Monday, 31 January 2011

The ultimate solar bread recipe

Oh, my goodness - I am sooooooooo excited.  I have the ultimate bread recipe for a solar oven.

To see what I am talking about - here is a photo of it - actually here is a photo of three loaves from one recipe.


L - R : BBQ grill, normal loaf pan, cast iron loaf pan

I have been trying various recipes - but I have been trying one loaf / day at a time.  Today I made a recipe that makes three loaves - so I thought, why not try and cook them in different containers.

Which I did.

One of the loaves I cooked on our BBQ grill, in a normal loaf pan.  30 minutes later - cooked and yummy looking.


My other two loaves I cooked in the solar oven.


Number 2 (on the left of the picture) was cooked in a normal loaf pan with another pan inverted on top of it.  Number 3 was cooked in my cast iron loaf pan, with the lid on for the first 20 minutes - then I though about it and quickly removed the lid and loosely covered it with a piece of black silicone baking sheet.  Judging by the BBQ grill cooked loaf it would need space to rise - hindsight showed the lid would certainly have restricted it!


A stitch in time, saves nine - jam cooking
and jars / lids sterilizing simultaneously

Naturally, RMan could barely wait the 40 minutes after the first loaf was finished cooking to have a slice - which he did, dolloping home made solar preserved plum jam!


All that lovely juice gathered safely in the botttom of the
roasting tray - it can't dry out or evapourate because the
heat isn't coming from the bottom like a normal oven :-)

And, yesterday I cooked a whole chicken - but this time instead of just placing it inside the pot to cook, I lifted it off the base with a roasting grid, and turned the chicken upside down - that way the juices would baste the breasts as they dripped past.  Delicious.

Tonight - chicken breasts wrapped in bacon - stuffed with solar dried tomatoes from the garden.  With solar baked potatoes.  And a fresh garden salad.

Anyway - you decide - which loaf would you like to eat?

If you click on the photo you'll see the texture of the bread better.

I'm obviously as bad as RMan - I couldn't wait until
I was finished taking photo's to have a taste too :-)
This recipe, although it is a bit of work, has created the perfect solar oven bread.  I am a very happy little puppy :-) 

Is there no one out there who would like me to try and convert their favourite recipe to a solar oven one?

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Safer and more secure?

Last weekend, RMan, RSon and CGuy, a friend from Cape Town, who own's the neighbouring plot, all trooped up to the farm to add to the security which has been beefed up.

Two new horizontal bars, and a new vertical bar -
the mess has nothing to do with me!

Firstly, they installed down posts at the windows - these will be spot welded to the newly replaced and exisiting burglar bars as soon as we get a chance.

And RMan replaced the broken window.

Then, our very, very generous friend, CGuy, offered us the loan of three of his five solar panels.  These will be used to power two 30 watt sirens - one internal, and one external.  They will be loud enough to cause anyone who tries to break in again a severe headache, if not deafen them slightly - not condusive to taking their time searching for whatever else they may want to remove.  In addition, it will also, hopefully, alert any nearby neighbours, who are home, to the fact that a break-in is occuring , and they hopefully will call the police.

RSon installing the panels on the tracks



Panels all ready to be taken outside
and hoisted to the roof

I'm very grateful that I wasn't there - I couldn't believe the mess that three adult males can make over the course of only 18 hours.  18 hours!!!!  I don't do mess.

This was the tidier /more organised picture

But, before they could put the solar panels up, the internal work had to be done.


That involved CGuy climbing up into the roof to secure the alarm in place - he's not a small guy - 2.1 mtrs (6'4") but he can crawl around in the smallest of places.

He also installed two LED lights - on the two (single) external doors - to alert anyone close enough to the house, that it is now alarmed.  Apparently the LED lights can be seen from 200 mtrs away.

At the kitchen door

At the currently external door, which will become
our bedroom door when we continue with the building
All in all they had a very productive weekend.  And hopefully what they accomplished will deter anyone from attempting to break-in.  Time will tell.

So now our little farmhouse has some jewellery - three beautiful solar panels and two sparkling LED lights :-)  Almost like a necklace and earings LOL

Note the wind in the tree - howling yet again
- damn, a wind turbine is going to work so well....

Sad to have to take these steps, but necessary.

Friday, 28 January 2011

More meals from the sun

I have made many meals in my solar oven in the past few weeks.

Due to the fact that RMan and I both have slightly raised cholesterol levels, we have been advised by our GP to eat chicken, fish or ostrich - especially RMan who loves his meat.  Ostrich is plentiful in this country, and is as versatile to prepare as chicken or meat.

So when I spotted a pack of ostrich goulash in the local shop's fridge, I thought I'd give it a try.


Yummy, tender and as easy as pie.  The only time I used conventional power was to brown (and seal) the onions and the chunks of ostrich.  Onions, carrots, tomatoes and herbs came from my garden too :-)

Then I also made a lasgane using ostrich mince.  Again - the only conventional power used was for browning the onions and mince, and making the bechamel sauce.


I don't know about you, but whenever I have cooked a lasagne before, it always seems to make such a mess when it overboils in my oven.  So I got clever, as the last thing I want on the floor of my solar oven is a sticky, overcooked mess.  I placed the lasagne dish inside another dark pot.  That way any mess would be contained.  It was :-)


Even though the cheese will not brown, as in a conventional oven, the lasagne was such a success - it was ready by 2.00pm and RMan couldn't resist testing it before I popped it in my hotbox.  Both he and RSon voted for a repeat - in fact, just as I was heading to bed, I caught RSon in the fridge having thirds, or was that fourths...?


But - I'm even more chuffed.  There was enough mince left over to make ostrich canneloni.  That has been divided into two portions, par cooked and placed in the freezer.  It will make ideal food to take with us the next time we go to the farm where I will complete the cooking porcess in our very basic solar oven (the fancier one I leave in Cape Town - so that I can experiment properly J ).

Please - don't tell our GP that we're consuming cheese once in a while...  It's as bad as eggs - cholesterol-wise.

I also made breadcrumbs in the solar oven - stale left-over bread whizzed up into crumbs, spread out on a tray and popped it in the oven and Hey! presto!  breadcrumbs a short while later :-)  And boiled potatoes for mash.

Lastly, another meal I made was spinach canneloni...  That has got to be my most favourite meal ever!  The solar oven cooked it perfectly.  Again, the only power usage came from the bechamel sauce - even the spinach leaves were pre-wilted in the oven.

Does anyone have any favourite recipes they would like me to try and convert, and try out, in the solar oven?  Please mail me at: dani atsign ecofootprint dot co dot za

Thursday, 27 January 2011

I couldn't wait

I couldn't wait to start preserving some fruit and vegetables using Lynda Brown's "The Preserving Book".

Thankfully, I managed to get to the shopping centre over the mountain and bought some plums, pears, prunes, pickling onions and cauliflower to which I added homegrown peppers, carrots, zucchini and broccoli.

So, on Tuesday I made a batch of apple pectin, 5 jars of pear conserve, 6 jars of plum and lemon jam and two jars of vegetables in oil.


Solar preserved pears,
plum and lemon jam and vegetables in oil

The apple pectin I have placed in the freezer - so it's on hand when I need it.

The plum and lemon jam took the longest, but it's delicious - we've had some on toast for breakfast already.

The pear conserve I made in the solar cooker using the oven method.

I even sterilized my jars and lids in the solar oven.

Doesn't it make a difference when you have a book which details exactly how to do something that you've not tried doing before.  I'm so excited I'm like a child with a new toy.

I don't know if my preserves are going to last until the drabness of winter to be enjoyed as I can't wait to have some of the vegetables in oil with a couple of slices of solar baked home-made bread and a chunk of cheese.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Solar Baked Beans

I have been unable to find a publisher for my solar cook book, and Jane is eager to get her spring / summer meals planned.

I don't know how I'm going to get the recipes out there now, except for posting them on my blog.  Pity - was hoping to condense them in one place (like an e-book), with links to the recipe from the title.

Whatever - enjoy this one.

Solar Baked Beans


1 cups uncooked haricot or sugar beans - soaked overnight
1 litre water boiling water (½ quart)
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
½ tablespoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses or treacle
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup water
pork of some kind - optional (this can be leftovers, bacon, ribs or pork chops)
Pre-heat the solar oven to 150oC (300oF)

Drain and discard the water that the beans have been soaked in, and place the beans in a large dark pot.  Add the boiling water. Add no seasonings at this point. Cover and place in the solar oven preheated to 130 - 150oC (250 - 300oF) and cook for 1½ - 2 hours.


Beans in water - boiling away in the solar oven
For the sauce, on a conventional stove, add the oil to a frying pan / skillet. Add the diced onion and cook until brown. Stir in the mustard and the tomato paste and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly (this increases the flavour).  Add the rest of the flavourings - brown sugar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and stir it all until well combined.  Add the pork, if using, and the ½ a cup of water and stir.

Drain the beans and place them back in the cast iron or dark pot and mix the sauce in gently to combine. Check for seasoning. Cover and cook for a further 1½ - 2 hours or until tender (check quickly every ½ hour).


Serve warm, or cold, with a fresh green salad harvested from the garden and a loaf of crusty homemade bread.

If you want to double the recipe, allow for an extra ½ hour of initial cooking and ½ - 1 hour baking in the solar oven.

This is very delicious and very more-ish.  Baked beans done any other way will never be good enough again.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Preserve Me

I don't often recommend a book, and gain nothing by doing so - apart from the pleasure of sharing something that I really like. 

With that stated, I can't wait to tell you about this latest find.  I have been searching for a book on preserving food for ages, and even went so far as to purchase "Preserving the Taste" by Edon Waycott, which was recommended on another blog.  I was disappointed with the book.

So the hunt was on again.  I happened to be "over the mountain" at a shopping mall and popped into the bookstore there.  Shelves and shelves of recipe books - and I didn't have enough time to do them justice.  I gave the shelves a quick once over - and fortuitously my eyes came to rest on exactly the section that I needed.  In bold, rather garish, print I read: "The Preserving Book" by Lynda Brown. (Click here to see it on kalahari.net or here for amazon.com).   I grabbed the book with my free hand, put down my shopping bags in my other hand, and began to hastily page through it.


I couldn't believe my eyes - it was absolutely perfect!  I had just won the preserving book lottery!  I was so excited that I shouted out, "That's it!".  (I only realised that I had vocalised my thoughts when I noticed heads turning my way LOL).

I am going to try and give you a glimpse of what is in this book, but it is so full of fresh and amazing ideas that I hardly know where to start.

It begins with information on exactly what equipment is need for which method, and even suggests which containers would be suitable for each finished product.

It provides a chart, and details, on 29 fruits and 42 vegetables and advises which is suitable for preserving via:

natural (leaving in the ground, clamping)
dehydrated
frozen
jams
conserves
jellies
fruit cheeses (intensely flavoured fruit preserves) butters and curds
marmalade
crystallized fruits
chutneys
pickles
relishes
bottled produce
cordials / syrups
ketchup and sauces
preserving in oil
salting and curing (vegetables/fish and meat)
and brewing and wine making!

The pages are jam packed (LOL with or without the pun) with information and incredible photographs / illustrations.  Hopefully, without infringing on copyright, here is a taster of what the book contains:


There are so many details, and delicious recipes in this book - I couldn't wait to start.  But it was near the end of the day.  My eyes happened to fall on an absolute gem - "Bottled whole tomatoes".  Easy peasy - just wash the tomatoes, sprinkle salt and sugar and lemon juice over them - toss, ram into your preserving jar, seal and cook via the hot bath method.  Brilliant!  Even this novice could do that.  I did :-)

I used some surplus baby tomatoes which I had harvested on Friday.  The recipe is easily convertible for cooking in the solar oven.

The tomatoes "shrink" whilst they are in the
hot water bath - producing a delicious juice :-)
Lynda Brown even provides storage times for your preserved goods - for instance she says that the tomatoes prepared as above will keep for 12 months in a cool, dark area.


It is seriously the most comprehensive, informative preserving book I have read and has now got it's own spot on my "treasured recipe books" shelf.


It is the type of book that one can use over and over again and then, when one is too old to continue preserving, pass it on to a daughter or son and it will still be applicable in 50 - 100 years time.

Now - all I need to do is get to the local market and purchase all those fruits and vegetables which I am unable to grow but would like to preserve...  I now know how!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Where do bees go in winter?

I was wondering through my garden this morning and noticed that a couple of self-seeded tomato plants are popping their heads above ground.  That led me to suddenly think - is there enough time before autumn / winter for these tomato plants to be productive - tomatoes need an temperature or 21 - 27oC (70 -80oF) in order to germinate and be productive.

But it was not only that, I suddenly thought - the tomatoes would need bees to pollinate the flowers - there are no bees in winter - well, none that I have ever noticed.

photo from http://www.sabeekeeper.co.za/
But bees don't migrate like birds - do they?  So what happens to them?

So I decided to google "where do bees go in winter", and came up with the following three sites:

http://www.satweb.co.za/bees/bees.htm

http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1699/

http://www.bees-online.com/Winter.htm

Basically, the worker bees create a "laarger"*.  Every worker bee in the hive (except for the drones and the queen bee, naturally) is involved in ensuring that the centre of their hive stays cool enough in summer and warm enough in winter.

To air condition the hive in summer, bees will gather on the outskirts of the hive and fan it madly with their wings in order to create a draft in the hive, and in winter the bees will cluster round around the queen bee in order to keep the center temperature at around 27oC (80oF). The worker bees rotate from the outside to the inside so that no bee gets too cold. The outside edges of the cluster stay at about 8oC (46-48oF). The colder the weather is outside, the more compact the cluster becomes.

So... I learnt something today.

The bees are still around in winter - they're just busy being useful to their hive.

Busy, busy bees indeed :-)

We really should take care of them better - for they are all our futures.

They are mainly attracted to purple and blue flowers, followed by yellow and orange.  Aubergines have lavender coloured flowers, tomatoes, squash / pumpkins and marrows are yellowy-orange - I've decided that I am definitely going to have at least one of each of these plants in my garden each summer - if only for the bees sake.  And strictly organic vegetable growing - for the chemicals in pesticides don't help anyone or anything one iota.

And I'm going to check each morning that my bird bath is full  - bees need a drink too.

Without them we would have no pollinated crops and no seeds for the future.  And I would surely miss not being able to grow my own tomatoes, aubergines, peas, beans, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, etc.


*A "laarger is a circle formed to protect the internal area of the circle.  The name is derived from the dutch settlers who travelled this country in ox wagons - at night they would create a laarger with the wagons, in order to protect the members of their party from wild animals / indigenous people.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Vegetable growing advice

I need some assistance from anyone who has successfully grown sweetcorn.

My sweetcorn experiment has had mixed results.  I have had some sweetcorn, but I have also had the following:


Exposed cobs with no silks...?



Now I know that I grew them in an unconventional way (on the retainer wall) but I have harvested a few - I would just like to know why this happened to some of them?

I would also like to share an idea I got from another blog (sorry, can't remember the blog address - that's a bad habit I have - reading someone's blog, seeing something I like and writing down the details, and then forgetting to note who's idea it was - my sincere apologies.  If it's your blog, please write to me so that I can correct this posting).

It's to do with creamed sweetcorn.

What you do is this:

Peel, and remove the silks from the head of corn.



Cut off the corn kernels - leaving a small amount of the kernels on the cob


Angling the knife almost perpendicular to the cob, drag the knife up "squashing" the remains of the kernels as you remove them, thereby releasing the sugars and creating corn with a sweet creamy texture.


Either freeze or use immediately - heat gently in your solar cooker for 30 minutes or in a pan on the stovetop.  Do not allow to dry out, otherwise you will loose the naturally sweet, creamy texture.

Serve with a knob of butter.  Absolutely delicious!

Finally, can anyone tell me why my 3 pumpkin plants aren't producing female flowers?  Plenty of male one's, but no females...  Very frustrating!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Invaded


At 7.15 pm last night we received a telephone call from our neighbour, Roy. Whenever he visits his farm, to make progress on his building, he always goes walkabout - to check on everyone else's property. Eyes and ears - we all do it for each other.

However - the call was bad news.

Between lunchtime last Sunday and last night someone had broken into our little house.

Fearing the worst, RMan and RSon rushed up to the farm, arriving at 11.30pm.

The thieves had broken a small window at the back of the house, by our kitchen door. This space had enabled a very small child to enter, who then went to the one big windows behind the kitchen sink and opened it, allowing his accomplices to forcefully remove the two lowest burglar bars. Through this opening they proceeded to remove:

All, but one, of the baskets containing dried / tinned food, including every scrap of food in the house, as well as all the cutlery and kitchen implements, all the crockery / glasses / mugs and thermos flask, as well as all my casserole dishes, were taken.

My beautiful baskets which worked so well...
My singing  kettle...
They did not take the bedding, the cushions / pillows, camping chairs, nor the pots and pans ... and a lot of other things we were expecting to be gone.

After spending until 2.00 a.m. this morning cleaning up the worst of the mess, but still leaving vital evidence / fingerprints intact, RMan and RSon had the police there this morning and they reckon it is the work of kids ... there was a trail of sweet wrappers leading to the back fence.

It could've been a lot worse and the place could've been ransacked and cleaned out!  Children who are deprived of an education due to their parents poverty, who are bored  and who sniff glue / take drugs and drink, get up to a lot of trouble.

Hunger and unemployment also figure in the equation.

But, for us, the worst thing is that once you have been broken into, the thieves know how hard / easy it is, and they will be back.  So RMan and RSon have spent the day trying to fortify our burglar proofing, etc.  Not a nice situation - and one which I know is going to give us sleepless nights.

This is just another result of the world-wide recession and it's lingering consequences.

We are now going to have to replace whatever was taken, and that, when times are already so financially tough, is an added burden.

Thankfully, though, we were not there when it happened and were therefore not in any danger, and secondly none of the theives seems to have been hurt - there was no visible blood on the broken window - although RMan could, he said in his first reaction to the news, very happily have shed some had he caught anyone...  I somehow doubt that - he is a gentle man and a gentleman.

Update:


Point of entry - broken double glazed toughened safety glass window
and 2 X burglar bars removed

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Farm visitors

We had some (unexpected) guests on our last visit to the farm.

We have seen some fallow deer in the fields surrounding us, and came across a baby one at night.  We have also had a large hare escort us home along the dirt road one evening - right to our gate - before he hared off in another direction.

And, whilst we were putting in the foundations (in Dec 2008 / Jan 2009), we came across a snake skin which had been shedded - which made us pause for thought...


Then last year RMan came face to face with a Cape Cobra - I don't know who got more of a fright - RMan or the snake.

However, this time the visitors were a little less harmful...

Firstly, on our return walk after viewing our neighbours wind turbine we came across this little feller...

A little field mouse taking advantage of our grey water reed bed

Scampering up the side of our (unfinished) reed bed

It would appear that this little feller has made his home in our new wood pile.

The we spotted some tortoises.

Naughty, naughty, naughty - is he hitching a ride...


I would hazard a guess that this is a male and female
with the male being the redder one

or is he making whoopee.....?


Whatever - these guests are welcome in the garden... anytime.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Keeping cool the eco-friendly way

I'm going crazy with the solar recipe book - please bear with me a couple of weeks more...

We have been experiencing very hot weather in Cape Town, and I thought I would share with you how to remain cool as the outside temperature rises, without resorting to using electricity via your air conditioner.



At my back door I hang a plain sheet, which I have converted into a simple curtain, on a rod which is held in place by two small cuphooks.

A close up of the simple hanging method
When the mercury is shooting through the roof I remove the sheet (with rod in place), dip it in a bucket of water, and with the minimal of squeezing, I re-hang the sheet / curtain. The draft blowing through the wet sheet acts like an airconditioner. This could also be used on any curtain at a window (and encourage a late spring clean :-) ).  Simply wash the curtains and hang them straight from the washing machine.  If you go the 'dip in the bucket" route you would just have to squeeze the curtains a little more so that the water doesn't drip on your floor / carpet.


Secondly, when travelling in your car, have a wet towel with you. (keep it in a plastic bag until you require it.)  Open the car windows about 2.5 cms and ensure that only your fan is on (not your airconditioning) then drape the wet towel round your neck or over your legs. The damp towel will again act as an airconditioner as the air moves through it. You will thus use less petrol whilst driving (as car air conditioners increase your petrol consumption) whilst still being able to remain cool under the collar when driving :-)

Friday, 7 January 2011

A very refreshing break

We left Cape Town on Boxing Day - by we, I mean RMan, myself, NGirl, MKid and WGuy - RSon joined us 3 days later.

Surprisingly, there was very little traffic so the trip only took us 2 1/2 hours.  Naturally, we had to stop at Dassiesfontein - NGirl wanted to show WGuy all the goodies available there, and RMan (finally) bought himself a hat to wear whilst working on the farm - very necessary for those hot, sunny days.

Talking of sunny days we had nothing but overcast skies for the entire time we were there - drizzling now and then, but only producing 4mm of rain in 8 days - just enough to rinse off the leaves.  But the overcast skies were perfect for getting out onto the land and getting some work done.

Before RMan pulled a shoulder muscle using the pick, we managed to plant and lay irrigation to : 5 tiny Eugenia trees (as a wind break) 1 conifer which had been slowly dying of thirst in a broken pot at our home in Cape Town, 5 tiny lemon trees (grown from pips last year) and three avocado trees - also grown from pips - in the compost heap - LOL.  I think I have heard that avocado pips do not produce fruiting trees - time will tell...

We created a small wind break - to help the lemon trees along -
the wind blows something awful there...
We also lined the 5 individual pomegrate trees we have planted with a square mtr of Weedguard (a permeable ground cover for the prevention of weeds and the evapouration of whatever water we give the trees) and then we laid a continuous strip where we planted the lemon trees - we're very interested to see which method works better!

The renosterveld which has sprung up in the three months since we last able to visit were terrible - RMan, RSon and I climbed in and cleared the area where we planted fthe first of my lemon trees, and RSon also cleared the driverway - which was becoming completely overgrown.  We also gave the grape vine area a good weeding and installed some wire supports - as well as creating a border round them - it would appear as if some sheep and cows have had access to our property - not too sure how, for we can't see the fences broken / changed, and the new growth on the grape vines has been "pruned" - but we can see their droppings...

Believe it or not - weeding this area took RMan and I three hours - boy, is that ground hard!

Weeded and fenced - now the grape vines may have
a chance of survival against the heat and the cows / sheep

MKid just had to go to the closest thicket of wattle trees to build a "Survivor" shelter with WGuy - Cubs is obviously rubbing off on RKid - well Cubs, Ultimate Survivor / Ray Mears and Bear Grylls (can't stand the latter personally)  :-)  RKid wanted to sleep in the shelter - until he saw a large-ish spider and a couple of beetles walking round in it.




I'm very impressed with what they achieved though - using only branches - no twine or string at all - and it survived a night of hectic wind too... 


MKid had an absolute ball and is now the Official in Charge of All Fires - nothing he likes more than lighting the fire (with adult supervision, naturally) for the evenings braai (barbeque) - yes - we did manage to braai our dinner every day - and very cosy it was round the fire even when it started to drizzle slightly.

This was WGuys first exposure to anything eco - and I am very pleased to hear that he is trying to convince his parents to follow our example - he has, apparently, even gone so far as to start researching wind turbines, etc.  Very chuffed I am - hope the enthusiasm doesn't wear off as he becomes submerged with his normal working / daily life.  He was very impressed that our total energy use was 95 watts at any given time...

A simpler life is possible without too much loss of comfort - we are providing proof!

But the most exciting news of all - a neighbour of ours has recently started developing his piece of land, and has put up some temporary living structures (sleeping area and bathroom).  And he has put up a wind turbine!

What a thing of beauty it is.  It was spinning madly when we arrived - and continued spinning (even on the gentlest of breezes) for the entire time we were there!  I sat, transfixed at the sight of energy being produced with nothing other than the wind!

We took a walk there on the last morning - as the skies were clearing.
Naturally I had to get a closer look so we took a walk to see it - not only is it gorgeous, but it is also whisper quiet.

I am a shade of green - and it has nothing to do with being eco-friendly!  Ah well, we'll get ours when finances permit...

BUT - we have proof that a wind turbine is the route to go - not that I needed any - I have always been convinced that that will be the solution to our power requirements.

I can hardly wait J.