Can You Live a Minimalist Life When Your Cooking is Maximal?

Yes.

There you go, mystery solved!

A new grocery store opened near our house and I am counting down the days until I reach peak immunity and can venture inside. I’ll be wearing a mask of course, but I don’t know if the store is requiring them for all guests and our governor has removed all the mask mandates so there’s a chance there will be bare-faced people inside. The horror. Also, people. It’s been over a year since I’ve been around people who don’t live in my house. I’m not sure I know how to people anymore, not that I was a deft socializer before the pandemic.

To hold me over, I placed a delivery order and got an array of “fancy” groceries, which were mostly normal things that didn’t come pre-bruised or rotten. To be clear, I don’t live in a produce desert like many Americans do, where I can’t get fresh foods within several miles of my house. I have a car and can drive to the closest store, which until recently was Walmart Market, and get anything I need. However, both Walmart and Target produce is sketchy at best in our area. For example, when I unpacked my zucchini from the new store yesterday, I was stunned to see it wasn’t soggy on one end or covered in other people’s fingernail marks.

Spinach Pesto Pasta with Burrata

There are nicer stores, including a Whole Foods, but they’re far away. Whole Foods is about forty-five minutes from our house, and obviously pricey if we’re buying everything we need from one store. The new store is an Albertson’s, so it’s a dedicated grocery store as opposed to Target, which has groceries and also bicycles. Now, as a parent I often value a store where I can get milk and bananas and also an infant car seat or carpet shampooer, but you just can’t do everything well. The groceries in Walmart and Target are not their primary selling point, and anything fresh is dicey. You can’t go to Target with a grocery list, because they just won’t have everything you need. You can go and get meat and vegetables, but you need to be flexible. But, if what you need is a bottle of ketchup, it doesn’t really matter where you buy it (we go through an unseemly amount of ketchup — every protein I serve, from fish sticks to grilled steak, gets dipped in ketchup).

You shouldn’t be ecstatic about groceries, but here we are. I’m 35 and have three kids and I’ve been inside my house for eleventybillion days. I giggled when I saw Swiss chard. I’m sick of my own cooking, sick of the easy recipes I have time for and sick of cleaning up after the more elaborate recipes that taste good but wear me out (our dishwasher is still broken by the way). There were some luxury items on my list, like the burrata I used for spinach pesto pasta last night. But also, the bundles of spinach were a luxury in themselves because none of the leaves were slimy.

When I get excited about produce and more unique products, I don’t shop like a minimalist. It’s especially hard when making a list online and trying to scroll through to figure out if I’ve assembled full meals or a random hodgepodge. I see something I haven’t been able to get for months and add it to my cart without thinking about how that ingredient will fit into the week’s dinners. Sometimes it creates waste, and I haven’t figured out how to use my Persian cucumber before it turns to mush, but often I end up getting creative and trying new things. Crap, I’m about to lose this spendy cucumber…maybe I can make a quick pickle?

My kitchen is not minimal. I use it all day every day and I use nearly everything in it on a weekly or at least monthly basis. The kitchen is one of the only places I allow “just in case” items, because there are so many dishes that can only be made with a special tool or dish, and if I get the opportunity to make something delicious, I don’t want to skip it because I didn’t have a tart pan with a removable edge.

I think of these tools like my husband’s video games — he can’t play them all every day, but if one day his son expresses an interest in an OG game like Pong, he’s going to want to be able to pull that out and set it up for his kid. I don’t make many bundt cakes, but when my daughter was having a breakdown because she found out it wasn’t her birthday, I had that pan to solve a problem in a pinch. You can’t make a bundt cake without a bundt pan, and in an emergency a bundt can pass for a dress/crown and cheer up your three year old. My husband said it looked like a Simpson’s donut, so really it’s the solution to all life’s problems.

I’m a minimalist in pretty much every other area, apart from my overuse of descriptive words in fiction writing, so although my kitchen cupboards are full, I need all those things.

Except maybe the fondue pot, which we absolutely never use. But then how will we eat fondue?

Spinach Pesto Pasta

Olive oil – for cooking and a nicer extra virgin for the sauce

2 bunches of baby spinach – washed and shaken dry

2 cloves garlic – smashed with a knife and peeled

1 shallot – sliced

zest from 1 lemon

5 basil leaves

1/3 c parmesan

pinch red pepper flakes

salt

pepper

1 box pasta

optional burrata

  1. If you’re using burrata, take it out of the fridge to warm up before doing anything else.
  2. Pretend you’re making sauteed spinach. Heat a little olive oil on medium high heat and toss in the garlic cloves and shallot to cook until soft. Throw in the spinach. No need to remove the stems or get it bone dry, the moisture will help it cook. Once it’s all wilted but still bright green, put everything in a fine mesh strainer to drain. Press gently to remove extra moisture.
  3. Put the spinach mixture in a blender with basil, grated parmesan, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, salt, and a little pepper — all ingredients easily modified to your preference. You could also add pine nuts or walnuts, or even soaked cashews, to make it nutty like traditional pesto. Soaked cashews will also make it taste cheesy if you are vegan and want to skip the parmesan.
  4. Blend it until smooth, streaming in a good grassy olive oil to combine if it’s not saucy enough. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
  5. Boil pasta in salted water – I used fettuccini. I like a long noodle for this, but something sturdy. Reserve cup of pasta water before you drain.
  6. Toss hot pasta with the pesto, and if it’s too thick add some pasta water. I topped mine with burrata, but you could skip it or substitute with goat cheese, feta, or even crisped bacon. Sprinkle with a pinch of red pepper flakes and serve.

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