Wonderbag Test and Initial Review

Some time ago I purchased a Wonderbag “electricity free” slow cooker and then got nervous and never used it. That could be the end of the story, except that when Dave and I bought a cute little teardrop trailer I could not stop thinking about how nice it would be to only have to heat a stew for 10 minutes on the little stove, pop the pot in the Wonderbag, hitch up and drive for four or more hours, and then stop for a hot meal at a Rest Area. I also thought of a similar scenario with going for a long hike and returning to camp to devour cooked food. So this weekend I pulled out the Wonderbag and tested it. The rest of this blog post is about that test and if its TL;DR I’ll just tell you, the test was a success and I super recommend the Wonderbag to anyone wanting to save resources! If there’s something specific you want me to test cook in the Wonderbag, I’m open to suggestions. Leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do!

The first thing to know about the Wonderbag is that it is BIG. I had previously unpackaged it, massaged it, and allowed it to inflate to full size (a process that is fascinating to watch), so I knew I needed to clear significant counter space for it or plan to tuck it somewhere on the floor.

I put a quarter in the center to show you how big it is.

In order to cook food in the Wonderbag you’ll have to heat a pan and the liquid in the pan up to boiling (generally for 10 minutes, but they also say 5 for grains, so I’m not sure why 10). I did this on the stove starting with a cup of unsoaked pinto beans with water and baking soda, which is my normal combo. I chose beans because, if they didn’t work I wouldn’t feel like I wasted a lot on an experiment. Also beans are either cooked or not, there’s really no in between. I chose a small amount because that’s apparently a limitation of the cooker. It does larger amounts better, I’m guessing that has to do with thermal mass.  I used my 6-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven, so it was a tiny amount of food for such a big pot and I brought it to a boil for 10 minutes on the stove.

1 C beans, 2 C water, 1 tbsp baking soda

After boiling for 10 minutes into the bag it went!

Look how small my giant dutch oven looks!

At that point Dave and I went for a hike on Sandia Crest, ran a couple of errands, and then came home starving! The stakes were high; would the beans be ready? We talked about what we were going to have with the beans while we drove home. We were HUNGRY. The decision was made to have sausage and veggies along with the beans. I left the bag closed while I cooked up the other foods. It really looks like a big pumpkin when it’s all closed up.

Have I mentioned I love pumpkins?

After cooking up sausage and veggies, I opened up the bag and found perfectly cooked beans! YAY!

Adding baking soda softens the beans, but it also makes the liquid darker.

With sauteed zucchini, poblanos, sour cream, and a bratwurst it made a perfect meal.

TASTY!

This experiment was a grand success and I feel like I’m ready to start using the Wonderbag more frequently. This weekend I’m going to test it out while camping and, while I don’t think it will be very different, I’ll report on that too.

Some final thoughts:
1) Using it while camping in our t@g camper trailer will not be that different. I guess the biggest hurdle will be stashing it somewhere that no critters or nosy people will try to open it up. I’m thinking that I could put it in the galley and close the galley up.
2) Cooking with the Wonderbag is NOT technically fuel (electricity/gas) free when using it in tandem with a stove. In my environment it could probably be paired with a solar oven for totally fuel free cooking. (I mean, minus materials and manufacturing energy use.) That being said, 10 minutes on the stove as opposed to 2 hours for a pot of beans is super worth it. The utility of the Wonderbag increases exponentially when I’m boondocking (using my trailer without power) because of the decrease of propane use and the ability to leave the campsite while cooking (not to mention the ability to cook while driving).
3) Dave reports that washing the dutch oven after use was a dream. Because of the method of cooking no food stuck to the bottom of the pan at all.
4) I can’t wait to run more experiments with this puppy. If you have a special request please leave it in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.
5) The directions say that its a good idea to put a trivet or hot pad under your pot before putting it in the Wonderbag. I forgot to. Everything was fine.
6) This will really only work for grains, stews, and soups and you’ll likely want to reduce the amount of liquid you add. There is no evaporation after the first 10 minutes, so liquids will not reduce.

Date Night In: Pizza Experiment!

It is super easy for me to do all the meal planning and never give that guy I like the chance to stretch his creative muscles in the kitchen. Its also true that he likes basically everything I make and generally he’s not into deciding what we’re eating. I also need time off sometimes. For all these reasons we’ve started giving him the “chef hat” once every four weeks.

If you know him or read his writing it will come as no surprise that his experiments usually involve dough. Saturday night it was pizza night. MMMMMM.

We were vaguely inspired by Claire’s fennel and sausage pizza, but in typical fashion we did not make a cast iron pizza, or even make anything resembling her pizza. It turns out we were inspired by fennel and pizza, so we made this:

We topped ours with ricotta, pear, sauteed fennel, garlic, tarragon, and blue cheese and it was so good.

A good experiment always spawns more experiments and this is no different. If we made it again we’d make it thinner. As you can see the dough started off pretty thick and so the final product ended up like a loaded focaccia.  In the future I think we’ll probably cut the amount of dough in half or make two pizzas. Also, I’m just learning to enjoy tarragon, so I think we should have added more. I really couldn’t taste it at all. Those are small changes though and really, it was a perfect meal.

 

I’m Not Sure Why I’m Doing This, But Here I Go.

I’m looking over the pictures I took today on my phone and I realize I’ve done something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. I’ve recorded, in photos, all the foods I ate today (except breakfast, I’ll do that tomorrow, if you’ve seen one bowl of yogurt with olive oil you’ve seen them all). I think I’m going to keep going and I’m planning to post them to instagram.

I have some ideas about why I want to do this. I get excited about food. Special food, dinners out, even fast food sometimes, I like it all. Also, I missed that part of internet history where people shared absolutely everything they ate. I mean I watched from a distance, but I was in grad school and there was no time for frivolity. It is sort of like sharing selfies. With selfies I’ve shared so many that I’m starting to get used to seeing myself in pictures. I’m no longer tearing myself down each time I see them. Maybe I want to get more neutral with food? I mean, this is the month where the diet rhetoric is at its highest. If I stay steadfast in my normal eating patterns then hopefully I can get through this month with minimal urges to restrict my eating. Also, it is scary to do and I want to face that fear and find out what happens. It might be fine, or it might be terrible. I won’t know until I do it. 

Perhaps all I know is that I want to. I’m trying to do more things that I want to do, so here I go. Follow me on instagram @nmstreettaste if you’re interested.

New Year’s Eve Hot Pot

A new tradition may have been started this evening at 4th Base, NYE Hot Pot.

I frequently ask Dave what he would like me to cook for one meal or another. His answer is usually pretty pat, “I like almost everythng you make hun” is the most frequent answer. There is also the dreaded, “Please don’t make X (usually whatever I’ve been relying on for a quick meal) again.” It is a very rare occasion when he has strong opinions, so when he does I get to finding a way to feed his craving. This is how we came to be having hot pot for our NYE dinner.

The Spread

I made a basic sukiyaki broth (1 1/3 C dashi + 2/3 C each of mirin, soy sauce & sake + 1 tbsp sugar), then cut and arranged the veggies and beef. Clockwise from the top we have firm tofu, shirataki noodles, baby bok choy, bean sprouts, scallions, shiitake mushrooms, onion, beech mushrooms, and beef. Each of us also had a small bowl of rice and an egg to mix for dipping. The beef is ribeye from the cow share we are still working on and the eggs are from our chickens. (Regarding our chickens: those nerds started laying eggs again when it got cold. I will never understand their chickeny ways.)

Beef, dipped in egg, on rice.

We ate until we were full, taking care to finish all the delicious beef. It was ridiculously fun to see what combinations each of us came up with. When we were full, which honestly didn’t take long at all, we threw the rest of the veggies in to the pot and let everything simmer.

That’s a lotta veggies!

This will make amazing lunches when we go back to work on Wednesday. (I can’t believe 11 days has gone by so fast!)

The finished product before boxing for lunches.

Happy New Year everybody. I hope that you and yours are safe and warm tonight. May 2019 be full of delicious food and joyful movement!

The Worst Easter Egg Hunt

Today, three days after waking up to major hail damage in my garden, I have a strange combination of Spring’s renewal and Fall’s decay in my little plot of earth.

Wednesday night I stood on our covered patio watching the hail come down.

It was fascinating, exhilarating, and extraordinary. Every sense was engaged. The sound was deafening. It was hard to process the pile of ice forming under the drain spout from the gutter. My skin was prickly with electricity, cold, and moisture. I could almost taste the cold and the dirt being kicked up into the air. But the smell was probably the thing that took me the longest to process. I smelled fresh herbs, cut grass, tomato leaves, and cucumbers.

When a copperhead snake feels threatened they release a hormone that smells for all the world like cucumbers. You might think cucumbers don’t have a smell until you are standing in tall grass nowhere near cucumbers and you smell it distinctively. I love the smell of cucumbers in my kitchen, or when I’m eating a big pile of cucumber salad, but out of context that smell tells me danger is around.

Well, we don’t have copperheads here in the desert southwest, or much tall grass for that matter, but the smell still signaled unfortunate circumstances. I was tempted to go out into the garden and see after the storm was over, but I went to bed. It continued to rain through the night and in the morning I woke up and decided to document my first look at the scene.

It can be difficult to see because on the video between my “unsteady cam” filming and the difficulty of differentiating the green from the green. (Trust me, there is plenty more brown now.) Here’s a few closer shots that might help, as well as a shot of our chicken coop, which will need a new roof now.

After the documenting the scene and my own reaction I commenced salvage operations. That’s when I found myself crawling around lifting up tomato branches and feeling for fallen tomatoes. The feeling was oddly familiar and I found myself gripped with nostalgia. That’s when it occurred to me that I was engaged in the worst Easter Egg hunt ever. Along with tomatoes that had been damaged or knocked off the vine I also found okra that had been split straight down the middle, groundfall peppers, holey chiles full of rainwater, dented eggplants looking like bruised swollen golf balls, and exploded cucumbers. I filled my big basket three times.

The miracle of the day was that my single ripe Black Krim tomato was unharmed. There are several green Krims still on the vine, but they ripen so slowly. I think it would have been devastating to me to lose this one precious piece of fruit.

I’m still picking damaged peppers, but the okra and cucumbers have started flowering again. The tomatoes still on the vine are ripening, but I’m not seeing flowers or new fruit. The beans are also a question. I’m sure the squash and the greens will recover. I’ve got a LOT of canning to do this weekend to make sure all the salvage fruit goes to good use.

Meanwhile it is time to plant peas for fall and in a month it will be time to plant garlic. We’ve essentially got two to three more months of growing season left ahead, so anything could happen. The wheel turns, shit happens, gardens are resilient, and there is great abundance.

COUSINS!

In a few weeks I’m travelling to see some of my extended family, including my youngest cousins who are very young indeed. They’re the kids of my first cousin, so I think that makes them second cousins, or something like that. Either way they’re my fam and I want them to feel comfortable and happy around me. Their mom suggested the coolest idea to help them feel comfortable around all the family that they almost never see. She asked that each household make a quick video to introduce ourselves. Dave and I made a very awkward, poorly lighted video on the fly. We talked about our cats, cooking, juggling, spinning poi, gardening, and probably a few other things. The important thing, though, is that they saw our faces and heard our voices so that maybe, just maybe they’ll want to give us hugs when we meet them.