Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cold Winter, Hot Toddy

Hot toddies have come my way several times this season, and I must say, I’m a fan. I wrote about them for a client in an article about warm cocktails, and discovered then that there are lots of ways to make them. In general, think of the tea you’d drink to soothe a cold, and add a shot of liquor – you know, for comfort. 

I was served one at a Christmas party that was lovely. It was, I think, based pretty closely on Jamie Oliver’s hot toddy recipe, but with the addition of some ginger to the general mix of honey, lemon, and spices. 

This week I have been struggling with a killer head cold, so I took the opportunity to make a hot toddy for myself. 


First, this hip retro mug was originally Kirk’s grandmother’s. She was a nurse, and everyone on her floor had one – the back has her shift hours.

Next, I made this with a mug of herbal tea, a slice of ginger, and a wedge of lemon studded with a couple cloves. The tea had a fair amount of stevia in it already, so I skipped the honey. In the future, I would definitely add the honey, especially for a cold – the syrupy coating makes this much nicer. 


I went with a shot of Applejack in this, which was really good, though any whiskey or bourbon or brown liquor you like would work just as well. I’m not sure if this drink actually helps clear your sinuses or not, but the spices make it something you can actually taste when you’re stuffed up. The alcohol isn’t any more potent than a shot of NyQuil, and it’s a whole lot tastier. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year’s Dessert

Like just about everyone I know, we were not at all sorry to kiss 2016 goodbye last night – and we had fun doing it! Friends in town had a great idea to have a traveling New Year’s house party, where each family hosted a position of the meal (apps, dinner, dessert, and champagne toast) and we all walked from house to house throughout the evening to change venue (and, truth be told, get some fresh air and a breather from all the rich food and drink!).

It was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it if you live within walking distance of your friends!

Our job was dessert, and we found two recipes we liked a lot. First, mulled wine:


For this we followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe using Beaujolais Nouveau, though I skipped the bay (because we didn’t have any) and added a cardamon pod and a few slices of ginger instead. What you see above is the initial syrup making process, which lets you get all the flavor without burning off all the alcohol by heating all the wine at once. 

Hot mulled wine was nice after a drizzly walk to our house, and it tasted great with the orange pound cake Kirk made: 


We used the recipe from King Arthur Flour, and it was perfect (well, beta cake wasn’t perfect, but that was our own fault for trying to get it out of the Bundt pan too soon). The topping is not the recipe’s suggested bourbon glaze, but a chocolate ganache that Kirk poured over it. That’s a yummy combination, and though I abstained from cake for breakfast this morning, it would be excellent with a cup of coffee as well.

Here’s hoping that 2017 takes a cue from our sweet night and continues to be as fun as its first few hours were!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Furnace vs. Space Heaters

Now that our long autumn nightmare is over and we have heat again, we were curious about the financial upshot of sticking with oil.


The new furnace works much better and is much more efficient than the old one, thanks in no small part to fully insulated ductwork that is now installed properly – that is, the heat registers are under the windows instead of in the center of the house, where they did little good to anyone. 


The only thing that’s not entirely up to snuff is the ductwork to the second floor. These are quite small, and there are only two ducts to the whole upstairs: One in our room, and one that’s split between the kids’ rooms. It’s a good 5 degrees colder upstairs at any given time of day – and that’s actually an improvement.

But could we do better if we hung on to some of those electric space heaters we were using all through the fall? My thinking was that if programmed the thermostat to dial the nighttime temps way back to 57 degrees (our daily unoccupied temperature) and used the space heaters instead, perhaps it would be cheaper than keeping the whole house at 65 degrees (which means the bedrooms are only around 61 or 62 anyway.

Which is cheaper? Math time!

To measure how much energy we’re using to heat our home, it’s important to do this experiment at times when the outdoor temperature is the same for each test. Otherwise, it would take more or less energy to maintain any given interior temperature. I decided to figure out the average temperature, which I did by using the historic highs and lows for Newburyport from November through March. 

Our average winter temperature is 32.4, so I did my best to run my heat tests when it was right around that temperature. It took a few days to find a good window, and the kids did not enjoy the evening low temperature test, but I got it done.

First, the oil usage. The oil gauge atop the tank is pretty useless for measuring small amounts of oil usage, but if you know your oil nozzle size, you can make a much better estimate of how much oil you’re burning at any given time. Our new furnace uses a .7 gph nozzle, which means that it oil ran through it into the furnace for an hour, we’d have run through .7 gallons of heating oil in that time. 

Sort of. We have a variable speed motor now, which saves energy by running at lower speeds if it can maintain the house’s heat without kicking up to full blast. So if anything, my usage estimates will be on the high side.

Anyway, our nice new furnace definitely does not run for an hour straight. It cycles on and off, so to get the real figure for how much oil you use in an hour, you have to time when the furnace comes on and off during an hour time frame. The stopwatch on my phone came in handy for this – I sat by a heat register while watching TV and kept track of when it was on.

The Oil Results:

To keep the house at 65 degrees while it’s 32 outside, the furnace ran for 16 minutes. Divide 16 by 60 to get the percentage of the hour it ran (26.67%), than multiply that by .7, which is the number of gallons per hour of oil we use to maintain that temperature. In this case, .187 gallons per hour.

Considering an 8-hour nighttime window, we use 1.49 gallons of oil each night to keep the house at 65 degrees. Right now our oil costs just $1.99, so the total price is $2.97 per night.

Our current programmed sleeping temperature  is 61 degrees. The heat runs for 9.5 minutes per hour at that temperature, using .111 gallons of oil per hour. Total nightly price: $1.76.

To dial it back to 57 degrees at night, the furnace runs for just 4 minutes per hour, which uses just .047 gallons of oil per hour. Total nightly price: 74 cents.

The Electric Results:

It’s a lot easier to figure out how much electricity you need heat a room, since a space heater tells you exactly how much electricity it uses in watts, and your electric bill tells you exactly how much you pay for that electricity. 

Still, I found a great short cut to avoid having to figure out how long the heaters were running at different temperatures, etc. That would be more accurate, for sure, but only if the children keep their heaters at the (low, reasonable) temperature the parents think is appropriate (not a lot of evidence that this will happen). 

So this online calculator made it easy to plug in room measurements, tell how much insulation you have and a bunch of other stuff, and pow! The number of kilowatts you need to heat the room. Our total for the three bedrooms upstairs come to 4.117 kilowatts. We’re currently paying 18 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity (electricity and delivery charges), so 8 hours of electricity comes to a nightly total of $5.93. 

Even if you figure you can cut that cost in half once the room is brought up to temperature, it’s still $2.97 per night – the same as keeping the house at the daytime temperature, and nearly twice as much as turning the heat down to 61 at night.

So no, it’s not cost effective to heat the bedrooms with a space heat while turning down the furnace for the night – yet. It will be once the kids rooms are off the table, and it might be if the price of oil shoots up relative to the price of electricity. But for now, it’s cheaper to heat the house to 61 at night and hand the kids an extra blanket.