Posts Tagged With: Unplugging the Fridge

Plugging In

During a long talk with Rick at the beginning of November, during which I was feeling quite overwhelmed with projects and homeschooling and life in general, I decided to go ahead and normalize our kitchen again.  We plugged the fridge back in.

We unplugged the fridge in May of 2011. It was supposed to be a month-long experiment.  We left it unplugged for a year and a half.  So, I guess in that way, it was a total success.  We had a great system down, and we pretty much forgot what life with a refrigerator was like.

I liked it, being weird and different and extreme.  But also, Rick and I were getting to the point where we craved a little normalcy and simplicity in our lives in general.  The fridge was a sort of symbol for me of this crazy, hippie extreme life that I wanted to have.  And, Rick, being super supportive, has come along for the ride, and for the most part, we have that life.

We grow our food or buy from local farms, we have chickens and bees.  I never buy cereal or use paper plates or paper towels.  I’ve made our own laundry soap and dishwasher detergent.  We’ve cloth diapered (3 kids), etc.  You get the point.

IMG_6868

But sometimes being weird can wear on you.  It was wearing on us both (not the fridge, but you know… everything).

One of my good friends talks about how tough it can be to live in two worlds.  You know the two… one in which all your friends only buy gluten-free, sustainably harvested, BPA-free, GMO-free, soy-free, local, handmade, hand loomed, home-grown, vegetarian fed, and free range.  And the other world: the on sale, easy clean-up, big box, double coupon, plastic, convenient, drive-thru, battery operated, disposable one.

I mean, take a kid’s birthday party.  Imagine hosting 25 people but using nothing disposable.  No paper plates or plastic forks or crêpe paper streamers.  Or if you do use plastic cups you feel guilty, even for the biodegradable ones.  The guilt.

So I decided to let go.  Not of everything.  Sometimes I use a paper towel or 100% recycled paper plate.  The fridge was something simple that could go back to normal, not be so weird.

You wouldn’t believe how novel it felt.  Having a freezer inside the house, having room for anything in the fridge.  We hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year.  I let the turkey thaw in the fridge, and there was room for other things.  It was amazing!   (By the way, we also hosted T-day without a fridge, it’s totally doable).

This doesn’t mean I’m going all conventional, back to disposable everything.  But it does mean I’m giving myself more grace.  I don’t need to be perfect or extreme.  I just need to keep trying.

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Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Thinking Outside the [Ice] Box

Someone recently asked me how the fridge experiment was going, and I realized that I missed the anniversary of when we first unplugged!  To me, that’s a pretty good sign that the project is going well.  The anniversary came and went totally unnoticed.  I imagined (a year ago) that I’d want some sort of fanfare or some official celebration, but I realize that it is better this way.

Running our home without a fridge has become so much a part of our lives that it’s almost mundane to us.  I forget about it completely until someone asks.

Changing ice jugs is routine.  Although we eat mainly fresh food, I don’t shop daily as many people have asked (I have three kids, people, are you nuts!??!), we love dairy (we regularly have milk, yogurt, cheese, half and half and butter in there), and none of us have suffered from Listeria.

Is it for everyone?  Well… I think that if we can do it with three children, probably most other families could too, certainly most single people.  But I realize that living without a fridge in 2012 is pretty far on the other side of the extreme line for many people.  It hasn’t really been an inconvenience for us at all.

I think the key to making it successful for us has been thinking outside of the box.  Many people we’ve talked to about it say they like the idea, but they could never do it because they prefer fresh food too much or that it’s not possible in an urban environment.  We are doing it in Denver and eating fresh foods (including meat and dairy)!  It is basically like using a cooler when camping. We’ve even gone out of town and left it.

Of course it would not be practical for us at all if we did not have the freezer in the garage where we could regularly get ice jugs.  But we run the freezer regardless.

So how long will we keep going?  Right now, we don’t see a reason to stop.  The only question now is what to do with the refrigerator?  Use it for storage for things prone to pests, like flour?  Make a pantry out of it?  A china cupboard? Long-term food storage area for the zombie apocalypse?  Fireproof safe?

We’re currently taking suggestions on that one.

Categories: Food, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Practical Ways to Store Food without a Fridge

Over the last couple of weeks there has been an article from treehugger.com floating around Facebook, Reddit, and Pinterest highlighting Korean designer, Jihyun Ryou’s five creative ways to store food without a fridge.  The designer’s goal was “re-introducing and re-evaluating traditional oral knowledge of food, which is closer to nature,” by using objects to make this knowledge visible.  The designs are super modern looking with clean lines and things like sand and water mounted to your wall.  And, I have to admit, they do look cool, despite being kind of impractical.

In light of their impracticality, and because we’ve lived without a fridge for the last 9 months, I’m offering up some practical answers to Ryou’s modern artworks; while less artistic, everyday homesteaders can apply them to their own kitchens.

Symbiosis of apple and potato:

Most fruits don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.  The taste of tomatoes will rapidly deteriorate in the fridge.  The fridge stops the process of ripening fruits, which if you are buying them from the store is the opposite of what you want.  Potatoes don’t need refrigeration either.  As Ryou points out, potatoes can be kept from sprouting if stored underneath apples, since apples, like many fruits, emit ethylene gas.  Ryou’s design offers a wall mounted box to store your potatoes underneath a shelf to set your apples on.

My mom had one of these hanging produce baskets.  You could do a quick search on Amazon and find a multitude of both hanging and counter-top baskets, and even some bins in which you could keep your potatoes stored beneath your apples. Some of them are pretty cool looking.

Verticality of Root Vegetables:

Ryou’s design is quite beautiful with carrots and green onions sticking out of wet sand (again wall mounted; I’m wondering how heavy these things are).  Here is my solution for keeping vegetables both vertical and moist:

We used this clever design for carrots, onions and celery from the CSA last summer.  Turnips, beets and radishes could go in a bowl.  And a sink filled with cold water will revive a head of lettuce that you thought was a goner too.

Breathing of Eggs:

Many people know that eggs don’t need to be refrigerated.  In Europe, eggs are purchased from a plain old unrefrigerated shelf in the grocery.  Without a fridge, eggs from the grocery store will last about three weeks.  Because egg shells are porous, Ryou offers another reason to keep them from the fridge:

An egg has millions of holes in its shell. It absorbs the odour and substance around itself very easily. This creates a bad taste if it’s kept in the fridge with other food ingredients. This shelf provides a place for eggs outside of the fridge. Also the freshness of eggs can be tested in the water. The fresher they are, the further they sink.

We use this to keep our eggs on the counter.

I’ve been told the eggs at the store can be up to 30 days old already when you buy them, so imagine how long fresh eggs from the back yard would last.  Of course, our eggs rarely make it more than a few days before they are eaten, so we don’t worry about testing their freshness, but I could easily get a glass of water to test them in if needed.

The Dryness of Spices:

Ryou’s design for  a spice bottle is really very clever.  It takes the grandmother’s tradition of keeping some grains of rice in your spices to absorb moisture to keep it from clumping one step further by keeping the rice in its own compartment within the jar.  We don’t really have this problem in Colorado, it is not ever humid enough to make our spices clump.  The only fault I find with this design is that it is once again on a wall mounted shelf.  Spices actually lose flavor when exposed to the light.  It is better to keep them in a cabinet behind closed doors where they can stay in the dark.

Note that this is not my spice cabinet (though I might wish it was).  Thanks to Louise at My Food Voice  for sharing.  My spice cabinet is a jumbled mess, not fit for photography.  ;)

Now, of course, I know that Ryou’s designs are meant to be art, not necessarily practical.  But the purpose of this art besides being beautiful, and the purpose of Ryou’s project, is to get people to see (and therefore think about and use) their food and to think outside of the ice box when it comes to storing it.

What are some other ways to keep food fresh without of the fridge?

Categories: Simple Living, Top 5, Unplugging the Fridge, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

Unplugging the Fridge: Cost vs. Inconvenience and Project Review

Nice Jugs!

A few weeks ago, I posted on what we had saved for the first two weeks of our fridge-less project. I got some interesting responses!  Some of which made me realize that not everyone who is a current browser on my blog fully understood what we were doing.  I had a hair-brained idea to see if we could live without a refrigerator for a month.  No reason.  Not really to save money (though I knew we probably would).  More like, I just wonder if we can?

I got a lot of “I’d love to do that, but I can’t live without my [insert favorite cold food or drink item here]” comments.  That was never the point of our experiment.  More like the opposite.  How could we unplug the fridge and still eat and drink all the things we like to have?

So if you’re a newer reader and have not followed since the beginning of this project, which we started in May, or if you just can’t remember that far back (I know I can’t!), please read my first post about it.  It summarized the old and inefficient fridge we were using, and some of what we thought we were getting into.  This post explains how we are keeping food cool.  Yes we still have milk and yogurt and cheese and meat.  And we use the chest freezer in the garage.  I have two boys, a preschooler and a toddler.  And they love them some yogurt.  ;)

One of the more interesting comments I got after that post a couple weeks ago came from a reader on Facebook.  She said:

I watched “No Impact Man” with my yoga class and we had a discussion afterwards about the movie and in particular the getting rid of the fridge part. Even though they were “saving electricity” in their apartment, they were using someone else’s electricity to procure the ice they were using, not to mention that spoilage was possible by not keeping cold foods at a safe temperature, especially considering they had a baby in the house. Most of us in the yoga class came to the conclusion that we *could* go for a time without a fridge – I’ve done it myself after several hurricanes for up to 3 weeks – but the energy that shutting off most new energy efficient refrigerators actually saves is often negligible.Your family saved approximately $4. You didn’t say in your blog post, so I have to ask: was $4.00 worth the extra trouble and inconvenience?

So first, I want to talk about the inconvenience.  Here’s what is currently in the “icebox” (the freezer compartment of our unplugged refrigerator):  A gallon of milk, a quart of half and half, a half gallon of yogurt, four kinds of cheese, a tub of cottage cheese, lemon juice concentrate, fish sauce, homemade jam that’s a little too runny at room temperature, peanut butter (so I don’t have to stir it every time), green onions, grapes, a pound of butter, hoisin sauce, ginger, my bacon grease container, half a bottle of bleu cheese dressing, and mustard.  Oh, and two one-gallon jugs of ice.  Normally there would also be mayonnaise, possibly some orange juice, and usually some carrots and celery, but I need to go to the store.  Meat for tonight’s dinner is defrosting on the counter.

To keep all of this cold, I walk out to the chest freezer in the garage each morning (usually while I’m on my way to get chicken food) and swap the half-melted ice jugs for two completely frozen ones.  I also grab meat for that night’s dinner and a pack of peaches or frozen veggies or whatever I’m going to use later in the day.  Pretty simple, and we didn’t change our diet or menu at all.  The only thing is that I now buy only one gallon of milk instead of two each week, or it will go bad too soon.  I don’t go to the store more often, we just are drinking less milk (but this hasn’t been an effort, not sure how it’s working actually?).

We did leave for the weekend at the end of May, and that entailed a bit of planning for the condiments we left behind, but it really wasn’t a big deal.

Next, cost.  From May 1 to May 18, we saved $0.31/day or $5.58 for the month compared to the previous year.  That was 15.5%.  Unlike No Impact Man, we were still running our chest freezer in the garage, regardless of the experiment, so this was a true and actual savings, since we run our own freezer year round, and we ran it last year as well.

Now it’s been a full billing cycle.  From 5/18/11 to 6/17/11:

This Year Last Year
Average Daily Temperature
62°
64°
Gas/Therms per Day
0.57
0.38
Gas/Cost per Day
$0.71
$0.59
Electric/kWh per Day
12.67
18.52
Electric/Cost per Day
$1.53
$2.29

Translation:  We saved $0.76 per DAY over what we spent last year!  For a month, that’s $22.80 in electricity.  Um – math people, correct me, but is that really 33.2% !?!??!?!  REALLY!??!?!  Whoa.

Is it worth it?  Um, yes, 33.2% savings over a year in electricity is worth a daily trip to the garage freezer to swap out ice jugs to us!  That amount of money would put a decent dent into buying a newer, more efficient freezer (which would really save us a lot more, since ours is from the 1980′s).

Will we keep it unplugged?  As it stands, Y.E.S.!!  Now, admittedly, this is the first week of distribution from the CSA, so we’re not sure how all of that will be handled once the major produce really starts rolling in.  I am 35 weeks pregnant, which means I can expect to be less available to handle food preservation duties for a few weeks.  But Rick and I make a pretty good tag team.  There’s no law that says if the going gets tough (or we’re just plain going crazy), we can’t plug back in to catch up.  But I really don’t think that will happen.  I will, of course, tell you if it does.  Full disclosure here. The plan for now is to keep going without it.  Feels kind of liberating, actually!

So what do you think?  Would you be willing to try it?  Any ideas of how we could improve?  Do you think it’s worth it?

Also, I think I linked to nearly all of them, but just in case, here is the entire series of posts covering our Unplugging the Fridge experiment.  Happy reading! 

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

Wanted: Fridge-Sitter

Ever wonder what happens when you leave town for the weekend, and you have resolved not to plug in your fridge?  Probably not, huh.

Last weekend we wanted to take a spur-of-the-moment mini trip to the mountains.  It was the last weekend we had free before we hit the end of June-holiday/birthday craziness, and then it would be July and the baby would be due at any time.  My mom was a gem and said we could camp in their motor home for the weekend.  So we went for it.

I basically packed up the whole icebox into a cooler.  I put in the ice jugs, the quart of milk we had left (I put it into a jar instead of the big jug), the half and half, the cheese, some green onions and the pork chops we’d planned to cook.  All that was left in the icebox was my jar of bacon grease that I save to cook with, a jar of mayonnaise, some celery and a few other random condiments that required the cold.  We packed all of these into a smaller cooler with ice packs.  And then we took the shelf out of the freezer compartment, and put the little cooler in to stay the weekend without us.

The verdict?  Everything in the little cooler/freezer compartment/condiment and bacon-grease-preserver thing-a-ma-jiggy stayed cold.  The whole weekend.  Everything we took with us in the cooler for the weekend got used, with the exception of the last of the milk, which soured due to us neglecting the expiration date and then leaving it in the heat without replenishing the ice (since we’d used everything else by then, we forgot it).  So, yay.  A weekend away, a full three days and two nights, without plugging in a fridge and nothing but the neglected milk going bad.

So, if you decide to be crazy like me, rest assured that you can preserve your condiments without a fridge for a weekend, without changing ice packs or inviting your neighbors to see just how nutso you really are, if you use a good cooler that you don’t open ever until you’re ready to unpack it upon your return.  ;)  Heh. Longer than a weekend, you should probably make other arrangements though.  Either use those condiments up, give them away, or resolve to make peace without them, I’d think.  Or you can invite the same neighbor that is collecting your eggs for you to fridge-sit.  ;)

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

No Fridge = Saving Money?

So – we went the whole month of May without a fridge.  Was it hard?  No.  In fact, it was surprisingly easy.  Kind of undramatic actually.  In my last update, I mentioned that we’d continue the experiment for at least a full billing cycle from our electric company to see how our energy saving (if any) was adding up.  This month’s bill showed up, and although it wasn’t a full cycle, we’re seeing some savings at least.  From 4/18/11 to 5/18/11, this is what our bill looked like:

This Year Last Year
Average Daily Temperature
49°
49°
Gas/Therms per Day
1.03
0.90
Gas/Cost per Day
$0.98
$0.84
Electric/kWh per Day
14.27
15.76
Electric/Cost per Day
$1.69
$2.00

Note: if you’re curious, Nick over at Northwest Edible gave a great explanation of watts vs. kilowatts vs. watt hours, last week.  It was a bit over my head, but good info. 

Obviously we’re using less electricity than we did last year (wonder why we’re using more gas though?).  But it’s not a full billing cycle yet, since we started this project on May 1st.  We’re going to keep it up at least one more month to see what we get.  But so far, I’m happy that there has been some impact already… if I’m doing my math right, that 31 cents works out to an average savings of 15.5% per day.  (!!)

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

To Be Continued

Four weeks now without a fridge and going strong.  We’ve had a lot of questions about the experiment and how it’s gone so far.  Last week, a friend asked if we knew yet if we planned to continue, or if we were going to plug back in after the month was up.  The honest answer, at this point is yes, and I don’t know yet.

Yes, we plan to continue living without the fridge plugged in, at least for a while.  Partially because it’s not been that hard or that big of an inconvenience.  Partially because I really want to get a full month’s billing cycle (or maybe two) from our power company under our belts, so we can compare the bills to last year.  I don’t know how significant of an impact not running the refrigerator will have on our energy consumption and bills for just the one or two months.  I’m hoping it’s a lot, but I realize that translating those kilowatt-hours to dollars isn’t always that huge of an impact either.

When asked what amount was significant enough to keep it unplugged, I didn’t really have an answer.  I like the idea that by unplugging the fridge for a year we could save enough money to upgrade our older, less efficient freezers to new, super efficient machines.  But I don’t know how realistic that is.  And if it’s not, I don’t know that that will make me plug back in either.  It’s sort of an open question right now I guess.

The other reason I don’t know how long the experiment will continue is that we’re coming up on summer when the CSA will be in full swing and we will have a lot of vegetables to get through every week.  This was Rick’s first major concern when I originally brought up the unplugging idea to him.  I plan to take it one week at a time.  To try to be efficient and wise about getting veggies put away in the freezer, kept cool in water, and used up within the week as we can.  But I’m not going to just let them waste or rot if it gets down to it.

I expressed the possibility of using the fridge in the summer if we are overwhelmed with produce and then re-unplugging it again in the fall and through the spring until it’s needed again.  But we’ll see if that’s even an issue as the summer gets here.  The CSA season starts usually in mid-June and takes a few weeks to get into full gear before we’re bring home loads and loads of food.  We’ll be able to adjust and take it as it comes, I think.  ;)

So far, we’ve learned a lot already.  I learned that once you open the cheese, you better use it up, and don’t store it in the door unless you want it to go moldy.  Also, I learned not to buy two gallons of milk at a time.  They take up too much space and we ended up giving about half a gallon to the chickens that was spoiled during the first week, simply because it’s not quite as cold in the icebox as the fridge was, and the expiration date wasn’t at the end of the week.

At this point, we’re looking to keep going.  We still have a week left in the experiment, but I just don’t see us plugging in yet.

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Where’s the Meat?

Since my post last week when we unplugged the fridge I’ve gotten a lot of questions (mainly on my facebook page) about meat.  Are we vegetarian?  Are we switching to raw foods?  How do we plan to keep meat from going bad?  What about lunch meat?

Well, it’s pretty simple.  No we’re not vegetarian or switching to a raw food diet.  And we don’t store meat in the icebox (or the fridge).  Rick is a hunter.  The majority of our meat is some kind of game meat, mainly elk right now.  And we process his annual fall harvest (meaning we butcher and package the meat) ourselves.  That means all our meat is in vacuum-sealed packages, appropriately sized for our family.

When meat is on our menu, roughly three days a week in the summer time, I go out to the chest freezer in the garage, retrieve the prescribed package of protein and let it defrost on a plate on the counter, just in time to get cooked up for dinner.  If it’s a hot day in the summer and it defrosts quickly (we don’t have AC, I know you’re shocked), I put the plate in the fridge.  This is what I’ve always done in the past.  I plan to use the exact same method with the new icebox set up.

We generally don’t buy much in the way of meat from the grocery store.  It’s difficult to find humanely raised meat sources that don’t cost an arm and a leg.  That chicken we ate last week – regardless of it’s toughness, totally made Henry’s night – he loves chicken and we rarely eat it.  Lunch meat/deli meat is generally very processed and full of nitrates and preservatives.  Not very good for you in other words, and we basically never buy it.  The one meat we find ourselves bringing home periodically is bacon or bratwurst (the nitrite free kind on both counts).  But these are specific menu items that get used within a day or two of coming home from the store, and are a treat for us.  I don’t foresee a problem making half a pound of bacon last a day or two in the icebox.

When I announced this project, my mom, who really does think I’ve lost it completely, asked about the Thanksgiving turkey.  Well, luckily for the experiment, Thanksgiving isn’t in May.  But if it were and I were in charge of the turkey, I imagine I’d either buy it fresh a day or two ahead and keep it in the icebox (or a cooler with ice packs?) until T-day, use the cold water method to defrost it, or, as a last resort, ask the bachelor neighbor who runs a nearly empty fridge anyway to use his.

The other question a few people asked me (people who admitted they hadn’t been following along from the beginning) was where would we get the ice, since the fridge was unplugged and we were using the freezer compartment as a cooler?  The answer to that one is from the freezer in the garage.  We have two freezers in the garage, an upright and a chest freezer.  They are both full come September/October.  By the spring, we can usually consolidate to one and unplug the other.

Sadly, even the old 1980′s chest freezer is running more efficiently than our refrigerator was, and we would be running the freezer regardless of this experiment.  Our freezer contains a whole elk and countless pounds of frozen peaches and plums (around 200 pounds of fruit alone went in last September).  There are a handful of ducks from the winter, grouse from the fall, and a few fish from the summer time.  It holds all our excess farm and garden veggies that weren’t otherwise canned or dehydrated, though we’ve consumed nearly all of those by now.  In years past, when hunting’s been slim, we’ve bought whole pigs or a side of beef from local farmers.  Basically, we couldn’t eat sustainably on our budget without a freezer.  And, there’s room enough in the freezer for a couple of gallon-jugs of ice to use in our experiment.

So far, the switch hasn’t actually been too drastic.  I’ve found myself accidentally opening the refrigerator door to reach for the milk, only to find an empty cavern.  And I’ve made a conscience effort to collect and return items from the icebox all at once for recipes (let’s see, I need cheese, yogurt and the cucumber) in order to keep it as cool as possible in there.  It’s basically like using a cooler, or as CitySister said in the comments last week, it’s like camping!

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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