Over the last few years I’ve been gathering the components for a makeshift “solar system”, relying heavily on generous donations from friends for parts. Many of these gifts have found their way into the current version, though a few have been cycled out as they were less than functional, and this winter I finally completed the setup. It’s a brilliant feeling to turn on the lights at night and know they are being powered by the day’s sunshine. It has also been a good lesson in how much energy it actually takes to, say, use a food processor, a blender, or (heaven forbid), a toaster.

My appliances of such nature are all free-store acquisitions, none particularly efficient, and so I am left to ponder whether to yield to the temptation of using them. At my current location I have the option of plugging back into the extension cord I was previously attached to — it’s frozen in place for the next month anyways. The alternative is to get creative and remember the preCuisinart era.

The blender and food processor are no-gos, but thank goodness I have a Foley fork. What, you’ve never heard of such a thing?

It is one of my most useful family heirlooms, and I just love it. It looks like an oversized cartoon fork with curved, widely splayed tines. It works well for making pastry but also for hummus and for that part of soup I like to smush up to make the broth thicker. And it’s a better workout than holding down a button. There will be no smoothies for me on this system until I dust off the plans for a bicycle-powered blender, but maybe it’s not a bad thing to have to chew my food.

The coffee grinder, I have learned, can be used provided nothing else is plugged in (I run a small system, one 12-volt battery off of two 35 Watt panels), but why would I use that when I have a cast iron wall-mounted affair my folks brought along when we migrated north from Africa? It brings in a nice bit of ritual, and the sound is much more appealing first thing in the morning. I’m not a purist, so I do also use it to grind spices, not minding the occasional hint of cloves in my coffee. I can do grains in it as well — though only if I’m really in need of exercise. I admit I still opt for the electric mill at the community centre for my flour needs.

The toaster oven is perhaps the hardest to give up. Between the propane cooktop, the woodstove, and a tiny slow cooker that I can run off of the solar, I can get a lot of oven-like functionality, but some kinds of bread just need an oven.

Perhaps I’ll delve into a solar oven project this summer. Or just keep that extension cord hanging around, and visit my neighbors once in awhile when I feel the urge to bake more than four cookies at a time.