Friday, March 29

Spring Container Garden 2013

Last year's garden
The biggest benefit to having a waist-high garden is how early the soil heats up for planting. Unfortunately, that still doesn't solve the problem of having super-short springs and a rapid plunge into hot, sweltering, weather. Here in North Carolina, it has taken me some time to figure out the gardening limitations and enjoying both a spring and summer garden is out. The summer garden must be started no later than April for healthy crops. Gone are the spring-summer-fall gardens of my Virginia life. Of course, the timing couldn't be better. I am, after all, in my later years and it's enough to enjoy what I can do and simply reminisce years gone by.

In its seventh year, the garden needed to be revitalized and so I did the Lasagna Garden thing and added a top layering mid-February. Look at how beautiful the soil is almost nine inches down!

These are this year's 'birthing sheets' waiting for placement. I've combined fertilizer with the flour paste to hold the sheets together. Decided to use the 'broadcast' (rather than precise) method because the thinnings will be used in salads, leaving the proper spacing for the rest to grow into vegetables.

Here they are in place, dampened down to prevent the wind from moving them around while waiting for the soil cover.

Now, you see them; now, you don't!

Seeds and plants are in place.

Think I'll just sit here in the shade, with knife and fork in hand, waiting . . .   Why don't you pull up a chair and join me?

Thursday, March 21

Mainstream EZ-3 Solar Oven

As you know, I've been cooking meals with the Global Sun Oven® for the better part of the past seven years and have been able to do anything in it that I do in my conventional oven. And, for those of you who prefer to have a larger more stationary oven that can stay outside, I feel I've done this with the SolarChief®. What's most important to me, though, is that you actually give solar cooking a try. The good news is that it's as easy as pie to have your own solar oven, today, in under an hour.

If you search online, you will find any number of solar ovens designed by solar cooking enthusiasts and, sooner or later, you'll find one you want to try for yourself. I said I would be showing a variety of solar ovens that I will be using at this year's Midtown Market on the Commons at North Hills Mall, and this is one of my favorites because it does the job.

Today's oven is one designed by Sharon Cousins and is called the EZ-3 Solar Oven. It's very easy to make and only requires a box with dimensions of at least 15"x15"x15", which is what I used for last year's exhibit. This year's larger decorated model was made from a Puppy Pad delivery box 15.5"x15.5"x19" and can hold this 2-quart teapot quite comfortably. The larger size creates higher heat. The only difference is that I clipped off the very top of the back triangle because I really haven't found that it's needed and it keeps the glazing cover from crowding the pots.

Because I'm missing a smart gene, somewhere, it took me until the last two months of market days to realize I could actually be using that oven, in addition to the GSO to, at least, keep me in hot coffee/tea/soup/? while sitting in the cold. Duh!

The EZ-3 you see on the far left was made from a smaller box and could hold a mug or quart-sized canning jar and I wanted to try the larger one so that there would be hot water available throughout the morning.

Found this wonderful GREEN teapot at the Thrift Shop for only $3 and decided to use that size for my next EZ-3. As soon as my puppy pad delivery arrived, I set to work. By placing the box on its side and cutting from corner to corner, I was able to get the height I wanted. What that meant was I would have to glue the inside flaps, which created a little bump but nothing to create a problem. Then I glued heavy-duty tinfoil across the bottom, the sides, and the extra front reflective piece. It looked like a cardboard and tinfoil oven – a perfectly serviceable oven!

But, I wanted to make it prettier. So, I found some extra cotton material and glued it to the outside. With the larger dimensions, the opening was way too big for the opened extra-large oven bag, so I decided to use some sewing plastic for the glazing. It works beautifully! The table was made for me by a very dear friend and the top rotates easily for following the sun. I adore it! By the way,  I'm not concerned about any toxic emanations because I'm using covered pots and it's pretty much gone by the third or fourth cooking session.

The temperature was 46°F and the winds at 9mph. Within 45 minutes, I had water hot enough to steep a teabag. I was hoping you could see the steam coming up from the cup but there was just too much shine all around. The handle was VERY hot and I'll remember to use a pot holder, next time! My plan is to keep water going all morning, so this was an outstanding exercise. That funny little thing you see over the spout is a 'cork' I crocheted with 100% cotton to keep steam and moisture from covering the inside of the plastic cover.

I have nothing against getting my from any of the surrounding restaurants, but that can eat into your profits faster than a teenager discovering you have an extra $20 bill! This is a powerful little portable oven and I hope you'll give it a try. If you don't have large boxes, why not make individual smaller ones and let everyone in on the fun?

Friday, March 15

Solar-Baked Cake Doughnuts

I love shopping for bargains after the Holidays. This year, I was able to pick up two (count them, T-W-O!) special baking pans for just $1.50 each. One was a big Valentine heart-shaped cookie pan and the other was a Wilton six-cavity doughnut pan. I decided to use the recipe on the back and probably won't do it, again. Buttermilk in my doughnuts is not a favorite flavor of mine and it wasn't improved by the sun. That is, in my opinion!

However, so far as the solar baking was concerned, it worked great! The original recipe suggests a conventional oven temperature of 425°F but my doughnuts cooked fine at 300°F.
I'm up to my elbows in workshops, this spring, and so – lucky you! – this post is short and to the point!.

Solar-Baked Cake Doughnuts
2 cups cake flour, sifted
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat solar over to 300°F Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray. Mix dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add liquids and beat until just combined. Fill each cavity 2/3 full.

Bake until tops of doughnuts spring back when touched, approx. 25 minutes. Let cool in pan 4-5 minutes before removing. Finish doughnuts with your favorite topping. Makes 12

Okay. Back to getting ready for next workshop – pysanki, this time!

Saturday, March 2

Solarcooking Presentation In Fancy Dress

Chicken and Chickpea Solar Soup
With my first solar presentation for 2013 coming up this week, I wanted to do something a little different to show that you don't have to wait until you can afford a commercially-built solar oven to enjoy the benefits of FREE energy and savings. I try to have several examples of items that can be used for solar cooking so folks can see just how far we've come from our Scouting days of wrapping a hamburger in a piece of tin foil. I've been using a commercially-built Global(R) Sun Oven but, today, I want to talk about a quick-and-easy one you can build yourself, that will last you quite a while with a little care.

I'm not going to show every oven that I've made in this post, but will probably show them in the next few weeks. Instead, I'm going to focus on my own 22-inch model of Sharon Clausson's Copenhagen oven design and my newest favorite way of creating an oven "chamber." I don't think everyone will go to all this trouble -- well, maybe, the home crafters who want to make theirs more personalized will give it a whirl -- but, it solved my problem.

I needed a way to duplicate Sharon's dual-glass bowl oven chamber -- one that would take a lot of hard use and not break. Voila! Here are two stainless steel 2-quart mixing bowls that I was able to buy for just under $8.00 each at Wal-Mart. They caught my eye because of the quarter-inch lip that is perfect for binder clips. And, it turned out that the height of the inside chamber was within an eighth of an inch of the half-gallon sized canning jar, meaning that I could cook in larger portions.

The shape of the bowls made it almost impossible to get a grip and keep them vertical when placing them down into the deep solar oven, so I decided to do something about it. Using a size K crochet hook and some black Peaches & Cream 100% crochet cotton, I made a carrier specifically designed for the bowls, extending the upper edge portion two inches to allow room for a drawcord to tighten it around the top's inverted smaller dimension. The end result, as you see, holds the top in position and makes it almost immovable. This way, based on contents, binder clips are not always necessary. (For the Chicken and Chickpea Soup cooked directly in the bowl, I used the clips.)

I still hadn't solved the problem of raising and lowering the bowls into the oven. Crocheting two cords to crisscross over the top was the solution to keeping the bowls balanced and lifting easier. I made sure that there was enough give to raise the handles about two inches to prevent the hot metal from touching my skin at the end of the cooking time.

Stainless steel is a very reflective surface and, since we don't want those solar rays reflected away from the cooking chamber, this large draping crocheted square was the answer.

As you can see, it's still pretty far down into this large-sized Copenhagen.

You can take the time to fit the draping cover beneath the crossed cords, but I found it was just more work than I was willing to do and just as easy to lift it off at the end of cooking and use the handles. The cover makes a nice "potholder" during removal.

 Soup went into the solar oven at 10:45am and removed at 2:00pm, hot and delicious. All in all, I think I've created a very portable unbreakable accessory; don't you?

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