Thursday, May 29, 2008

Very Simple Solar Cooking Recipes x2

Now that the weather is back to being sunny all the time I busted out with the solar oven again. A nice thing about solar cooking in Phoenix is that when it's 110 outside you can be excited about how well your food will cook, instead of just dreaming about moving to a more temperate climate. I experimented with a new cooking container-- a stainless pot that I found at Ikea and spraypainted flat black with the hi-temp bbq paint. I don't think it worked any better than the black glass plate inside in the clear pyrex casserole dish that I was using. I do think that when I build the next solar oven that is well insulated and has a glass top the pot will be better performing than the casserole dish.

I had intended to make applesauce in the solar oven so I peeled, cored and finely sliced 7 apples and put them in the pot with about 1/2 cup water. (The peels and cores went into a separate crock for my attempt to make homemade vinegar, I'll update on that in a few weeks when I get the results.) I let it cook outside all day and then added cinnamon. I tasted some and they taste just like the inside of an apple pie, even without adding sugar, so I think I'm going to skip the food processor and just eat these as they are. :) It's good to know though that next time I'm making applesauce, I no longer have to simmer the apples over the stove.

2nd recipe: Baba Ganouj (that stuff that's like hummus, but uses eggplants instead of chickpeas) I put an eggplant whole into the pot and set it in the solar oven for the day. I brought it inside sliced it in half and easily scooped out the inside (peel goes in the compost) and put it into the food processor. Along with the eggplant, I added:
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 finely chopped clove of garlic
dash of salt

Directions: Process in food processor for about 30 seconds, maybe less.

It tastes great, much better than the time I made it when I thought tahini and lemon "probably weren't too crucial to the recipe"
Fresh out of the solar oven

This pic is a little unappetizing, but it's a false alarm


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Very good, very cheap, natural, aluminum-free deodorant

I have tried every single kind of 'natural' deodorant out there and every single one has failed Arizona weather in a tank top. I don't mind a little perspiration, but I don't want to be "that stinky girl". Finally on a whim I mixed a little baking soda with some water and used that. Lo and Behold, it's the best stuff out there by a mile. Even better, after using it for about 2 weeks, I've found that I really only need to put it on once or twice a week. I don't wear polyester, so I can't tell you if it would hold up to that test, someone else will have to report on that. You might be thinking...gross, it must feel like sand in your armpits and leave white marks everywhere... Nope!
Here's how I do it:
Mix a small amount (quarter teaspoon maybe) of baking soda with just enough water to make it liquidy, not pasty (a couple of drops), mix it up with your finger, apply. I mix it in a tupperware container, so if there's extra I can save it for another day. Adjust amount of baking soda as needed.

Old annual cost of trying out new deodorants: about $20
New annual cost of deodorant: about 35 cents

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I calculated that by using the bike for shopping and other close errands for one year, the bike will have paid for itself in saved gas money!

Since we only live about a mile from Trader Joe's it seems silly to drive there, doing our shopping by bike also helps me reach my goal of only filling up my gas tank once per month. In the background you can see one section of the compartmentalized chicken tractor/garden bed unit. The grocerymobile also doubles as an egg delivery-mobile.

This week we've had a real heat wave, with temps up over 110 Monday and Tuesday. Today I was hoping to make applesauce in the solar oven, however, today it's raining and tomorrow the high is around 70. So in a matter of a few days the high will have fluctuated 40 degrees. The chickens and plants are confused.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

First Peach of the Year!

The only good thing about the 100+ degree temperatures arriving is that it means peaches, peppers and tomatoes are coming. This year I got my bird netting out soon enough that I haven't seen any bird-related casualties on the peach tree yet. This is the third season for that peach tree and the peach crop increased from 10-15 peaches the last two years to about 50 this year, and that's after losing a third of the tree (a large branch fell off under the weight of all the peaches, after that I propped up the other two main branches) and thinning the rest by more than half.

I have been making applesauce and canning it and was surprised at how easy it was (though the peeling, coring and slicing are a bit laborious). Basically, peel, core and slice thinly about 12-14 large apples, put those and about 1/3 cup water in a large pot and simmer for about 20 minutes then run through the food processor with some cinnamon, can and process in a boiling water canner for about 15 minutes. Next step is to do all the simmering in the solar oven.

I ordered a postal scale from ebay so I can start weighing all the food and keeping track. It was 96 cents, plus about $17 in shipping. :) I am excited to have an objective way to monitor my year to year progress.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ordering chickens

I'm putting in an order to to get a couple of breeds that are unavailable locally, along with some old favorites. My original plan was to get 3 chicks every year and a half or so to make sure I always had steady layers and the backyard flock was a manageable size.... but there are so many different chickens that I want! At first my "shopping cart" had 27 chicks, which is waaaaay too many for my backyard! After an hour or so of cutting the list I think I will be getting 7 chicks comprised of these 6 breeds:

Silver-Laced Wyandotte

Salmon Faverolle (a five-toed, feather-footed bird)

Golden-Laced Polish

Another Easter-Egger (green egg layer)

Buff-Laced Polish


I won't actually be getting the chicks until late September or early October when the weather cools down to a lovely 100 degrees. Several of these varieties are backordered for awhile so I want to be sure to get in line!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Homemade yogurt!

I was thinking about ways to save money and fun projects and I thought about buying a "yogurt maker" I did the math and calculated that it would pay for itself in 6 months, not bad eh? But then I got to thinking that I really don't want another appliance taking up space at the tiny farm. (Note the "tiny") After a quick internet search I found a fantastic website It gives clear step by step instructions (even has a downloadable/printable pdf) on how to make your own yogurt and instead of the store-bought yogurt makers, you use a heating pad, which we already had. Best of all, the directions worked! It clearly states to use plain Dannon brand yogurt, but all we had was Mountain High, which worked just fine.

I made 6 cups of organic yogurt
Cost to me: $1.65
(a net savings of $2.85 over store-bought)
Already saving money, 6 cups of yogurt in re-used jars

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New garden bed/chicken tractor system

I haven't posted anything for a few days because I've been busy building a new bed/tractor system. I took inspiration from Patti the Garden Girl who built a similar system. Basically it is a series of three shallow 4' by 8' garden beds and one chicken tractor that fits inside all three. The plan is to put chickens in there for a season, let them eat, scratch, poop and make the soil better and then move it to a different bed. So at any given time, 2 of the 3 beds will be in use, and the other one will be "fallow" while the chickens improve it for the next planting.
I plan to get an couple new chicks in the fall and this will be their home for a bit. I put two nest boxes in the chicken tractor in case I want to let some of the already laying hens scratch around in one of these from time to time. I was looking into getting meat birds as well, however according to my calculations bird+feed will be somewhere around $8.50 per 5 lb bird... It doesn't seem to be worth the trouble.

I also put in two Honey Mesquites (a native tree that drops pods I'll use to make flour) which you can see, still in pots, in the foreground of the second picture here. They were very cheap, $15 each and already taller than me.

The beds
Basic chicken tractor frame
Basically Complete!
I need to add a gate latch to one of the doors and a perch then it will be totally done. I will photograph it when I get it set up in place with the tractor mounted on one of the beds. Another advantage to this is that it should be totally sparrow proof. Thanks to me, Central Phoenix should have the most organic wild birds of any major metropolitan area.