Archive for June, 2008

Solar Cooking Roundup: Two New Recipes

As mentioned previously, I haven’t been getting out the oven as often lately, as it’s been unseasonably cool and cloudy here. But, as if magically anticipating that summer was right around the corner, a few days back the thermometer jumped about 30 degrees. Yikes, it is triple digit hot!

So, of course the first thing I did was pull out the box cooker. After a yum but “haven’t I tried this before?” few meals of roasted red sweet peppers with cheese, it was time to do a little culinary exploration. So this past weekend, I fired up the “grill” and made two new recipes.

First up:

Banana Nectarine “Pie”

3 bananas, roughly broken into slices
1 nectarine, chopped
2 T flax seeds (for nutrients and “crunch”)
1/8 cup Sunny Delight (next time I’ll skip this)
1/4 cup honey graham cereal

To make, mix all ingredients except graham cereal into pan. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, or until the bananas smell super sweet and mash easily. The flax seeds will swell to a larger size, too, so you know they will not be too hard. Bring out of the sun and mash the bananas with a fork, stirring to mix everything well. Allow to thicken for about ten minutes. During that time, crumble graham cereal into the bottom of ramekins/ cups and crumble more for the tops. Spoon mix into each cup and top with more crumbled graham cereal.

This recipe turned out well taste-wise. Next time I might skip the Sunny D (there was a lot of natural liquid in the mix after cooking) and add a little cinnamon before cooking, but it was also good as is. The only disconcerting part was that the bananas looked kind of brown in the pot, but covering the top with graham solved that aesthetic dilemma. Easily makes enough for two people.

Today, I tried a different take on my pepper lunch:

Chili and Celery with Mango

2 large green Anaheim Chili peppers
2 long stalks celery
1 sweet red pepper
Annie’s Naturals Organic Balsamic Vinaigrette Marinade
1 large mango

To make, cut and deseed the chilis and sweet pepper into pinky finger size strips, and chop the two stalks of celery. Pour a little marinade over the mixed veggies in the pan, and put in the sun for about an hour. At that point, I checked the progress, added a bit more marinade, gave everything a good shake to cover, and returned the pan to the oven for another 1/2 hour. Bring everything inside, add the mango (chopped) to the mix and stir together. Serve immediately.

Yum. Of all the dishes I’ve made so far, this was my favorite. At first, I was nervous about adding the mango to what smelled like a very hearty mix, but it worked perfectly, giving everything a cool taste even on this scorcher of a day. And it needed no seasoning either, though I’d imagine it would be good with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt sprinkled on top. This recipe will make it into the cookbook. Makes enough to feed one VERY well, or two for a light lunch or appetizer.

And here’s the finished result:


Now for a nap to work off all that gourmet eating! =)

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BOOK REVIEW: the Self Sufficiency Handbook

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living by Alan and Gill Bridgewater

the Self-Sufficiency Handbook

The title of this book is perfect. There are no crazy survival tips here, although I wouldn’t mind having this book along in a pinch. It’s a guide for getting your existing house off the grid, and also for evaluating properties in terms of their sustainability potential. The writers live in the UK, after years stateside, so the companies and tips are both oriented toward those countries. But there is a nice discussion of navigating local laws no matter where you decide to drop your hoe and start gardening.

After a nice discussion of housing, which includes talks about insulation, orientation, ambient heating/cooling, alternative energy sources, and materials, they move on to daily living practicalities. First, getting light. That done, next you need food. This is where the book really shines. There is an in-depth lesson on growing an organic garden, including successful composting and which crops should be planted where and when, what needs rotation (and a sample rotation schedule that will leave you with fresh foods year-round) and what can stay put, and the care profiles for a large variety of different garden plants. They are careful to share wisdom on how much land you need to make your off-grid dreams happen, and also on how to choose property that will lead you to success.

Animal husbandry is covered in detail species by species, along with construction considerations, possible worries and probable successes of owning each type. The sections are not overly in-depth – I thought they were perfect for the off-grid enthusiast with lots of commitment but no experience with husbandry. Of course, one can never emphasize enough the time it will take to properly care for animal on your own property. They cover it nicely, if briefly, by saying this: if you own animals, you will have to feed them EVERY DAY, holiday or not. Yes, that’s EVERY day. Having kept horses growing up, I can relate to the urgency with which they repeat this statement throughout the book. Take heart.

The last section of the book can best be described as a tutorial section of recipes for survival. Not pemmican or Gorp-style recipes, but rather old-fashioned recipes for things like candles, making soap, making chutneys and jams, and brewing beer and making wine. Their recipes are pretty short and look easy to handle. In fact, the whole book was particularly well planned to fit each concept on two facing pages, so you’re never left looking for information in a thick chapter of words. I’m sure this limits the amount of information that can be presented a little, but I didn’t notice.

If you’re even considering moving off-grid, or even just converting a section of your yard to an edible garden, you should pick up this book. It’s fairly new, but with its special emphasis on looking at your actions in terms of an overall lifestyle, I think it will one day be considered a standard text in self-sufficiency. Which, as gas rises toward the $5 mark, is something we could all afford to learn more about.

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Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Making Cheese

“Hi, my name is Solarious, and I am addicted to cheese.”

Why does cheese have to taste so good? And why is it in every processed food on the planet? Even the “healthy” foods are dusted with sharp, yummy cheeses to bring out their gourmet flavors. Of all the things I’m attempting to give up after reading that book, cheese manages to creep back in with scary regularity. Sometimes, it’s a slice here or a sprinkle there, but as often as not, I’m not even particularly aware of it until I’ve already eaten. Ever try to find an economic frozen dinner without meat? Even brands like Healthy Choices and Lean Cuisine basically only offer meat dishes. Add cheese to the list, and you’ve just blackballed yourself from the freezer section. And though I’m sure that awesome cheese alternatives exist (someone keeps telling me great things about some walnut “cheese”), I haven’t yet discovered them.

Homemade Cheese

So it’s time to rethink the paradigm. Sure, processed cheeses are bad, but like any other food, the homemade variety should be more healthy and fulfilling, right? While I attempt to figure out what yummy types of “cheeze” alternatives exist out there (please, share!), I found this great tutorial on making hard cheeses to try out. He’s got a PhD in chemistry – so I figure he’s got the cheese making thing down, too. Of course, he recommends starting with the beginning cheese making tutorial, and indeed, there’s a lot of great information and recipe/tutorials to get you started. There’s even a link to a DIY cheese press for all you super handy types.  Here’s another great site, sorted by type of cheese, with lots of recipes.

Cheese and yogurt making are great projects to try with kids, too. There are a lot of projects that can be completed in a day. It teaches them about long-term care and food making all at once, while teaching proper food handling safety. And of course, getting to eat the spoils of your devotion is always a great motivator!

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The World is My Table: Edible Flowers

Flowers are so lovely, keeping the world in near-perpetual color, and providing us in time with our fruits and vegetables. But flowers can be nutritious, too. So if you’re garnishing a plate in the near future, consider using a locally available edible garnish that looks great, encourages awareness of wild foods, and probably comes for free! Of course, be sure to wash well, and avoid picking flowers from along busy roadways.

If you’re looking for a few suggestions, check out this edible flower list from HomeCooking.com, and also this separate list of poisonous plants to avoid on your forage. Then check out this article from About.com on the tastes and uses of different common wild flowers. Well educated, you’re ready to hit the trail and spice up your evening cuisine.

Chive Blossom Borage Flower Rose Blossom

Of course, in these days of manicured lawns and ornamental gardening, you probably won’t even have to hit the trail to find what you seek. Roses, pansies, and nasturtiums are all edible, so you can plant your beds with produce that’s extra easy on the eyes. Never mind the possibilities of fruit trees, marigolds, lavender, day-lilies, hibiscus, chamomile, and chives. It’s a bloomin’ cornucopia out there, so grab a basket and head for the backyard.

Here’s an excellent list of edible flowers with pictures.

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Eating Locally: A nationwide movement

If you’re trying to cut down on the number of food items you import into your life from great distances, you’re certainly not alone. People across the globe are realizing the social and environmental costs of the “distance to plate” factor of their diets. Of course, in such an individual sport as buying food, it’s easy to think you are going it alone, or to get a little sidetracked by the seeming lack of options available to you in your particular region. But no more!

Locavore Nation

Locavore Nation is a year-long project housed at The Splendid Table (a great recipe resource), in which fifteen individuals from every region of the country attempt to live for a year on at least 80% local foodstuffs, buying organic whenever possible. Each participant keeps a blog, which can be accessed at the link above, about their particular experience. So there’s at least one blogger participating from your area for you to check in on.

What a great idea! Even if you have no interest in eating local, you should check out this innovative way in which the Splendid Table had brought together a community that serves both local and international appetites for practical information. Maybe you could organize a similar project for your topic of choice. After all, real-world reviews offer learners a chance to glean information never found in textbooks, which is the true learning revolution that spurs practical change.

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Wind Extravaganza: Another Easy DIY Turbine

DIY Turbine Plans with no laser cut parts from TheBackShed.com

theBackShed.com's DIY windmill

When I check out the stats on this blog, DIY wind plans consistently top the most-viewed posts list. Obviously, there are a lot of people out there wanting to get in on wind power without shelling out thousands for a commercial kit. It certainly fits with the “I built it in my basement” ethos so popular here in America, and, I’m sure, abroad as well.

So, for all you backyard alternative energy warriors, here’s another plan for you to tackle, designed to be easy to construct with found and easy-to-obtain parts. Of course, you’ll have to find the motor listed (or know how to mod the design for your particular supplies) and it will still take a bit of metal cutting, but at least you won’t be struggling to find a laser cutter to build your own parts. Nice pictures of each stage should make construction easier, too.  Happy building!

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DIY Wind: kid in a candy store

OtherPower.com wind experiments

This site, brought to you from the folks at OtherPower.com, is a great source of inspiration (and humorous things to try!) when deciding to build your own wind power system. Been looking at your hamster wondering if (s)he could be working for the cause? Well, they’ve got your answer. And there are a lot of projects her for you to try, with complete ingredient lists and a discussion of how each model performed after being built. Add in discussions on choosing proper equipment for the job, and you’ve got a DIY wind power mecca, right at your fingertips.

building a windmill

The biggest gift of this site is getting to see everything in the process of being made. I always have trouble figuring out where to start when people simply show ingredients and the finished product. But here, you see the steps as you complete them, and not only that, they discuss the evolution and performance of their machines over time, so you can choose one that suits your needs without all the trail and error.

When grid crash arrives, most of us won’t have the luxury of buying a pre-fab system to generate power. So the emphasis on using materials you can find in your local environment is important. Of course, you probably don’t want to wait until you NEED wind power to try building a system. So why not visit the site today and pick a design to try? They even have a web store to help you find all those parts for your project. With several “built in a day” options to try, you could be harnessing wind power tomorrow!

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The Law of Unintended Consequences

I’ll admit it: when I got the book reviewed last week, Skinny Bitch, I had no real intention of becoming vegan (well, no more than usual, anyway), I simply wanted to learn more about healthy food choices and eating a plant-based diet. Vegan diets are good for the whole planet? I had no idea. But now, one week later, I’m slower than your Great Granny at the grocery store, reading all the labels, trying to remember whether ingredients were on the Good or Evil list. The other day, I ate soy yogurt, for pete’s sake! True, when I read Fast Food Nation a few years back, it inspired a similar quest to eliminate fast food from my life, but I’m not usually one to just jump wholeheartedly on a bandwagon. What’s going on?

Ingredient List

The book recommends not going cold turkey if you’re used to a carnivorous diet, but being kind of an accidental semi-vegetarian most of my life (my parents never could figure out why I preferred asparagus to ice cream at ten), I figured I was close enough to try. Rather than set up for failure, I simply aimed to reduce as much as possible with each individual food choice, and keep a food journal to track progress. One week in, it’s been pretty enlightening.

From the first day, I could feel a difference. I stuck vegan that day, but already I could tell it wouldn’t be cold turkey for me. Oh no, I’m still thoroughly hooked on milk products. The next day, I allowed myself cheese on top of pasta, and ate some peanut M&Ms after dinner. Okay, opiates, refined sugars, and artificial colors. Could be worse. Day three must have been, like the book predicted, when my body started to digest itself, which although it sounds awful, they promised was a good thing, once you expel all the toxins and stop feeling like crap. Which I definitely did on and off all day. Already, I could feel the direct effect of putting butter on my wheat toast in the morning, and of eating a bean and cheese burrito from Del Taco. Buouyed by the book’s promise, I stuck it out and promised myself I’d stop eating so much junk. Yesterday, I was back on my feet, and feeling good. Tried soy yogurt, in a moment of particular devotion. Ummm… not going to make the regular shopping list yet. But almond and rice milks will, for sure. Suddenly, I understand why everyone at Whole Foods looks so great. Ralph’s (Safeway) is definitely NOT vegan friendly. To be honest, it’s no less expensive either.

Strangely, the first thing I’ve noticed about this “food vision quest” I’m on is that my skin brightened up immediately, and has been getting softer by the day. Not bad for an added bonus! Those little enzymes must be hard at work putting things back together again. Also, in an effort to stop drinking so much soda and caffeine, I’ve been exploring the world of teas. I discovered Tulsi Ginger Tea (caffeine free) from Organic India, and it’s love at first sight. It reminds me of Celestial seasonings Tension Tamer tea, minty and rejuvenating. And the literature included listed so many health benefits of Tulsi (“Holy Basil”) that I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before, especially since it said it had been revered in India for darn near 5000 years!

Tulsi (Holy Basil) Tea

So there you have it. Though this blog is about getting off the grid, I realized how much better for the planet and for my local community it would be to eat locally produced vegan foods. In the end, the foods you eat DO have a huge impact on the footprint you leave. I wasn’t planning on cleansing, or making a definitive vegetarian choice this week, but Skinny Bitch’s arrival nudged me (with a cattle prod) to get started if I ever wanted to stop being a half-assed foodie hypocrite. So I am. And me, my glowing complexion, and my newfound tea are loving every minute of it. You can do it, too. Read Skinny Bitch to find out how forgoing animal products will save you and the environment and help avert the global food and energy crises. If you haven’t read it already, read Fast Food Nation. That should put you over the edge, for sure! Or pick a hard-hitting book on some other topic and scare yourself into making that change you’ve been toying with. After all, in our entropic world, building your spirit will require you to actively participate, and there’s no time like the present to start. In fact, that’s the only time you’ll ever start anything. So do it now!

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QUICKIE: Map of California’s Solar History

Interactive Map of California’s Solar History

Interactive map of Solar installations

If you’re wondering whether solar is here to stay, just check out this great Google mash-up from coolerplanet.com.  It goes year by year to show the progress of solar installations all over the state. Every state should have one of these!  Next up, adding YOUR installation!

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BOOK REVIEW: How to Survive Anywhere

How to Survive Anywhere

I read this book after arriving home from hiking last week, and came away from it feeling like I’d learned some useful tips for future trips.  The most interesting sections I found were the discussions of edible foods, which contained several commonly found entries I’d not heard of being foodstuff, and the discussion of making ropes, which I was able to put into practice immediately using dried palm leaves from the neighborhood and other shreds of string around the house.  It’s kind of addictive, like meditation.

In fact, putting things into practice before you need them could have been the unstated theme of the book.  After all, do you want to be figuring out how to coax fire from a magnifying glass AFTER the disaster when you’re already tired and hungry?  The main focus is on preparing a site, making utensils, tools, and weapons for your later survival. Places to find potable water are discussed, as well as how to purify water that isn’t so palatable.  But once you’re settled in, you’re on your own. There isn’t a lot of discussion about HOW to use things once you make them, but if you follow Mr Nyerges’ experienced advice (he’s a respected teacher who has lived in MANY different improvised and off-grid places) and practice, then you should be all right when the disaster hits.

Recommended especially for people who want to more closely examine the potential for survival in an urban setting, as he covers this topic very well.

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