Fiance and I are having the time of our lives living in Cape Town, South Africa for a little less than a year while he earns his masters at the University of Cape Town.

Next predictable question: Well, what are you doing there?

Nope, I am not working. I’d be restricted to 20 hours a week or less without jumping through some hoops, most employers aren’t thrilled about a nine month employee, I don’t have a reliable way to commute, and I wouldn’t make very much. Oh, and I don’t want to. A nine month break to travel and toil my life away on Pinterest sounded like a dream that couldn’t possibly come true.

Okay, I’m not really spending quite all of my time on Pinterest. I’m planning our wedding (okay, yes, this includes a lot of Pinterest), obsessing over the arrival of my best friend’s first baby (point thoroughly made…), working out more than I ever have in my life, and exploring every inch of the beautiful city that is Cape Town. I also really wanted to see what I could do with my blog if I had a yearish to dedicate to it. And it has truly been a blast. I’ve learned so much about all the potential to grow a blog and have had a ton of fun getting to unleash pent up creativity so far.

One thing I didn’t consider when making this plan is how limited I would be in the kitchen. It seriously feels like sophomore year of college again, and I’m in my first apartment with no counter space, no dishwasher, old appliances, and almost no tools. Luckily, this flat is updated and new without orange plastic counters, but lack of counter space and tools definitely still applies.

The biggest goal when moving across the world: pack as LITTLE as possible. So here’s what I brought with me for blogging purposes:

  • My precious camera (a Nikon D200 if you care to know)
  • Two lenses, including my favorite Nikon 50mm f/1.8
  • My tripod,which I got for dirt cheap on Amazon and it does wonders
  • Photoshop Elements 11(awesome Christmas present from Fiance a couple Christmases back)
  • A few placemats

That’s it. At home, I have a fantastically well-stocked kitchen. The great thing about having a hobby is that friends and family always know what to get you for birthdays, Christmas, graduation, other present giving fun days, and they got me everything I could have wished for and more over the years because they are generous, beautiful people. My mom gave me her first KitchenAid when I moved into my first apartment. That beautiful piece of machinery is older than me, but it’s still kickin’. She also gave me her little dutch oven when she upgraded to a bigger one. That inspired a cast iron obsession, and my amazing future mother-in-law got me a gorgeous enameled cast iron skillet. I’ve got a pretty good variety pots and pans, a few different nonstick skillets, a small barbecue, a good selection of different cake and cupcake tins, pie dishes, casserole dishes, silpats,madeleine molds, every size mixing bowl under the sun, my pride and joy: a large kitchen island with a butcher block top and shelving, and other fun gadgets and gizmos… But those are in a storage unit in Portland, OR. Just a hop, skip, and 10,000 miles away.

This is the inventory of tools in my Cape Town kitchen:

  • 4 cereal/soup bowls
  • 4 large plates
  • 4 small plates
  • 1 large glass mixing bowl
  • 1 set of measuring cups
  • 1 set of measuring spoons
  • 3 pots of varying sizes and lids
  • 1 nonstick skillet
  • 1 colander
  • 1 cake tin
  • 1 cookie sheet
  • 2 cooling racks
  • 1 wooden cutting board
  • 1 9×13 inch baking dish
  • 6 knives of varying sizes
  • Set of 6 various cooking tools (whisk, spatula, ladle, etc.)
  • Hand held motor with whisk, immersion blender, and food processor attachments
  • Microwave
  • Small oven with 4 burners

And that rounds it up. When we got here, I supplemented our furnished flat with the glass mixing bowl, measuring spoons, measuring cups, cookie sheet, cooling racks, baking dish, and hand held motor. The rest came with the flat.

Considering there are only two of us, this is a pretty good selection, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t cook much. This, however, is about the minimum for someone who cooks a lot, especially for someone who blogs about it.

The biggest challenge with a selection as limited as this is what do when you need two of something. Like if I’m using my nonstick skillet to cook chicken, but I want sautéed veggies ready at the same time. An easy solution is to cook them in a pot! Keep a closer eye on it and use a little extra cooking fat and it’ll be fine. The problem I run into more often is the need for two cookie sheets. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

It works just as well as a cookie sheet and it means I don’t have to buy yet another thing I’ll have to throw away or leave behind.

Working in a smaller space with a more limited selection of tools is most easily remedied by two things: giving yourself more time to prepare a meal and giving the preparation a lot more forethought.

You need more time because you have to clean up after yourself more regularly. There is literally nowhere else to put that dirty mixing bowl, or you just used that measuring cup for milk, but now you need the same one for flour. When I was younger and would dabble in the kitchen occasionally, my mom would always tell me, “Clean as you go!” I usually didn’t, because we had a nice big kitchen and there were plenty of places to stick dirty dishes, and cooking was not as easy for me as it is now and there just wasn’t extra time to clean. Now, I really see the value in it. Clean up the mess from one part of the preparation before moving on to the next, and it’ll ultimately save you a lot more time! Here is the limited space I have to work with here that makes cleaning as I go so important:

Giving the meals more forethought is important, too, because planning will allow you to maximize your tools. For example, I have one cutting board. If I know I’m going to use meat and veggies in that night’s dinner, I’ll prep the veggies first so that way the board just needs a rinse before cutting the meat instead of the thorough cleaning it would need if I had done that vice versa. Or, if I had looked over the recipe and known that I’d need to use that same measuring cup for milk and flour, I could have measured out the flour before the milk and it wouldn’t have needed a cleaning. And so on.

Our flat is pretty great for taking photos: there are big windows in the living area and kitchen, which are really one area, and everything is white so the light reflects well. Because of the way it’s laid out, though, it can get a little shadowy and I was having trouble combating this. At first I was trying to use the plastic full length mirrors in our flat, but they were too big to manipulate easily. What I really wanted was a reflector like this one:

But, in the spirit of not spending money or investing in things we don’t need, I decided to make my own reflector! And it works really, really well. I took the bottom half of an egg carton and wrapped it in aluminum foil, and that was it! The egg carton works so well because it’s thick and pliable enough that I can make it stand on it’s own and I can bend it a little when I need to. Here’s how I did it:

I really like the stain on our cupboards and think it would make a great backdrop for photos, so my next idea is to find a way to get a cupboard door or shelf down to use… We’ll see how that works out.
All this to say that you don’t need huge variety of tools or a ton of space to make amazing food! You can pretty much make any space work as long as you have a few essentials. Other big take away: foil is kind of amazing.