On Eating Less (aka The Minimalist Diet)

Happy fall, everyone! We’re having the most gorgeous weather here in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m soaking in every last ray of sunshine before it starts raining (and raining and raining). I’m enjoying a few more weeks of wearing my One Shoe before I have to switch over to the rain boots…

So I’m writing a new book, and experimenting with minimalism on all kinds of levels. I posted last about my Unplugged Summer, a lovely exercise in dialing back my digital commitments. Basically, I faced my fear of being unproductive, and was rewarded in spades with a mother/daughter summer I’ll always treasure.

But that’s not the only minimalist thing I did this summer. I also experimented with eating—or to be more specific, eating less.

To be honest, I didn’t do it for weight loss reasons. I’d read a study on how consuming fewer calories might lead to a longer life—and I was curious what it would feel like to consume fewer calories.

But being rather lazy about such things, I had no interest in actually counting calories or changing the foods I ate. Therefore, I went about it in a very unscientific way: I simply ate less. For each meal, I put roughly 2/3 of my normal portion on my plate (no measurements—just eyeballing it) and didn’t have seconds.

In addition, I stopped snacking, and never, ever ate anything after dinner. If I felt hungry, I’d drink a glass or two of water instead. I also limited alcohol to special occasions and Saturday nights. If I had dessert, I’d have one-half of my usual allotment (half of a cookie instead of a whole one, one scoop of ice cream instead of two).

By not giving up anything, I never felt deprived. Instead, I appreciated what I did eat all the more. When my quantities were limited, I actually savored every bite—each meal became an event, instead of another task to rush through in my daily routine.

I still got to taste all that delicious food, just in a slightly smaller volume. And it’s not really the volume that brings us joy, is it? To compensate for the smaller portion, I ate more slowly and mindfully, and felt a new gratitude for what was on my plate. And I can’t tell you how much I looked forward (and still do) to that weekly glass of wine!

In the process, I faced my fear of feeling hungry. (I never knew I had such a fear, but why else did I snack or “fill up” at meals?) This summer, when my stomach growled, I didn’t panic and reach for food—I sat with the feeling and experienced it without judgment. In other words, I didn’t associate hunger with “bad” and rush to get rid of it; I thanked my body for its feedback, and vowed to enjoy every morsel of my next meal.

Since beginning this experiment, I’ve lost 12 pounds—they came off slowly and steadily over the last four months, without eating or avoiding any particular foods. (I’m still in the healthy BMI range for my height, albeit at the low end.) Will I live any longer? Who knows—but I’m continuing the practice, because I like the lightness and mindfulness that’s come with eating less.

Now it must be said that I know how absolutely privileged I am to do this by choice. Sadly, too many people experience hunger by circumstances beyond their control; food insecurity is a devastating problem, afflicting 1 in 8 people in the United States alone (here’s one way to help). I can’t imagine the terror of being hungry when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.

But just because we have the means to eat as much as we want, should we? Or would our bodies (and planet) be healthier if we learned to feel satisfied with a little less? It would certainly reduce our risk of obesity-related illnesses; but could it also bring us more gratitude for our abundance, and more empathy for those without?

I don’t have the answer to this. It’s just something I’ve been pondering, and would love to know your thoughts. As with my Joy of One series, I can’t really give a compelling reason for the things I do (and I’m certainly not suggesting that you do them, too). I simply like to experiment with living, and figure out how we can maximize our well-being and live harmoniously in the world.

So tell me in the Comments—is eating less something you would try? Could it replace all those fad diets? How do you feel about feeling hungry? Would you do it for reasons other than weight loss (philosophical, spiritual, environmental)? Has your minimalist practice influenced your feelings about food? Here’s hoping for a lively discussion that’ll take us where we haven’t gone before… :)

[And no, my new book isn’t about food or dieting; this “diet” is so simple, the book would only be one page! I’ll be keeping much of it under wraps until publication, but will share some early tidbits with my email subscribers—so be sure to sign up for my email list to get a first look.]

100 Essentials: One Bowl Eating, Revisited

{This series is based on my latest book, 100 Essentials: Simple Kitchen + Capsule Wardrobe + Minimalist Home. In it, you’ll find the full list of my personal possessions, with detailed explanations and 100 color photos—including my 35-item kitchen, 35-item wardrobe, and more. I hope this series will start some interesting discussions on what you can’t live without!}

Thank you for all your wonderful Comments on the Great Plate Debate! It’s so much fun to trade ideas and experiences as we eliminate the excess and pare down to the essentials. I was particularly glad to hear that Corelle has been a safe, durable, and versatile choice for so many of you.

In addition to a plate, a bowl makes my list of 100 Essentials. If circumstances allowed, I could make this my only piece of dishware (hmm, 99 Essentials?).

In fact, long, long ago, I wrote on this blog about my desire to eat all my meals from a single bowl. All of my go-to foods fit easily in this simple vessel, and I felt it would make for a more meditative, appreciative dining experience.

Seven years later, I feel the same way—yet still haven’t achieved that goal. What happened? Life got in the way.

We returned from our overseas sojourn, and settled down (somewhat) to have a child. Back among friends and family, we entertained more often. We had a daughter, who, as she grew into a toddler, did not like her constituent foods to be mixed together. It’s hard to keep the fish from touching the rice from touching the veggies when you’re eating out of a bowl. :)

As she’s grown, the co-mingling of food has become more acceptable. She loves a good noodle bowl, adores paella, and no longer insists that her pasta stand alone (yay!).

The notion of one bowl eating has returned to my consciousness. I’m slowly and subtly introducing more such dishes into our menu. I won’t be tossing the plates anytime soon, but am curious to see how much we can do with a bowl.

I’ve been exploring the internet for ideas and recipes, and am thrilled to see so many new cookbooks on one bowl eating:

Clean Bowls, Great Bowls, Whole Bowls, Nourish Bowls—so much potential deliciousness! I’m making my way through their reviews, to see which best suit my needs. In particular, I like cookbooks that focus on basic cooking techniques, and don’t require the use of food processors, blenders, and other specialty appliances.

And even though I don’t always eat vegan, I tend to cook vegan; we’re not big meat eaters, and the little one doesn’t like eggs, or anything creamy or cheesy. Now if some minimalist chef would write Unplugged One Bowl Mostly Vegan Meals, that would be awesome.

On that note, I sincerely believe that embracing minimalism can help us become healthier people. The more mindful we are about our possessions, the more mindful we become about the behaviors and routines surrounding those possessions—in this case, what we put into our bodies.

As for the bowl itself—I never buy sets, so my family’s current collection is a hodgepodge of glass and ceramic, just like our plates. After the Comments on my last post, however, I’m newly intrigued by bone china and bamboo, and intend to explore these options the next time we need a replacement.

So, have any of you adopted (or practiced) one bowl eating since we last discussed it? Please share your experiences, favorite recipes, or favorite bowl with us in the Comments!

100 Essentials: The Great Plate Debate

{This series is based on my latest book, 100 Essentials: Simple Kitchen + Capsule Wardrobe + Minimalist Home. In it, you’ll find the full list of my personal possessions, with detailed explanations and 100 color photos—including my 35-item kitchen, 35-item wardrobe, and more. I hope this series will start some interesting discussions on what you can’t live without!}

Everyone’s list of Essentials will be different—the stuff in my 35-item kitchen certainly won’t be the same as yours. But I think almost all of us would include a plate (and if you wouldn’t, do tell!).

The big question is: what kind of plate?

Truth be told, I never gave much thought to plates before my daughter was born. If I needed one, I’d just pick something pretty. But somehow, becoming a mother put all kinds of new hazards on my radar.

Before she came along, we had stoneware plates. They were lovely to look at, but weighed a ton. They were hard to hold on to while washing (I chipped quite a few), and I didn’t look forward to transporting them when it came time to relocate.

But most of all, I started worrying about lead. Apparently, it’s not uncommon in ceramic dinnerware—particularly vintage pieces, and those with colored glazes or decorations. Dishware sold in the United States is supposed to conform to legal limits; but given the wide variety available, and the global nature of manufacturing, it was hard (for me) to believe that retailers were tracking the info on every dish. I wasn’t too keen on testing them with a home kit, so I started to look for alternatives.

We made the switch to Corelle plates, which are made of a glass laminate. They’re lightweight and durable, meaning my daughter could start setting the table as a toddler. They also stack compactly, and are a dream to move (instead of painstakingly wrapping each plate, I’d simply pile them all together and wrap the lot). Plus, the plain white style is lead-free.

Great, right? We used them happily for years. But then I tripped across some reports of tempered glass shattering spontaneously, or if hit the wrong way. Sure, the possibility was remote, and I wasn’t particularly concerned for myself—but off went my mommy alarm bells.

So I passed that set along to an interested party, and bought a regular glass plate for my little one. Yes, it will break if dropped, but seems a little more predictable. I still have a few ceramic plates that my husband and I use—they’re plain white (so less likely to have lead), and we’re not in a high-risk group (like children and pregnant women) for lead poisoning. I received them as gifts, and rather like them, so continue to use and enjoy them.

Our current plates are a hodgepodge of styles, but I actually prefer that to a matching set.

I would love to hear your thoughts! What kind of plates do you use and why?

The Joy of One: Pan

My husband and I have had a pretty nomadic life together, and since we were always on the move, we never invested in quality cookware. Pots and pans are heavy and awkward to transport, so we would usually pick them up randomly as needed, then donate the lot before moving on and starting over again.

Well, we’re hoping to stay in our current location for the long haul, so when it comes to kitchenware, it’s time for a change in strategy. And that’s part of the motivation behind my One series: I’m ready to choose quality, versatile items that’ll last forever, instead of a mishmash of “temporary” things that sort of get the job done.

Furthermore, when it comes to cookware, few things stress me out more than a cabinet with a clanging, haphazard pile of pots and pans. That’s why I could never buy pots and pans in sets—it would drive me mad to rustle through a multitude of pieces to find the one I’m looking for. I would much rather open a cabinet and see a few carefully-chosen items sitting peacefully in their spots, without competing for elbow room with a dozen others. To me, that makes for a more serene kitchen than having a pan in every shape and size.

The combination of our cross-country move and an induction cooktop in our new house has given me an opportunity to start over again with respect to cookware. I’ve been researching various options, tracking our meals (and what we use to prepare them), and engaging any willing parties in conversation about their favorite pots and pans.

For my family of three, I find a large pan essential for our needs—but I didn’t want to own both a frying pan (shallow with curved sides) and sauté pan (deeper with straight sides). Fortunately, I found a brilliant compromise: a deep, multipurpose stainless steel pan with sloping sides and a lid. It can be used to sear, sauté, stew, stir fry, brown, braise, and reduce sauces. The higher sides keep liquids in, yet still allow for tossing on the stovetop. (For those who want to know, it’s called a “weeknight pan” by the company that makes it.) It can even go in the oven.

As if that’s not versatile enough, it can also be used to make one pan pasta. Like Toni, one of my Commenters last week, I discovered this on the internet and was intrigued by the simplicity (and minimal cleanup) of this technique. You simply put the pasta, olive oil, vegetables, herbs, etc. in the pan, cover it with water, and stir frequently for about 9 minutes while the water evaporates. (No need to lug 8 quarts of hot water across the kitchen to dump in a colander!) I started experimenting about a month ago with this One Pan Lemon Garlic Pasta, and it’s become one of my family’s favorites (I replace half the butter with a drizzle of olive oil for a less creamy sauce). I look forward to expanding my repertoire of these one pan dishes, as they’re perfect for busy weeknights. (So if you have a favorite, please tell me about it in the Comments!)

We’ve been using this One Pan exclusively for two months now, and so far it’s covered all our needs. However, I should point out that we’re not big egg eaters (my daughter will only eat them in hard-boiled form). If you like yours fried, scrambled, or as an omelette, you might need a small cast iron skillet. (I’ve read that with the right temperature and enough fat, you can cook eggs in stainless steel without sticking, but I haven’t tried it myself.)

So this has been a pretty easy Joy of One challenge—see, they’re not all as crazy as One Shoe. ;-) And I have to say, I’m just enjoying this series so much. I thank you all for your wonderful comments on my Simpler Kitchen post—so many great ideas and resources. I loved hearing how your grandmothers used their hands or favorite teacups to measure, and I’m totally inspired to make hummus with a mortar and pestle (as Bette pointed out, it’s been made for centuries without a food processor!).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on having One Pan. Would that work for you, or do you have reason to own more?

{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.}

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.


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.}

100 Possessions: Glass Plates and Bowls

After I graduated from college, I inherited a beautiful set of china from my grandmother. My fantasy self—the one who planned to throw fabulous dinner parties in her English manor house—was elated to own twelve place settings of vintage tableware. My real self, however—the one who carefully wrapped every dinner plate, salad plate, dessert plate, bowl, cup, and saucer during each move—became decidedly less enthusiastic about it over time.

After going through the painstaking process of packing and unpacking it at least four times (and constantly worrying about breaking an irreplaceable piece), I’d had enough. I finally gave the whole set to a less nomadic family member, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The irony: despite all the effort I put into preserving it, I’d used it on only one or two “special” occasions.

My dinnerware today is much simpler: four glass plates and two glass bowls, pictured above. Sure, it may not be as elegant—but it’s inexpensive, lightweight, and causes me not a whit of worry. The last time I moved, I didn’t even bother to wrap it up. Should I break a piece, I can simply nip on down to my local Ikea and pick up another ($0.99 in US, £0.70 in UK). And should I someday decide that transporting it is a hassle, I can donate it to a charity shop (or give it away on Freecycle), and spend about $6 to replace it at my new destination.

What about entertaining? So far, it hasn’t been a problem. We rarely have more than two guests for dinner, and if multiple courses are involved, I wash the plates in between. The very few times I’ve been short on tableware—like when I hosted Thanksgiving dinner—I’ve simply borrowed from friends and family. No one ever seemed put out by my request, but rather happy to contribute to the occasion. (I think the pooling of resources can enhance the warmth of a gathering, much like a potluck dinner!)

Certainly, I can’t guarantee that I’ll have the right plate (or enough plates) to accommodate every possible culinary situation. But that’s okay by me: what I have fits my current lifestyle, and when it comes to dinnerware, I’m perfectly content to “live on the edge.” ;-)

And though my grandmother’s set was lovely, I personally like the simplicity and versatility of plain glass. It blends with a variety of décor, is appropriate for any occasion, and most importantly, calls attention not to itself, but to its contents. For in the end, it’s what’s on the plate that really matters anyway!

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

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

Ramblings On Food

One of my favorite things about writing this blog are the interesting discussions that take place in the Comments section—and did we have a great one this week, sparked by Sylvia’s Real Life Minimalist feature! For those of you who missed it, it revolved around the myriad of choices we make when it comes to food—such as being vegans, vegetarians, omnivores, or other; opting for grass-fed versus grain-fed animals; and the implications of our eating habits on our health and the environment.

I’ve written very little about food on this blog, save from my desire to eat every meal from a single bowl. It’s not because the topic doesn’t interest me; but rather, because food is such a personal (and controversial) subject, and there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet.

This week, however, I received several emails requesting that I write about my personal dietary choices. I’m happy to oblige, and keep this discussion going—but here’s my disclaimer: these are my own personal choices, and not my recommendations for anyone else.

So, here we go—fourteen things you didn’t know about me and my food:

1. I’ve always considered myself a vegetarian, but technically that’s not correct. The more appropriate term, it seems, would be lacto-ovo-pescaterian. What a mouthful! That’s because I eat fish, dairy, and most recently, eggs (more on that below).

2. I feel a little guilty when I eat fish; swimming around all day seems like a pretty nice life, and I hate to cut it short. But the health benefits are so great, and they’re so tasty, I do it anyway. For health and environmental reasons, I stick to wild-caught and avoid anything farmed. I also indulge sparingly, about 2-4 times a month.

3. I can’t become a vegan because I love a good artisan cheese. My husband and I like to make a casual dinner (or picnic) from bread, cheese, olives, and wine.

4. I have no fear of carbs, but no craving for them either. So I partake in bread and pasta when I wish—but since I don’t have a frequent desire for them, it all stays in moderation. I’m also lucky enough to have inherited a good metabolism, and I usually walk about 2 miles a day.

5. I used to detest eggs, mainly because my experience with them had been limited to the supermarket variety. That changed last year, when I stayed at a wonderful little bed-and-breakfast on a farm in Wales. The hostess made the most delicious breakfast with eggs from her own hens—and since then, I’ve come to enjoy the occasional farm fresh egg.

6. I don’t eat meat in large part due to taste; I simply don’t like the flavor or texture of beef, chicken, or pork. My parents don’t either, so except for a Thanksgiving turkey, it rarely made an appearance at our dinner table. I imagine my body doesn’t feel the need for meat since I basically grew up without it.

7. That said, I occasionally sample a local meat specialty while traveling. I’ve had pheasant in England, Iberico ham in Spain, and mangalica (hairy pig) in Hungary (thankfully, it wasn’t hairy when served!). This usually takes the form of my swiping a few bites from my husband’s plate, as I typically can’t stomach an entire meat entrée. (My husband also doesn’t eat meat at home, but sees it as a cultural experience when we travel.)

8. I recently read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and am quite disturbed by the industrial food system. As a result, I’m more determined than ever to eat as locally as possible. And to be honest, you couldn’t pay me to ingest the beef or poultry from one of those factory farms.

9. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I enjoy indulging in the local specialty when I travel (churros in Spain, pastel de Belém in Portugal, macarons in Paris). When at home, however, I’m perfectly happy with the occasional square of dark chocolate.

10. I’ve loved vegetables since I was a child. I can wander around a farmers’ market or produce section for hours admiring the colors, shapes, and varieties, and prefer simple preparations (steamed, sautéed, grilled) that bring out their natural flavors. (I’ve been frustrated in many a British pub when my veggies arrive swimming in cheese or sauce!)

11. I like tofu. (Yes, I know it’s processed, but it’s a good source of protein for me.) I prefer it steamed with vegetables, or served cold as hiyayakko.

12. In general, I prefer simple, rustic food over elaborate preparations. My perfect meal would be picked from a garden (or plucked from the sea) and cooked over an open flame.

13. I can’t eat anything that’s cute—ducks, lambs, rabbits, etc. I’ve even spent too many afternoons in the company of cows (walking through pastures in England) to be able to eat one. Of course, I don’t fault anyone else who does; it’s just my own personal hangup. I still feel bad about the pheasant, particularly after encountering quite a few on our countryside rambles.

14. Eating seasonally makes me extraordinarily happy. I look forward to asparagus and strawberries in the spring, peaches and corn in the summer, and apples and squash in the fall. It reminds me of my childhood (my parents had a large garden when I was small), and gives me something to anticipate and celebrate year round.

To sum it up, I’d say my diet is 95% plants (fruits, grains, and vegetables), supplemented with a daily yogurt, a biweekly cheese, a weekly fish, and a monthly egg. Hey, you wanted to know. ;-)

If there’s anything minimalist about the way I eat, it’s the following:

* Moderate portions. I tend not to overeat, simply because I don’t like to feel stuffed.

* Minimal processed foods. Fresh, whole foods are tastier, and more fun to cook and eat; plus, you don’t have to read labels and worry about the ingredients.

* Minimal packaging. An added benefit of avoiding processed foods.

* Minimal environmental impact, I hope. I try to eat local foods when possible, and avoid anything I know to be particularly harmful to the planet.

* Minimal angst. I really don’t spend a lot of time worrying about food or fat or calories or fads. I eat what I like, and what makes me feel healthy.

I enjoyed writing this post, and hope it doesn’t incite a firestorm of controversy. Let me reiterate that this is simply how I eat, and not how I think anyone else should. I’d love to hear more about your choices, and hope you’ll share them in the Comments!

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

Smitten: The Cupboard-Less Kitchen

When my husband and I renovated our former home, we completely gutted the kitchen (not a frivolous endeavor, but a necessity—it was a grungy, wood-paneled, 1970s nightmare). But instead of installing kitchen cupboards in every nook and cranny, we left the overhead space bare. Practically, it worked for us, as we were fortunate enough to have a large pantry and minimal kitchenware. And aesthetically, we loved it—the absence of overhead cabinets gave the space an open, airy, and serene look.

At the end of next month, we’ll be moving into our fifth “home” in less than a year (and another temporary one, at that). In our parade of apartments, sublets, and extended stay accommodations, I’ve lived with a variety of kitchens. They’ve invariably had an overhead bank of cabinets, which is starting to look ponderous, oppressive, and a bit tired to me. I’m once again craving a simple kitchen, with open shelving and the barest of necessities.

To see what I’m dreaming about, check out the photos in these links (and mentally subtract 75% of the stuff!):

Kitchen: Open Shelf Roundup | Remodelista

Great Open Kitchen Shelving That Will Inspire You | Apartment Therapy New York

Kitchen Gallery: Bright White + Warm Wood | Apartment Therapy The Kitchn

Limiting kitchen storage space probably goes against every renovation, design, and real estate rule in the book. I love it nonetheless, and plan to do something similar the next time I own a home. Kitchen cupboards make it too easy to hide things (the freebie glasses, the extra plates, the tower of takeout containers you’ll never reuse). When your kitchenware is on display, it’s wonderful motivation to keep it to a minimum. :)

Here’s a few tips for making a cupboard-less kitchen work:

1. Pare down to the stuff you love. If you have open shelving, you’ll be looking at your plates, cups, and glasses all the time—better make sure they make you smile! It’s a great excuse to get rid of that ugly dinnerware you inherited from Aunt Edna.

2. Group similar items together. It’s an elegant and visually-appealing way to display collections, and works just as well with your kitchenware. A stack of white plates, or line of simple glassware, can look quite elegant.

3. Have a place for everything, and return everything to its place. This simple strategy will keep things looking neat and organized, with minimum effort.

4. Use mason jars for foodstuffs and supplies. Pasta, beans, rice, and tea bags look much lovelier in glass containers than supermarket packaging.

5. Keep only what you use. When your kitchen storage is open, seldom-used items will surely acquire a layer of dust. On the upside, this will certainly make you mindful of what you need, and what you can do without!

If you’ve edited down to a minimalist kitchen, ditching the overhead cabinets is a wonderful way to lighten and brighten your space—as well as show off your fabulous decluttering skills. It also keeps you honest, and provides a powerful disincentive to acquiring non-necessities in the future.

Anyone else smitten with a cupboard-less kitchen?

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

100 Possessions: Glass Tumblers

glasses-200Once upon a time, my husband and I had a cupboard full of glasses: water glasses, juice glasses, pint glasses, wine glasses, champagne glasses, even whiskey glasses. Name a beverage, and we likely had a special glass for it.

In hindsight, it seems ridiculous – but we hadn’t gone out and purchased them all at once. They just slowly accumulated over the years we lived in our house. Some we bought for daily needs, some we received as gifts, and some we acquired for special occasions.

Some we used every day, and some we used just once or twice a year. But because they generally came four to six in a set, we had far too many for a household of two.

When we moved to the UK, we said “enough” to all those glasses. Since they didn’t make the trip overseas, we had a chance to start over – and we did so with the four simple tumblers pictured above.

Our strategy was to start with those, and add more only when absolutely necessary. As we’d moved to a foreign country where we knew very few people, we didn’t anticipate throwing big cocktail or dinner parties.

Well, I’m happy to report that eighteen months later, we haven’t found need to add to our collection. Our various beverages taste perfectly fine in the same simple glass – who knew?

My greatest concern had been wine. Would the lack of a fancy glass do a disservice to a fine vintage? Maybe – but since our bottles of choice are generally in the sub-$10 category, I needn’t have worried. In fact, while traveling through Europe, I’ve been thrilled to discover that the restaurants we love most (rustic, down-to-earth, family-run) serve their wine the same way. I’m sure many a connoisseur would disagree, but I’ve come to prefer a simple glass over fussy stemware.

Ah, but what if we need to entertain? Well, we rarely host dinner for more than four people; and if called upon to do so, glasses would likely be the least of my worries (after plates, flatware, seating, and oh yes, a dining table). If the occasion arose, I would rent or borrow what’s needed, depending on the scale of the affair. At this semi-nomadic time in my life, I can’t justify owning all that stuff for a giant “what if?”.

So what do you think – have I violated all sorts of culinary decorum here? What’s the glass / people ratio in your household?

(This post is part of my “100 Possessions” series, in which I explain why each item I own deserves a place in my minimalist life.)

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

A Minimalist Cookbook

Meg's No-Knead Baguettes (Photo by Steve Johnson)

Meg's No-Knead Baguettes (Photo by Steve Johnson)

Over the last few months, I’ve received many requests for posts on minimalist cooking. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart, since my new tiny apartment came with a tiny kitchen (you can see it here), and the tiniest fridge I’ve had since college.

Furthermore, I love simple, healthy meals made with fresh ingredients. I’ll take rustic Italian peasant food any day over haute French cuisine.

However, I have to admit, I’ve dropped the ball. While I think it’d be fun to blog about cooking, I’ve yet to find the motivation to pick up my camera and document what I’m doing while making dinner. For starters, it’s one of the few hours during the day when I’m away from my computer!

Therefore, I was thrilled when my friend Meg Wolfe (who blogs at minimalistcook.com and minimalistwoman.com) sent me her new ecookbook: Minimalist Cooking: 27 Practical Recipes. She’s done all the hard work, and in a much more sophisticated way than I could ever manage.

Meg was a professional cook and caterer, and I imagine could prepare the most complex dishes with ease. However, she’s adopted a wonderful minimalist philosophy when it comes to cooking: it’s not about fancy equipment and exotic ingredients, but rather the nourishment and sharing of simple, well-prepared meals.

The vast array of ingredients and gadgets available today can make cooking seem almost overwhelming. However, Meg takes us back to the basics; she breaks down her cookbook into four categories — Bread, Vegetables/Sides, Main Courses, and Desserts – and details a handful of recipes in each. She simplifies things even further by encouraging us to learn one recipe in each section well, and expand our culinary repertoire from there.

The 27 recipes provide a little something for everyone: vegetarians, meat eaters, fish eaters, and those with a sweet tooth. Furthermore, her encouraging tone, helpful tips, and mouth-watering photographs instill you with enthusiasm and confidence, no matter what your skill level in the kitchen. Personally, I can’t wait to try out her no-knead baguettes, veggie lasagne, and baked cod with lemon (mmm!).

What I love most about Meg’s book, however, is her Zen-like approach to cooking. She advocates taking your time, and paying close attention to the process: savoring the textures and aromas, and being completely present in the moment. Her approach transforms cooking from a chore (*having* to get dinner on the table) to a celebration of the food that sustains us.

So, all of you who’ve been waiting for food posts: I encourage you to surf on over to The Minimalist Cook to learn more about Meg, her new ecookbook, and her delicious minimalist recipes. And yes, if I can figure out how to photograph dishes so they look half as yummy as Meg’s, I promise to try my hand at some minimalist cooking posts in the future…

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}