An electric tea kettle always makes my list of handy, green appliances, because it boils water with less fuel than a cooktop, shuts off automatically, and it’s not just for tea. The best ones also boil water faster than water on a stove, are cordless and the heating elements are completely self-enclosed (meaning almost no fuel is wasted, unlike on a gas or electric range). The Capresso H2O Plus Water Kettle does all of this, and more.
It sports a glass carafe, so you can see the progress without lifting the lid (and it’s fun to watch the bubbles: like an aquarium without the fish). It holds a manageable amount, letting you boil from 2 to 6 cups. We drink a lot of tea, so we use it daily, but I also use it whenever I need hot water in the kitchen: to rehydrate dried mushrooms, tomatoes, and soups; or to jumpstart a pot of water for pasta, steamed vegetables, or potatoes. It’s one of my handiest kitchen appliances, in its snazzy black and silver design.
Energy-Efficiency in a Box
Though pro kitchens (and TV shows) have used it for some time, induction cooking is just now entering the high-end consumer kitchen, and Viking is, not surprisingly, a brand leading the way.
I’m not ready to jump into a whole cooktop powered by induction (can’t afford it, and as a foodwriter, I need to test recipes on all types of fuel using all types of cookware). But from an energy-efficiency perspective, I can’t pass up Viking’s alternative: the portable induction cooker.
Basically, induction cooking works by sending a magnetic field (generated by the cooker) through ferrous metal (as in cookware made of cast iron, steel, or other combination that is magnetically reactive). The reaction creates heat, and it’s this heat that cooks the food. The heat is created from within the pan’s own material; think friction and fast-moving, excited molecules (like the heat generated between your hands when you rub your palms together).
The result: a near instant transfer of energy, with efficient absorption of over 90 percent of this energy (compared to around 50 percent efficiency with gas). Plus, the cooker’s surface stays cool, very little heat is released into the kitchen, and the food can actually cook quicker. Since the cooker surface stays cool, absorbing heat only from the cooking vessel, it’s easy to clean (no cooked on muck). Plus, with this nifty portable unit, I can cook anywhere there’s a plug. Like out on our wide Texas deck, in fresh air, with grazing deer and wild turkeys watching.
The first time I boiled pasta (using a Fissler Intensa pot) or fried steaks (in a Lodge cast-iron chef’s pan) on the induction element, I noticed the differences from conventional electric or gas cooking right off the bat. The water boiled sooner, and the fry pan reached perfect searing heat in a flash. Plus, I had instant control; when I turned the dial from high to low, the unit powered down to the lower setting immediately (essentially adjusting the strength of the magnetic field). No waiting for a hot gas or electric element to slug down in speed. And you can maintain constant simmering and very low temperatures (good for chocolate) better with induction.
When it comes to getting the cook up to speed, induction cooking doesn’t demand anything in the way of a learning curve. At least not like microwave ovens or the dual-fuel ovens that combine radiant heat with microwave cooking. If you can boil water on a gas or electric range, you can cook with induction. But be aware that not all cookware is induction-compatible.
Basic rule: If a magnet sticks to the cookware, it will work with induction. This eliminates glass, copper, and purely aluminum pans. (By the way, Viking describes their own line of cookware, which I have not yet tried, as a 7-ply construction of 18/10 stainless steel and aluminum that extends throughout the vessel, including the sides; suitable for all heat sources and especially efficient with induction.)
I’ll be exploring faster, better ways to cook using induction as I research my upcoming book, New Green Basics, and will post progress here as time goes on. Viking’s portable induction cooker runs around $500, but I expect all induction units will come down in price as they become more popular with the luxury set. But for those who can’t wait, and want to trade up in energy efficiency now, this handy unit brings both fun and fuel-savings to the home kitchen, in a compact package you can carry in one arm.
The Viking Portable Induction unit (1800 watts) runs on a standard 120 volt power outlet, and comes in a sleek stainless steel finish with glass-ceramic surface. Buy it at:
Here’s an innovative concept: Solar Leasing. This company will, starting in 2008, lease solar home systems, maintain them, and install them (with no upfront costs) for the same price as what you pay for electricity now.
It’s called the Citizenrē REnU program. Watch a video with Ed Begley, and check out the basic info “here”:http://www.liveearthsolar.com/. Essentially, you pay to Citizenrē what you would normally pay to your existing electricity supplier during the lease term, which runs in one, five and thirty year increments. But you lock in the rate at the beginning of each term, so even if your electric company raises its rates during the same period, you’re not affected. Plus, you stay on the grid in case the solar system fails or runs low on solar reserves.
It sounds like a winning concept for the environment (no greenhouse gases from solar energy), and for the consumer (no rate increases, no purchase or installation costs, or maintenance issues for what would otherwise be a very costly venture). The company is taking orders now for launch in 2008. It sounds great, but I haven’t read all the fine print and am always cautious about working with a company that’s still tweaking their operations and their local installers (especially since we live in a rural area).
If anyone takes them up on the deal, tell the rest of us how it goes. But if they can make this system work, what a great step toward solar energy for all. If they deliver as promised, and they service my area, we’ll be certain to sign up. Check out Citizenrē REnU at “http://www.liveearthsolar.com/”:http://www.liveearthsolar.com/
“If you say you can remember the 60’s, you weren’t really there.”
While Bill Graham’s Fillmore pulsed with San Francisco psychedelicos, the Vulcan Gas Company was blowing open its doors to a nascent Austin counterculture, deep in the heart of Texas. Then came the Armadillo World Headquarters, where acts like BB, ZZ, and Zappa played to a mixed bag of hippies, cowboys and suits.
Now, Austin, TX has rolled out a new music stage. Literally. It’s on wheels, it’s green, and it may be heading for a town near you.
Austin remains an incubator of cutting edge everything, from music to tech to green. Besides billing itself as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is host to SXSW (the South by Southwest Music, Film, and Interactive Festival), and the PBS series Austin City Limits, on air since 1976 and now an annual festival in its own right. So it’s not surprising that a portable solar powered music stage has fired up here.
Sustainable Waves converts trailers to green music stages: Solar panels generate enough energy to power up sound equipment, as well as charge reserve batteries for use on cloudy days. The sides of the trailers lock down in transit, then pop up upon arrival. In just minutes, the stage is ready to rock and roll, compared to the hours a crew of stage hands needs to mount a traditional stage. And because it’s completely self-powered and self-contained, without wiring or plug-ins, music can go wherever the trailer goes, to parks, lakes, ranches, beaches or neighborhoods. Sustainable Waves rents their big green music machines to bands for performances both in town and on the road.
Plus, listeners get to hear solar energy in action. They come away with a good time and a greener perspective. So far, the Sustainable Wave and its Eco Tune package has made a splash at venues in Telluride, Joshua Tree, San Diego, Santa Fe and other hip places.