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Minimalism and a new kitchen tool: Yunnan Steamer

January 9, 2011

Last summer, when preparing to send Serafina to daycare, we started to revisit our budget. I looked for ideas online on how to save money, and I came across the minimalist movement. As a rejection of early 21st-century excess consumption, the minimalist movement asks people to exist with less materials: minimize objects and desires. A famous minimalist challenged everyone to only live on a hundred items. Although I could never take it to the extreme that most minimalists do, I have been inspired by their ideas. Since reading the blogs, I have stopped going to stores, other than the grocery store. We order all Serafina’s supplies online; avoiding Target alone saved us tons of money.  More recently, because we are looking to move, we started minimizing our home. We look at each room and decide if there are objects that we don’t use and won’t need to use. We particularly look at the value of the item. If it is not sentimental or useful, we donate it or pack it up to see if we can live without. As a historian, I am not willing to just toss away treasured objects in the same zeal of a true minimalist. I value my Grandmother’s sculptures, my Nana’s books, and the various treasures our parents have given us. Minimalists don’t like having more than one type of object in the home, which I completely understand (we have a pair of scissors for each room, really?), but I do believe in keeping items of value that mark memory. If we have two vases, one from my sister for our wedding and one from AAM’s mom when I got my master’s degree, we keep them regardless of the repetition. It is just re-examining what you think of as sentimental, and keeping everything else in check. It also means donating failed hobbies or abandoned projects. Minimalists don’t like craft supplies, but I kept my piles of fabric, because I sew at least twice a month. However, we looked at clothes that don’t fit but sit in our closet for sentimental reasons, books that we will never read again, piles of unused hotel toiletries. It is a really cathartic exercise to re-evaluate how you live and use things. Over the past six months, I re-evaluated needs versus wants, and realized that I don’t need most things.  I highly recommend looking around you and examining what surrounds you.

When it comes to the kitchen, most of our minimizing had to do with our two utensil drawers and excess serveware purchased when I thought hosting Thanksgiving meant everything had to match and be super duper large, hence a trip to Target. We looked at the twin wine racks, triplet pasta pots, and my septuplet spatulas, and we knew the kitchen was out of control. It is almost as if my kitchen supplies had little babies in the five years we have lived here. Last week, we went through and reorganized, reprioritized, and revisited our kitchen. I have never been a gadget collector, but I have a love of bowls, glasses, and bakeware. Over the past year, we have donated old items to the kitchen in my classroom (that is for another blog post). We decided that only really excellent new kitchen items may enter the cabinets, and the day has come.

Now, that I have spent several paragraphs talking about minimizing, it might seem to be in opposition, but I am going to mention the one tool that I have been given in the past six months that might be essential for vegetarians. Since we cook in a galley kitchen, both of our mothers are careful about kitchen gifts for us. When they find something golden, they really evaluate its usefulness for our cooking, and this item is no exception. For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a Yunnan steamer pot. Unlike metal steamers, the Yunnan pot has no holes in the bottom of the pan; instead, there is a single funnel that rises in the center of the pot to spread the steam.

Sit the pot on top of your saucepan, just be sure the bottom of the pot lines up.

Our brand-new Yunnan was handmade in Vermont, which we place on top of a saucepan to steam veggies. Better than a regular steamer because it keeps the nutrients with the vegetables, Yunnan’s are credited with making even tastier veggies than a regular steamer. As we are starting to expose Serafina to more and more vegetable finger food, I am so happy to have a tool that makes rich veggies without added fats. Books on vegetarian parenting emphasize making sure veggies are fresh and tasty in order to entice children. I was not a fan of our old steamer (which was a strainer pot on top of a saucepan), as it drained the nutrients out of the veggies, made them soggy, and took up a lot of space in our cabinets. Following our new rule, one item in means one item out, I threw the old metal steamer in the donate pile, and looked up new recipes for the Yunnan. Since Christmas, the steamer has sat as the centerpiece of our dining table while holding our cloth napkins — adding two more purposes to the steamer!

Pretty as a picture, the Yunnan does not need to be stored in the cabinet like a metal steamer that takes up space.

Tonight, I decided to make an easy meal to test out the Yunnan. I chopped up onions, tomatoes, and green peppers for our black bean burritos and steamed them in the pot. They were delicious! Since I needed to put Serafina to bed, I overcooked my veggies, but they still tasted fantastic — a true testament to the Yunnan steamer. Looking at the cookbook that came with the pot, just about anything can be made in it.  So, I plan on getting creative with my new tool. Have you ever used a clay steamer pot (Yunnan) before? What is your favorite recipe?

The cooked veggies, the liquids are from the veggies, not from the boiled water.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Vicky Bryant permalink
    December 19, 2011 10:23 pm

    You posted the beginning of the year…I post at the end of the year LOL. I just bought one of these steamers for $6 at Habitat for Humanity…appears to be a handmade clay pot. So far, on my quest to find recipes, I’m only finding yours and chicken recipes. I’m sure I can make something up once I use it a couple times to see how it “works.” Thanks for the post! There is so little information about this style of cooking.

  2. Jenny Russell permalink
    April 6, 2012 8:59 am

    Where did you find your Yunnan in Vermont? We live in Vermont and bought a Yunnan 35 years ago and unfortunately broke it recently. We’ve been searching for a replacement. Our original one came with a small book of recipes. Thanks.

  3. September 4, 2012 1:09 am

    yes, where did you get this? Lovely!!


  4. June 30, 2013 7:15 am

    I make these I have 3 in stock and 3 more awaiting glazing..check out my web site.

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