When most people get bored, they eat. When I get bored, I brainstorm new series and features for the blog, and THEN eat. A few years ago, as I was brainstorming and contemplating what I wanted to eat, I thought how cool it would be to have a mini-foodie series where authors share the things they like to eat. Photos and recipes and all. And so I asked them, and amazingly they responded, and I dubbed it EAT LIKE AN AUTHOR.
Another Life takes place in an eco-village in Death Valley, the hottest place on the planet. Early in the novella, my protagonist shows a new resident around town, and together they prepare lunch using a “solar oven,” which cooks purely with the heat of the sun.
He looked around at the several dozen meals baking in the sunlight. “This is weird.”
“Weirder than air conditioning your house when it’s a hundred degrees outside, and then warming up your oven to four hundred degrees?”
Solar cooking is something I do every summer in my backyard. I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico—not nearly as hot as Death Valley, but still a desert with plenty of sun. Solar cooking reduces fossil fuel usage and strain on the energy grid—that’s incredibly important for my characters, who live in a near-future deep in the throes of climate change damage, and in an off-grid, self-sufficient community. It’s equally important to me, as someone who desperately wants to develop eco-friendly habits and shape a better future. Plus, solar cooking tastes amazing!
Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a solar oven. It’s more akin to a crock-pot, only instead of plugging it in, you set it outside with mirror panels that concentrate sunlight. My corgi sometimes sniffs around it, but animals and insects don’t tend to bother a solar cooker—probably because it quickly gets too hot! Solar ovens can be used in any climate on a sunny day, but they tend to work best between April and October (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), and between 10am and 4pm.
I use a “hot pot,” which sits inside a fan of foldable reflective panels. This is the style I describe in Another Life, with the characters tossing together a bunch of vegetables with oil and herbs and then carrying their pots outside. Other designs include the tube-shaped GoSun, box-styles, and parabolic reflectors. There are also plenty of DIY designs that you can build from household items. I saw one once built from an old dresser drawer and a mirror.
My favorite things to cook in a solar oven are banana bread, miniature pizzas, and roasted vegetables. You might think the sun would dry food out, but it’s quite the opposite! Solar cooking keeps food moist without the need for added water.
Here’s an easy recipe to get you started on your solar cooking journey!
Scale as needed.
Beyond Beef Crumbles
Salt and Pepper
Slice zucchini and squash to rounds, potatoes into fourths, and shallot into rings. Add cherry tomatoes and plant-based crumbles, then toss with olive oil, rosemary, and minced garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook in solar oven for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add a dollop of Tzatziki sauce and enjoy!
Finding out who you were in a previous life sounds like fun until you’re forced to grapple with the darkness of the past. Galacia Aguirre is Mediator of Otra Vida, a quasi-utopian city on the shores of a human-made lake in Death Valley. She resolves conflicts within their sustainable money-free society, and keeps the outside world from meddling in their affairs. When a scientific method of uncovering past lives emerges, Galacia learns she’s the reincarnation of Thomas Ramsey, leader of the Planet B movement, who eschewed fixing climate change in favor of colonizing another planet. Learning her reincarnation result shakes the foundations of Galacia’s identity and her position as Mediator, threatening to undermine the good she’s done in this lifetime. Fearing a backlash, she keeps the results secret while dealing with her political rival for Mediator, and outsiders who blame Otra Vida for bombings that Galacia is sure they had nothing to do with. But under the unforgiving sun of Death Valley, secrets have a way of coming to light.
Sarena Ulibarri is a writer and editor from the American Southwest. Her short stories have been published in DreamForge, GigaNotoSaurus, Lightspeed, Solarpunk Magazine, and elsewhere, and you can find her non-fiction essays about climate fiction in Strange Horizons and Grist. As an anthologist, she curated two international volumes of optimistic climate fiction, titled Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers and Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters, and also co-edited Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures. Two novellas are due out in 2023, Another Life from Stelliform Press, and Steel Tree from Android Press. Find more at www.SarenaUlibarri.com.