Thursday, June 21, 2007

Natural summer first-aid kit on the go

Last weekend marked the first summer camp-out for friends and family. Our destination? Central Wisconsin for the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. When camping, I try to pack light, but certain key items that went into my kit definitely came in handy to prevent and soothe a few summery maladies over the weekend.

I brought along a non-Deet natural insect repellent that actually worked out very well. Once each morning and evening, we sprayed down ankles and legs, arms and the back of our necks with a mixture of citronella, bay, cedarwood, lavender, vetivert, patchouli, juniper, tea tree, lemon peel, tansy and goldenseal oils. The only place some critter landed a sizeable bite was on my pinky finger, probably because I washed my hands a lot and rinsed off the repellent.

My son wasn't as lucky. A spider nabbed him on the back of his thigh during the night in his tent. Never fear. A small tube of homeopathic sting gel was at the ready. He applied it to his leg with much relief. As small as the bite on my pinky finger was, it seemed to cry out like a banshee for attention on the way home. All was calm, however, after the application of the water-based gel that contains homeopathic doses of echinacea, ledum and urtica.

I also brought along aloe vera gel in case anyone wasn't liberal enough with sunscreen, got burned and needed treatment. Fortunately, little damage was rendered. In addition, rich melanine reinforcements were also on duty in the complexions of my Mexican husband and Mexo-European son.

It's often hard to sleep in strange surroundings, so I brought along Valerian herb caps in case someone couldn't sleep. But after a long day which started with an early rise, a propane stove prepared breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and tea, a full schedule of lectures to attend under the myriad tents of the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, and an evening of cooking, dining, cleaning and fun events like a drum circle and a little stargazing, we were out like lights for the most part.

I awoke with a headache and stiff neck one morning -- sleeping bags aren't always blissful on the bone structure. I had brought along aspirin, but my husband first wanted to try smoothing Bach's Rescue Remedy cream onto the back of my neck. The pain drifted off immediately. I could almost picture the pain's phantom rise off my shoulders. Strange, and beautifully blissful. ◦

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Solar Energy for Foodies

The sun shines on the just and the unjust, the foodie and those who masticate the unpalatable. Thus, solar energy is there for the taking for all of us, if we only make good use of it, for example, to cut down on our reliance on fossil fuels.

I just returned from the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Fair near Stevens Point, Wis. and focused my attention mainly on food, its preservation and preparation. A remarkable woman, Larisa Walk, actually lives year-round without a refrigerator.

She made two presentations I attended, one which included the use of solar energy to dry food and the other on root cellaring. Using simple items like corrugated steel roofing and window screens, Walk demonstrated how to create your own easy, breezy solar dehydration system. Nearly any fruit or vegetable can be dried using this contraption, which includes a black shield (be it cloth or painted metal) that prevents the food from being bleached and/or cooked instead of dried. Dried kale and spinach comes out crispy and can be reconstituted in soups in stews. Fruits end up more leathery than dried. Everything keeps for about a year if kept in glass jars.

At the root cellaring program, Walk presented the interesting notion that coolers ordinarily used for cookouts and camping can convert to mini root cellars come fall and winter. Carrots supposedly keep very well in coolers. I'm personally looking forward to using it myself as I have a patch of purple carrots now growing in my backyard. Butternut squash is a good long-term keeper that requires 50-60 degree conditions in a cool, dry place -- versus acorn squash which tends to spoil much faster.

Luckily, I attended part of a children's workshop on solar ovens, which gave me the remedial level info I needed to get started. The shiny, multi-sided solar oven catches sunlight and directs it to the uncooked food placed in the center of the contraption. Best bet is to use an aluminum pie plate to hold the food then tuck it into a plastic bag or cooking bag to speed cooking time and retain moisture, if necessary. Once home, I combed the web for a beginner-style solar oven -- and nabbed one for $40 or so from Edmund Scientific, a company I used to buy my chemistry-set chemicals from when I was science nerd back in elementary school days. I figured if they were still in business after all these years, I owed them my repeat business. Looking forward to seeing how the solar oven works out on my very hot and sunny deck located on the southwest corner of my house. ◦