Friday, September 30, 2022

Friday Food: Solar Cooking and Lettuce


Short version: All over the place

Long version: Crazy day, with all kinds of things happening. Poppy, A., and I--along with my parents--were at Cubby's football game until 5:15 p.m. We went right from there to the school play. Calvin and Jack were in the play, and Cubby was helping backstage.

Jack and Calvin were given dinner at school before the play. I ate some eggs before we left for the football game. Poppy had a hotdog and A. had a double cheeseburger (minus the bun) with red chile from the concession stand at the game. A. also got Cubby a Frito pie from the concession stand before they left, and he ate that in the car on the way to the play.

After the play there were cookies, brownies, and lemonade. And then everyone was starving when we got home around 8 p.m., so they all had tortillas and cheese before collapsing into their beds.


Short version: Brisket, mashed potatoes, green salad with vinaigrette, strawberry/rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream

Long version: I cooked the brisket overnight (with salt, tomatoes, onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and a little maple syrup) at the lowest temperature my oven will go, which I think is about 250 degrees. It was in there for about nine hours. I strained off the liquid (and reduced it on the stove) and stuck the meat in the refrigerator until about 3 p.m. Then I sliced it, poured the liquid over it, and put it in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes, after which I turned it off and left it in there to keep warm while we were at our monthly Saturday Mass.

I also peeled and cut up the potatoes and left them in the pot covered with water, so when we got home at 5 p.m., all I had to do was boil the potatoes, mash them, and make a salad from the garden lettuce I had washed earlier.

I had baked the pie earlier, too. It was the one my parents always get from the lady who owns the house they rent. It's good pie.


Short version: Beef and lamb stew, garlic bread, sauteed calabacitas and tomatoes, green salad with ranch dressing, brownies with vanilla ice cream

Long version: My dad made me a solar oven (yay!) and I was so looking forward to trying it out this day. Solar ovens function more or less like a slow cooker, so I took out some stew meat--some lamb from the last ram lamb we butchered, and some beef--to put in there.

And then it was too windy. I didn't want the reflector part of the solar oven to blow over. Boo.

It was, however, quite chilly in the house, so turning on the oven actually was a good idea. I baked some banana bread and muffins at the same time too, to use some overly brown bananas, and raised the temperature of the kitchen from 64 degrees to 71 degrees, which everyone appreciated.

In addition to the meat, the stew was just onion, garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, parsley, and the remaining liquid from the brisket. It was very good. I was going to add some carrots, but it was already slightly sweet from the maple syrup that had been in with the brisket, so I didn't want to sweeten it any more.

Unintentional photo op with some of the ingredients.

I had made the calabacitas separately, and I added them right to my bowl and A.'s, The children had the salad.

And I made the brownies because there wasn't enough ice cream for everyone to have another whole serving, but there was enough for everyone to have a small scoop on a brownie.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: A. had the rest of the leftover stew with calabacitas and some leftover rice. The kids had leftover brisket, rice, and raw tomatoes. I had a salad with some brisket in it.


Short version: Rib steaks, spaghetti with roasted tomato sauce, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: A couple of months ago when A. dug up the beds for the fall cabbages and kohlrabi, he pulled out a few lettuce plants that had gone to seed and shook the seeds out in the beds. The result is lettuce that has formed almost a carpet of greenery around the cabbages. 

I can't really express to you how much lettuce there is in my garden right now. More than I have ever had at one time. It's insane. And fun. 

It makes it really easy to have a salad every night, which is fine with me. It also made it easy for me to bring in huge quantities of lettuce for the school salad bar when the cook mentioned to me on Monday that she wasn't going to have enough lettuce for the week.

This is an old picture A. took. The lettuce now covers all the bare ground in these beds, and I was so happy to be able to pull a bunch up to bring for the salad bar.


Short version: Leftover steak and brisket, solar oven curried split peas and rice, raw radishes

Long version: At my request, my dad made me a solar oven. I've wanted a solar oven since before we even moved to New Mexico. I mean, if ever there was a place with strong enough UV to cook food, the high-altitude west is it. And I figured if I could harness the power of the relentless sun to cook my dinner in the summer, I wouldn't be sweating my life away in an 85-degree kitchen in July.

So I sent a YouTube video to my dad showing how one was made that I thought looked useful, and then my dad made his own version.

He just brought it to me this past weekend, and we've juuuuust gotten past the weather for optimum solar cooking. It's cooling down a little and the wind is picking up, plus the daylight hours are definitely waning.

But I really wanted to try out the solar oven before winter really came, and this day was about 80 degrees with clear skies and not too much wind. 

I decided to cook rice and curried split peas first, figuring if it didn't get really hot, I wouldn't have to worry about meat in there.

My dad said the oven got to 275 degrees when he tested it in their driveway in Tucson. I don't have an oven thermometer, but the rice cooked in it in 90 minutes, which is how long it's supposed to take in a slow cooker on low. That's about 200 degrees, so I figured that was about where it was. Not bad, considering it was in the seventies and breezy all day.

I did take the split peas out around 3 p.m. and finished simmering them on the stove, but I think if I had left them another couple of hours, they would have been done. And I do think the oven will work just as I want it to in the heat of summer.

My idea of fun. (You can see Poppy covering her eyes in the reflection. I told her she could burn them if she looked right at the reflector. She obviously took that warning to heart.)

Anyway. I did all of this on Tuesday, but we didn't eat it until the next day. Because it was a work day, and leftovers are the way to go on work days.


Short version: Disappointing sausages, pesto bread, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: The commodities lady stopped by with some extra things on Tuesday, including some chicken sausages. They were mozzarella and roasted garlic, and they didn't have any weird ingredients in them, but they were still . . . chicken sausages. As A. said, they weren't really bad, they just would have been way better made with pork.

A. and Jack were the only ones who really ate them. So there was also some leftover curry and spaghetti for those who didn't want the sausage.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

T.T.: How To Pickle a Toilet

Just kidding. I don't know how you might pickle a toilet, but I do know that vinegar is an excellent option for cleaning one.

I've used vinegar in a spray bottle for cleaning bathrooms for a long time, but I still bought toilet bowl cleaner. We've always lived in places with hard water, so the toilet bowls would get that annoying mineral ring on the inside and would need to be soaked in toilet bowl cleaner before being scrubbed.

Or so I thought.

I was never a big fan of the smell of the toilet bowl cleaner. It was pretty much just a chemical concentrate. And then, I started to notice that even the kind that I had been buying for years was all of a sudden this very virulent blue color. And it stained my toilet bowl.

I tried another brand. It was a violent green color that also stained my toilet bowl.

My sister the veterinarian told me they started making the cleaners that way so you can tell if there's still any of the chemical in the bowl. Presumably so you don't poison any pets that might be drinking from your toilet bowl? 

I don't know. All I know is that it seemed counter-productive to try to clean my toilet only to end up with a stained toilet bowl.

So I tried vinegar. And it worked.

All I do is pour a few glugs of white vinegar in the toilet bowl and let it sit for awhile. Sometimes I only let it sit as long as it takes me to clean the tub, sink, and floor. Sometimes I leave it in there for a couple of hours. The longer it sits, the better it works, obviously. After it sits for however long, I scrub with the toilet bowl brush.

And then my bathroom smells like pickles for a little while. It goes away quickly, though, and it does work. 

I don't know if it would have worked in northern New York, where we had the hardest water of all. But it works here, and that's all I care about.

I don't have a picture of my toilet (you're welcome), but here's one of Cubby standing on top of the toilet in the kids' bathroom.

He was re-positioning a towel rack for me. I knew encouraging his early love of tools would pay off in the end.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Snapshots: An Old-Fashioned Tally

Years ago, when we still lived at Blackrock with its huge garden and I had more time, I used to can a lot. And when the canning season was done, I used to post the tally of all the things I had preserved, along with photos of the shelves full of jars.

It was fun. For me, anyway.

This year, for the first time in many years, I have had both the time and the produce to can again. So I thought it was time to revive the traditional end-of-season tally. It's still not as much as I used to do, but it's really quite a bit when considered all together.

I will probably be adding to this a bit, as I'm still processing tomatoes. But I organized and moved all the full jars into A.'s office, so while they were in transit, I took a photo of them all. 

Here we go . . .


4 gallon bags of peeled and sliced peaches

3 gallon bags of unpeeled peach halves

1 gallon bag of pesto cubes

1 gallon bag of green beans

7 quart bags of shredded calabacita

7 quart bags of roasted tomato sauce


18 quarts peaches in syrup

7 quarts applesauce

5.5 quarts dilly beans (pickled green beans)

10 pints apricot jam

5.5 pints peach jam (I made a lot more than this, but most of it went to the guy who gave us the peaches)

7 pints tomato puree

8.5 pints sauerkraut

4 pints pickled beets

And now for the photo!

Fruit to the left, vegetables to the right. A total of 64 jars*.

There you have it! My canning season, snapshotted.

* If you actually count the jars in this photo, there are 63. That's because one of the jars of peaches already got eaten. They go fast.