In a recent issue of the SLJ, we talked about food and cooking in small homes. Cooking in a tiny space hasn’t been a problem for us, but I’m worried about how we are going to store bulk food in our future tiny home. Currently, we are using a few strategies to store our bulk food, like turning our storage buckets into furniture, hiding it in cool dark places and storing it in our pantry.
After reading Michael Pollan’s book, we decided to eat more whole food and cook meals at home. Some of our bulk food storage items include whole wheat berries, rice, beans, honey and plenty of fresh produce.
I love having so much extra food in the house. But Logan and I continually talk about where we are going to keep our extra food when we move into our tiny house. I don’t know where it’s going to be stored in such a small space.
But, Logan doesn’t think food storage will be an issue. Some of his suggestions have included:
1. Storing food in small, visible containers to use up the bulk food quickly and to keep an eye on what food we’re storing.
2. Building a tiny food storage shed.
3. Storing food under the house in plastic buckets on pallets.
4. And digging a tiny root cellar.
I think these options will be dependent on where we decide to settle down. If we move to the ranch in the future, I’m not concerned about where to put our extra food because it can be stored in the pantry of the larger homestead house.
What do you think of these solutions? What are your creative food storage strategies?
Food and cooking in little homes has been on my mind recently. After staying in Dee’s tiny house, Logan and I realized that our kitchen was filled with excess stuff and if we wanted to live and cook in a small space, we’d have to downsize even further.
The Small Living Journal authors thought it would be fun to devote this issue to food and cooking in small spaces. You’ll read a number of different stories and strategies to deal with cooking in small spaces.
Tell us about your minimalist cooking strategies in the comments section.
Ideas for Future SLJ Issues
We are currently in the process on scheduling the next series of issues for SLJ. If you have any topic suggestions for future issues, please use our contact form to let us know.
One of the areas of tiny house living not frequently covered online is how one cooks and eats in small spaces. We’ve all seen the tiny kitchens in photos and videos online with the mini-refrigerators, hot plates, toaster ovens, and limited counter space; but we’ve rarely seen how people cook or what they eat. I’m hoping that this issue of Small Living Journal will help begin to shed some light on this topic so that all of us can begin to learn how to eat more simply no matter how big or small our homes are.
I’ve been slowly working toward cooking and eating more simply and wanted to share some thoughts and a recipe website I’m launching that I hope will help more people begin to experiment with simple cooking.
Key Ingredients to Tiny House Cooking
Smart Shopping – Buy only the foods you plan to eat because storage in a tiny house is limited. You’ll also reduce potential waste and spoiled food. This is easier for people that live close to where they shop.
Buy Fewer Refrigerated Foods – Many of us take our refrigerators and freezers for granted but in a tiny house the refrigerator, if you have one, is most likely a mini-fridge. If you are able to shop regularly you may actually be able to virtually eliminate the need to have a refrigerator. At the end of the day the amount of refrigerator space you need really depends on what you choose to eat. Less refrigerated foods means less space and energy needs to be dedicated to keeping food fresh.
Avoid Packaging – The less packaging you buy the less trash you generate. As you can imagine a tiny house can’t have a big trash can and if you peek in your own trash can and recycle bin right now you’ll notice that food packaging tends to be the biggest contributor to our waste stream.
Buy Healthy Ingredients – By all means buy and eat food that is good for you. I’ve begun to think of it like this, if it’s not organic it probably means it was produced with pesticides. Unnatural stuff used to produce like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and steroids, are there to produce food more profitably. These foods are often less expensive but does it make any sense to eat them?
Simple Preparation – Cooking simple meals means you’ll need to store, use, and clean fewer pots and dishes. It should also take less time and energy to prepare meals. The most obvious benefit is that simple meals require little space for preparation which means less time working, more time eating and enjoying each other.
Solar Cooking – This is a great way to cook without spending a dime on electricity or combustible fuels. You can buy solar ovens and kits online but you can also learn to build one yourself. My favorite place to look for information on solar ovens is the Solar Cooking Yahoo Group.
Simple Clean-Up -Simple cooking means less time spent cleaning up too. It also means that the need for a dishwasher, a large sink, or even many dishes, is reduced significantly.
My continuing exploration into tiny house cooking has helped me re-think how I shop for food, prepare, eat, and clean up my kitchen. It’s been helping me eat better and save time cooking and cleaning… but I still have a long way to go.
So I’ve launched a website called Tiny House Cooking which will become a free website filled with simple recipes. Right now there are only a few recipes and I’m looking for people to share their recipes. If you have a good recipe and want to share it write it up and I’ll post it on Tiny House Cooking.
I like to eat.
I have to digress here and note that as I have grown up, I have never ceased to be astonished by the amount of time, energy, and sheer activity required in the maintenance of a space and the life it contains. Spending hours preparing a meal and cleaning up after it remains a concept almost impossible for my mind to accommodate.
This makes eating difficult.
So, barring a magic kitchen that prepares my food and cleans the dishes, I’ve discovered that in order to eat food that I can enjoy, the preparation and cleanup must be extremely easy. In order for that to be the case my food storage, preparation, and cleanup station MUST be simple and efficient. Having my own tiny house has given me the unprecedented luxury of designing my own highly functional simple cooking setup.
I’m not going to write about recipes or my philosophical perspectives on food in this issue, except to say that I avoid purchasing meat that isn’t fish, that I’ve started my first garden this year, that I am averse to cooking anything that takes longer than thirty minutes and unlikely to prepare anything that requires more than an hour, and that I rather despise recipes. (Cooking, for me, is almost always an exercise in improvisation, and frequently draws on an idea I like to call MexItalian Fusion).
I would like to talk a bit about my kitchenette, which is something to which I’ve devoted a fair bit of time and experimentation.
Here is the layout.
(Not that It’s actually been entirely implemented yet. Far from it. But I’m pretty sure that this is what it’s going to ultimately be like. I’ll start with what I’ve got so far, which presumably is the most important elements.)
The bulk of the primary storage, preparation, and cleanup is laid out linearly. I have 11.5 sq/ft of counter/workspace which is directly adjacent to the stove. I think this may be the most important thing of all. In my cooking experience, nothing is more frustrating than inadequate prep space located more than arms length from the stove top. (Nothing has delighted me more than having my buddy Dylan, a chef, test out my kitchen and tell me he thinks it’s more functionally designed than most full-sized kitchens – another victory for the design-by-prototype approach.) Eventually, this location will also host a small cabinet for essential foodstuff, as well as recessed under-counter storage, and a couple stools that can live underneath as well for simple eating at the counter.
Directly to the right of the counter space, located under a window, is the little Magic Chef four-burner apartment stove. (The window location is rather crucial because it provides great ventilation). This little champ is only 20 inches wide and less than 24 deep, and more than adequate for the sort of cooking I do. These things are cheap used ($60 dollar range) and as common as flies, and this one is converted over to run on liquid propane. (As is the on-demand water heater. This makes for a completely propane driven kitchen, which lends itself exquisitely to off-the-grid living powered by two 5 gallon propane tanks.)
To the right of the stove is a big, ugly, plastic utility sink. It had been sitting outside the shop at work doing nothing for about a year until I asked my boss if I could have it. It gets the job done for the time being, but if I can find a sink of the same dimensions but with two basins, that’s the sort of thing I really want.
So here’s my big idea for dish cleanup and storage – the little dish cabinet is going to be located directly above the sink (high enough up to avoid banging your head). But it’s going to have an open bottom, and instead of shelves it’s just going to be dish racks, thus integrating dish washing, drying, AND storage. Pretty cool, huh? I’ve heard a rumor that this is common in Spain.
As you can see, there appears to be something located directly under another window, obstructing the access to the sink. This is a little (probably Ikea) rolling island butcher block that I picked up used for $7. It more or less lives in that location, partially obstructing sink access, until it’s time to cook or clean, at which point it easily rolls over a few feet and blocks off access to the bathroom. Not the most elegant arrangement I suppose, but it gives me another 2.5 sq/ft of counter space, some shelving, and utilizes the principle of Sequential Access in a way that’s not terribly inconvenient.
In the corner by the island and the bathroom door is a hypothetical floor-to-ceiling pantry. This will be used for bulk dry food storage, etc.
On the other side of the bathroom door is my latest folly, the newly restored Randall icebox, presumably built in 1921 (if we are to believe the ancient sticker pasted inside the ice compartment).
It was my Christmas present from my parents, who had had it forever. My dad had been using it to store hydraulic fittings for a couple decades. I’ve spent the past six months restoring it, off and on. I stripped out all the old lead paint, tarpaper, and nasty paneling, put in a bunch of extruded polystyrene insulation, and put her back together. Friday I finally inaugurated her with thirty pounds of dry ice, a 12 pack of coca cola, and a gallon of milk.
I’m still working out the kinks, but i’ve got an ice-cold coke for anyone who wants to come visit. Unfortunately that’s about all I can offer. I just checked on it and all thirty lbs of dry ice has all sublimated away in 48 hours. I have to go back to the drawing board on this one – one of the obvious drawbacks of the design-by-prototype approach.
My cooking setup is rounded out by a salvaged charcoal grill I’ve got out on the deck. There’s really not much else I could ask for in a kitchen. Sure a microwave and a toaster oven would come in handy, but they consume a lot of electricity and take up more space than I can afford to sacrifice.
Somehow, I think I’ll get by.
When I was a single carnivore, my cooking style was very simple. Oatmeal and a smoothie for breakfast, maybe a turkey sandwich with provolone and tomato on rye for lunch, a chicken breast grilled on my indoor grill with steamed broccoli and a bagged salad or some fruit for dinner. Most of my meals could be completed in under 20 minutes and included very few ingredients for each meal component. That is how I prefer to cook. Since I became vegetarian 2 1/2 years ago (recently pescatarian), food and cooking has become immensely more complicated for me. Fresh veggies take up a lot more fridge space and a lot more planning to make whole meals out of, especially if you decide to make something which requires a bit more effort. And I’m a baker not a cook. On the left you can see some seitan, chard, and potatoes Ty and I made with friends Briana and Chris. They are the people I cook with more than anyone else (usually in their kitchen) so I thought it’d be good to throw this one in there.
All of the kitchens in my Texas apartments had counter space, full-size fridges, large sinks, newer ovens, adequate pantries, dishwashers, and microwaves. In my Santa Cruz homes, they’ve all been lacking somewhere. The first place had fairly decent shelves for dishes and dry goods, and a not terribly small counter for food prep, though with a toaster oven, coffee maker, etc., counter space easily became scarce. The stove was a 50s-era gas apartment-size model and the fridge was a mini. The first thing I did when I got to Santa Cruz was scour craigslist for a couple of days until I found someone getting rid of a 9-cubic-feet fridge and headed over to pick it up. There was no way I was going to be able to live with a teeny fridge. I dread going to the grocery store like some people dread paying taxes. It isn’t something I want to do more than I absolutely have to. If you don’t have a garden, don’t like going grocery shopping every two days, or you don’t eat all your meals out, a mini fridge just doesn’t cut it. The one holiday party I tried to throw there had to move outside once more than three people had arrived and the house itself mostly served as the vessel holding the fridge holding the beer (see cramped vessel fridge over my right shoulder).
The next place I lived had plenty of pantry space in the form of built-in cabinets and built-in fridge space, long vacant; and the functioning fridge was the largest fridge I’d ever laid eyes on, though completely disproportionate to the size of the apartment. However, there was no counter (save the miniscule space next to the freestanding sink which I had to use for my dish-drying rack), so I got a kitchen table which doubled as prep space. Eating in this space was wonderful. There was a little nook where we had placed my old formica table, with a window looking out over the Boardwalk in the distance and the neighborhood crazies below; Ty and I would enjoy watching the ensuing craziness with an open window and an open bottle of wine. But the part leading up to that could be miserable. The stove was awkwardly placed, the ventilation less than ideal, and we had to clean up at least some before we could use the table for eating our meal.
I know I’ve talked about the nightmare that was cooking in the trailer where I lived with Ty last summer and fall, but allow me to reiterate. We had a mouse-infested pantry and shelves, a mini-fridge which liked to freeze anything pushed to the back, a hot plate that couldn’t boil water, and an extra-small sink that would quickly run out of hot water. We eventually learned to make do cooking there, thanks largely to a reliance on pasta and a microwave. Of course, during this time I gained 10 pounds and forgot what veggies tasted like.
My current home is an amalgam of all the others. The fridge is large and old. The sink is nestled in a corner with about 16 inches of counter space next to it (also mostly used to hold my drying rack). I have a few drawers under that counter space (that refuse to close all the way) and besides that, there is a very strange built-in open shelf area on the wall opposite the sink, which has some very short, deep cabinets beneath, which is the most frustrating space I’ve ever had for a pantry. Luckily, I’m a decent organizer and have amassed quite a bit of Container Store shelving thanks to living in so many apartments with different storage requirements. Nonetheless, preparing food in this space is a challenge and the ventilation leaves quite a bit to be desired.
A week ago, I had four friends over for dinner. My friend Briana and I shared cooking and baking duties, and maneuvering around each other to cook a four-dish meal was kind of a nightmare. We had three main course dishes, two sauces, and one dessert, and I didn’t have enough pots, pans, and bowls for everything. The gravy had to be put in a cup so we could use the same pan to sautee mushrooms. After we boiled potatoes, we had to transfer from and clean that pan in order to steam the chard. And when all was said and done, Briana had to run back home because I only have four dinner plates. By the time we finished, the kitchen was sweltering from the sun and the stove, and we all sweated around the table trying not to pass out while eating our hot meal.
I was reminded of Genevieve‘s description of her New Year’s Eve meal last year. If you were to cut Genevieve’s table right where the wine bottle is, that’s how big my dining table is. It was a tight squeeze getting five people in there and that was with the leaf put into the table. Cooking and eating in small spaces is certainly a challenge. But it is possible, if we are patient enough to make it work. When I visited with Mokihana and Pete in May, I was amazed at how tasty our meal was. It was very simple pasta with fresh greens, and a wonderful bread that Mokihana made in her toaster oven pan. I think the trick is lowering our expectations of what constitutes a suitable meal. When I eat alone, I’m fine munching on some carrots and edamame hummus with an apple and almond butter. When other people enter the equation we feel the need to make things more complex. And I’ll admit that even though I don’t love to cook, I do love to eat, and I love to eat with other people. There really is something about breaking bread with friends.
- Put what you use the most close to you. My spatulas, bottle opener, and whisk get prime real estate.
- Using wall- or ceiling-mounted pot racks are a must for small kitchen living. When you don’t have the luxury of cabinets, the wall is your friend.
- If you can’t compost and you have sufficient freezer space, freeze messy food scraps that would otherwise spend a week rotting in your trash. All my banana peels go straight into bags in my freezer door, which I throw into the garbage on Sunday nights when I take out my trash. The same goes for fridge food that molded before I could get to it. I keep it out of trash purgatory until the last minute to cut down on icky smells (which spread easily in little places).
- Try not to buy more than you can eat. You don’t have room for waste. And if it’s likely to go bad, put it in the open in your fridge so you can see it. Opaque tupperware is no good. How do I know what went into it or when? However, those green foodsaver bags are great if you use them right.
- Use small dishes. I have four full-size dinner plates which I seldom use. For my regular dining habits, I have salad plates and bowls, and I usually use two or three dishes for each meal. Some people would tell you that’s silly and wasteful, but for me, it makes the most sense. Large dishes take up more space. Small dishes can be stacked and nestled and take up less space in a drying rack. Also, I hate having sauces and juices running into the things they weren’t made for (few things bother me more than a soggy roll), so using a bowl for my salad and a little plate for my fish and asparagus is the perfect solution, if a little OCD.
For me, it’s all about knowing how I work. When I still used regular milk occasionally, I gave up buying it and switched to soy, because I knew I would never finish it before it went bad. The same went for cheese, yogurt, sour cream, etc. I also seldom finish a loaf of bread before it molds. Oatmeal, hummus, apples, Tofutti sour cream, frozen veggies, fruit, and fish, canned Amy’s refried beans, etc. are my friends. Having my staples and knowing what I will and won’t use (plus having a kitchen that I like walking into) is the best way for me to cook small.
Amanda is a documentary photographer who just earned her Master’s degree and currently lives in Santa Cruz, Ca. She completed her thesis on the Small Home Movement and hopes to have the project up by the end of the summer on either her long-neglected blog, http://greenaerie.blogspot.com, or her long-neglected photography site, www.aliasgrace.com.