The Joy of Eating Simple Meals

Something weird happened when I adopted a whole foods plant-based diet: my tastes and preferences turned 180°.

When you adopt such a diet, it is (more often than not) a complete departure from what you have been used to eating for years and years, sometimes even decades. Suddenly you can no longer pick up some burgers and fries at the drive-thru on your way home. You can no longer eat out every single day (read that as: you probably won’t be eating out anytime soon, again). You can no longer fry fries in gallons of cheap vegetable oil until brown and crispy.

You will spend a huge amount of time planning what to eat, buying the necessary ingredients, schlepping them home (you know what I’m talking about when you don’t own a car!), washing them, peeling and chopping them, preparing them in one way or another, disposing of the leftovers, storing what you haven’t used etc. Boy, that’s stressful! But it’s worth it and within just a few days, it will become natural – I promise!

Initially, you will be surfing the web, buying and flipping through countless plant-based cookbooks just to get an idea of what the heck you can still eat. You will have hits and misses as you might not even know what kinds of foods and ingredients you actually you like. That was certainly the case for me – who knew I loved avocados and artichokes? The point I’m trying to make is, is that at first, you will need training wheels. To me, these training wheels are the tons of recipes that you find on this blog and on countless other websites, blogs and – if you prefer the old-fashioned way- books.

However, just as adults hardly ever use training wheels when cycling, I bet that you will sooner or later make the discovery that you do not need recipes or a lot of variation in your diet in order to maintain or achieve excellent health. In fact, you will probably come to enjoy “meals” that I call glop and mixed plates.

A glop is what I usually make when I am super, super, super lazy (read that as 80% of the time). A glop happens when you throw everything (yes, literally everything) that you have in your kitchen and like eating for that meal into a large pot, add water (or broth) and spices. Cook it until the ingredient that requires the longest cooking is done and – voilà): a glop! I know, it doesn’t sound particularly glamorous and my glops will certainly never ever appear in any fancy food journal, but I do not think that that is the point of eating. Just as I do not want my home to look like an IKEA store, I favor simplicity over spending hours in the kitchen and taste over extensively styled foods.  Just to be clear, I do not have anything against recipes (heck, that’s what this blog is about), I just want to explain why you do not need them. If you are ready to use your imaginary screwdriver to unscrew those training wheels – just do it! Even if your neighbors, friends, spouses, children, aunts and uncles will think you’re super weird for eating glop- just do it! It’s your life. Don’t pressure yourself to do something you don’t like.

So, what about mixed plates? Well, on the continuum of foods, they’re somewhere between glop and restaurant-style meals. A mixed plate comes together by making individual servings of foods that you like and eating them on the same plate. For instance, you can steam some corn and zucchini in one pot, make rice in your rice cooker and a serving of low-fat peanut sauce on your stove. When everything is done, place it on the same plate and just eat it. It’s still not a recipe (and is a really easy thing to do), but it looks somewhat better than glop.

Why is it possible to eat such meals without throwing up? A lot of people wouldn’t be able to eat as simple a meal as that. The secret is neuroadaptation. To put it simply: your body adapts to the new foods and you start liking them and it simply becomes unnecessary to consume foods with overly complex (=stimulating) ingredients.

To me, this is actually one of the main benefits of this way of eating. It just makes eating so much simpler, especially when you’re on the go.

My reliable travel companion: A mini rice cooker!

One thing that I learned from Chef AJ is that you won’t find healthy food everywhere (or in the case of a WFPB SOS-free diet: anywhere). That means that we have to plan ahead in order to enjoy healthy food during our much-deserved holidays. Now I know that some people bring their Instant Pot with them, but for me, that’s just not an option. I only travel with a carry-on and never (ever!) check in a bag, no matter where I go (traumatic event when a European airline lost a bag of ours). So I needed something smaller that still allowed me to make rice, steam vegetables, cook applesauce etc. I immediately thought about a rice cooker, but they’re usually made from glass and metal, which obviously doesn’t make them an ideal travel companion. But then I found the perfect solution: a mini rice cooker!

I bought this one on the Korean e-commerce site “GMarket“, which is remarkably similar to eBay (and is, in fact, owned by eBay). Keep in mind that this one is 220V, so it will not work in countries that have 110V (like the US). There is, however, an orange version of this rice cooker that is suitable for 110V operations.

Mini Rice Cooker

So this is my mini rice cooker, made by the Korean brand 키친아트 (if you read Korean you will agree just how funny this name is). And since it is Korean, the manual and all the stickers are in Korean, as well:
Korean labels on the rice cookerTo compare the size: this is the rice cooker next to a standard IKEA glass jar, a small Vitamix container and inside a standard-sized carry-on bag:

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As you can see, it is small. The downside of that is, of course, that it can only make about 1.5 to 2 cups worth of rice at a time. That’s not an issue, however, if you are like me and eat multiple times a day, anyways.

So what can you use a rice cooker for when traveling?

Make rice

Obviously. I do like rice made in the rice cooker better than rice made in the Instant Pot, but that might just be my personal preference. I still use my Instant Pot when making huge batches of rice which I freeze.

Make other grains

You can make any other grain in the rice cooker, you just have to be careful with grains that contain a high amount of saponins and will thus produce a huge amount of foam that could make the rice cooker overcook (Quinoa is the best example). These can still be made in the rice cooker if you leave the lid off.

Steam vegetables

Zucchini, broccoli, carrots, onions: you name it! Just fill the rice cooker to the brim, add a few tablespoons of tap water and off you go!

Make small servings of soup

After having steamed your vegetables, you can easily add some water and condiments to make your own soup.

Make applesauce and other fruit purees 

This is what I like to do in the evenings. I chop some apples, add a few dashes of cinnamon, 1/4 cup of water and 15 minutes later I have the most delicious dessert.

Make warm oatmeal

When travelling, I always bring my own breakfast: oatmeal portioned in separate zip lock bags, one for each day (yes, for a 7-day holiday that means I’ll be taking seven bags). I usually eat it cold by just adding tap water (or one of those small soy milk cartons if I’m that adventurous), but on some days, I just want something warm. In that case, I place the oatmeal and water in the rice cooker and cook it (without the lid), stirring a couple of times.

 

This 50€ investment has made travelling and eating healthy so much easier for me. I do not have to worry what I will eat, as I can easily make my own food without having to schlep my somewhat clunky Instant Pot around.

Do you have any accessories and appliances that you take everywhere?

What is the KonMari Method and Why Do I Love It?

In my last post on minimalism, I described an organisational system that I really enjoy and that helps me to keep my home clutter-free and that’s the KonMari Method. The KonMari Method was developed by Japanese tidying consultant Marie Kondo, so the word KonMari is actually a portmanteau of her last and first name. Pretty clever, huh?

According to Kondo (or KonMari-san, as fellow countrymen call her), the main reason why our homes are cluttered (yes, I’m pointing at your bedroom drawer right now!) is that we do not know how many items of one category we own because they are everywhere – our belongings do not have a home, a fixed place where we put them all the time.
So her solution is that we tidy once and forever as a “special occasion” [I actually pretended that I was on a week-long tidying festivity, and yes, I did have cake to commemorate the occasion!]. We should go through our home and tidy in categories rather than locations and go about in a fixed order: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous and mementos. We are to pile the contents of each and every category on the floor to get a grasp of just how much stuff we actually possess. After that, we hold each item in our hands and ask ourselves a ridiculously simple question:

“Does it spark joy?”.

If it does spark joy – we keep it, if it doesn’t – we toss it. It’s so simple. When starting this process, it might be a bit hard to understand and feel what this actually means, but trust me – you will get better at it. Joy is indeed a feeling and, therefore, it is really vital to make physical contact with the respective item – looking at it is simply not enough.

After we have removed all those items that do not spark joy from our lives, the fun begins and that is her unique storage method. Her storage method does not require you to buy expensive and fancy storage solutions, all you really need are some old (shoe) boxed that you probably have already. The idea is to store items compact, upright and in a defined space (hence the shoe box). Clothes are folded so that they are able to stand upright on their own. Believe me, once you will have brought a very flimsy T-shirt to stand on its own, it will be like you’ve taken heroin!
The reason for storing items this was is that you can see the content of a box with a single glance – no more piles of shirts that you have forgotten even exist.

In the kitchen, this looks approximately like this:

Spice drawer

So this is just my spice drawer. See how everything (except for those two jars with the green lids) is in boxes? The large white box that you see on the left is actually from my MacBook Pro, the brownish box on the right is the bottom of the box of my rice cooker, the other white box is from my iPad – pretty clever, right? Also, notice how there is still some space in the drawer, even though there is actually a lot in it!

Glasses and Teas drawerThese are all of my teas and glasses, all of which are in separate shoe boxes.

Below the stoveBelow my stove are some baking supplies: baking sheets, aluminum foil, cling foil, my Potato Express…

*That* drawer under the sink that everybody hates

This is the space that I dreaded cleaning the most: the drawer under the sink where all of the cables and tubes go. I have transformed this space to contain *all* of our cleaning supplies: everything from detergents and dish soaps to bags and cloths is here.

CupboardOn the other side of the kitchen, I keep our Tupperware and baking dishes…

Electronic Appliances… and right underneath we keep appliances and tools (see the hammer in the back?).

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The rest of the kitchen is just devoted to storing food in various ways.

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So what is the benefit of having a kitchen like this? If you follow a WFPB diet, you absolutely HAVE TO COOK. As soon as we accept the fact that it is not realistically possible to eat out all the time (at least for most of us), we have to make most of our meals from scratch if we want to eat health-promoting food. But that is only possible when you associate cooking with fun and it does not become a nuisance because your kitchen is cluttered, you keep forgetting where you put things etc. The KonMari method has helped me to permanently achieve the following overall look of my kitchen:

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Now isn’t that a fun environment to cook in? Notice that the only items that I keep on the kitchen surface is my Instant Pot, Dehydrator, Kettle, some basic cooking utensils, plants and vegetables. In short, stuff that I cannot put away because it’s too bulky or stuff that doesn’t want to be put away.

You’re probably asking yourself how much time it takes me to return to this state. I think it’s vitally important to “reset” our home in the evening back to its original state. This involves putting away the stuff that we used, cleaning plates or putting them in the dishwasher etc. The reason why this is so important is that we want to begin our days light-hearted (= not having to think about the junkyard that we call home) and end them with a feeling that everything is tidy and in order and that we don’t have to tidy first thing in the morning.
How long does it take me to accomplish that? 10-15 minutes for the kitchen, 3 minutes for the bathroom, 5 minutes for the living room, 7 minutes for the bedroom and 1 minute for the hall, if all rooms are messy, which most of the times isn’t the case. But even in this worst-case scenario, it takes me 31 minutes to tidy the entire apartment. Pretty cool, huh? The added benefit is, of course, that I have more time to do things that I actually like. And tidying doesn’t seem like such a daunting task anymore.

In the end, only the KonMari Method was able to help me maintain a living environment that I thoroughly enjoy and that I can truly call my home.

Check out Marie Kondos books and lectures to get started. It’s so worth it!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
——> Audiobook on YouTube for free!

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

Marie Kondo talk in NYC

KonMarie Home Tour

 

 

 

Minimalism and a Plant-Based Diet

At first, there does not seem to be an apparent connection between following a plant-based diet and being a minimalist. However, during the past few weeks and months, it has become apparent to me that my minimalist lifestyle has had a huge impact on my eating habits and my ability to follow a healthy and delicious whole foods plant-based diet. But before we dig deeper, allow me to explain what minimalism means to me and how I became a minimalist.

Minimalism does not mean that I live in a 10 square foot apartment, staring at blank walls the entire day and clutching me three possessions: a toothbrush, my MacBook and a worn T-shirt. This is not Orwell’s 1984, after all. Rather, minimalism is a conscious lifestyle that is centered around keeping only those items in my life that help me reach a higher purpose. This higher purpose may be something entirely different for each and every one of us. To me, my higher purpose is to live each day to the fullest and to enjoy the things that I love: reading, learning new things about cities (in case you didn’t know, I am a Human Geographer), playing the guitar; you name it. The problem is that for most of us, the sheer amount of material possessions that we own is actually keeping us from fulfilling our dreams.
We have an often oversized house that has to be kept in order, we have a car that keeps breaking down sitting in a garage that has been cleaned… the time we moved in here? Our closet is overflowing with clothes that – for the most part – do not fit us anymore or do not suit our continuously advancing sense of style. Our bookshelf is filled with books that we planned to read (but never got around to read) and now most of them do not interest us anymore. Our bathroom is filled with skin care products that we tried maybe once or twice and that are now rotting in the very back of the closet underneath the sink.
How on Earth are we supposed to concentrate in such an environment? How are we supposed to be productive, feel comfortable (dare I say: feel at home) in a house that is not a living space, but much rather a storage space?

This is where minimalism kicks in.
I was put on my minimalist path when I read the “Zen” books by Lindsay S. Nixon, author of the Happy Herbivore cookbooks. The principle/way of life that she seemed to put forward was somehow just too good to be true: discard all those items (and people!) that do not suit our goals and keep distracting us and only keep those items (and people!) that give you true happiness. But wasn’t I already doing that? Wasn’t I only keeping the items that I truly need? Nope. Not by a long shot.
It was a few months later when I read two books by Japan’s leading tidying guru, Marie Kondo. I read it when I was in the middle of one of the most stressful phases of my university track to date and a very daunting exam was just around the corner. She advocated a method of tidying and organising that she dubbed the “KonMari method”. The guiding principle is to only keep those items in our lives that “spark joy” and to tidy our homes in fixed categories: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, mementos.
And so I did. And tidied. And tidied. And tidied. It actually took me more than two weeks to tidy our entire apartment, but the result was sure worth it. I got rid of about 100 books, three-quarters of my wardrobe, 5 huge 80-liter bags of papers, 5(!) sushi mats etc. In the end, my desk (whose surface I honestly hadn’t seen for probably four months), looked like this (I’m actually sitting here right now, typing this essay):

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So, how does this exactly help me in pursuing a whole foods plant-based diet? I mean, a clean and streamlined home is nice, for sure, but what are the immediate benefits food-wise?

Well, this entire procedure taught me how not to want. In a way, it made me fall in love with simplicity and enabled me to be happy with the way things are, rather than to push for something “even better”, that in the end only ends up dragging me down.

Without even fully realising it, my diet has become so much simpler and more fulfilling at the same time. Even though I did not have any severe health problems, I did not feel like I had mastered the art of saying no to foods that I knew weren’t good for me (Clif-bars and “just once in a while because I’m out with friends vegan but oily pizzas”, I’m looking at you!). I always felt like I was missing out on something. While I knew that I shouldn’t have that salad with an oily dressing when I’m out with friends, I just couldn’t resist it because I just felt like I needed it so, so badly. And when I walked past a bakery I kept asking myself “there must be a way to make that whole foods plant-based, right”?

These thoughts have died down completely. When I don’t find anything to eat at a restaurant, I just don’t eat anything and have a nice cup of tea, instead. And when I walk past a bakery I just automatically, instinctively, think: “I like some fresh, fully ripe mangos or peaches better”.

I do not think that any of this would have been possible without my newly-found ability to a) appreciate simplicity and b)  say NO.
Additionally, my home is now a distraction-free environment and I find myself having more time to do the things that I enjoy: eating, reading, playing the guitar and so on.

I thank Marie Kondo from the bottom of my heart for having made all of this possible.