Cook with the Sun

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A solar oven with reflectors open.

Photo: A Sun Scoop – Solar Cookers International

On a sweltering morning in his Sacramento, California kitchen, my stepfather, Don, places a raw chicken in a dark blue oval enameled roasting pan.  He adds a little oil to the bottom of the pan to keep the chicken from sticking, puts the lid on the pan, and carries it into his back yard.  He is not going to barbeque.

His solar oven is on a table in the middle of the lawn, its shiny silver reflectors unfurled like the petals of a modernist flower sculpture.  The unit is angled toward the brilliant mid-morning sun.  It has been there for more than half an hour gathering warmth into the central chamber, which has a glass lid.  The temperate inside is 350 degrees.  The whole thing, when its reflectors are folded down, is the size of a large suitcase.  He lifts the glass lid and places the roasting pan inside, lowers the glass, then makes a final adjustment of the oven in relation to the angle of the sun.  He goes back in the house and washes some salad greens, then takes a nap.

Two hours later, he opens the solar oven and brings the pan into the kitchen.  The chicken is nicely roasted, tender and moist. We enjoy a lunch of salad and roasted chicken – preparing and cooking it did not add a penny to the bill for natural gas and did not raise the internal temperature of the house on this 100 degree day.

Why does Don cook with solar power when he has a perfectly good stove and oven in his kitchen, and a microwave on the counter?  Because he wants to use resources responsibly and live lightly on the planet.  He uses a Solar Oven, a commercial item made in America.

In 1987, retired from a job with the state, Don was one of the first two volunteers for the fledgling Solar Cookers International, a non-profit organization formed in Sacramento, California.  He began to volunteer regularly with the organization, and he constructed numerous solar ovens out of recycled materials, and taught others how to do so in the US and in Central America.  He and my mother attended the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janiero as members of a solar cooking demonstration group.  At the conference, they joined people from several countries in showing the official  delegates various methods of cooking food and purifying water for drinking, using the heat of the sun.

Now Solar Cookers International Network has a global reach.  It is a league of organizations around the world that is promoting cooking with the energy of the sun to save lives, save forests, and benefit the environment.

Solar cooking is happening in more places than most people think.  Look in California backyards, Australian bungalow patios, in Kenyan open-air village kitchens, refugee camps in Uganda, Afghan communal kitchens, parks in India, villages in Mexico.  In my garden.

It is not difficult to cook with the free energy of the sun. All it takes is a little planning, and some equipment that a person can make or purchase.  Solar Cookers International Network


Earth Day Project

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How I spent 3 hours on a chilly April day – volunteer gardening at Earth Day project organized at work: habitat remediation at Madrona Woods. In this town that means hand-planting native plants in mucky soil on steep, spring-fed slopes. What fun! My boots are on the right, a co-worker’s trail shoes on the left.Image

Earth Day Advice

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I posted on Facebook April 20:

Make Earth Day April 22 the day you add an activity to the things you do to be green – recycle everything that is recycleable in your area, carpool with someone and reduce the C02 of a car trip, put those “vampire” phone chargers on a power strip and turn off the power strip when not actively charging a phone to save electricity. Every action makes a difference to the planet.