Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Solar Oven Love

So this morning Gibbie helped me cook dinner.
We lugged a bag of carrots and a lil sack of potatoes out the back door.I peeled carrots while the kids played in the grass. We washed the potatoes together. (Gibbie also helped by fetching rags to scrub with, putting the lids on, and he and Ezra gnawed on carrots. They love helping with real work) We put everything in our black enamel pots along with half a dozen whole raw eggs. The pots went in this black box, then a big clear lid and a collapsible reflector. We turned it to face the sun and played all day in the yard. Twice in the afternoon I turned the oven a bit more as our northern sun arced across the sky.
By our 5:00 dinnertime we brought out bowls and drinks, served up piping hot food and had a dandy little picnic. A simple meal, quite good. We are looking forward to using this new oven lots and lots. The next day we got a little more adventurous. I adapted this recipe from The Sephardic Table,
a lovely Middle Eastern cookbook.
Solar Oven Lamb Stew
This is one for the recipe box. It was easy and delicious. It makes its own gravy.
1/2 onion, chopped
6 md. yellow potatoes
12 carrots, peeled and broken into finger lengths
1 lb. pieces of lamb stew meat (so worth it to get organic, pastured meats!)
1 tsp. fresh ground coriander (let me rave about my mortar and pestle sometime!)
2-3 bay leaves
1-2 tsp. tumeric
1/2 tsp. salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
handful of raisins
a glug or two of apple cider vinegar
I've given measured amounts here for the spices, but I honestly just do dashes and handfuls and pinches myself. These things are flexible.
Put all ingredients, in a black covered pot, into the solar oven. We cooked them 5-6 hours. The oven temp never exceeded 250F; these low temps make for tender, juicy meals and apparently more of the vitamins stay intact than when cooking conventionally.

We toured the Solar Oven Society where the oven was made. (it's in Mpls on Hennepin!) All of its simple, carefully engineered parts can be cut, folded, and assembled using hand-operated jigs. No electricity is used. They are a pretty great organization. Half the price of our oven goes towards making these affordably available in third world countries where this kind of technology makes so much sense, for the same reasons I want to cook solar here in Minnesota though the needs in other communities may be more accutely felt.

Solar cooking doesn't:
-consume natural resources
-cost anything
-degrade our air or water
Our friend Willington, a Ugandan priest who attends our church while working towards a PhD, said of solar cooking, "The one thing we have so much of in our country is sunshine! And all it does it seems is to make it too hot, to make the groung too dry. But this-- this is a way to catch it-- and use it, for something good!" You really have to see his face and hands while he talks-- he was quite excited. He wants one for his mother.
Many people in Uganda (and countless other countries) cook daily over open wood fires. Now, I love a good campfire, but a little reading has opened my eyes about the implications of cooking with fire everyday. The byproducts of cooking with wood are deforestation; (fully on half of the wood consumed today is used for fires--more than that for paper or lumber!) lung problems, especially for women and children; and lots of time spent gathering wood as local supplies diminish.
Now, while we don't typically cook with wood,

for us, solar cooking means:
-Gibbie's increased participation in cooking (safer for him to be near than the stove)
-decreased use of non-renewable resources
-not heating up the house in summer! We try not to use A/C and I missed cooking so much last summer. Bread, vegetables, meats, eggs, cake, cookies can all be made in the oven.
-the simplicity of consuming less
-the pleasure of being outside more
-a lower energy bill (I said above we don't cook with wood, but we use it indirectly; our power comes from a grid of nuclear, wood, and coal power plants, each of which create their own types of disastrous waste. We try to use as little as we can.)

I think this oven is a do-able choice for anyone with access to sunlight. This is Minnesota in April! It doesn't need to be hot to cook; just sunny. It was also less expensive than I thought it would be, and very easy to use.

Thanks to our neighbor and friend T.J., who swang, slid, and rolled on the ground entertaining Gibbie and Ezra while I wrote this post!

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