A Tale of Two Kitchens

Three months ago, this was my kitchen:

The kitchen has a window into the living room.




Notice the double sink with hot water, the dishwasher, the oven, and all the floor and cupboard space?  While the apartment kitchen was certainly small, it was an adjustment to move from that to this:



You can imagine what an adjustment this was!

And around the same time that I moved, Lois from The Eco-Grandma moved from a 300 square foot apartment into a house.  This, too, was an adjustment.

As we settled into our new homes, I began to notice the changes that I was making in my kitchen, and I began to wonder what changes Lois was making.  What lessons had she learned from simplicity?  What luxuries was she choosing to indulge in, now that she can?

As a result of the changes we have made, Lois and I decided to co-ordinate our posts and invite you into our kitchens today.  I will show you how things work in my kitchen, and then you can head over to The Eco-Grandma to visit Lois’s kitchen.  (And we will both be sharing a recipe with you!)

Living in less than 200 square feet has been interesting, and our biggest adjustment has been the galley.  First off, the companionway, aka our DOOR, is right above the counter.  In fact, the countertop is a step that must be used in order to enter the cabin without falling down.  Below the counter is a small ladder, which we refer to as “the steps.”  Both Beanie and the cat like to perch on the steps, especially when I am cooking.

So where do I stand when I cook?  In a teeny, tiny corner, next to the steps!  Our kitchen is equipped with a single-basin RV sink.  While we have a knob for both hot and cold water, only the cold water knob will turn on the faucet.  The water temperature is quite cold in the winter, but hot in the summer.  This is due to the fact that we use shore water, which sits in an RV hose for great periods of time.

Our range is a luxury for a sailboat–it’s dual-powered.  We run it on electricity in our slip, but we can run it on alcohol when we’re anchored out.  We have a bottle Everclear for this purpose!  The range has a stainless cover that turns it into additional counter space when we’re not using it.

We also have a gas grill mounted on the stern rail–it doubles as our oven.  When we feel like picnicking, we have access to communal gas and charcoal grills.  We have a medium-sized dorm fridge and a small amount of cupboard space.

Having such a small kitchen has led me to learn to do without some amenities.  This hasn’t been a huge adjustment, since we were already living rather minimalistically.  We already had service for 3, 3 pans, no toaster, and limited appliances.  But what have we gotten rid of since we moved here?

  • Our blender.  Yes, I used to love making smoothies.  But it isn’t worth the effort to unstow the blender, and then to clean up afterwards.
  • Our plates.  This isn’t permanent, but they broke in the move.  After a month of using bowls, we missed them and bought some Thanksgiving-themed paper plates.  We will soon return to Goodwill and find some plates for our family!
  • Our pressure cooker.  It was too big to store, so it’s gone.  We’re on the lookout, eventually, for a higher-end unit that is small.  But for now, we do without.  We’re down to 2 pans.
  • Our popcorn popper.  All right, so we still have it!  And we’re going to use it next week, when we stay in a rental cottage.  But it takes up so much space that we have is stowed and never gets taken out.  And Rob is learning to pop corn in our saucepan.

And what unexpected luxuries have we kept?

  • Stemware.  Mason jars don’t cut it for us.  We keep this bit of elegance.  Of course, we’re constantly breaking glasses, so they never match.
  •  The slow cooker.  I love it.  It’s wonderful to set it, head to work, and have a lovely roast waiting when I get home!
  • A coffee maker.  We did the French press thing for awhile, but we drink too much coffee!  I love to set the coffee pot, then have it wake me up in the morning.
  • A tea kettle.  It boils water.  Fast.  And it doesn’t make it taste like anything else.

So what do we cook in my kitchen?  Normally, we eat very simple meals.  I’ll buy pre-cooked meat, which we’ll eat with a salad.  When it’s nice out, we have burgers and a salad.  When it’s cold, I cook.  When it’s not, we eat salad.  I make sure to eat a lot of protein, with a few carbs and lots of veggies.

But sometimes, we like to do something special.  Here is a fancy dinner we prepared in my kitchen:


First up is this low-carb lasagna recipe I found.   I browned the beef on the stove, then assembled everything in the slow cooker.  Notice the door above me.



While the slow cooker did its magic, I simmered the mulled wine on the stove.  In place of brandy, we used our homemade orange liquor.



There was some zucchini left over, and Beanie decided this was her new favorite snack.  She is standing on the steps.


It was a crazy, fun night for mother and daughter alike!



Sunday Supper: Low Carb, Gluten-Free Enchiladas

Happy Sunday!

I have decided to get back into the habit of posting recipes every week.  Last night’s dinner was my inspiration for today’s selection.

I don’t do well eating carbs.  My recent trip to Michigan, filled with midwestern breads, rolls, potatoes, and–most importantly!–potato salads satisfied my need for nostalgia, but left me 8 pounds heavier than when I had left.

Back at home, I found that my intense craving for Tex-Mex food was at odds with my need to get back on track with eating low-carb.  Fortunately, I found this recipe, which involves tortillas made from eggs and almond flour.  The tortillas do taste “eggy,” but within the casserole, they are excellent.

This dish is also gluten free.  Unfortunately, it does involve a lot of cheese, so it is not Paleo.  It could easily be adapted to be vegetarian, but substituting beans or mixed vegetables for the chorizo.

Here is my adaptation of the recipe:

8-10 Low Carb Tortillas

1 small tube browned chorizo

2 cups shredded cheese

2 tablespoons butter

3 ounces brick style cream cheese (1/2 of brick)

1 cup broth

1/2 cup sour cream

2 rings cut off of a habernero pepper, finely chopped

Chipotle Pepper (ground)

To Make the Tortillas

4 eggs, beaten

3 tablespoons water

1/2 cup almond flour

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed

4 teaspoons grated parmesan

Dash sea salt

Generous dash chipotle pepper (ground)

1.  Whisk ingredients together to make batter.

2.  Pour batter in a thin layer on greased skillet.  Spread to make a tortilla approximately 6 inches across.  DO NOT POUR TOO THICKLY!

3.  Cook over medium heat until tortilla begins to set.  Flip and cook until done.

4.  Makes 8-10 tortillas.

To Make Casserole

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease casserole dish.

2.  Mix chorizo and 1 cup cheese in large bowl.

3.  Divide mixture evenly and roll up in tortillas and place seam side down in casserole dish.

4.   In the skillet, with remaining juices from chorizo, melt butter, stir in cream cheese and cook on low until melted, about 1 to 2 minutes.

5.  Stir in broth and simmer over medium heat, whisking until smooth and slightly thickened and bubbly, stirring frequently.

6.  Stir in sour cream, habernero, and chipotle pepper to taste.  Heat until warm.

7.  Pour sauce over enchiladas in casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.

8.  Cook for 25 minutes or until bubbly.



Weekend Minimalism: The Joy of Cast Iron Cooking

Note: This is re-posted from March 2011.

I know that there are a lot of blogs that address cast iron cooking, but I thought I would share some of my tips. Using cast iron is very easy once you get the hang of it, and I find clean-up to be quicker than it was with my old Teflon pans.

Here are some tips that have worked well for me:

1. Shop at antique stores for pans. The older, American-made pans are of a much higher quality than the newer pans. Look for Griswold or Wagner pans. They will have a smoother surface than the newer pans.

2. Get the pan clean! It is probably covered in rust and old seasoning. We have taken a wire brush or sand paper to old pans. Under the grime, you will find a beautiful, very workable surface.

3. Once the grime is gone, it’s time to season. You’ll need some lard (we’ve had MUCH better success with lard than any vegetable oils) and a very hot oven. We’ve put ours in when it was on self-cleaning cycle (back when we had a self-cleaning oven!). Let it cool, wipe it off, and repeat. More tips for seasoning can be found here.

4. When you cook, be sure to use butter–and lots of it, at first! This will help maintain the seasoning.

5. For clean-up, just wipe the pan with a clean, dry towel. For sticky messes, use a wet washcloth or hot water. Set the pan on low heat to dry.

We used to have two cast iron pans–a skillet and a saucepan. They hung on the wall, along with our metal spatula, and traveled with us camping and on our boat. We discovered that the saucepan was not as useful as a stainless pan, since I mainly used it for stocks and applesauce (both of which turned gray and tasted like iron).  Now we have a cast iron skillet and a stainless pressure cooker.

Cast iron pans can also be used for baking, although the clean-up will be a little more difficult.

Happy cooking!


Action #1: Menu Plan Day

I’ve told you that I like to face fear head-on.

And, in the past, I have struggled with the fear of failure.

So, with my diet and weight loss, I have faced this fear head on.  In other words, I have failed completely.

So, it’s back to the drawing board.  I am doing low-carb, for two weeks, once again, with the exception of sushi bentos for lunch, thanks to the inexpensive nori that we found at the salvage grocery store.  Low-carb meals do cost a bit more to prepare–we’re looking at $80-$100 per week.  But I think we’re best off doing that for a couple of weeks, then adding whole grains back in.

I love to look at meal plans, to get ideas for myself.  So here is my meal plan, for this week.  I’ve just planned breakfasts and dinners, because I will be having sushi for lunch and Rob will be having salad or leftovers.  (Beanie’s lunch is provided at her school). 

Here is the plan:

Breakfast: Parmesan Eggs
Dinner: Curried Chicken with broccoli, Cashew Salad

Breakfast: Tuscan Baked Eggs
Dinner: Broccoli Cheese Casserole, BLT Salad, Roasted vegetables

Breakfast: Mexican Eggs
Dinner: Mexican Casserole, Roasted Vegetables, Cashew Salad

Breakfast: Kale and Feta Casserole
Dinner: Spinach and Mozzarella Egg Bake, Roasted Vegetables, Cashew Salad

Breakfast: Kale and Feta Casserole
Dinner: Swedish Meatballs, BLT Salad, Roasted Vegetables

Breakfast: Bell Pepper Casserole
Dinner: Greek Meatballs, BLT Salad, Roasted Vegetables

Breakfast: Bell Pepper Casserole
Dinner: Bacon and Cheese Casserole, BLT Salad, Roasted Vegetables

So, what exciting meals are you having this week?


OK, You NEED One of These!

I’m not big on kitchen must-have’s. I’m not big on any kind of must-have’s. I’m not sure that we must have anything.

But, you seriously must have a pressure cooker.

We weren’t even sure of what these devices were, or what they did, when some minimalist/live aboard friends of ours suggested that we get one ASAP. They kept their food in theirs, in lieu of a fridge, and just brought it up to pressure before they ate the food. They also insisted it used way less fuel than cooking in an open pan, and cooked things much more quickly.

We were intrigued.

Some Googling told us that, if we got one, we could bake bread and cake, as well as cook beans and rice in a reasonable amount of time. We could even brown beef and cook pasta.

Moonraker (and our basement) needed one of these.

Some e-bay hunting led us to a vintage Presto, which took forever to heat up, but worked well. Then, we found the Miu. It was the “France” model. Notice the quotes. It is actually made in China, and is a copy of a Fagor. It is lower pressure than a Fagor–12 psi instead of 15. But it heats up quickly, and fits many of the accessories made for a Fagor.

Someday we’ll probably upgrade, but here are some of the yummies we’ve made already:

–Veggie Roll

–Bean soup

–Sushi rice

–Ground beef and beans for taco salad

–Penne casserole

–Mac and Cheese

…And we’re beginners who have barely been using ours for a week.

I tell you, this is one kitchen accessory that you really must have!

Dinner in the Basement Kitchen!

When we first moved down to the basement, we had planned on doing our cooking upstairs, on the stove. But there was one big problem with this–it was too cold! It’s fine for quickly putting something in the oven, but I found that we were ordering take-out, rather than spending the time freezing with a pot on the stove. And coffee–that just wasn’t happening, which truly is a tragedy.

So, enter our hot plate. We found this at Rite Aid, actually, for $20. Not only does it heat water for our coffee, but, sitting on our washing machine, it makes the perfect minimalist stove. The burner is a Proctor Silex fifth burner. Because it is made completely of metal, it should be easy to replace any of its components, if they should break.

Tonight’s dinner? Mushroom risotto!

Our new knife, a Weusthof, 8 inch, found on sale at a local shop. Definitely worth the $$$!

And yes, that mocktail is in a mason jar. You drink out of one too. Admit it.

Before I go, I would like to address our plate situation, as I have gotten a lot of questions about this. Yes, we have three plates, and three sets of silverware. No, this is not the required number of place settings for every minimalist to have. You might be happier with service for 12, and we won’t kick you out of the club for that. But here’s why 3 works for us.

We have no discipline. When we had service for 8, we never washed a dish, until all 8 were used. This led to a pile-up in the dishwasher, which didn’t get run until it was full. And owning a dishwasher means, rinsing, loading, unloading, and putting away all of those dishes. And if we procrastinated on a step–which we did–it led to an unsightly pile-up.

So, with three dishes, the worst we can do is have to quickly wash them before dinner is ready. And that takes a whole 3 minutes. A much better solution, I think.

What do we do when we have company? Well, first you have to realize that anybody who is going to come and visit us already knows that we are…well…us. So they are not expecting an experience that resembles mainstream, in any form. Our parents like to bring their own dishes. As for everyone else–we’ve got bowls, storage containers, lids from storage container, and the cutting board! Parents usually share a plate with their kid, or the kids will all share a plate. The guests always get the real plates, and the forks, if necessary. Rob and I will eat with spoons or chopsticks.

And we’ve got plenty of mason jars for everyone.

Sunday Supper: Green Bean Casserole From Scratch

The holiday season brings with it some of my favorite foods. And who doesn’t look forward to seeing green bean casserole on the buffet at a party? I was charged with making it for our Thanksgiving this year, and I was surprised at how easy it is to make from scratch.

My recipe is adapted from this recipe, from My Life as a Mrs.

You will need:

1.5 pounds green beans
2-3 tbsp butter
9-12 oz mushrooms, slices
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt
3 tbsp flour

Saturday Simple Playtime: Having Fun With Dinner

Going back to work, I notice that I don’t have as much time to play with Beanie as I would like. I try to fit in activities (at least 20 minutes worth a day) from each of her therapies: fine motor, gross motor, speech, and sensory. That could potentially leave me with little time to do the housework, cook the meals, spend time with Rob, and relax.

But it’s really just a matter of working smarter, not harder. Play can be mixed in with daily routines quite easily. Here are some ways to make dinner a fun and educational part of you day:

–Have your little one set the table. This is a great exercise in following directions (eventually multi-step–I hand Beanie all the spoons and tell her to put them where they go).

–Involve your little one in the cooking, as much as you can. This is a great time for direction following, fine motor practice, and even some sensory input (baking bread is a great sensory activity!). I have Beanie pour ingredients in and stir. Basically, she helps with anything that doesn’t use the stove.

–If you don’t eat together, you should! It’s a great opportunity for conversation, direction following (table manners), and just a great chance to catch up.

–When you eat Asian food, use chopsticks for some fine motor fun!

–Go outside and have a picnic sometimes. It can be out on the deck, or at the park.

–In the winter, have a picnic on the floor!

The possibilities are really as endless as your creativity. Bon appetit!

Sunday Supper: Homemade Broth

Bone broth is wonderfully healthy. And it will help you make some great soups, such as my cabbage soup. I have experimented with many methods of making broth, and this is my favorite.

1. Cook a whole, organic chicken in beer.

2. Reserve the beer, and any jelly-like substance in it.

3. Put the bones, skin, cartilage, and any other parts you don’t eat in the beer.

4. Add enough water to fill your cast-iron saucepan or slow cooker.

5. In a slow cooker, cook on high heat for 12-24 hours. In a cast iron saucepan, do the same under very low heat on the stove. Refill the pan as needed.

6. Strain and refrigerate. You have some great broth that can be cut with water or milk to make 3 good-sized soups!


Sunday Supper: Yummy Applesauce

Here is a yummy fall recipe! Yesterday, I wrote about ways to include children in the kitchen. This recipe is a perfect way to start.

1. Start with a peck of apples. I love to use Ida Red! We have an apple peeling machine, which the Bean loves to use.

2. Place the peeled apples and 1 cup of water in a stockpot. I let Beanie pour the water.

3. Heat to boiling, stirring and smashing the apples. Continue until apples are soft. A large stockpot won’t get hot near the top, so this is a good activity for a little one to do with LOTS of supervision.

4. After it cools, enjoy some fall goodness!

5. We put the rest into jars. This is a step the Bean can do, if I pour it into a bowl first, so she can reach it.