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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Living without Gas- A Challenge

Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I have a reputation that precedes me. I mean, how can I not, being the person behind a blog such as this, where I talk about things like using reusable toilet paper (aka family cloth), or cooking in the sun, and have recipes for ingredients that others would throw in the garbage, like banana peels, on top of the more “normal” frugal things that I write about. In fact, turns out that my doula's daughter reads my blog and thinks I'm totally kooky! Don't worry, I'm not offended; I know I'm radical, and do nothing that I'm ashamed about. In fact, I take pride in knowing that I'm not afraid to think outside the box and be totally non conventional if its something that I think will help our family's finances and won't detract (too much) from our quality of life.
This post will probably just reinforce whatever opinion people have of me, whether it is that I'm out of my mind because of our extreme frugality, or that I'm really money smart (lol, take your pick which one I am), because its about a challenge I will be undertaking. No, I'm not going without a refrigerator (like I had been contemplating); its something a bit more “standard” and run of the mill; people in certain parts of the world actually live this way, like in China, or so I've heard. (Then again, those people rely heavily on takeout, something I don't do both for health reasons and frugal reasons.)

What is this challenge I plan on undertaking and why?

Well, in our home, we don't have a gas line bringing in a steady supply of gas like we did in our old apartment. Instead, we have gas “balloons”, tanks that are in our yard with a pipe leading up into the home, to which you can attach your gas stove. (Our home heating and hot water heating aren't run on gas.) When the tanks get finished, you call the gas company, which then comes and replaces the tank so you can have more gas. (People generally have 2 tanks, so that they only need to replace one at a time and never fully run out of gas.)
Well, replacing gas tanks here can be quite expensive. A large gas tank costs ~$125 dollars, and a small one costs less, but not significantly less.


Thursday night I left a pot of broth on a low flame overnight. In the morning, when I woke up, there was no fire lit. Not because it had blown out, but because there was no gas left.
I went downstairs to the landlord's yard (where our gas balloons are kept) to open the second tank of gas (back to that in a moment), when I smelled an incredibly strong smell of leaking gas. Uh oh. This is dangerous; it means that if any spark is near, there can be a huge explosion. Not to mention the dangers inherent in breathing in gas. Immediately I shut off the valves to the gas canisters and the smell dissipated.

For three days, I tried to get a guy to come deal with the gas leak, while doing most of my cooking at my friend's house. Finally, Monday morning he came, took one look, and told me that the knobs which attached the canisters to the pipe were loosened, that that is where the leak came from, and that they don't loosen on their own...
I didn't loosen it.
Our gas canisters are sitting in our landlord's backyard. Our landlord has 5 young children.
I spoke to my landlords about my suspicion, and my landlord said that he'd speak to his children, but they never play in the yard there (because its still filled with construction junk from when they built our apartment), and its highly unlikely that they played with the gas canisters.
Who knows.
I have no proof, only suspicion.
Because someone opened it, and it wasn't me. And that someone had to have access to my landlord's yard.

When we moved here, we had 2 small gas canisters which finished very, very quickly, much quicker than I was told they'd finish. We were told that they simply weren't full when we moved in, and that is why they finished quickly.
OK, so then we bought two more small tanks, which finished up very quickly as well. We discovered that there was a leak and that was why the tanks finished so quickly, so paid a guy to replace the valve that supposedly was causing the leak. (Only the guy wasn't the most reputable guy, so it could be that the valve didn't need replacing and the leak was from something else.)
After that, we bought 2 large tanks, shelling out a huge amount of cash on that, with the hopes that this time they'd actually last us a while... but no, they also finished very quickly, thanks to “a leak” that the fix it guy discovered on Monday. (Yes, I remembered only after the fix it guy left, that the leak was coming from our second tank, that the first finished not that long ago. So we were out of gas completely.)
What it comes down to is that we went through 4 small gas canisters and 2 large canisters in less than a year and a half of living here, and spent twice or three times as much on gas here as we did in our old apartment, even though I'm very frugal with gas.

Which leads my husband and myself to suspect that someone is tampering with our gas canisters. I mean, 2 “proven” leaks and 1 set of gas canisters that finished insanely quickly? Something seems very fishy here, but since we have no way of proving anything happened, we have no way of stopping it from happening in the future, and it seems almost inevitable that if we keep on buying gas balloons, we'll keep on throwing our money down the drain because of these “leaks”...
Which makes us very wary of buying more gas canisters. We don't have money to continuously throw down the drain.

Which leads to my “kooky” challenge I plan on undertaking.

We're not replacing our gas canisters. At least for now.
We're going to see how long we can manage without a gas stove.
Because on top of the gas leaking issue, replacing the gas canisters now is a rather large expense, and we're looking to minimize outlay of money at a time when I know we have quite a few future expenses coming up (including baby necessities, birth expenses) and lower income (husband taking off work when the baby comes) within the next month or two.
It's not that we don't have the money now to pay for new gas tanks. We do, but we've also learned from experience (the hard way), that even if you have enough money for your expenses now, if there's a time coming up in the near future either with a lot of expenses or lower income or both, its best to keep as much money as padding in the bank as possible and to not spend large amounts of money on things you can potentially do without, even if they seem like they'd be saving you money in the long run, because its not worth the financial strain it'll put you through. (Note to self- buying foods in bulk right before your husband brings in less income for 2 months straight is a terrible idea, even if you do have the money currently to pay for the bulk purchase!)
We were incredibly tight financially when Ike was born (remember when I wrote about how deprivation backfires? That was after Ike was born) and I don't want to ever live through another period like that again, especially not right after I give birth (I am sure that it played a part in my extremely long recovery), which is why I'd like to keep as much padding in our bank as possible right now.
So, for now, we're going to hold off on getting gas to run our stove top. Depending on how high our electric bills end up being and how we manage for the duration of this challenge, we may decide not to go without a gas stove indefinitely.

So, how will we manage without a gas stove top?


I should mention that up until a few weeks ago, we had a microwave that we used on rare occasion, but it completely died and we don't plan on replacing it.

So, what can we use to cook our food? What implements do we have to heat and cook our food?

Our electric oven.

Our crock pot.

Our electric hot plate.

Our electric waffle maker.

Our electric kettle.

Our solar cooker.

Our charcoal grill.

Ok, those last two aren't really usable during the winter months here, but I think that with all my other cooking implements, I should be able to manage to cook almost everything I do now, even though I'm a make it from scratch kind of girl.

I just rediscovered this website- A Year of Slow Cooking, that has a ton of instructions for cooking nearly everything under the sun in a crock pot. Oh, and everything is gluten free, as her kid has Celiac!!! No, I don't think everything she cooks is frugal or particularly healthy, so I'd have to make quite a few adjustments to her recipes, but most importantly really is the techniques she shares about cooking many foods I never would have thought possible to cook in a crock pot.
I just used her tips to cook rice in my crock pot today and it came out fabulously.

On top of that, things that can't be cooked in a crock pot can often be baked in the oven. Like today, I made a bunch of chicken, beet, and potato patties that I'd usually cook in a frying pan, and instead, baked them in the oven and they came out terrifically. Not only that, they're less time consuming to make because you can do them in large batches, unlike with a frying pan.

What are the down sides of cooking in a crock pot and oven and not on the stove top? 

  • Some things can't (as far as I know) be properly cooked in the oven or crock pot, like certain pasta dishes, sushi rice, pancakes, crepes (or can you?), or other fried foods like stir fry or french fries.
  • Cooking in the crock pot or oven takes more time than cooking on the stove top; you need to think more in advance and can't just throw something together in 5 minutes. Then again, if you forgot and only have 5 minutes to prepare food, you can always make something with instant mashed potatoes or rice noodles (rehydrate in less than 4 minutes in boiling water) and a frozen legume like green beans or peas, and some fresh veggies.
  • You can't cook during a black out.
  • It may end up being more expensive per month than using gas... but based on our current track record for gas usage, I somehow doubt it.
  • There's a limit to how many things you can cook at once in a crock pot. If you don't want a one pot meal, you might need to cook in shifts.
What will we do?

To take care of some of the aforementioned issues, the plan is to buy another cheap crock pot so we can cook two things at a time, and to buy a single electric burner. 
The second crock pot will allow us to cook more than one thing at a time so meal prep won't take hours and hours.
The electric burner should help with the frying issue and noodle cooking issue. I am going to try to get a burner second hand, but even if I have to buy both the crock pot and burner new, it'll still be less of an outlay right now than paying for new tanks of gas.
I'm not sure I'll be buying either of those immediately, but will within the next little while. (Anyone want to get me one as a baby gift? Lol...)

You might think I'm incredibly nuts for attempting this now, right before I have a baby, but actually, its the fact that I'll soon be having a little one that makes me not worried about this challenge, because my freezer is packed with a bunch of ready made meals for after I give birth that only need to be popped into the oven to defrost and heat up; I most likely won't be needing a stove for a while after giving birth. Using a crock pot also is very easy and hands off, a smart idea for cooking meals when you are trying to take it easy when you have a newborn.

The one thing that won't be possible with only one electric burner, as far as I know, is canning. Unless you have any ideas on how to do that (without a dishwasher to keep jars hot).

So, what do you think? Do you think we're nuts for going without a stove top? Or do you think its totally doable and its something you would do?
Do you cook in the crock pot or bake in the oven often? I'm relatively new to that world, so if you can give any tips to this stove top cookery loving girl... 
Do you have an electric stove top? What will I need to know about cooking with one after always having cooked with a gas stove?
If you live locally and have gas canisters, how often do you go through your canisters? How much do you cook on the stove top, and are you frugal with your gas or somewhat wasteful? Do you think it makes sense that we've been through 4 small tanks and 2 large ones since May of a year ago, or does that seem excessive?
Any suggestions on what to do with our gas situation, being as our landlord doesn't think its his kids playing with our gas, but we have strong suspicions, and want to make sure it doesn't get played with and wasted in the future should we choose to get more gas?

3 comments:

  1. How did this go? What was the follow up?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I would love to hear the follow up!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'd also love to hear the follow up to this.
    When we moved into our previous apartment a year ago, we went without gas for almost three months because there were all sorts of problems (to start with it just wasn't attached to the wall, then we didn't have any balloons, then there were a couple of other issues, and we ended up gasless for almost three months).

    We survived. And I'm not generally a survivalist. I really missed being able to just dump pasta in the pot and have it ready in ten minutes. But other than that, we survived just fine. Admittedly we did have a microwave, but we tended to use the oven more than the microwave in any case, and we used the crockpot sometimes as well.

    ReplyDelete

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