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I decided that there are some topics that deserve to be revisited regularly on this blog. Like gardening, creating community or healthy living, for example. My own desire to live frugally is one of those topics, so when I discover something new along those lines I’ll try to share it with you here. As a committed baggie washer, I’m a firm believer in the notion that the small things I do matter, and that they make a difference in how far our modest income goes. As the economy continues to flounder and the war drums continue to pound, I have no confidence that things will ever return to ‘normal’- whatever ‘normal’ is or used to be. As we all learn to transition to a new way of living that’s based on less energy, less stuff, and less money these little things could prove to be priceless in the long run.
So, I’ll begin by telling you something I discovered recently that has saved me time, money and energy. After many years of cooking dried beans in my pressure cooker for 20 minutes (you do know you can cook dried beans in the pressure cooker, right? With no soaking required, right?) I realized that if I turned the heat up higher, they will cook in 15 minutes instead. Now this revelation may seem such a trivial thing to you that you will immediately disregard this info, but after doing the math, I realized it’s not so trivial after all. Being vegetarians, Michael and I eat a lot of beans. We realized long ago that dried beans are much tastier, much cheaper, and when bought in bulk, have no metal can to rinse and recycle either! And the varieties of dried beans are almost endless, which is more than you can say for the canned ones. Anyway, I digress…
One pound of dried beans equates to six full cups when cooked, and I’ve found it extremely easy to freeze cooked beans in 2 cup amounts, which is perfect for most recipes. So, figuring that if I cook a pound of beans a week, in one month I’ve saved 20 minutes of that largest electric burner on my stove from being used. Which is like getting a pressure cooker full of cooked beans for ‘free’- energy- wise that is. The reality of this though is that many weeks I’ll cook a pot of beans more than once, increasing my energy savings even further. I had previously thought that cooking beans on a higher setting might make the vent pipe clog with the ‘starch’, but that hasn’t proven to be the case at all for me. If you’re already using your pressure cooker to cook roasts or other longer cooking things, experimenting with turning the heat up a bit should help you cook your meals faster too!
I apply a similar principle when using my oven too. If I heat the oven up, I’ll do my best to use that heat for cooking more than one thing. With a little advance planning, you can, for example, bake potatoes and a loaf of bread or a meatloaf together, then use that same preheated oven to bake a cake and kale chips. (I’ve also found that lots of foods can be baked at the same temperatures, even if there’s a 50 degree difference. In a case like that I’ll split the difference between say, a 350 degree and 400 degree oven and heat it to 375 instead). It takes my oven about 8 minutes to preheat to 350 degrees, so each time I double up like that, I’ve saved even more energy and time than the beans do! My rice cooker came with a top steamer basket, so I use that residual steam to cook the broccoli or carrots that are going to be eaten with the rice. Cooking this way reduces kitchen time too because you can cool and refrigerate those ‘extras’ you cooked when the oven was on and have a whole different meal with them the next night! And if you’re REALLY into getting all the heat you can out of that hot oven, you can mix up a batch of yogurt while your meal is cooking and put it into a thermos or insulated container to ‘set’ for a few hours as the oven cools.
So, is all that planning worth it? Do you feel that little things like this add up and make a difference in our lives and in our households, or not? I hope you’ll visit the comments section below to share your thoughts on this and to share the things you’re doing to get by on less as well. If you do something that saves you money, time or energy, sharing it here can help us all save our pennies.
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