Simpler Food, Simpler Kitchen

The Unplugged Kitchen by Viana La Place

Lately, for several reasons, I’ve been thinking about how to simplify things in the kitchen.

First, ever since my daughter was born, I haven’t had the time or concentration for complicated recipes. It’s getting a little easier these days—I’m no longer trying to calm a crying infant or chase after a toddler while making a meal—but I’m still interrupted, oh, once every 3 minutes or so with requests to find a missing toy, uncap a glue stick, read a book, applaud a ballet move, build a Lego structure, or engage in some sort of pretend play. So it’s still my imperative to get food on the table with the least amount of fuss and muss.

Second, my 4-year-old is a good eater as long as the food on her plate closely resembles its original state. For example, broccoli is perfectly acceptable if it’s still in floret form—but if chopped and combined with other ingredients, it’s regarded with suspicion and barely eaten. And God forbid anything enter a food processor or blender—not only does the sound send her into a tizzy, the unrecognizable end result will surely remain untouched (in other words, no pesto or smoothies in our house).

(I should qualify that this only applies to the plant kingdom—my daughter prefers the fish on her plate NOT look like it came straight out of the ocean.)

Third, my Joy of One challenge has me re-thinking every piece of kitchen apparatus we own—not only whether it’s useful and/or practical (if not, it probably left our kitchen long ago), but whether it brings joy and mindfulness to our cooking.

In the process, I’ve found that, like my daughter, I most enjoy food in its native forms. She also helped me realize what I don’t enjoy about cooking—recipes that require an abundance of seasonings, precise measurements, and/or specialized gadgets to completely transform the original ingredients. I have the utmost respect for those who have the time, talent, and patience to perform such culinary feats, and I’d love to come to your house for dinner; but, for my part, I’m happier to serve and consume food with the simplest of preparation and garnishes. (That said, neither I nor my family are quite ready to go raw.)

And so it’s with this mindset that I serendipitously stumbled across an out-of-print cookbook called The Unplugged Kitchen by Viana La Place. The title intrigued me immediately, with its promise of a lovely, quiet, more meditative form of cooking—no whizzing, beeping, banging, or whirring. And when I opened its pages, I was captivated by the author’s philosophy. She believes that cooking should be a pleasurable, sensory experience, not a clinical, scientific one—and that there should be as few machines and gadgets as possible between us and our food.

In one of the first pages, she recommends a more casual approach to measurements, simply using our regular spoons and a coffee cup to dole out ingredients. She suggests measuring flour with your hand, salt with pinches, and olive oil with puddles.

{Love.}

A few pages later, she writes, “Food should not be designed, it should be natural.”

{Love, Love.}

And on page 27: “If you already own a food processor, consider leaving it in the cupboard. If you are thinking of buying one, I urge you not to.”

{Love, Love, Love.}

She waxes poetic about salad greens, dressing them with just olive oil, lemon, and sea salt. Almonds, oranges, figs, and tomatoes figure prominently in her recipes. I’m obsessed with her rustic soups and stews, and can’t wait to make Plumblossom her peach sandwiches this summer. And most important (to me), her dishes are simple enough that a minor mistake won’t screw up the entire meal.

(I only bemoan the lack of photographs. It gives the book a quiet, contemplative feel—like a collection of essays—but as a visual person, I love a beautiful food photo…)

Anyway, I’ve always felt like an inadequate cook because I don’t have the desire to make fancy dishes or master complicated techniques. I also have no interest in storing or learning to use an arsenal of gadgets. And here’s a professional chef telling me that’s okay! Her philosophy that “eloquent, simple everyday food is the best food in the world” has brought new peace and joy to my kitchen.

For me, cooking has become less of a chore, and more of a celebration—just from paring down my culinary expectations. That, and the recognition that simple food, prepared and served with love, respect, and mindfulness, can be as beautiful and delicious as that served in five-star restaurants.

So how does this relate to my Joy of One series? Well, my inclination was to jump in and write about using One Pan or One Pot or One Knife or other such apparatus this week. But it didn’t seem to make sense without taking a step back, ruminating on my personal culinary philosophy, and providing you with some context as we move forward.

Furthermore, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m making this all up as I go along. I don’t plan or write out my blog posts weeks in advance; I sit here and type up my thoughts—however rambling they may be—and then hit the Publish button.

And when it comes to the Joy of One, I haven’t completed this experiment, I’m in the midst of it. But therein lies the beauty: I get to bring you along for the ride. I would love for you to participate in the process. Many bloggers have turned off their Comments, and in essence, talk at you. Well, I want to talk with you. Collaborative efforts are so much more fun! I have ideas, but I don’t have all the answers—and I think we can all learn more from each other than you’ll ever learn from me.

To that end, I invite you to share your food philosophies in the Comments. And if you have any stories of cooks and/or cultures who prepare their meals with the simplest of implements (like your Nonna who makes everything with a single pot and chef’s knife), I sure would be thrilled to hear them.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or joining my email list.}

70 comments to Simpler Food, Simpler Kitchen

  • Emily

    For inspiration I recommend “Clara’s Great Depression Cooking” on YouTube. It’s great.

    • Anna D.

      I just checked out Clara’s twice baked potato- so simple and so nice to get a little depression era history with your spuds ;) Great suggestion!

  • Jess W

    The book sounds intriguing, I requested it from my library! I have a four year old too, and a toddler, and one tip I’ve picked up this winter is keeping the snacking under control. We have one morning snack and one afternoon snack, and that’s that. It’s been heaps easier to keep on top of the kitchen dishes and cleanup this way. With the cold weather and long days mostly indoors, we’d been turning toward eating out of boredom it seems, grazing all day long, and then not eating meals very well.

    Looking forward to the next post in the series :)

  • So that could be your One cookbook. Although it’s not my only cookbook right now, The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano is definitely my favorite. If I chose to have only One cookbook, that would be the One. The recipes are varied and simple and delicious. She’s not totally unplugged, but I find that most recipes use minimal tools and are quite flexible. And it calls for REAL food, which is also simple and pleasurable.

  • Amw

    Oh how I love this post! My husband and I began our relationship in the kitchen making fine cuisine, 3 kids later and we have thrown nearly every inessential gadget and uneccessary ingredient out the window. I have tossed old favorite recipes because you know what? I don’t want to julienne or roux anything and I’d much prefer it all go into one pot on the stove. My kids prefer purity in their food as well, why force them to love lasagna when grilled chicken and brocolli is healthier and easier to prepare?

  • Cheryl

    This post resonates with me as well. Lately, I’ve been looking around my kitchen at the various gadgetry thinking about how my mother never required these things to turn out delicious and simple meals. Someone may argue that with less time on our hands, for instance, we need the food processor with 4 different blades. In actuality, it takes less time to use a well-honed knife to julienne my carrots, doing so mindfully rather than zipping them through the processor because as we all know too well, we then have to clean the machine. I’m all for “de-gadgeting.” Thanks for the nudge!

  • Carly

    Thanks for the recommendation – I just ordered a used copy of The Unplugged Kitchen on Amazon! I’ve simplified my cooking routine over the years for sure. I took some recreational classes at a professional cooking school and they always said a good chef really only needs one good chef’s knife to meet all their chopping and preparation needs. Master the basics with simple tools and you can do anything!

  • KariM

    I. Absolutely. Love. This! Thank you.

  • ruth

    One cooking day.

    Our food is simple, but the prep takes time. I do some food prep once a week, usually on Saturday after the once-a-week shop. I’ll make a pot of lentil soup or bean stew to reheat for dinners, a pot of oat groats for breakfasts and a pot of soy milk for whenevers. I’ll also make a large green salad to take us through the first half of the week. Doing this once a week leaves space for daily variety in other parts of my meals, and removes the after-work question of what to make. I enjoy my time in the kitchen on Saturday, cooking at an unhurried pace, and pottering about in gratitude. I enjoy driving home from work daily, knowing that dinner is just a few minutes away, with only a few dishes to clean up.

    One menu for big family gatherings (monthly).

    We use this consistently, with a couple of variations for seasonal fruit & veg, and our guests enjoy the continuity. I’ve learned that substituting a new fancy dish for the expected simple one will not be a crowd-pleaser for my extended family, no matter how well it turns out. People are polite, but definitely miss the old-faithful, and welcome it back with relief the next holiday.

    As for tools, we have appliances that we love and use several times a week. Fridge/stove/microwave/kettle/toaster/blender. We’ve lived without some of these, and are grateful we have them now. They are easy to clean, on the smaller side, and used several times a week. My partner and I both cook, so we also have some kitchen bits that are for one or the other, or for family gatherings. As long as an item is easy to clean, being used regularly, and benefiting someone by being in our kitchen, it gets space.

    I do have one kitchen toy that is (in my eyes) truly frivolous: a melon-baller. It’s so much fun to make fruit salad faces with, I keep it to make myself and children around me giggle. It also represents all the baking and candymaking supplies I’ve released over the years, reminding me that simple raw fruit can be fancy-fun too. I might not keep it forever, but for now, it makes me smile.

  • Karen

    I completely agree with your philosophy and with two young children I have tried to simplify mealtimes too. I would rather have time to play with Lego rather than whipping up some gourmet meal that they will only take a few bites of.
    However in saying that I do love my food processor and won’t be parting with it anytime soon. I try and follow a zero waste philosophy and buy food un-packaged as much as possible. Therefore I do make pesto, hummus and puree soup in my processor. For most other tasks I prefer a knife (no avocado slicers here :)

  • Alison

    I have a handheld blender that I use for both pureeing soups and making smoothies, which are great for breakfast. And, just one gadget – a really amazing garlic chopper called a garlic zoom that can chop as many as six cloves of garlic at a time in a few swipes — I don’t enjoy chopping garlic manually, but love garlic, and the zoom makes the task fun! Otherwise, everything is manual using traditional kitchen tools. Good knives are crucial. Agreed that measuring cups aren’t terribly important (except for certain baking where precision is critical).

    The three “s’s” rule: soups, stews and salads. Making big batches of stews and soups and then freezing them simplifies things and means you can have something delicious warmed up quickly. Recipes come from a range of sources including quick internet searches, and I keep a file of the best ones. I’m looking forward to checking out “The Unplugged Kitchen” – thanks for the tip.

  • DJ Compton

    I was reminded of my Grandma’s way of cooking as I was reading your blog today. She cooked for 10 people and never owned a measuring cup! My mom and I always laugh when cooking one of her recipes as the measurements are the size of your hand…of which we have varying sizes in our family, since my mom, Grandma, and I are on the short side of things (5’1″) and my daughter, aunts, sister, cousin, are average height to tall height (5’6″ to 6′). Finally, my daughter was determined, and through trial and error and taste, we did figure out the measurements. Makes me want to go back to using my hand to measure things. I want to get the book for my daughter who loves cooking (I don’t although I love to eat simple food) and would appreciate a simple approach.

  • kris

    If I were to equip a kitchen from scratch and if I had unlimited funds, these are the three things that I would get for stovetop cooking: (1) Instead of a frying pan or skillet, a braiser with lid. (This might be described as a cross between a frying pan and a dutch oven. Instead of a long handle like a frying pan, a braiser has two smaller handles like a dutch oven. That means that it takes less room on the stovetop, in the oven, or in the cupboard than a frying pan would. (2) A medium-sized dutch oven instead of a large saucepan. (3) A small dutch oven instead of a second saucepan. (Le Crueset makes beautiful examples of all of these.)

    Advantages: All three pieces could be used in the oven as well as on the stove top, and all three pieces also could be used for serving. In addition, they all could be nested for compact storage.

    And I’d also include an old-fashioned brass tea kettle that looked as though it might have come from the kitchen at Downton Abby.

    I’d also have a few baking dishes in white porcelain. (Probably a 9 x 12 pan, a loaf pan, and maybe a pie plate or two.) These also would make attractive serving dishes. And unlike metal baking dishes, they also could be used in the microwave.

    As for knives, I would find it hard to get along with just one. (Although I know some people do.) Instead I would want three: chef’s knife, paring knife, bread knife. (Or maybe a serrated knife instead of the bread knife.)

    And interesting that you just mentioned that wonderful cookbook. Years ago I saw it remaindered in a book store. I’ve regretted not buying it ever since. And yesterday (before I had read this blog entry) I mentioned it to my husband. (We were discussing the merits of hauling out the Cuisinart vs. a using a good knife and a cutting board.)

    If I were a true minimalist, I suppose that I could get by with one of each item, but for me three pots and pans, three baking dishes, and three knives would seem to make food prep, cooking, and baking more enjoyable.

    • Dawn

      I love your simple kitchen ideas. You have to think differently, like thinking of the pans and baking dishes as serving dishes as well. I had thought of that with mixing bowl. They can double as serving bowls. No need for both. I have one question though. I find it takes forever to boil water in a Le Creuset pan, so I have a metal pan for that – both small and large. Seems a bit of over kill for just noodles.

      • kris

        Dawn . . . True confession! I’ve never tried to boil water in a Le Creuset pan. (My thoughts on equipping a kitchen from scratch are hypothetical.) Certainly having a metal pan for boiling water for noodles would seem to be a sensible addition to my list. Or maybe I would experiment with using my cheerful copper tea kettle to boil the water and then pour it into the Le Creuset pan with the noodles.

        You also mention using a mixing bowl for serving as well as mixing. This is a great idea as well. (I have a set of three nesting white ceramic mixing bowls that I also use for serving and for heating up food in the microwave.) And of course nested mixing bowls don’t take up any more storage space than one large mixing bowl would.

    • Mrs Brady Old Lady

      How embarrassing – I am Dutch but had too Google a Duch Oven…
      Now I know, it’s a “braadpan”. I have one in black which I inherited from my mother who probably inherited it from her mother.
      My mum had a huge orange one which my Dad used once a year to make “oliebollen” and “appelflappen” – such happy memories, thank you for this!!!!

    • Michelle

      LOVE your simple multi-tasking ideas! If we hadn’t just replaced our kitchen pans this past year, I would seriously go in that direction, as it is maybe down the road… Anyway, it reminds me of the fact that when my husband and I got married over 20 years ago, we received 2 sets of pyrex bowls w/ lids (we could have returned one, but we chose not to and we are glad we didn’t) So, we have 2 large, 2 medium, and 2 small bowls w/ lids. They are used for mixing, serving, storing in the refrigerator, and reheating in the microwave. By far one of the best wedding gifts we received! And they can be nested by size, so they only take up one shelf in the kitchen. We use them ALL the time. Oh, and they are clear, so it is easy to see at a glance on the refrigerator shelf exactly which leftovers are in them!

  • Karen T.

    This reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking, as others have commented. Her recipes are all “a fistful of this” and “a pinch of that.” I tend to measure using typical measuring implements for most things, but some dishes I prepare using that sixth sense that you develop when you’ve made something often for a long time. I’ve requested this cookbook from my library — it definitely seems worth a look!

    I’m also one of those people who never got on the kitchen gadget bandwagon and find that I can create tasty meals with one good knife and cutting board, a couple of mixing bowls, one saucepot, one skillet, or one Dutch oven. The only appliances I use are a refrigerator, stove, oven, and toaster!

  • Bette

    Very interesting and timely. I recently moved to a small apartment and my kitchen now has very few gadgets, which I had to leave behind in the move. Last week I was searching online for a recipe for hummus that didn’t use a food processor — I couldn’t find one! I was starting to get discouraged until I realized, wait a minute, people have been making hummus for centuries without a food processor — there must be a way! Still haven’t found the recipe but I am confident it can be done.

  • Nadya

    I keep a simple kitchen too. One of my central goals is to reduce my waste (both trash and food) so we buy almost everything we need for our house from the bulk bins at our grocery store. An inspirational book that encouraged me to rethink “recipes” and cook in a simple way was Tamar Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. I kept renewing it at my local library- it is so good. I will have to check out your recommendation too.

  • Katja

    I was just watching yesterday a TV show with Nigel Slater, who is now trying to encourage people to cook simply, without super exotic ingredients or several rounds of preparing. I am looking at his books on Amazon, cause I really like how poetically he describes food and cooking.

  • Renee

    “An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar E. Adler is my prized book of philosophies in the kitchen. She teaches how to use all of the food item (leaves, roots, stems) and how to continue cooking with little bits of leftovers. It’s not an illustrated cookbook and it has only a few recipes. It is a teaching guide for reducing waste, enjoying creativity, and relaxing in the kitchen.

  • Betsy

    What a great post. I too over the years have formed a dislike of all the kitchen extra’s ….electric tea kettle, blender, 2 coffee makers, mini chopper….although I do love my Cuisinart. I also have been trying to simplify our meals. After years of having over 100 spices and extracts of every kind I just want simple and healthy. We moved into a small house (960 sq. ft.) last year and I donated ton’s of kitchen equipment to the Goodwill. It was so freeing. Since I started cooking with fewer ,better ingredients I really enjoy the process of cooking so much more. I just don’t need all the extra’s taking up space.

  • I also love using simple ingredients when possible. With a 3-year-old myself, I want to make good wholesome meals and not spend too much time in the kitchen. I love baking my veggies in the winter and using the slow cooker when possible. Stews are also our best friend. Two knives have a permanent place in my kitchen. My chef’s knife and a serrated knife. Looking forward to learning more about your simplifying adventures while raising a preschooler. :)

  • I’m with you on the simple prep piece, but not on the simple spice piece. I think almost every meal can benefit from a lot of dry mustard, a few red pepper flakes, and some cumin, oregano, or other herbs to give it a depth of flavor. The bonus of those seasonings is that they are salt free, so you aren’t adding a ton of sodium, just flavor. It takes almost no time to shake some spices into things (I never measure stuff like that) and adds so much to your meal. (More prep time, but minced onion, garlic, mushrooms, and/or bell pepper do the same kind of duty, lots of flavor, very little sodium, sugar, or fat added.)

    xox

  • denise

    when i am in florida where i work, my favorite form of cooking is take out. when i am in georgia on the weekends my husband cooks and our only “mechanicals” are a gas stove or wood grill outside. my husband is a one pot, one spoon guy to save on cleanup and i prefer to put my feet up, with a glass of wine and let him cook. i do have many of my grandmother’s recipes that i translated from french only to discover that her “1 cup” is actually her favorite rose tea cup that she used for all measurements, and i do no have that cup!

    a few years ago i would have bought the cookbook you mentioned but i now know that there is little reason for collecting or reading cookbooks if you are not going to produce something from them. i have pitched all but the well used cookbooks from my collections …. thanks to you Francine!

    denise

  • I have also come to appreciate simple preparation and simple cooking after having children. While I love the idea of long complex recipes (I do like to cook) the reality is that doing it didn’t bring as much joy to my life when it was taking away time from my children. To that end I wrote a book entitled Homemade Goodness Every Day of the Week: A Guide to Make-Ahead Meals. It’s a practical guide to using simple ingredients and simple techniques to make lovely and healthy meals in advance, thereby giving you time to relax and enjoy the weeknights. If you check it out I would love to know what you think! You can find the ebook version here: http://www.amazon.com/Homemade-Goodness-Every-Step-Step-ebook/dp/B019KCBGA6

  • Ane

    Cooking is one of those things I don’t love, but I don’t hate it either. I have found by keeping my meals simple and the cleanup quick, I enjoy the process more. I love that you mention using a drinking mug to measure. I’ve been doing this for the past year and prefer it now. I’d love to find out how you or others keep it minimal and simple for holiday feasts. I dream of a holiday that doesn’t include me being in the kitchen all day cooking and cleaning.

  • Before I began this simplifying journey, I never had time to cook (honestly, I hated it!), and we weren´t eating healthy at all. I love that a simple life helps you focus on what´s important, now I shop for better ingredients, less (nearly none) procesed food and I started making healthier meals, simple but good!
    I´ve had one notebook for years now, where I write the recipes we love and want to make again, this would be my one cookbook.

  • Lynn

    I’m not keen on gadgets. I feel my kitchen is quite simple although I do have a microwave, kettle and toaster. My only other gadget and a recent purchase is a steamer which I have found invaluable and is in daily use. I only use a paring knife despite other folk trying to persuade me that I need a vegetable peeler, mandoline or a food processor!! When I had my first child I bought a hand blender to prepare food, I used it twice then kept it for 5 more years until my second child was born, then again I used it about twice, finally donating it to the charity.

  • The kitchen and all its accruements has been one of my biggest targets in our journey to own less. In many areas we are down to just One and I have found that it makes cooking so much easier and more enjoyable. One pot, One pan, One whisk, One spatula. I’m constantly evaluating the contents of our drawers and cupboards, sometimes tucking away items to see if we can do without. Most often, yes we can, so out the door it goes. Where once I thought our kitchen lacked storage, now we have empty space. It is probably the most transformed (and lovely!) room in our house.

  • AustralianJane

    “I most enjoy food in its native forms” – my children and I do, too. The children even protest tossed salad, prefering to see each component presented adjacently on the plate.

    Very often, we add sauce or gravy on the side of the plate as we prefer to taste each ingredient and only dip into the gravy, if it’s warranted. The pantry doesn’t need to be stocked with many seasonings as we don’t use them.

    I own very few appliances and every week plan for meals that require little/no cooking, prefering to “assemble” food, a Ploughman’s Lunch being an example. This saves time and energy and fosters relaxation over the weekend.

  • AMSWolf

    I too like to keep it simple in the kitchen and elsewhere. The one kitchen “gadget” I LOVE is my combo slow/rice/pressure cooker. I toss in all the ingredients for a good kitcheree, basically curried rice and vegetables, set it to go and it’s done by the time I’m done with my elliptical workout. There are some things that I do have multiples of in the kitchen. 3 knives: chef, paring & bread, they each have their own uses and one of the others doesn’t work well for the other’s use. I do like having many spices for various dishes, but am trying to weed/use up some of them. I am finding I do use only once sauce pan and am planning on getting rid of the other two.

  • Linda Sand

    Did you know you can dump a hunk of meat in a crockpot with nothing else and it will cook just fine? I’ve started adding just one or two things to the meat and it’s still just fine. You can read about my current obsession with this at http://sandcastle.sandsys.org/2016/02/dump-meats/

  • Janice

    I love this channel of japanese cooking, it shows how with simple ingredients and methods you can make a delicious meal.

    The chef cooks with a lot of mindfulness and love!

    https://www.youtube.com/user/cookingwithdog/about

  • I love this post! Even though I struggle with biting off more than I can chew, pun intended :) , in the kitchen (either trying to make too much at once, or making things too complicated), I do strive for simplicity and have had probably three main sources of inspiration in this quest:

    First, while visiting a friend whom I consider to be the best homemaker I know (crafty, creative, sews, builds, bakes, etc.), we baked a cake together and I was shocked at how casually she measured her ingredients. I always thought baking was an exact science and would put a lot of effort into measurements – since baking with my friend, I don’t worry so much about it.

    Second, Mark Bittman’s former NYT cooking column called “The Minimalist,” and one of his cookbooks, “Food Matters,” really helped me see that good food could be simple. I saw a video once where he showed off the TINY NYC kitchen he was cooking in (again shocking to me) and he always talked about how a well stocked kitchen did not need a lot of gadgets. He would also advocate for tweaks like coarsely chopping ingredients rather than dicing them into tiny pieces, which I am all for.

    Third, I work for a nonprofit that is involved in child nutrition policy, and through that work I see periodically see sample menus for child nutrition programs. They always look so delicious and remind me that a satisfying meal can be as simple as a sandwich, carrot sticks, and applesauce; or a wrap with a side of cucumbers, or insert some other kid-friendly fare here.

    One of my favorite newish “simple” cooking tweaks is to make one-pot pasta. I saw this in a magazine years ago and loved it, but now I see it all over Pinterest. You put pasta, veggies, olive oil, and aromatics an a skillet, barely cover it with water, and let it cook until the water evaporates. And it’s done! No need to even pull out the colander.

    I do love my immersion blender for blending soups and sauces right in the pot, it’s probably my favorite gadget – so small compared to a regular blender or processor, easy to clean, and no need to transfer the food to use it. And even though I might get a little overwhelmed cooking sometimes, it is true that putting some time into food prep once a week can really simplify my kitchen time for the rest of the week.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking and inspiring post!

    • ali

      I was going to recommend Mark Bittman’s books because they are really good. He has a couple of minimalist cookbooks as well as the Food Matters cookbook.

      Also a good resource is America’s Test Kitchen. I love their magazine, although I no longer subscribe to it or Cook’s Country, but they offer great advice as well as product reviews and their recipes range from down to earth to fancier. With Cook’s Country emphasizing more “home cooking” style recipes.

      Although I will say while few savory recipes have to be followed exactly there are some basic techniques that make things easier and the whole idea of having precise measurements came from more cookbooks being sold and recipes that went from calling for a fist full of this or butter the size of an egg because people’s hands are different and eggs could be different sizes.

      One reason for precise measurements – to make sure beloved family recipes aren’t lost. My great grandmother made a wonderful crabcake (I’m told she died before I was born) but no one could get her to measure and she was…barely 5′ tall, she’d reach her hand in a jar of mayo and use a handful of that. A lot of measuring by hand. The person who was the most comfortable cooking and tryign to replicate those recipes was just under 6′. She couldn’t measure by hand like that and never could get my great grandmother to put anything in measuring spoons. So the recipe is lost.

      And then a lot of the stuff is just to make people who aren’t comfortable cookign feel more comfortable. Baking is different because of chemical reactions but how long to cook something and how it can be seasoned can be easily adjusted. I look at recipes as guidelines.

      Another tip for minimalist cooking – buying herbs and spices in bulk. Buying as much as you’ll use, and (even better to me) if there’s a recipe calling for something I don’t normally use or havewn’t tried before it’s nice to know I can go spend less than $.25 on an ingredient rather than $4 for a bottle of something I might not use later.

  • I found that book in a used bookstore many years ago and it has survived multiple purgings! I would also highly recommend An Everlasting Meal by by Tamar Adler, which I think you would enjoy. She writes beautifully about food and cooking. There are recipes but it’s really more a way of thinking about food, using everything up and not wasting, keeping things simple, etc.

  • Linda

    I loved reading this post, and the comments. I am a real fan of simple, easily prepared meals that all the family like. Much less fuss that way, and frees up heaps of time. Lunches can also be the same. When my boys were preschoolers I always made a lunchbox for them every day, whether we went out to Playcentre or not. Sandwiches, fruit, a muffin, yoghurt. That way they could just eat out of their lunchboxes during the day if we stayed home, (less meal prep and cleanup) or if I took them out somewhere else I just packed up the boxes and drink bottles so we always had food on hand and I didn’t need to buy any food for them. I knew they would always eat what was in there because it was food they liked. When they were bigger and heading out with their grandad for a morning the lunchboxes still went with them – which meant that he didn’t need to think about snacks and I’m sure it made the prospect of babysitting more attractive! Now my boys are 18 & 16 – and when we go out somewhere I still make sure I have some snacks on hand. This simple habit has saved so much time, head space, mess and cash over the years.

  • Marissa

    I’m not into just having one of everything at once since I love bulk buying all of my consumables, but when it comes to my health and the kitchen, I take things personally. In the past and even recently, I saved up for pots and just recently, a pan Made in America for cooking salmon and shrimp on. I haven’t used this Made in America pan yet, but I hope to soon! My other pots are Le Crueset and Made in France. ; ) But about food now… I keep all of my meals simple. When I stick to the way I like to eat throughout the week (I call this my “diet” instead of my “lifestyle”, lol xD; ), I keep my vegetables and fruit unchopped, my chicken thighs skinless and whole with spices on them, and as for my salmon and shrimp, I used to eat them whole. But, I recently started mixing the two meats with quinua, seasoning the quinua along with the meat, and this makes for a filling meal! I serve this meal with either a fruit or a vegetable. So delicious! ^ o^

    But I could never have one of each item though. I admire what you are doing with your only one of everything challenge, but in my mind, I think the challenge is just too extreme. But on the other hand, some minimalists only have 100 things and I guess they had one of each item and I found that pretty cool, so who am I to judge, lol? ^^; Keep doing what you’re doing! 8D I would never be able to do it though. But sometimes I think… If I had to up and leave my home immediately and I had the biggest suitcase they made, I may be able to pull it off. Which amazes me when I think about it. I guess I’m just not attached to my things as I thought I was. Even though I am not a Christian anymore, but I do remember Jesus said not to store your treasures on earth where moths can get to them, but to store your treasures in heaven. Which what seems to be what you are doing! That’s awesome! C:

    It’s getting warmer where I live, but still cold at night. Stay warm! C:

  • Apple

    Recently, I finished my own cookery book. It is a book only for me and for my little family, containing the recipes of all the foods (soups, salads, main dished, desserts, breads) we love and regularly eat. It is a hand-written book, which I hope will benefit my children some day too. I love the fact that I could eliminate my cookery books, and that I simplified our mealplanning and cooking process.

    • Karen T.

      Hi Apple! I too hand-wrote a cookbook for my kids when they were little (about 15 years ago), including recipes for breakfast foods, soups, salads, main dishes, and desserts that we all loved and ate regularly. I even sketched a few pictures and included some food quotes from their favorite books (Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice, the Wind in the Willows characters, and nursery rhymes all talk a lot about food, lol). I also wrote about what they might need to set up their own first kitchens. I made copies for each child, which they have and use in their own apartments now. I had so much fun doing it, and it really is a sort of family heirloom! I think your kids will be so happy to have your personal cookery book.

  • dnbutterfly

    I have been thinking along similar lines… How can kitchen duties be simplified? Simpler preparations = less dishes to wash & put away = perhaps a clean counter sometimes? (Which would make me very happy). I shared the idea of perhaps going raw with my husband and he laughed out loud. Apparently, that seems boring to him, so we won’t be doing it anytime soon either… But maybe if u do a few raw meals that aren’t boring, I can sway him to do it some of the time. Thank you for sharing your ruminations.

  • Amy

    Love this post, Francine. The kitchen is my one remaining area to minimize and I still struggle with making simple meals. I am going to check out the cookbook you recommended!

  • Sara

    Me and my husband have always cooked simple things and use fresh produce, yet we partake our share of junk food and sweets too; neither of us enjoys extremes. Our kitchen is also simple when it comes to appliances, since we don’t have many.

    The main thing about food that I’ve simplified over the years is all the emotional baggage that goes with it. Mainly I’ve ditched guilt and unrealistic ideals. :) I love balance and to me that means stay off extremes and vary your diet.

  • Ariel

    I have been trying out using my cast iron skillet for everything, and have found I don’t even miss my fancier, all-sizes, nonstick pans. If you keep the skillet cleaned and well oiled, it is fairly non stick. And it’s a relief to only have the ONE. Space to breath. It seems to hold more value as the tool I use to cook all of my food.

  • My husband and I are empty nesters and we tend to eat very simply. One of us will make a pot of something and then we eat for two or three days in a row.
    Breakfast is always cereals. Lunch is left overs with lots and lots and lots of veggies to snack on (you can cut up all those veggies in one longer session and have them ready to go). Dinner– we start with a big green salad complete with cucumbers, walnuts, and cranberries. Then soups, pastas, rice with something on top.
    Simple works for us.

  • I’m a raw vegan, but keep things super simple. I’d never enjoyed cooking so raw has allowed me to create very simple meals, using few ingredients & taking little time. Usually everyday I have smoothies & 1 solid meal which is usually a large salad. Occasionally I’ll make a raw soup or other meal. I rarely make gourmet meals & when I do they’re very easy to make. I own/use a blender (Vitamix), mini chopper & on occasion a spiralizer for zucchini pasta. The rest I own as little as possible & could even cut back more. I either don’t have or use: pans, stove, oven, microwave, coffee maker/pot, tea kettle/pot, toaster, grill, baking dishes, baking sheets, mixing bowls, whisk, garlic press, cheese grater, flour sifter, pressure cooker, crockpot, pot holders, tongs, coasters, bottle/can opener/wine corker, wine glasses, recipe books, etc. On the occasion when I need a recipe, I have a document on my computer with them.

    I began raw eating with a lot more variety & more gourmet-type meals, but eventually you learn to eat more simply. You also learn you don’t need to add tons of flavor because most natural food (mainly fruits & veggies) tastes good alone, especially when uncooked. Your tastebuds learn to enjoy what food is suppose to taste like. I ended up being a minimalist when it comes to food, but not on purpose. Minimalism just naturally has occurred in all areas of my life.

    Simple hummus, though it does require a blender. If you have a good blender, you don’t need to chop in advance but blend on low before adding other ingredients.

    No-Bean Hummus Yields 16oz.
    2 Zucchini, peeled & chopped
    ¾ cup Tahini (or ¾ cup Sesame Seeds, ground)
    ½ cup Lemon juice
    ¼ cup Olive Oil
    2-4 Garlic cloves, chopped
    2 tsp Salt
    ½ Tbs Cayenne or Cumin powder
    Blend well.

  • Viridine

    I love http://www.thestonesoup.com for simple recipe ideas. 5 ingredients and 15 minutes. She’s a photographer as well and her recipes have gorgeous pictures.

  • Gail

    I am basically a noncook- bad childhood experiences (only in the kitchen, rest was good) and whole host of other adulthood reasons. But in this season of my life, i feel a calling to cook, cook a few things well . Who knew that reading a blog on minimalism would bring me to a cook book that “speaks” to me? My back ground is different than authors, she’s 1st generation Italian American, my southern roots go back 400 years and her family cooked to show love while my family treated it like a necessary task. I purchased book after reading your post and now I’m devouring it. The soul and philosophy behind the writing and recipes are answering the call I feel. Now onward and upward to the doing. Truly, i am excited. Thanks for referencing “Unlugged Kitchen”.

  • Smash O'Trivia

    I’ve started a kitchen-simplifying experiment of my own. Not only to reduce my kitchen gadgets and pantry, but also to eat at home more often. I’ve made a “House Menu” – six or seven dinners that I can make well and always like to eat. Plus some breakfast foods and sandwich fixings for lunches. I only need the equipment and ingredients to make these things. No more shiny new recipes with obscure ingredients to try to add “variety” to my kitchen. I’ll leave that to the chefs when we do go out to eat.

  • jessica

    I use the rice cooker is my go to, for simple meals. Mine is a zojiroshi and it has a timer I can set as well as lots of settings, but a cheap rice cooker should be able to cook the below stuff too.

    Things I make in it:
    Rice with salmon: 2 rice cooker cups sushi rice, water to the 2 cup line in the pot and fresh salmon layer on top of the rice, turn the rice cooker on regular rice setting and walk away (you can leave it plain or add lemon or lime juice, cilantro, a pat of butter if you like)

    Potatoes with carrots and chicken sausage: put medium to small red potatoes and carrots cut into chunks into rice cooker, add 4 Apple chicken sausages to top, add 1/2 cup water, close and put on regular rice setting

    Chicken Tikka Masala: 1 lb chicken, cut into chunks, 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 jar tikka masala curry paste (or any Indian curry paste), 1/2 cup water, one onion sliced, put it all in the rice cooker one the regular rice setting, serve over rice and top with fresh cilantro

    Grits: 1 cup regular (not instant) and 4 cups of water, and to rice cooker and use either the regular rice setting or the porraige setting, season with salt, butter or olive oil to taste. You can also add some shredded cheese to the grits and stir it in, though I usually don’t) fry up some eggs and add some fruit for a meal

    Red lentil curry: 1 cup red lentils, 2 cups water, 1 onion diced, 1 1/2 tsp olive oil, 1 tbsp curry paste (pick which ever one is at your level of spice) 1/2 tsp turmeric,
    1/2 tsp cumin,1/2 tsp chili powder,1/2 tsp salt,1 clove minced garlic,1/2 inch minced ginger, 8 oz tomato paste, put all in rice cooker and set to regular rice setting, serve over rice

    Pasta: 2 cups broth, 1 cup pasta sauce, 1/4 cup cooked ground meat of choice, 1 tsp olive oil, 1/8 tsp Italian seasoning (optional), 1/8 cup grated parmesan, 2 cups gluten free Pasta (i like trader Joes Brown rice pasta ziti) , 2 tbsp fresh parsley (optional), put all in rice cooker on regular rice setting, add a salad

    Tatties, kraut, and sausage: 1 14 oz can sauerkraut undrained, 2-3 cups cubed red potatoes, 2-4 turkey sausages, put all in rice cooker on regular rice setting

    Mac and cheese: 2 cups trader Joes gluten free ziti pasta, 1 cup chicken stock/broth, 1 cup milk, add to cooker and cook in regular rice cycle, add 1 1/4 cup shredded cheese of choice one tbsp butter and salt to taste (depends on how saltty your broth is), stir this in and close cooker on warm for t minutes ( this is the first recipe I has my daughter cook herself)

  • I live in a small place (600 sq ft) with a small galley kitchen and I still cook really big. I only have one sauce pan, saute pan, ceramic frying pan and stock pot. Those are the only 4 pots and pans I use. For oven stuff, my stoneware serving pieces do double duty. I find that when you only have a few tools that you use all the time, you become better with them and more efficient. You’re also forced to clean them right away so dishes don’t tend to pile up.

    For odd things like pizza stones or double boilers…I just borrow if the need arises. :)

  • Dylan

    I’m at a loss to understand how animal products are “minimalist.” The animal exploitation industry is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases on the planet, spewing a staggering 51% of total GHGs out every year.

    Dairy cows, like chickens exploited for eggs, are among the very worst abused and tortured beings on the planet. This is one of many reasons why becoming a “lacto ovo vegetarian” for ethical reasons is ludicrous. If one is interested in leading a more compassionate and ethical (and minimalist) life, eggs and dairy are the first products to stop supporting.

    Capitalist society has a great propaganda machine instilling in people that exploitation and oppression are okay. “The poor deserve what they get,” “Muslims are terrorists,” “a cow is not a human being,” ad nauseam. Then there is the utterly bourgeois stuff like “My meat is humanely raised.” How much grasslands are you willing to turn into grazing land for your supposed “ethical” meat? Enough to feed billions?

    Instead of recognizing animals for what they are, living, feeling, and sentient beings, it is reinforced in typical capitalist fashion that they are simply objects and property to be exploited.

    If one doesn’t care a whit about the GHG issue, or the land abuse issue, or the water issues, or the oppressive human labor issues associated with animal exploitation for food, then at least acknowledge that we know a lot more about animal sentience than we once did. If an animal has a brain and nerve endings, (s)he feels pain.

  • Rashmi

    Wow! I’m so awed and inspired!!! The original post as well as all the comments are so informative. I recently purchased Joy of less through amazon recommendation and absolutely loved it. I shared your philosophy with my family and everybody agreed to psych in. It also helped that it’s the Diwali weekend and I pitched these ideas with a call to help those less fortunate with donating our superfluous items. It worked! In just one day we created 9 large garbage bags full of clothes/ books/ linen etc. for the local charity, and we’ve just started. Thank you so much for the great ideas. Keep up the good work & stay blessed!

  • Rashmi

    A minor typo above- everybody pitched in

  • Debra Wheeler

    I love your One cookbook. My DH and I have just agreed to simplify our diet to whole grains, fish or chicken, and salad or soups. We need to lose weight, get healthy, and reduce our time in the kitchen. No more packaged fake food. Thanks for your encouragement.

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