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