Thursday, July 8, 2010

It’s So Hot You Could Fry An Egg On The Sidewalk!!!

If you said that to Sharlene, she would tell you how it could be done!
5041-Sharlene_0058 (2)thmbbw  
I met Sharlene not too long ago when she stumbled on my blog. When I went to visit her, I realized that she loved solar cooking. Years ago I had purchased a (very old) solar oven and we tried to cook a few things in it as an experiment when my boys were younger. Many days here in Texas we feel like an egg could definitely be fried on a sidewalk and that is how I first became aware of solar cooking. Because the little oven we had was not efficient we gave up the thought and I had completely forgotten about this environmentally safe way of cooking – until now…..
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sharlene from Solar Cooking for Mainstream Cooks, and she is quite an interesting gal. Let’s see what she had to tell us…
How did you first learn about Solar Cooking?
My first exposure was as a young Girl Scout cooking our hamburger dinners in tinfoil packets. Info filed for later exploration. Life passed and the information highway was well-established and the green movement had begun. Searching the Internet for ways I could cut down on personal fossil fuel usage, one page had a little link for 'solar cooking' located at the bottom of the left-hand column. Girl Scout memory exploded in my head and I was intrigued. Eventually, I found Paul Munson's Global Sun Oven site, where the price (under $300) was right and I bought one. I've been cooking with it, ever since.
baked spaghetti02

How often do you solar cook compared to conventional cooking?
Whenever I have something to cook that would normally go into either a conventional oven or slow cooker and there is at least twenty minutes of sun per consecutive hour, I use my solar oven.  The energy savings is significant enough that I really feel guilty when I don't use it. Check out my article on BTU usage. Keep in mind that each stovetop burner at medium heat will use as many BTUs per hour as the oven, which means four burners can use up to 20,000 BTUs per one-hour cooking session. If the pan doesn't fit the burner correctly, a lot of that energy is going into the air. My rep at the utility company worked for both gas and electric companies and BTUs refer to gas energy and kilowatt hours are used for electric energy. KWh is approximately 1.6 times gas BTUs. Check your utility bill for the breakdown and look for the summer jump in your charges. Here's my 2010 spring bill when we started getting more sunny days here.
Roasted Beef Heart with Plum Sauce
Can you tell us the pros of solar cooking?
Oh, yes, all day! I've answered this question here on my web site Creative Handz for folks that want more information and a more specific FAQ page. A fast overview? Solar cooking makes food taste great, it's hard to burn or overcook food and, with no fuel being used, it's very safe. No fuel usage means, once you've paid for your oven, that's your last expense. It's an easy cooking method that requires very little attendance beyond putting food into the oven and removing it when it's done. God lets you cook for free for the life of the oven, which can be up to 20 years or more. The ovens are very portable and great for church dinners, community parties, and camping. They are outstanding work horses during emergencies for both hot meal preparation and purifying the drinking water. A solar oven can be used as a slow cooker or as a match for conventional cooking. My solar oven is used throughout the year. Check out my award-winning recipe that was prepared in high winds and 34-degree weather.

Are their any cons to solar cooking?
I honestly can't think of any, other than the obvious of not being able to cook if you have no access to sun or partial sun (20 minutes per consecutive hour). Not everyone will be able to use a solar oven, if their home is surrounded by trees.  You do have to pay attention to meal preparation, the same as you would with a slow cooker, but that's not really a con specific to solar cooking. You do have to take the minute or so to go outside to place or remove the food from the solar oven.  It's pretty hard to find cons for a product that will cook your meals FREE for more than 20 years. One thing I found difficult was removing food with standard pot holders fast enough to not lose heat during mid-cooking additions, as well as not burning myself on the very hot oven door. That led to my inventing SolarWear™ that makes placement and removal of pans and jars take place in less than 15 seconds, safely, with almost no heat loss that would cause lengthening of cooking time. If you checked out my Creative Handz site above, you will have seen my SolarWear™.

What kind of equipment do you need to solar cook?

All you need is a solar oven, either home made or commercially built. The few cookbooks available when I began provide instructions on building your own solar oven. A fast Google will bring up any number of sites with instructions, as well. I have one that I built and use that works fine but is used primarily for drying foods and rendering tallow -- both activities that require very low heat for long periods of time. If you choose to build your own solar oven, expect your meals to take almost twice as long to cook as it would take if you used a conventional or commercially-built oven. As a mainstream cook, I wanted as close to conventional timing as I could get without using fuel, so the Global Sun Oven I spoke of earlier was my choice. It has a nice deep chamber and you can use your own cookware and jars for cooking. For those folks with less reliable sunshine, there is also the Tulsi Hybrid oven that has a back-up electrical set-up that will kick in if the internal temperature drops below 200F or you lose sunlight, priced around $299. The height limitations for this oven mean that you have to use the included pans for preparing your meals or very low cookware. 
Here in NC, we have approximately 272 days available for solar-cooking. The benefits of solar cooking so outweigh reasons not to take advantage of solar energy that I knew there would have to be some changes for the mainstream cook to fall in love with it -- starting with design. Taking all the negative comments into consideration and after using my own solar oven for these past years, I set about inventing a solar oven that I felt mainstream cooks would be proud to own and use. It would be affordable, meant for family meal preparation, stable, and as attractive as any of today's grills. I'm proud to say that, within 45 days, my very own solar oven called the Solar Chief® will be introduced and ready for orders by mainstream and all aspiring solar cooks.
Where can people find recipes for solar cooking?
I would love for you to visit my blog, Solar Cooking for Mainstream Cooks, and order A Month of SUNdays - Solar Cooking at Home. Just click on the book cover located in the lower right column.
MOS Mdmcoiled
I specifically wrote this cookbook because it was so difficult to find solar cook books that were for omnivores and showed how to cook all kinds of recipes, while keeping America green. It includes original, gourmet, and shared recipes and are prepared exactly as you would any recipe for conventional cooking. These are not "solar" recipes, these are what you would find in any recipe book. All you are changing is the source of fuel from electric, gas, wood, charcoal, what-have-you, to solar energy. There are no directions on how to build your own oven, but there are links in the book to places that do have the clearest instructions for the average do-it-yourselfer. I've tried to include a variety of recipes to use as stepping stones to using similar recipes in your own kitchens. Food preparation is no different from any steps called for in standard recipes and I specifically wanted to show that. And, of course, you're going to want to have a copy of my first cookbook to begin your series, as my editing of A Month of SUNdays - Solar Cooking at Home, Book II, is almost done!
Why did you start blogging?
I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the blogging world by the folks who bought my cookbook and started calling me for more tips and recipes, ending their conversations with, "Why don't you just start a blog?" And, it made sense. But, it's been a slow curve for me because I'm not from a generation where we let it all hang out and finding a balance of sharing my life and the world of solar cooking has been tricky. The Internet is so superior for advertising and, coming from the bricks and mortar business world, it's been quite an adventure. Not using what's available for one's business in the 21st Century would be, I plug along. Just recently I signed up for a Twitter account @SolarChief to announce new postings to the folks who love to Tweet. I'm light years away from almost anyone who Tweets, but I'm in there, looking for the path. 
Blogging has brought a world of virtual friends into my life in a way I would have never thought possible. My morning coffee is spent reading their comments and visiting their sites, along with discovering new sites and friends. It's an amazing community and fantastic home-business tool.  I most especially love meeting the younger generation and hearing how they are dealing with a world beyond anything I had to face in raising my children. They're witty, sharp, beautiful, normal, young women who give me confidence that the world is in the right hands, after all.  Now, if I can just get them all to look to the sun for savings, I can rest in peace... 8-)

Sharlene, you are an amazing lady and I am totally inspired by you! I am ready to turn off the stove and start cooking by the sun! Thank you so much for spending time with me during this interview.
If you have been inspired as much as I have, please take a moment and visit Sharlene at Solar Cooking for Mainstream Cooks and tell her how much her wisdom is appreciated! You may even want to check out one of her ovens and a book while you are there ;)
Let the sun shine in…….

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