Wednesday, August 23, 2006

When you need it fast

Can solar cooking integrate with the lives of busy "on the go" people?

Yes. I'm busy and "on the go" all the time, and I find it easy to cook much of my food with solar energy. I've just developed different habits, and now I don't notice them. They are now second nature to me.

Solar cooking doesn't have to be a big deal all the time. Though I consider myself a "foodie" and I love cooking and trying new dishes, sometimes I've just got to have lunch fast and get back to work or run out the door. At times like these, making salad from the organic tomatoes and arugula in my garden will take much more effort and time than putting a solar cooker outside and heating up a frozen Jamaican Beef Patty or a slice of yesterday's pizza. The solar cooker works while I work, mostly without my intervention. Here's some left-over solar pizza that I made (see photo above) and re-heated in the Global Sun Oven. Note the crispy bacon!

That's exactly what I did today. I only pre-heated the oven to about 275 degrees F, and put the patties inside. In about 1/2 hour the patties were too hot to handle with my bare hands, and they hit the spot. I spent less time heating up lunch with my solar oven today than I would have spent walking to the Chinese take away down the street, and I spent less money and of course I released no GHGs.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Solar Breakfast Part 2: Using the Global Sun Oven and El Solito Together

My sister's family is in Canada from Ireland for more than a month, so I am going up to Uxbridge Ontario each weekend to visit with them.

This past weekend I finally got to make that solar breakfast of bacon and eggs for the whole family that I've been wanting to do. The weather was perfect for it, and I came prepared.

I used my parabolic "El Solito" solar barbeque to fry up the bacon and sausage first. You have to pour out the excess grease and water from the pan to allow the meat to crisp up. This also helps prevent heart attacks and excessive weight gain. My brother in law Desmond just could not believe that solar energy was capable of crisping his bacon and sausage. He's a believer now.

Because the focal point of a single parabolic cooker acts like a single stove top burner in full sun, producing "sun flames" we had to prepare breakfast in stages. First bacon and sausage. Next the eggs.

In order to prevent the meat from cooling off, as the laws of thermodynamics say that hot things like to do, I pre-heated my Global Sun Oven, and placed the bacon and sausage in the hot Sun Oven as they were cooked to keep them warm for the table.

If you kept bacon in a hot convection oven for a half hour, it would dry out and overcook. Basically there's far too much energy being directed at the food in a convection oven, so timing the food's stay inside the oven chamber is one very important key to successful cooking. Extending the food's duration inside the Global Sun Oven is much less critical. Inside the Sun Oven, just enough energy is going into the food to keep it hot, but not overcook it or evaporate all the moisture out of it, as would be the case in a large convection oven being used to heat up a small dish like bacon. With a convection oven you're wasting most of the energy you're paying for by heating up the mostly empty space inside the oven, and often your kitchen too. With a solar oven, you're capturing the right amount of free energy to do the job, and no more.

The Sun Oven kept the bacon hot, moist and juicy - with all of the nice crispy bits intact - for between 10 minutes and a half hour, depending on the batch.

Let's put it this way: if solar fried bacon can satisfy my Irish brother in law, who puts butter on roast beef and likes his bacon done just-so, it can satisfy anyone.

Breakfast was served, and there was much rejoicing.

Tiverton Trade Show

Sun Baked recently made its debut at the Energy Solutions Expo in Tiverton Ontario. Tiverton Ontario is in a lovely part of south western Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron just north of Kincardine on Hwy 21. The weather was absolutely perfect for demonstrating solar cooking: not a cloud in the sky. I got "Sun Baked" quite literally with a very red sun tan. Thank you Tiverton for a fantastic two days.

We had a great time serving up food prepared with 100% solar energy using our Global Sun Oven, and the El Solito parabolic solar barbeque.

My best friend Tim served hot dogs grilled on the El Solito, as well as fresh roasted coffee from the Merchants of Green Coffee, brewed at the focal point of the parabolic dish, while I presented our solar cookers to local Bruce County residents. We also served small snacks which were heated up in the Global Sun Oven.

Everyone was amazed at the way the Sun Oven worked to cook delicious food. Everyone was supportive, and we made some great sales and contacts.

Sun Baked's products can now be found in the following locations, thanks to our presence at the Renewable Energy Expo:

If you live in the Kitchener Waterloo area, see Mike and Trish Robinson, who carry both the Global Sun Oven and the El Solito parabolic solar barbeque at their store, Natural Power Products.

If you live in the Ottawa area, stop in to see Sean Twomey, who carries the Global Sun Oven at the Arbourshop, which has provided ecological products since 1990.

Sun Baked owes Tim Lam a big thank you for his help throughout the weekend. Here's the big El Sol parabolic solar cooker that Tim put together over the weekend. The El Sol features as 1.4m parabolic reflector, and can achieve temperatures of 450-500F at the focal point. It can prepare food for 12 people. We sold one at the show to a customer who wants to cook his family's food off the grid.

Without Tim's dedication and hard work, Sun Baked could never have done this show. Thanks Tim!

Thanks also go out to Cam Mather from Aztext Press for his generosity and support for our new business. Cam is a dedicated promoter of all things solar, including off-grid living. His articles and books are must reads for anybody who wants to live a more sustainable life. Bill Kemp's Renewable Energy Handbook, published by Aztext, gives the Global Sun Oven a good write up. Buy the book and start living as many aspects of your life as possible off the grid!

Things to do in Kincardine when you're Sun Baked

After Day 1 of the show on Saturday August 12, we trucked back into Kincardine for dinner at the end of a long day. At about 7 PM we were driving down the main street of town, Queen St, which runs parallel to the beautiful shore of Lake Huron. There was no other traffic, and ours was the only vehicle on the street. Quickly we noticed that people were gathered by the side of the road, sitting on lawn chairs, as if in expectation of a parade or something. We had no idea what was about to happen.

As we got to the end of Queen St, a police car with a flashing light pulled round the corner, and right behind them - a marching Scottish Pipe Band! As a Scots Canadian myself, I was quite surprised and proud to see and hear the band, and see that townspeople march behind it. Apparently the band marches through town every Saturday night during the summertime, according to the young lady at Shipwrecked Lee's Bistro who served us a really tasty fish dinner. She felt the march was boring, as it happens every week. I thought it was rather fun!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Solar "Stir" Fry and Rice

For years I've loved to eat fresh vegetables cooked in the Asian way, with the rich flavours of soy, garlic and sesame, and the rich flavours of the vegetables themselves. It was only around the age of 20 that I learned that the veggies I was raised on were overcooked, with much of the colour, flavour and nutrition literally boiled out of them!

Asian cooks keep their vegetables fresh and crunchy when cooked by applying high heat to them for a short time, most often in a wok.

Solar cooking keeps vegetables fresh and flavourful after cooking by using the opposite technique - longer cook times at a lower temperature. You will be amazed at how similar the results are.

For this "Stir" Fry, there will be no stirring.

Place the Sun Cook in your backyard and orient towards the sun to pre-heat. 275+F will do the trick. (Tip: the lower the temperature, the longer the cook time. If the oven's not at 350F, it's no big deal. Plan for a slightly longer cook time than if you used the gas stove.)

Take the following ingredients and mix them in your solar cook pot. Slice the pepper and eggplant relatively thinly, separate the bok choy leaves.

Bok Choy (can be baby, Shanghai, or other Asian green like Gai Lan, which is also yummy)
Yellow pepper
Chinese Eggplant
Sesame oil
Sesame seeds (white or black)
Soy sauce

Mix these ingredients in the cook pot, and place in the Sun Cook.

Now go about your business. Read. Catch up on some neglected correspondence. Rest. Be at peace for between 1 and 2 hours, depending upon oven temperature.

When the time is right remove food from the Sun Cook.

Here's what my dish looked like once I plated it up, and served it with some rice I had made the day previous, also with the Sun Cook.

For more about solar cooking and to purchase the Sun Cook, go to Sun Baked's website

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Solar cooked rice and Peak Grain

Making rice in a solar cooker is a bit different than making it on the stovetop. Because of the intense energy applied to food (and wasted heating up your kitchen) in stovetop cooking, pots boil over and water evaporates into the air. Not so with a solar cooker. Therefore you should use about half the water you would normally use for making rice. The proportion should be 1 cup rice for 1 cup water.

I crushed some fresh garlic that my father grows in his garden into this pilaf. There will be no stirring, so all the ingredients are going in together raw. Add some chopped onions, and fresh peas. I also added saffron, salt and pepper. You can add whatever strikes your fancy.

Here's what my pilaf looked like before I put it into the pre-heated Sun Cook, which reached a temperature of 300 F in about 40 minutes with some intermittent clouds.

Cooking took only an hour, after which I had a pot of rather delicious rice pilaf. No greenhouse gases were emitted while cooking this meal. Of the ingredients I used, only the garlic was grown by my family. Peas and onions were locally produced organic. The rice came from Vietnam, and the saffron from Spain.

Here's what my rice looked like immediately after cooking was complete.

I'm going to start looking for more locally produced cereal grains to eat, inching ever closer to that "hundred mile diet" goal. Finding locally produced grain products is nearly impossible, given the total dominance of global grain and agriculture by conglomerates such as Cargill, Monsanto, DuPont and Archer Daniels Midland. These companies turn oil and gas into corn, wheat, soy and canola to be consumed and wasted in a thousand processed products we don't really need, and which only offer a false promise of a future free from the limits imposed by the earth.

Peak Grain

Recently it's come to my attention that global stockpiles of cereal grains are at historic lows not seen since the early 1970's.

NOW Magazine has an excellent summary.

Harvests of grain all around the world are being damaged by the great global drought of 2006. Today in Toronto where I live it's 36 degrees C, and it feels like 45C. Some of the areas affected by the drought on the USA and Africa can be seen graphically here.

This global drought is pushing up prices for cereal grains, and some experts fear shortages as predicted crop yields are going to be down in the USA by as much as 23%, in Spain as much as 50%.

This drought is being caused by man's introduction of billions of tons of pollution and greenhouse gasses into the environment through our oil, coal and gas driven economy.

What will we eat when the inputs which are necessary for mechanized agriculture are no longer available, or too expensive for some? The false promise of "techno utopia" will be exposed as fossil fuels decline, and our dependence upon them for our food is revealed. The way into man's heart is through his stomach, someone once said.

I am attempting to gain a small measure of food independence by growing organic heirloom vegetables in my tiny backyard. However not even in my wildest dreams could I feed myself full time on what I can grow. Right now my diet is supplemented by a tasty crop of chicory, various herbs including basil, oregano, thyme, sage and mint, a number of organic tomatoes including Black Plum (so tasty) Purple Cherokee, Green Zeebra, Kosmonaut Volkov, Blondkopfchen, Matt's Wild Cherry, (a 10 foot tall vine laden with tiny sweet fruit) as well as kale and some small beets. No, I don't like tomatoes at all!

Though I started this blog to document how to cook your food in a "first world" country using as much solar energy as possible, I don't think I can separate the cooking of my food from the food itself, where it comes from and how it gets to me. In order to really cook without carbon I need to take a holistic approach to explore all areas of my relationship with food, cooking, the natural energy flows of mother earth, and the temporary high our civilization obtained from cheap fossil energy. This blog is about coming down off that high.

In the near future, Canadians are going to have to confront a world that is fundamentally different from the one we're used to dealing with. Our relationships with each other will be tested, and one of the biggest ones is going to be the relationship between food producers and food consumers.

If you look at the history of the last 150 years in Canada, or the history of any developing nation today, one of the bigger observable demographic trends has been the decline of the use of manual labour on the farm, and the substitution of mechanized labour, powered by oil. Of course this has led to increased yields of some crops that were suited to monoculture and industrial transport. But it has also resulted in soil erosion, decreased soil fertility, the loss of species diversity, the death of ocean life from toxic fertilizer runoff, not to mention our total dependence on declining supplies of oil and gas for feeding the world.

As industrial agriculture grew, labour moved from country to city factory in search of industrial work. From being a servant of the fields, we became the slaves of, and also dependent on an industrial machine.

That industrial machine is beginning to break down now, and we're going to have to re-connect with each other and with the natural rhythms of the earth if we want to maintain our life on this planet.

My mother's family were settlers and farmers in Canada for four generations until my mother's family finally moved off their Saskatchewan farm in the early 50's. Her son will return to the land for sure, just like other members of my generation, who are not used to producing the food they consume, or producing the energy they use to cook it. Here's to our forthcoming lesson in adaptation. Bon appetite.