Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday Throwback: Keeping Cool for Cheap - My Wet, Hot New Yorkian Summer

Every Saturday, we post a piece from CHG's archives. Today, it's one of Jaime's articles from June 2008, which we think you'll find pretty timely. (*wipes sweat from brow*)

I am currently sitting at my desk in a t-shirt and shorts that I just thoroughly wet down with the spray bottle that was once meant for disciplining my cats. The new kitten never pays attention to being sprayed anyway, but I've repurposed the spray bottle because right now, New York City is getting into its third day of a 90 degrees-plus heat wave, and I, wussiest girl about heat ever, am trying to go sans AC.

It's not that I don't have an air conditioner. I have two, actually – one in my bedroom, one in my living room, both still in the windows from last summer. But this year I'm trying to use them just as fans (or, in the case of the one with a broken knob, as, um, decoration?). Just as eating frugally and healthfully often go together, so do helping the environment and my bank account. This is my first full summer in this apartment (my first summer living without roommates, too), and I don't know how much air conditioners jack up my electric bill, but I don't really want to find out.

Jumping in with this sudden early-June heat wave is kinda great – if I can make it through this, what's August? (Answer: a torturous, muggy hell.) Two days in, it's remarkable what a spray bottle and a little determination can do. Rather than thinking Oh my *god* it's so hot I want to *die* it's Hm, I should drink some more water and I wonder if my laundry's ready yet. And mostly – This is just how the weather is. No Impact Man is a big inspiration, and bigger complainers than I have survived AC-less summers – y'know, every person to live before, say, 1950 – and just thinking differently seems to help. So does keeping my clothing perpetually damp.

Aside from my private, very un-titillating wet t-shirt contest (it's me versus the cats, so I win!), the internet gave me a few pointers towards living an AC-less life:

During the day, close your windows and curtains. This keeps the hot air out, and prevents the sun from baking your apartment like a greenhouse. Opaque curtains are really best, especially if they have a white side facing out, to reflect away the sunlight. I have sheer curtains in my bedroom, but I also have a spare set of purple sheets. Guess where those sheets are now hanging!

At night, open your windows to let the cool air in. Turn on fans to bring the air inside.

Open windows/doors on different sides of the room to allow for cross-ventilation. (If your floorplan allows. And then, I am also jealous.) You can set a fan in one window blowing air *out* - this will draw air in through the window/door on the other side of the room, creating a nice breeze.

Eliminate unnecessary heat. Don't use your oven; turn off your computer; turn off lights, or replace with fluorescents. (Environmental, too! And cheaper electric bills when the lights are on!)

Drink lots of water. You feel less hot if you're properly hydrated. Avoid ice-cold beverages – though they feel soothing, they stop your body from acclimating to the heat. (If you're really brave, try warm or hot tea. Some folks swear by it.)

Keep your outside wet, too. Evaporating water uses up heat energy, leaving your skin cool. Wrap a wet scarf around your neck, rinse your face and arms in the sink, wear a damp t-shirt. This works especially well if there's a fan blowing air over you – that's how I fell asleep last night, even though it was still near 90 at 1am.

When it gets this hot, there’s a part of me (the me who lived and died by AC, the me who wants to spend every second needing blankets and a sweater) that would rather lie on my kitchen’s cool tile floor than even think about eating. Or, at least about cooking. Ice cream and popsicles? Totally. But the idea of heating a skillet, let alone my oven, is terrifying. Here are some of my heat-wave stand-bys that keep me from running to the nearest movie theatre to live on popcorn and nachos in the frigid, frigid air:

Cottage cheese. I love this no matter the weather, but when it’s hot out, this cool stuff is amazing. Use it as dip for veggies or baked chips, mix it with berries and cinnamon, spread it on bread (it goes great with hummus). If keeping the oven off means that you’re going a few days without meat (because a heat wave is really not the time for steak au poivre), cottage cheese is a great way to make sure you’re getting protein. (12g per 80-calorie half-cup serving!) And when you’re really hot, the salt helps you stay hydrated as long as you’re also getting water.

Fruit. Cool, hydrating, delicious, ‘Nuff said.

Pasta salad. This stuff stays good for days in the fridge – if you know a heat wave’s coming, throw together a big batch so you don’t resort to take-out when the temperature climbs. This is a great catch-all for every healthy thing you’ve got lying around – veggies, beans, meat (if that’s your thing), plus dressing (salad dressing, oil and vinegar, mustard, even, yes, cottage cheese). Also makes a great lunch to bring to work, if your office has a fridge.

Grilling. Okay, I live in a teeny New York City apartment with barely a fire escape, let alone a back yard or anywhere I could grill. But if you can…

Cold soups. This is an aspect of cooking I’ve yet to explore, but just google “cold soup recipe,” and behold the myriad options. Gazpacho, veggies, even fruit soups – the possibilities are endless. Experimenting with a new (heat-free!) recipe will get your mind off the unbearable, oppressive, unrelenting heat, at least for a bit.

Wine and grapes. Sounds odd, and yet makes perfect sense. Or is it like tomatoes topped with ketchup?

Microwave. Not a food or a recipe, but a means of heating food that won’t also heat the air. Eating and drinking warm food and beverages helps acclimate you to the hot air. I’m normally a devout tea kettle user, but if I want tea today, it’s coming from the microwave for sure.

It's funny how an extreme behavior can seem completely manageable once you just decide to do it. When I moved into this apartment, I realized I couldn't afford cable on my own. Beloved TV, how would I ever cope? Pretty easily, it turns out. I watch shows on my computer, at friends' houses, or just less. Giving in to the heat is in some ways more drastic, but it's something I really want to try.

This decision is both financial and environmental. (Okay, and a little bit about testing my mettle, like when I decided to start drinking whiskey. I'd previously been an amaretto sours kind of girl.) I want to put my money where my mouth is about conservation, and I want to keep my money in my wallet, not off to the electric company. It seems drastic – one friend asked, "Why not just switch to wind power," a green option our electric company offers but, a, I still pay for the wind power, and b, there's something about going full-out that I really like. Aw, yeah, I can brag at a bar, I'm going totally without AC this summer. Then I'll order another whiskey, and floor all the boys with my very bad-ass ways.

(Photos taken from the pages of Flickr members lusciouz lindsay, 2U, Lucahjin and florriebassingbourn.)

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ke said...

Don't forget about the crockpot! Very handy for keeping the kitchen cool in the summer.


Hi - just had to comment when I read about your heat situation.

As one who has been hospitalized 3 times for heat-stroke, I can tell you I've had to learn many many tricks to keep 'cool'.

Also, we moved to the desert in 2000 because of my allergies, but no one told me I'd endure up to 130 degrees in the summer.

Right now it's 114 here (actually cooler than in 2007 when we were 123 on this very day 2 years ago).

I'm 68; luckily I do have AC and a husband who can go out in those temperatures and seemingly not suffer at all.

For me, I've also learned a few more things that I didn't see listed on your 'how to cope' with the heat issues.

#1 - We have a sliding door and a tiny concrete area about the size of your fire-escape, so I use a hibachi. So, if you want to grill for just yourself, you can. However, you'll want to close that window in between turning the food (smile).

#2 - I have rotating fans in all the rooms - including the bathroom; they keep the air moving and if you can afford to pick up a few (or anyone), you'll save on your AC bill as well as feel cooler.

#3 - I keep ice packs in the refrigerator and use those when I lie down for about 20 minutes to relax; spray my body with lavender body spray, and put the cold packs on my tummy and one on my head.

#4 - I fill the tubs with water; it adds a cooling effect, and I dip my legs and arms in the water throughout the day.

#5 - I wash my hair each morning and leave it wet; like you, I also wet my clothing and have sprayers in the office - kitchen, and bedroom.

Also, you are right, the warm drinks (not ice cold) do seem to work best for me too.

When you go out, take a sun umbrella or wear a large hat and cotton loose clothing - wear flip-flops and keep water and a spray bottle in the car.

And as I write this, the crock-pot dinner that I started at 2 this morning (when it was down to 82 degrees) was done early in the morning, so I was able to avoid the higher temperatures and yet have a pot-roast to enjoy.

Also, don't eat large meals - tiny meals; just a tiny serving of roast beef and vegetables 3 times instead of one or two big ones.

I also make up cucumber, apple juice, and celery smoothies - sprinkle with celery salt, and they're light/refreshing - good for those hot days.

Try not to do heavy house-work until after the 9:00 p.m. hour - a couple hours each day.

Remember, in NYC it won't be a day after day of 90 degrees, and you'll get a break in between, so save those cooler days to catch up on heavy house-work or chores.

Whoops - I also forgot to mention, put rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle and use that on your bare skin - it's invigorating and cooling at the same time. Just don't over-do it and burn yourself.

Take care - Diane

Becky said...

Frozen grapes. 'Nuff said!

wosnes said...

I also cook and clean before 9AM or after 9PM.

While I eat a lot of these year round, during hot spells meals become based on soups (chilled or not), salads, sandwiches and smoothies. I eat a lot more raw fruits and vegetables along with cheese and bread/crackers. I especially crave the juicier fruits.

wosnes said...

I've been watching David Rocco's Dolce Vita on the new Cooking Channel. He made a pizza fritta with tomato sauce that looked good. I was making bread yesterday and made extra dough to make the pizza fritta. It's the perfect thing for a hot day. Everything is done on top of the stove and it doesn't take very long at all.

I think in the episode he used cherry tomatoes -- at least that's what I remembered and what I used. It was delicious! I cut them in half and put them in the pan.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is the downside of a NY summer. Even out on Long Island, I remember suffering like you, blogger. One time it was 90 degrees at 7 am. in our old house. Our son was a baby. We slept in one room (him in the crib, us on the floor) with one fan going. That fan is STILL working after 12 years! Best $20 we ever spend.

Suzanne said...

I agree with ke - pull out the crockpot! My oven heats up my kitchen like I live on the sun, so I've been learning how to make more things in the crockpot, and it's a godsend. You can make real food without heating up your house. My latest success was meatloaf!

CJ said...

I crave gazpacho, cucumber salads, watermelon, all when it's scorching. I use my microwave for cooking vegetables, microwave ears of corn with husks on, poach a turkey or a couple of chicken breasts, then chill for use in cold summer dinners. Nothing like some pached turkey slices with a little cucumber-dill sauce drizzled on, some tomato slices, grilled bread, some grapes or watermelon slices for a perfect summer supper.

Love macaroni, rice and whole grain salads when it's too hot to cook too.

Keep those fans running and stay as cool as possible.

Anonymous said...

I just saw an article online about surprising health tips -one was how an ice pack on the groin or under the arm pit is an effective treatment for lowering a really high fever. I thought, 'hey body temp. cooling should work for days when an r isn't a danger but heat stroke is...this sounds odd but I have a plethora of coors lite left by guests who loved the stuff, so I just grabbed a bottle and stuck it right under my armpit -- and it really made me feel WAY more comfortable and cooled me more quickly than any other method I've ever tried...I don't recommend doing this in front some people...especially if you're going to later drink the beer! lol...(-;