frugality, eclipsed

In my efforts to find ways to become more self-sufficient (i.e., stop paying other people for things I can do by myself), it occurred to me that we spend an awful lot of money on cooking.  For people who never go to restaurants, this is frustrating. Although I use a pressure cooker, which doesn’t consume very much electricity, I also use the oven (if you read this blog, you will have noticed a slight inclination on my part to bake bread at intervals of about, oh, 24 hours).   And you know what, like it or not, electricity is freaking ridonkulous in this country.  (Ridonkulous might not be a word, but I am pretty sure you know what I mean.  Which kind of makes it a word, doesn’t it?  I think that’s what my college linguistics professor said.)

You know what’s worse than ridonkulous electricity prices?  When ridonkulous electricity prices are increased by 12% overnight.  And by 12%, I think I mean 12.5%, but this is my blog, and I get to be honest and sincere and all that, and the honest truth is that when they announced the increase, I stuck my fingers in my ears and sang “la la la la!”  Whatever the increase was, it was ridonkulous.

Which means that using electricity is now on the list of things that we’re trying not to do as much.  Let’s talk about the other options.

  • Liquid gas canisters with a burner attached.  We have some of these guys because we use them to make Greek coffee, a very exotic concoction that I’ll post about at some point.  But they are expensive as all get out because… well… Frugal Fail Alert:  S and I are both terrifed of how you have to puncture the regular gas canisters and so we use the fancy “one-click” kind that cost an arm and a leg.  So these are not really a frugal option, not unless we can get over our shared phobia.  And honestly, do I really want to give more money to the fossil fuel companies than I already do?  No.  No, I do not.
  • Wood.  I grew up burning wood for heat, and periodically for cooking, and while it is atmospheric and smells great, it usually requires a fireplace, woodstove, or something of that nature.  We live in a rented apartment that has absolutely no capability for putting in any of that.  Shot down!  (Besides, chopping down trees and cutting them up into pieces makes me sad too.)
  • Charcoal.  A grill is on my list of things that I want to get eventually, but… well, I don’t have one, and I can’t afford one right now.
  • Coal.  Yeah, okay, moving on.
  • Wind Power, Wave Power, Geothermal Power, Water Power.  I’ll get right on those, thanks!
  • Solar Power.  Solar power is an interesting one.  For one thing, it’s completely free.  For another thing, Greece has a lot of sun, and good sun specifically for solar power.  Solar power is completely harmless to the environment.  It has one major drawback.  It’s not very reliable.  Clouds.  Nighttime.  Rain.  Solar eclipses.   But one drawback is not very many, so we plough ahead.

I set up a solar oven today.  Before you get curious and ask “where did that lady find a solar oven in a small Greek city known primarily for snake-shaped gelatinous sweets?” I must reassure you that I made it completely from items found around the home.

My solar oven consists of:

  • a table.  I used a cheap plastic patio table, that I already had, for which I paid 4 euros.
  • a cooling rack from my kitchen, the kind you put cookies on while trying not to eat them.
  • two of those silver sun protectors for car windshields.  They cost 3 euros each, which to me is a great deal, since we use these in the car anyway.
  • a black pot.  You can use any black pot.  You can use any pot, and paint it black.  If you are a black pot, you should not taunt kettles.
  • some large plastic bags.  The black pot has to fit into the bag and it has to close,  I used a twist tie to close mine.  (Ideally you use oven bags, which withstand high temperatures.  I couldn’t find those here, but I’ll track them down somehow, someday.)
  • an oven thermometer.

I put it together and stuck some potatoes in there for the first trial run, earlier today.  I will share with you in detail how I did it, with plenty of embarrassing photos, but not right now, because… well… it didn’t work.  At all.  Not even close.  As it turns out, you also need actual sunlight.  While I was setting this up, I was sweating so much I had stripped down to a tank top and bare feet.  In February.  My solar cooker corner was hottin’ up in a major way.  It took me about 5 minutes to set it up, at which point I went to take a cold shower.  Fifteen minutes later, the sun was gone.  Clouds.  Overcast.  Cold and dreary.  And so it remained, all day long.  The oven thermometer didn’t even register at all.  Nothing happened.  Total and utter failure.

The only positive of this entire thing is that, three hours later when I gave up, while the temperature of objects on the balcony was very cold to the touch, the pot and potatoes were warmish.  Maybe around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Nothing would ever cook at that temperature, but at least it was telling me that, in overcast conditions, it was still considerably warmer than the ambient temperature.  So, given bright unrelenting Greek-style sunlight, I might be in business.

In the meantime, I made some food on the stove, ridonkulous style.

7 thoughts on “frugality, eclipsed

  1. I use my solar oven all the time (Texas is good for sun too), I made mine from an old cooler, foil, and a window. I have a cast iron cauldron (black) that I keep in it and I put my pot of whatever inside the cauldron, put the lid on and window and walk away, I love it – I never have to worry about burning! It does get seriously hot though and I always bring pot holders with me even in the mornings! Good luck in your adventures of alternative energy sources!

    ps – I made hubbies omelet this morning using homemade candle wicks and cooking oil in a small cast iron pan 🙂

    • thanks for sharing your experience! I have read that cast iron is really the best to use, although it needs to heat up really well first. I am really excited to figure it out so that it will actually become a viable energy source, rather than a fun experiment. For now, I’m experimenting, but come summer, it will be really nice to take advantage of the tons of sunlight and the fact that I won’t need to be running the oven/stove in the kitchen, thus saving on cooling costs as well. I would LOVE to hear more about the candle wick omelet… care to share details?? 🙂

  2. In an extended power cut one time I was surprised how quick it was to boil a kettle over a candle! Power companies are the same everywhere, in the UK prices have doubled in 5 years and every year they announce obscene profits!

  3. Pingback: surviving the new unemployment | homeingreece

  4. I love your blog even though it makes me very sad at times. I lived in Greece when I was younger. I live in Kentucky now and we have hardship here as well. I’m looking for ways to survive without utilities.

    My sister and I planted our first garden this year and next year I want to do even more in containers – that seems like something that you could do there. Mulches help keep moisture in soil in dry climates – and you have a great growing season there!

    There are two ideas I’d like you to research – one is a rocket stove – a super-insulated thing you can make from free or nearly free materials that uses twigs or small pieces of wood for fuel and burns them very, very efficiently. These stoves can be small and portable or built from stone. You’d want to use it on a patio or balcony, not indoors.

    The second is a cooking box. It may have other names. You can use it for beans or stews or things that have a long cooking time. You need a pot with a lid (the lid can’t have a hole in it) You bring the food to boiling for several minutes and then you put it in a super insulated container for several hours or overnight. The food cooks on heat that can’t escape. There are videos and instructions on the internet on how to make these. In one of the videos on Youtube, a woman uses a laundry basket and wraps the pot in many layers of blankets and comforters. and leaves it overnight. In the morning her food is cooked – I think it was a stew. Some factory workers here use thermoses the same way for beans

    Best of luck to you. I’d love to chat with you through email if you like.

    Kate/ Scrapette11

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