Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Sleepwalker and the Spotlight

To see a child eat—is pleasure. Visceral goodness.
Eating with their fingers. Smacking their lips.
Food encircling their mouth in delight.

I am not an authority on etiquette or grace,
But I no longer eat like a child.
My food is consumed more quietly,
With functional refinement, barely touching my lips.
Rarely is a meal experienced in such a sensual, lip-smacking way.

I recently noticed, however, that I was eating loudly—
Eating loudly, perhaps, because I was eating quickly,
Shoveling. I became aware—
Like I’d been transported to a darkened, lonely stage,
And the spotlight…landing…on…me.

I was slightly embarrassed,
Like a sleepwalker being awoken
And not knowing how she got there.

From behind the red velvet curtain, an old soul reminded me—
Do not confuse etiquette with grace. Be mindful.

My spotlight expanded.
In front of me—a bowl of tangerines.

And I began my innocent monologue:

Taking hold of the tangerine,
You are taking a trip
(The inside-out
Of a mobius strip).

Peeling the tangerine,
You unleash a fragrant mist
(Scent of earthly lovers
In a springtime tryst).

Come together earth and rain,
Take hold of bundled seed,
Burst forth in fragile blossom,
And in the fruit is freed.

Each segment a ray,
Bringing light to my soul,
A season of suns,
Making me whole.

From inside-out
To outside-in,
Celestial star songs
Dripping down my chin.

~Jenell Heimbach

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Persimmon Apple Crumble

  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 Tbl. milk
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 C oil

  1. Mix flour, salt and sugar.
  2. Make a well in the middle and add the milk and oil. Mix until all ingredients are blended.
  3. Form evenly to cover the bottom and edges of a 9 inch pie pan.

  • 4 C Pink Lady or Fuji apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 C Fuyu persimmons, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 2 Tbl. flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

  1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly and fill piecrust.
  2. Bake crust and filling for 25 minutes at 375 degrees using the center rack.

  • 1 C flour
  • 1/2-1 C sugar
  • 1 stick butter, firm
  • 3/4 C chopped crispied almonds

  1. While pie is baking, make the topping.
  2. Mix dry ingredients well.
  3. Cut butter into small pieces and blend into dry mixture using hands until a course mixture is formed.
  4. When pie has cooked for 25 minutes, carefully remove from oven.
  5. Starting on the outside, crumble topping over the filling until completely covered.
  6. Bake an additional 25 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

Chef's Note: This recipe was adapted from Annie Main at Good Humus Farm. The recipe called for 1 cup of sugar in the topping. While my family liked it, I thought it could use less sugar and still be good. You might want to adjust the sugar amounts to your liking. I also used Nourishing Traditions crispy nuts in the topping. Here's a link for how to make them. This recipe was really fast and easy to make. I made it for myself for dinner one rare night when my family were all out and about. We've been eating it for breakfast all this week, too!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meditations at Lagunitas

Meditations at Lagunitas

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

~Robert Hass

This post is inspired by and in response to Mon of Holistic Mama. She wrote a great post today about the extinction of words.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Birthday

Birthday Rap

Despite the fact
That you're not an early riser;
Twice your age,
But I'm none the wiser.
You've got an open heart
And an open mind;
Within everyone
You see the divine.
On the Human Potential Movement,
You put a new spin~
Bringing to life
What you envision within.
Guitar, pencil and wool
You bend to your will
While reuben, chai and sushi
Give you your fill.
Happy Birthday, hippie sista'!
So sad we missed ya.
But you're in our heart
Whether near or afar....

~Jenell Heimbach

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Defense of Food Book Review

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having first read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and then The Botany of Desire, I was in awe. To produce all that research, to go out in the field for interviews and first-hand experience, and then to orchestrate it all in such objective and eloquent prose—that was superhuman! And I became a humble worshipper.

Pollan’s newest work In Defense of Food is another such brilliant creation. He first talks about nutritionism, which is the reduction of foods into their constituent parts: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins (which weren’t “discovered” until 1912!). Pollan next sets his sites on Industry (yes, with a capital “I”), and how Industry has used the science of nutritionism to commodify their products. And—not only did—does—Industry use scientific research, it also funds it, so that you have the cereal Industry touting their cholesterol-reducing effects or the pork Industry announcing it’s “the other white meat.” Then you have the diet Industry selling the Atkins diet one year and the McDougall Program the next. While he is not in any way opposed to science, Michael Pollan suggests that we have become dependent upon the “experts” to tell us what food is made of. Good nutrients? Bad nutrients? Pollan posits that thinking about food out of context disempowers the eater.

And so, in the final section of the book, Pollan aims to re-contextualize those nutrients back into what we all can recognize as food. He provides suggestions that will help us re-establish a relationship to where food comes from, how it can be made into a meal and how that meal can sustain a community. He says:


In this last section, Pollan expounds upon each item and ties it into the previous sections’ how-tos and wherefores. Pollan does like to play with words, so this list may seem a little enigmatic. You’ll just have to read the book! Michael Pollan masterfully synthesizes information from a growing movement of people who are reclaiming their health and their lives.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Green Intervention

Here's a post that I'd written last year for the Winter Solstice. Times have changed, and I find myself struggling again to make good food a priority. But recently some close friends of mine worked with Good Humus, another local CSA, to gift our family with a quarter's share of vegetables. I feel like this was a green intervention--that I'd fallen off the wagon. My family and I are so grateful for our friends, for our community, for good food.

Saturday, December 22, 2007
Long ago, the answer to the question, "What's for dinner?" was simple. Go look in the garden or the larder. In my adult life, the answer is not so straightforward. The "garden" is often across continents, and the larder is my overabundant supermarket. The choices can be overwhelming, the experts confusing. What to eat? What not to eat? And, in the confusion, the "simple" alternative often has the most pull; fast food. Yuck! No wonder I never really liked food!

But, we have begun to spiral back around to the source of our food. Revolution! Although I have not tended my skill well enough to grow my own food, I do get it from growers I've met and trust. I have been buying a monthly share of Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) on and off for years. It wasn't an easy transition for me, because I didn't have a relationship to food. Leeks? Squash? Broccoli Raab? My vegetables, along with the strange hodgepodge of food that I got from the store, took on a life of its own in the depths of my refrigerator. So what changed? I started reading. I've shared some really interesting resources at the end. I realized that I can't go on supporting the current food culture. However, because I don't have much money, it seemed like an extra expense. But remember the science experiments in my refrigerator? I don't throw out as much food anymore. That saves me a good chunk of money. Our share breaks down to be $15 each week. Not bad, really.

The farm that my food comes from is called Full Belly Farm. Each week we get a box is like Christmas. Everything in the box is seasonal and flavorful. It is truly an offering, and I want to do it justice. I pore through cookbooks and recipes, eyes a-sparkle. Then I make a weekly menu plan and supplementary shopping list. Each item I get is put to use to create new, tantalizing recipes. Each bite fills me with a profound nourishment. And I am transformed.

Although we are blessed with a window of blue skies and sunshine, today I am feeling winter's pull. Yes, even the Breadbasket of the world has its winter. Beginning this week, we will not be getting our weekly box of vegetables. The earth and farmers need a break. I appreciate the connection and deep satisfaction they bring. And, mouth watering, I look forward to the next growing season and the Christmas they bring every week.

Here's a wonderfully carnivorous winter meal from Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice. Being a former vegetarian, I know you could cleverly adapt this meal:

Sausage with Potatoes and Cabbage

Serves 2-4

  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings, olive oil, lard, or other fat
  • 2 whole fresh sausages in casings
  • 2 leeks, sliced thin, including much of the green part (or 1 large onion sliced thin)
  • 1 small head cabbage (or ½ large head, shredded)
  • ½ teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
  • ½ bunch greens (chard, kale, collards; or mustard, radish, or turnip greens), sliced into ribbons
  • 3 medium potatoes (such as Yukon gold), diced
  • ½ cup hot water or stock, or more as needed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ½ cup sauerkraut (store bought or homemade recipe below)
  • Sour cream or crème fraiche

  1. Heat the bacon drippings, oil, or fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the whole sausages and brown on both sides.
  2. Add the leeks (or onions) to the pan around the sausage and sauté. When the sausage is cooked through, remove it from the pan and let it cool.
  3. Add the shredded cabbage to the pan along with a pinch of salt and the optional caraway seeds. Continue to sauté a few minutes, until the cabbage begins to wilt.
  4. Add the greens and stir gently.
  5. Add the diced potatoes, another pinch of salt, and the hot water or stock. Cover, reduce the heat somewhat, and steam until potatoes are just tender. Add more water
  6. Slice the sausage into ½ inch thick pieces and add it back to the pan, stirring to incorporate and heat through. You can also leave the sausage whole or cut it in half.
  7. Add plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust.
  8. Remove from the heat and stir in the optional sauerkraut.
  9. Serve in a shallow bowl with a big dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

And, if you are really an adventurous food alchemist, make your own sauerkraut. This recipe is also by Jessica Prentice. But take my advice, make sure you don't forget about it if you culture it in the dark of your bedroom closet. Whoever lives with you will tear up the house trying to find what died in the wall!

Quick Kraut

Makes about 3 cups

  • 4 cups (tightly packed) shredded cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds

  1. Put the cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle the salt over it. Using your hands, begin to squeeze and massage the cabbage to release the juices.
  2. Once it is thoroughly wet, add the caraway seeds.
  3. Pack the cabbage into a 1-quart, widemouthed mason jar, pressing down with your hand to release the juices.
  4. Fill a 1-pint, narrow jar (or any jar that has a bottom narrow enough to fit in the mouth of the 1-quart jar) with water and screw the lid on. Place this second jar into the mouth of the 1-quart jar and push on it until the liquid from the cabbage rises above the vegetable matter inside.
  5. Set this on the counter, with one jar nestled inside the other, and drape a cloth napkin over the top. Keep at room temperature for about a week, pressing down on the weight jar at least once a day and making sure that the liquid stays above the vegetable matter.
  6. After a week of fermenting, taste and see if you like it. At this point you can remove the weight jar, screw a lid onto the kraut jar, and transfer it to the refrigerator. You can also experiment with fermenting it for longer as long as you keep a close eye on the liquid level. If too much water has evaporated, mix ½ teaspoon of salt with 1/3 cup filtered water and pour this into the jar.

Some Resources


The Future of Food

The GMO Trilogy


Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John Peterson


Local Harvest

Monday, December 8, 2008

December Bird Song

This video was taken by my daughter, Anouk.

"I was impressed with how many birds there were in our big oak tree. So, I thought of taking a video of their beautiful song. This still shows that not everything goes dead in December, but new birth gets created. It might look dead, but plants are getting ready to spring up, and the birds are singing their wonderful song. I hope you enjoy listening." ~Anouk

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Poem...

“Of Particles and Presences”

Some days…I feel
Like a mountain; am I
Inert? Alive? Or
Does my body
Express a slower ecological tempo
In rhythm with the grinding of glaciers,
The tremor of the earth,
The low rumble of river rocks
As they speak of where they came from
And where they are going—
The slow precession through the equinoxes.

This is NOT a funeral durge—
A slow march to death. Today
The wind carries a message
From a professor far away, “Love
Takes time.”

Love, this coming together
Of particles and presences
In a dance weaving through the centuries.
Peaking and dissolving….
And yet we are not mere fractals—
God dreaming the dreamer dreaming
We reunite in infinite variation,
In celebration.

Jenell Heimbach

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins and Pumpkin Seeds

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins


• 1 small sugar pumpkin, seeded (2 cups)
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 cups white sugar
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 2 teaspoons ground cloves
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2/3 cup vegetable oil
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup chocolate chips
• ½ cup walnuts
• milk, for consistency


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.

2. Split pumpkin in half. Remove seeds and strings. Place on baking sheet, cut side down. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven until tender, about 90 minutes. Remove pumpkin pulp and puree in blender. Measure out 2 cups pumpkin puree; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together 2 cups pumpkin puree, vegetable oil and eggs. Stir pumpkin mixture into flour mixture until smooth. Mix in chocolate chips and walnuts. If the batter is too dry, add a little millk until it gets to that gooey goodness. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.



• Seeds from one pumpkin
• 2 Tbl. olive oil
• 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
• salt, to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly clean pulp off of pumpkin seeds. Pat dry in a dish towel.

2. Place in a bowl and coat with oil, cayenne and salt.

3. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until golden brown. Check periodically to make sure they don't burn. You can stir them, but I find that tedious. They always seem evenly cooked to me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Untouched Book Review

Untouched: The Need for Genuine Affection in an Impersonal World Untouched: The Need for Genuine Affection in an Impersonal World by Mariana Caplan

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Untouched: The Need for Genuine Affection in an Impersonal World is an excellent book. Mariana Caplan writes beautifully on our need for touch from conception to adulthood. As a psychologist, she shares her insight on touch abuse and deprivation. Although she doesn't use the term, she advocates for attachment parenting, a style of parenting that emphasizes bonding with your child through home birth, infant massage, baby wearing, breast feeding, and cosleeping, etc. This book is not only applicable to parents, though, as Caplan calls us to work on ourselves as adults. "As human beings, we need to become aware of our own power, so that we can consciously harness it as a resource and utilize it to benefit others, instead of remaining helpless at the mercy of pervasive, but relatively unimportant psychological issues. When we turn our attention and power toward getting in touch with our lives, or toward making sure that our children are given ample affection and attention in their early years, or toward acting out of compassion instead of defensiveness, then we have taken hold of the reigns of this force. Until we have admitted our ailment, and allowed this to break us open to the compassion that lies beneath, we will be uncontrollably motivated to continue to exploit our own power for selfish gain. It cannot be otherwise. Yet, when we finally allow our heart to be shared with those around us, we will be inwardly moved to sacrifice our own desires for the benefit of the greater good." She has deeply considered the impact of touch deprivation on society. Her ideas flow logically and are illustrated by thought-provoking example. Mariana Caplan lists "20 Ways to Get into Your Body," as well as various ways to get "in touch" with ourselves: meditation, breathwork, prayer, martial arts, yoga, hospitality and service of the other, and using intention to bring awareness and a goal to a need.

My worry though, upon completion of this book is, "Is this enough?!" It only seems like scratching the surface. But maybe that is the first step.

View all my reviews.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cream of Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 3-4

2 Tbl. butter or olive oil
2-3 leeks, sliced into rounds
1 fresh seasonal butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
chicken stock or filtered water to cover
1 bouquet garni
½ cup cream, crème fraiche, or yogurt; or 1 cup buttermilk or half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste
crème fresh or yogurt, for garnish
finely minced rosemary, thyme, sage , or parsley leaves (or a combination of these herbs); or a grating of nutmeg; or a grind of black pepper, for garnish

1. Heat the butter or oil in a medium-sized soup pot. Add the leeks and sauté until soft.

2. Add the butternut squash, then add stock or filtered water to cover the vegetables by about ½ inch. Add the bouquet garni and bring the pot to a boil.

3. Reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is soft.

4. Turn off the heat and remove the bouquet garni.

5. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or a standard blender), adding yogurt or other dairy, and plenty of salt and pepper as you blend. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings—adding more salt and pepper if it’s too bland.

6. Serve in a shallow bowl with a dollop of crème fraiche (or yogurt) and a sprinkling of herbs, nutmeg, or pepper.

Chef’s Note: This is a recipe from Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection. This is one of my favorite foodie philosophy books. The recipes that I’ve tried have all been yummy, too. The buttermilk in this one made it divine. If you don’t know about Jessica, check out her website.

This is a picture of the last butternut squash from our garden. Mmmm....

Friday, November 21, 2008

Biodegradable Seed Starter Pots and Spring Gardening Preparation?!

I know, I know. I have strange timing. Many of you in the northern hemisphere are either heading into winter or already in the throes of it. But just as the earth becomes inwardly active to prepare for the outbreath of spring, so must we prepare for our spring activity. Here is a spring story to get you dreaming and preparing.

I have heap composts: three foot diameter hills of scraps and yard refuse piled near my garden. Some might think them unsightly and smelly. To me, they are more beautiful than a ballet. They are a transformative dance right here in my backyard. Imagine the time lapse twirling…. This is celestial feng shui. However, not everyone shares my love affair. So last fall, I decided to move them to a less-visible place behind my garage.

When spring rolled around, I prepared to plant in the rich earth where my compost had been. But when I went out to weed, I saw something curious. Mother Earth hadn’t “rolled around”; she’d been busy already! The ground was covered in green sprouts. They didn’t look like the weeds I was accustomed to, so I gave them a chance to show themselves. When they got their first leaves, I bent down to examine them. Now, I’m not an experienced gardener, but I thought some looked like squash leaves and others had fuzz on their serrated leaves that looked suspiciously like tomato plants. Again, I let them grow. When they got those pretty little star-shaped flowers, I knew. Eighty-seven tomato plants! The vines took longer to flower. But there were forty-two of them!

I can’t believe how many seeds survived my compost and were viable. My daughter and I spaced the plants out so they had more room. But there were still so many that we decided to replant some to give away to friends. I found this helpful idea from Mother Earth News magazine: biodegradable seed starter pots. It’s really easy. If you start collecting toilet paper rolls now, you should have a good amount by spring. We bundle ours up in rubber bands and keep them in a shoe box. This could also be a great fund-raising idea!

Our self-sown garden grew and grew, producing cherry tomatoes galore. And eventually (after much speculation), we found out what the vines were: butternut and kabocha and acorn squash—and cantaloupe! The rolly-pollies and possums got to the cantaloupe before they could get very big, but we ate a golfball sized one, and it was golden juicy deliciousness.

I have been so timid about gardening. I don’t want to waste money on seeds and starters if I fail. But here, my garden practically grew itself! I did spend some time getting to know it, though. I was in the midst of reading The Secret Life of Plants and found myself communing with these little plant beings and even playing my flute for them.

As you can see, my optimistic tomatoes are still flowering, but the fruit no longer turns red. Look, there’s even a cantaloupe trying to grow! I probably should compost what’s left, but there is still so much vitality there. It stirs my spirit. I hope my blundering love inspires you into your own spring dreams.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jerk Chicken Sandwich

Serves 2

2 tsp. dry jerk seasoning
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
¼ cup all-fruit apricot preserves
2 whole grain hamburger buns
¼ cup watercress (optional)

1. Rub seasoning into each piece of chicken. Coat well. Cook for 30 minutes.
2. Stir horseradish into preserves until well-combined.
3. When chicken is done, turn oven to broil and toast buns facedown.
4. Place chicken on buns, top with sauce. Add watercress. Top with bun.
5. Serve.

Chef’s Note: This recipe was adapted from my daughter’s Smoothies and More! Prevention Guide. We used chicken instead of fish, because it was on-hand, and spinach instead of watercress. We had heated up someone’s leftover potato skins and took our lunch outside. Yum!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Character Analysis Book Review

Character Analysis: Third, Enlarged Edition Character Analysis: Third, Enlarged Edition by Wilhelm Reich

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, William Burroughs…they all leave me with a feeling of emptiness. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are all brilliant, and I enjoy them all (with the exception of Led Zeppelin). However, I can only take them in small doses. Why is that? I’ve come to the conclusion that they, among others, are masculine-centered. There is nothing wrong with masculinity or delving into your gender experience, but it does end up being one-sided. I would feel the same way about a book that excluded the male experience, as well. It leaves me with the feeling that something’s missing and makes me sad. I don’t think this should deter people from experiencing their art, though. It is one aspect of the rich human experience. You just have to be in the right frame of mind for it.

Reading Wilhelm Reich’s Character Analysis left me with a similar impression. He was brilliant. Wilhelm Reich was one of the first western scientists to contribute to the study of mind-body medicine. His methods and insights are thought-provoking. I hadn’t read a book this wonderfully challenging for a long time. There were vast sections, however, where I yearned to hear how his theories apply to me, as a woman. There is only so much penis talk you can take!

Although I wished for more coverage of women’s struggles, I kept reading. I kept reading, because it was strongly evident that Wilhelm Reich was on a quest to heal all people. He says, “Accordingly, the fear of orgastic contact constitutes the core of the fear of genuine, direct psychic contact with persons and with the processes of reality.” Reich wanted people to connect with and release their armor that no longer serves them. He wanted us to connect genuinely with each other. “Contemporary society, with its sex-negating morality and economic incompetence to guarantee the masses of its members even a bare existence, is as far removed from the recognition of such possibilities as it is from their practical application.” He was fighting against the malaise that continues to inflict the people of our world.

Like I said, this book was a challenging read. I think it was written for the professional psychoanalytic audience. While it’s not necessarily intended for the layperson, if one has an interest in getting to the root of their motivations and repressions, and a wish to experience full vitality, this makes an enlightening read. Wilhelm Reich was calling us to fight, too, to fight for our lives.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Spaghetti with Crawfish and Clams

3 tbl. butter
1 onion, chopped
1 lb. hamburger
1 28 oz. can tomatoes, diced
1 can tomato paste
¼ cup red wine
2 cups water
1 tbl. oregano
1 tbl. parsley
1 tsp. rosemary
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
salt and pepper, to taste

spaghetti noodles

crawfish and freshwater clams
3 tbl. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced

1. Melt butter and sauté onions until translucent (about five minutes). Add hamburger and brown. Stir in diced tomatoes, paste, red wine, and water. Stir in spices. Cover and simmer for half an hour.

2. Bring two pots of water to boil (one for noodles and one for crawfish and clams).

3. Fifteen minutes before you’re ready to eat, add noodles and the crawfish and clams to their respective pots. Both will need to be cooked for about ten minutes.

4. Drain and rinse noodles in cool water to stop them from cooking.

5. Melt final 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan. Pull the crawfish and clams out and sauté them with garlic for about five minutes.

6. Serve and enjoy.

Here is my daughter, communing with the crawfish....

She decided to keep three, one for each of us.

Chef’s Note: This post is going to make some people squeamish. I am an omnivore who chooses to eat meat. I’ve always thought that, being a meat-eater, I should have the courage to be able to procure my own food. My daughter actually caught our dinner.

It took my husband and I to cook it. Here is a link on how to cook crawfish. I used to fish with my family when I was a kid but have since been removed from that part of the process. This was a new experience for me as an adult and was not taken lightly. We very much appreciated the life force of the crawfish and clams. We savored this dinner.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Time Change

With the rise of industrialism and the transcontinental railroad in the United States, it became necessary to establish time zones . They were introduced in 1883 and codified into law in 1918. This enabled commerce to be shipped and tracked in a timely manner. People, once used to directing their gaze to the sky or to the trusty town clock, now had time streamlined with others in their nation. While this is helpful for accountability, as well as scientific measurement, it also creates a schism between an individual and their personal relationship to time.

There are numerous ways to perceive time. What is time, anyway? It is the measurement of the movement of objects (or the procession of events) through space. Historically, however, time was important to people as a tool for understanding the duration of the day and seasons. Native Americans (and many “primitive” cultures) named the months after foods that were available during that time. Their survival depended on their intimate connection with the cycle of the seasons.

When standard time zones were made into law, Daylight Savings Time was also written in. This addition manipulated the standard time so that during the equinoxes daylight would be conserved by one hour. However, people were not ready for it, and it was repealed. The idea was toyed with until 1966, when it was written into law again with the possibility of exemption. Among the states today, Hawaii and most of Arizona claim exemption. Why was Daylight Savings Time so important? We already had standardized time to create accountability. However, the seasons still progressed as they do and became a hindrance after the autumn equinox, when the tilt of the Earth angles North America away from the sun, and hence, away from the light. Our current law stipulates that at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November we “fall back” or set our clocks back on hour, and on the first Sunday in March we “spring forward” or set our clocks forward one hour. What would be the benefit of this? Perhaps if we get up earlier, we will work more? This further manipulation of time is also beneficial to economic ends. It feels somewhat like a ball and chain.

When I worked an 8-5 job, Daylight Savings Time always took some adjustment of my circadian rhythms. It always felt like jet lag. I’ll have to admit that, in the last three years I’ve been homeschooling, I haven’t really been affected by it. For some reason, this year I have felt the pull of the season more acutely. It’s getting dark a couple hours earlier than it was during the summer. Consequently, I want to go to bed a couple hours earlier. This confounds my family, who knows that my "normal" bedtime is at 10. It is a little disconcerting. Bedtime at 8?! This might seem like a handicap when I normally see time as so limited anyway. But I’ve chosen to establish a different relationship with time. When my body is tired, I go to bed. Fortunately I have been afforded the opportunity to homeschool. The ball and chain is gone and so my belief that time needs to be saved.

The question remains: How can we honor our circadian rhythms—our relationship to the light? As time seems to be so inextricably linked with the economy, how can we work within the constraints of our modern world? Of capitalism? In what ways can we re-imagine it? This last question normally leads people to think about socialism, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about creating a new paradigm. These questions are so amazingly complex, that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Respectful dialog is always a positive step, though.

Another step may be to start at the beginning, to re-establish our relationship with the processes of our Earth and its relationship with the Sun. To work with our rhythms instead of against them. To get to know the growing cycle of our food. To work with the light instead of against it.

“It used to be that inner and outer light were one. When it became dark, a candle was lit. People sat around the light; it was a precious thing. And something enlightening always radiated from it. Today light can be had without effort by pressing a button. We can take light for granted; an unconscious and loveless relationship arises,” Manfred Schmidt-Bryabant says in The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker. “We cannot do without electricity any more. But we must create a way of compensating inwardly for what has been lost through external aids.”

Future Reading (any other suggestions?):

Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time by Margaret Wheatley

The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism by David Korten

Capitalism at the Crossroads: Aligning Business, Earth, and Humanity by Stuart Hart

Friday, October 31, 2008

Express Your Freedom

We inhabit a beautiful country and, beyond boundaries, a beautiful planet, an unfathomable universe, a wonder-full you. Our task is to find our will to live in an intimate relationship with all these things. Create the world you Imagine. Express your freedom.

I do not see the big loom (or the weaver!), but I do see some of the marvelous tapestry. I do not know the outcome of this presidential election. I do not care who you vote for; just vote. Vote your conscience. Get involved in your world. Heed your call--whatever it is!

I will be voting for Barack Obama. I think he can inspire and awaken our nation.
Click here for more videos from Vote For Change

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Easy Navy Bean and Ham Soup

Serves 3-4

2 medium yellow onions, minced
6 ribs celery, finely chopped
3 tbs. butter
6 cups (chicken) stock
3 medium baking potatoes, cubed
2 cups ham, cubed
2 15-ounce cans navy beans, rinsed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook onions and celery in butter until onions are translucent. Add stock, potatoes and ham. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes. Add navy beans and parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Note: I cooked this soup up quickly on the stove. But you can also prepare it in the morning, put it into your crockpot or solar cooker and cook for about 4 hours. However, if you’re going to be away longer, this soup just gets better as it cooks. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Busy as a Beaver

Yesterday we joined Matthew for his tracking program at Paradise Beach. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Anouk and I waited in the car. She was squirrelly and seemed to want to pick a fight with me. Her metamorphosis has been challenging for me. I’m so sad about the loss of my sweet little girl and so afraid that I will just push this growing woman away. It has not been an easy transition. She seems to be unable to control her wild energy and often pushes and goads and always wants the last word. Sometimes I tell her to just stop and ask for a few minutes of silence. It seems like the only way to get out of the power struggle—at least the only way that I know, right now. Then our friend Reed and Matthew showed up, and Anouk laid into him for awhile. Why was he late? Why did we have to talk so long about what we were going to do? Why was he acting like a kid?

As we made our way toward the river, we spotted some tracks. We are learning to track, so we like to be aware of any signs of animals. However, these were not animal tracks; they were tire tracks. We might have just dismissed them and continued on our merry way, but the neat thing about tracking is that you open yourself up to the story of the land. There was no reason a truck should’ve even been in that area; it is closed off to vehicles. Why were these tracks there? The tires looked like they had sunk deep into the sand. We thought maybe the truck had gotten stuck.

Then Matthew spotted two rectangular impressions on the outside of the tire tracks. He thought maybe they were tow truck stabilizers. Then I noticed a smaller set of tracks plowing through the willows and continuing further down the hill. Because the willows were trampled, it led us further to believe that it must have been someone who didn’t really care about the landscape. At the bottom of the incline, we found some more chaotic tracks in the sand. There were also some (from the smell of them) newly burnt logs. Maybe someone had been partying here. Maybe they had spun their wheels in the sand. Just when we thought we’d figured it out, Matthew saw more burnt logs further ahead. The riddle was pulling us forward to reveal itself. When we climbed a small hill, we found that there had been a fire in a stand of trees! The tracks must have been those of a firetruck. We were exploring the debris when Matthew remembered that he’d often seen a pile of dead branches and leaves at the base of the tree—like the river had piled up debris there over the years or someone had built a little earth shelter. We found lots of bottles, cans, clams, a lighter, a burnt boot…that might indicate the latter. Then Matthew noticed smoke. It was still burning! As he explored, he found live coals. It was VERY hot. So he called to let a ranger know to come check on it. They said sometimes it takes a couple days for a fire to burn itself out. If that’s the case, I wonder if they check up on it? Well, since Matthew always comes to the river prepared, we had a couple buckets. So we gathered water from the river and began to turn up, soak and spread the coals. Matthew dug a deep pit in the loam before he finally reached the end of the coals. And, even penetrating into the earth at the bottom, it was hot! What a story!

On one of our trips to get water, Anouk voiced her newfound complaint of “I’m bored.” She had just found a great stick that had all its bark and both its ends gnawed off by a beaver! Satisfied that the fire was out, Matthew had something he wanted to show us. He led us to some tracks in the sand and asked us if we could tell what was happening, what was being dragged, what direction it was being dragged in, etc…. It was a continuous path, about two feet wide and striped the length of it. Anouk was fading and not open to discovery and so Matthew brought her further to look at the source. He pointed to a broken tree limb and got her to compare it to her beaver stick. Once we recognized them as the work of a beaver dragging tree limbs down to the river, we saw evidence of their activity everywhere! There were tracks and gnawed trunks all over the place. If Anouk and I had been walking alone, we would’ve missed out on that story, too.

Following their tracks, we discovered more questions. We wondered why they were dragging the limbs down to the water. Beavers around here don’t live in dams; they live in the riverbank. Matthew said that they take the limbs down to the river to keep them fresh. They eat the cambium layer just under the outer bark. I asked if I could try some. Anouk was appalled, but I said I wanted to taste what beavers taste—at least as best I could. I know that cats don’t have taste buds for sweet, so I imagined that Beavers taste buds had different receptors, too. I wondered if it would be hard for us to digest, but Matthew said it is easier than grass. Surprisingly, Anouk ate her piece, too! It was very bitter but had a nutty undertone. It tasted like some buds we had sampled a couple weeks ago! And sure enough, Matthew said that this was their favorite tree. I’ll bet they co-evolved with the river: the beavers and the cottonwoods.

I decided that Anouk could probably benefit from some lunch. So I plopped down and served it up. We had roast beef sandwiches and the end of a bag of pretzels. She didn’t balk, ate it all, had some water, and seemed to have renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Now it was time to choose what to do for the remainder of our day. We narrowed it down to three choices: a treasure hunt, blindfolded drum stalking or crawfishing. We chose the latter. When we got to the water I was feeling a little warm. Suddenly an urge overcame me to throw up. I usually have an iron stomach, so this was surprising. I decided to stay behind. Remember the remainder of the pretzel bag? I think my body wanted to get rid of the salt that I had wrongly assumed was about a teaspoon of pretzel crumbs. Maybe the cottonwood helped me purge it, too. I felt better.

It was nice just sitting there. I saw all sorts of ducks, an egret, a praying mantis, and humans with their dogs. It was enjoyable watching my little girl out in the glow, too. I’ve been feeling, deep down, that this is what she needs more of at this time in her life. Her energy has been so frenetic! And the day was so expansive and relational. She and Matthew and Reed were working as a team. Anouk had the bucket and the eyes. Matthew would lift boulders, Anouk would spot the crawfish and Reed would fearlessly catch them. When it was time to go, they’d probably caught around seven. Although this wasn’t the most productive spot, it was enough. Anouk was suddenly realizing the reality of the situation and getting uncomfortable. We were going to have these for dinner. We picked the three biggest ones and let the rest go. Oh, and there were freshwater clams, too!

We drove right home. Anouk took a shower, set the table and communed with the crawfish while I made dinner. When it came time to cook Anouk’s catch, she didn’t want to watch. I was feeling a little uncertain, myself, so I enlisted Robley’s help. He even got creative with it. I’ll post our recipe on Sunday in my Recipe of the Week. We don’t usually pray before our meals, but we did for this one. There’s something about catching your own food. It evokes an intimacy and gratefulness that an amorphous, irradiated, vacuum-sealed package of beef does not. What creature is a beef anyway? A pork? It used to bother me when Robley would call ham or bacon “pig,” and now I see why; we’ve removed ourselves from the source. In some ways I want to get back to that source. Imagine how much less meat you’d eat. You might not even require as much, because of the freshness. I’ll even bet that local food has the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. I’ll bet that a crawdad or a carrot from our biome is better for us than one from another place—even if we traveled to that other place to eat it fresh. I’m just fascinated that the Inuits get enough from their seal and whale diets. They eat what the seals eat, too. That’s another good reason to take care of our environment. If we do, it really is abundant and can sustain us, no matter where we live.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Turning Over a New Leaf

When I was eleven we moved to the Bay Area in Northern California. However, the concrete jungle did not appeal to my family. My dad worked really hard to get transferred to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Writing this, I hear him telling me that saying “mountains” is redundant, as Sierra Nevada means “snowy mountain range” in Spanish. And so we found ourselves in those snowy mountains next to a beautiful little reservoir. Besides a few cabins here and there, it was a fairly isolated place. I was allowed a lot of freedom to explore. I had some special places there: a large, flat slab of granite where I’d sit and catch lizards and listen to the wind in the trees (anyone see the movie Nell?); a place by the lake where I’d watch the ducks and herons do their wild dance; a path around the lake where I could walk like a Native American Indian, one with the forest; and a nearby glade where we’d walk and find relics of an Indian camp—grinding rocks, arrowheads, beads, crystals. This place filled me with a spirit bigger than my own and gave me a sense of connection in lonely times (otherwise known as junior high).

Since we’ve been homeschooling (and especially since my daughter is junior high age), I’ve become aware that she doesn’t have the same access to the natural world. We live in suburbia. While we are lucky enough to live near a creek, it is inhabited by homeless people and litter and graffiti. I don’t feel safe walking by myself there and would not think of letting my daughter wander there alone.

One benefit of having this creek (however unloved), is that it draws wildlife. We do go for walks together. We see green herons, ducks, squirrels, and once Anouk spotted a rat that had built a little home in a bunch of plants in the middle of the creek. There are native plants and birds and insects and lizards. And sometimes these things venture into our yard. We’ve even been visited by skunks and flocks of turkeys! Just this morning a possum was investigating our back porch. And our trees are filled with beautiful little songbirds. For living in the suburbs, we really are lucky.

I’ve lived in this town for almost thirteen years and still have not accepted it as my home. I’ve been in this house for approaching six years and still haven’t quite moved in. So, where am I?! Limbo. Not the game, but the place between heaven and hell. I’m stuck waiting for my childhood dream to somehow manifest—to live back in nature. But do we ever live out of nature?!

Who knows if I will ever get back to the woods or how long I will live in this place. Who knows?! But I’m here, now. And for as long as I am here, I vow to get to know this place. Maybe in turn, it will introduce me to myself, to my nature. And so, today, I am turning over a new leaf.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella

Chard Stuffed with Risotto and Mozzarella
Serves 3-6


• 1 1/2 cups brown rice
• 6 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
• 1 can cream of celery soup
• 1 cup cream
• 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated, more for garnish
• salt & pepper, to taste
• 6 large chard leaves
• 1/2 lb mozzarella cheese
• extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Cook rice in 3 cups stock, until rice is barely tender. Reserve unused stock. Mix soup with cream until smooth. Stir in parmesan, salt and pepper. Add to rice and mix well. Allow rice to cool a bit. Although you can make this about an hour ahead of time, don't refrigerate the rice. It will change consistency.

Cut mozzarella into bite sized pieces and set aside for assembly.

Poach chard leaves in about 3 cups of remaining broth for about 30 seconds. Remove, drain in a dishcloth, and cut out the central stem, cutting the chard leaf in half lengthwise. Reserve cooking stock.

Note: if you are cooking this in the oven, preheat it now at 400'. But if you are using the solar cooker, don't worry about it.

Lay out a chard leaf, put a three inch ball of rice at one end of the leaf. Sink a piece of cheese into the center. Then carefully roll and place in the pan. Repeat until all the leaves have been used. If your leaf halves are big enough, you may be able to halve them again. Once your pan is full, it will look like you have really plump dolmas! Now use your reserved stock to rise halfway up the wraps.

Cover and toss them in the oven for 15 minutes or the solar cooker for a couple hours. Everything is cooked, so now you just want it to get warm and yummy!

Serve wraps topped with parmesan and olive oil.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Autumn Walkabout

I have not gone on a walkabout for some time. I needed to do it--alone. Writer Rick Bass introduced me to the idea to walk with someone in mind and share what you experienced with them. A communion. A gift. This one is for my mom.

Autumn. The forest near the nature center was quiet. In the 60s, Effie Yeaw Nature Center was the first of 5,000 acres along the American River to be protected. Standing sentry at the trailhead was a two hundred year old Valley Oak. And not far away, one that had fallen in a strong winter storm some handful of years ago. The things it must have stood witness to!

It stood when the Nisenan people inhabited this area. They built their summer homes along the abundant river, once its waters had receded. Walking through here, you can imagine what it must have been like before the settlers came. The forest is no longer still. It allows me to see it. A mamma deer and her baby walk toward me as they cross my path. Penetrating further, I feel their presence; deer are everywhere. And birds: woodpeckers, black phoebes, jays, titmouse. As I stop to listen to their twitters, something bites my leg. Something small. I think it was a spider, but it walked like a crab.

Although the song of the birds was pretty, I was drawn away, toward the river. I saw a massive great egret flying overhead. I was hoping it would land close, but it flew upriver. The river was murmuring and singing its deep earthy song, and insects danced around it: bees, mating damselflies, dragonflies--and Buckeye butterflies. I wanted to take a picture, but they wouldn't let me. I wandered to a sit spot, a log by the water. The sound is so constant and soothing. It's like a soul massage. But those butterflies! I chased them all over the riverside. I guess they wouldn't be possessed.

Time began to gently pull me back, but I decided to meander. I wanted to make my own way, to let the world open up for me. To listen. To hear its message. I saw many plants, known and unknown. I found a mugwort going to seed, and asked if I could take a small bit. In an essay in Ecological Medicine, Kathleen Harrison says, "When, for instance, you meet a plant and you wish to take some of its body for medicine, you ask it if you might, and you explain what it’s for, and you give it something back. On this continent it often has been tobacco, traditionally the most sacred plant of the Americas, that is offered in exchange. I’ve thought about what is most valuable to people of our contemporary culture, and I think it’s time. Time is the thing that is most expensive to us, what we have the least of, and what we’re most jealous with. Time is the precious gift that we can offer to a plant if we want to get to know it, when we want to ask something from it. The way we can offer it time is to get to know the plant, sit with it, learn what it looks like, and maybe grow it. Even if you’re just purchasing the dried root, try to learn about that plant’s world."

I found a couple of other sit spots and tried to meditate. But it was so LOUD. The smallest creatures can be so deafening! Like the butterflies and bees, my thoughts just kept flitting. I curled up in a ball. And then I heard the message. I was waiting for something instead of living into the moment. I hadn't brought my watch, but again, time was tugging me. It said, "Get up." Within minutes, I had come full circle. The veil dropped again, and the forest quieted. I made my way back to the present, into the city and was just in time to pick up my daughter and go home. Time, huh?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Crustless Veggie Quiche

Crustless Veggie Quiche
from Cooking with Sunshine by Lorraine Anderson

Yield 4 Servings

4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup small curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 cup steamed, chopped vegetables
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Lightly oil a dark, 8-inch-square or 9-inch-round baking pan.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, flour, and garlic. Stir in the veggies (we used fresh spinach), scallions, and cheddar cheese.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan, cover, and bake for 2 hours or so in the solar cooker, until firmly set.

Chef's Note: We cooked this pie for 3 hours. It was a windy day in the mid-80s. The temperature of the cooker got up to 250', but the temperature decreased 50' each half hour. The quiche did become firm, but, because of the lower cooking temperatures of the solar oven, it was more like a dinner custard than a quiche. It was tasty, though. Maybe I'll experiment with a crumble crust sprinkled on at the end.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pulled Pork Burritos

The first time we used our solar cooker, my daughter used this recipe from They are a series of farms here in California that sustainably and humanely raise livestock. I understand that the fast food restaurant, Chipotle uses Niman ranch pork. I am fond of Chipotle carnitas burritos and think this is a good imitation with some minor changes. Pulled Ranchero BBQ Niman Ranch Pork

Percy Whatley
Awhahnee Dining Room
Yosemite, CA

3 lbs Niman Ranch Pork Shoulder, boneless

Spice rub:
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp California Chili powder
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground clove
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp Kosher salt or sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, ground

Put your solar cooker in the sun to warm up. For sanitary purposes, this is an unnecessary step. However, it does situate the cooker where you’ll want it to be so that you don’t have to move it much.

Cut your roast into ¼ or ½ pound chunks.

Combine all spice rub ingredients and mix thoroughly by hand. Generously rub the pork shoulder with spice mixture.

Place in a dark enamelware roasting pan with 1/4 c water and place the lid on. The roast will produce some steam (which will inhibit the sun from penetrating the glass). To limit that, you can use large binder clips to hold the lid on tighter.

Cook for 4 to 6 hours.

Remove pork from oven and with two forks, pull the meat apart. It should fall apart or pull apart easily. It is a good idea to use a meat thermometer when cooking meat with any type of slowcooker. Ours was 175’ F and safe to eat. It looked just like it would if you used a conventional oven.

We made burritos with lettuce, cheese, beans, rice, and salsa. It was savory!

Chef’s note: my daughter didn’t like the sweetness of the meat. So, I did adapt this recipe here, reducing the “Eastern” spices and omitting the brown sugar. I think if we made BBQ sauce like in Niman Ranch’s recipe, the spices would have been appropriate. I thought it was delicious, myself!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Solar Cooking Basics

For our first attempt at solar cooking, I decided to cook a three pound pork roast. Sounds risky, you say, attempting to cook meat your first time, without the controlled heat of your oven?! Here’s something to put your fears to rest. Many people safely use slow cookers. Crockpots and solar box cookers operate on the same principle: food is cooked at low temperatures for an extended period of time. I know, it’s the low temperatures part that scares you. Crockpots usually have two settings. The low setting heats up to between 180 to 200 degrees (F), and the high setting heats up to about 280 degrees. If you look at my solar cooking charts below, you will see that the solar cooker operates on what would be the low setting of the crockpot. This is the setting that most people use while they are away from their food all day. Okay, I know that phrase “most people” isn’t very helpful when you’re worried about food safety. In How to Make and Use a Solar Box Cooker, the author states that “When the solar box is in the sun, temperatures quickly heat to 120 degrees F, where germs stop growing, and then to 150 degrees F-where PASTEURIZATION kills ALL parasites and disease organisms except heat-resistant spores. Foods cook at 180-200 degrees F-temperatures hotter than pasteurizing, so any food that is fully-cooked is also pasteurized.” If you are still concerned, do some research. This is good stuff to know, even if you’re not using a solar box cooker. Here in the United States, we have a government food safety agency. They have an informative website: I inserted a cooking thermometer into my roast, and it indicated that the internal temperature was pork safe at 175. That is another tool to put your mind to rest.
Time Oven Outside Wind Notes
10:30 a.m. 0 74 0 Put oven in sun
11:00 175 74 0 Clear sky today
11:30 175 77 0
12:00 p.m. 210 79 0
12:30 200 79 1 Smells good!
1:00 185 82 5
1:30 185 83 5
2:00 225 85 6
3:00 185 86 4 Condensation
4:00 225 88 3
5:00 225 88 4Ready to eat!

Solar cooking works by channeling rays of the sun and containing them in an insulated box. If it is windy or cloudy, it affects the efficacy of the solar cooker. It is, however, still possible to cook when it’s windy. It’s even possible to cook when it’s cloudy, as long as the solar cooker is exposed to sun at least thirty minutes out of each hour.

The second time we used the cooker, I decided to make baked potato soup. I used a recipe from a crockpot cookbook, which called for five pounds of potatoes! I’ve had difficulties cooking potatoes in the crockpot before, and even in the oven with a chicken. They are stubborn little tubers! And, stubbornly, I followed the directions and filled my roasting pan with cubed potatoes and some chicken broth. You can see that the temperature hovered around the same neighborhood as when I cooked the pork roast, somewhere between 175 and 200 degrees. But when I checked the potatoes at 4:00, they were still hard. So, I rushed them into a big pot and boiled them aggressively for half an hour. The potato soup was delicious. I’m going to try it again in the solar cooker. I am really intrigued by the solar box cooker and think with some experimenting it can be just as easy to cook with as my modern, resource depleting kitchen appliances. It is empowering.
Time Oven Outside Wind Notes
10:15 a.m. 0 76 4 Partly cloudy
10:45 125 76 4 Partly cloudy
11:00 190 78 4 Partly cloudy
12:00 p.m. 210 84 Calm Partly cloudy
1:00 200 85 4 Partly cloudy
2:00 175 86 6 Very cloudy
3:00 175 88 7 Very cloudy
4:00 175 88 6 Partly cloudy

Monday, September 22, 2008

How to Make a Solar Box Cooker

I don’t know what I was thinking, building a solar box cooker at the end of September, but, you know, sometimes it’s now or never. I think it was that slippery “tomorrow” that postponed the project for so long in the first place! So, here we go…. Here’s what you’ll need:
a fairly large workplace
a fun team
1 large cardboard box (mine was 17 ½” wide by 23 ½” high by 19” long)
1 small cardboard box (this was 14” wide by 9” high by 19 ½” long)
2-3 large sheets of cardboard (for supports, lid and reflector)
1 pane of glass (I got this at Michael’s for about $10; it was 16” by 20”)
stack of newspapers
75’ regular thickness aluminum foil (I had to buy this; it was about $4)
silicone caulking (I got this for about $4)
water soluble glue (you probably have some Elmer’s glue around the house)
old paintbrush
old cup
tape measurer
Exacto knife
6 twisties
1 stiff hanger
wire cutters
dowel or stick for the prop
sturdy straightedge
paint (optional)
small dark enamelware pots (I got a 4 quart roasting pan for around $10)

AND—last, but not least, you’ll need: some time (this project took me—who is more comfortable reading about doing things more than actually doing them—three days to complete)

I tried to find as much stuff as I could around the house. The few necessities that I ended up buying cost me about $28. Not bad. I figured it was a lot cheaper than buying a solar box cooker, as well as 100% more satisfying. In addition to the “flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” instructions here, there are helpful resources for building all different kinds of solar cookers. Check out these great websites (some of which include instructions):

See if your library carries these helpful books. I used the instructions in the second one to build our cooker:

How to Make and Use a Solar Box Cooker: Easy Cooking with Sunshine by Beverly Blum

Cooking with Sunshine: The Complete Guide to Solar Cuisine with 150 Easy Sun-Cooked Recipes by Lorraine Anderson and Rick Palkovic

The last book also has recipes, but I thought I could convert recipes that could be made in a crockpot into solar cooker recipes, too. So, I also researched crockpot and slow cooker cookbooks. For its tasty sounding recipes and whole food ingredients, I particularly liked:

Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

Day One

To begin, make sure your boxes nest inside each other with enough clearance between the sides for insulation (about 2” on each side). You’ll also want your small box to contain your cooking pot with about 1” headroom. The dimensions I chose are nearly ideal; there is enough room for heat to collect, and it’s not too deep to obstruct the sun.

The boxes you choose will determine how you seal the top part, depending on if you have top flaps or not. Make sure you look through all the instructions first and imagine how you will seal off the top. Because I couldn’t find a large enough box to contain my smaller box, I had to use a REALLY tall box and lay it on its side. Then I cut out a side to form my opening, through which I’d place the smaller box. However, I was a little haphazard in my cutting and shouldn’t have been. If you need to cut boxes down, take your time to make sure all your sides are even. That way when they’re nested, the edges will meet without gaps through which air could escape. I had to go back after I foiled everything and painstakingly measure and cut the sides.

After you’ve imagined how your boxes will fit together, you can begin!

We started by creating the reflector panel. This will eventually sit on top of the cooker to channel the rays of the sun inside. To begin with, turn your large box over, set it on a large piece of extra cardboard, and trace around it. Cut it out. With your sturdy straightedge, crease one of the longer sides 1” to 2” from the edge. Set it aside to foil later.

Next, my daughter and I cut 4” squares of cardboard to raise the small inner box up off the floor of the larger box.

Pour some glue in an old cup and mix with one part water. Now you can glue the squares together in equal stacks. We made a stack for each corner and one for the middle. You will have to determine how many you need to support your inner chamber. Set them aside to dry.

The next step is a little messy; try to keep your hands clean so that you don’t dull the shiny foil with glue. Good luck! Glue foil, shiny side out, onto boxes. Cover the inside and outside of the small box, and just the inside of the larger box. Overlap by at least an inch. There is no need to cover the flaps. Here they are, all shiny.

Make your reflector shiny, too. Don’t forget to overlap your foil by an inch to make sure your heat doesn’t escape.
Now position your cardboard stacks into the bottom of the large box and glue them down.
Clean your brushes and your workspace. My cats LOVE boxes, so I needed to make sure they were covered! We then let everything dry overnight.

Woo-hoo, we’re getting warm!

Day Two

We started by creating a lid from large pieces of extra cardboard. So, if your large box didn’t come with a lid, you’ll need to make one. Again, turn your large box over, set it onto another large piece of cardboard, and trace around it. Then trace 3” to 4” around each side to make the edges. Cut out along this outer edge. Then cut a slit to the inner line at each corner. Using your trusty straightedge, crease along your line to form the edges. Now you are ready to fold them over and attach them. After you’ve overlapped a corner, use a knife or scissors to poke two holes 1” apart through the overlapping pieces. Then, thread a twisty through both holes and twist securely in front. Make sure to pull the flaps tight as you fasten each corner.

Turn your lid over, center your glass piece in it and trace around it. Then draw a line 1” INSIDE that line. Cut following your INNER line. In this way, you are making the window just slightly smaller so that the glass can be affixed and rest securely on top. However, don’t glue it yet! You’ll want to wait until after you’ve painted everything.

Now you need to see how your boxes fit together. Insert the small box into the larger one. Add or remove cardboard from stacks to bring the two box edges level.

Once your boxes are level, crumple newspaper to fill the gaps in the bottom of your box. You’ll want to quarter your newspaper sheets and ball them up tightly. They will loosen up a little after you’ve placed them in the box.

Before you continue, you’ll need to look at your boxes together again. Can you still imagine how they will seal together? If you’re not going to use your flaps and create toppers for all sides, now is the time to cut the flaps off. I chose to use the smaller box’s longer flaps and cut the shorter ends off. Since I modified my large box, it didn’t have flaps.

Okay, now you can continue filling your walls with insulation. Center the smaller box inside and start filling it up. You may have noticed the lack of pictures that include us, but this is a sign that we were getting dirty. Our hands were black after crumpling the newspaper!

At this point, take a deep breath and take your time. You want to make sure you seal your box well. Bend the longer sides neatly over the edge of the large box and glue. You may need some vises, depending on how strong your glue is.

Look closely at my pictures to get an idea of how to create the end caps. Cut them out of excess cardboard, crease and cover what will be the inside flap in foil. Place them in their spots and make sure that they’ll seal well.
Now you can glue them inside and outside the boxes. Use vises here, as well, to hold the caps in place while they dry. We also put 2.5 pound weights on top to make sure they sealed well. Notice it’s nighttime.

If you decide to paint your cooker, now is a good time. Paint the lid and the box.

Once the paint is dry, affix your glass with the silicone caulking. This type of glue is important, as it allows the glass to expand with the heat and not break. Let dry.

Glue reflector to lid and weight.
Gettin’ warmer!
Day Three

Cut hanger, bend ends in an inch or two. I had my husband do this part; the wire was difficult to cut and made some dangerously sharp edges. If your child is going to be using the cooker, make sure and sand the wire points down. Glue one 5” strip of corrugated cardboard to the back and one to the lid of box. It needs to be your right side, as you are facing the front of the box. Use two twisties to attach your stick to the hanger as a reinforcement. When the glue is dry, you can insert the ends of the hanger into the corrugated holes and prop up the reflector, as necessary.

Put a black cookie sheet inside with an oven thermometer and set in the sun for the day to completely dry and breathe.

Notice where the sun is in your yard and play around with the reflector to maximize the light in the cooker. Where does the sun kiss your yard? This exercise gave us a chance to become more intimate with the sun, not just as a novelty, but in a survival sense.

The cooker is light enough that you can pick it up to move it when necessary. And, it was awesome! It got to 175 degrees in half an hour! We put it out at 8:45 a.m. The outside temperature was 68 degrees with a 9 mph wind. By 12:30 p.m., it was 79 degrees outside, and 250 degrees inside our cooker! It stayed there until the shade swallowed our yard. So even though today was the first day of Autumn, it isn't too late in the year for solar cooking.
Now you’re hot! You’re ready to cook. I brought our cooker in for the night to avoid deterioration from condensation. Tomorrow we’ll actually try it out!