Examining Our “Cookprint” 1

Ain’t Earth Day fun? For one day out of 365, even the mainstream media get all excited about what we can do to live more sustainably. Tomorrow, of course, they’ll be back to explaining how things will be fine once we get the economy Back to Normal, but for today, let us savor it.

The Washington Post does its part by featuring an interview with Kate Heyhoe, the author of Cooking Green, in which Heyhoe examines the ways we use and waste energy in the kitchen. The article prompted me to think through the decisions Amanda and I have made about our kitchen at Longleaf Breeze, so I thought I would go over them one by one. Some you will like, some you will think wacky, and some you will probably decide are profligate energy guzzlers. So it goes.

First, and perhaps central to the plan, we won’t have a range. At all. Tim Ledbetter, our plumber, got it right away, but it took our electrician a while to grasp that we were intentionally not installing a range and didn’t even want to install wiring for one we might add in the future. This will limit some of our choices for cooking. For example, Amanda’s famous bran muffins will be more challenging, as well as her bread pudding. And we’re frankly not sure what we will do if and when we need to roast a turkey.

On the other hand, we will have a bevy of alternative choices for cooking. First, we can call on the Sun Oven. We are slowly learning what it can and cannot do. I cooked a full pan of corn bread in it today, and it tastes fine, although it never browned on top. In general, on a sunny day when you’re not in a hurry, you can cook pretty much anything in the Sun Oven that you would cook in a conventional oven. It’s just that you have to wait for a sunny day to do it. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, I see this developing in us a different approach to cooking, moving from “What shall we cook for tonight’s meal?” to “The day after tomorrow will be a good day for cooking; what shall we put in the oven to take advantage of it?” Decidedly less convenient, but no less pleasant once we get in the rhythm.

We will also have a toaster-oven, our Cuisinart convection 175BC, now apparently no longer available. Once we found a way to deal with the maddening buildup of crumbs at the bottom of the door (a dry toothbrush handles the problem in seconds), we have been thoroughly happy with it. It is an energy guzzler for the short bursts of time we call for it to heat, but because it’s so small, it cooks the small portions we need easily and reliably and turns its heating element off quickly after it reaches temperature. On fan only, it’s an energy sipper. For years, Amanda has chafed at my tendency to put bread or toast in the oven and then to leave it cooking until the smell of burnt bread tipped us off that Lee had left the oven on too long again. Bless Cuisinart’s heart; it has given me a way to stop doing that, because I just press “toast” and walk away. The oven beeps and stops cooking when the toast is done. Don’t ask me how it knows, but it does.

I have become comfortable now with our induction cooktop, using it nearly every day, but for reasons I can’t explain, Amanda still resists. Given a need to cook something in a pot, she will still gravitate to the rangetop. I’m afraid it’s the weight of the Lodge cast iron cookware we use on it. Soon, when we are living at the farm, she will almost certainly learn to use the induction cooktop, because we will have little alternative to it for stir-frying, and because we stir-fry nearly all our vegetables, I think she’s going to have to get used to using it. Come to think of it, she’s not using the rangetop much either. She just has me doing most of the cooking. I think she’s played me!

Writing this reminds me that I need to include a post soon on the induction cooktop. I’ll try to get that up in the next few days.

We will have a microwave oven in the kitchen. We read regularly that microwave cooking is about the most efficient way to cook foods, and we use it whenever we can when it won’t affect the taste. For example, when we cook sweet potatoes, we cook them in the microwave, and then finish them off for a few minutes in the toaster oven. Ditto with new potatoes.

We will also have a gas grill. We opted to get the cheaper consumer grill with a propane bottle rather than permanently attaching one to the large propane tank, because we could get so much more grill for the money. The grill probably will live on the screen porch, and we’ll roll it out onto the deck for actual cooking. I expect we will continue to use the approach to grilling that we’ve evolved during the past several years: when we fire up the grill we cook large quantities at one time, sometimes cooking more than one dish. Then we wrap each meal’s worth in a separate piece of wax paper and store several portions in a ziplock plastic bag. Then when we’re ready to use a portion, we take out only that portion and heat it in the microwave. The wax paper is ready for compost, and we can reuse the plastic bag over and over. Our son Joe thinks we’re compromising on taste and quality by doing that, and we may be, but we seem to tolerate it fine, it’s convenient, and it takes a lot less energy.

Amanda and I have a cherished morning ritual of my making coffee for her and tea for me and bringing it to her in bed. We’ve decided that we will not have a coffeemaker as such on the countertop in the barn. Instead, we will use a café tierre for her and a teapot for me. I will heat the water in the boiling pot she purchased several years ago after falling in love with the ones in the UK. It holds a quart or so of water and heats it up quickly (sucking down about 1200 watts while doing so). But after a short burst, that’s it for energy use. I will pour the boiling water into my teapot and into her café tierre, and a few minutes later both will be ready to serve.

Finally, we will use the Coleman gasoline camp stove for canning. We need some way to heat up the big pressure canner, and we decided that’s the cheapest, easiest way to deliver the large quantities of heat we need for that. I think that’s it for cooking. No, I should also tell you that we are very focused on minimizing the buildup of heat in our little apartment in the summer, so we have provided full wiring and plumbing stubouts on the screen porch so we can use the toaster oven and/or the induction cooktop out there when the weather gets hot (although not simultaneously). Because the microwave is permanently installed, it will stay in the kitchen even in hot weather.

That brings us naturally to the refrigerator, which will also stay put year-round. We considered springing for a Sun Frost or some other fancy model, but we decided we couldn’t justify the huge price premium for what turns out to be a modest energy savings. We have purchased a Maytag MTF2142EEW Energy Star. No great shakes for energy conservation, but it’s not going to break the bank either. To avoid having the heat from its coils build up in the apartment during the summer, we are installing a window in the ceiling directly above it. During the summer that window will stay open full time so the heat off the coils can go straight up through it. We hope it will pull in cooler air from the open windows and doors in the process. Don’t tell Ed Passerini, Amanda’s sustainability mentor, but we will have an automatic ice maker.

We will have a freezer on the slab outside the apartment, a GE FCM15PUWW Energy Star. There are several vegetables that seem to keep better frozen than canned, and we’ve heard that a freezer is a surprisingly efficient way to keep food preserved, particularly if you keep it full. So we hope we will do that!

We will have a dishwasher, a GE GHDA 480NWW Energy Star. I could try to convince you we’re hugging some tree by buying it, but the truth is that we’re spoiled, we’re old, and we’re not willing to give up the convenience of a dishwasher, at least not yet. The challenge I think we face with it is that our habit in the past has been to turn on the dishwasher as we go to bed. That makes sense when your dishwasher is on a different floor from your bedroom, but at Longleaf Breeze the dishwasher will be about 10 feet from where we will be sleeping. I suspect we will develop a rythym of waiting until we’re going to be working outside for awhile before we turn it on.

We will use a Rheem tankless propane water heater. Our friend Tony Adrian from the LittleHouses group recommended it to us, because we have a distant dream of pre-heating our hot water in a solar batch heater, and he said the Rheem can accommodate preheated water better than most of the tankless heaters can.

I think that’s our kitchen lineup. If anything else occurs to me, I’ll revise this post.

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One thought on “Examining Our “Cookprint”

  • Jonathon Meeks

    I don’t think I would have forgone a range, even if I intended to use it very little. I think I might have installed one on the slab for canning and such to keep the heat out of the house.

    In regards to your dishwasher, that’s a good thing. Even though it may seem like an extravagance, it does save water. Dishwashers have been proven to use less water than people for the same amount of dishes, though it’s still going to suck up power. But hey, at least your saving that precious well water.