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Solar cooking enthusiast
A visit with… Linda Stein

[+] EnlargeResident profile: Linda Stein, Solar cooking evangelist

Linda Stein has become a true believer in the global benefits of solar cooking. She has demonstrated solar cooking at many local events and on KOMO4 News with King County EcoConsumer Tom Watson. Thanks Linda for visiting with us, and for everything you do!

Q: How did you get started in solar?

A: I have been trying to find ways to live sustainably, in a healthy balanced way. I love to cook, and solar energy seemed like a natural way to go. When I learned that Sustainable NE Seattle was offering a class on how to build a solar oven out of cardboard, aluminum foil and glue, I was intrigued and signed up. The class was taught by Tom Sponheim – a long-time practitioner of solar cooking and member of Solar Cookers International. Within a few hours, I made a beautiful shiny oven out of simple materials and was so excited to try it, I could hardly wait until the sun came up the next day.

In the morning, I threw together some cornbread batter and followed the simple guidelines for cooking in my oven and set it out on my deck. Within minutes, I watched the batter bubble and rise from the heat of the sun through the glass lid on the pot! It got so hot I couldn't touch it! The bread baked and tasted delicious! I was amazed.  Having this intimate connection to solar power was thrilling to me. I always heard how expensive solar is, and here I was using it to cook my food right on my deck in a simple oven that I made myself. It really struck a chord with me, because I knew that this was something that everyone could do, with few resources. I was hooked from that point.

Q: Why do you think you got hooked like that?

A: The intimate connection I was having with the huge massive sun and my little pot of food was an epiphany of sorts. Not only was it pleasant to hear the birds sing and be warmed by the sun while my food cooked outside, but it seemed like such a no-brainer to be using the clean abundant energy of the sun. Why had I not known about this years ago?  As I continued to solar cook and learn more about it, more and more benefits became apparent: It uses free non-polluting energy, it preserves nutrients by cooking slowly at a lower temperature, the food does not burn and there is no mess to clean up, it doesn’t heat the house during the summer, it connects you to nature, and since you are outside, it develops community.

Solar cooking reduces global warming and provides energy security if electricity goes off. Solar cooking can be life-changing in countries that burn polluting forms of fuel like wood. You can purify water and sterilize medical instruments, and you can dry and can food. It can kill weed seeds in compost.

This combination of things was a revelation, and I have been on a path to share this method of cooking with others ever since. I see no reason why we are not using this way of cooking here and all over the planet. When the sun is out, it just makes sense.

I started organizing "Solar Cooker Building Workshops" with Tom Sponheim, who was my teacher. I set them up at libraries and community centers and worked hard at getting the word out. Together, Tom and I taught more than 100 students how to make ovens.

Q: Any tips or tricks?

A: You can cook on any clear, sunny day, no matter what time of year or what the temperature is. Small pieces of food cook faster.

The best pot is a lightweight, dark, metal pot with a dark (or clear) lid. You can also use glass dishes, dark ceramic pots or even cast iron, but the heavier the pot, the longer it takes it to heat up the food.

Unless you are cooking under ideal conditions, it is best to place the pot inside an oven bag and close it with a clip or clothespin. Oven cooking bags, used to roast a turkey, can be found in any grocery store. They can be used over and over again, if you wash and dry them after each use.

To maximize heat, lift the cooking pot enclosed by the bag off the bottom of the cooker by placing it on a low, clear glass bowl or stiff wire ring, to allow light to reflect onto the bottom of the pot.

Q: What local resources are there for King County residents to participate in solar energy?

A: For solar cooking, here are a few important links: Seattle Solar Cooking (Facebook); Solar Cooking World Network; Solar Cookers International; Solar Cookers guide (PDF).

For solar energy for homes: Solarize Washington workshops; Solarfest 2013 at Shoreline Community College.

(Interview has been condensed and edited)

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Updated: Apr. 17, 2013

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