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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Can You Compost Char?

I’m not talking about charred wood (don’t compost) or charcoal (definitely don;t compost) or artic char (no fish either).  I made a perfectly wonderful roasted chicken and potato dish with a lemon caper sauce, put it in the oven for dinner and left on a quick errand.  The boy at home had instructions to remove the pan when the timer rang.  But it didn’t work out that way.  I quote, “Mom, how can you expect me to write my paper AND listen the timer?”  Let’s just not touch that, ok?

The chicken dish was black.  I’m talking charred.  Lemons, potatoes, garlic, capers.  All black.  All mostly inedible (we found a few potatoes and a tiny bit of dry chicken to gnaw).  I had to toss it all in the trash.  I fleetingly wondered compost, but no.

Did you know cooked vegetables have very high water and nitrogen content?  They don’t just decompose.  They rot.  And then they smell.  Hence, the directive not to compost cooked food.  By now, you know that meat, fish and dairy are all compost no no’s.  Be prudent about the cooked veggies.  I make exceptions sometimes for sweet potato skins or steamed pea shells, but draw the line at anything buttered or sauced or especially charred.

Here’s the daily bucket …

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What you can see (clockwise (top to bottom):

  • Hiding under the paper towel are some onion and garlic skins
  • Red pepper stem ends & ribs (no seeds, this was not organic)
  • Fennel core
  • garlic paper
  • yellow onion skin & stem ends
  • tulip stems & leaves (they were whispering spring at the grocery store)
  • basil stems

What I made with all of that:

  • the ill-fated Roasted Lemon Chicken & Potato dish
  • a kind of weird Pasta Meatball Bake, an after-soccer meal that was just … fine

Three cheers for char!  Have you ever had a cooking disaster like ours?

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Compost How To, The Daily Bucket

 

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Toss It Tuesday In Rhyme

When your mushrooms are slimy and smell like fish

It’s obvious they aren’t suitable for any dish.

When around the edges your lettuce is totally brown

Please know  that your children don’t want it around.

And that chili with mold in the back of the fridge …

well, you know, I think it’s been there a smidge …

The first two into the compost should certainly go.

But the chili?  Hold your nose and quickly throw …

In the trash.

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Happy Toss It Tuesday y’all!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Musings, The Daily Bucket, Toss It Tuesday

 

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Granola Monday

It was another weekend filled with soccer, then ballet, more ballet, then more soccer.  Team meetings, team social time, cheering friends on … sounds busy and a little bit boring, but it’s senior varsity season and it was Youth American Grand Prix weekend, so it was essential and emotional at the same time.

Anyway, I piled up a small bit of insignificant compost that has already found its way to the compost pile minus the photo.  I can tell you there wasn’t much besides snack remains like orange peels, banana skins, and tea bags, plus the ever present eggshells, and a few garlic skins.  We ate out for most meals (ugh) and one night I crafted a quick late night carbonara, the easiest, tastiest meal when you want to order a pizza ever.  It was that kind of weekend.

Thank goodness for Monday morning.  On Monday, I made granola.  Nothing slows you W A Y down like baking up a batch of sweet granola.  You can mix it up, kick back and read your favorite book while it bakes.  Or you can do what I did, which was laundry and spring cleaning.  Granola AND a shiny, clean house makes for a marvelous Monday.

I’ve got a basic recipe (that is the result of combing three delicious recipes over the last few years) and I tweak endlessly based on what’s in my pantry when I get the granola making vibe.  I even wrote these ingredients down because it was pretty darn tasty batch.

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Nutty Granola

  • 10 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 2 cups raw almonds, long slivers (not paper thin slivers, but you could use them too)
  • 2 cups raw walnuts, we like our chopped fairly small
  • 1/2 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 wheat germ
  • 1/3 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1/4 flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 cup coconut (I used refined since my family is not fond of the coconut taste)
  • 1 cup raw honey
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 of a nutmeg nugget, freshly grated or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment or foil.  Combine all dry ingredients except salt in a large bowl and toss until well mixed.  Melt butter and coconut oil in a small saucepan, then add honey, vanilla and almond extracts.  Stir until well mixed.  Add half liquid mixture to bowl & toss with a wooden spoon or rounded silicon spatula, being sure to coat the small pieces from the bottom of the bowl.  Add remaining liquid and mix thoroughly, again scraping bottom of bowl to make sure that all dry ingredients are coated.  Spread mixture evenly on the prepared cookie sheets.  Bake 30 minutes then stir.  Rotate pans in oven if necessary.  Bake another 30 minutes and stir again.  Rotate pans again if necessary.  Bake a final 30 minutes.  Turn off oven and leave in the oven until the oven is cool.  The granola will crisp as it cools.   This makes a big batch of about 15 cups and lasts a long time, although never more than two weeks in my house.  Store in an airtight container.

Again, this combination of nuts and seeds is just a suggestion.  I’ve used sunflower seeds, cashews, pecans and chia seeds with great results.  Make sure you start with raw nuts and seeds (not roasted) because this recipe bakes for an hour and a half and you will have some VERY toasted, and possibly burned ingredients otherwise.   If you like dried fruit in your granola, and I do love dried cherries and apricots, add them after baking, otherwise you can get some very hard and sometimes burned and bitter fruit.  Keep in mind that dried fruit will soften the granola a little if you store it together.   Finally, most granola recipes call for coconut so feel free to add a cup or more.  I’ve just decided I’m currently in a no-coconut phase.

If you make this and tweak it let me know what combination worked for you!

 

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No Shrimp Shells Here

Schedule is the crazy variable for moms, right?  Between school, sports, and after school activities sometimes it feels like we are running from one event to another, barely stopping along the way.  I think there is a whole blogosphere out there dedicated to this topic so that’s all I’ll say, BUT a busy schedule does dictate the way we eat on certain days.  Since a semblance of “family dinner” is important to us that means dishes we can have ready to eat when everyone is assembled.

Ina Garten’s Baked Shrimp Scampi is just that dish.  Easy to prep in advance from stock ingredients, quick to cook and simple to serve, it fits the bill for busy weeknights and is perfect for company dinner.  (It this sounds like advertising copy, well, I have a long history of writing that so … many apologies.)  Really, if you are a shrimp fan it’s an easy dish to love.

But, I don’t love the shrimp shells.  Have you ever put them in your trash and left it overnight?  It probably woke you up!  Typically I wrap the shells in the plastic bag they came in, pop them in the freezer, then toss them in the trash on pick-up day.

I’ve often wondered about composting the shells though since fish emulsion is a popular fertilizer and one I’ve used on a regular basis.  Shrimp shells are primarily made of chitin and are very nitrogen rich, so it makes sense that shells are a compost enhancer.

The only drawback is, not surprisingly, the fishy odor.  My dogs love to try to lick the dirt in the garden when I use it, so imagine what they might do to my compost pile!  Even worse, I’m pretty sure shrimp in the center of the pile would be as good as a personalized Evite for all the neighborhood cats.

If you are feeling adventurous, it is possible to compost shrimp shells.  Simply dig a hole at least ten inches into the middle of the compost pile, deposit the shells, then cover with well rotted leaves and more compost.  This should mask any fishy odors, but if you are hesitant, or you have curious cats (or dogs, or any wildlife around for that matter), here are a few tips that should guarantee odor-free decomposition.

  • Boil the shrimp shells for 20-30 minutes.
  • Dry out the shrimp shells in a low heat oven (maybe 10-15 minutes at 200 degrees?)
  • Grind shells into a powder & sprinkle in compost.

Maybe when I am retired or have plenty of free time in the summer I’ll give this a shot, but until then I’m freezing then trashing my shells.  My apologies to the environment.  Oh, and here’s my bucket for the day.

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What you can see (clockwise top to bottom)

  • cores & peels from six organic Pink Lady apples
  • eggshells
  • espresso grinds (essential afternoon maple latte)
  • garlic stem end
  • orange segment
  • zested lemon halves

What I made with all of that:

  • The above referenced Baked Shrimp Scampi, made with just one pound of shrimp and no shallots because I chose to read Jane Austen instead.  Still totally delicious.
  • Scrambled eggs with mushrooms and sharp cheddar
  • A maple “latte” (Use a lot of freshly brewed espresso, hot whole milk, and a generous splash of real maple syrup.  It’s better than a certain coffee shop.  Trust me.
  • Rustic apple tarts made with leftover dough and the last of my marvelous farm organic apples.  These that were made so late they i baked turned into breakfast today.  Can I just say this is a great way to start your Friday?

apple tart

Sorry to leave you drooling.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Compost How To, The Daily Bucket

 

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Just Don’t Compost It

Unless you buy all your fruits and vegetables from a farmer, farm stand, or farmer’s market you likely encounter those pesky little produce stickers.  They are so ubiquitous that often I don’t even notice them (can you say onions?), that is, until I toss them in the scrap bucket.  Then I start peeling and tossing them in the trash.  I’m guessing the adhesive is not toxic, but it’s definitely not something I want gumming up my beautifully rotting compost!

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While we are on the subject of stickers, do you know how to read them?  Produce stickers have a four or five digit code and those numbers mean something if you know how to decipher them.

  • Stickers with a  4-digit code mean the produce was conventionally grown, but not organic.
  • Stickers with a 5-digit code beginning with a 9 mean the produce was organically grown.
  • Stickers with a 5-digit code beginning with an 8 means the produce was genetically modified.

So, my bananas were organically grown in Ecuador.

With all the conversation about GMO’s this sticker identification is a great tool, right?  In theory, yes, but these stickers, administered by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS) are strictly optional.  They were intended to help suppliers and buyers, not the retail customer.  Of course retailers know this and use the GMO stickers accordingly, sometimes leaving them off in order to promote sales.   When was the last time you saw a sticker on an ear of corn?

Be vigilant if you are looking to avoid GMO products and look for 100% organically grown labels.  Remember to buy in season and if you can, buy from the farm, the farm stand, or farmer’s market…or better still, grow your own, fertilized by your own compost of course!

For more on produce stickers check out http://www.snopes.com/food/prepare/produce.asp#JpG7xUD3evYdheOj.99

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Compost How To

 

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Recipe for Eggs-cellent Compost

This feels like it should be a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of post, but clearly, in my house, it was an egg (no chicken) kind of day.  Scrambled eggs, soft boiled eggs, and my favorite, eggs baked into chocolate brownies.  These kinds of days are not planned.  But isn’t that a lot of shells in one basket?

eggshells

Funny you should ask because there is some discussion as to the safety of composting eggshells.  Of course, this is due to the threat of salmonella.  It’s a possibility, plus it bends the rule of “no animal products in compost” but it’s your call.  Not sure how you feel?  Here are a few thoughts and tips in no particular order:

  • Since we have already consumed these eggs with no issues, AND since my eggs come from a farm I trust, I feel comfortable putting them into my pile.  If composting raw shells makes you squirmy, you can always wash them first.  Or, you can bake them at 250 degrees for 20-30 minutes to kill any bacteria.
  • Usually I crush the shells with my hands before tossing in the pile but you can toss the shells in whole as well, knowing it will simply take longer to decompose.  There’s a hidden benefit to jagged shells though … keep reading.
  • If you are feeling particularly ambitious, you can grind the shells in your coffee grinder and sprinkle the powder over your compost heap.  That’s a kind of composting megastar behavior I can only aspire to … but just thought I’d share …
  • Eggshells are made up of calcium carbonate and in addition to calcium also contain carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen, plus trace amounts of copper, iron, manganese, potassium, sodium and zinc.   That’s all good stuff for your garden!
  • If your soil is acidic (like my Georgia clay mix) then all this calcium is a great addition.  If you have a primarily alkaline soil you might want to be cautious about adding too much.  That said, if you also add citrus peels, which are obviously acidic, then you are balancing out your nutrients before they ever hit your garden beds.
  • Speaking of acidity and alkalinity, winter is a great time to get your soil tested before the spring rush.  Once you know your soil composition you can tweak your compost to fix or enhance your needs.  Cool idea, right?  It’s very simple.  Just check with your local county extension office for details.

Since we do use a lot of eggs, just for fun, I looked up “other uses” for eggshells.  Wow.  There are dozens of blog posts dedicated to this subject and ideas range from fun to far out.  Homemade sidewalk chalk?  Maybe.  Calcium rich vinegar?  Not for me.  But check out all the ideas because I sure there is something there that will make you smack your forehead in a throwback V-8 commerical kind of ah-ha moment.

Maybe if I’m feeling creative and have some spare time I might start some spring seeds in shells, or even make some spring candles in cracked eggs.  Most likely though I’ll keep tossing big jagged chunks of shells into my compost.  And that’s okay, because slugs (and their ilk) don’t like to crawl over those sharp bits, giving my garden a tiny bit of protection.  So, stealthy nighttime intruders, beware!  I’ve got eggshells out there!

 

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Compost How To, The Daily Bucket

 

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Toss It Tuesday: Sweet Potato

When I first started photographing my kitchen scraps I had lots of food to show.  Each Tuesday (trash day) when I cleaned out my fridge I felt equal measures guilt (throwing away food!) and virtue (feeding my future garden!) and could justify one with the other.  But after weeks of pulling out slimy cilantro, gross green beans, and leftover lettuce, the little light bulb started to go off in my head while I was food shopping.  Did I REALLY need that second head of lettuce?  Or three different kinds of berries?  Or more pineapple?

When I am confronted with an array of gorgeous produce all of a sudden reason goes out the window.  Forget about shopping hungry, I need to shop without imagination.  Each perfect new ingredient is the star in a new dish or in a dish that we loved but I have not had in a while … and before I know it my basket is piled high and my brain is full of menus and I’m hauling home way more food than I need for a week for four people.  And then Toss It Tuesday happens.

But I’ve changed.  I still don’t shop with a list or a menu plan (although I know that is a good idea for many) but I order just enough meat for two meals, then plan two more vegetable based meals with what I find at the market, replenish my pantry staples and then I know I can “pasta” through the remaining nights of the week.  It’s working much better.  I’m more mindful and while I have less to throw on the compost heap I also have more money in my pocket.

So this week, I have one moldy sweet potato.  Woohoo!  Luckily I grabbed it before it alerted me that it was lurking in my pantry.  Here’s the rest of my bucket:

toss it tuesday sweet potato

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • a rotting sweet potato
  • broccoli leaves and stem scrapings
  • banana peel (hiding)
  • garlic paper
  • orange rind
  • yellow onion skin and stem ends
  • 2 tea bags (hiding)
  • iceberg lettuce core & outer leaves (on the bottom)

What I made with all of that: Cream of Broccoli Soup, classic Wedge Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese, Black Olives and Ranch Dressing and Pineapple Orange Smoothies (breakfast), baked Sweet Potatoes with Maple Syrup & Grated Nutmeg (lunch).

How mindful are you when you are grocery shopping?

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Musings, The Daily Bucket, Toss It Tuesday

 

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