How to successfully Cook in a Solar Oven - Northern Latitude

After 2 years of building and testing various solar oven arrangements, I finally have success! Most solar ovens are built and used in hot climates closer to the equator, but people in the north need off-grid solutions too!

I live in zone 4 - northern America.

The advice for warmer climates does not work here. I've built ovens out of boxes, clay pots, Fresnel lenses, and various cooking supplies - but I've finally worked out the details to succeeding in colder locations.

In order to succeed at solar cooking in a northern latitude - you must do the following:

1. Use a parabola shaped sun reflector - all others are inefficient
2. Take advantage of multiple layers of heat trapping
3. Do not attempt in the winter, cloudy days, windy days, or when the sun is low (before 9am or after 4pm)
4. Plan ahead - especially if you need to cook meat - and allow for a multi-hour cook time.

Take a look at our solar oven:

What is it made of? A parabola that covers all sides and the bottom of the "pan" with reflective material. You can build or buy this. Ours is made of sheet metal. You can make our own from sheet metal, aluminum foil on cardboard, mylar blankets, or in a worst case scenario - mylar packaging (like chip bags or juice pouches.)

The "pan" is a large pyrex bowl with a black ceramic bowl placed inside it (largest size pyrex bowl.) This is covered with a clear glass pyrex lid (from a baking casserole dish.) The clear lid and bowl allow sunlight to enter the cooking space, they also keep the heat in. The black bowl absorbs the heat.

You can cook directly in this set up, or you can place a smaller black pan (wrapped in a cooking bag) or lidded pyrex inside to provide an additional layer of heat trapping.

I placed an oven thermometer from a broken gas grill inside the "oven" to keep track of the temperature. Always wear gloves when touching any part of the oven as it will be very hot. Also - wear sunglasses when near the reflectors so you don't burn your eyes.

On June 22nd at 9am, 80F - we set the oven out to pre-heat. By 9:45 it was at 310F. Opening the top to place the food inside dropped the temperature to 250F. It quickly heated back up to 310F and that seemed to be our maximum temperature inside the two pyrex glass pieces. We cooked blueberry rhubarb bars in the oven for 50 minutes. The recipe calls for 350F for 30 minutes.

We placed a cast iron skillet into the center of the parabola to see how hot it would get.

The initial temperature read:  77 F  and after 1/2 hour it read 225 F - daytime temperature was still 80F. It did not get above 225. Would this be hot enough to cook eggs?

I capped it with a pyrex lid to see if we could raise the temperature. We did not get a higher temperature and started to run out of sun. I will reattempt a lidded skillet in the future.

A lidded, cast iron dutch oven could also work and would probably benefit from being wrapped in an oven bag or placed inside a large pyrex bowl with lid.

In the shade, the deck boards registered temperatures between 76 and 80F. In the sun - 136-150 F.
The reflectors of the solar oven - 92  F.
 The outside of the oven itself  between 150-170s. F.

To see if the heat from the dark deck boards made a difference, I moved the oven to a tan colored patio in full sun. The temperature heated up the same. On the patio, I put 4 cups of water inside the oven - directly into the black bowl.

With an outside temperature of 80F - it took 140 minutes to bring the water to a boil. For comparison - a direct flame will usually heat the same quantity of water to boil in 15-20 minutes. But the sun was free.

This means we could cook rice or noodles easily in the solar oven (with enough time to plan - actually: I think it would be better to heat the water in the solar oven and finish the cooking in a thermos like I did here.) It also means we could easily sanitize water and cook stews/soups, braise meats over a long period of time, and much more!

This is the most successful solar oven set up we have used in a northern climate. It is small and portable. It heats up well and maintains a consistent temperature. With the clear glass and the grill thermometer, it is easy to see the temperature inside the oven.

It cooked well with slightly longer cooking time compared to an indoor oven (but with free heat from the sun and no electricity.) The max temperature seems to be 310 for our climate. I will be adding a fresnel lens to a portion of the top (above the black bowl but beneath the glass lid) in another rounds of tests to see if I can up the temperature even more.  I will also attempt to cook meat. At 300F,  it's going to take a few hours, and I'll have to rotate the oven to chase the sun.

In case you were wondering, the box style solar oven worked okay in our area. This is one I built from two shoe boxes (one shoe, one boot,) some shredded paper, duct tape, black spray paint and a fresnel lens.

We baked cookies inside this oven one year. The cookies were mostly done and burned in random areas (due to the fresnel lens focusing beams of light in certain places.)
The inside was insulated with paper. I always felt this was a fire risk - especially with the fresnel lens and would probably use sand or pebbles in the future. I have had good success using a clay pot for the base instead of the box - as long as it has a glass top (pyrex lid!) and there is a solid base of pebbles/sand holding and insulating the cooking vessel.  That oven was dismantled so I could grow plants in the clay pot.

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Ebay for Dummies by Marsha Collier 9th Edition Review

I recently had the opportunity to read the book: eBay for dummies. This is the 9th Edition of this book, and as you can imagine the eBay marketplace is in constant flux.

I started using eBay about 12 years ago. At first it was a great place to buy and sell unique items. Over time it changed for the worse. It is now full of cheap items from China and is a bad place for sellers.

I stopped using eBay 3 years ago and vowed to never use it again. But...I slowly started selling/buying  a few things here and there. For now, it's still one of the only places you can reach a wide audience. But the costs and the fraudulent activity keep me from doing anything more substantial with eBay.

I was excited to see if this book offered anything new for a seasoned eBay user. It did - there was one page that addressed the new eBay html codes for inserting photos into your listing. That alone was worth reading the entire book. The rest of the book was a review for me but would be good for anyone starting out into eBay.

A couple notes of caution for newbies to eBay - the book - like every other eBay Forum - recommends ungodly customer service. I recommend you follow the golden rule and treat others as you wish to be treated, but the customer is not king. And there are so many scammers on eBay just looking to take your money, that I suggest you be careful in your interactions with customers. EBay is notorious for siding with the buyer regardless of the situation and things can get ugly fast. There is no magic bullet for making money on eBay and unless you are involved in a large wholesale business, there is not a lot of profit (when you factor in your time, shipping, eBay fees, and cost of acquisition.) But it's still better than most garage sales for unloading things in your house.

Also - there is an error in the book regarding the Paypal tax reporting laws. The book states that Paypal reports earnings to the IRS if you reach $20,000 in sales or 200 transactions. That is wrong. They only report if if you have BOTH not either.

I would recommend it to anyone getting started, but if you are a seasoned eBay-er most of the book will be review.

I received a complimentary book for review purposes. No compensation was received. This article may contain affiliate links and/or ads.

Our Family Heads to ValleyFair! #VFBestDay #VFFirstTimer #VF40

What could be better than spending a hot summer day at ValleyFair? That's what we thought when we headed out to the theme park with our young children for their first time!

They were in awe of the screaming roller coasters, the super tall thrill rides, and the water park!

We chose to start out with Steel Venom and then go through the park counter clockwise. We rode on almost everything - from the old time cars to the big swings, to the Wild Thing.

Our trip was a mixed bag of fun and adventure. My children absolutely loved the rides - my husband too. They were disappointed that a few important rides were closed:  the RipTide or Renegade. The boys enjoyed the food plan, the girls did not. Actually, I spent most of the day throwing up.

It was probably a combination of "fair food," the heat, and twisty/shake em up rides. I'm just too old for it now, I guess.

We used to go to Valleyfair when I was young and I loved the rollercoasters. Most of the old ones are still there, and are still some of the best rides. But a lot has changed. There are even bigger, scarier rides. There is a Planet Snoopy area for really little kids, and there are roaring dinosaurs strategically placed throughout the park.

These "little kid" areas are really nice. They have rides, music, and lots of bright colors. They are a nice way to integrate the whole family. If grandparents come along, they are much slower paced and easier for them to take part too.

The water park  (soak city) has also been expanded. There is a lot to do and you could be there all day without getting bored.

We had a very busy day - and hot! Soak City was a lifesaver by the end of the day. If you head out to Valleyfair with your family this summer, be sure to pack a refillable water bottle. It gets hot waiting in line, and drinking fountains are few and far between. And if you're like me, and pretty much never eat at restaurants - then you might want to pack your own lunch.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company in conjunction with Blog Meets Brand, and I have been compensated for my participation. All opinions are my own.

Cherry Trees are Easy Edibles to Sneak into your Landscape

Why are so  many of our landscaping plants poisonous or inedible? Surely edible plants can look beautiful and be reliable too? I'm hear to tell you that they can! I have a number of gorgeous perennial edible plants mixed in with my landscaping - from chives, to daylilies, to alliums, blueberries, currants, and honeyberries. Annual edibles can look great too, but they are more work.

What about trees? Plum and apple trees can look good and provide delicious fruit, but they have pretty high maintenance needs and even their dwarf varieties require quite a bit of space.

Today, I'm recommending dwarf cherry trees. Not only for their delicious fruit, but also for their unique look and low maintenance.

I put this Northstar dwarf cherry into my lawn last year - right up front by my walkway.
It's petite, with dark glossy leaves and graceful branches. It requires very little water and will actually get sick if it's over watered. It feels the same way about fertilizer. It's a "leave me alone" sort of tree.

I put a collar around the stem during the winter because we are inhabited with voles and bunnies. They can and will girdle young trees. As soon as the weather gets warm, rip that collar off!

That is all the maintenance this tree requires. Grafted dwarf trees come pruned from the nursery and really require only little pruning. Of course, I pruned my tree anyway. I'm high maintenance like that.

I could barely contain myself as my cherries started to form. They started out small and oval. Grew plump and blushed in color. Then turned red. It was glorious to watch.

Maybe these cherries could have stayed on the tree a little longer, but I couldn't wait! Birds were starting to eat them and when I went to inspect, a cherry fell into my hand. I ate it and it was good! So I picked the reddest ones.

There are still as many out on the tree, waiting to ripen. I will let them get as dark as they can and will enjoy them all. And yes, I did eat all the cherries in this picture. By myself. In one sitting.

It's such a blessing to eat food from your own yard!

**I ended up picking another whole cup of cherries from the tree at the same ripeness. Birds had been eating the away, and they taste really good, so maybe they don't get all that much darker. I made a glorious cherry strawberry jam - no pectin, lower sugar. It was delicious!

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