Kitchen Essentials for the Aspiring Minimalist

My interests in cooking and minimalism are often at odds with each other. There are seemingly infinite appliances that will quickly fill your cabinets — and more quickly collect dust. Just ask your recently married friends with an overly aggressive registry.

This got me thinking. What are the true minimalist kitchen essentials? In putting together the list, I focused on high quality, versatile tools that I actually use. The list is surprisingly short yet I very rarely need anything else to cook a delicious meal.

These are my minimalist cooking essentials:

Cast Iron Pan

Affordable, versatile, and gets better with age. The Lodge 10-inch cast iron pan is my go-to for cooking pretty much everything, It’s especially stellar for cooking meats because you can put it right in the oven. I’ll typically sear the meat on both sides and then put the entire pan in the oven at 400 degrees. It’s also really easy to clean with these plastic scrapers

Baking Pan

I haven’t found a better baking pan than this one made by USA Pan. It’s sturdy and cleans surprisingly easily. I like the half sheet size because it’s big enough to cook most things without taking up a ton of space. An extremely versatile tool that I use for roasting vegetables, baking cookies, and a general catch all to keep the oven clean. 

Chef’s Knife

There’s a reason why professional chefs treat their knives as an extended member of the family — they’re the most important tool in the kitchen. A standard 8 inch chef’s knife can be used to cut pretty much everything and is an absolute must have. There are options under $50 available but I splurged for the higher end Wüsthof chef’s knife. It’s perfectly balanced and I expect it to last decades.  

Paring Knife

For all smaller cutting needs, I use a 3.5 inch paring knife. There are options under $20 but I again went for the higher end Wüsthof. You don’t need the eight knives found in a typical knife block — the chef and paring will get it done.

Wooden Cutting Board

A good knife isn’t useful without a solid cutting board. I prefer a large (18×12 inches) wooden cutting board over the thinner plastic boards because they don’t slide around, allow for stronger cuts, and just plain look better in the kitchen. The brand doesn’t matter but make sure you get one with juice grooves to prevent drips from finding their way to the counter. 

Stainless Steel Pot

A pot (aka saucepan) is indispensable for cooking pasta and all boiling needs. I stumbled upon this Avacraft saucepan and it’s a game changer. It has a strainer built into the lid so you can quickly drain liquids without hunting down a colander or losing half your pasta in the sink (we’ve all been there). The 2.5 quart size is perfect if you’re cooking for 2-4 people and the 3.5 quart is better for larger families or groups.

Wooden Spoons

I like to have at least 3 wooden spoons handy because I use one with every meal. They’re really all the same so don’t get hung up on a particular brand (there are hundreds of varieties of Amazon). 


You can flip food with a thin wooden spoon but I prefer having one solid silicone spatula in the drawer. There’s nothing more frustrating than messing up that early morning egg flip. I don’t think the brand matters but I would avoid metal because they can scrape your pots and pans. 


A good peeler will save you a ton of time when you’re faced with peeling vegetables. I like the side angled swivel versions because they feel more natural.

Instant Thermometer

After embarrassingly serving undercooked food to my friends a couple times, I realized it was time to invest in a cooking thermometer. Get an instant, digital version so you don’t have to wait for the reading to appear (the meat will get cold). 

Honorable Mentions

These kitchen tools didn’t quite make the essentials list, but they’re still pretty useful!

Vacuum Wine Saver

For when you don’t quite finish that bottle of wine. The wine saver creates a vacuum by pulling the excess air out of the bottle, slowing down the time it takes for the wine to go bad. I find it gives an opened bottle of red wine an extra 3 days of life. 

Steamer Basket

This handy thing lets me easily steam vegetables which keeps them tasty while retaining their health benefits.

Potato Masher 

I never realized I needed one of these until I had to mash potatoes without one. It’s also a lot smaller and easier to clean than a huge electric mixer. 

What’s on your kitchen essentials list?

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Life’s Unwritten Rules

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them.”

– Robert A. Heinlein

In August 2020, one of Major League Baseball’s emerging superstars, Fernando Tatis Jr., did something that every young baseball player dreams of: he hit a monster grand slam to help his team win. As you’d expect, there was quite a bit of excitement after the game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all praise. No, Tatis Jr. broke one of baseball’s unwritten rules and some people weren’t happy about it. 

“I didn’t like it, personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning, it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game.”, complained opposing manager Chris Woodward in the post game press conference. 

Baseball is full of unwritten rules meant to uphold order, tradition, and prevent players from straying too far away from the norm.  Break one of them and corrective action is typically swift to follow. I think these rules discourage creativity, slow the evolution of the sport, and just plain make everything less fun. Quite frankly, they’re bullshit. 

Just like many of life’s unwritten rules. 

Like baseball, our lives are guided by countless unwritten rules that exist to uphold order, tradition, and prevent people from straying too far away from the norm. And like baseball, some of them are outdated, stifle creativity, and make everything less fun. 

Here’s my list of life’s unwritten rules that are complete nonsense:

  • You can’t leave the office until your boss does. This breeds a toxic company culture that values activity over productivity. 
  • It’s considered rude if you don’t respond to an email or text message immediately after it’s received. Don’t get sucked into other people’s schedule or demands. If something is truly an emergency, they can pick up the phone and call. 
  • Talking about your salary is faux pas. This can be done in a way that’s not braggadocios or overly prying. Maybe more transparency on this front could help alleviate persistent income disparities
  • You’re more successful if you have more money. I believe this unwritten rule is a key reason why Americans chase endlessly after more money. Instead of defining your own success, the size of a salary or bank account is used as a proxy. 
  • Never leave a good job. I’ve never met anyone who took a risk on a new job, career, or endeavor and regretted the experience. Even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, tremendous personal growth will occur.
  • Don’t start a business without the right experience. This rule is usually promoted by Wantrepreneurs — people that love to talk about starting a business but never actually do anything. 
  • Start a business with no experience. This is the opposing rule to the above that asserts you must start a business with no experience. I think the middle ground is more reasonable. 
  • Never give up. Most of us probably give up on things too early, but the maxim of never giving up takes it too far. I prefer an objective analysis of your situation to guide the decision to press on or not. 
  • No elbows on the table. This feels like an ancient rule from the Elizabethan era to look down upon people who didn’t display certain manners. Who cares.
  • You need to give someone a gift on their birthday. I like the approach my friend Francis takes. When he comes across something that he knows you’ll love, he buys it and gives it to you immediately. It doesn’t matter if it falls on a specific day of the year. 
  • You need to get married before the age of x, or you’ll never find love. So much energy in youth is spent trying to find that “right person” — because if we don’t, there’s no hope. It’s a bogus claim. It doesn’t matter how old you are. 
  • Your family/friends/company always come first. This is a bad decision shortcut, usually encouraged by the group in question. 
  • You need children to have a family. This old-school rule turns a blind eye on the countless other ways someone could build their own family. 
  • If a man can’t deal with something on his own, he’s weak. This macho attitude is slowly fading away but is still pretty prevalent. Imagine what could be accomplished once this rule is broken?
  • Conversational silence is uncomfortable and should be avoided. I’d argue that the best relationships have plenty of silence and neither person feels awkward. Maybe the feeling of comfort in that silence is a sign that the relationship has evolved. 
  • When someone asks “how are you”, the only acceptable answers are some variation of “OK” or “Good”. Everyone is dealing with challenges yet they’re glossed over and pushed down until it’s too late. What if we could actually share how we feel without worrying about breaking an unwritten social norm?

And now, a small challenge. The next time you’re face to face with an unwritten rule you don’t agree with, take a page out of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s book, and break it

What’s one of life’s unwritten rules that you disagree with?

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The Transactional Trap

After a few minutes of riding the shopping cart around like a nine-year-old, I skidded my way over to the carpet section at Home Depot. I was a man on a mission. My new area rug was sliding uncontrollably on my apartment floor and I needed one of those anti-slip pads.  I searched up and down the aisles to no avail and decided to get some help. 

“Excuse me, I’m looking for those pads you put under a carpet to prevent it from slipping, Where can I find them?” I asked the orange-clad associate. 

He thought about it for a few seconds and replied, “Hmm, we don’t have any of those. Sorry about that.” 

Dejected, I dragged my cart away to find the remaining few items on my shopping list. Not one to give up easily, I made one final pass through the carpets section before checking out. Halfway down the aisle, at eye level, I stumbled upon “carpet tape” for securing rugs to slippery surfaces. Success! 

Now that I’m home, I’ve been thinking about the experience. The employee technically answered my question correctly — Home Depot didn’t have the anti-slip pads I asked for. But I wasn’t there to buy a particular product — I was there to stop a rug from drifting around like a deck chair on the Titanic. I was there to solve a problem. 

Unfortunately, I think this type of communication is extremely common. Especially in the business world. We’re busy and feel pressure to treat each interaction as a transaction instead of an opportunity to uncover and solve an underlying problem. It’s a two-way street and I’ve been trying to keep this in mind during recent exchanges. 

How can I ask better questions? Instead of asking for specific “anti-slip pads”, I need to focus on the root problem and ask for help fixing a sliding rug. 

On the flip side, how can I dig deeper to become more consultative in my problem solving? The question I’m being asked probably isn’t the true problem — but just the tip of the iceberg. 

Where have you seen this in action? How have you overcome the transactional trap?

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