What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Changing Faces of My Stove

I do a lot of cooking and canning so it comes as a surprise to some that I don't have professional style gas burner range. There's really a couple of reasons that boiled down to space limitations and wanting something different. In late 2005 we bought a new but almost stripped Jenn-Air JES9860AC downdraft slide-in range that needed several additional parts including grill cartridge, burner cartridges and the downdraft system. We did a bit of research after seeing it to find out what the parts would cost and went back the next day buy it. What I really like about this stove is parts are easily available for DIY repairs. Despite having to buy parts we ended up with an excellent customized kitchen stove considerably cheaper than if we had bought it fully ready-to-use. We bought most of the replacement parts online through RepairClinic. We ordered the cartridges and big burner element through a local appliance store. The stove was not fully installed until January 2006. A little over a year later we moved here and brought our range with us.

Jenn-Air JES9860ACEnergy efficiency is a high priority for us so one selling feature of this stove was the large capacity convection, self cleaning oven with 3 adjustable racks. The annual cost to run the self clean cycle is less expensive than oven cleaners. The self clean function does not use toxic chemicals or contribute to land fills so it is an eco-friendly choice. An optional half oven rack is available that I will add at some point. Another selling feature was the downdraft system (centre vent) that is capable of moving a lot of air allowing even smokeless indoor grilling. The downdraft system is attached to the floor and vented to the outside via flexible metal vent pipe. This means the range cannot simply be pulled out and makes installation a bit trickier because the stove has to be lifted up and over the downdraft system then attached to it. There is no storage drawer under the stove but the cover can be removed to empty the grease cup for the grill as well as accessing the downdraft system. If you decide to sell your house and want to bring your range with you, you will have to have that included as an exemption in the listing because it is attached.

Pictured to the left is the 1427 W grill cartridge with a custom made wood cutting board one of our kids made for me. The cutting board gives me a bit of extra horizontal space when needed. The two burner cartridge to the right has an optional specialty 2100 W big pot element (A145A) that is interchangeable with the regular 2100 W large coil element and a small 1250 W element. Already you can see how I can do a bit of plug and play.

Jenn-Air cartridgesThe big pot element is used when I'm canning or using similarly large sized pots and pans (1). This element is reinforced to handle the extra weight and it is raised to prevent radiating heat build-up under the larger pots that could damage the surface area and cause premature failure of the cartridge. The grill cartridge is normally covered unless in use (2). If I am doing a larger dinner where all four elements may be needed I can put in the other coil cartridge (3). Just recently I decided to buy the glass-ceramic cooktop radiant cartridges (A122). They are rather expensive but I was able to find two for almost the price of one online at Appliance Zone. Compared to the coil cartridges, the radiant cartridges (4) are quite impressive looking! The ability to plug and play with the cartridges allows me to have a customizable cooking experience with very little effort.

Jenn-Air radiant cartridgeI wanted the radiant cartridges for ulterior motives as smoothtop ranges always look so sleek and clean. The whole issue of dirty or stained drip trays is totally eliminated! We couldn't use a smoothtop because of the canning I do. The radiant cartridges are a way to get the look for those times I want it.

I love the look of the new radiant cartridges! Aren't they gorgeous? The large element is 1800 W while the smaller element is 1200 W so both less wattage than the coil elements. This means a bit of kW savings right there. I quickly found I had to change my cooking style using the radiant cartridges as they are instant heat and they take awhile to cool down. This means the burner can be turned off sooner while the food continues to cook on the residual element heat. Another energy saving feature is the elements cycle on and off on all but the high setting. So for normal daily cooking I will be using less kW!

If I ever had to buy another stove which I hope I never do, this is exactly the way I would do it again. Simply being able to customize the stove as I choose according to what I am cooking at the time is a hugh plus. Knowing that parts are easily available for DIY repairs is nice too. This eliminates worrying about after warranty repairs. It also allows you to buy a few spare parts to keep on hand for emergency repairs.

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Natura Kitchen Compost Caddy

Natura Kitchen Compost Caddy
Natura Kitchen Compost Caddy

Today is Earth Day 2009 so in spirit of doing something extra in celebration of living green, I am sharing one of my green tools. As a gardener I know how valuable compost can be not only for vegetable gardens but for flower beds, as a lawn conditioners and houseplant fertilizer. As someone who enjoys cooking from scratch I also realize that fruit/vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells all represent money spent. You pay for them as part of the cost per kilogram when you buy produce and part of packaging when you buy tea bags and eggs. Throwing kitchen waste away is as good as throwing away money. Worse than that is these items end up in landfills something we can no longer afford.

In some areas of Ontario (Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, GTA) kitchen waste is put to the curb in special green bags or bins for collection. This is an ideal solution for those living in townhouses and apartments where they don't have the need for a lot of compost. We do not have that luxury here and in fact the recycling efforts in our area are what I consider a token bandage as very few things can be curb side recycled. Some municipalities allow you to take kitchen waste to the dump but the cost of the trip in terms of CO2 produced by driving to the dump really defeats the effort. Backyard composting is the only eco-friendly way of dealing with kitchen and yard waste in our area. The municipality encourages this but only for those who ask by providing inexpensive ($25) compost bins.

One problem a lot of people have with collecting kitchen waste is getting enough to make the trip to the compost bin. In the cold, wintery months no one wants to make that trip for a cup or so of vegetable peels! The general solution is to use some type of small pail to collect waste until there is enough to empty into the compost bin. The problem with this has been two fold. Decaying fruit/vegetable peels attract flying insects and it smells.

Natura came up with this effective compost caddy that solves both problems. It has a tight fitting lid with a charcoal filter eliminating any odours that might be offensive as well as attract insects. The filters are good for 4 to 6 months. I was extremely surprised at how much this compost caddy holds! It's only 30 cm x 18 cm x 17 cm so it isn't huge. I think it is too big to sit on the counter but the caddy will easily fit in an under the counter cabinet for easy access. I discovered that the food does compact as you add more, something to be expected but as the food decays it packs down further so the caddy only needs emptying about ever week and a half depending on use. It is a sturdy, green plastic that should stand up to a lot of use. I don't know how much the filters are but if they are expensive then a similar filter can be found in pet stores meant for aquariums.

Happy Earth Day!

Garden Gnome

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring Cleaning (1)

Note: This is one of a series of three on the importance of spring cleaning followed by both chemical and natural pest control.

I started spring cleaning today. I'm a bit behind what with being away waiting for the birth of our newest grandbaby. From my earliest memories, spring cleaning was a family ritual. This was nothing like the spit & polish cleaning because company is coming by any stretch of the imagination. My Mom would watch the gardens. The first crocus blooms signaled the cleaning frenzy. It started in the attics with everything hauled out, floors swept and contents gone through. Mothballs were replaced then the boxes and trunks rearranged. Next was the upper floor consisting of two bedrooms. Cleaning began at the ceiling and worked its way down. There wasn't so much as a corner left untouched. Unused and too small clothing was cleaned out during the process. Following that was the main floor that housed the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and two living rooms separated by an arch. Once again it was from ceiling to floor with all cabinets emptied, everything cleaned. Windows sparkled greeting the sun and promise of warm weather. Finally we were onto to the basement. I dreaded that! It was a dirt floor basement full of spiders and the occasional snake or mice. We lived on the water so also had muskrats and snapping turtles get in along with skunks and raccoons. My job was always to remove the jars from the canning shelves so they could be dusted down (although heaven knows why), the jars wiped down again then replaced where they belonged. Invariably a mouse would skittle across my hands or feet and that just wasn't a good thing!

When I got married I continued the ritual spring cleaning and to a lesser degree the fall cleaning never really understanding why just knowing that's what needs to be done. Now thanks to my genealogy research I understand why spring cleaning came about and because of my scientific background I understand why spring cleaning is a good habit. If you look back as to how our ancestors lived spring cleaning accomplished a lot more than making the house sparkle. It was a practical solution to the living conditions our ancestors had to endure. It was a way to rid the house of the dirt and grim accumulated over the winter but more importantly it was a way to rid houses of rodent droppings and insects both that could mean sickness and disease. Our ancestors knew a bit more about keeping homes clean than some give them credit for!

Fast forward to 2009, spring cleaning is an eco-friendly approach to pest control as well as providing the opportunity to find air leaks or ports of entry. This is a good time to find any leaks and seal them! Insects that over winter in the house become active in the spring and begin laying eggs. That is the time to take action! Do a thorough vacuuming to remove any insect eggs, manually remove any adults you see and if necessary do an complete kill. Insects are attracted to cool drafts (spiders), moisture (centipedes, millipedes, sow bugs, pill bugs), wood rot (carpenter ants) and other desirable habitats. Spring cleaning is one way to be able to troubleshoot any of these types of conditions, remove any insects and correct the problem. Generally this means sealing them out and killing off what is left indoors. It is very, very important after any kill off to vacuum up any carcasses otherwise they will attract other scavenger insects. Rodents can be another huge problem and remember if you see droppings they have urinated somewhere as well which is one good reason to wash your walls and baseboards down.

Spring cleaning also gives you the opportunity to create a check list of what needs being done around your house. If you find an insect, rodent or moisture problem while spring cleaning that means you need to take action immediately to prevent further damage to your home. If you find even the smallest air leak you need to seal to help with energy conservation. Spring cleaning means you are on top of home maintenance so you can catch problems before they cost you money! It also means you are protecting your investment.

next: spring cleaning using chemical pest control

Garden Gnome