Do it yourself tip: blanket box offers energy savings

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Welcome to Pacific’s first-ever Do It Yourself column! In each edition of the Index this spring, I’ll be writing to inspire students to take matters into their own hands, whether it’s collecting greywater, insulating windows or working with computers.  To celebrate this first column, I’d like to share my favorite DIY.  It’s simple enough that all you need are three mid-sized blankets and a cardboard box:  the blanket box.

I first heard of it a year ago.  Deke Gunderson proudly proclaimed to his Environmental Studies class that you could actually cut down on cooking energy by using a pile of blankets and a cardboard box.  I was not a believer at the time (can you say “fire hazard”?) but desperate times led to desperate measures last summer in Alaska and I had to try it out.

My partner and I were living in a drafty, one-room log cabin with a tiny gas stove that had one partially-full five gallon tank of propane to get us through the summer.  Hot foods were a crucial part of keeping warm in the evenings, so we didn’t want to resign ourselves to peanut butter and jelly at night.  But how were we going to stretch that tank of propane to last three months?

With a magic blanket box.  Pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, soups and beans all cooked up wonderfully in their cozy insulation and we had hot meals every night.  An added bonus of the blanket box is the wonderfully hot “fresh-from-the-dryer” feeling that the blankets get after being snuggled up with your dinner for an hour.  I recommend for chilly folks that you substitute lots of big, puffy jackets for those blankets and then wear them while you eat your dinner.  Mmmm, warmth is heavenly.

Alright, curious?  Here’s how to cook Julia Child’s famous “Brown Rice a la Blanket Box”:

1.  Fold one blanket (or towel, if you’re worried about melting a synthetic blanket) and put it into the bottom of a cardboard box that’s two to three times larger than your pot.  Have the other two blankets or towels ready nearby.

2.  Boil 4 cups of water on the stove.  Make sure to put a little salt in first, and use a well-fitting lid.  This will help it boil faster and save some energy.

3.  Once the water’s boiling, dump 2 cups of dry brown rice into it and put the lid on.  Allow the pot and its contents to come to a rolling boil again.

4.  As soon as it’s boiling, turn off the stove.  Pick up the hot pot and move quickly (and safely, of course) to the blanket box and put the pot inside.

5.  Cover the pot with the remaining blankets, making sure they’re packed in tightly.  Add a pillow on top for added insulation, because most of the heat will try to escape by rising.

6.  One hour later, unwrap your pot and unveil… hot, deliciously fluffy brown rice.  (And hot, deliciously fluffy blankets!)

As shown above, the food will take slightly longer to cook than it would on a stove, so be prepared for a wait (one hour, in the case of brown rice).  However, this is actually part of the magic:  you can’t burn anything with a blanket box.  The temperature in the pot will never get higher than it was when taken off the stove, so there are zero worries about it boiling over or catching anything on fire.   Once the pot is safely in its box, you can leave for hours and come back to a surprisingly still-hot dinner.  It’s like a crock-pot… without the electricity.

Tips: Don’t use synthetic sleeping bags or blankets directly against the pot.  If you must use them, wrap the pot in a cotton towel first.  This will prevent the synthetics from melting.  Also, if you’re skittish like me, don’t use a blanket box for cooking meats.  The gradual cooling could lead to bacterial growth.

Now you’ll never have to use the “low” setting on your oven for rice or beans again!  Once converted, every time you read “simmer” in a cookbook, you’ll hear the blanket box calling.  Even though our days of cabin life are behind us, we still use our box here in Forest Grove to save us money on the gas bill.  Thanks for reading, and good luck doing it yourself!

Note: Olivia Round and The Pacific Index are not responsible for any injuries, accidents or traumas that could possibly result from the DIY project column.


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