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How Living Off the Grid Changed the Way I Cook

living off the grid

The long road to take-out . . .

When you are no longer connected to the public utility lines, you approach cooking a whole different way. It begins with the tools you rely on, and ultimately changes the way you think about meals. When I first set up my off-grid kitchen, I was excited about the challenge and readily shod myself of the rice cooker, toaster, and microwave oven. We went through a series of experiments involving coffee makers that didn’t use electricity, and secured an old 1940’s gas range that doesn’t contain a single hidden micro-chip. I have become attached to my beat-up old stove, but I have to say, I didn’t always feel this way. Truth is, the biggest learning curve thrown my way as we set about growing our family and conserving our resources was the lack of available take-out.

It didn’t matter how tired I was at the end of the day, ordering out wasn’t an option. There’s simply nothing down my road but porcupine and deer, and who wants to drive sixty miles round-trip for a cold meal at home? I had to figure out some way of coming up with dinner and I had to do it night after night. Because of that, something wonderful happened over the course of ten years. I got pretty good at cooking.

My definition of good, however, is a bit different from the one I had when living in the city. My focus out here is efficiency. I consider a meal a success if there aren’t a lot of dishes to wash and if I somehow manage to start another meal at the same time. For example, when baking lasagna, I throw in a couple of potatoes to grate for hash browns the next morning; when making chili, I reserve two cups for a later batch of enchiladas.

living off-grid

Do you think I could borrow a cup of ketchup?

I’m not a naturally organized person, but my dinky refrigerator runs on propane and my freezer is the size of a shoebox. So I spend about fifteen minutes a week planning, writing down what we will have for dinner, and when, so I can rotate my food properly. I learned how to make the things my kids consider essential, such as pancake syrup and ketchup. I rely on the goodness of whole foods, buying organic produce whenever possible because they taste best with simple accoutrements such as butter, pepper and salt.

But as a working mom, I also give myself little breaks. I’ve realized that there are some modern conveniences I can rely on and on busy school-nights, I use them. Frozen peas, baked fries and vegetables already cut-up are my new version of “take-out” foods. I don’t always cook from scratch, but I am always planning ahead. That might sound like work, but it has become second nature to me now, and a way of life. In my off-grid kitchen, dinner doesn’t have to be complicated to be good.

living off the gridA fuller version of this essay was originally published in Edible Twin Cities magazine, January/ February 2013. To read the full version of the article, go here.

For more information on farm-to-food eating, check out the Edilbes community in your area!

5 Responses so far.

  1. Renee VanHorn says:

    Hello Carol ! I very much enjoyed your article above ! You have learned alot living out there – good for you ! I am happy for your family that you were able to live such a life !

    ~ Love, Renee

    • dan.carol says:

      Renee, I am still learning, every day! It seems most people here living in the country have grown up around here, and all of this comes to them so naturally. Gardening is one area especially where I still have lots of room for improvement.

  2. gwg says:

    Hi….great article; envy you living “off the grid”. Just a thought: Have you looked into larger propane gas refrigerators? Actually, I thought you had a large one.

    • dan.carol says:

      We did when we first got here 10 years ago, and they didn’t make larger. When we get the solar panels, our plan is to upgrade to the new, efficient electric ones sold by Real Goods Giam that open from the top. That’s my dream – to have a real freezer! At least now in the winter I can store some items outside. Thank you for reading.

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