Posts Tagged ‘Off Grid’

Preliminary Review of Off-Grid Cooking Methods

Several people have inquired about the results of my various attempts at the off-grid or minimal input cooking methods I mentioned in an earlier post. Well, here’s an update.

The Sun Oven

Sun Oven

Sun Oven

I love it! As someone who used to be a 100% raw foodist, I have missed the high energy sunshine of 100% raw foods. It’s just that living in Northern Indiana, 100% raw seems so out of touch with our climate and local foods that I’ve switched to somewhere between 50-80% raw, depending on day and season. Having just picked from our garden fruits and veggies seems to offset eating them raw after they’ve been transported to the produce aisle and sat there for who knows how long. Still, I have missed that amazingly joyful, just ate sunshine feeling it’s so easy to imbibe in California and Arizona.

Well … the Sun Oven gives that same vibe to food! It’s amazing, and yet makes total sense, that concentrating solar energy into food would transmit that sunshine quality right into the food. At first, I thought I was just excited to have cooked lentil or mung bean stews with no electricity, but after continued use, I’ve realized that the Sun Oven makes everything taste and feel more alive. Even potatoes. OMG. I never used to like potatoes, but sun-cooked potatoes with cloves of garlic that get all melty in the sun? Over the top joy and goodness!

I have no financial interest in Sun Oven’s, but imho, they are awesome. The only downside is that you do need a sunny day to make use of them. If I still lived in the desert, I’d be using a Sun Oven every day. (They are built to last for 20 years of daily use.) Here in the cloud belt of Northern Indiana, I will get significantly less use from this little gem than in other parts of the country. I remain thrilled with my purchase, though. I did get a super discount sale on it, and I’m awaiting the right timing to try the ultimate of making homemade bread with a wild sourdough starter in the Sun Oven. I just have too many gardening and harvest chores in a week of clouds and rain to try that one anytime soon. Hopefully, some frigid, sunny morning in winter will give me a chance to experiment even further.

The Wonder Oven, aka Wonder Box

Stuffed and ready for action.

Stuffed and ready for action.

Again, LOVE it! Mine’s on the left. I sent the other to my (biological) sister, and I have fabric and filling on hand to make myself another one and to send one to my West Coast “sister,” Tania Marie. Unlike the Sun Oven, this one’s not weather dependent. I’ve even used it to finish off a hot pot from the Sun Oven after the sun went behind clouds or down for the evening. If you don’t use a Sun Oven, fire, or rocket stove outside, then you would need to use a short bit of gas or electric indoors to get the pot contents nice and hot. Instructions recommend boiling for 15 minutes before transferring the pot to the Wonder Oven, where it will continue to cook like an off-grid crock pot.

Does it work? Yes! I have had such fun not needing to babysit pots on the stove, trying to tinker with the dial to keep things warm but not boiling over. A few tricks to keep in mind:

1) You need to use the smallest pot possible for your food, as you want very little air space to cool off. This initially means watching the pot more closely so that it doesn’t boil over on the stove. I rarely boil for the full 15 minutes, and my food has turned out great. I just make sure the items are heated through and then wrap in a towel before snuggling the pot into the Wonder Oven.

2) Online instructions can be a little tricky to follow (at least for me). I found this video super helpful: . You can get a free pattern from the lovely Megan, who’s doing such great service in the world by providing patterns for these amazingly empowering items. You can also find the patterns online if you don’t want to bother Megan or wait for her to mail out the patterns, since this is not a daily activity of hers but more from a sense of volunteer service. I’ve found each Wonder Oven winds up costing approximately $40 $30 [Doh! I added wrong at first!] in materials, plus several hours of time, depending on how adept or challenged you are at sewing. I suspect this second batch of two will go way faster than the first batch. They really are quite easy once you get the hang of the pattern. [Update: please see comments below for more information on cheaper DIY options or a link to purchase a pre-made Wonder Oven on etsy.]

3) You can make yogurt in this by heating up your ingredients to 110 degrees and then adding yogurt starter before putting into the Wonder Oven for twelve hours. I used to make yogurt in a dehydrator set to 110. This works better and is obviously much less energy intensive!

If you don’t want to make your own, you can search online to see if someone’s selling them. Otherwise, you can buy a similar item called the WonderBag. These are pricey, but each purchase also sends one to a third world country, where saving fuel more obviously means saving lives. Here in the West, we don’t often make the connection that we’re using massive amounts of energy in our cooking, but in Africa, where you need to haul the wood yourself, you really make that kind of leap.

In the West, with energy costs rising and the energy companies growing more corrupt by the day, I personally enjoy stickin’ it to ’em with the Wonder Oven. I can make the same food — only moister and tastier — without needing to line the pockets of energy giants or babysit my pots on the stove. A few weeks ago, I even planted a bag of daffodils while “cooking” lentil curry! I’m not one who likes to smell crock pot food all day long since I work from home. I love that the Wonder Oven traps the heat and odors, so that I’m not sick of the smell of my food before I even get a chance to eat it.

Here’s a video comparing the WonderBag, Wonder Oven and a Solar Cooker (not sure this is a SunOven):

(BTW, David, king of kitchen gadgets, has one of those onion choppers shown in the video. They work well! We don’t use it all the time, but it’s great to make uniform diced onions, cucumbers or tomatoes.) It sounds like the woman in the video made her own WonderBag, although I’ve not seen those instructions and patterns online. I’d encourage anyone interested to look around online. You can get a WonderBag on Amazon, or you can make multiples of your own Wonder Oven at home for multi-dish meals.

Those interested in cooking outside with very little fuel might enjoy these Rocket Stove posts. That’s next on my fun DIY list … but again … I’ve got lots of garden and harvesting chores (and sessions!) before I get to experiment with one of these:

Another time I’ll update about the fermentation crocks and mesh dehydrator also mentioned in the earlier post. Let’s just say, I wish someone had been filming me while I unpacked the mesh dehydrator. LOL! It was like a snake in a can — only 3 feet by 5 feet tall! Too funny. I’ve not used it yet to review it, but for packing into a tinier space than I could imagine possible, I give it five stars. 🙂

Granny Spears ~ ‘Herbology’

Granny Spears ~ ‘Herbology’

When we got married Ernie was bringing home about £1 17s 6d.

Now this was long before we went decimal so in todays money that would be about £1.25 a week, a couple of dollars to you Tess.

Now, although everyone thinks that we have always had free healthcare in the UK that’s not so. A visit to the doctor when we got married amounted to just over half a months pay so it was pretty much out of the question if we wanted to eat. The National Health Service got started in the late 1940′s, before then we had to pay.

Unless it was especially serious we relied on remedies passed down to us over the years, and most of the things we used involved plants, with the occasional bee added for good measure!  Usually, someone local had what you needed if you didn’t grow it yourself.

I went to teach the kids crochet again on Monday and we got around to the old days and ended up talking about plants. One of the girls said she really enjoyed her lesson in ‘herbology’. None of us knew if it was a real word, but we liked it so we decided to stick with it.

As an aside, the crochet is going great but I have a feeling I am going to be inundated with scarves and knee rugs this Christmas.

Right, back to herbology…


We used honey a lot back then, far more than most people use it now for medicinal purposes. We stored lumps of honeycomb in jars and the honey would collect at the bottom of the jar. A spoonful when you had a sore throat helped and it was one ‘medicine’ the children never minded.

It also soothes coughs, putting a lining on the throat and helping prevent irritation.

We also spread it over cuts and grazes to keep infection away and to help healing, it worked every time. Minor wounds would be lovely and clean and they really healed fast.


We didn’t grow burdock, but there was enough of it growing wild that you could just pull it up when you needed it when it was in season. We would pick some of the fruits and store them for use later in the year. When you crush up burdock fruits they are oily and this soothes irritated skin almost immediately. The fresher they are the better but they dry very slowly so they were still of some use during the winter when fresh ones weren’t available

Making a poultice helps bring out bruises and a burdock tea is excellent for treating indigestion.

The root of the burdock plant was good for the treatment of boils. You boiled and mashed the root and placed it over the inflamed area. Drinking a tea made from burdock root was said to be good for arthritis…though none of us had it back then so I can’t be sure of that.


Marigolds were used to treat bites and stings, you just crush them and rub them over the affected area and relief soon follows.

These pretty flowers are a boon in the garden as they keep the aphids off tomatoes and other crops prone to blackfly like pole beans. Ernie ALWAYS planted a row of marigolds near our beans and the children used to put them in containers and move them around the tomato patch.


I grew this in a few rotten at the bottom barrels down the far end of the garden, it takes over if you let it escape!

Chamomile is very good at calming people down, and I used to make chamomile and lavender pouches to put in the childrens rooms to help them drift off to sleep.

Chamomile teas can either be just drunk as a drink or held in the mouth to relieve toothache or the pain of mouth ulcers.


Tansy is a pretty yellow flower that grows as fast as a weed if you let it, another one I contained in an out of the way corner.

This stops the bugs biting very well, you just crush the leaves and rub them  on your skin. Works a treat. You don’t eat or drink tansy as it’s poisonous used like that.


Definitely contain this plant…it will take over the entire garden if it gets a chance. as well as using mint in the kitchen it is very good for calming upset stomachs and preventing the children feeling like they are going to be sick. If there were lots of colds around I would add mint to tea without milk as it seems to help fighting the germs.


Again, sage is great in the kitchen and almost as great for saving a costly trip to the doctors. Used as a bandage over the honey spread on a cut it is like a little natural bandage. It can also take the heat of burns, not open burns, but the fat splash or hot water type of burn that reddens the skin and makes it swell.


Marjoram makes for a decent disinfectant. Pick lots, crush it up and boil it. The liquid kills germs.

I’ll have to ask Edith if she knows where the box is that has all my old recipe books in. I had a few from mother when she died, all beautifully written out. I know there’s a notebook with them that lists all the medicinal plants my parents grew, and therefore the medicinal plants that I grew. I wonder where the box went? I’m sure we still have it somewhere.

Paul and the children are coming over on Sunday, he’s a strapping lad, he can go up into the loft and look for my box if Edith doesn’t know where it is.

Well, that’s it for today. You have a lovely weekend and I’ll speak to you soon.



Granny Spear was born in a small cottage in Devon, Southern England in 1925. Married to farm labourer Ernest, she raised her family in the heart of the countryside without any of the amenities we rely on today. Using skills passed down from her mother, who had learned those same skills from her mother, she not only survived but positively thrived living a self-sufficient, off grid lifestyle. Outliving her husband, one of her children and two of her grandchildren she stayed in the cottage until 2003 when a serious fall saw her hospitalized. She now lives with her daughter just four miles from her old home. For her 89th birthday her grandchildren and great grandchildren brought her an iPad, which she instantly rejected until they showed her Angry Birds…After much persuasion she has agreed to share some of her knowledge with us about what she calls the ‘old days’

via Gillian at Shift Frequency
SF Source ReadyNutrition  Sept 24 2014

A Letter to Our Mayor

I just sent the following letter to our Mayor. Please feel free to copy and modify for your own use if you feel so led. (I should note that our sewage system is incredibly wasteful and non-Earth friendly. It is my hope that in considering such plans “for disaster” that saner, more eco-friendly alternatives become more mainstream. We could be using “waste” to enrich our compost. We could be honoring sacred Water by not polluting it with every flush.)

Dear Mayor ____,

[Introductory comments and pleasantries]

I understand, per the planners, that the City has backup generators for the water and sewer system in the event of a city-wide blackout. While this would help for ordinary outages such as storms or winter weather, I’m writing with concerns about having no plan in place in the event of a longer term outage. Specifically, I refer to the May 2013 Congressional Report: “Electric Grid Vulnerability” as a likely terror target, as well as various scientific warnings about the possibility of another Carrington Event (or worse) from a coronal mass ejection/solar flare knocking out the power grid beyond any kind of timely repair. Here’s the Congressional Report for reference regarding grid security vulnerability: . Here is a link to a Colorado solar scientist warning policy makers of the likelihood of another devastating solar flare: Scientist Sounds Alarm Over Solar Storms. Given society’s extreme dependence on the electric grid, this kind of likely but off-the-radar event could have severe fallout. In such a case — which those who’ve studied the situation agree is way more likely and far-reaching than most people would imagine — backup generators would only last so long before city sanitation would need to implement some ready alternatives.

I know that for a variety of reasons discussing alternative sanitation or a complete grid-down scenario are not mainstream topics; however, in the event that something like this would happen, it would be good if someone in a position of authority had at least researched the possibility and brainstormed potential solutions. If the grid never fails due to terrorism, glitches or solar flares, great — but those in the know seem to think it very easily could. If the grid does get destroyed for longer than the backup generators last and no one has considered alternatives, then the situation would spiral out of control fast. I’m not suggesting this become main policy, but I would hope anyone responsible for engineering waste disposal would spend at least a bit of time playing “What if?” given that both scientists and those tasked with studying the security of the electric grid have concluded an extended disruption very possible. Mainstream media has even begun to warn of ISIS threats to the American power grid: New ISIS threat: America’s electric grid; blackout could kill 9 of 10 | .

The Humanure Handbook is a good place to start for off-grid sanitation. I have a copy to loan out if anyone in charge would like to borrow it. I would want it returned, though. My main concern is that our city should have a backup plan all set to roll out in the event of grid-down. Once people have begun improperly to dispose of waste, then things like cholera, hepatitis and e. coli start spreading in exponential, out of control ways. Though inconceivable to most people, this sort of crisis is exactly the time when a city would most need decisive leadership. Beginning the research process after the event will be too late, particularly since the internet and transportation/delivery of materials would not be available under such circumstances.

I would be happy to discuss this in person with you or with whomever you believe should be preparing for what scientists and Congress have deemed a likely scenario. Hopefully, we will avoid it, but if it happens, we need a plan in place before so that we can have immediate implementation and compliance. The alternatives of delayed action or no action are not pretty.

Thank you for your consideration.


Laura Bruno

Good News from Poland!

This arrived yesterday from Julian Rose, but I’m just now getting a chance to post it. The newsletter covers Poland’s ongoing battle to remain GMO-free, as well as clever, beautiful ways some farmers have begun to include more of the public in their rural life. Oh, America, may you, too, clear away the GMO haze to see the truly wonderful alternatives!

Dear Friends,

*Don’t miss the short film at the end of this letter!*

We bring you good news! – and that’s a rare enough commodity these days –

The Coalition for a GMO Free Poland has scored a dramatic success in
blocking a determined attempt by the Polish government to fast track a new GMO Act through parliament that would have opened the door for GM planting.

Our Coalition colleague and legal expert Pawel Polaneki, was able to openly expose the absurdity of the proposed new regulation during a specially convened environmental committee meeting in the parliament 10th September.

Amongst other things, he highlighted the fact that the new act proposed a 1,000 zloty fine for anyone found to be growing a GM crop on their land. 1,000 zloty is just 200 pounds!

To his great surprise – and ours – the vice chairman of the agriculture committee then jumped up and said that this was an outrage and called for a total ban of GM to be at the centre of the new act!

Disarray followed – and the meeting was called-off with all parties
told to resolve the situation before a further meeting is convened.

Of course we haven’t won yet – and these things tend to drag on interminably – but the deadly GMO machine has been foiled once again.

On another, yet related note – ICPPC’s founders are busy with an innovative project to promote solar energy in the Polish countryside.

We (Julian and Jadwiga) have already travelled to four different Provinces and have been meeting-up with farming families running agri-tourism initiatives who also wish to install passive and photovoltaic panels on the farmhouses where their guests will stay.

It’s a great thing for the health of both people and nature to be able to combine environmentally friendly farming practices with solar energy to power the household!

Here’s a short film shot at our Eco Centre in Stryszow, near Krakow.
It will give you a flavour of what we’re up to .. and maybe entice you to come and visit?

All best wishes,

Julian and Jadwiga

ICPPC – International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside,
34-146 Stryszów 156, Poland tel./fax +48 33 8797114