The Kitchen­scape


We love a life­style cook­book and one that re­ally takes what we do in the kitchen to other cen­ters in our day to day. We talked with Melissa Cole­man about her new cook­book, Min­i­mal­ist Kitchen, hyggelig and how she solves prob­lems as a maker.

ATH­LEISURE MAG: Tell us about your back­ground and how you came from be­ing a graphic de­signer, to a food blog­ger to now re­leas­ing your first cook­book as an au­thor!

MELISSA COLE­MAN: It’s my first book and maybe my only haha. I said be­fore that I could not make a book un­less it would pour out of me. I never thought that I would make a book un­til they called me and I was like yes! A lit­tle bit about my back­ground, from the ear­li­est days of my life, I have al­ways been a maker. I like to make things and my medium has changed over the years, but I also came out lov­ing food.

My mom would say that I would sit at the break­fast ta­ble and would ask what was for lunch or for din­ner for the day. She would al­ways say, “Well, Melissa eat to live – don’t live to eat and I am still liv­ing to eat." I love food! So, I painted in high school and then I stud­ied graphic de­sign and be­came a graphic de­signer. About a year af­ter be­com­ing a graphic de­signer, I started my blog about 10 years ago as ev­ery­one had a blog. It was prob­a­bly the sec­ond post that it turned into a food blog as it doc­u­mented my recipes. I cooked a lot in high school as I liked to bake and I used to love watch­ing Martha Ste­wart. It’s not a joke, but I used to work­out to Martha Ste­wart!

AM: Wait what!?!

MC: Yeah! That was the early days when I was in col­lege I used to record it. So, I would record her and then I got home from work, I would work­out to Martha Ste­wart. So that’s where I learned to cook and bake in a lot of ways. I wanted to know how to do ev­ery­thing. I like to make things and at my core, I am a cre­ator. With food, I felt that as a de­signer, de­sign­ers try to solve prob­lems beau­ti­fully and with food, I needed recipes that were sim­ple and whole­some and I tried a num­ber of diets over the years. By the time I fin­ished col­lege, I landed on a whole foods diet. I like to eat whole foods and a veg­etable for­ward meal. The veg­etable for­ward part came into the blog later. As a de­signer who likes to solve prob­lems, I cre­ated recipes of things that I wanted to eat.

AM: What is a Min­i­mal­ist Kitchen?

MC: A min­i­mal­ist kitchen is a paired down kitchen or a kitchen equipped with the es­sen­tials. Ev­ery­thing from the in­gre­di­ents, to the cook­ing tools to the pantry – which is al­ways the big­gest trouble maker in the home as well as the tech­niques. I wanted to use ef­fi­cient and even repet­i­tive tech­niques. I didn’t want to rein­vent the wheel as I cooked. I want to be re­ally good at what I am do­ing es­pe­cially at 5pm on a Tues­day at night. It’s pair­ing down to the very best things for the es­sen­tials.

AM: Is this through­out your life­style?

MC: I do. It’s funny, in the book I say, “Where min­i­mal­ism starts and stops in your life, let it be”. Be­cause, I found suc­cess in the kitchen by just get­ting rid – I mean I have kind of al­ways been a re­duc­tion­ist. When I painted and you looked at my style at the end of my paint­ing ca­reer, it was very min­i­mal. Then you look at my graphic de­sign style – I’m a re­duc­tion­ist who likes the es­sen­tials. I don’t like to do things for the sake of do­ing things. That nat­u­rally flowed over to my life and part of that as an adult, and it wasn’t true as a child – I wanted to be re­spon­si­ble for less and when I keep less around, I am re­spon­si­ble for that and it gives me time to do the things that I want to do or that brings me joy. It ex­tends to my closet, I kind of have a uni­form and my friends know that I wear the same thing all the time and we laugh about it

and I don’t care!

I like to pay at­ten­tion to my habits and partly be­cause I have al­ways had a de­signer brain and that’s partly be­cause as a kid, I would get frus­trated about things and I re­mem­ber my dad look­ing at me one time say­ing, “Do you want me to take you to this per­son to help you fix it?” And I was like, “No I will fix it”. And that’s kind of how I go about life. When I looked at my draw­ers, I would look at my clothes that would stay folded most of the sea­son, the jeans on the floor that I would wear ev­ery sin­gle day and that was hap­pen­ing in the kitchen too!

I would have one spat­ula that I would al­ways use and so I started to pay at­ten­tion to that stuff and I started to get rid of stuff that was just col­lect­ing stuff and tak­ing up space.

AM: Your book re­minds us of our in­ter­view with Meik Wik­ing about hygge.


AM: And when think­ing about that, it brings up no­tions of com­fort and cozy things – how does this life­style and min­i­mal­ism come to­gether within this con­cept?

MC: Well min­i­mal­ism can be seen as a stodgy, cold and aus­tere word. But I don’t de­scribe my ap­proach as that. I say, that as a de­signer, I am a cozy min­i­mal­ist. That’s kind of where hygge is – it brings the cozy in. Aes­thet­i­cally, I try to bring vis­ual warmth. Hygge is like the prac­ti­cal warmth. It’s sit­ting in front of the fire, play­ing a game and sign­ing off from the rest of the world. It’s say­ing no to things or just be­ing. Even for me, it’s a 2pm break in the af­ter­noon be­cause I need it and I am giv­ing my­self what I need and it goes back to re­spon­si­bil­ity. I wanted to be re­spon­si­ble for less so I deleted a lot of things that were in my life so I could do those things that I find most ful­fill­ing. In those gaps and blank spa­ces, and there are plenty of those in our lives, which can be un­com­fort­able some­times, we fill them with hygge mo­ments. Just be­ing, em­brac­ing the sim­plic­ity. Im­po­tent is such a bad word but my fear is that I would be­come im­po­tent of get­ting lost in the flicker of a flame or that I wouldn’t be able to taste the sweet­ness of an al­mond. That I would just over­load my life with ev­ery­thing that I couldn’t see things for what they were.

AM: What drew us to the con­cept of this cook­book is that over the last few years, cook­books have grown from in­clud­ing a recipe and an im­age to show­cas­ing a life­style. We love that this book show­cases a method­ol­ogy in organization and are be­liev­ers in cre­at­ing that sense of place­ment in one part of your life, al­lows you to do so in other ar­eas and to ob­tain clar­ity whether phys­i­cally or men­tally. How did you de­cide that this was the way that your pantry should be, these are the items that will be slimmed down to x, what you con­sid­ered es­sen­tial agree­ments and how you ba­si­cally can be a coach to peo­ple’s kitchens to con­quer the mad­ness that is in there!

A min­i­mal­ist kitchen is a paired down kitchen or a kitchen equipped with the es­sen­tials. Ev­ery­thing from the in­gre­di­ents, to the cook­ing tools, to the pantry - which is al­ways the big­gest trouble maker in the home as well as the tech­niques.

MC: RIGHT! For me, I learned to cook with a ton of time on my hands, I was fresh out of col­lege and I didn’t have any­thing beg­ging for my at­ten­tion on the week­ends. But when I be­came a work­ing mom, it was so in­ef­fi­cient and I used to be a web de­signer that cre­ated blogs and we talked a lot about user ex­pe­ri­ence and cre­at­ing a good one. And I rec­og­nized that I was hav­ing the poor­est user ex­pe­ri­ence in my kitchen. So much so that I looked at my hus­band one day not too long af­ter my daugh­ter was born, and I said, “I’m quitting the kitchen or I am go­ing to fix this place.” So the Min­i­mal­ist Kitchen is the cul­mi­na­tion of that big prob­lem and over the years, I wrote about this but in one week, I stabbed my­self twice in my catch all kitchen drawer with tools that I never used. But you know, you stick your hand in there be­cause the spat­ula flips up and you can’t get it open and then you stab your­self. I was like, “why am I do­ing this to my­self?” So I slowly started pair­ing down and it’s kind of an ex­pen­sive process – or maybe I would say that it’s an in­vest­ment to do this. We did it be­cause my hus­band was in grad­u­ate school and I sup­ported us on my de­sign salary. So I just did it lit­tle by lit­tle. In the book I say, “that once you clean the front of the drawer, you no­tice the back of the drawer is very sim­i­lar.”

It feels weird to pub­lish this book as this process is never fin­ished for me and I am con­stantly think­ing of re­work­ing space es­pe­cially in the kitchen. I like that idea too be­cause it frees it up for peo­ple and it doesn’t have to hap­pen over night. Life is or­ganic and chang­ing and good things take time. That’s the truth of this sys­tem, it takes a lit­tle time.

AM: When it comes to the kitchen there are so many gad­gets. We love our Bre­ville Tea Maker, a num­ber of items that we en­joy eat­ing ne­ces­si­tates var­i­ous prod­ucts to make them ver­sus hav­ing one tool that can do five things – so we’re al­ways try­ing things out. So for you, when new things come to mar­ket and you feel that it works, do you do a men­tal check­list, where bring­ing in an item makes you re­move some­thing you have?

MC: EX­ACTLY! I’m al­ways do­ing a men­tal check­list and I am able to do that be­cause I have so much less on my check­list. I am prob­a­bly the slow­est adopter when it comes to buy­ing things. I don’t have an In­stant Pot and I’m not sure if I will be­cause I have all of the other tools that I need and it would be a huge learn­ing curve for me and I’m not sure if I would do some­thing like that in my ev­ery­day. But I am so care­ful as I pic­ture my­self at the back door of our house say­ing (even my hus­band is a much big­ger shop­per then me), “woah, woah, woah what are you bring­ing in here?” It’s go­ing to re­quire work, we’re go­ing to have to re­or­ga­nize and we will have to get rid of some­thing. Why spend time do­ing some­thing that we don’t need to spend time do­ing?

AM: How did you go about or­ga­niz­ing the cook­book and what would you say that some­one should ex­pect to read when they are go­ing into it?

MC: When I am cook­ing in gen­eral, I men­tally lump my recipes into week­end cook­ing, week­day cook­ing and make ahead – and as we started on the book, I said can we cre­ate tags so that peo­ple know ex­actly where to put the recipes in their life? I mean, I know where to put them, but peo­ple don’t know what to do with my recipes. So we sep­a­rated them like that so that peo­ple could have it and I wanted to set them up with the most suc­cess pos­si­ble. I feel like over­whelm­ingly that peo­ple are frus­trated with their kitchens – which was true for me. How many ex­ple­tives come out when you’re open­ing the Tup­per­ware drawer? There are things in the kitchen that are ex­ple­tive pro­duc­ing haha.

AM: So true and we get an­noyed, stuff ev­ery­thing back in and then think we should do some­thing about it!

MC: Yes!

AM: It’s like the Ground­hogs Day, Kitchen Edi­tion!

MC: Yes that would hap­pen to me to! I re­mem­bered that my mom would deal with these things to. I used to think that she was so nutty and then I found my­self do­ing the same things in my kitchen too!! I was like, “I can fix this.” I do think that it’s crazy and I want to ac­knowl­edge that I got the chance to re­ally spend time on mak­ing my kitchen work and then to write about it! That’s a very rare op­por­tu­nity and many don’t have time to do some­thing like that be­cause our lives are so busy – even a paired down one! I think that this book has done the work for peo­ple so that it will make them feel more suc­cess­ful in do­ing this and even down to where the recipe should go in their week.

AM: I agree it’s good for them to fig­ure out when they should prep, where in the week they should go to the gro­cery store, it’s a nice map to fol­low! Es­pe­cially when you live in a place like NYC where even the sim­plest task of go­ing to the gro­cery store can be quite a jour­ney. You know that you can only carry so much and that there is an op­tion for con­ve­nience, but do you want some­one else pick­ing out your pro­duce? Lo­gis­ti­cally, some­one send­ing your food to you is great but sync­ing up the times and for those that don’t have a door­man – this is a prob­lem. It’s nice to have or­der.

MC: True – even the shop­ping tech­niques, I shop a lot like a city dweller. I live in a large city but not like NYC – but I walk to the gro­cery store and I carry back ev­ery­thing that we eat for the week. I carry them on my shoul­ders like you do and I have enough fresh pro­duce for what we eat that week and the pantry is stocked by way of Costco or other types of bulk shop­ping so I am only do­ing main­te­nance shop­ping or mi­nor shop­ping. I hate gro­cery shop­ping with a child.

AM: The anx­i­ety of walk­ing up and down the aisles ev­ery­time you get to the gro­cery store can be a bit much.

MC: Ab­so­lutely and with my book, I wanted to get rid of that feel­ing of, “oh this is what I do on my Sat­ur­day, I shop ev­ery store – can’t I be do­ing some­thing bet­ter with my life?”

AM: You know that you have to eat, you can’t do take­out all the time even if it’s healthy. But some­times you get to the store and you hear all the sounds and other stim­u­la­tions and you kind of need a plan to tackle it! So what are your 3 fa­vorite meals from the book and what mu­sic do you play along when mak­ing those dishes?

MC: Ok so I re­al­ized that my 3 meals are all week­end meals. I don’t want to

take away from the de­li­cious­ness of the week­day meals. When I sit down to a meal that took 15-20 min­utes it’s still so sat­is­fy­ing, but week­ends are cel­e­bra­tory around here as it is in ev­ery home. So on Fri­day night we kick it off with the Crispy Pizza with the caramelized onions or a cheese pizza with the base recipe. Any­time it’s pizza night, we lis­ten to the Mamba Ital­iano Ra­dio on Pan­dora – it al­ways feels like we’re at an Ital­ian restau­rant. Or we make these Sum­mer Veg­gie Fa­ji­tas – we love those. They are a Stone­henge in our lives. We used to eat them out all the time and then we started mak­ing them our whole mar­ried life. On that night, we lis­ten to Span­ish Gui­tar Ra­dio on Pan­dora. Then on Sat­ur­day or Sun­day morn­ing, it’s a flow brunchy type of thing so we make, the Dutch Baby be­cause my 4 year old picks it. It’s mag­i­cal be­cause it just blows up in the oven and we lis­ten to Early Jazz Ra­dio on Pan­dora and it sounds like you’re sit­ting in a French or Euro­pean café. Early jazz ra­dio is so good!

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