Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The GSI Vortex Blender (non electrical)

For the last half year I have been searching for a hand crank food processor or blender. My Osterizer kicked the can last October when Chris decided to puree the worm compost. While my 18 year old blender could crush ice without one mechanical whine, Chris discovered it did not like corn cobs, cabbage stems or wooden spoons.

He then proceeded to strip the gears in our KitchenAid stand mixer (the 5 quart-I-can-make-great-bread-KitchenAid) by sending the compost through the food processor attachment. KitchenAid had a backlog of orders for replacement gears and it took several months to fix my bread mixer.

Now compost only makes one short stop in our kitchen.

Knowing that the demand on our solar power system will require prioritization, I proceeded to start an internet search for hand cranked food processors and blenders. I found some interesting food processors on stores that sell to the Amish (I guess the on-line stores are for we Amish-wannabees; the Amish must order some other way as I'm pretty sure computers don't figure into their lifestyle).

I happened upon Lehmans ( which has a number of hand cranked items for those of us faced with finite electrical. Ice cream makers, food and grain mills, even gas powered refridgerators and composting toilets are featured prominently in this store.

All of it was pretty neat. But I was looking for something that would puree vegetables, make peanut butter and churn cream into butter (margarine was banned from our house more than a year ago, google "the truth about margerine and butter").

High on my wish list was a non-plastic appliance.

I did find plans to convert an electric blender to human powered but it involved a bicycle and a car battery. I was after something simpler.

A few days ago Chris and I were checking out kayak/camping supplies at Wholesale Sports in Kamloops and as I was methodically going up and down the isles a black and white box with a picture of a blender caught my eye. A blender with a HAND CRANK. I picked it up and read the bumph on the side.

It began: "Increase your popularity. Make new friends. Pick up ladies. These are just the hidden benefits of owning our hand-cranked blender. This amazing little unit is an outdoor party in the making. And it also mixes up healthy smoothies, sauces and pancake batter."

I could always use new friends but with three girls in the house we were done with ladies. The marketing hyperbole ended with "...this blender can take anything life throws at it and make lemonade". Wow, I'd really like to meet the marketing communications writer who got paid for this.

The blender container is plastic (polycarbonate, but BPH free) and the stand is metal as is the hand crank. I was impressed that there was so much metal in it, frankly. The mechanism is geared for two speeds. When disassembled, the stand nestles inside the container. Nice touch. You can order most of the parts as replacements should something wear out or break (I hope not!)

I took it to the cashier and explained why I was interested in it (we are finding that if we explain we are building a sustainable house with tires, we usually get somebody's attention right away). I asked if I could return it if it didn't perform the functions I was buying it for. Sadly, no, it could only be returned if it was defective.

As I was walking back to show it to Chris, a very personable sales person (Richard) asked me if I needed help. I explained my dilemma. He offered to open it up and set it up. While he was doing this we had a good chat about earthships (I'd say that 95 percent of people are very curious about our project). Richard let me crank the handle on both speeds and I asked questions about the metal parts and he answered quite knowledgeably.

How wrong could I go? So I bought it. All $130 of it (with taxes).

And here it is.

Making nut butter was a bit of a challenge. Without the power of an electric motor, the nuts (everything but peanuts) got caught in the blades and I had to rock back and forth in low gear. Adding grapeseed oil (which I usually do) helped it a bit but and I did eventually succeed. I think chopping the nuts up quickly before processing them would help a lot.

Here's the nut butter.

My next test was churning butter. I'd been doing it quart by quart in a canning jar and that was taking about 45 minutes. Mind you I'm not sure I've really got the temperature nailed yet, which apparently makes a difference to how long it takes.

I was able to whip my cream at high speed and at about 15 minutes the crank seized. This was a good sign; the butter had separated from the buttermilk. The kids and I worked up a little sweat and they gave up easily but I was able to process more than a quart of cream at a time.

Here's the butter.

And Katie's 20 seconds on the crank.

GSI Outdoors is a Spokane company ( but nowhere on the product or the packaging does it say where the product is made. I have a sneaking suspicion that the marketing lingo points to it as being made somewhere....not in North America.

The company lists this product under destination camping and the subcategory "party", along with 5 or 6 hip flasks and stainless steel martini glasses. I'm left wondering if they really think people buy this because (according to their pamphlet inside the box), it is a worthy addition to "tailgate" parties. Despite the fact the pamphlet comes with Daiquiri and Margarita recipes, and I love an ice cold drink at the end of a day of kayaking, this product is definitely something you don't want to pack too far. It is hefty.

So far I'm quite pleased with it, although I do wish the container were glass. But, as I am not GSI's target market I can understand why it isn't.

I'm always looking for suggestions for other appliances. Next on my list: a real butter churn and an ice cream maker.


Anonymous said...

Really enjoy your blog. I'm stillin the "convince my family stag" of my Earthship plan but I have enjoed following your progress.

Sandra said...

Thank you! Good luck with the convincing. It took Chris a little while to win me over. I had a lot of questions. The DVD, The Garbage Warrior, helps and if you can get your family into one for a visit (only Chris and I have been in one) that helps, too. If you are in our area you are welcome to come by and see ours, either during construction, or when it is complete.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm glad I don't have to hand-crank the blender for my frozen daiquiris! Then again, they wouldn't be quite so fattening if I had to use the hand-crank. :)