I did finally get around to it, two weekends ago. That Saturday morning, I set up some Red Tomato Rice (courtesy Rick Bayless) in the oven, and we headed off to the lake for the day. It was off and on sun and clouds all day, but the rice was done when we got home (maybe even a little too well done, even though I used brown rice). The next day I put in the pinto beans, which I had soaked all night. This time I was home all day to rotate the oven with the sun, but again it was a mix of sun and clouds and I don't think it ever got above 250 degrees. At the end of the day, though, I had a pan of perfectly-cooked beans.
That night we had a solar-cooked feast (though I did have to make the tortillas on the stove and re-heat the beans and rice in the oven; the tomatillos for the salsa I cooked and froze last summer). There was enough left over the next day for another meal (this time with flour tortillas instead of corn) and two lunches of burritos plus a tub of it in the freezer. Not bad for a couple of days in the sun.
This made me think dried beans are the way to go with the solar oven, so this past Sunday I put in some chick peas (again, soaked overnight). Another sunny/cloudy day and I wasn't home to rotate the oven with the sun (and my "helper" forgot). Plus chickpeas just generally take longer to cook than pinto beans, so when I got home in the late afternoon, they were still pretty crunchy, and had to go on the stove for an hour or more before they were done enough to eat (we had chickpeas with Swiss chard--from our garden--and tomatoes from Madhur Jaffrey. Yum). I had doubled the amount of chickpeas I needed and blended up the rest with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice for a tasty (but somewhat grainy) hummus.
I had been hoping I could use the oven as a kind of crock pot--throw something in in the morning, and dinner will be done when we get home--but I think it needs a bit more babysitting than that, what with the darn rotation of the earth and all. Plus, what if it pours rain. I'm also mildly nervous about it becoming an incubator for bacteria if it doesn't get hot enough. So I think it's the kind of thing to use on the weekends, when I'm home and can attend to it. Maybe when we've got it figured out, I can leave it with C on his work at home days and he can be the rotater/temperature checker (like I'm really going to want to whip up dinner before I leave to work in the morning!!). I've had the oven for two years, but the first year it was still off gassing some kind of stinky smell (from the paint coating the inside, I think) and last year it just rained all summer, so I never even got it out. So this is the year to figure out what it can (and cannot) do. I've been checking out this blog, though clearly things are going to be a bit different between Arizona and Maine. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them!
On to July's One Small Change. In addition to keeping on keeping on with solar cooking, I've instituted a local-foods only policy for July and August (and probably most of September) in our house. We first did a local foods summer three years ago, and tried again the following year with less success (both attempts are chronicled in GEMINI issue 9, Simplicity. $3/issue. If you'd like a copy, email me at andreaelani at yahoo dot com and we can exchange addresses). Monday I took my last trip to the grocery store, buying our last bags of Washington cherries and Mexican grapes, vinegar (for cleaning--I will probably buy more of this when it runs out, cause really I don't want to make my own for any purpose, especially the toilet), yogurt (for starting more), fruit-juice-sweetened yogurt-covered raisins and almonds (my no-refined-sugar-added treat), bullion cubes; though I didn't stock up on anything, I didn't refuse myself anything either. I made our first almost all local meal last night--carrot top soup, with carrots and tops, garlic and baguette and goat cheese from the farmer's market. I used up the last little bit of wild rice I had sitting around in a baggie for months (years?). Not only is this a good opportunity to support local farmers, try new foods (I bought a bunch of white turnips--ideas?) and new recipes, it also is an opportunity to clean out my shelves of old, ignored dry goods.
I'll keep you posted about both our adventures in solar cooking and local eating. And don't forget, it's never too late to make One Small Change.