they are just kind of drifting around my living space without a home, that’s when I know I need to organize.
Clean, Not Sterile
And that’s not to say that I’m so obsessed with cleaning that my environment is sterile. I’ve known people who clean to the point of sterility. And this carries with it almost the same ill-at-ease feelings that living in a messy or dirty environment brings.
A good example of this is that when I make my bed, I don’t pull my covers taut over my mattress. I have a neatly folded duvet on the left side of my bed and I only sleep on the right side of my mattress. So making my bed proper would take a considerable amount of time. And this is time I just don’t want to spend making my bed.
So instead, I loosely lay my blanket on top of the side of the bed I sleep on. So my bed never looks neat and tidy as a bed with tightly formed hospital corners would. Instead it has a neat yet lived in feel. As though the room is thoughtfully cared for, but still embodies the character of something that’s been utilized, loved. Clean but not perfect. And all this to say that living in a sterile environment isn’t ideal.
How Clean Is Your Kitchen? You Can Usually Tell By The State Of Your Cutting Board
I use the same methodology when it comes to cleaning and caring for my kitchen. And the same way some people feel about making your bed every morning after you wake, I feel about cleaning my cutting board after I’m done using it.
The kitchen is where we spend a lot of time in our homes. It houses most all of our nutritional needs. We create our favorite meals there and it’s the place where we get clean water from. For staying hydrated throughout the day or to clean and cook with. And don’t forget watering the plants! The kitchen is literally where life is sustained.
So it stands to reason that if you neglect this room of your house, you are neglecting a large part of who you are as a person. Food is so integral to us bonding with one another, as well as connecting to our own and exploring other cultures, that it’s hard to imagine a life void of this type of expression.
The Cutting Board
For me, this is most noticeable on the cutting board. The cutting board is the hub of the kitchen, and where almost every aspect of our meals come together. We process almost all our foods on it, use it as a holding place for most all our ingredients while getting our recipes prepped for cooking and it is paired with arguably the most important tool in the kitchen, our knife.
For these reasons, when I step up to my cutting board and see a stain from a recently cut tomato on it, or crumbs from a cut sandwich or piece of toast, I think, “what type of animal would disrespect the kitchen in this way?” This is hyperbole, but when I see a dirty cutting board I feel that there’s a little bit of neglect happening when it comes to respecting the ways we nourish and care for ourselves. Also, I don’t want to cut a fresh piece of melon on a spot where an onion and some garlic were recently diced/minced. Garlicy honeydew, no thank you.
Also, I’ve recently been oiling my cutting board and it’s never looked better. If you have the means, or already have a wooden cutting board, I suggest you get one and/or oil it regularly. It protects the board from water damage while also giving it a warm glow that looks amazing.
How Organized Are You? It Matters
Organization is an important part of the experience as well. For the same reasons that I feel ill-at-ease in cluttered surroundings, when I’m not sure where my kitchen tools or ingredients are, or have foods that are past their expiration date, I feel as though I’m neglecting an important part of my life.
For example, I work at a family homeless shelter six days a month. A few weeks ago I decided to organize the kitchen cabinets. I took a look at the state of the cabinets before I started. It was pretty bad. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the cabinets, scattering food debris all over the shelves in no particular order. I opened one cabinet to find that it was housing three plates. That was it. Not to mention all the food that was expired that I ended up tossing.
Cleaning the Cabinets
So I started asking the families what they would use more of if I brought food stuffs up from the pantry? Their answers? The most common one was, “I don’t eat the food from here”. This made me sad. We had neglected the food and kitchen so badly that people no longer wanted to use the incredible amount of free resources we had for them. And there was a lot of food that needed to be utilized.
I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to cook in that kitchen the way it was either. And they’re not any less deserving of a clean, usable kitchen just because they’re homeless. That’s when I got to work. Tossing the old, out of date items and filling the cabinets with fresh stores, the way they’re displayed in a grocery. While I was organizing, I left the cabinets open to not only keep track of my progress, but also to show the families that we have items for them to use, so jump in.
When I was done stocking the cabinets, everyone was excited. Even those who said they didn’t eat the food there were interested and using what I was bringing up. The kitchen now looks clean and inviting, more home like. And people are now gathering in the kitchen, cooking meals and connecting. The kitchen no longer resembles that of a twenty-something’s party house that maybe had a bag of stale chips and a can of dated beef stew, with a sink full of week old dishes. No bueno.
Rotating Your Stock to Stay Organized, Fresher Is Better
Next on the agenda was to take care of the root of the problem, the pantry. While I was going through the pantry to find goods for the cabinets, I was startled by how many food items had met their expiration dates. There were bins of half opened cases of food with expiration dates later than some unopened cases. Whole cases of canned goods and other items were past date. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
I went through each item, checked their date and found a place for them on the shelves. And I was rotating the stock, breaking down boxes, discarding the old, it was a dramatic shift.
I felt bad about throwing out some of the canned goods that were past their expirations by only a few months. This was because a quick google search tells me that they’re still viable usually for a year or two after the date on the can. But the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a psychological issue of using expired goods.
The Psychology of using Food Past it’s Date
Imagine you’re in a homeless shelter. You have a mountain of problems and issues to get over and that’s not including taking care of your basic needs. Needs such as doing your laundry, cleaning your living space and cooking meals. Also imagine that you have one or two children in tow, or are pregnant. Now it comes time to make dinner and you ask for a can of carrots because you don’t have a car to get to the closest grocery store. Which is only two miles away but a long walk for somebody with a child and arm loads of grocery bags. And that’s if you have the money to buy them. You get the carrots only to find that the expiration date is marked for nine months prior and you don’t want to dig around the cabinets that look as though an animal has nested in them. How do you feel then?
I’ve never been in that situation before, but I know for sure that it can’t be a good feeling. Feeling as though someone else feels that you’re not worth the effort to provide fresh food for sounds like a difficult place to be. That’s why organizing and rotating your food stores is so important. For feeling a sense of ease and comfort in your kitchen while cooking. For me, knowing that I can grab anything off the shelf and use it without worrying about whether it’s turned is an act of self-care.
Creating Hygge, Bringing It All Together
Once You’ve brought all the elements of the physical space together, then it will be easy to bring friends and family into the mix. And adding the final touches to the space. I usually have a candle and some music playing while I’m cooking and bring my meals together. The soft lighting from the candle and soothing sounds help to bring an element of calm to the kitchen. And it allows me to slow down a bit and relax.
All that’s left is to find what makes your space, more you. Maybe you have a favorite drink you can prepare for yourself to help unwind. Do you use a diffuser? Find a scent you enjoy and fill your space with it. My go to is lavender oil. It brings a soothing quality to the room while not overpowering what I’m cooking.
And don’t forget the conversation! Invite a few friends over or start a family dinner night. This can be a great time to connect and get to know each other a little better while creating new memories. And don’t forget to relax. Go slow and take your time. There’s no rush and there’s something to be said for enjoying the process. I usually do just this when I’m cooking my self-care dinner on Tuesday nights. You’ll def feel better about yourself and your surroundings. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.