Get in the Kitchen and Cook. Even If It’s Messy.
Making a mess is half the fun
I’m a messy cook. And that suits me just fine. I love being in a kitchen with uninhibited adventurers who don’t worry about getting their hands and space dirty. Someone who makes a lot of noise. Clangs pots and pans. Leaves blotches and splotches of food on the counter. Marks their territory with a trail of flour.
I think I like messy, loud kitchens because of my dad. He didn’t cook often, but when he did, it was a production worthy of Hal Prince, usually on a Sunday after church. Dad would commandeer the kitchen and coerce my mother, two brothers and me into servitude for the afternoon. He was General McArthur leading his troops into battle. His battle plan, a battered, food-stained edition of Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook, had seen a lot of action. His favorite recipes were Chinese — eggrolls with plum sauce, sweet and sour pork, fried rice — and Mexican — chile rellenos, beef enchiladas, frijoles. Five of us elbow-to-elbow in a small, airless kitchen, Dad yelling instructions, all of us hot, sticky, and sweaty, bean sprouts and rice flying, the smell of sizzling oil hanging in a cloud over our heads, my mother desperately darting between us, trying to wipe up the messes to keep us from slipping and breaking our necks.
As chaotic and untidy and messy as those Sunday afternoons were, putting a meal together as a family and sitting at our communal table to eat it, bonded us in a way that few other things did. In a paternalistic, authoritarian, often harsh home, those afternoons fed my hope that we could enjoy, accept, and celebrate each other.
I’m the complete opposite sort of cook than my husband. He’s neat. He’s methodical. He wipes up every single spill as soon as it lands on the counter — definitely a clean-as-you-go kind of guy. He never needs to disassemble the stovetop to soap it down or get out the mop and bucket to clean the floor when he’s finished.
Early in our married life, I was happily making dinner and noticed he was following me around the kitchen, towel in hand, wiping up behind me. We danced around the entire kitchen, me slopping batter over the rim of a bowl, him sponging it up until I stopped dead in my tracks, glared at him and asked, “What the eff are you doing? Get out of here!”
Messy doesn’t mean unorganized
Being messy in the kitchen is completely different than being unorganized when cooking. Messy means food gets spilled on counters and floors and stoves. Order, my engineer Dad drilled into me, is a place for everything and everything in its place. It IS possible to be messy and organized simultaneously — at least that’s how I operate. I’m sure I’ll get push back from the organized, no-mess cooks out there, but so be it.
Things I do to stay organized when I cook:
Read the recipe thoroughly. At least three or four times so I don’t need to refer to it after every step. I’ve messed up meals because I was in the middle of making a dish only to realize I was supposed to let it sit for an hour when I needed it on the table in ten minutes.
Prepare the mise en place. (MEEZ ahn plahs) is a wonderful French phrase that roughly translates to “everything in its place.” In practice it means having all the ingredients ready-to-go: measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated BEFORE you start cooking. Pans are ready and on the stove. Mixing bowls, tools, and equipment are on the counter. It helps me spot any missing ingredients so my husband doesn’t have to run to the store. Plus, I love saying MEEZ ahn plahs.
Keep spices sorted…
My sweet husband brought calm to the spice cabinet. He cut 2x4 wood blocks the length of the cupboard and arranged them like stair steps so each row of spices was slightly elevated. Now I can see them all at-a-glance.
…and utensils wrangled.
There’s nothing worse than pawing through a cluttered utensil drawer. I keep the utensils I use most often in a pretty blue and white ceramic jar on the stove and the rest are cozily contained in a silver mesh modular organizer in the drawer.
Lastly — and this is my secret weapon — I ask hubby to clean up, which is only fair since I cooked. Voila. Mess solved.
So, go on. Get down and dirty in your kitchen. Embrace your inner Julia Child — the grand dame of messy cooking. Spill, slosh, and splash to your heart’s content. It’s all part of the process. You will love it, I promise.