SunStove

Who would have imagined that solar cooking could be addictive? This may be surprising, but is true. It’s great fun and astonishingly easy to do. Sunny Winter days are perfect to put out the SunStove and boil water for tea and washing, harnessing the inexhaustible and free power of the sun. While a solar cooker works best in clear weather, a few clouds will not affect the cooking.

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The SunStove cooks rice perfectly, manages a whole chicken, hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes, stews and bread too. Not much water needs to be added, and nothing evaporates, so all nutrients are retained. Cooking with a SunStove means you spend less time ‘standing over a hot stove’ as once you have put your food in the black, lidded pot and placed in the box, it looks after itself and can’t burn. For best results, preheat your oven and move so that it directly faces the sun a couple of times. Or if you are busy, simply prepare your food early before you go out, aim your SunStove in the direction of the midday sun and come home to a delicious, warm meal!

r lasagne sunstove

“I made such a nice green soup the other day – using all the little bits in the garden and I added some leftover cooked white beans. It was delicious, everyone was amazed. The SunStove does not overcook the veggies – it will cook slowly and gently.” Ntombenhle Mtambo.

We share the following recipes that feature in our book: Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni.  

r butternut stew in the sunstove

Sun Stewed Rhubarb

  • 8 stems, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar

Place in a pot in your Sunstove for the day while you potter about in the garden (or boil on the stove until tender). Lovely with ice cream and the syrup is delicious too.

Karen Zunckel’s Solar Bread

  • 1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 350 ml warm water
  • 500 g Champagne Valley Stoneground Wholemeal Flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 75 g mixed seeds

Mix yeast & sugar with half the warm water. Leave it in a warm place for about 10 minutes until it starts to bubble.

Mix flour, seeds and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture, the oil, and the remaining water, and mix well.

Put a little flour in your hands and dust the work surface too, and kneed the dough for 10 minutes, until it’s smooth.

Place the dough in the large mixing bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Put it in a warm place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the SunStove by placing a black pot or brick in it and positioning it to face the 10am sun. (Plan to start cooking at 10am).

Push your fist into the dough to knock some of the air out of it. Then knead it for another 5 minutes.

Put the dough into a greased loaf tin. Leave it in a warm place for another 10 minutes to rise. Cut diagonally with a sharp knife so that the crust doesn’t separate from the loaf. Brush it with the egg and top with seeds.

Then bake, turning the SunStove every half hour to face the sun.

Cook until a toothpick comes out clean, about 2 hours in summer or 4 hours in winter.

bread in solar oven

You can order locally made SunStoves (and insulated box with a clear top and reflective sides which can be hung up when not in use) from the PlanetPellet hut in the Community Garden, or from sunstove@iafrica.com.  You can order Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni  from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

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Birds of Prey in action.

We have been working closely with Mpop Kids Club and the Enviro Champs as part of the Owl Box Project. The DUCT Enviro Champs held an activity day where existing knowledge about owls was investigated. The children had to fill in worksheets with various questions relating to owl knowledge. Aphelele Mkhize wrote that she was afraid of owls and she would scream if she saw one, while Amahle swore he had seen one on a rocky outcrop in broad daylight one day. Later everyone enjoyed a presentation where they got to watch videos of owls catching rats and mice, learn fascinating facts about owls like how soft their feathers are and get to ask the itching questions they had in the end many fears faded.

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After hosting a fabulous, successful water festival in the past month, the DUCT Enviro Champs had some prize money which they were glad to spend on the Owl Box Project by having an inspiring trip to the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to many raptor species that are indigenous to Southern Africa, they try and give injured or sick birds from different historical circumstances all the help they need to get in a condition where they can be released back to the wild and all the birds that are homed in the centre are unable to survive on their own in the wild if released.

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A fish Eagle in Captivity

We had a self-guided walk around the many enclosures housing different species some big and some small. We all loved the residents of Hoot Hollow, where owls resided, the most. Mzwa Mokoena was fascinated by their silent flight, the way they can turn their heads 270˚, “They have more bones in their spines than humans and did you know that the male hoots twice and the female replies with three hoots?” he asked.

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A Grass Owl
We were treated to a flight display by Orion the long crested eagle, who has white distinctive windows on his wings that are seen during flight followed by YBK a Yellow Billed Kite that was not able to join the migration to Kenya, East-Central Africa. We closed our eyes to hear an owl fly and all we heard was a small swoosh before he landed on a perch, their silent flight and camouflage abilities make them to appear spirit like because they are not easily seen.

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Most of the raptors we saw caught food with their feet first, except for the little goshawk which has shorter wings and a longer tail and catches food with its beak. The cutest was the little wood owl, the female is called uMabhengwane and the male is called uNobathekeli in isiZulu.

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Belinda with the cute little Wood Owl

Vulture feeding was interesting, we learned that the Cape Vultures were not fighting over food but helping each other tear it apart. Next to the vulture enclosure was a pair of juvenile Beaded Eagles, they are Red Data species and there are only about 320 left in the country.

 

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A juvenile Bearded Vulture

After the excitement we went to the lower Mpushini River where Pandora Long told us the story of how she watched the river die slowly since she was a young woman until its fatality when a farmer dammed it upstream about a decade or so ago.

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We also took a walk along the dry river bed and had a picnic lunch around the fire. We finished off by going to Rick and Emma Hackland’s Aloe Farm in Bishopstowe.  It was originally a rose garden which they found requires a lot of water, they then tried a patch of aloes and found them quite suitable, numbers of different species of aloes have since taken over with very few fragrant roses remain.  Everyone had a great time posing for photographs amongst the aloe flowers. ”I wish I can have this rose in my bedroom, I have never smelled a rose as sweet”, said Amanda.

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Learning more about the owls has changed the perspective of many people, there is much enthusiasm for the Barn owls that will soon be residents in Mpophomeni.  People are asking the big question, “Ziza nini iziKhova safa amagundane?”

Imbozisi – Fennel

In the community garden, children love to nibble on fennel flowers and seeds – so much better than the garishly coloured sweets available from the spaza shop nearby.

fennelFennel is at it’s best in winter.  Everything about fennel is beautiful – the delicate feathery fronds, the fat bulbs, the scent, the sweet aniseed flavour, the yellow flowerheads (so pretty in salads), the fragrant seeds with many uses.

We are harvesting in the garden now if you want to stop by and get some. Interestingly, according to many companion planting guides, other vegetables dislike growing near fennel – but they don’t seem to be bothered by fennel in Mpophomeni!

fennel mpop 121

Known as Imbozisi in isiZulu, it is used in traditional medicine to chase away bad spirits. The leaves are sprinkled throughout a house to cleanse it, or an infusion is drunk.

Fennel tea is used to aid digestion and relieve constipation and recent research indicates that fennel reduces the toxic effects of alcohol on the body.

fennel flower

It’s delicious on hot winter days as a crunchy salad – sliced thinly with segmented oranges (also in season now) and sprinkled with salt, pepper and olive oil.

fennel and orange salad

On cold winter days  it can be added to any vegetable stew, or cooked with sweet potatoes (also in season now) for a creamy soup.  Interesting how things which are growing in the same season are often perfect combinations.

FENNEL STEW

Cut fennel bulbs into quarters (or sixths if very fat). Cut potatoes into sixths lengthwise. Fry in quite a lot of olive oil for a while to get some brown edges and then add whole garlic cloves, strips of lemon peel and a handful of sundried tomatoes. Add a little water to soften, as this is absorbed, add a little more. Stir often. Be gentle. You are aiming at an unctuous sauce with bits of dissolving potato and browned, soft fennel. It takes a while. Add lots of chopped flat parsley, some fresh tomatoes if you have them and generous squeeze of lemon juice.

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Our recipe book Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni includes these fennel recipes and many other ways to use fresh vegetables in season.  Why not pre-order your copy now? It will be available in August 2016. R200 plus postage – contact mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za or Liz at 072 098 3985

fennel