Thursday, January 31, 2008

How they used to do it

I was talking to a friend recently about life without a fridge. He remarked that it would be smart if houses were built with the ability to take advantage of the cold air outside in the wintertime to cool food. Like some sort of air exchanger that would bring cool air in and would only do this if the temperature outside was below a certain temperature. I loved this idea but it also got me thinking about how food was kept cold before refrigerators. So I did a little internet search.

I already knew about the concept of icehouses but didn't really know how they worked. Turns out that families would cut ice out of a nearby lake and stack it up surrounded by sawdust in a building built just for this purpose. If done well the ice could last for a whole year.

a spring house
I also learned about spring houses. Spring houses are small buildings built over streams and are open to the stream underneath. The cool from the stream would keep the building cold enough to store milk and butter etc.

Then I started thinking about cold storage areas. I'm sure I remember friends of mine in high school living in new homes that had cold storage areas in the basement. I wonder if they still give you the option of including a cold storage area in new homes. If nothing else it would eliminate the need for a beer/pop fridge.

Oh and it turns out my friend won't be making any money off the air exchanger idea. This company already makes them. :-)

Our dream house will definitely have some form of alternative refrigeration. Maybe a combination of all the above.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Doggy bag without the bag (or styrofoam)

We went to a restaurant on somerset tonight. I'm sure none of the food was local but it was a nice treat and SO delicious. :)

We also did something I've been meaning to do for ages - bring a container with us to put the leftovers in.

Hubby was a bit uncomfortable at first but it turned out to be so easy and the waitress didn't skip a beat when she saw our container and just asked if we needed a bag (nope!).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My favourite breakfast

It's been part of my weekend morning ritual since the weather started to get cold. It's so delicious and easy I thought I'd share...

Ed's Apple, cranberry and cinnamon oatmeal

  • 1/3 cup quick cook oats (the bulk ones from the Wheat berry and I think Herb and Spice are from Ontario)

  • 1/2 apple (local from the organic farmers market - they still have them!)

  • 8 cranberries (from Upper Canada Cranberry)

  • 1 cup 1% milk (or 2/3 cup milk and 1/3 cup water if using 2%). From Organic Meadow. Not local.

  • cinnamon

  • maple syrup

  1. Remove the core from the apple cut into 1/2 inch pieces (no need to peel)

  2. Add to a small pot with the milk, oats, and cranberries

  3. Cook over medium/low heat until thick

  4. Add a shake of cinnamon and stir until combined

  5. Put in a bowl and pour on a bit of maple syrup. That's optional though. The apples make it pretty sweet already

On top of being easy and delicious, the best part is that the only garbage left is the apple core. And that goes in the composter.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

The numbers are in!

Well we were expecting the numbers to be good but I have to say I didn't expect this. Frankly I'm floored.

From Oct to Dec 2007 we used 6.1kWh/day. During the same period in 2005 (2006 is mysteriously missing) we used a whopping 19.2kWh/day!
our electricity usage
As you look at this, you might be thinking, "Doesn't look like that big a deal - the previous bill you used 7.6kWh/day so dropping to 6.1kWh/day isn't a big change". But, the thing is, since last bill we have turned on our electric heat. And still our bill went down.

The average Ontario household uses 12,000kWh per year or 32.88 kwh/day. So I'm really excited because at 6.1kWh/day we are getting really close to our 10% goal. Yay!

And here's the bottom line:
Oct-Dec 2007: $32.40
Oct-Dec 2005: $97.40

  • My electricity costs $0.089 /kWh because I get it from Bullfrog Power which is the only green power supplier in Ontario. More about that in another post. But for comparison's sake, if I was with Ottawa Hydro, the cost of my electricity for the last two months would have been $18.20.

  • The dollar amounts are for the electricity cost only - delivery charge, debt retirement charge etc. not included).

Now I should say that this reduction does not only reflect the big change we made of unplugging our fridge. We have made 2 other changes since last winter that are effecting our electricity consumption:

  1. We are only using the dryer for sheets. Everything else (clothes, towels etc.) is dried on racks.

  2. We turned our electric heat way down (our 3rd floor is heated with electric heat). The third floor is where we sleep. Last year we kept it at 65 day and 68 night. Now we keep it at 55 day and night.

For those who were really looking forward to finding out the savings from the fridge alone, you'll have to wait a few more months. By May the electric heat should be off and we'll be back to drying all our clothes (including sheets) outside, so we'll know better then.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Addicted to crochet

Check out this sweet stash! It was freecycled to me by a generous friend who was cleaning out her basement. Lucky for me since the amount of new stuff I get to buy is pretty low (see the Riot rules).

As soon as I got all this gorgeous yarn, I started dreaming about crocheting a pair of fingerless gloves. I don't know if it's because I'm a child of the eighties but there's something I really like about them. Plus my hands are always freezing when I'm on the computer (at work and home).

Trouble is, I only just learned how to crochet. Like a month ago. And all I've made so far are squares. But buoyed by the encouragement from my friend and crochet teacher I gave it a shot. I went on-line and taught myself how to connect the crochet up to make a tube, how to increase and decrease in the round, make a thumb hole and even do some decorative edging. :-) Its not perfect - some dropped stitches here and there but in general I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.

Check out the results:
fingerless glove
fingerless glove action shot

Now I just have to make the second one!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Life without a fridge

our empty fridge
Yep you read that right. It's been 3 months since we unplugged our old beast and to be honest, its been pretty easy. You might be wondering why on earth we'd do such a thing. Well, the main reason was to attempt to cut our electricity use by 90% as per the Riot. But I also just liked the challenge of it. I mean, is it even possible to live without a fridge?

Well so far, the answer for us is yes. Here's how we did it..

First we emptied the fridge and threw away/composted all the contents of the half full bottles and jars of stuff we were never going to eat. Basically we were paying to keep garbage cold.

Then we took just about all our condiments and put them in the cupboard. Because believe it or not, most condiments will survive for years out of the fridge. I'm told even mayo. But we've chosen not to take that risk and don't keep it in the house anymore.

Then we took what was left: milk, cheese, butter, eggs, the remaining condiments (salsa for one - I'm paranoid about tomatoes), and most veggies and put them in this handy cooler:

our cooler

When we first started, in order to keep the cooler cold, we had to make ice (in 2L pop bottles), in our mini chest freezer in the basement. Now I know some folks will have questions about why we would keep a chest freezer and not a fridge. Well part of our 'local eating' strategy requires the use of the freezer to preserve some food for the winter. Also, this mini freezer is new and v. efficient. Unlike our old clunker fridge.

Anyway, now that it's cold outside we don't have to use the freezer at all to make ice. Instead we just put the pop bottles outside, let them freeze and then swap them for the ones in the cooler.

So there you go. Life without a fridge. Please don't hesitate to send along your questions/comments if you have them. I'm sure there must be some!

For those of you who'd like to lessen your impact but aren't up for unplugging your fridge, here are some less drastic things you can do:

1. Keep your fridge at least 2/3 full. Even if that means putting in covered containers of water, or bottles of beer (!). An empty fridge works extra hard to stay cool.
2. If you live in a cold place in the winter, try filling 2L pop bottles or yogurt containers 3/4 full with water and leaving them outside to freeze. Once frozen, put them in your fridge. Your fridge will cycle on a lot less if there is something in there already keeping everything cold.
3.Vacuum those coils at the back a few times a year and
4. Put only cold items in the fridge. If you live in a cool place, cool your food outside before putting in the fridge (we have no choice but to do this with the cooler)

Stay tuned to find out how unplugging our fridge has impacted our bottom line...we are expecting our BullFrog bill any day now!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Making good use of my time

Today I had to take 2 French tests.

I decided not to study for them.

Here's why:
1. I haven't taken any French classes in over a year so studying for a few days was not going to help much
2. If I passed those 2 tests I would have to take an oral test. This I most certainly would not pass. And unless you pass all three, it doesn't count.

Even with these reasons, it was pretty hard to not study. I kept thinking that I was having a bad attitude about it and that I was being lazy and that I didn't study for it because I just didn't want to.

But I ignored all these thoughts as well as the ones that wanted me to get the highest possible mark I could get and instead I:
-spent the weekend doing all the things I've been putting off for ages (including starting this blog)
-I took Monday off and spent the day with my husband and didn't think about the tests
-and last night instead of doing my 'night before cram session', I had dinner with a friend

My decision to do this was heavily influenced by a book called '4 hour work week'. It talks a lot about how to make the most money in the shortest amount of time, which really isn't my thing. However the section on the 80-20 principle really struck a cord with me. My interpretation is that 80% of what I value in my life comes from 20% of my activities. This means that 80% of my activities do not add much value. This is definitely something I can improve upon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mmmm local food

I have a feeling that a lot of my posts will be food related....

As part of my Riot for Austerity commitment, 70% of my diet should be comprised of locally grown food. This has led to all sorts of fun experiments in the kitchen . Tonight we made enchiladas. We made the tortillas from local flour, the filling from beans from my parents' garden, local cheese, local corn (frozen in Sept) and salsa from a PERC canning kitchen. We rolled them all up and topped them with more salsa and more cheese. So delicious!

Riot for Austerity photo journal#1

a sample of the local berries I froze this summer