Extreme Minimalism: Kitchenware

Today’s post is another installment in September’s Extreme Minimalism series. After six months settled down, I need some “how-low-can-you-go” minimalist fun! ;-)

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about my minimalist kitchen, listing the small appliances, pots, pans, tools, and utensils my husband and I found necessary for our culinary endeavors. Sure, we could have eliminated it all by relying on restaurants and takeout; however, we enjoy cooking and eating fresh food, and dining out in London was quite expensive!

Our current kitchen is much the same, with a few more plates and glasses for entertaining. However, if we hit the road again, I’m dreaming of a more compact and portable culinary setup. What I’d love: a sort of nesting kitchen, where the pots, pans, plates, cups, and utensils all collapsed into a single container (like a pasta pot).

The closest I’ve been able to find is a camping product:

(Photo: Amazon.com)

 

I love how the lids have integrated strainers, how the dishes have deep sides to accommodate soup, and how everything fits into one big pot. (Just a little hard to imagine eating off these plates everyday–something a little less “outdoorsy” would be nice.)

For those who fancy more-than-camping cookware, here’s a nested set made for boats and RVs:

(Photo: Amazon)

It could also be a good solution for tiny kitchens or limited cabinet space. Add some nesting bowls that do triple duty for prep, mixing, and storage, and you can have a fully functional kitchen with a minimal footprint:

(Photo: Amazon)

But what if you’re hankering to transport (or miniaturize) your entire kitchen? No problem, according to Nojae Park, who designed the Kitchen Drawer for the 2008 Electrolux Design Lab competition. It packs a mini-fridge, a stove with a select-a-size heating element, a stainless steel prep plate, and a drawer for dishes and cutlery into a compact unit the size of a filing cabinet. The only thing lacking is the kitchen sink.

Obviously, not for everyone—but it can make a small, no-frills accommodation (like a rented room, hotel room, or dorm room) more livable.

Does anyone else have ideas or suggestions for ultra-minimalist kitchenware? Please share!

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

(Photo: CodyR)

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

(Photo via Apartment
Therapy
)

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.}

Minimalist Food: One Bowl Eating

bowlI’m intrigued by the idea of eating all of my meals out of a single bowl. Not only would it reduce the tableware in my cabinets; I think it would make me more mindful, and more appreciative, of what I put in my body.

My ideal one bowl menu would look something like the following:

Breakfast: oatmeal. I don’t think there’s a more perfect minimalist food than oatmeal (or porridge, as they say here in the UK). It’s simple, it’s satisfying, and best of all, it has so much potential. Oatmeal is like a blank slate: simply add what you like according to the season or your mood. Some of my favorite “embellishments” include brown sugar, cinnamon, honey, blueberries, and cranberries (not all at once, of course!).

Lunch: hiyayakko. I discovered this simple, delicious dish a few years ago in Tokyo. It consists of a cold block of tofu, topped with green onions, dried tuna flakes (optional if vegetarian) and soy sauce. See this site for some (mouth-watering) photos and more details.

Snack: yogurt. I eat this every afternoon to keep healthy bacteria in my digestive system. I’ve been buying it at the store, but would someday like to make my own.

Dinner: steamed vegetables over rice. I’m happy to eat this perfectly plain, as I love to savor the individual taste of each vegetable. DH, however, has a more sophisticated palette than I do—so we usually add a sauce like Thai green curry, or ginger and garlic. Other dinner options would be a hearty soup, or a bowl of pasta.

I don’t think one bowl eating would be too difficult, and am hard-pressed to think of any favorite meals that require a plate. I also like the connection to Zen philosophy; itinerant monks used to carry one bowl to satisfy their need for sustenance while pursuing their spiritual path.

I imagine that eating from a single bowl would focus my attention on the contents—to contemplate it, celebrate it, and be thankful for it (instead of taking it for granted).

I would also have to wash it directly after each use, so that it would be ready for the next meal. No more dirty dishes piling up in the sink! :-)

I’d love to hear about your favorite minimalist meals, and your thoughts on one bowl eating!

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed, or signing up to receive new articles by email.}

What’s in a Minimalist Kitchen?

When we sold our house and purged almost everything we had (see My Minimalist Story, Part 1: A Clean Slate), we discovered that the majority of our “stuff” came out of the kitchen. We had never realized just how many plates, pots, pans, glasses, utensils, and other cooking implements we had accumulated over the years.

After ridding ourselves of all the excess, we thoroughly enjoyed having an ultra-minimalist “kitchen” during our six weeks of transition from the US to the UK: nothing more than our sporks, titanium cups, and a tea kettle (and the occasional hotel microwave). Of course, we relied heavily upon restaurants and prepared foods from grocery stores—not exactly a long-term solution.

Now that we’re “rebuilding” our kitchen, we’re determined to keep things to a minimum. We only want to own those culinary items we use on a regular basis.

Sure, we could have a super-minimalist kitchen if we didn’t cook very often (or ate mostly frozen dinners or convenience foods). However, my husband and I enjoy preparing meals together, and try to base our (vegetarian + fish) diet on whole, unprocessed foods. Therefore, we’ve deemed a functional kitchen one of our necessities.

After an initial run to Ikea for the absolute basics, we’ve been taking it slow when it comes to culinary apparatus—and acquiring things strictly on an as-needed basis. Our main criteria: we must use something at least once a week for it to earn a place in our kitchen. So far, we’ve been getting by quite nicely with the following items:

Pots and pans: large skillet, saucepan, pasta pot, baking pan

Small appliances: tea kettle, rice cooker, French press (instead of coffee maker)

Other: chef’s knife, bread knife, paring knife, colander, steamer, cutting board, measuring cup, spatula, serving spoon, whisk, can opener, corkscrew, stainless steel mixing bowl, water filtration pitcher

For utensils, we purchased an inexpensive, four-place setting (after looking high and low for open stock or single settings, to no avail). It seems excessive to have extra forks and spoons on an everyday basis, but I suppose they’ll come in handy if we have guests for dinner. We also bought four plates, two bowls, two coffee mugs, and a set of four small glasses (to be used for all liquids other than coffee and tea).

[In general, I’m not a fan of owning extra stuff for the handful of times we entertain; when we hosted Thanksgiving dinner last year, I had no problem borrowing extra plates and utensils for the evening. That might be a bit harder here in the UK, though, without friends and family who understand our minimalist lifestyle!]

Plenty of websites and cookbooks offer lists of kitchen essentials; more than a few, however, seem intent on making sure you’ll be able to cook anything at any time. In that sense, having a minimalist kitchen requires some minor adjustments in priorities and lifestyle. I wouldn’t be able to bake cupcakes tonight on a whim, for example—but I’m okay with that. In fact, we’ve decided to forego bakeware almost entirely; instead of making our own sweets, we save those calories for when we travel—and sample the baked goods of the countries we visit. :-)

Of course, everyone’s list of essentials will be different; ours simply suits what we like to cook, and eat (mainly pasta, rice, soups, salads, and sautéed and steamed vegetables).

I’d love to hear what everyone else finds necessary… Leave a comment, and let me know what’s in your minimalist kitchen!