Sun Ovens

I try to avoid using my indoor oven and stove as much as possible during the summer because it makes my house way too hot. The outdoor grill is great for hamburgers and hot dogs, but what happens when you want to cook something that really requires an oven? A Sun Oven might be a good solution.

sunoven1        sunoven2

A Sun Oven is basically a box with a solar reflector attached that uses the heat from the sun to heat up the box. Anything you put inside that box, or oven, will then cook. It’s actually pretty awesome. Here’s a list of pros and cons associated with the Sun Oven:

  • Can be used all year
  • Does not use any fuel
  • Food can be baked, boiled, and steamed at cooking temperatures of 360° F to 400° F.
  • There is no movement of air in a Sun Oven, allowing food to stay moist and tender.
  • Really easy cleanup!
  • Can only be used in full sun (partly cloudy and cloudy days won’t work).
  • The oven needs to be moved to stay in alignment with the sun, about every 15 minutes.
  • The space inside the oven is smaller than your household oven.
  • Price point is $200-$300 for a good sun oven.

I have used my sun oven to make bread, cookies, cake, and brownies. There is a pretty steep learning curve but don’t let that scare you. Take your time and learn how to use it. You’ll be glad you did. (The next time the lights go out, you’ll be making cookies!)

There are several different brands and they all claim to be the best. Do some research and find the one that meets your needs. Here are a couple of videos that explain how to use these ovens. I cannot stress enough how important it is to watch and learn something about how these work. And then, practice!

From Honeyville Grain, 13 ways sunlight saves you money while being prepared!

From Sun Oven: Basics of Cooking With the Sun class.

Global Sun Oven overview from the Self-Reliance Guy.

What have you used your oven to make? Tips?

I am not affiliated with any of the companies or products. 

Beyond a 72-Hour Kit: The 90-Day Supply

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or Mormons), I have been taught about the importance of food storage and general preparedness. Several years ago, the general leaders of the church gave counsel to all members that we should obtain, and use, a 90-day supply of the foods and supplies that we eat on a regular basis. Honestly, I was very intimidated by this new directive! Simply purchasing wheat, beans, and rice wasn’t enough anymore.

Fast-forward to today. I am 100% convinced that the 90-supply concept is inspired! Think about it. In the event of an emergency (assuming your home is accessible), you have everything you need. That means you will not be a burden on your community and can offer help and support instead. If you experience a job loss or unexpected bills, you have the food and supplies you need to get by for a few months. And my favorite – if you have all of the things on hand that you typically need for a 3-month period of time, you’ll never be out of anything! My life has been so much easier to plan and I very rarely find myself out of something. 🙂

Let’s be honest. Three months worth of food is a lot of food. And how do you even figure out what you go through in that amount of time, anyway? I’m sure there’s an app for that (sorry, couldn’t resist!) but I KNOW there’s a fabulous website that has forms and charts and all of the fancy stuff to make this easy. The girls over at foodstoragemadeeasy have put together a spreadsheet and tutorial. It’s awesome and I don’t believe in re-inventing things that already work, so head on over and see what they have to offer.

Basically, here’s what you are going to:

  1. Take inventory! Make a list of everything you already have in your house. Flour, sugar, rice, beans, spices, eggs – include everything.
  2. Write down 7 breakfast meals that your family generally likes. Mine includes pancakes, oatmeal, cold cereal, etc.
  3. Write down 7 lunch meals. I have mac & cheese, soup, PB&J, etc.
  4. Write down 7 (or more) dinners. I have more than 7 so that we’ll have more variety. Some of our favorites are chipotle chicken bowls, chicken & rice, quesadillas, tacos, etc.
  5. Write down 7 (or more) snacks and/or desserts. Again, having more means more variety.
  6. Make a list of every ingredient you need to make these meals. I mean every. single. ingredient. Even if the recipe calls for things like bread or salt, write it down. Don’t take anything for granted.
  7. Multiple by 12 (or less if you have more variety) and you have what you need for three months!
  8. Compare what you already have on hand with what you need for your total supply. Now you have your shopping list.

The spreadsheet I mentioned above does all the math for you. It’s a life-saver and I highly recommend taking a few minutes to figure out how it works.

Please share your insights, successes, frustrations, failures and such with us. We are all in this together!

Happing prepping!

Oxygen Absorbers 101

Let’s talk about oxygen absorbers. This topic always involves these questions: What on earth is an oxygen absorber? Why do I need them for food storage? Where do I buy them?

What are these things?

The short answer – they are the small packet things that you find in a variety of products that say “do not eat” or “this is not food.” Their purpose is to absorb the moisture in the air inside the package to keep everything nice and fresh. In your food storage, they keep your food dry and help to increase the shelf life.

The number you should use simply depends on how large your container is or how much empty space you have in the container. I have found that for 5-gallon buckets that are completely full (minus 1 inch or so for the lid) needs 5-6 absorbers. My full #10 cans need 1-2. My mylar bags usually get 2-3 because there is a little more empty space in those. If any of the containers aren’t completely full, I add more absorbers to account for the extra space.

How to store oxygen absorbers

The tricky thing about oxygen absorbers is that they can only “absorb” a certain amount of oxygen per packet. That’s why you need more than one in larger containers or in places with more empty space. That also means that you need to keep these little guys sealed up nice and tight at all times.

When you get your absorbers, they will likely come packaged in a clear bag that is completely sealed, tightly fitted around the packets. (Those little guys sucked all the extra air out of the bag during transit!) As soon as you open the bag, air will rush back in and the packets will again begin to absorb the air around them. Your goal is to keep the time they are exposed to the open air to a minimum. You want them to use all their power to absorb the extra air in your cans, bags, or buckets and not the air, in general. For this reason, I recommend having everything ready and waiting for the absorbers. As soon as you open your bag, quickly pull out what you need, then quickly squeeze the air out of the bag and secure it with an air-tight bag clamp. I use one that is similar this option I found on Amazon. Make sure that the clamp is long enough to seal the entire opening of your bag.

Another option is to store the unused oxygen absorbers in a glass canning jar.

Where do you buy these cool things?

You can buy oxygen absorbers from a variety of places, including the LDS Church, Amazon and many emergency supply outlets. The prices vary – A lot! I have found that LDS Church sells a good absorber at a good price. Feel free to shop around, though. You might find something you love even more!

If you are interested in the long answer, or just want to know the science behind how these little guys work, feel free to use Google. The explanation is beyond the scope of my blog (and my comprehension!).

How to Store Food in Mylar Bags

Most people are familiar with #10 cans – those large cans used by the majority of the food storage companies. Mentioning mylar bags, however, frequently results in some confused looks and a lot of questions. Still aren’t sure what I’m talking about? Check out my post on the difference between #10 cans and mylar bags.

Let’s give this storing in mylar bag thing a try!

IMG_0878Gather your supplies and the product you want to store.      You’ll need:

  • Mylar Bags
  • Mylar Bag Sealer
  • Oxygen Absorbers
  • Pen or Sharpie (optional)
  • Box (optional)
  • Labels (optional)
  • Tape Gun (optional)

Assemble everything on a solid surface. I like to use my kitchen counter so I can do these assembly-line style. I put the product in its huge bag on one end along with a large bowl and scoop of some sort, followed by the mylar bags and oxygen absorbers. The sealer comes last.

  1. Place an empty mylar bag inside a large bowl. The bowl isn’t for anything other than to easily catch spills. If you don’t have something large enough, don’t worry. It really is more for convenience.
  2. Using a measuring cup, large cup, or whatever you have on hand, scoop your product from the large product bag into the mylar bag. You want to fill the bag about 1/2-3/4 full. Continue to fill new mylar bags as needed to use up all of your product. As you are doing this, carefully stand up your bags in a line. Sometimes I have to put heavier items on each side (like bookends) to keep the bags from falling down. I’m sure you can figure out why you want to keep the bags standing upright at this point!
  3. Unclip your oxygen absorber bag. Working quickly, add 2-3 absorbers to each mylar bag. Quickly squeeze the air out of the remaining oxygen absorber bag and reclip. Why do you need to work quickly? Check out my post on oxygen absorbers.
  4. Begin to seal your mylar bags. I like to pick up the bag from the top and fold it over, forming a nice, clean fold about an inch above the top of the product. You won’t see any actual crease-line on the bag but it will give you visual guide for where you
    want the actual seal to land.
  5. Holding the bag very straight along the fold you just made, insert the bag under the bag sealer’s arm. Take some time here to straighten the bag to make sure you get a solid seal without any wrinkles. If you do end up with a wrinkle, no worries! You can just do another seal right above or below the original attempt.
  6. Label your bags. Trust me, you’ll forget what you put in them! I have found that
    sharpie pens rub off the mylar bag surface. My solution? Use a sharpie or pen to write on a mailing label, then put that label on the bag. Everything will stay nice and neat if you put a quick strip of packing tape (clear tape) over the top. Extra credit: print the labels from your computer!
  7. Storage is trickier for these bags because they don’t stack easily. I found some boxes that work really well. I can put 6 or 7 bags in each box. Label the box – you will forget what you put in them! Seal up the box and store in a cool, dry location in your home. The boxes stack nicely. 🙂

Sounds easy? It is! Please share questions, failures, successes!

Happy prepping!

Mylar Bags vs. #10 Cans

If you have spent any time looking for food storage items to buy, you have undoubtedly come across #10 cans. These are the large cans that contain things like dehydrated carrots or freeze-dried cheese. They are the most popular ways to package long shelf-life foods commercially (think Emergency Essentials, Augason Farms, Thrive, and others). The shelf-life for these cans, depending on the product, is generally 20-30 years. They are strong, stack and store easily, and are rodent-proof. On the flip side, rust can be a problem if they get wet (tainting your food inside) and they take up a lot of space.

For home canning, you need a large, heavy #10 can sealer (around $1500 for an electric model – which you want). In the past, the LDS Church had these sealers in their dry-pack canning locations where people could borrow them for no charge. Unfortunately, they no longer have them. It is also more difficult to find the empty cans and lids since the church no longer carries them.

Mylar bags are those shiny, silver bags that you find in some of the cookie or cracker packages from the grocery store. The mylar bags that are much thicker are perfect for storing food. They come in a variety of sizes and I have found that the 11×13 size holds about the same amount of product as a #10 can. The shelf-life is the same as the cans. These bags are strong, water-proof, and can be easily opened with scissors. They are more difficult to store because they don’t stack as nicely as the cans. They are not rodent-proof.

For home canning, mylar bags make things easy! You need a mylar bag sealer (I have heard that a flat iron works but I have not tried it personally). There are a variety of options, sizes, and prices. Because of their price and size, these sealers are so much easier to work with and own than the #10 can sealer. The mylar bags themselves are also much cheaper than the cans. The LDS church sells them here or you can get them other places, including Amazon.

There are pros and cons to both #10 cans and mylar bags. Rest assured that both are great options for storing your food for the long-term.