Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Stepping Off 3

The vision of the Palace Flophouse is as a staging post in stepping off.
Over the past few years I have been putting together bits and pieces with this in mind. Some turned out useful, some not.

The storm kettle is an essential. I have the 2.5 litre size, with the little saucepans. Using the most minimal amount of fuel - paper, twigs, cardboard, whatever - in just a few minutes a 2.5 litre kettleful of boiling water is ready: and while it's heating the baked beans can be heating on the top at the same time.

The Whitstable Bucket is brilliant. It has an inner bucket with holes in the base, half the depth of the outer bucket. The exterior wall has holes around the bottom - so a draught is created, and ash can drop through and be collected. It has a sturdy rack for grilling or standing pans on. The one design flaw is that the handle isn't quite long enough, so the wooden bit gets burnt - and in any case if you tried to pick it up by the handle while the fire is alight, you'd get burnt too. It should have two carry handles on the sides. It draws the air really well, so (like the storm kettle) it's good for a cook-up using any twigs collected. When I am walking through the woods (or anywhere in August when the pine cones fall) I like to take my wooding bag and bring home a stash of fallen twigs to burn.

My cookpots are heavy duty affairs, apart from the little aluminium ones that came with the storm kettle. The heat over the Whitstable bucket is impressive: I have a small brass and copper saucepan (thick, heavy); an 8-inch cast-iron frying pan, a good-size tierra negra cooking pot, a 6-inch iron wok, and an enamel kettle. Steamed veggies are important to me, so I intend to get a small chinese bamboo steamer (they are amazingly cheap). Something I didn't expect is how often I am cooking for a group of people rather than just myself at the Flophouse - so I am going to get a 12-inch cast-iron wok for when folks come by for supper.

I have a 2-litre pump thermos flask. The Palace Flophouse is in the garden of the main house, so the simplest thing is to boil a kettle first thing in the morning, in the house, to fill the thermos - which then keeps the water hot for up to 12 hours. Stepping off even further, away from a house, the water could be boiled up in the storm kettle - but I wonder if there would be issues on a winter morning about warming the thermos gradually to avoid shattering, but still having the water for filling it at boiling point. I guess it would be possible to boil the water, mix a bit with some cold to then pour in the thermos for warming it; then light a second little fire in the storm kettle to bring the water back a to the boil. Not hard, but fiddly.

I have asked Badger for a 4.5 litre thermos cookpot for my birthday. I am really excited about this! It works like a haybox without being so massive. A slow-cooker that needs no fuel past the firts ten minutes. You take out the inner pot, cook up the stew ingredients in that for ten minutes, then put the inner pot into the outer pot: and leave it. Several hours later - stew! This is of great value in the cold weather. Cheap stew ingredients need long cooking, but fuel is also precious, so fuel for a long stew isn't practical.

Sporks are fab for eating: spoon one end, at the other end a fork with a serrated edge for cutting - brilliant! I have mostly enamelled tin plates, mugs and bowls - light and unbreakable.

I did get a Porta Potti, but decided that was a mistake, though it's a good product - more necessary for travelling; campervans, caravans etc. I was really annoyed with myself about that. It was a needless extravagance. A bucket is fine. If I stepped off far enough to be right away from a house, a compost toilet would be my choice - or just dig a hole and empty a bucket into it. As things are at present, fresh human urine is of immense value in the compost heap - human excrement is not, but that can go into the toilet of the main house.

Overall, water and fuel are both saved.

The Palace Flophouse is very light: it has a big window. This means it warms up quick from the sun, and there is good light to work by. Once the sun goes down, lighting is from nightlights in jam jars - not candles, which are more hazardous. And the jam jars will stand on the counter, not be suspended from the ceiling. The heat above a candle is significant; and it is not my wish that the Palace Flophouse should burn to the ground!

For work and keeping in touch with the tribe, I need a phone and computer. I have a very basic pay-as-you go Nokia phone, and a little Samsung notebook with a battery capacity of about 4.5 hours, on a mobile internet connection that costs me £30 a month and gives me up to about 19 hours a day connection for the sort of things I want to do (ie just researching online and emailing etc - no big downloads). So I can charge these up in the main house at night. I'd love one day to have a solar panel, just for charging up the notebook and phone: I don't need electricity for anything else. I have a digital camera too.

The Flophouse will be really cold in the winter - but then, so is the house. In fact the house is probably even colder, because it doesn't warm up quick with the sun like the Flophouse does. If it's mega-cold charcoal in the Whitstable bucket, lit outside until it stops smoking, then brought in should warm things up. Apart from that I figured that if I insulate myself - warm clothes, hat, fingerless gloves, duvet, sheepskins, hot water bottle - then it won't matter if it's cold, so long as it's dry; which the Flophouse is.


Tony Collins said...

Badger has found a source of insulation and will be applying it to the walls and roof ...

Pen Wilcock said...

Cool! Or, er, warm!


Greenhill said...

Love the thermos cookpot! This will go on my shopping list. I've got a slow cooker, but that uses electricity all the cooking time.

Came across the Cobb BBQ while searching for the cookpot aka the 'shuttle chef'.

Have you seen this? You can even buy briquettes made from recycled coconut shells.

Very interesting blog thank you.