When I told my mom I hadn’t purchased a microwave for the house I moved into a year ago, she balked, then offered to send me money to buy a microwave. Thoughtful coworkers have also volunteered to spearhead crowdfunding campaigns.
I’m only slightly offended by the assumption that I can’t scrape together $50. No, my choice to live sans microwave is just a counter-surface-to-utility equation. Given my precious kitchen space, I want to devote it to other priorities like a coffee grinder, fruit basket, and herb planter. I don’t think this trade-off is that weird; I know a few acquaintances that have given up this appliance as well.
It used to be that people who didn’t own a TV wore that as a badge of honor, a politically anti-screen stance that made them better than everyone else. “Oh, we just read!” they’d beam. But my decision isn’t that; I think microwaves are convenient and useful, but I’d rather have the two square feet of space.
Honestly, I haven’t missed it much. I’m not Bear Grylls, cooking raw meat over open flames. Only every few months does a situation present itself that would be much easier in a microwave, and I usually figure it out. Some tasks I’ve learned to adapt to the stove, and others I’ve just gone without.
Take popcorn. I buy a bulk jar of the kernels and have learned a foolproof method for cooking them in a Dutch oven. I heat my oil and place three kernels inside the oven; when all three pop, I add the rest of the kernels, shaking the Dutch oven back-and-forth every now and then the way you would a frying pan. When the popping slows considerably, the kernels are done. It’s super easy.
My friend Cecily also didn’t have a microwave at one point. Her coworker was aghast and asked “Well how do you warm up the cream for your coffee?”… Wait, what? Both Cecily and I agreed that warming up cream before putting it in your coffee seems like some Marie Antoinette-level princessery. So we tried it. We microwaved our cream for a few seconds—at her house—before adding it to coffee. Verdict: It is nice. It eliminates the cold spots that come from a lack of proper stirring. But of course you could just make sure to stir your cold cream once you’ve added it to your coffee like we plebeians have done for centuries. Reheating coffee itself is more work without a microwave: I’d have to put the room-temperature coffee into a saucepan on the stove, but that takes time and creates dishes. Fortunately I drink my coffee at an alarming rate, thus room-temperature coffee is a rare annoyance. Next challenge!
Maybe this one makes me seem like a sad, lonely person, but when I lived solo I would sometimes make myself a microwaved baked potato as a lazy dinner. My grandma even gave me this microwave-sleeve gizmo that cut the microwave time down to around 5 minutes. Now, sans microwave, I can’t use the little sleeve shortcut, which makes a baked-potato-for-one less practical. Again, I think I’ll live.
My other grandma used to half-believe the myth that microwaves were harmful. She’d heat up leftovers for my brother and me, but would warn us to stand a few feet back from the counter lest the rays nuke our brains or cause eyeball cancer. The irony of fearing that an appliance causes cancer and yet cooking dinner in said appliance struck me, even as a child. In high school when I worked in a restaurant, the kitchen’s lone microwave was at waist-level for one of the chefs on the line. The chef didn’t use it much, but when he did, he joked that he’d never need a vasectomy since the waves were frying his balls all day anyway. Charming stuff.
So what else did I used to fire up the microwave for? Reheating dinners. But now I do that on the stovetop, or if it’s pizza, I eat that shit cold like god intended. Making tea? I have a hot water spigot, but again, a stovetop kettle isn’t difficult. Melting butter for recipes? Stovetop. Thawing frozen meat? Stovetop.
There is one microwave delicacy that trips me up, one culinary paragon that I just cannot bear to actually put in the oven: Lean Cuisine. Mushroom Mezzaluna, Spinach Artichoke, and Butternut Squash ravioli were my jam when I was too rushed to make myself a proper desk lunch. I kept a few packages of those in the office fridge like MREs, ready for a hectic deadline day or the few times a month I’d forget my lunch bag. They were cheap, fast, warm, and contained at least a small amount of vegetables, which made them feel like a better option than fast food when I was pressed for time. Now I work from home and the idea of cooking Lean Cuisine for 30 minutes in a real oven just feels like a bridge too far.
Aside from periodic Mushroom Mezzaluna ravioli cravings, I’ve learned I can achieve my culinary ambitions without the microwave. It might take an extra few minutes to warm up soup or melt butter, but there’s not yet been an oh-shit moment where I was lost without its magic rays. Now when I have a dessert-for-one craving—without the option of mug cake—it looks like I’m baking this whole, full-sized cake for myself. And that is a way more more boss-princess-move than preheating your coffee cream.