Sunday, October 30

Rain, Cold, and Halloween Spooks -- Oh, My!

Was down to the Midtown Market by seven a.m., and it was very cold and rainy. Not driving rain with high winds, but non-stop straight down rain that did not portend and great solar cooking morning. But, that was okay because I had holiday crafts for the folks to see and was able to set up the Global Sun Oven(R) with all its paraphernalia on a table. And, that works just as well. Several people made a special trip to my booth to get more brochures and said they were ready to started.

This was how it looked until almost nine-thirty... lots of vendors, very few visitors. Was going to make chocolate chip cookies, but have saved that treat for another day.

There was a Halloween Costume Contest scheduled and lots of special things to do that had to be cancelled because of the rain -- but, the costume parade did. I was under my tent, freezing my little knees off, and the children were dressed in typical costumes over heavy jackets. The poor lady who did the face painting was in a Sleeping Beauty outfit and I think that was over leggings and a matching long-sleeved shirt. There were several winners in different categories and this young father, here, won a first-place trophy for making this wonderful pulled cavemobile. His daughters were definitely thrilled and never got their toes wet!

Wouldn't you love one of your own?

I know Mama was proud of her girls' Daddy. Now, if he could just make a Mercedes...

Three tasks I've set myself before next weekend:  Make a set of leg/knee warmers for my little arthritic knees, a soft cushion for my little (ahem) tush, and wear my BOOTS! Through some miracle of convoluted reasoning, the parking lot people has all the water running toward the curb at the Market, rather than toward center drains as so many others do. The ground squeegee had to be used more than once, until the rain stopped. My socks were soaked through and it all reminded me of my old sailing days in inclement weather. Truth is, there's nothing thrilling about being on a sailboat in a storm. It's just wet and cold and non-stop discomfort. But, the company was great and my discomfort was my own fault. That will be remedied.

Wednesday, October 26

Solar Baked Macaroni and Cheese Fit for a King

Stock Photo
This is a very busy season -- getting items ready for the Midtown Market and working with my elves on Christmas projects. Soooo, comfort foods and cooler weather rule the day. No?  I've used a stock photo of macaroni and cheese because the blog world likes to have visuals and I ATE my solar meal before I remembered to take pictures!!! I'm so sorry. Yes. I forgot about the camera. But, the recipe turned out fantastic and that's what counts.

This delicious repast can be either a main course or used as a side dish. Sweet red peppers from the garden gave my solar macaroni and cheese a very festive look.

Solar Macaroni and Cheese

1 med onion, chopped
1 med sweet red pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp  butter
2 med tomatoes, chopped
2-3/4 cups chicken broth
1 sm can evaporated milk
1 tsp basil
1/4 tsp mild curry
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1-1/2 cups dry macaroni
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp AP flour

Preheat solar oven to 225F. And use a  3-quart covered stock pot.

Over medium-high heat, in heavy skillet or stock pot, saute onion and sweet pepper in a blending of the olive oil and butter until softened. Add tomatoes and spices, chicken broth and evaporated milk. Bring to rolling boil; add macaroni, and return to full boil.

Mix shredded cheeses with flour. If using heavy skillet, pour boiling pasta mixture into stock pot. Add cheeses and blend in thoroughly. Cover pot and bake in solar oven for approximately 45 to 50 minutes. (Conventional oven: Prepare as directed and bake at 275F - 300F) Optional topping: 1/2 cup panko crumbs mixed with 1 Tbsp butter. Spread over baked macaroni and cheese and toast under broiler or use kitchen torch. This is just good eating, friends. Hope you'll try it.

Wednesday, October 19

Easy Vertical Stand Displays More at Midtown Market

I've discovered that I love being at the Midtown Market and introducing people to solar cooking -- and, my crafts! But, in a 10'x10' booth, space is severely limited without going vertical. Problem is, my booth is located at the end of what can only be called an air tunnel between two rows of commercial stores. Not a heavy-duty wind tunnel, but enough power to cause lots of vertical stands and items to fall over. With crafts being added, I needed something that wouldn't cause a heart attack every time Mother Nature did her thing. Look hard at the stand on the left. While not the most attractive, it more than did the job and my items barely moved while other vendors were kept busy replacing signs and product that would get caught in a blast of air.

On Friday, we enjoyed a very blustery day, giving me an opportunity to test it out. I was delighted with how steady the whole set-up remained, letting the wind go through the mesh. It's very inexpensive and done with PVC pipes, plastic hardware cloth, and 5-quart buckets. I've decided to make a few more for the other side of the booth and my Christmas ornaments etc. There's very little I'm going to change in the design (it's so easy to set up) beyond making the edges of the hardware cloth more precisely squared -- or, I may not!

Here's a terrible fast drawing of how it was done, in case you want to try it, yourself. If you are involved in selling any crafts at local fairs, etc., it's well worth doing.

3 pcs. - 1.75' PVC 1.5" (magenta)
3 pcs. - 2' PVC 2" (gray) wrapped in tinfoil or plastic
2 pcs. - 5'6" PVC 1/2" (green)
1 pc   - 5.4" PVC 1/2" (green - corner)
2 pcs. - 5' PVC 1/2" (green - crossbar)
2 - 1/2" PVC elbows (attach to top of 5'6" pipe
1 - 1/2" PVC threaded connector (attached to 5'4" pipe)
1 - 1/2" PVC 90-degree corner piece with threaded base (attach to connector on 5'4" pipe)
Dark Green Krylon Fusion paint for plastic or acrylic* paints
3 5-quart buckets with handle (for ease of carrying/moving)
Sand/concrete (or plaster of Paris)/shredded paper combo for holding*
Extra bucket/container for pre-mixing aggregate
1 Roll of Green Plastic Hardware Cloth
2 - hardwood sticks for bottom edge (optional)
Forest Green 4-ply acrylic yarn (optional)
Crochet hook Size P (optional)

1. Foil wrap the 2" pvc pipes carefully so that the hole placed against the bottom of the bucket won't let water seep in.  Prepare a mixture of equal parts of sand, concrete (or plaster of Paris), and shredded paper. Holding pipe against bottom of bucket, gently pour the setting mixture around the pipe so that it remains centered and upright. (The foil is so that you can remove the pipe for transport and easy storage.

 2. Using fifty percent water to the amount of concrete mixture in each bucket, slowly pour it around the pipe and mix carefully, keeping the pipe centered and upright. Set aside to let the mixture harden. Do not attempt to remove the pipe until mixture hardens but you can gently turn it, every now and then, to make sure it doesn't lock in place, too!

[NOTE: If using concrete, water can be added to mixture in the prep bucket before pouring around pipe. It takes longer to set so you'll be able to pour the mixture around the pipe in plenty of time. Be sure to clean the mixing bucket thoroughly before starting your next mixture. HOWEVER, if you're using plaster of Paris, pour the dry combination around the pipe, first, then add fifty percent water and gently mix it. This will set very fast so you want to plan on doing just one bucket at a time. (A few years ago, I did a similar tabletop stand and made the mixture in two steps because the bucket was so deep. That's when I found out that pouring a fresh plaster of Paris mixture over a fresh set will cause it to harden twice as fast as the first pour! Be ready for this, if you decide to do it in two steps).

3. Painting the pipes is really optional but they will look so much better, if you do. If you use acrylic paints, you will need to retouch fairly often, as it doesn't adhere to the pvc pipe, very well. Using Krylon Fusion plastic paint gives you a permanent finish that will look quite beautiful for a very long time!

4. You can use the hardware cloth in a single layer, but I chose to fold it over and make it doubly strong for all types of crafts. The roll is 36" wide and available in both black and green. You don't have to crochet around the edges but it will make it sturdier. If you can't crochet, simply slip-stitch it together. Crocheting around the edge let me make 'buttonholes' all around so that I could lace it to the side and top pipes. I inserted wooden dowels across the bottom to keep it straight. Using the yarn, I made rope lengths to use for lacing. Each 'rope' was attached at the center of each side to prevent loss and make it easier to lace during set-up. 

5. Insert the 1.5" pipes into the 2" pipe in the bucket, and then the 1/2" 5'6" pipes into each end bucket. Attach an elbow to the tops, facing toward the center. In the center bucket, attach the connector to the top of the 1/2"  5'4" pipe and then the corner piece. (If you use a straight corner piece, it will extend your stand but work more like a sail. Great for indoors; bad for outdoors. The angled corner piece gives more strength and stability, I think.

6. Slide each top pipe through the top loops of the hardware cloth and then connect to the center and side pipes. Lace together, trying to keep display portion well-centered between pipes.

Voila! A vertical display stand for all crafters that's easy to build, transport, set up and dismantle. With a gazillion holes, there's no problem attaching craft items. Hope I've helped some of you, out there. And, there are many other uses for this type stand. Why don't you make one and share your uses. We'd love to hear from you.     

I've linked up with Workin' On It Wednesday, so I hope you'll check out all the other crafters who might inspire you to make some changes around your house!

Creative Kristi Designs

Sunday, October 16

Solar-Cooked Oatmeal Fuels Cleaning Frenzy

I want you to feel sorry for me -- but, you won't. I've been trying to clean up my playroom (Craft Shop) and, well, it's outside, where the cooler weather is in charge. I like to keep the door opened to air out and spread the stuff around before bringing it back in and, while doing so, got a little chilled. Then, I had this incredibly brilliant idea -- why not make some oatmeal for lunch and have it cook whilst rearranging? (I am so going to leave my brain to science!) By setting the oven up in the front yard, right outside the craft shop door, I could keep an eye on it.

So, I shot into the house (one step at a time because of my advanced years), and put the following ingredients into a quart-sized canning jar: 1/2 cup of steel-cut oats, 1 Tablespoon each of raisins, chopped dehydrated apple, chopped pecans, 1 Tablespoon sugar with 1 teaspoon molasses, pinch of salt, and 1.5 cups water. Put it into the preheated solar oven at 9:50 a.m. and went back to work.  By lunch, 11:30 a.m., I was ready and so was this delicious oatmeal! It was really quite filling, making more than I could handle at one sitting, so I put the lid back on the jar and popped it into the refrigerator. Really looking forward to breakfast. Can't beat the process for ease and convenience.

No, the shop isn't totally the way I want it, but I'm getting there. Also very busy creating a vertical display for the Midtown Market. Will share how-to when it's done.

Friday, October 7

Best Ever Solar Chocolate Chip Cookies

Coocakes? or Cupkies?
I've entered Tina's  Moms Crazy Cooking Challenge. Once a month, cooks from all over the blogosphere will take on the challenge of finding a recipe from another blogger, prepare it, then share that recipe on their blog, simultaneously!, and have a linked up list of the other challengers and their recipe choices. Your job -- should you choose to accept it -- is to visit as many as you can to discover recipes they have found and possibly new bloggers to follow. And, then, you're supposed to VOTE for your favorite recipe. (No pressure here, but should you be so moved...)  My understanding is that you are also welcome to join the challenge, too! This month's challenge is Chocolate Chip Cookies.

That said, Debbie Koenig at Words to Eat By intrigued me with this recipe,  Unbelievably Good Chocolate Chunk Cookies. I decided to give a solar twist to it and do something I've wanted to do for a very long time. If you've been following me, then you know that there are few and far between sweets here and I happen to be one of those people who don't particularly care for chocolate. But, I didn't want a day of cookie baking, so decided to try out my mini-muffin pans in the solar oven. Tada!

At 300F, the solar oven did two batches at just under twenty-five minutes, each. Frankly, the next time, I would check them just a hair sooner (like, twenty minutes) because the surround heat of the cups helped the cooking. Keeping the dough level to just under the top edge of a small ice-cream scooper, there was approximately a tablespoon of dough per cup or what would have been a 2.5" to 3" flat cookie. These Coocakes(?) or Cupkies(?) were crunchy on the outside and nice and soft on the inside -- and, fun. And, these are unbelievably good chocolate chip cookies!  Have fun checking out the other fantastic recipes, too, and meet some new friends.


Please visit Moms Crazy Cooking Challenge and VOTE for me -- I'm Number 56 in the pictures. Just click on the "Like" beneath the picture and over the caption, "Best Ever Solar Chocolate Chip Cookies," because, well, it just happens to be true!

Tuesday, October 4

Solar Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

It's October and that means pumpkins dot our fields and fill our farmers markets. One of my favorite ways to serve a pumpkin soup is right in the pumpkin, itself. It's so festive and seems to make it taste even better. (I know it's psychological, but I enjoy the illusion.) For this year's soup, I decided to show you how much fun a solar oven can be -- not to mention, time-saving. So, two medium-sized pumpkins, one large sweet onion and two apples, as Mother Nature made them, went into the solar oven for roasting. What could be easier!

My local roadside market also had some hot boiled peanuts, so I decided to make them the filling protein in the soup. Some fresh pumpernickel bread with rich, creamery, butter (Hugh Jackman, where are you?) would make a great meal.  The solar oven got up to 300F and, within 70 minutes, the food was ready for peeling and processing. Using SolarWear(R) made it super easy.

I decided to serve samples of the soup at the Midtown Market and cooked it in quart jars. That made it interesting to my visitors but also very easy to carry about and, of course, the extras could be placed directly in the freezer when I got home.

Solar Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

2 whole small pumpkins
1 whole large sweet onion
2 whole medium granny apples
1/4 cup chopped shallots
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Teaspoon canola oil
1/4 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup boiled peanuts, shelled and chopped
1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons fresh chopped marjoram
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped thyme
1 teaspoon fresh chopped stevia
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon mace
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger (1/4 tsp.ground ginger)
2 teaspoons corn starch
6 cups vegetable broth or water
1/2 cup cream
juice of one large orange
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:  Place pumpkins, onion, and apples in solar oven to cook until soft. Other ingredients can be prepared while these are cooking.

In large heavy skillet over med-high heat, melt butter with oil. Saute shallots and garlic till softened and garlic begins to brown. Add chopped carrots, peanuts, and carrots; cook until soft.

In small bowl mix herbs and spices with corn starch until fully blended. [NOTE: Mixing dry ingredients with the corn starch makes thickening very easy and the corn starch won't lump.] Add to mixture in skillet and blend thoroughly.

Add vegetable broth, cream, orange juice, and cider vinegar, salt and pepper, to skillet. Bring to boil, cook for 2-4 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool.

Remove roasted pumpkins, apples, and onion from solar oven. Peel and chop onion; pare and chop apples; add to cooled ingredients. Cut a cap from pumpkin, remove seeds; gently scrape pumpkin flesh from inside and add to cooled ingredients. After mixing thoroughly, puree in processor, a little at a time, and pour into three quart jars. Hand-tighten cover and return to solar oven to cook until bubbles begin to rise.

Serve in soup bowls or pumpkin shells. 

This recipe is different from my earlier one and was closer to a vegetable pumpkin taste as opposed to a sweet pie taste. I hope you'll try it and let me know what you think.

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