Going green? Now you're cookin'

April 25, 2009

See a shoe box, pick it up.

And all this day - this magnificent sun-drenched day - you'll have . . . well, you'll have a way to make going to the beach or the park even more special.

As part of an Earth Week celebration at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, I learned how to transform the lowly shoe box into a simple solar cooker.

We divided up into teams. And in short order, my partner, Nicole DePeiza, a 19-year-old sophomore and nursing major, was cutting V-shaped slots into the box, while I ripped pieces of aluminum foil.

It didn't take much to make the tiny cooker, just the box, scissors, foil, two straws and a file folder. There was a problem, however.

On that day, the sky was slamming raindrops to the ground - which killed plans for going outside and using our baby cooker to roast (or would that be solar-wave?) marshmallows and hot dogs.

Not to worry.

A few days later, the sun came out. And it's going to stay out, with forecasters predicting temperatures in the 80s today.

What better time to pass along my newfound skill to my husband, who, with almost lightning speed, managed to turn a box that had once contained our son's brand-new, size 14 running shoes into a slightly larger version of cooker.

With climate change and the economy - and the fast-growing green jobs sector - the first aggressively sunny days of the year were perfect for trying to live, rather than just celebrate, the spirit of Earth Day.

But first, our humble shoe-box cooker had to pass its first test.

I was quick to volunteer as "cook," which meant sitting on the patio as the shoe box caught a few midmorning rays.

Fifteen minutes passed.

And the two dogs nestled in the curved portion of the cooker were looking hot, but not cooked.

That's when we willingly surrendered to Plan B:

Drive the shoe box to a nearby beach, where sun was served straight, rather than dappled through overhanging tree branches.

Once there, it didn't take long for the dogs to start sweating. And then - slowly, very slowly - they really began to cook. Forty minutes later, the shoe box smelled of hot dog cart, and our first-ever, solar-powered lunch was ready.

I reported our success to Ray Ann Havasy, director of the Center for Science Teaching and Learning in Rockville Centre, who had taught the class at Molloy. Two weeks ago, the college announced The Sustainability Institute, a first for the region. One goal is to teach residents the how, why and benefits of going "green."

"We use the shoe-box solar cookers as a fun learning tool," Havasy said.

But, she notes, they can be used as real cookers, too. "Try a boot box," she suggested. "You can make a simple cooker as big or as small as you want."

And she reassured me that under the hot summer sun, hot dogs usually cook in about 20 minutes. (As compared with 40 minutes in the spring and two hours in the winter.)

Gary Minnick, president of Go Solar Inc., a solar home, pool and water heating business in Riverhead, often takes his top-of-the-line solar oven to business exhibitions. He doesn't sell cookers, but uses his own cooker to show customers what the sun can do: bake a cake in under 40 minutes.

"I make cakes all day long," Minnick said.

Robert Meinke, of Greener Country in Jericho, sells everything from solar-powered backpacks to rolling compost bins. But he doesn't sell solar-powered ovens or cookers. The retail ones are larger and more complicated to operate than a shoe box.

"I looked at some at a trade show but haven't seen anything that's really easy to use," he said.

Besides, he said jokingly, "On Long Island, I just don't see solar cookers taking the place of barbecue grills anytime soon."

He's right, because a grill cooks more food, and faster.

But Havasy's right, too: A shoe box can put plentiful sun to good use.

Let the sun shine in.

Hot dog carts hurt by public's efforts to save

BY Elizabeth Hays

Tuesday, April 21st 2009, 4:00 AM
Ward for News

Food vendor cart on the courthouse plaza at the intersection of Montague and Court Streets.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world for Brooklyn’s top hot dog sellers these days.

The sinking economy has taken a big bite out of the borough’s top-grossing hot dog carts — which are now struggling to lure enough customers to pay their sky-high rents.

Vendor Timothaos Ayad, who pays the borough’s top-dog price of $48,000 a year in rent to the city to set up his cart outside Brooklyn Supreme Court, said business is down nearly 50% since August.

“I hope I will break even,” said Ayad, 46, a father of three, who has had the pricey contract for more than two years.

Ayad, who peddles $1.75 hot dogs and $5 gyros to the throngs of court workers, jurors and others passing through the bustling downtown Brooklyn spot, said he has been hurt by the fact that so many people now bring their lunches from home as a way to save money.

“In the morning, I see everybody coming by with their bag of lunch,” he said, adding he has decided to throw in the towel and not bid on the spot when it is up again at the end of the year.

“The job is too tiring and the economy is bad, so it’s not worth it anymore,” he said, adding he has to finish out his contract or lose his hefty deposit.

Outside Ayad’s cart, mom Jenny Guerra, 35, wouldn’t let her son Houston, 10, stop for a $1.75 pretzel because the family is tightening its belt after her husband’s retail employer stopped giving bonuses.

“My husband is packing his lunch and I’m packing snacks for the kids,” said Guerra, who tried to offer Houston crackers instead.

“I feel bad he still has to pay the same rent,” she said of Ayad. “But not bad enough,” she added.
In Prospect Park, where some of the next-biggest rents are located, times are also tough.

Tarek Elhashash, who pays $27,000 to operate a cart at the busy Ninth St. entrance in Park Slope, and another $20,250 to work the Ninth St. ballfields, is bracing for an even worse summer than last year.

“It’s hurting us very much,” said Elhashash, 32, whose business last year was already down 30% from the year before.

“The same customer who used to come to me and spend $10 on two hot dogs and two drinks and an ice cream, now they get one ice cream and they split it.”

Elhashash said he has also been hurt by brown-baggers.

“Now, people come to the park with their cooler and their own stuff,” he said. “Everybody is trying to save money.”

Still, Elhashash said there could be a silver lining to the bad economy, if streams of people cancel vacations this summer and instead head to the park for fun.

“I hope so,” he said. “Maybe then, it’ll be a good year.”


(Regular oven 375 for about 30 minutes if day clouds over)

Solar oven timing depends on outside temperature, oven temperature and cloud cover, You can cook when there is some cloud cover but it will be slower. May take an hour, or up to two hours or so. Check every half hour for flakiness.


2 fish steaks 12 ounces each (halibut, sole or ...)

1/2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper 2 large tomatoes peeled and chopped

OR 1 small(14 oz can) of stewed tomatoes,drained. Save juice.

1 tbsp lemon juice 1 clove garlic crushed or 1/8 tsp powdered garlic

1 medium onion chopped 1 green pepper chopped 1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/4 tsp dried mint 1/4 cup sherry (opt) 4 slices lemon 3 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp salt.


Grease with a little butter a shallow baking dish large enough to hold fish in a single layer

Put fish steaks in dish and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice

Mix garlic, onion.tomatoes, parsley, tomato paste, sherry and mint in a bowl.

Pour over fish and add reserved liquid if necessary to barely cover fish. Lay lemon slices on fish. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake in solar oven until fish is flaky.

Serves 6 seniors or 4 young adults !

Solar Hot Dog Cooker

This project is for older students or for younger students with adult supervision.

A reflective hot dog cooker can be built from a cardboard box, tin foil, and posterboard. Sunlight hits the reflective surface and focuses on the hot dog held in the center. Students can work in pairs or individually if there are enough materials.

  1. Select a long narrow box; the longer the box the more heat collection is possible. Choose a focal length between 5" and 10" and design a parabolic curve as seen in the picture. One template could be used for all the cookers. Trace the curve on the open end of the box so that it is centered and straight.

  2. Cut out the curve with a utility knife. Stress the importance of being exact. Measure and cut a piece of posterboard that will fix flush against the opening to the box. Attach this with tape beginning at the center and working toward to edges.

  3. Cover the curve with white glue and apply aluminum foil shiny side out. Start in the middle and smooth toward the edges. Try not to wrinkle or fold the foil; you want it as smooth as possible.

  4. Use two scraps of cardboard taped to each side as supports. Using the sun or a projector light, test the focal point. There should be a bright spot where light is concentrated; mark this spot and punch a hole for the skewer. Use a section of a coat hanger from which the paint has been removed for a skewer.

  5. Enjoy your hot dog!

( note: This is a previous article from thegoodhuman.com )A little cardboard box won a solar oven contest recently and thegoodhuman.com made this solar oven for $1.50. You could probably make one with stuff in your house right now. I think I’m going to make one too. Follow thegoodhuman on twitter, I do. So, on Friday you might remember I mentioned the Kyoto Box, which just won a $75,000 prize ideas to fight global warming. Well, it looked simple enough to build, which was the point, so I built one myself in a few hours this weekend. While I picked up an old window from a friend to try to use the glass, it was just too big - so I headed to the Habitat ReStore to pick up some used plexiglass. Cost? $1.50. A few other materials I needed included:

- 2 cardboard boxes, 1 bigger than the other. The smaller one is the cooker, and the outside one acts as insulation.
- Utility knife to cut the boxes down a little bit
- Black spray paint
- Aluminum Foil
- Leftover packing materials of any kind for insulation
- Glue
- Duct टेप

That’s it. Since I already had everything except the plexiglass, the entire project only cost $1.50. But did it work? I will tell you after I show you a few pictures of the project:

I would say that is a success, considering the fact that it was only 52 degrees and very cloudy. And now it’s been snowing for days, so no more testing. Next time it’s very sunny I will attempt to do some cooking, and I will report back. I highly recommend you give this project a try, as it’s kind of fun to see something you build work so well!