No Water

Tonight, our water has been turned off.  Our city is doing some sort of maintenance on the system and we were notified via notes on our door yesterday that it would be off from 8:00 p.m. tonight until early tomorrow morning. 

In anticipation of not having access to water, we tried to think of all the ways that we use water each evening.  My son showered early.  We filled multiple water pitchers providing water for brushing teeth and drinking.  We also filled each tub half-way full, thinking it would give us water for washing hands and flushing toilets.  We have water stored, but I'd rather not use it for this occasion. 

What we didn't anticipate was needing water to wash the dishes and wipe the counters.  We scrambled during the last few minutes of water pressure after we realized that we still needed to wash our faces and take care of these other things.

It's amazing how much water we use!  I can't imagine being without water and all the conveniences that it provides.  It's just another good reminder to make sure you store as much water as possible.


My Solar Cooker

This is a picture of my current solar cooker.  It is a hybrid Windshield Shade Solar Cooker based on models developed by Kathy Dalh-Bredine and Sharon Cousins. 

I added the silver bowl after several failed attempts to balance the cooking rack on just the windshield shade.  I also added the black lid after my first failed roll cooking experiment.  I read through a great FAQ on solar cooking and noticed that they mentioned needing to use the black lid.

*Reflective Windshield Shade
Mine is oversized.  $5 from Amazon.
To attach the edges of the windshield shade. $3 at Walmart.
In which you place the windshield shade.  I used two flower pots stacked.  We were also successful with a five gallon buckets with rocks inside.  A square laundry basket also worked - but I needed the basket.
*Large Silver Bowl
*Square Cooling/Cookie Rack
*Black Pot with Black Lid
Mine is a 12 lb. roaster from Walmart ($11).  It is actually too big but I've been nesting a smaller second pan inside.  I still need to try cooking directly in this pan.
*Cooking Bag
I needed turkey size to accommodate the black pan.  This can be reused.

*Internal Cooking Thermometer
This was my husband's Christmas gift several years ago.  It is fantastic for making perfect steaks and tender chicken.  It has been extremely helpful in our cooking experiments because I am able to track temperature without opening the bag and pan (which usually results in a a 20 degree temperature drop).  It is wireless and I can read the temperature from within my home.

1.  Attach Velcro to the windshield shade as shown here.   I used an oversized windshield shade so it took four two-inch pieces evenly spaced.  It is easier if you make sure that the Velcro is put on the notched long side.

2.  Place the windshield shade funnel into your bucket or pot. 

3.  Place cooling rack into silver bowl.  I used scotch tape at the corners to keep it from slipping.  If your rack is larger than the bowl, you can just have it rest on the edges.

4. Place bowl and cooling rack into funnel.

5. Place food into either the black pot directly or a smaller nesting pan within the black pot. 

6. Place the black pot into the cooking bag.  Fasten tightly.  I like to tightly twist the bag opening and then insert the twist tightly into the pot handles.

7. Place pot and bag onto the cooling rack inside the silver bowl. 

8. Tilt the setup so that the funnel optimizes the sun light.  I can see the best position by looking at the shadow on the ground behind the windshield shade.  Continue to adjust every 30 minutes or so as the sun moves across the sky.

9. Cook until items reach desired temperature or until food is cooked thoroughly.

*Cooking will be most successful on a clear day.  Sun rays are most direct and consequently your cooking temperatures will be optimized between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  Smaller food pieces will cook more quickly.


My First Attempts at Solar Cooking

I tried solar cooking for the first time last Tuesday afternoon.  Let's just say things didn't go so well.  Five major lessons learned:

1) Prime solar cooking time is between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  (It's not likely going to work so well if you start cooking after 3:30 p.m.).

2) You need a clear day to be successful at solar cooking.  (In my defense, there were hardly any clouds in the sky when I started).

3) If you are going to attempt solar cooking, start with a simple, non-temperature dependent food like rice, water, or cinnamon apples.  (Rolls aren't such a good choice for the first time because they might rise and then fall when temperatures drop because of  incoming clouds.   In fact, I'd recommend waiting to try baking until you've master basic solar-cooking skills).

4) Solar cooking is like crock-pot cooking.  You should choose foods that cook well at low and slow temperatures.

5) Small food pieces cook more quickly than large ones.

My first attempt, as you might have reconstructed from my comments above, was rolls.  This was a huge mistake because I didn't know anything about solar cooking.  Yet.  I tried starting them at 3:30 p.m. with rolling clouds in the sky.  The attempt was aborted around 4:30 when those clouds blocked the sun and the internal temps starting decreasing instead of increasing and the perfectly risen rolls fell.

The next day I attempted brownies (with powdered eggs to ensure safety).  I also modified my solar cooker design (watch for more information about this modified design), started earlier in the day and made sure the sky was completely clear of clouds.  After two hours, we had yummy brownies that were almost done.  My third attempt was baked apples started right after the brownies.  At this point, I abandoned the internal temperature probe and just let them cook.  They were tender and delicious after three hours or so.  The sugar had not caramelized though - just dissolved.

My most recent attempt was potatoes.  I put them into the solar cooker around 10:30 a.m. and let them cook all day.  I pulled them out just before dinner and was rewarded with billows of steam and a wonderful rich smell of rosemary and dill.  The potatoes were definitely done.  My only complaint is that the top layer of potatoes darkened and didn't look very appetizing.  A little research reassured me that this was normal and they were completely safe to eat.



Update on Solar Cooking

Are you waiting to find out how my solar cooking experiment goes?

Well, so am I.  For living in one of the sunniest places in the United States, we sure haven't had any really sunny days for months now. 

I've got all of my supplies.  I found an oversized window shade on Amazon for about $5.  I purchased my Velcro at the local store for around $3.  I also bought a new black enamel pot for $11.  It was the smallest I could find, but still may be too big.  I already have a cookie rack, bucket and cooking bags on hand.

It looks like some sunny days are in the forecast.  Hopefully, I'll update again soon.


2011 Garden

Photo is property of author.  Please do not use without permission.

Gardening isn't something that you just do.  It's actually a skill that you develop.  That's why it's so important when it comes to self-reliance that you try to plant a garden each year, whether a large plot or a few pots on a patio.  If you wait to develop those gardening skills, you risk a failed garden when it really matters.

Every year that we've planted a garden - which is most of the past 14 years - we've had new adventures.  Last year, we dealt with the encroaching shade from a quickly growing maple over the fence.  Now I know where *not* to plant my tomatoes.  We also tried "solarizing" a section of our garden to reduce the weeds last year.  We put clear plastic (edges buried) over a section of the garden.  Unfortunately, the plastic wasn't durable enough to make it through the heat of the summer. 

Some of our ongoing successes:  We have tomato volunteers every year.  It seems like such a fragile plant, so I'm always thrilled to find those new little plants.  I also have a fantastic rosemary plant that comes back year after year.  We're expanding our raspberry row because they are so popular that our kids sneak into the garden just to eat them.

This year, we're trying square foot gardening in addition to our regular garden.  It's been pretty expensive to set up two 3.5 x 7.5 beds.  The jury is still out on whether or not it's worth the extra cost. 

It's been a very wet spring.  I missed planting my spring crop of lettuce, peas, and spinach because I kept waiting for a dry Saturday.  I finally gave up and found a Monday afternoon late in May to get my summer crop of strawberries, beans, onions, carrots, watermelons, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers planted.  Almost three weeks have passed since dropping those seeds into the ground.  I was actually expecting that I'd have to replant, but this afternoon I discovered these late, but very welcomed, bean shoots finally emerging.  I can also see carrots and barely an onion or two.  No watermelon plants yet.

I'd like to learn how to collect my own seeds.  I've tried several years in a row now, but have only harvested Marigold seeds with success.  I suspect that eventually I'll get it - but see - another reason to practice gardening now. 

How is your garden doing?  What have you learned from past gardens?  Successes?  Failures?  What do you want to do in the future?  I'd love to hear all about it!