Sunday, 30 August 2009

Solar Oven to the Rescue!?

This morning, for the second time in about a week, the power went off. The last time it happened it was off for about 90 minutes. That day, I had been up already and had had my morning cup of tea, but Gord hadn't: he wanted tea and couldn't have it. So this morning when the power went off again, it was one of the first things he said: "We could boil water for tea in your Sun Oven." I agreed this was a great idea, and so I went downstairs to put water in the black enamel pot and set up the solar oven outside.

It was a clear and sunny day, so everything was looking good. The oven was already up to 150F before I had even put the pot inside of it. Once I had the reflectors up and the glass door latched shut, I puttered around for a bit in the yard, picking and eating the odd saskatoon berry while gathering some greens from the garden for the guinea pigs. When I went back inside the house, the power was already back on! Considering the power company had told me that a substation had gone down, this was a bit surprising, and almost disappointing! I left the water in the solar oven anyway, just in case the power went off again. And because I wanted to see if it would really boil water.

It ended up taking quite a while (i.e., 60+ minutes) for the water to boil, probably because I put way more water in the pot than I needed for two cups of tea, and because the early morning sun is not very intense, particularly this time of year. The water wasn't boiling anymore by the time I got it in the house, but I made some red raspberry leaf tea with the still-very-hot water, and it was just fine. (Gord made his with the electric kettle while I was still outside - cheater!)

A few hours later, it dawned on me that today would be a good day to make a pot of potato-leek soup in the Sun Oven, and if I hurried I could still get take advantage of some of the good solar cooking hours (10 am - 2 pm). I used the rest of the still-warm tea water to make (instant) soup stock, and within a half hour had a pot of soup ingredients ready to simmer in the solar oven. The oven got up to 300F this time (I have only used it once before, since it arrived in the mail about two weeks ago), which seemed like perfect soup-simmering temperature. Unfortunately I had missed most of the good cooking hours, but even so, by 6 pm we were eating some darn good soup!

Some things about the solar oven I really like are: that I don't have to stir the soup, and I don't have to worry about it burning. Later, washing up was really easy, because nothing was stuck to the sides or bottom of the pan. And the flavors of the soup seemed a lot richer, having been slow cooked - more like home made soup usually tastes the next day.

I do hope the oven reaches some hotter temperatures at some point - I will have to make sure I'm ready by 10 am next time, so I can give it a fair test. Even if it doesn't reach the 400F that the info on the box claims it will, I do think the Sun Oven will be a useful cooking option, regardless of whether there is a power outage or not. So far I have roasted veggies in it, boiled water and made soup: my next goal is to find a biscuit or cookie recipe that is suitable for moderate baking temperatures.

There's nothing like cooking with free energy! Thank you sun!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Thanks to The New Resilient

Thanks to Ryan and the folks over at The New Resilient, who have kindly published a couple of my gardening-related articles this Summer. It is an honor to have some of my ponderings included with the very informative and practical (not to mention tasty!) materials there. If you haven't already checked out The New Resilient blog, please do! It is chock full of good information on what people can do and are doing to work towards "post-collapse prosperity." And it's from a Western Canadian perspective, which is pretty cool too!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

What's For Dinner? Edible Weeds

Recently while doing a little investigating into the types of weeds I was pulling from my veggie garden, I found that at least one of them was edible. Lambsquarters, pictured to the right, are apparently very much like mild chard or spinach in flavor, and can be cooked much as one would cook those greens. I plucked off a leaf or two and popped them in my mouth, and lo and behold, it did taste very much like spinach. The next step was to pick a whole bunch of these leaves and cook them up in my favorite way: sauteed with nutmeg.

I ended up picking a relatively small amount of the leaves, because I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out. It didn't take long, since I have an abundance of these weeds in and around my garden.

After washing the leaves I put them in my cast iron skillet
on lowish heat, along with some margarine and nutmeg. I covered the pan with a lid, the way I normally do when I cook
chard, kale or spinach this way. After just a few minutes, the
leaves were tender and looked ready to eat. They cooked much
more quickly than kale, chard or spinach, maybe because the leaves do not have a very thick stem.

And then, time for the taste test. It was extremely good! Milder than kale, but with more flavor than spinach. Probably closest to chard or collard greens, or even beet tops. Once they were cooked up it was easy to forget that they were weeds in my garden just a few minutes ago. What a difference it makes when I look at these plants now and see a food source, rather than a pesky weed!

It turns out I have more than one edible weed in my yard. Fireweed leaves can be eaten raw when they are small and tender, and the buds can be used in stir fries. You can make jelly out of the flower petals, much like rose petal jelly I expect. Even the roots are edible. It seems like almost every part of this flowering weed can be consumed at some point in its growing cycle. Once the plants get big and the stem covering has toughened up, it's no longer edible but can be used instead to make twine. I always loved the look of the purple fireweed plants as Summer turns to Fall, but I never knew they were so useful! It's too late in the season for me to try eating the leaves and stems, but I might just try stripping off the fibrous part when Fall arrives, and see what I can fashion out of that....

Of course we have plenty of dandelion leaves in our yard, and those are edible too. I have tossed a few dandelion leaves into my salads on occasion, but mostly I pick dandelion greens for our two guinea pigs, Scooter and Sophie, who really love the more bitter taste.

Even more exciting was the discovery this Spring that plantain leaves are edible, and that they purportedly have some anti-cancer properties. I have nibbled on this leaf as well, but so far have been feeding it to Scooter for the most part, because he has a cancerous lump on his front leg. I am not sure if it is helping, but he loves to eat the plantain leaves, in any event. And it can't hurt. Chewing the leaf into a pulp makes a good plaster to apply to mosquito or bee/wasp stings too. In addition, the long seed stalks can be used like millet, to feed the birds.

Very tasty is the tiny chickweed plant. It is particularly good in salad, and has fresh and crunchy taste and texture. The small white flowers make it very pretty too, and this year I haven't even bothered separating it out from the lettuce I'm growing -- I just pick it all together and make salad. Of course the guinea pigs love the chickweed too, even though its taste is more mild than either the dandelion or the plantain.

Last year I discovered yarrow and bergemot growing in our yard. While I haven't eaten these plants outright, I have made delicious tea from them. A few leaves of each, along with some honey, and I have a wonderful, free, herbal tea! I didn't pick enough to last me over the Winter last year, but I plan to remedy that this year, for sure.

Once I started looking, it was quite astounding to see what there was to eat in my yard! What useful weeds do you have growing where you live?