Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Solar Picnic

As the sun was rising to its zenith on June 21st of this year, I was busy speiling about solar cookers, and soaking up the diluted solar energy which in concentrated form can fry crepes and bake pies. On June 21st I got a sunburn while cooking local organic food with solar energy at Kensington Car Free Day, together with Brook Kavanaugh, chef at La Palette.

Both Brook and I were profiled in an August 22nd Globe and Mail article on solar cooking in Canada. The article is behind a paywall, but you can read it here.

Ironic - I am writing about the Solstice as the Autumnal Equinox approaches, and the season changes once more. If we know one thing about the sun, it always comes back. And I get to my blog eventually....summer is my busiest time, as I work in the solar energy biz....

On June 21st Brook Kavanaugh and the Guerilla Gourmet whipped their sun drenched cadres into shape with a selection of locally sourced vegan crepes with Asparagus and goat cheese, and a strawberry tart that was perfection - all cooked with 100% local solar energy. This was the lowest carbon impact gourmet meal any of the diners had ever eaten.

Asparagus was gently cooked until tender in the Sun Cook solar oven.

Our two chefs and their helpers worked all afternnon, shaded by an awning in front of an emtpy shop on Augusta Ave.

Over the course of a couple hours, chef Brook cooked his tasty crepes on the El Sol parabolic solar grill, available from Sun Baked at www.solarcooking.ca . The Sun Cook solar oven is also visible.

Here you can see the crepe cooking with sunlight focused by the parabolic mirrors onto the bottom of the pan. It acts like a stovetop burner.

Brook's crepes were a "build it yourself" kind of project. Below are the raw ingredients, solar cooked asparagus and rhubarb, solar fried mushrooms, goat cheese and the locallest pesto - with basil grown in in Kensington.

Crepes were constructed by all....

The guerilla gourmet and Brook also made some strawberry solar tarts. Both berry and pastry were baked in the sun using the Sun Cook solar oven from Sun Baked at www.solarcooking.ca .

Imagine dining al fresco in the middle of the street on the summer solstice, on a bed of rose petals.....

The table was set so beautifully...a magic carpet of flowers, food and good feelings....

We aslo feasted on a tasty tomato salad.

The diners were slowly enjoying the solar feast, when along came the Toronto Samba Squad, marching to the beat of a different drummer....

...and they marched around our merry picnic....

...and the beat went on....

Solar cooked local food and tango dancing in the street....am I in heaven? Why can't life always be this slow, happy and enjoyable?

A fleeting moment of perfect satisfaction - captured on film!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Garden 101

My Riverdale property boasts a large variety of perennial flowers and decorative plants such as ferns, violets and lilies. It's a great place to be.

This year I decided to turn every available square foot over to the production of heirloom food crop varieties. The goal was to see how much food I could grow on my own property in the city. This represents year two of an ongoing experiment I've been carrying out, to test - on myself - to see how self reliant it's possible to be with limited resources of land and solar energy.

Below you can see the garden as it looked in April. This was my first real gardening day, when I organized the plots. I also celebrated with a solar cooked feast of polenta and grilled veggies. Here they are, cooking away on my parabolic solar bbq...they were tasty!

Alas - the veggies were not local at this time of year. In our temperate climate before the advent of fossil fueled agriculture, the early spring was often a time of meagre rations or near famine, as the food preserved from the previous season would be running short, stale or even rotten. The expansion of fossil fuelled agriculture - where we literally consume the energy from oil and gas in the form of fertilizer and mechanized power - ended famine for a couple hundred years, and enabled us to enjoy peppers and eggplants in April. Despite the fact that it's second nature to eat this way today, eating out of season veggies is a luxury born of a temporary fossil fuel feast.

As frequent readers and friends of mine know, we're on the edge of two earth shaking developments, both growing out of the interactions of human beings with the earth. The first is peak oil and gas, which arises out of the depletion of finite stocks of fossil fuels limited by geology. The second is climate change, which arises out of the limited ability of the atmosphere and oceans to act as a "sink" to absorb the additional carbon released by the burning of the fossil fuel resources.

We're about to go back to a way of living that is governed by limits: limited energy from renewables, limited food, limited ability to pollute our environment with wasteful emissions. Used to living in a world where natural limits have been suspended by a feast of seemingly limitless energy, I've found that most people are allergic to the true implications of scarcity. Dealing with it, other than as an abstract, unreal idea, is difficult, because it confronts some of our most cherished ideas about progress, and our imagined place at the centre of the universe.

Eating local, in season food, and better yet - growing it yourself and learning to enjoy it, is an empowering way of dealing with the unpleasant realities of scarcity.

My project is to get ready for a future of scarcity by living the change I want to see. I'm growing my own food, and cooking it with renewable energy. The goal isn't 100% off the grid independence - at least not yet. The goal is to define the limits of my dependence on larger systems for the energy I need to live. I'm defining those limits by testing them in life.

I divided my garden into six plots: a small plot at the front (barely 2 square feet) was devoted to herbs and some Chinese long beans.

Against the south side of the house Matt's Cherry Tomatoes self seeded from last year. This year I added Market More and Lemon Cucumbers. Last year the Matt's Cherry Tomato literally took over a 12' X 12 ' area, and passively cooled the house as it absorbed incoming solar energy before it could heat up my pad. Cool!

Here are the self seeded Matt's Cherry tomatoes in May. Right now they've taken over the house, and I can't eat them all. More photos soon....

Here's one of the delicious lemmon cucumbers I grew. I'll be posting more photos of these soon too.

In the third plot, also against the south side of the house on the east side, I planted various heirloom tomatoes, including White Queen, Green Zebra, (my fave!) Caspian Pink, June Flame, and Blondkopfchen - also self seeded from last year.

Plot # four features Bok Choi, Peppers, Romanesco Broccoli and Purple Carrots. Here you can see the carrots being germinated under a board. Bok Choi is in the foreground. Those ended up getting stir fried on the parabolic grill.

Plot # five is my salad bed, devoted to arugula, dandelion, Oak Leaf lettuce, spearmint, lemon mint and chocolate mint, radicchio, tarragon, perennial sage, thyme and sweet peas. Here's the bed in early may, when I'd just planted radicchio and Boston lettuce seedlings. Interestingly enough, the seedlings all got attacked by slugs, while the heirloom varieties I planted from seed seemed totally slug proof. More on that later.

In the final plot I attempted to grow the three "Sisters of Life" corn, squash and beans. The corn failed alas, as there was not enough sun on this plot. However the New England Pie Pumpkin worked out just fine, producing both fruit and edible flowers, while the Aztec runner beans are only now beginning to fruit in August / September.

Above you can see the gorgeous five fold symmetry of the pumpkin flower. Like many other flowers (Hollyhock, many tomato flowers) the pumpkin flower is shaped like a pentacle. This shape embodies the golden ratio (1.618033....to infinity) because the ratio of the length of the petal to the width of the whole flower is exactly this ratio. I'm a golden ratio geek, it's true.

Above, pumpkin flowers battered and deep fried - using only energy from the sun! I used a Bengali recipe for the batter, just some organic cornmeal (substituted for chickpea flour) egg and some hot chilies....it was so tasty.

I'll be detailing my project in subsequent posts. There has been little time to keep this blog updated over the summer due to visiting relatives, lots of solar energy projects and gardening.

More updates soon now that I've got more time.....