Friday, March 26, 2010

Living microwave-free

"Zappers" my family used to call them. As in "would you zap this for me?"
Or, better still "would you nuke this a minute longer!?"
NUKE? My food?! Something that I'm going to eat?
Think about that for a second!

We don't have a microwave oven anymore.
And we don't want one.

I know a few people who don't have microwave ovens because they have concerns about cancer or the de-naturizing effects of the micro waves on their food. I've read those articles and considered the matter, but it was never enough to convince my husband to go microwave-free.

When we moved to Pelican, we were moving by air, so anything we wanted to take with us had to fit into a very limited space since we had to pay by the box. We decided that it wasn't worth $50 to bring a microwave, and that we'd make do. Almost as soon as we arrived though one of Hubby's co-workers learned that we did not have a microwave, and offered us her old one because she had just upgraded.
So we had a microwave again.
There was very limited counter space in that apartment, and the only place we could fit the microwave happened to be next to the sink. I was very concerned about water getting under it and causing a short so I made efforts to avoid that, and also frequently unplugged and moved the microwave to thoroughly clean/dry the area as well. But you can't stop the inevitable I suppose, because halfway through our second year in Pelican though the microwave fritzed-out. (Yes, that's a technical term!)
One night Hubby put something in the microwave, but then removed it before the time had run out. He pressed the 'cancel' button and re-closed the door, but the microwave turned on. He pressed 'cancel' again but it continued to run. From that time on, no matter what buttons we pushed, if the door was latched then the microwave was on. It would only turn off if we opened the door. After about 5 minutes of observation we concluded that the microwave had some kind of short (or that at any rate it wasn't safe anymore) so we unplugged it and got rid of it.
My word I had so much counter space!!!
We started re-heating lunches in the oven or on the stovetop instead of in the took 10 minutes instead of 3. Ten. Minutes. That is just not very long now, is it. How is it that our culture has become so impatient that we are not willing to wait ten minutes for our food? And you know what else? The leftovers tasted better. I'd long ago started reheating anything with chicken or pork in some way besides the microwave, because those meats in the zapper always tasted weird and got too dry. When we started reheating everything with the oven/stove though I realized that everything tasted better. (In searching online for a photo for this post--which I was unable to find and had to make by the way--I came across a bakery in New Mexico that has a notice on their website that they are a microwave-free facility. What a great selling point!!!)
When we returned to civilization this summer, we first spent a couple of months staying with family. They had a microwave, but we found that after 5 months without one we were not inclined to use it, and rarely did so. When we settled in to our new home, we chose to not buy one. So we are now an intentionally microwave-free home. Hubby wanted something for reheating leftovers at work, and opted for a toaster oven rather than a zapper.

One thing that would have been difficult about the change would have been if we had been using a lot of plastic in our kitchen, because of course plastic is not oven safe. But frankly I don't think that plastic is very food-safe, so we had been getting rid of plastic in our kitchen long before getting rid of the microwave, so it was no big deal.

What do we use instead?
We store leftovers in pyrex dishes. The lids are not heat-safe, but the dishes themselves can go in the dishwasher, oven, fridge, freezer (or yes, the microwave). On average, depending on the size of the dish, they cost $2-9 each, but boxed sets as the one shown here (and linked) are more affordable. I have containers ranging from custard cups to full casserole dishes, and use all of them. I pack Hubby's and Wolf's school lunches in portion-size containers, save full meals in the freezer in 6x10s, and so on. I love that I can see through the glass too because that way I always know what I have in my fridge. It's pretty sturdy glass, and while it can break if abused, it will hold up to years of regular use (no need to be paranoid about them!). When Wolf takes them to school (where his only heating option is a microwave) I don't have to worry about the plastic from his dish leaching into his food. Incidentally, pyrex is also made in the USA. Just a note--take a dish straight from the fridge or freezer and put it into a cold oven, then turn on the heat. The glass will heat gradually as the food does, and will not break this way. ☺)
I use glass or ceramic mixing bowls (some pyrex brand, some others), so I can set the whole bowl in the oven to soften butter, speed bread rising, and so on.
We use corelle dishes, which are also oven-safe, so sometimes we reheat food directly on our plates. Yes, this does mean that our plates get hot (oh, wait, don't fancy restaurants bring out meals on heated plates? Why yes, I think they do!) They are classy looking like china, and technically breakable, but still sturdy like the pyrex (I think they may be made by the same company actually). My grandmother gave an extensive set of corelle dishes to my mom because she (grandma) had had them for a couple of decades but very few had broken and she was tired of the pattern and wanted something new.

Sometimes I have to adapt a little, such as when the recipe says to melt chocolate chips in the microwave, I use my double boiler pan (or a saucepan on low heat with lots of stirring and careful watching). Anytime I want to cook with butter I have to plan ahead enough to get it out of the fridge to soften, or at the very least I have to set it in the oven for a few minutes to soften/melt a bit. On the other hand, when making cookies requires forethought, it's a good way to curb impulsive cookie-making, don't you think?!☺
Yes, living without a microwave means that many things take longer, but good things always take time.

So, the short version of living microwave free:
  • Plastic-free (or mostly plastic-free) kitchen
  • More counter space
  • The food tastes better
  • The food gets heated more evenly
  • The texture of the food is the same as how it was originally made (crisp pizza crusts in the oven, soft pasta on the stovetop, just think about how the original dish was made and reheat in the same way)
  • We slow down and think about what we're eating before consuming it
  • And, just in case microwaves do cause cancer, well, we're avoiding that too


Khourt said...

Ive not had a microwave for a while now and I love it. When I lived with my sister I couldnt wait to live on my own so I could go microwave free.. People always comment on it and think its a big hassle that I dont have one.. Really the counter space is great.. I also heat stuff on the stove and it takes just a few minutes. The "pain" of having to wait is soo worth it.

Kate said...

I have a friend who is actually afraid of microwaves when they are in use. He gets very agitated if he can't get out of the room when you turn one on. He claims that he's been that way since childhood and that nothing in particular started it. They just freak him out. Needless to say he doesn't have one.

We do have one, but I sometimes think I'd rather have the increased counter space.

SisuGirl said...

In university, I cooked everything I ate in the dorm with a microwave or a slow cooker. When I moved to Alaska it became a microwave, slow cooker or a rice pot for the first year but in my second I moved into a room with no micro to hand so I got out of the habit of using it. In Pelican because it was in an out-of-the-way alcove, I rarely used it for food and mostly used it for heating rice bags for aches and pains. In Anchorage I completed my transformation to nuke-free by giving a co-worker the one that had been left in my apartment and have been happy ever since! Every now and then I submitted to the cravings for microwave popcorn and used the one in the lobby but I don't own one. The house I live in right now has one but it is unplugged and in the storage bedroom unless there is a guest who asks for it. Best yet? I learned you can pop microwave popcorn in a pan on the stove to use up those last 2 bags leftover :) I have and use the same pyrex dishes and love them.

Katie said...

I have broken at least 3 glass dishes in the oven. I'm scared of them now. They broke in fairly innocent ways -
1 - basting a turkey with room temperature liquid
2 - adding room temperature spaghetti sauce to baking chicken parmesan (after the chicken had been in 20 minutes)
3 - baking squash with butter. The squash was hollow-side up, and so it was full of melted butter/juices. When I tried to pull the pan out of the oven, the squash shifted, spilling a little of the juice, and the dish shattered.

So when you're basting or adding something to a baking recipe, do you have to heat it on the stove first? How hot -- to boiling? I was so surprised about the squash incident. I don't know how that could have been avoided, other than by cooking the squash hollow-side down.

Mommy Bee said...

Well Katie, first of all, dang, you have a knack for breaking things don't you?! ;)
The squash one surprises me too. I have cooked squash just that way--spills or not--and never had a problem. Perhaps that particular dish had already been weakened in some way?
I know that adding something cool to a hot glass dish will shatter it. I know that direct heat (such as a stovetop burner) will shatter it--we've had that happen. Glass can handle a very wide range of temperatures so long as the changes are gradual.
My best recommendation would be that if you need to add something to a dish that's already hot, then either A--get it up to temp (if the oven is 350 then that's WAY past boiling of course) or B--put it in the oven in a separate dish, and combine them later when serving (much easier I'd think).

Katie said...

That's a good idea about putting the sauce/liquid in a separate dish in the oven.

Janeen said...

Yeah, I had read about the whole thing with pyrex breaking through Dr. Mercola's website and wasn't sure what to think about that. We use pyrex and we were trying to get rid of the plastic stuff when we moved here and ugh, started to get back into using a microwave after we got one from this school. It's a sucky microwave though but when it's that OR the stove (no oven here), it doesn't leave you a lot of choices.

Your timing of this is good though because I was starting to think about ALL of the things I would have to get when I got back to the states and was lamenting the fact that microwaves cost SO much. But this is a good challenge for me to forgo one for awhile and trying to use something like a crockpot (which would be GREAT to get for the warm summer months). It certainly is easy to get into the habit of using one though. I barely remember those years we DIDN'T have one but there were close to 8 years of my life where we did not have a microwave and we seemed to do just fine. You just tend to forget those days after you get used to having one. I'll tell you one thing though, there's just NO WAY I can live without an oven anymore. Give me that over a microwave ANY day!

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