Hello again. There’s lots I could update you on since the months that Mona has been born; since the farming season has started in earnest; since my season of full-time parenting has started in earnest. But for now I’ll just leave it at the weather. It’s been a pretty spectacular cool June week here, with the right amount of rain for the garden but also plentiful sunshine.
Plentiful sunshine is pretty helpful for our kitchen these days. We’re far past the time when we can cook on our woodstove without totally heating ourselves out of the house (although we had some surprisingly late fires in May when temperatures dipped below average). And we don’t have our outdoor kitchen built yet.
Well, at least not the more extensive outdoor kitchen we dream of. We are technically cooking a lot outdoors. But it’s a basic set-up, to say the least. Our classic Coleman camp stove has never gotten so much use before, and I have to say that it’s doing a great job. As one of my friends commented: we’re “living our best camping lives.”
We quickly realized how fast you can go through one of those small camping propane tanks. So now we’re hooked up to a large propane tank, and are getting pretty adept at running things out to the back porch to cook. Heck, it’s even kind of pleasant to cook eggs early in the morning with the birds chirping all around and the sun coming through the trees. But definitely not the set up we want for the long term.
For one thing, we’d love to not use so much propane. Granted, we’re happy that we used our cookstove for over half of the year. And the fact that we’re so obviously hooked up to a propane tank helps us to be more aware of how much propane we’re using. It impacts my cooking in kind of funny ways. For one, though I know it’s less healthy, I tend to cook a lot more white rice than brown nowadays because it takes so much less time—and propane. And I’ve started buying more bread because baking has become so much more difficult.
But not impossible! I finally, finally had a decent batch of bread from our Sun Oven on Monday. We purchased a Sun Oven a few months back, and were quite excited about how it might help out our cooking and baking this summer, especially without the outdoor wood-fired oven we’d like to eventually build. But there’s been a lot of trial and error involved with putting our Sun Oven to use, as well as a lot of underdone loaves of bread and frustratingly uncooked rice.
Turns out, there’s just a fair amount of clouds in our neck of the woods. And shade. I’m realizing that I need to approach it more like a slow cooker when I’m trying to make meals, and put food in first thing in the day. That way, if clouds roll in in the afternoon and the temperatures drop, the food will still get done by dinnertime. And I also just need to stop attempting baking unless I’ve got full sun. Too many times, I put bread in on a “partly cloudy” day and, sure enough, those “partly” clouds appeared just as the bread went in to the oven.
With all the frustrating fails, we’ve had some good successes with the Sun Oven. And I’m feeling confident that we can work it into our cooking lives. Early on, I managed to make some cheesy tomato barley and baked chicken. At the same time, mind you, thanks to the stackable pots that came with our Sun Oven.
It heats up leftovers quite well. I’ve also used it somewhat regularly to sanitize kombucha brewing bottles and my pump parts. And, like I said, Monday was a bread-baking success, as well as my first go baking granola in the sun oven.
The oven has a refreshingly simple set up. There are large metal reflectors that open up around the glass door. There’s a sliding post on the bottom that allows you to angle the oven to be in the sun’s direct rays. And there’s a clever little “indicator” on the front of the door that tells you if you’re lined up with the sun. The thermometer inside lets you know what temp you’re at. The Sun Oven advertises that you can get up to 400 degrees, but we haven’t done much better than 325. And there’s a helpful “leveling rack” that keeps your dish level even when your oven is angled for the sun.
I usually go out and check and adjust the position every 30 minutes or so, unless I’m using it more as a slow cooker. Then I just try to set it where it’ll be in direct noonday sun and leave there.
Early on, when I was trying to figure things out when Mona was still quite small, and dishes were spilling because I tried to adjust the oven for sun while the dish was on the leveling rack inside, and rice was completely uncooked at 5:30 in the evening, there were some tears and some choice words. And a few more moments when I said to myself, “WHY, exactly, are we doing this?” Thankfully, the Sun Oven and I are coming along in our relationship, and I’m again feeling energized (though certainly not all the time) by the creative possibilities for living more simply. It really is pretty cool that you can stick some raw chicken in a box in the sun and have dinner at the end of the day. Three cheers for the sun and the amazing ways it can power our lives.