Posts tagged: solar cooking

Gratitude Sunday * May 29, 2011

By , May 29, 2011

Sunday’s a good day to remember what we’ve been grateful for over the past week, don’t you think? I’m joining Taryn over at Wooly Moss Roots in her Gratitude Sunday tradition, and here’s my list:

– That we live close to everything we need, don’t need to own a car, and can transport ourselves by bike, foot, and occasionally bus.

– The library!!

– The good, nourishing food in our fridge.

– The sun flooding into our apartment in the evening…and our apartment in general; it’s the top floor of a 100-year-old house and has charming vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. It’s a neat space.

– Grateful to be in my garden — instead of a cubicle — on a Friday afternoon.

– Incredible garden produce we’ve been harvesting! It makes my soul sing to be able to eat straight out of the garden.

– Wasps — they’re irritating and aggressive, but they sure do take care of the aphids!

– Lushness and greenery everywhere thanks to all the rain.

– My wonderful Hubby stopping at the store on his way home this week to bring me groceries that I didn’t feel well enough to get myself.

– Not having to report to a supervisor at work…and not feeling like someone’s slave anymore.

– Quiet, still moments.

– Sitting by candlelight, not caring how late it is, Federico Aubele in my headphones, writing in my journal, rain falling outside.

– Watching my cat have a party with the catnip I picked for her!

– This time of the year.

– Bit the bullet and got a dreaded, long-overdue doctor appointment over-with. I don’t see eye-to-eye with so much of western medicine, but I feel grateful for the doctor I have. I’ve never really needed to go see him before, but he’s good. And instead of leaving the appointment feeling scrambled, drained, and off-balance as I usually do after a doctor visit, I left there feeling calm and centered…and feeling like I’m in good hands. And I appreciated that he listened intently and took all the time that was needed for me to lay everything out.

– Testing out my new ultralight solar cooker “design” (reflective windshield sunshade & a binder clip!) by cooking black beans, brown rice, and a rhubarb crisp; a total success!

Rhubarb crisp baking in the solar cooker

Solar-cooked, homegrown rhubarb crisp!

What about you? What have you been grateful for this week? Leave a comment!


How to Build a Solar Oven

By , July 15, 2010

Baking a chocolate cake in the solar oven

I finally wrote up instructions on how to build a solar oven!

It’s the most magical toy! I love cooking things off the grid, using only the power of the sun. And solar ovens are fantastic for summer cooking when you want to cook (or bake!) without heating up your kitchen.

This design produces a powerful solar cooker — 350° or more. It can be made for only a few dollars, using ordinary household materials and tools, and is also a great project for older children.

Although my solar cooker is based on Joe Radabaugh’s original “Heaven’s Flame” (a.k.a. “SunStar”) design, I’ve simplified and made some modifications, which are reflected in my instructions below.



– Small Box. This is the inner part of the oven, where you put the food. Ideally square in shape, and measuring about 9-12” wide and deep. (Square makes a more powerful oven, but rectangular would work.)

– Large Box. This is the outer box, and needs to be 2-3” larger (or more) in all directions than the Small Box.

– Insulation cardboard. Gather lots of boxes of any size, since you’ll be cutting them up to stuff in between the Small Box and Large Box. Try the liquor store or grocery store for boxes.

– Cardboard for Collectors (4 pieces). Find four large, flat pieces of regular (not double strength) cardboard. Each piece should measure about 2’ x 3’. Appliance stores or bike shops usually have big boxes you can cut up.

– White Elmer’s Glue. (1 part glue to 2 parts water so that it’s more easily spreadable)

– Aluminum Foil, one roll. Any type will work, but an extra-wide roll of heavy duty foil is ideal.

– Glass. About ½” larger than both the length & width of the Small Box. Double strength glass will insulate better than single strength. It’ll only cost a couple dollars at a hardware store, and they can cut to size. Be sure to sand down the sharp edges of the glass with sandpaper or a rock.

– Duct tape

– 5 Pipe cleaners, or some twine

Making the Oven:

1. With a mat knife, begin cutting up your insulation boxes to fit into the bottom of the Large Box. Build up the cardboard layers so that when you place the Small Box inside, its top edge rests one inch below the top edge of the Large Box.

2. If your Large Box still has its flaps attached, leave two opposite flaps sticking out, and fold in the other two so that they’re inside the box. For the Small Box, bend all 4 flaps all the way back and tuck in between the Small and Large Box, or else just cut them off altogether. If you cut them off, take care to leave a smooth edge around the top rim.

3. Cut up the rest of the insulation boxes and stuff them into the space between the side walls of the Small Box and Large Box. Try not to leave big gaps in the insulation, and use enough insulation so that the Small Box is wedged tightly inside.

Solar Oven Cross Section

4. When your solar oven is in use, it’ll be tipped toward the sun. Therefore, you’ll need to leave a piece of insulation cardboard sticking up a bit to keep the glass in position. If you have a rectangular oven, it should be tipped on its wider side for stability. Therefore, the cardboard should stick up on one of the two wider sides.

Also, when you rest the glass on top of the Small Box, be sure there are no gaps between the box rim and the glass where hot air can escape.

5. Line the inside of the Small Box with aluminum foil, shiny side out. Glue it down if you want. (10/3/2012, Edited to add: Instructions for many solar ovens will tell you to paint the inside of your oven black. In fact, underneath the foil in my own oven is black paint! I use foil because I discovered that it makes for a hotter oven — hotter by about 25° to 50°. This is actually fairly significant especially if you’re baking things in your oven. Although that’s reason enough for me, another advantage to foil is that the black paint will off-gas when it’s heated in direct sun. Even after 8 years, when I took the foil off to re-test my conclusion, I could smell the black paint. And also, foil is more likely to be found in a typical household cupboard than black paint is.)

Making the Collectors:

6. On your four flat pieces of cardboard, draw the collectors according to the pattern below. Note that if your Small Box is rectangular, your collectors will be two different sizes (based on the length & width of your glass), and if it’s square, the collectors will all be the same size. The 67 degree angle can be found by using a protractor, or by folding paper as shown in the second diagram (don’t worry about the 67.5 degrees — it’s close enough to 67 degrees, and pinpoint accuracy is not crucial here).

7. Cut out all four collectors with your mat knife. With a blunt-pointed tool, draw a crease along the dotted lines, and then fold the cardboard along the crease lines.

8. On three of the four collectors, bend the top and bottom flaps all the way over and tape them down with duct tape. On the fourth collector (which should be one of the wide collectors if your oven is rectangular), bend and tape the top flap, but don’t bend or tape the bottom flap because you’ll be attaching the Slip-In Piece to that bottom flap later.

9. Now, flip all four collectors over so that the taped flaps are underneath. You will now cover the smooth surface of your collectors with aluminum foil. With the shiny side up, roll the foil out over the collectors and cut so that it almost reaches the creased edges of the cardboard. (Don’t cover the side flaps with foil.) Thinly spread some of the Elmer’s Glue mixture onto the collectors and lay the foil in place (again, shiny side up), smoothing it outward with a clean cloth to minimize wrinkles.

Making the Slip-In Piece

10. The Slip-In Piece is a piece of cardboard that attaches to the bottom flap from Step 8 that you didn’t tape down. It slips in amongst the pieces of insulation cardboard, allowing easy attachment of the collectors to the solar oven base. To make the Slip-In Piece, cut a piece of cardboard that’s roughly equal in dimension to (or a little smaller than) the height and width of your Small Box. Punch two sets of two small holes along the narrow end of the Slip-In Piece (as in the diagram on the right), and then punch corresponding holes into the bottom flap of your collector. Attach them with one of the pipe cleaners which has been cut in half (or, use twine).

Connecting the Collectors

11. Punch three small, evenly-spaced holes into the side flaps of each collector, as in the diagram on the right. Place the holes in the exact same spot on all of the collectors’ side flaps so that they’ll line up when you’re ready to connect the collectors. And try to punch the holes as close to the crease in the cardboard as you can.

12. If you’re using pipe cleaners, cut four pipe cleaners into three pieces each. If you’re using twine, cut twelve 4-inch-length pieces. You’ll attach the collectors so that the foil-covered surfaces are facing each other, as in the diagram below. Thread the pipe cleaners or twine through the holes in the side flaps, and tie tightly.

If possible, get a cat to inspect your handiwork.

Setting Up & Cooking In Your Solar Oven

Tipped toward the sun, resting on the edge of the raised garden bed.

13. Take your solar oven to a spot in your yard that receives unobstructed sunshine. Attach the collectors to the oven by sliding the Slip-In Piece in between pieces of cardboard insulation at the top of the oven. Tilt your solar oven so that it’s pointed at the sun, and support it using bricks, rocks, overturned clay pots, or other sturdy things. Wearing sunglasses, fine-tune your oven’s position by observing the shadows inside the Small Box. Place your food inside the Small Box and set the glass into place. Again, there shouldn’t be any gaps between the glass and the top rim of the Small Box, and the glass should be supported by the piece of cardboard insulation that you left sticking up in Step 4.

– For best results, you’ll want to reposition your oven approx. every 30 minutes to keep it aligned with the sun. However, you can also cook while you’re away by pointing the oven toward where the sun will be at mid-day; you’ll then return home to hot food!

– My oven reaches a maximum of 350°. If I used double strength glass, it would probably be higher. For a lower temperature, keep the oven slightly misaligned with the sun.

– Your solar oven can be used to cook anything: rice, beans, grains, vegetables, meat, eggs, bread, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit cobbler, etc. I’ve noticed, though, that food doesn’t tend to brown in the same way that it would in a normal oven, so it may not look done when it actually is.

– I do most of my cooking in a large, wide-mouth glass jar with the lid screwed on very loosely. You can also cook (or bake!) in normal pans if you rig up a flat cooking rack.

– Don’t put anything into your solar oven that you wouldn’t put into your regular oven (plastics, etc.). Use an oven mitt or tea towel to lift off the glass — it gets very hot! Also, don’t forget to wear sunglasses when working around your solar oven (try without and you’ll see why!).

– It’s fun to keep an oven thermometer inside your solar oven to gauge the temperature.

– On a windy day, poke holes in both flaps that were left sticking out of the Large Box, and then poke some holes into the collectors. Tie the collectors to the Large Box flaps with twine.

– After using your oven a few times, the insulation cardboard might shrink a little. Add more cardboard so that it’s packed snugly.

– To keep your food warm after cooking, cover your oven with its collector panels.

Cooking brown rice

Solar Baking: Herbed Eggs & Apple-Blueberry Crisp

Early Summer Update, Solar Oven, and Baby Robins

By , June 13, 2010

How’s your summer going so far?

Mine’s nice! It’s just starting to get hot here, after an unusually cool, wet, windy spring. I usually don’t love hot weather, but the heat feels good right now, after being cold for such a long time…for the last 8 months, it seems.

I spent the last 3 weeks house/cat sitting for my parents, since they were out of town house sitting for family friends. It was great to stay in a real house with a real yard. While of course we have a nice apartment in the attic of a 100-year-old house, I do miss having a clothesline, a private yard, a front and back porch, and my gardens. I spent most of my time outside on the porch, reading and drinking tea! It was like a little retreat. And since my parents have a piano, I played a lot of piano while I was there. I love playing; it’s both a creative outlet and a stress release for me. Though I sure hated those piano lessons in my younger years! But now, I’m so glad my mom & dad forced me to stick with it. (Side note: If you’re considering the Suzuki method of piano instruction for your children, beware! I’ve been playing since I was seven… I took Suzuki lessons for nine years… and I still cannot read sheet music proficiently and I really regret that! It takes me hours upon weeks to learn a complicated piece, and although I then have it memorized, I would give anything to be able to sit down in front of an unfamiliar piece of music and just play it. If I were going to invest in piano lessons for my children, I would make sure they learned how to read music!) Anyway, moving right along!

In other news, my gardens are doing well; as always, some veggies are doing better than others, and it’s different year to year. This year the spinach did nothing. Which was actually fine with me, since last year it went berserk and grew waist-high (it actually did!). The kale has more than made up for that, having self seeded from last year. We have organic, homegrown Red Russian Kale everywhere! What a wonderful “problem”! I’ve been making lots of lacto-fermented kale (like sauerkraut) with good results. The recipe for that is forthcoming.

I’ve heard you can also toast kale in the oven at high heat to make kale crisps. Has anyone tried that?

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I hauled out my solar oven while I was house sitting. I built it six years ago and used it all the time that first year, but since then it’s mostly been in the shed, sadly. I dusted it off, and baked some wonderful things in it – eggs topped with garden herbs and parmesan cheese, apple-blueberry crisp, and a homemade frozen calzone. The temperature inside reached an amazing 330*F! I’m going to write up and post some instructions for you on how to build a solar oven…it’s easy, cheap (a few dollars total), and completely fun and satisfying to cook stuff using nothing more than the sun in the sky. [UPDATE: I’ve posted the instructions here.] It’s also very useful for summer cooking, since you don’t have to heat up the house with your regular oven – and of course that will also save you money on the energy bill.

Baking herbed eggs with parmesan and apple-blueberry crisp in the solar oven.

I have to show you one more thing. There’s a brand new family of robins at the house next to my parents’. The house sitting job came at the perfect time because I was able to watch each day as the robins vigilantly sat on their eggs, keeping very silent so as not to attract attention. One day the robin was gone, and instead I saw a little yellow beak — wide open — waving frailly back and forth above the edge of the nest. Now there are four little babies packed into that nest, and every day they’re bigger and stronger. It’s so incredible to watch! Take a look:

Mama's tasks: 1.) Be very quiet. 2.) Keep eggs warm.

"What do I do with it?"

...And Then There Were Three...

A fresh, plump worm for snack.

I'm still HUNGRY!

A quiet moment.

FEAR. (She had just heard crows squawking overhead.)

Serving up dinner bugs.

You'd be exasperated too.

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