Now We’re Cooking…with Sunshine

We offered our solar cooking workshop last weekend to an enthusiastic “crowd” of 17. That’s the biggest group a Pogue’s Run Grocer class has ever attracted, so we were pleased.

Judy demonstrating how to make a lid for a box cooker.

Judy demonstrating how to make a lid for a box cooker.

Judy has developed a wooden model, but we’re still working out the kinks. So we focused the class on “the old workhorse,” our tried-and-true cardboard box cooker. We wanted to show that you can start cooking with sunshine using only cheap (or free!) materials.

Judy adapted the design out of our solar cookery bible, Cooking with Sunshine. And you can find DIY instructions online as well.

All it needs now is an arm to prop the reflector--and you can make this out of a wire hanger.

All it needs now is an arm to prop the reflector. You can make this out of a wire hanger.

One of the attendees, a firefighter, plans to make the box cooker at the firehouse. He has a big vegetable garden, and he brought us all kinds of herbs and veggies in thanks for the teaching. He was eager to try using up garden produce in all-day stews and soups.

And we discovered after the class was done that another of the attendees has already been experimenting with solar cooking quite a bit. He sent me this inspiring video, proving me wrong when I said, “No, you can’t solar cook in the winter, because the sun’s too low.” Check it out!

The company behind this innovative design is called Solar Clutch. Its mission is promoting solar cooking in high risk areas of the world. I hadn’t heard of Solar Clutch, but I’m proud to find my home state of Indiana producing such a company.

Perhaps solar cooking season doesn’t have to end on Sept. 15 after all!

Real Simple

Still wobbling through Staphland. So here is a bit I dusted off from the archives of Shawndra ravings, for your reading pleasure. Back to the couch.

Some years back this magazine Real Simple caught my eye in the checkout lane at Kroger. Its thickness approximated that of the phone book of the small town where I went to college. It was unlike me to put it in my cart, but I  was attracted by the silky cover, I suppose.

By Jim Clark, via Wikimedia Commons

By Jim Clark, via Wikimedia Commons

Because I remember that cover to this day. It was a tableau of succulent blueberries. Inside were “real simple” ideas for augmenting someone’s perfect life: Make blueberry tea cakes the size of dolly dishes for your brunch guests! Weave a wreath from wheat purchased at such-and-such online store! Festoon it with dried wildflowers you’ve sprayed with hairspray, for colors that last! And so on.

Not one project within those pages would do anything but complicate life. The crafts were Martha Stewart-level hard, the recipes were full of fussy ingredients, and the whole magazine was a waste of $4.95.

Hmph, I thought, I’ll show you real simple.

Call me crazy, but say “real simple” to me and I don’t think of spending oodles of time piping mint icing onto chocolate chip cupcakes. I don’t envision sewing clunky wooden beads onto the placket of my earth-toned Nehru shirt. I don’t have time for fussiness.

But I realize that what I do in the name of the simple life may seem a bit on the fussy side, to people with different priorities. I operate on the premise that the less money I need to live on, the wealthier I am. This leads me down some curious roads.

Here I am leaning way into a wild bramble, getting all scratched up to reach one more black raspberry for my little bucketful.

Or here I am washing onion skins and celery tops to save in a big Ziploc bag in the freezer, for a future stock-making escapade.

Or here I am standing over the stove on a 90-degree August day, stirring sugar into grape pulp—having picked the grapes from my neighbors’ fence—and waiting for the precise moment when it turns to jam, seemingly many sweaty hours later.

There are times I feel rather smug about my gardening and homesteading efforts. Like when homegrown produce turns into a meal made a soleil “for mere pennies!”

Other times, I just feel like a chump. Lugging buckets of water from here to there in 100-degree heat, for example, while my neighbors up the street lounge by their in-ground pool.

Remember that TV show featuring two famous-for-being-rich-and-famous young women who attempted to live among farm folk? It was called The Simple Life. The opener showed the starlets in overalls, with straw in their hair and dirt on their faces, looking aggrieved.

I guess the fun was in watching the high-class duo learn that the simple life ain’t easy. So true, even on my own modest homestead here in town.


Wouldn’t trade it for a slick magazine.

Not Your Mother’s Flower Show

Update as of March 8: I’ve added a couple things to this post that I didn’t know about yesterday: additional times to hear about backyard chickens, plus a coupon!

Quick commercial break here for those who live in or near Indianapolis. This year’s Flower and Patio Show, running March 9-17 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, includes a phenomenal new exhibit called The Urban Homestead. Picture a 10,000 square-foot city lot set up right in the middle of the expo hall, complete with chickens, rain barrels, vegetable gardens, and occasionally even sheep.

Yep, sheep. “When the grass around the Eco-Cottage grows too tall during the show, sheep from Fruit Loop Acres will be brought in to ‘mow.'”

sheep grazing

Sheep from the Green Shepherd Project, a project of Fruit Loop Acres, graze a city lot. Photo by Sue Spicer.

Other highlights:

Fraudulent Farmgirl Amy Mullen from Spotts Garden Service will present three times:

  • Saturday, March 9: 12:30 p.m. “Food Gardening for Beginners
  • Friday, March 15, 1:00 p.m. “Organic Weed and Pest Control
  • Friday, March 15, 6:00 p.m. “Edible Landscapes

Herbs growing in a container

Andy Cochran with Circle City Rain Barrels will teach how to build a rain barrel in two sessions:

  • 11:30am Saturday, March 9
  • 11am Sunday, March 10

Nap Town Chickens will be there all week, and there will opportunities to learn how easy it is to keep backyard chickens in three sessions:

  • 1pm Tuesday, March 12 with Andrew Brake of Nap Town Chickens
  • 11am Thursday, March 14 with Maggie Goeglein of Fall Creek Gardens
  • 7pm Saturday, March 16 with Andrew Brake of Nap Town Chickens

All this plus beekeeping, mead making, container gardening, composting, and more. I’m so there!

Oh wait, I have to be there: I signed up to be a presenter. I’ll be talking about solar cooking at 1pm Wednesday, March 13, demonstrating how to harness the most plentiful source of energy on earth to do your summer cooking.

We may have snow on the ground now, but in a few short months, this little puppy will be my best friend again.

solar cooker

Solar cooker and rain barrel on my urban homestead

Here is a coupon for $3 off admission to the Flower and Patio Show. Get there, and then come see us at the Urban Homestead exhibit!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.