9 Good Things About Living without a Microwave, and 1 Bad Thing

| January 24, 2014 | 4 Comments

So I was nuking a bowl of leftover chili the other day, and with a mighty crack-sizzle-pop, our microwave gave up the ghost.  My initial reactions were, in order:

1. Damn! I really wanted that chili.
2. Hel-lo, you have a range top and more cooking vessels than god, knucklehead.
3. Oh yeah.  I wonder if we really need a microwave.
4. Gee, it’ll be kinda fun to see if we do, even if we end up replacing it.

Thus began yet another Green Hedonist science experiment:  Can you live happily (and well) without a microwave in this day and age?  What behaviors would need to change?  Would it really suck?

We’re still bumping along in the experiment, but I wanted to report some initial findings before I get so used to the status quo that I don’t notice things as well any more (you all know how that goes).

First, the good things:

Number 9:  About that ice cream.  The Hedonist Husband had a big first world problem come up the other night when he went to soften the rock-hard ice cream in the microwave.  Barred from that, he instinctively tried to warm up the microwaveable ice cream scoop.  Then he surrendered to the fact that he would have to just (unbelievably) have to leave it on the counter for a few minutes until it softened enough to scoop.  He was cursing the science experiment until his first bites of french vanilla custard, at which time he forgot to be mad.  Behold the power of ice cream.  The thing is, it is probably the microwaving that is MAKING it freeze up so hard in the freezer, and shooting microwaves through dairy products can’t be doing the flavor any favors.  Free the ice cream!

Number 8:  Taking a hiatus from worrying who’s right: the microwaves-will-kill-you camp or the microwaves-are-perfectly-safe camp.  Campers from both will wave their studies in your face and give you very plausible reasons why you’re either shaving ten years off your life or you’re absolutely fine even if you press your face to the window while you’re cooking.  For now, I don’t have to even think about it.

Number 7:  Not having to remember that you’re not supposed to nuke plastic containers.  Or which ones.  There’s a lot more evidence about this, enough to make pretty clear the fact that nuking your food in plastic is a bad idea.  And yet at least once every other day, I forget about those facts and find, halfway through the warming cycle, I’m doing it again.  I doubt I will forget not to put plastic in the toaster oven, so I’m safe for now.

Number 6:  Not having to hang out in my microwaveless friends’ kitchens and feel a sense of confusion.   They seem to function perfectly fine without being able to warm up a mug of hot water in 60 seconds, soften the tortillas without a skillet, have leftovers go from freezer to table in two minutes….  In fact, they don’t look inconvenienced at all.  If asked, they’ll tell me they don’t want a microwave because they are just not interested in shooting things into/through their food; Monsanto is doing enough of that for us.  Or that they hate the clutter of yet another modern convenience  And I think about it the next time I reheat my coffee 12 times because I keep forgetting where it is.  Why do I do this?  Is it because I can?

Number 5:  Getting to know my groovy new gift, the toaster oven.  We use a toaster oven rather than a toaster, and my brother, whom we forced to endure our dented, wobbly, burned, uncleanable 12-year-old toaster oven on a recent family visit, was kind enough to gift us with a new spiffy Cuisinart model, stainless and black, and easy to clean.  I’m getting to use all the parts of the dial I never thought to use before, like “anything other than toast.”  It’s awesome.

Number 4:  Getting to use my new glass containers.  Some of my prized purchases over the last two years have been glass storage vessels to help replace the standard rubbermaid type (by attrition).   Ovenproof, freezer-safe, all that.  I re-heated a batch of marinara today by — get this —  just putting the big bowl in the oven on 275, setting the timer, and walking away.  And when I fished it out 30 minutes later with my mitts, all steamy and bubbly, it was ready to toss with hot pasta and sausage and serve right out of the hot bowl.

Number 3:  Remembering how much better food tastes when it’s NOT microwaved.  I can’t tell whether a bowl of soup tastes better on the stovetop or in a microwave, but I can tell with most other things.  From popcorn made in a heavy pan on the stovetop, to the crispy skin on top of mac n’ cheese in the oven, to the taste of fresh coffee kept in a thermos instead of reheated….the superior taste of all these things, and a hundred more, are coming back to me now.

Number 2:  Getting to use my brain again in the kitchen.  We’re discovering that the microwave helps us to go on autopilot.  Forgot to thaw out the leftover chili for dinner?  No problem!  I’ll nuke it for five minutes and we’ll be ready to eat.   Putting milk in your coffee cools it off too much?  No problem, we’ll just warm it back up for a few seconds.

Now I actually have to think, and it’s like waking up something that’s been sleeping for many years.  This morning, after heating the kettle for dog breakfasts (long story)  we thought to put a glass measuring cup of milk on the still-warm rangetop element to warm.  Voila, no cooled coffee.  Making a batch of smothered burritos this week, I started to wing the fridge-cold tortillas (plastic bag and all, my bad) into the microwave to warm for 15 seconds, and caught myself.  I didn’t want to heat them one-by-one this particular night, so I wrapped them all in a piece of foil and popped them into the preheating oven for a few minutes.  Take them out, wrap and smother and cheese them, and then pop the pan back into the now-heated oven.

These are the kinds of things I had stopped even thinking about, because I didn’t have to think.  I am not an 80-hour-per-week politician or a single mom with three kids — I actually HAVE time to do these things the long way if I want to. And I’m discovering I want to.

Number 1:  Putting the damn brakes on the rush-rush-rush.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, I use the microwave simply because it’s faster.  I “don’t have time” to warm things in the oven, stovetop, or toaster oven.  Which makes me feel pretty schizophrenic, because I choose not to rush in any other aspect of my life.  Not in my work, not in my errands, workouts, shopping, nowhere.  So why do I do it in the kitchen?  I was simmering a small pan of leftover lentil soup yesterday afternoon.  The smells rising from the pan were lovely: smoky paprika, onion, garlic, tomato.  The kitchen was warm and quiet, punctuated only by the sound of the simmering broth, the steam rising from the pan.  How did I forget that cooking can be a form of meditation?

And the one bad thing:

What am I supposed to do with this 50-pound hunk of ancient junk bolted above my stove?  I mean, seriously.  If we remove it, there’s this gaping space I’ll have to do something with.  And it can’t stay there, because people will try to use it when we’re not around, and because, well, because it doesn’t DO anything. I could wrap yellow caution tape around it, with a sign that says “Warning! Objects will not be heated!”  I could paint a mural on it.  Stick a dummy severed head inside of it.  I don’t know.  I suppose there are possibilities.

We are still trying to figure out the warming problem – reheating things allowed to become cool by Life (dogs have to go out, doorbells ring, telephone callers that can’t take a hint).  But I am confident we’ll figure out a plan for that.

We may replace the microwave oven some time, either with another microwave or a convection oven, for those very rare days when a few minutes’ time-efficiency might make the difference between having a hot meal before needing to be somewhere, and grabbing a bruised banana.  But the experience of living without it is turning out to be a beautiful experiment so far.


Category: Sustainable

Comments (4)

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  1. Frances says:

    Hi there,

    loved this post! My friends don’t have a microwave (never had) and they were both working full time and bought up 4 kids. I have no kids and still use it for conveniance. Personally, I do not like reheated coffee but hubby does. So I bought him one of those tea light warmers like this one:
    and he really likes it. I remember I Grandma used a large version of these things to keep food warm on the table.

    Happy Australia Day!

    • greenhedonist says:

      Happy Australia Day (belated) Frances! And thanks for this. I have thought about getting a cup warmer of some kind – I think I will. I am not missing reheated coffee at all….when I think about it, it doesn’t fit with my lifestyle choice anyway, which in a nutshell is centered on “make everything you eat and drink wonderful whenever you can.” Reheated coffee isn’t anything like that! Happy day to you.

  2. Stacy says:

    Right… who TF needs EVERYTHING right away ANYHOW!!??

    • greenhedonist says:

      Well, sometimes I convince myself that *I* do 🙂 But unless I’m doing CPR on someone, that’s probably not true.

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