Weekend Tweets: Poppies, Insane Comics and Black Metal Cats

Meet the Solavore Sport Solar Oven

IMG_7172 (1)As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the good folks at Solavore have loaned us a solar oven to play with this summer. We’re still working on how to cook in the thing–more on that later–but we thought we’d take a moment to show you the oven itself.

The basics:

This is a Solavore Sport, which sells from their website for $229.00 US, plus $39.50 for the optional reflector. (We’d recommend the reflector, unless you live near the equator, or only plan to use your oven at midday in high summer.)

Solavore is a woman-run company, based in Minnesota, and the ovens are made the U.S. Plus, Solavore partners with NGOs to bring sun ovens to sun-rich, fuel-poor developing countries.

Solavore keeps an extensive, and attractive recipe section on their site.

The oven itself:

The floor of the oven measures 9 1/4 inches x 17 1/2.

It weighs 9 pounds.

It is entirely made of plastic. The body is all black molded insulated plastic, while the lid is double-walled clear plastic, molded to fit the oven body.  There seems to be a trade off going on here between portability (and perhaps lower shipping costs) and structure. They opted for it not to have a heavy casing.

It doesn’t seem flimsy by any means, but at the same time you can imagine doing it some serious damage if you were to trip over it. I worry particularly about cracking the lid around the thin edges. Yet at the same time, I really appreciate the portability. I love how light and easy the Sport is to manipulate. It is simply no big thing to move it around, and until you get the hang of solar cooking, and learn the way the light moves in your yard, you’re going to be moving it a lot. It’s light weight makes it good for camping and picnicking, too.

IMG_7224The oven is made to hold two cooking pots at a time, which is handy, because you can do a main dish and a side at once, or a pot of something for dinner and a pot of something for lunch.The Solavore comes equipped with two shiny new black Speckleware casserole pots for this purpose, though you may choose to use any pot you like–though lightweight black pots like the Speckleware are best for solar cooking. It’s also big enough hold a casserole dish or a quarter sheet pan.

The Solavore also comes with a free standing thermometer which you can use to monitor the internal temperature of the oven.

We don’t have experience with any other commercial sun oven by which to compare the Solavore Sport, so all we can say so far is that it totally works. It’s been getting to cooking temperature easily (200-250F), even though the sun is still a little low in the sky at this time of year, as long as you follow the directions and use it correctly.

IMG_7174Quibble with the clips

So far we have no complaints at all, and only one quibble: the clips.

The lightweight lid must be clipped down to the oven body to maintain proper heat efficiency. Having failed to read the starting instructions properly (ahem), I missed that detail on our first trial, and had trouble getting the oven up to cooking temp–which lead to a lentil disaster.

I failed to notice the lid clips were there at all first time out because they are not immediately obvious. They are small metal hooks which are permanently affixed through holes in the oven’s body. They come up over the lip of the lid to hold it down tight.

The good thing about these clips is that they are very simple and would be easy to replace with a piece of wire if you break them. Also, since the clips are tied to the oven, they can’t be lost, which is another major advantage.

The downside is that they are finicky to use. I have a hard time getting them over the lip of the lid, and always feel like I’m in danger of abrading or even cracking the edge of the lid as I force them on and off. Each time I  wrestle with them, I dream of a quick release system, or wish I could just use binder clips to clamp the lid to the body–but regular clips don’t work because of the particular shape of the lid/body interface.

But all in all, that is, as I say, only a quibble.  We’re enjoying playing with the oven, although as I alluded to in my last post on the subject, there is a learning curve to solar cooking. We’ve had a few disasters, which we’ll talk about, but we’re beginning to get a good feel for what works well in this cooking system. More to come soon!

083 Kris De Decker of Low Tech Magazine

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Our guest this week is journalist Kris De Decker, the creator of Low Tech Magazine, a blog published in English, Dutch and Spanish that covers low tech solutions in great depth and detail. Without exaggeration, I think it’s safe to say it’s my favorite blog. On the podcast we discuss high tech problems, Catalan vaulting, fruit walls, Chinese wheelbarrows, open modular hardware, fireless cookers and alternate forms of the internet.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

The Return of Knickers?

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At the risk of alarming Kelly, who threatened to divorce me over my attempt to “thoughtfluence” the monocle back into common use, I think it’s time to bring back knickers. But first let me clear up some linguistic confusion: some of our English speaking readers will know this garment as knickerbockers (knickers are women’s underwear in Britain). I’m talking about pants that stop around the knee and that are worn by both men and women.

Before my annoying plantar fasciitis injury, I used to don knickers twice a week to go fencing. They are comfortable, allowing for easy movement, and more dignified and modest than shorts.

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Modern fencing knickers are white. The Victorian, black version of the fencing uniform was more stylish:

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A tangent here: please, dear fencing officials, do not attempt to “modernize” the uniform:

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Remember, the classic uniform is still sexy. Note slightly NSFW examples: 1 and 2.

Baseball, football and golf all adopted knickers for the same reasons they work in fencing: comfort, warmth, lower leg flexibility and dignity.

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The garment also played an important roll in liberating women from burdensome hoop skirts and corsets. Above is mountain guide Alice Manfield. And, of course, we can’t forget, late 19th/early 20th century women’s cycling apparel:

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These days, outside of the fencing strip, the only place you’ll see knickers in an un-ironic context is when you find yourself hunting shooting in Britain:

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UPDATE: Alas, Root Simple reader Peter informs me that this picture is fiction. Current shooting attire, Peter informs me, is “rubber boots, jeans and one of those nice Barbour waxed cotton jackets. The Queen does not wear jeans, but a tweed skirt. This uniform is accompanied by a battered, mud-splattered Land Rover and a pair of ruinously expensive, handmade shotguns. Anyone who dressed like the men in the picture would be found guilty of that most English of sins, Trying Too Hard, and sniggered at.”

At least there’s (pre-ironic?) Oktoberfest in Bavaria:

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Image: HaTe on Wikipedia.

Yes, I know, you’re too distracted by the Tyrolean hats to notice the knickers.

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Bike in Tweed, Stockholm 2013. Image: Wikipedia.

In a somewhat more ironic context, knickers have appeared at “tweed rides” in various cities around the world. Still, it’s hard to pull this off outside of an organized ride without seeming like you just stepped out of a steam punk convention.

Alas, our fashion overlords have banished knickers to the historical recreation ghetto. But maybe there’s hope. Since writing this silly post Google is now suggesting I visit this modern knicker purveyor. Nice, but could we skip the polyester?

As Marshall McLuhan used to say, “If you don’t like that idea, I’ve got others.” Not ready for knickers? How about my idea for a hipster Alpine wear shop? Get ready for the Kickstarter . . .

Coffee Grounds in the Garden

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According to a handy fact sheet from Washington State University, Coffee grounds will buzz your garden. Coffee grounds build humus, boost nitrogen, phosphorus and zinc, bind pesticides and toxins, prevent bacterial and fungal infections and feed earthworms. Authored by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Urban Horticulturist and Associate Professor, this peer-reviewed pamphlet also provides a set of suggestions for using coffee grounds in the garden:

  • Coffee grounds should be composted before used as a soil amendment but can be used fresh as a mulch.
  • Fresh grounds are phytotoxic, so keep them away from direct contact with roots.
  • Coffee grounds will not necessarily make your soil more acidic.
  • Don’t use coffee grounds where you are starting seeds.
  • Despite rumors, coffee grounds do not repel pests.
  • Let coffee grounds cool before adding to compost bin so you don’t kill beneficial microbes. And don’t let coffee grounds amount to more than 20% of your compost pile.
  • Don’t add coffee grounds to vermicomposting bins.

If you’re using coffee grounds as a mulch Chalker-Scott has two suggestions:

  • Apply a thin layer (no more than half an inch) of coffee grounds. Cover with a thicker layer (four inches) of coarse organic mulch like wood chips (Chalker-Scott 2015). This will protect the coffee grounds from compaction.
  • Don’t apply thick layers of coffee grounds as a standalone mulch. Because they are finely textured and easily compacted, coffee grounds can interfere with moisture and air movement in soils.