It’s Sun Oven Season: Solar Cooking Revs Up!

By NM-GRL

At the Jersey Shore, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kick-off of the summer season.  Here in southern New Mexico,  we ease into summer early, usually during May. And that’s when my solar cooking kicks into high gear!

The great thing about living in the Southwest is that I can use my Sun Oven all year long. In more northern climates the winter gray will curtail its use.  But, temperatures won’t stop you–so on a clear, sunny winter day, you can cook!

Here during the summer, when the sun shines down from high in the sky and the days are longer, I can use it to cook several meals in one day.  And, it costs nothing and doesn’t heat up the kitchen and make the A/C run like crazy.

I’ve had my Sun Oven for about a year and it’s fantastic. I bought it for “self-sufficiency.” This simple but well-engineered oven uses no electricity or gas and can cook, dehydrate, and pasteurize water.  Just the thing to have around if things get dicey if and when the dollar collapses under the weight of our national debt.

In the meantime, I’m just enjoying it for its own sake.  I have to say that this thing makes the BEST sweet potatoes (yams) that I have ever tasted! No need to candy them with extra sugar–they candy themselves.  So much better than baking in a regular oven, microwave or boiling them!!   In fact, all foods taste wonderful.  Seriously, for this alone the Sun Oven is worth having!

Side view of the oven

I bought my oven after attending a talk at our co-op given by the president of the company that makes them.  They are carefully designed and are so well insulated (with non-toxic materials) that they are able to keep food warm after cooking is completed, something most solar ovens can’t do.  The company has worked with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and governments to fulfill their mission:

Our Mission

SUN OVENS International, Inc. is striving to develop and implement comprehensive solar cooking programs that will radically decrease the developing world’s dependence on fuel wood and dung as the primary cooking fuels while benefiting the environment, raising the standard of living and improving the health of the poor worldwide.

From ice fishermen in Minnesota baking their catch on a frozen lake to desert dwellers in Kuwait baking lamb,
SUN OVENS® are helping people everywhere!

“Everywhere” includes the following countries (click on the the links to find out the details about these efforts):

You can get all the details on how the ovens are built and operate at the Sun Ovens International site.

Here are some more pics of the oven:

Reflectors fully opened...

The oven is easy to carry when closed up...

Since the oven weighs only 21 pounds, it’s easy to carry and set up anywhere!  And yet, it’s big enough to roast whole chickens and a decent- sized turkey! There are loads of recipes here at the Sun Oven International site…but it’s easy to create your own and adjust them to cooking solar.

Aside from cooking the best yams ever, I like using my oven to make casseroles. I put some elbow macaroni in the bottom of a blue Pyrex baking dish that I’ve sprayed with cooking spray, add vegetables, and pour over diced tomatoes or broth.  After the oven is preheated (usually to about 350 degrees or even higher on extreme sun days), I pop the dish into the oven and walk away, except to check on where the sun is every half hour or so and move the oven slightly to catch the maximum light.   If I start a dish for dinner at about 3:30 p.m. I’m ready to eat by 5 or so and if I eat later, the food is still warm.  If I want to cook during the noon hour, cooking time goes way down…often to cooking times similar to those of a conventional oven.  You can even put your food in the oven before going to work and come home to a fully cooked meal!

Solar-cooked foods are extremely healthy, too, because you can cook without any oil.  Natural juices are retained and food is delectable!

The oven comes with a dark enamel pot and lid which  maximizes heat retention. But, if I want to check on the progress of a dish, a dark glass dish (red or blue) will do fine (especially for casseroles–see above).    It’s easy to tell when a dish is starting to cook…food smells begin to waft out of the oven and once condensation starts to form on the glass, you know that some serious cooking is underway!  If the dogs are out, they start to sniff the good smells, too!

Here’ are some pics of a dish I made the other day for dinner:  eggplant with onions, garlic and tomatoes over pasta.

Ready to start cooking...

Within 45 minutes, cooking is progressing nicely.

Serious cooking underway, lovely smells wafting...

Even though clouds cut into the sunlight later in the afternoon, the temperature in the oven stayed high enough to complete the cooking.

In addition to baking potatoes and making casseroles, I’ve baked bread and made pasta (warm up uncooked pasta in one container while water is being boiled, then dump the pasta into the hot water and continue cooking…).  It gives me a real kick to cook food “off the grid.”

As I write this, I have some yams cooking in the dark enamel pot. Here’s a pic of them nestled in, before being covered. I wash them and no extra water needs to be added. I use 4 binder clips to make the cover fit tightly, which helps them cook even faster. I don’t even prick them with a fork. Once done, they will be incredibly melt-in-your-mouth soft and sweet.  I have them at breakfast every day. Yummy! And the dogs LOVE them…

Yams ready to go...

I’m seriously thinking of getting another oven so I can cook and either bake, boil or dehydrate at the same time.  That way, if things get crazy and there’s a disruption of services, I’ll be able to put a meal on the table without a problem!

***

More info on worldwide use of solar ovens, testing various ovens, etc. at The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air site…

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Starting the New Year on a Positive Note: A Tribute to My Favorite Car Dealership, SISBARRO VOLKSWAGEN!

~~By NM-GRL

(Cross-posted from InsightAnalytical)

UPDATE: Still in love with this VW Sportwagen!

***

During these tough economic times many businesses have to kick it up a notch in terms of how they treat the customers they DO have.  Then there are businesses that have been going all out all along…like my favorite car dealership SISBARRO Volkswagen here in Las Cruces, New Mexico!

The VW dealers I dealt with in NJ were pretty small outfits…like the defunct Princeton VW and the one I went to next, Hamilton VW.  And although Sisbarro VW is part of a larger organization, the VW store still maintains the homey atmosphere that is something special.

Sisbarro Volkswagen
Service at Sisbarro

Part of my loyalty to this organization, apart from the fact that I’m loyal to the VW brand, may be because it just so happens that the owner, Lou Sisbarro was born in NJ (across the river from where I grew up!) and that he gets back to the Jersey Shore (Lavallette) every year (… I have childhood memories of a week at Lavallete with my aunt and uncle and cousins one summer).

But that’s really just coincidental icing on the cake. The real story is that the folks at Sisbarro VW over the years have been great…and the last few months have been EXCEPTIONAL!!

It all started when we traded in our two Rabbits (Golfs again this year) for an end-of -the 2009 year Sportwagen.  Years ago, we had looked at a Jetta wagon, but it was a bit small, so we opted at the time for a Passat.  Since it was a turbo and my mother had so little mileage on it, we decided after 5 years that we might sludge things up because it wasn’t getting driven enough.  We both got our Rabbits, but now that my mother stopped driving, it was time to go to one car.  Luckily, VW reintroduced the Jetta wagon, this time as a totally redesigned Sportwagen…which, seems to be almost as roomy inside as the old Passat!

Of course, since they are in demand and it was the end of the year, our Sales Consultant Andy Gutierrez, had to initiate a search around the western region.  Andy and us go WAY BACK…he’s been at Sisbarro for 10 years and we’ve bought cars from him before.  And he may very well have been the person who helped us out on our first visit to New Mexico. At the time, we were driving a 1998 Jetta sedan and for some reason the trunk indicator light was staying on.  We stopped by the dealership and the problem was resolved…we had been slamming the trunk too hard!!

I longed for a white car but one that was available was pretty much sold. There were two others, one already in sales negotiations, so we decided to settle for the Reflex Silver, just like our old Passat had.  We reviewed the features and said OK!  We’d buy it sight unseen!!  (But, as a courtesy, Sales Manager Mike Tourtillott said we didn’t even have to sign the papers until we actually drove the car!) A customer with a Sportwagen was at the dealership by chance and graciously allowed us to try out the trunk…yes, a walker fit in it, no problem!  The owner, another VW buff, raved that it was the best VW he had ever owned.

Within a few days the car arrivedfrom Utah and it was gorgeous!!  We had a lot of laughs as we paid for the car…Finance Manager Ronnie Frietze has a talent for making the entire process of signing a zillion forms and handing over the check painless as he keeps the jokes coming!

When we sat down with Andy to review the car’s features, I wondered where the AUX input was.  This is the input used for things like MP3 players, etc.  MMMM…… In the center console there was a weird looking receptacle, which turned out to be an IPod cradle.  Panic. I don’t use an IPod and don’t want one.  Where was my little $30 Sylvania  MP3 player going to go??

Apparently, the normally wonderful VW engineers had had a few too many beers over in VW-land, because they had decided to get fancy and strike a deal with Apple to put in an IPod dock even though the first car reviews had said the base model Sportwagen had an AUX input!

OH, DEAR!!!!!

Now, I don’t go crazy listening to my MP3 all that much, but I did use it last summer when I drove the 300 miles up to Albuquerque and the radio dial seemed a bit empty out there in the wide open spaces at times.  Driving alone, it was comforting to hear SOMETHING playing (free classical performance I found on the internet). Besides, I had no use for the IPod dock whatsover.  I felt robbed!!

Well, I launched into a web search and lo and behold! Others had turned up the same problem, only in  a 2008 VW GTI.   And there were pictures to prove it!!  Here’s the page I found with lots of pictures and the solution to the problem:  http://www.golfmkv.com/forums/showthread.php?t=73447

But first, the folks at Sisbarro tried to find a fix through Volkswagen. The Parts Department, Dee Lerma and Jack Tellez, ordered official VW parts at Andy’s request, but they turned out to be converter kits for cars that had an AUX but not an IPod cradle. (Andy walked over to me with a bunch of cables and connectors, a sight to see!)  Along the way, another salesperson, Martín Torres, also tried to lend a hand.

At that point, I showed him the info I had found at the above site.  Andy called in Service Manager Theron Ledbetter.  At that moment, his very young son had a case of the H1N1 swine flu!  He was worried, of course, but still devoted himself to solving the problem that VW had created, not Sisbarro!  I investigated a few different aftermarket “fixes” but it all boiled down to something I found at Enfig Car Stereo…based, amazingly, in Carlstadt, New Jersey only a couple of miles from where I grew up!

Theron actually got on his phone and talked to the guys at Enfig directly to make sure the item would work in my car.  We had to make sure that, as an aftermarket product, it wouldn’t void my warranty.  Luckily, this little gizmo didn’t involve anything more that unplugging the IPod cradle and plugging in the adapter for the MP3 so there was no warranty issue, thank goodness!  Enfig sent the product promptly, but when Theron plugged it in, it didn’t work!  He was back on the phone with Enfig who promptly sent out a different brand.

VOILA!  The little plug in adapter worked perfectly and now all I have to do is tap the CD button on my radio, turn the MP3 on and listen.

Andy, Theron and Mike worked it so I didn’t have to worry about the cost of the unit so the issue was resolved!  I actually had called VW corporate and someone said that “the problem was being fixed” in the 2010 models…obviously, they must have seen some problems with just providing an IPod cradle at the expense of a AUX input that can be used for several other devices.

So, thanks to the crew at Sisbarro VW, I now have an AUX input and play my MP3!

And, much to my delight, I received a Christmas card from Andy thanking us for our continued loyalty.  Well, I have to say, I was very surprised. I think he also wanted to thank me because we had agreed to have a potential customer drive one of the Rabbits we were trading in…and which was sold along with the other immediately!

This whole incident was unusual, of course, but over the years I’ve always had great service at VW…so, I must also thank the folks in Customer Service, Tony Aquilar and Kevin Reed, who also made sure our new car was fully prepped.

And then there’s the lady who sits in a corner of the waiting room. Her title is “Office Coordinator” and she juggles everything from taking phone calls to handling bills.  This always friendly face belongs to Lisa Murillo, whom I snapped through the waiting room window (pic used with her permission):

The Friendly Face of Sisbarro VW

For anyone looking for great people to do business with in the Southern New Mexico area, I suggest taking a drive over to Sisbarro Volkswagen.  Not only will you find great cars, but you find a group of people who will take care of you needs and provide great service after you buy your car!

In this day and age, with so many stories about how people get treated badly, it’s really a pleasure to be able to recommend a great dealership and the great bunch of people who make it happen!

Sisbarro Volkswagen

1115 S. Valley Drive

Las Cruces, NM 88005

575-524-3561;  800-578-1670

(The Sisbarro Dealerships)

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Fly Away Robin, Fly…Toward Spring! UPDATE 1X (new pic)

~~By NM-GRL

(Cross-posted from InsightAnalytical)

UPDATE   March 15, 2010

Robins faked me out….after being gone for several days….they were all back this morning hanging out!  This time I counted about 16…and got a pic of a large group frolicking in the bath!  I have no idea where they went off to…they must be floating around the area rather than sitting in my yard all day!  Still wondering why they are still here–unless the weather is cool enough for them and they also think further north isn’t so great yet!

***

Things have been very busy here, what with my trying to learn how to invest in the stock market with some new efforts at self-education and Slick’s bout with the vet-dentist and 10 days of tracking multiple meds.  He finished everything and his follow-up on Friday gave him the all clear, but he will have to have his teeth cleaned every year from now on.

When I came up for air on Friday, I noticed something curious.  A small flock of robins, about 12 in all that had been hanging around my yard, were suddenly gone.

Here in southern New Mexico, robins usually have come through the city lower down in the valley by the end of January, which is much more lush and a bit warmer. In past years we’ve seen a few up here (we’re maybe 1,000 higher in elevation) but most stay down lower and all pass through the area within a few days as they continue heading north.  We have had a couple up here that have overwintered in the arroyo over the last few years, but this year was not one of them.

So, it was quite surprising to see the robins appear in late February (instead of  January) and stay…and stay…and stay in the arroyo and my backyard!

A Robin Indulges…

At times about 6 robins at a time were crowded into the birdbath partying all at once!

This character was simply adorble…

Now it may not be such a big deal to most people up north, but down here this is a big deal for me.  Coming from New Jersey, I was used to seeing robins all the time but it’s so exciting to see them hanging out in my yard, which they never have done before.  But this is an El Niño year, so odd things happen!

So heads up, they’re heading your way up to all of you way up north!

Another odd sight I haven’t seen that often is this:  the peach blossoms open (way to early as usual in February), and snow on the Organ Mountains at the same time:

Peaches and Snow...

Meanwhile, this is the first spring that I’m using the porch that we enclosed last summer.  It’s doing exactly what I wanted it to do, housing all my plants in preparation for planting.  I buy “doubles” of plants and split them to get 2 for the price of one!  Several varieties of tomatoes, including a new one for me called “Solar Fire” which supposedly can take the heat, Ichiban eggplant, and basil which I still have to split, are all waiting patiently for things to get a bit warmer.   Now, I just have see if I can get pimiento peppers, my favorite for growing in these parts.

Waiting…

The geraniums started blooming well over a month ago and continue to look wonderful as we wait for official spring on March 20!

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My Dog’s Teeth

~~By NMNJ-GRL

(Cross-posted from InsightAnalytical)

Sometimes you realize that you’ve hit a “marker” in life, and today was one of them in Slicker’s…Slicker is my min pin, whom I rescued from the street. He’s just past what we think is his 8th birthday, and the min pin’s tendency to have tooth problems hit him today.

He had had his teeth cleaned a couple of years ago and things seemed fine. But on his annual visit just before the holidays, the vet scheduled an appointment for a dental, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Slick Around the Time of His November Check-up

I noticed that Slick’s gums were red but he was chewing on bones and they actually looked like they were getting cleaned up.  Not as easy as that, however…

When I brought him in yesterday morning (Friday, 2/26) the tech ran over the procedure and then warned me that about this age, some dogs start requiring extractions.

I went home and waited for the call…and about 2 p.m. the vet called to tell me that he really needed teeth taken out…a bunch of them.  Apparently, an infection had set in and spread around his gums.

It must have grabbed pretty quickly. I had noticed that Slick was a bit listless over the past couple of weeks and was a bit more testy when the two little ones, Toro and Tico, hassled him. He wasn’t jumping onto walls very often, nor did he go nuts over the thrasher hanging around the back yard.  His stomach was a little queasy, too, because over the last few days he was looking for grass to eat…We had the little patch of grass removed a couple of  weeks ago and replaced with gravel, so he had to search hard. I got some wheat grass yesterday, just in case.

Well, all this must have been because of the infection.

I worried all afternoon, then made some rice and went to get some soft food on the way to the vet when it was time to pick him up. I didn’t know what I expected.

When I got there, the assistant reviewed what had been done.  Of 40 teeth, 20 were gone!  However, most of them were the little front incisors, apprently so loose that the vet was surprised they hadn’t fallen out of his mouth!  A couple of molars were gone and a a few of the smaller canines, one of which apparently had an infection that had spread up to his sinuses.  But, thankfully, his main chewing teeth are still there!

I was shocked, but it was not because I had neglected anything.  But, at least he had been fighting the infection. He pre-op blood work was fine and he was very stable during the procedure. In fact, after he woke up, he was standing, looking around, and acting like he wanted attention.

When they finally brought him out, I half expected to see a lethargic dog, but there he was running out with his little bandana on, trying to make friends with another dog!  I was so relieved because he looked like my Slick!  I had been very melancholy, however, because I felt that needing teeth removed really meant he was, indeed, an aging dog.  I even shed some tears over this realization.

In a sad twist, as I was waiting to pay the $845.00 bill, a man, girl and woman came out of a room to the side, all in tears. Obviously, they had lost their pet. It made me grateful that we had taken care of Slick and that, according to the vet and tech, he would really be feeling a lot better now that the infection was going to be cleared up.

Coincidentally, an orthopedic foam bed I had ordered from Drs. Foster and Smith came while Slick was at the vet! So, I got it all ready for him and was so glad it was there for him when he got home!

Slick came into the house and went straight to my room where he sleeps and plopped right onto the bed.  Toro, who is the ornery 11-year-old chihuahua, sat next to Slick’s bed and whimpered. I think he was a bit concerned.  Tico, the chi-corgi mix, sat in the crate in the corner and growled, as usual, so I moved him out of the room!

Slick Crashes On His New Bed Post-Op

We go back in 2 weeks for a follow-up visit and in the meantime, it’s pain meds, anti-inflammatory meds, probiotics and soft food for about 7 days.

Slick’s Post-op Pharmacy

I’m just thankful he came through it all OK and that we caught things in time before his health was damaged.

So, we have more precious time with our precious boy, Slick.  Gosh, I love this guy!!

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Feeling Chilly? See NASA’s Pic of Great Britain on Ice! AMAZING!

~~By NM-GRL

Feeling chilly? This will make you feel even colder.  Check this out at the BBC, courtesy NASA’s photo of Great Britain on ice!

UK on Ice 1/07/2010

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Subtle Sunset Hallucinations (Pictures of a Trip of the Imagination)

~~By NM-GRL

Yesterday we had ANOTHER snow storm…a heavy wet snow that resulted in a couple of inches and some shoveling for old times sake for me.  Of course, by today, you would never known it had ever happened!

But it’s cold and a wind moved off most of the leftover clouds. Tonight, I was out just as the sun was setting and just had to run to get the camera.  The sky over the Organ Mountains was especially sublime…the pictures really don’t do it justice, but here goes:

Sometimes we get clouds that look like flying saucers. This one over the peaks certainly is not the most perfect of examples, but the location and the colors….it will have to do!  For a moment I thought I was watching the craft from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” descending to pick me up…

A close encounter?

Then, I noticed to the left, a sight over the St. Augustin Pass that made me wonder if I were seeing a wormhole of sorts.  Time rippled around the edges of this massive gateway:

A wormhole?

Then, a closer look revealed what looked like a distant, imaginary mountain range covered in snow as I looked through the pass:

A far away mountain range? Shangri-La?

The colors of the mountain changed into a copper glow….was I on a red planet, like Mars, near an icecap?

Copper Mountains

As the light ran out, I returned to the house and back to planet Earth to cook dinner…But it had been a lovely dream!

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An Early Season Snowstorm with a Magnificent Reward…(Pics, including an adorable dog, too)

~~By NM-GRL (IA)

Okay, last time I posted it was green chile time…but hectic months stopped me from getting up a couple of ideas…but they will go up!

Today I awoke to our first snow of the season….several weeks early, by my reckoning…and quite a bit more dramatic than usual. It started yesterday afternoon with a nasty, cold rain and overnight it shifted over to snow.

The big deal here is not just getting snow on the ground (although it was already gone from the streets and sidwalks by the time I woke up!).  For me, it is watching the stormy weather clear and getting a clear view of the Organ Mountains and the snow on them!

So, here’s how it unfolded over the last 24 hours:

As you can see, Slick wasn’t particularly interested in getting up this morning! In fact, all the dogs were not going out yesterday and it was a cliffhanger for a couple of them in terms of how long their bladders would hold out. Even Slick rebelled at the cold rain late in the afternoon, although I got him out for about 2 seconds to pee pee.  Toro went out into the backyard, but Tico stayed put in the back of his crate all day until I threw him outside after things cleared today!  He is deathly afraid of storms…we adopted him from the animal shelter in February 2002. He had spent a month with people who had found him in a ditch. He was about 6 months old when we got him, so I figure he was out in some pretty cold, rotten weather as a baby.  So, I can understand his penchant for hiding under the bed, in his crate, and generally refusing to go out at all.

Slick Lingers in (My) Bed

I don’t blame him, because this was going on outside:

It was still snowing in fits and starts...

Fence Peaks

Not Even the Birds Were Out for Their Morning Meal...

Pretty icky for these parts, but sissy weather for back in New Jersey!  But, it’s so fleeting here, that this sort of raw, cold, dreary sort of weather is a shock!

Ah, but then it began to clear…the clouds started rolling away and sun came…and finally, I went out to the back…and…

The Organs Show Off Their Winter Coat...

…At least here there’s a magnificent payoff at the end of the nasty weather!

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