Eco-Saturday: Use the right burner

If you own an electric range, here’s a way to use just a little less power without expending any effort at all:

Use the correct burner.

This seems like a small thing — and it is — but it takes zero effort, there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by not doing it, and if it shaves a penny or two off your power bill, why not?

Most electric ranges have four burners — two large and two small.

If you’re cooking something in a big skillet or stockpot, use one of the big burners. If you’re cooking something in a small skillet or saucepan, use one of the little burners.

If you’re not sure which size is best, before you turn on the stove, set your pan on a big burner. If you can see the burner sticking out around the bottom of the pan, move to a smaller one.

If you’re using a large pan, it makes sense to use a large burner. You want the bottom of the pan to heat evenly, and you don’t want to end up throwing food away because it didn’t cook right. But when you use a small pan on a large burner, you end up heating more of the cooktop than you need. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s website, SmarterHouse.org, using a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner wastes more than 40 percent of the electricity produced by the burner. (Bonus points if you can figure out how they arrived at that number.)

Food won’t cook faster or taste better if you heat an inch of empty space all the way around the pan. That hot surface protruding from under the edge of the pan just wastes energy and creates a hazard in the form of an exposed hot surface.

SmarterHouse offers several other good tips on saving energy in the kitchen, such as using an appropriately sized pan (putting a big pan on a big burner to cook a little bit of food is no better than putting a small pan on a big burner), keeping your appliances clean and well-maintained, and considering which appliance is most appropriate for whatever you’re making. I’ve touched on some of that in previous blog entries, but SmarterHouse goes into more detail. I think it’s well worth the time to click on over to their site and look around.

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: Quick apple wrap

This is sort of like an apple turnover, but much better for you.
This is sort of like an apple turnover, but much better for you.

This isn’t the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, and I’m not even sure what to call it, but it tastes good, takes about five minutes to make, and is loaded with fiber and various other nutrients that make it an excellent snack for refueling after a long run, a hard workout, or a day in the garden.

Ingredients
Apple
Whole-wheat, low-carb tortilla (I like the ones La Tortilla Factory makes — expensive but nutritionally excellent)
Cinnamon
1 tsp. caramel ice-cream topping or honey
Butter

Core the apple and cut it into thin slices (I use a corer/slicer gadget similar to this one to save time, then cut each slice in half).

Microwave the slices until soft (about 2 minutes in my microwave, but your mileage may vary). While the microwave is running, melt about half a tablespoon of butter in a skillet.

I used caramel sauce because I was craving a caramel apple, but honey or a little butter and brown sugar would work just as well.
I used caramel sauce because I was craving a caramel apple, but honey or a little butter and brown sugar would work just as well.

Place slices in the center of a tortilla. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon and drizzle with caramel sauce or honey.

I left this in the pan a bit longer than necessary and probably had the temperature too high. Cook yours on medium, and watch it closely if scorched spots bother you.
I left this in the pan a bit longer than necessary and probably had the temperature too high. Cook yours on medium, and watch it closely if scorched spots bother you.

Wrap up the tortilla like a burrito and fry gently on both sides. Don’t scorch it (as I obviously did) — you just want it in the pan long enough to warm it and pick up a little bit of butter.

If you use the fancy tortillas like I did, you’ll end up with a snack that’s got about 10 grams of protein and 17 grams of fiber, along with just a few simple carbs to replenish your blood sugar after a workout.

Emily

You keep using that word.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
— Inigo Montoya

Let’s talk about word usage for a minute. Specifically, let’s discuss the word “hack.”

Historically, it was appropriate and accurate to use the word “hack” if you were referring to …

1. … someone’s wood-chopping technique.
2. … the sound of a cough.
3. … a data breach.
4. … Judy Blume.

A fifth context arose a few years ago, when people started using the word “hack” to refer to the practice of disassembling something, making major modifications to it, and then reassembling it. The first time I saw it used in this context was sometime around 2007, on a website selling Holga camera modifications.

I’m not sure whether the term is meant to evoke chopping (“hacking up” an object to alter it) or cybercrime (“hacking into” something to improve it, as you might do with a smartphone’s operating system), but either way, it makes sense when you’re talking about making major alterations to something.

It does not make sense when you’re talking about using an item straight out of the box, with no modifications (e.g., hanging a spice rack in the bathroom to hold small items), using an item exactly as it was designed to be used (e.g., pushing in the little tabs at the ends of a box of waxed paper so the roll doesn’t fall out), or doing something sensible that anybody with any common sense could figure out (e.g., all of the tips listed in the “Five Hacks for Winter Running” article I saw the other day, which included such dazzlingly clever innovations as wearing several layers of clothing, putting Yaktrax on your shoes when it’s icy, and doing a few warmup exercises indoors before heading out to run).

“Hack” was a clever term about 10 years ago, but at this point, if you’re not using it to refer to a person who writes clickbait headlines for a living, I think it’s probably advisable to drop it from your vocabulary.

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Repurpose a dishrack

I swiped an idea from my mom while I was helping her with the Thanksgiving dishes Thursday.

Mom and Dad redid their kitchen not too long ago, and their old dishrack wouldn’t fit well on the new counter, so they bought a new one.

Rather than throw out the old one, Mom stuck it in the bottom of one of the new cabinets, where it keeps the pan lids organized and easy to find.

Repurpose an old dishrack as a neat storage center for lids.
Repurpose an old dishrack as a neat storage center for lids.

Given the weight of some of those lids, I’m not sure how well this would work with a flimsy plastic dishrack, but the one Mom used is made of heavy wire coated with plastic, and I am fairly certain it’s been around longer than I have, so it’s obviously pretty sturdy.

The rack takes up more room than the lids would if they were just tossed onto the bottom of the cabinet willy-nilly, but for me, part of the appeal with the tiny-house movement is its emphasis on organizing your things instead of just cramming them in wherever they’ll fit and forgetting where you put them. I love the idea of having all my possessions in close proximity to each other so I can access them quickly and easily, but if my cabinets aren’t organized well, I’m going to lose that advantage.

If I were using a dishrack for storage in my own kitchen, I’d probably use that space to the right of the lids to keep my big wok out of sight but within easy reach.

Take a look around your kitchen and see what items you could repurpose to organize your cabinets. I’ve found a streamlined space makes food prep faster, easier, and much more pleasant.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Seed catalogs

It’s the third-most wonderful time of the year.

The most wonderful time of the year is the first Saturday after Tax Day, when we put the garden in the ground.

The second-most wonderful time of the year is the day Cubs pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

But the third-most wonderful time of the year is now, when the companies that sell seeds for the garden and beekeeping equipment for the apiary start sending out catalogs, which means I can start dreaming about spring in specific detail and figuring out how many times we’re going to have to eat enchiladas or sauerkraut to save up enough cans for all the seeds I intend to start. (Tin cans with the bottoms cut out make the world’s greatest seed-starting pots/squirrel deterrents. Unfortunately, about the only products that still come in cans with identical tops and bottoms are Ro-Tel tomatoes; certain brands of sauerkraut; and most enchilada sauce. This means for about two months every winter, my grocery list revolves around my gardening needs.)

Gardening and beekeeping catalogs are my saving grace every winter. Gray skies and short days don’t do anything positive for my mental health, and after a while, I start to wonder whether I’ll ever get to put my hands in the dirt and bask in the sunshine again. When that first seed catalog lands in the mailbox, I see the first glimmer of hope.

We got catalogs this weekend from Seed Savers Exchange and Betterbee, so I’ll spend the next few months dogearing pages and circling varieties that sound promising and drawing scale diagrams of the garden while I dream of spring.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Eat in season

We’re reaching that drizzly, chilly, depressing time of year when all the tomato vines are dead, most of the herbs are fading, and the farmers’ markets are winding down.

When the weather sucks, it’s tempting to buy the out-of-season produce that finds its way into the grocery store every winter.

Try to resist the temptation.

Out-of-season produce is almost always shipped in from some other country where the growing seasons are longer. To survive the trip without spoiling, it has to be picked early — before it’s ripe — and the varieties capable of traveling long distances are bred for durability, not flavor, so you’re going to end up paying extra for an inferior product that’s wasted a ton of fuel getting here.

Rather than subject yourself, your bank account, and the environment to that, look at what you can do with frozen and canned vegetables and whatever happens to be in season.

The Mother Earth News Almanac, which I reviewed on here last week, has a couple of good winter recipes, including an utterly divine potato-cheese soup I’ve made too many times to count.

Root vegetables (carrots, onions, turnips, radishes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes) are good this time of year and likely didn’t have to travel very far. Winter squash is also in season now, and mushrooms are grown year-’round.

If you like meat, try putting a roast or a few chicken breasts in the Crock-Pot with a can of beer and several cloves of garlic and cooking it overnight. If you don’t eat meat, dried beans are a good option — just soak overnight, simmer in the Crock-Pot all day, and serve over couscous for an easy, high-protein meal.

Cruciferous vegetables (kale, collards, turnips, cabbage) are in season. Slow-cook the kale, collards, or turnips, or shred the cabbage, fry it with bacon and onions, and spice it up with a little sriracha.

Apples and cranberries are also in season at the moment; grab some of each to make cranberry sauce. Many other fruits are available frozen or canned and work well in cobblers.

If you just can’t give up salads, use spinach or sprouts (easily grown on the countertop) as a base and add mushrooms, a handful of nuts, some bleu cheese, and maybe a diced Granny Smith apple or some thinly sliced radishes. Raw turnips also make a good addition to salads if you julienne them first.

And, of course, you can always find canned and frozen ingredients to get your family through the winter. Our favorites include chili; posole; gumbo; minestrone; green-chile stew; smoked sausage with canned sauerkraut; and Philly sandwiches made with frozen tricolor pepper strips.

Food doesn’t have to suck just because the weather does. Pay attention to what’s in season, and don’t be afraid to buy weird-looking roots you see at the grocery store. Between Google and Pinterest, you should be able to figure out what they are and how to use them.

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring