The name alone makes you want to read Melissa Coleman’s blog: The Faux Martha. What started with humble beginnings a decade ago has morphed into a lifestyle phenomenon of sorts. The latest from the Minnesota transplant? Her debut book, The Minimalist Kitchen, which hits store shelves later this month. We caught up with Coleman about her love for Minneapolis, embracing minimalism and learning to let it be.
You started your blog, The Faux Martha, a decade ago when you were living in Chicago. How has it evolved since then?
I started my blog just after getting married and moving away from home. At first, it was a “Hi Mom and Dad” kind of blog. But a couple posts in, I started posting recipes. I’ve always loved to eat. In high school, I started baking. Though I studied graphic design in college, I read and baked my way through the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book and watched the Martha Stewart Show while working out (you know, what most college students were doing). In the early years, my blog was mostly a baking blog with a side of savory. The savory meals began taking over out of necessity — so that my jeans fit and so that I’d remember the dinner recipes I swore I’d remember.
At that point in life, I wanted to know how to make everything. Pre-high school, I painted. We were taught how to do everything, but naturally, we gravitated toward a certain style. The same thing happened as I cooked; I found my style. I was a reductionist, just like my paintings and logo designs. It took me a while to realize this about myself. You’d think my minimal approach to photography would have been the writing on the wall, but it wasn’t.
A very long story short, we ended up building our home. It was through that process that I realized I was a minimalist. The philosophy and way of thinking touched every single thing I did, from the way I crafted a recipe to the way I organized my pantry to the way I designed our dining room. The writing’s on the wall. In my case, we had to erect some walls for me to see it. Now, I talk about recipes, home design and navigating the kitchen all through a minimalist lens.
What made you “fall madly in love” with Minneapolis, as you put it, upon moving here?
What is it they call this city? “City by Nature.” I love that I can drive a couple minutes and feel hours away while walking around Lake Harriet. But I also love living near downtown next to some of the most creative and professional people on this continent. This city is the best of both worlds. Of course, I love snow. Therefore, I love Minnesota. If people are meant to live in a certain place, I was meant to live here.
What inspired you to write The Minimalist Kitchen?
I never planned on writing a book. It wasn’t on my bucket list. But after being presented with this book idea, I had to write it, because I had gotten to a place where the kitchen felt doable again — something I never thought I’d say.
Four years ago, the kitchen broke for me after I became a new working mom. I had learned to cook with a lot of time on my hands and no deadlines. After becoming a mom, I had limited time, an early dinner deadline and one more mouth to feed. If I’m being honest, I hated dinnertime and cooking in those early months. And I was a food blogger!
One day, I looked over at my husband and said, “I’m either going to quit this room or fix it.” I had no idea at the time that The Minimalist Kitchen was in its very early stages. Everything in the kitchen made me mad, from the overflowing drawers to the pantry filled with stale crackers, spilled pasta and 20 too many spices. Slowly, I started paring down and attending to the different ecosystems of the kitchen. In fact, I’m still doing that. This process, this way of living is ongoing. I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel like I’ve arrived. I think that’s a good thing.
What’s your favorite five-ingredient recipe?
If I’m being honest, my favorite recipes have more than five ingredients, unless we’re talking about the three-ingredient Maple Bourbon Sour from the book. Or the caramelized carrots that caramelize under their natural sugar content and a bit of olive oil. I’ve made a lot of five-ingredient recipes over the years, and I always find myself adding more staple ingredients from my fridge or pantry at the last minute to boost the flavor.
I think people might mistake The Minimalist Kitchen for a book of five-ingredient recipes. Even a book like that could make your pantry spill over. This cookbook is nontraditional in that it starts in the kitchen drawers, the chaotic cabinets and the overflowing pantry. Chapter One is a recipe for creating and maintaining a minimalist kitchen, a kitchen pared down to the essentials. Chapters Two through Eight are the practical application of the minimalist kitchen: the recipes. So many of the recipes lean on a well-stocked pantry, something that saves me in the kitchen on more days than when the power goes out. It’s counterintuitive, but once you pare down, you’ll be amazed at the sheer amount of things you can make. In the case of this book, it’s 100+ recipes.
You’re on a desert island with only one kitchen tool. What is it?
Probably my chef’s knife. It’s the most washed tool in my kitchen, therefore the most used. But if this island has electricity (I’m dreaming), I’d take my Vitamix blender, something else we use multiple times a day.
Grocery shopping is one of your least favorite tasks. So how do you thoughtfully stock a minimalist pantry?
I stock most of my pantry in bulk. I have a list of ingredients I keep stocked, and I don’t waver much from that list. In fact, each of those ingredients is housed in a permanent, clear container. So when my all-purpose rice runs out, for example, I replace it with the exact same rice. This takes all the decision making out of shopping. I typically break shopping up into two different categories: bulk and weekly. Bulk items are pantry staples that I fill in larger quantities. I do quickly weekly shopping for fresh produce based off of meal planning for the week. It’s made shopping so much more manageable.
Got any tips for someone looking to go more minimalist?
Whether you’re in your kitchen, your closet or your living room, I recommend paying close attention to your habits and motives: What do you use? What’s collecting dust? When do you overbuy? Why do you overbuy? When are you happiest? When are you at your worst? Those are ongoing questions to ask yourself. They’re generous with answers, too.
Then, begin to live with less, thoughtfully. Get rid of the things you don’t use, the things you don’t have to think twice about, even if they are in mint condition. For the items you’re uncertain about, place them in a storage bin out of sight. If you don’t retrieve something after a month, maybe it’s time to part ways and donate it. With that said, give yourself time to pare down. Approach this process like a lifestyle shift instead of a fad diet. Look for results a couple months from now instead of a week from now. Good things take time.
Pay attention to your shopping habits. A minimalist home is maintained at the store. To practically do this, keep a shopping list. Then shop your list, not the store. This will help keep things from ever coming into your house. I think about everything I own as a responsibility: Do I want to be responsible for this additional thing? This question too will generously provide answers.
What has minimalism taught you?
Minimalism isn’t paring down or living with less just for the sake of it. It’s counterintuitive, really. You pare down so you can live more. So that you’re not weighed down with the responsibility of too many belongings. It’s cool and amazing and sometimes boring. That’s a good thing. I’ve also learned that sometimes I take paring down too far. I say this throughout the book: Let it be. I’m talking to myself. Finally, I’ve learned that it’s ongoing. I’m not perfect. I won’t always get it right the first time. And that’s OK. Let it be.