Admission: I really wanted to call this post Kill Your Microwave … Before It Kills You!
But I didn’t. Because that’s not why I killed my microwave. I don’t think microwaves are dangerous, nor do really believe that microwaving your food necessarily destroys the nutrition therein.
Living without a microwave is weird, yes. Inconvenient, sure. But somehow, I love it.
Think microwave-freedom might be for you? Here’s everything you need to know.
Why Give Up the Convenience?
For thirty years, I never lived in a home without a microwave.
Like just about every kid who grew up in the 80’s, I have fond memories of Hot Pockets, TV dinners, Toaster Strudels, and personal pizzas coming out of that magic (if constantly dirty) black box after a minute and thirty seconds or so. Even the two fires I started in the microwave (one when I forgot to add water to my Top Ramen, the other when my sister and I tried to reheat a bagel the first time we stayed home alone, and had to evacuate to the neighbor’s house) make for good stories.
I’m not on an anti-microwave crusade. If it’s unhealthy, that remains to be seen — emissions may or may not be any worse than what our cell phones and laptops throw off, and even the “common knowledge” that microwaves destroy more enzymes and nutrients than other cooking methods has been largely refuted.
So why get rid of it?
In my case, a few reasons:
- Just like an artist often does better work by limiting herself to only a few tools, without a microwave I make far better food choices.
- Lots of foods reheat better by other means, and don’t get rubbery five minutes after reheating.
- I have been on a bit of clutter-reducing crusade, and I like our kitchen counter better without the big, unsightly, always-dirty box.
- Embracing other mild inconveniences — like not having a smartphone, eliminating paper towels, hand-grinding coffee, and running without GPS or a watch — has often made me happier, even if only as a periodic exercise for a few weeks or months.
How We Ditched the ‘Wave
Just as I used to think, “I’d really like to be vegan, but I could never make it work,” I figured microwave-free living would be impossible, or at least unbearable. That is, until I stayed with Doug a few years ago for a DC Vegfest and saw that he and his fiance made it work, as if it was no big deal at all — exactly the way I had begun to feel about being vegan.
But how to actually cut loose? Should wean ourselves off of the microwave and its glorious convenience? Or just make the leap, and rip off the bandage?
Getting rid of our microwave was actually very easy. We employed a little trick that I borrowed from my minimalist friends, who use a “Maybe” Box to store items they’d like to live without, but that they’re scared to let go of completely: put the stuff you’re not sure about in a box, seal it shut and write the date on it. If you decide you really want something you stuck in there, you can always go get it. If three or six months pass and the item never crosses your mind, get rid of it.
So that’s what we did: put the microwave in the basement.
There were a few times (popcorn) that we wanted to use it. But to lug it up stairs seemed a lot of effort, so we never did. (I think once when my dad was visiting, he actually plugged it in down there and used it.)
A few months later, someone needed a microwave, so we gave it away, and we haven’t wanted one since.
Not unlike finally deciding to give up cheese to go from vegetarian to vegan, living without a microwave seems a lot harder until you just go ahead and do it.
How to Reheat Food without a Microwave
The only food we ever “cooked” in the microwave, before we got rid of it, was popcorn. Everything else was simply reheated in the microwave, but we do rely a lot on leftovers, so adapting posed a challenge.
There are plenty of helpful, detailed articles on the web about cooking without a microwave, but my approach has been very simple. There are three ways I reheat food now, depending on what kind of food it is:
1. Toaster or full-size oven (convection mode, usually) — for “solid” foods that hold their shape, like lasagna, homemade pizza, and casseroles. No special instructions — just heat for five to 15 minutes, usually around 350-400 degrees F.
2. Steaming — for foods that spread out too much to put in the oven, but are more sticky than saucy (most stir-frys, some pasta dishes, rice and beans, quinoa or rice pilaf). We have a steamer that sits inside a medium-sized pot on the stove, and five minutes of steaming is usually enough to reheat leftovers. Saucy foods don’t work because the sauce drips through the holes in the steamer, but foods like tempeh or tofu stir-fry, or even a pile of broccoli or other chopped vegetables, steam very well.
3. Simmering — for liquidy, saucy dishes (most lentil dishes, chana masala, pasta with thin sauce), stews, and soups. Often I add a little water to the pan to avoid burning and sticking. After two or three minutes of bubbling over medium heat (stir frequently to avoid sticking), most foods are ready to eat. It’s easy to overcook leftover pasta this way, so I try to get it off the heat as soon as it’s warm enough to eat.
As for popcorn, the special case: the 80’s child in me wishes I’d say Jiffy Pop stovetop, but alas. If I owned an air-popper I’d use that, but it’s too much of a uni-tasker for my taste. So for the once every month or two that we make popcorn at home, gently heating a quarter cup of kernels in a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large pot with a lid makes popcorn that’s just as good as any in a bag. And without steam burns!
Give it a Try
If you’re intrigued, I say go for it. Stick the microwave in the garage, the basement, or your car — it’s just inconvenient enough to move a microwave (or cook your food out in your garage) that this will nicely do the job of the Maybe box.
If your microwave is mounted in your kitchen and thus unmovable, try committing to a 10-day or 30-day challenge: they avoid the “I’ll never be able to eat/cook/reheat/enjoy [whatever you're getting rid of] again” problem, in the same way the Maybe box does. Go 10 days without using it, and if you like it, commit to 30.
Do either of these trials, and you’ll quickly discover if living without a microwave is for you. If it’s not, no shame in going back — but even if that’s the result, I believe that self-experiments like this make you better, for what you learn by trying.