Developing Protocols for “Edu-Vacay” Guests

A trusty friend and fellow activist is acting as a test “edu-vacay intern” at my place this week. We are defining and refining social-distancing measures, and I am also devising more ideas for maximizing my beachside urban micro-homestead as a space to nurture my guests’ learning and creativity. Watch this blog for updates. Depending on how Covid situation progresses, deep-green education via my home may remain a strictly virtual experience for a while to come. Safety first!

As part of the above-described research project, I’m sharing some notes from this morning. The following is the kind of stuff I do on an everyday basis, and usually don’t take time to document. Enjoy!

Waste (reuse; landfill diversion):

As a city-dweller, dealing with the urban waste-stream, I am particularly fond of the Permaculture design principle known as “Catch, store, & use energy.”

I was impressed with what I saw this morning in my nextdoor neighbor’s recycling bin. The company that painted their house appears to have taken the trouble to cut the bottoms off of, and clean out, these plastic squeeze applicator bottles of painter’s acrylic latex caulk, so they’d be clean for recycling.

I have taken the bottles into my recycling bin for now. I use my bin as a storage buffer for steel cans and other containers that I might end up finding a re-use/upcycle use for. Thus capturing more of their embodied energy than would otherwise be captured. And diverting them from the need to undergo a higher-energy process such as being melted down etc.

If it ends up I can’t use them, I’ll just send them on out to the curbside recycling collection. See photos here.

Energy (solar cooking): Solar oven today. It’s breezy and partly cloudy, both of which influence the temperature the oven is able to attain and sustain. The easier task I had in mind for the ovens today was toasting some honeydew melon seeds that I started last night in a little toaster oven (it was left by some past housemate or guest; I use it occasionally).

Toaster ovens are a fairly high-watt appliance but they can be great for baking mini loaves of bread, small batches of cookies etc. The oven made a good start on the melon seeds. But, they toasted much faster after I spread them out in a wide black solar cookpot in the sun oven this morning.

The second task I had in mind, making hardboiled eggs, may not be do-able today, as the cloud cover seems to be increasing. The oven temp has reached 275 F but I really like it to be around 350 if I’m going to do a half-dozen eggs, especially if I’m starting with cold water.

I do have some warm/hottish water stored in the big old-school Stanley thermos ($5, thrift shop), because I boiled extra when making coffee this morning. So, it wouldn’t be as much of a temperature leap as starting with eggs in a pot of cold water.

Still, experience has shown that on a day like today, it’s better to use a stovetop or fire-based cooking method.

On the stovetop, I hardboil 6 eggs by bringing them to a boil for a minute or two, then turning off the stove, covering the top of the pot with potholders to trap heat in the pot, and let the eggs finish cooking in the hot water. This technique significantly saves fuel by reducing the amount of time needed for cooking eggs, soups, stews, and other boiled foods.

I call this technique my “modified” haybox method.

Haybox cooking, otherwise known as “retained-heat cooking,” is an energy-saving technique I learned via Aprovecho and the Kerr-Cole Sustainability Center. (Aprovecho’s series of booklets on “Capturing Heat” is excellent. As is Kerr-Cole’s booklet “The Sustainable Kitchen.”)

In brief: Haybox cooking involves bringing food to a boil for some minutes (duration depends on what you are cooking), then placing the whole pot in a towel-lined cooler, hay-lined box, or other insulated container. My modification simplifies things by not needing a container, just being able to keep the pot on stovetop. I have found that (presumably because heat rises) just covering the top of the pot seems to be good enough for hardboiled eggs, or rice or pasta.

Photos (see photos here):
1) oven #1 toasting melon seeds (tasty nutritious snack). Oven #1’s thermometer is broken but I can judge the approximate temp by sun conditions etc.

2) Oven #2’s thermometer, which reads accurately. This pic shows 175F. A little while later it had risen to 275. (3) And is holding steady there.