Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Overstocked Kitchen

Dear Bon Appetit,

Surely you are totally insane. Ice cream maker? Potato masher? Juicer? Cardboard cake rounds?

Here is a tip, Bon Appetit: if there is a cheap and easy substitute for something (i.e. dried beans=pie weights, should one ever need pie weights, or saucepan+metal bowl=double boiler), it is not a kitchen essential. Additionally, why would you recommend two tools for the same job (microplane grater & zester)? Also, no one uses basters, ever, and interestingly enough, anything heavy will serve as a meat mallet. I use my fists. And unless you're serving ten or more people on a regular basis, a square cake pan lined with foil makes a handy roasting pan. It fits a five-pound chicken or roast. I can tell you from experience.

All told, the number of kitchen "essentials" I do not own? Thirty-one. Thirty-one. And I do more cooking than most people I know. I know that we're talking about a "well-stocked" kitchen here, for someone who has a particular interest in cooking, but seriously, Bon Appetit. Get real.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Frugal Spice Rack

After some interest in my DIY spice rack, I thought I'd explain what I've done to solve the spice-storage problem in a small kitchen. I've created a frugal, infinitely customizable, and extremely effective little DIY spice rack with very little effort and not much money.

Hanging things on walls is a classic space-saving technique, and it's also really nice, if you're a cook, to have your herbs and spices ready to hand. I keep all my regular-use ingredients (oils, vinegars, salts, etc.) in a convenient stoveside cabinet, but it doesn't have space for a ton of spice bottles, and who wants to rummage around amongst all those bottles anyway? (Also, spice bottles are pretty irritating in and of themselves: if you want to measure, you have to pull off the little plastic shaker top, which often puts up a fight.) So I started looking for spice racks to mount on the wall, and just didn't like the offerings: most of them are either faux-rustic or scary stainless steel monstrosities, and neither would look right in my kitchen. And while I was looking, I encountered the idea of a magnetic spice rack.

The problems with most commercial magnetic spice racks are two:
1) The tins have clear lids. Herbs and spices lose their flavor more quickly when they are exposed to light, so this kind of storage is a bad idea. It's not so bad when you're keeping your clear bottles in a cabinet, but when you keep them out, you shorten their lifespan and increase the probability of having to throw out and replace old spices.
2) They almost invariably have the wrong number of tins. For the kind that's just a magnetic bar, that's not a big deal, but an empty tin or no tin in the kind of magnetic spice rack that has a specific seat for each tin is liable to drive a certain type of person (uh, me) totally crazy.
3) They're expensive. They can run $40 for a rack to hold 12 tins, and I have more than 12 spices and may acquire more.
4) The tins often come pre-labeled with ridiculous things like "burger seasoning" or "tabasco garlic salt" or something else I'll never actually own. Sometimes they include the corresponding spices, which just creates waste.

But the concept, I realized, is easily duplicated and improved upon if you do it yourself. You buy tins (without clear lids), you stick magnets to the tins, you fill the magnet-tins up with spices, label them, and stick them on the refrigerator (I'm using the side of my refrigerator facing my countertops). This gives you the power to customize your spice rack and saves you money. A 12-tin magnetic rack can run you $35-50; my DIY solution costs about $30-$35 for 20 tins.

A tin is cheap: a 4-ouncer, big enough to hold most to all of the contents a regulation-size spice bottle (depending on what exactly the contents are), is $.71 at Specialty Bottle. I actually bought mine in a batch of 20 from Etsy's "supplies" category, because the shipping was cheaper. Twenty tins plus shipping cost me $26. I already had craft magnets and glue, but they're quite reasonable, too (like $1.29 for a pack of 8 when I bought them, and I bet you can get them cheaper), and can be found in almost any craft store (might be cheaper at a hardware store). You need a pretty powerful magnet: mine are 3/4" in diameter and pretty thick. I started with one magnet per tin, but find that two, spaced across the tin, work better.

Now, I'm a wee bit concerned, as I would be with any magnetic spice storage, that I'm accidentally going to pull the lid and not the rest of the tin off at some point, leading to an enormous, spicy mess, but using thick magnets here seems to be a plus: it gives your fingers a logical place to grip (between the tin and the fridge) that prevents spills. We'll see how this goes. If I run into trouble, I may recreate the idea with twistlug tins, which aren't available in a flat 4oz. size, but are available in a flat 3oz. size, which is just about as good (especially if you buy your spices from bulk suppliers and can buy exactly the amount you need).

Anyway, I'm pretty psyched about this solution. It's low-maintenance, adaptable, and frugal. With a little added attention (K is thinking he'll make cool images for the lids), it can be really great-looking, too.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Government Cheese: Yummy!

My stimulus check arrived last night! (And, by the way, seemed to have been mail-forwarded, so...who knows.) I'm way psyched. After much financial turmoil the last couple of months, this check will let me finish my little spurt of moving-in spending and stash some extra cash. I'm splitting it right down the middle: half for saving, half for spending.

Saving: The $300 infusion will bring my Freedom Fund to $8,600--huzzah! I projected out my savings for the rest of this calendar year, and found that if all goes as expected, I'll end up with $10,875, so I'm going to work on trying to find the extra $125 somewhere to make it a round $11,000. Shouldn't be too hard.

Spending: An extra cabinet for the bathroom, tins for spices (I have this awesome DIY spice rack idea revolving around 4-oz. tins, magnets, and the side of my refrigerator), cork pours, a mirror, supplies for my DIY charger station plan, perhaps some sort of non-shoebox filing system idea. And good gin for my housewarming party. Maybe, maybe, if there is money left over, the $30-including-shipping jar of Blenheim apricot jam that I covet from (I'm an apricot-preserve fiend. Like a zombie, but "aaaaapricots!" instead of "braaaaaains!").


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Couples, Money, and Moving: Just a Thought

I just had a great idea, and I wish K and I had done this for our moving-in process (I guess there's still time, actually...maybe I'll discuss it with him). We've bought a ton of little, under-$20 kinds of things: drawer organizer, doorstop, shelf extender, skillet, curtains, etc., not to mention the big Ikea run we did, and it's really been difficult to keep track of the money side of it--who owes whom what. Next time around, what I'd do is this: at the outset, go halfsies on a gift card to the store where you do the bulk of your shopping (Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Home Depot, wherever). That way, when someone needs to pick something up, they just take the gift card and go, and no accounting is necessary.

But our new place is starting to look really beautiful! I'm almost ready to invite people over for a housewarming party (not that more than 15 people will be able to fit at the same time...), and I do think that spending some money to get moved in comfortably and in an aesthetically pleasing way has been worth it. (Remind me I said that when I have to dip into savings to pay my credit card bill.)