Monday, August 6, 2012

Day 239: Solar-Powered Dinner Party


I complain too much about Seabeck weather. I spend winter and spring pining for summer, and then spend most of summer whining over gray skies and cool temperature. But not yesterday, yesterday I got my summer. And yes, still I complained a little. It was so stinking hot!  

Nearly every Sunday, a handful of neighbors get together for dinner and a shot or two of vodka (I have Russian neighbors). It was my turn to host, but it was too hot to cook, and I was too lazy and frugal to drive into town and find an alternative to a home cooked meal. I decided to get creative.

I’d been looking for an excuse to build a solar-powered oven, like the one I saw demoed at the Mother Earth News Fair a few months ago. It was as a bell-shaped, cardboard structure with a flat bottom. Aluminum foil lining gathered the sun’s heat and reflected it back on a tin baking dish slid inside one of those plastic roasting bags. I looked through the steamy bag and watched the water in the pan simmer. I could not believe how well it worked. Something about the whole experience made me think back to the Easy-Bake oven Santa Claus failed to deliver one childhood Christmas Eve.

The young man at the solar booth explained how his non-profit organization was trying to get the solar cooking idea spread to third-world countries as an alternatiave for women who spend much of their day scrounging firewood to cook meals. The idea is awesome, but I questioned the availability and expense of cooking bags. As it turns out, the bags are not totally necessary, but do assist in heating speed, heat retention, and clean-up.

I found similar solar-cooking models online for about $40. But I wanted to make my own, or at least try. I dug around in the office and garage and found some boxes to up-cycle. I grabbed a box cutter, a roll of aluminum foil, a stapler, and my favorite construction material ever, duct tape. It took me about an hour to make my first prototype and another hour to get supper in the oven.

It was about 90 degrees on my back deck, but I was able to get the cooker up to 180 degrees. I didn’t have any of those roasting bags, so I used Pyrex pans and glass lids. The cooking was slow going, and I had to keep adjusting to avoid shadows. I’d like to make another cooker that comes apart easily for camping. Mine is bulky and storage is going to be an issue. I noted other flaws in the first prototype, areas to improve to increase heat. I got ambitious trying to accomodate more than one dish. My cooker ended up too big and open to be efficient. A one-pot model or dual one-pot models seem like a better option.

The most important thing is that the experiment worked. I stunned and amazed family and friends with my ingenuity and for a moment, felt like the professor on Gilligan’s Island. The quality of the meal was not up to usual standards, but I wasn’t all that disappointed. I proved it could be done. Sometimes being right tastes pretty damn good. I pulled off Sunday supper without heating up the house. We ate wild salmon with killer red huckleberry sauce, cowboy beans with roasted tomatillo salsa, corn bread with pepper jelly, ham, and my neighbor Luba’s fabulous green salad. Not too shabby for a first solar supper.

1 comment:

  1. MMM!!! That sounds like a darn good solar prepared dinner! I am going to ask, what exactly did the salmon taste like? I have only ever prepared red meats inside of my solar oven.

    -Sharone Tal
    Solar MA