Like yoga or zen meditation, cleaning house is a true practice. I'm sorry to say, just like that certain morning Vinyasa class you've been ignoring, it's something that must be approached every day, with quietness and patience - and with the understanding that the (stainless steel) fruits of your labor will be sullied by the course of natural world the moment the task is completed. 

Don't get me wrong, I much prefer the naturally chaotic, eternally messy, even dirty, state of things to an antiseptic, lifeless alternative. Yet I still pursue cleaning my home with the hope of the faithful, the patience of a nun, and the work ethic of someone being paid to do it.

After enough tense moments where I've been caught cleaning cupboards that aren't mine, or taking out aggression on the bath, I've come to the conclusion I was born into this cult of cleaning: I have inherited the ruthless, dirt-spotting gimlet eye of my mother, who every night cleans the sink and countertops like she's running a professional kitchen. I have been trained in her dark-cleaning-arts ways, which involve a pre-clean to the actual clean, wiping down appliances after every use, and which definitely includes an understanding of the correct use of soft scrub. 

Like her, too, I have a pretty annoyingly sensitive sense of home smell, which brings me (finally!) around to the reason for writing this post. I believe a clean house has its own beautiful, happy fragrance: warm sunlight and fresh linens on beds - or the brace of bleach against a backdrop of a burning Diptyque candle, an open window and a running bath. Or that weird orange Tic-Tac perfumed floorboard cleaner in a sudsy bucket and afternoon of free time. 

However, not a single trace of pleasant smell existed the other night when I decided to make fried chicken at home. It seemed like a good idea at the time (#homesick) but I can tell you - and it's probably not news anyway - that, post-fry up, houses smell truly terrible.

Joan Didion's semi-likeness cooking at home

Joan Didion's semi-likeness cooking at home

Despite a thorough clean of the kitchen, that thick, rancid smell of oil seemed to have permeated every surface and was persisting even the afternoon after. Even my hair smelled like a McDonald's fry basket for a good day or so following. So, what to do?

When you've already tackled the stove and sink with soft scrub and hot water, here are three additional things to do when your house just doesn't smell right:

  1. Clean the Drain: the first bend in the kitchen sink pipe can be a sneaky, scary repository for bad smells. If you have oil coating everything like I did, rinse a bunch of old coffee grounds down the sink, followed by boiling water. Repeat if needed. Say a prayer to Hestia.
  2. Open the Windows and Wipe Down the Walls: the former is pure placebo - it feels fresher, it's probably just cold - but the latter is maybe something you forgot in your initial post-dinner clean and makes a huge difference. While you're at it, you'll probably discover splatters from a million other misguided cooking adventures and a shockingly dirty door frame or two. Use a dishtowel soaked in hot water and cleaning stuff and get going. In bad cases, break out the Magic Eraser. It's what I'm gonna call a Deep Clean Moment.
  3. Make a New Scent: If everything is still offending your delicate sense of smell after the first two steps (or if you're the type of person, like me, who likes the concept of Homemade Anything), make a scent to gently/naturally perfume your home while you work.
    • In a small saucepan combine with water to cover:
      • half a cinnamon stick
      • a few crushed cardamom pods
      • a few strips of orange or grapefruit or lemon peel
    • Or: put some dried lavender in a little bowl of water on a radiator; stud an orange with cloves; tie a branch of eucalyptus to your shower head; put some lillies or a jasmine plant in the offending areas

The important thing to remember is that scent doesn't disguise or fix a single thing - like splurging on a Diptyque candle instead of groceries for the week, it's mostly a temporary mood booster.

If you need to, incentivize every time you reach for a mop or sponge: reserve that sparklingly clean bath just for you + some bath salts, change your sheets and make the crispest bed you can. Watch more Nashville under a blanket as your house infuses with homemade scent and the windows allow a pretty breeze to flutter the curtains. Or just have a fancy cocktail to crown your achievements.

If you've read this far, you're an angel, so as your reward, here's the world's best Sidecar recipe, from the Employee's Only Bar drinks book, Speakeasy:

Lemon wedge

Superfine sugar, for rim

1 1/4 ounces Courvoisier VS Cognac

1 1/4 ounces Cointreau

1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 orange twist, for garnish

Moisten the rim of the cocktail glass with the lemon wedge.  Carefully dip the rim in the sugar so that only the very top edge is coated evenly.*  Place the glass in the freezer to let the sugar rim harden. Pour the cognac, Cointreau, and juice into a mixing glass. Add large cold ice cubes and shake vigorously. Strain into the prepared cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist.

You'll notice it's a recipe for one. You deserve it. x L