If you’ve been following the story so far, you know that Ken urges people to make relatively inexpensive changes that have a huge impact. Moldings and painting are his prime examples of this principle. But some of the most important customizations are almost imperceptible to outsiders, but provide intense, daily satisfaction.
In the video below, I give a quick tour highlighting several easy, cheap kitchen projects that lower the inertia that can discourage major bouts of cooking. I’ve provided more details below.
What’s shocking is that some changes require only a lousy tool from Harbor Freight and a capital investment under $5. The return on investment — fresh-baked bread, homemade pies, an entire Thanksgiving dinner cooked from scratch including stuffing made with homemade bread — not only makes a house a home, but has measurable health benefits, including lowering Ken’s cholesterol 100 points in 30 days.
Video: Jennifer’s Kitchen Customizations
What kinds of changes? Well, take the cup hook Ken installed to hold my engagement ring while I bake. Unlike the opal ring I inherited from a great-great aunt, which thrives on the occasional bath in olive oil, the setting on my engagement ring tends to get clogged with pizza dough and other dulling nastiness. I’d never worn a gemstone before, so I was puzzled and nervous. I’m highly motivated, but even this tiny disincentive prevented me from learning to bake bread.
Most people — myself included — tend to spout a certain kind of moralism surrounding habits. If I even entertained conscious thoughts about my ring-dough issue, I would think, “Christ, I need to suck it up and just bake bread!” And that’s true. But the best engineering solutions don’t expect people to contravene their natural and healthy tendency to do what’s easy and requires little thought. They make it easy to do the right thing. Successful changes in health habits generally entail close scrutiny of this sort of minutia.
So Ken and I considered various schemes, including a dedicated tray among the shopping lists and dishtowels, but we settled on this as the most practical choice. It’s clearly visible — we can both tell at a glance as we leave the kitchen whether I’ve forgotten my ring — and it’s perfectly secure, unlikely to be knocked around by cats or accidentally flung down the garbage disposal. And as a result, last night we dined on mushrooms grilled with basil and rosemary, decked with tomatoes and spinach and piled onto home-made buns. Oh, and shortcake with strawberry-rhubarb sauce. Pretty impressive when you consider my previous steadfast refusal to buy food that required preparation beyond removal from the fridge.
That’s just one example. I used to avoid making curries because I hated hunting among all my jars of spices. Ken built me a simple, extensive spice rack, and I’ve labelled and alphabetized them. It took a surprising amount of study and debate to come up with a good design, but now I make Thai and North African curries at will.
Big companies are happy to suggest that if you would just buy a thnead, or several thneads, you are sure to take up canning home-grown tomatoes or baking souffles. The home improvement industry may suggest that you can’t cook until you knock out a wall or install granite countertops. For most people, though, the problem isn’t lack of space or gadgets; for them, buying specialized equipment tends to increase guilt without addressing the root cause.
So if you find you don’t cook much, the chances are that your real reasons are small and easily solved. “I don’t have time” often just means, “I find it hard to keep the cupboards stocked with staples,” and “I work too much” upon examination may mean, “Cooking is so troublesome in my kitchen that despair exhausts me whenever I think about it,” or, “My partner won’t do the dishes.” The answer is not to spend a lot of money with vague goals, but to isolate tiny problems in your daily round, and come up with cheap, sensible solutions.