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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Compost Pencil Shavings?

My son takes AP Art.  My daughter home schools.  My pencil sharpener overfloweth.  Can I compost the pencil shavings?

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Yes, of course.  But I’m feeling iffy about this one.   On the one hand there is no lead in pencils.  It’s actually graphite and the pencils are made of wood.

On the other hand, my shavings are mostly from colored pencils, which are colored with what?  I have no idea.  And they aren’t graphite either.  They are made from chalk, or clay, or wax, or a combination of those items and some other things.  Hmmm …

Even though the wood would not be harmful and the amount is practically minuscule in my large pile, I tipped this container in the trash and continued without regret on my happy way.

I think this item is a personal decision.  So, the burning question is, do YOU compost pencil shavings?  Why or why not?

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Compost How To

 

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Playing Catch Up

Lots of beautiful buckets, lots of interesting stories … all sidetracked by not enough hours in my busy, super busy days.  So, let’s play catch up and get back on track, shall we?

This gorgeous little bluebird of happiness has been visiting my backyard with great regularity and I hope he (or she) is building a nest somewhere so that lots of pretty little bluebirds will be flying around soon.  Is that not the prettiest color in nature?

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The weather in Atlanta has been fickle: warm one day, literally freezing the next, but on a beautiful Saturday, while my guys spent the day roofing and framing at Habitat For Humanity, I was baking up a gorgeous Meyer Lemon Pound Cake from a favorite old recipe …  fresh chilly were breezes pouring through the open windows and opera was pouring from the radio.  Realizing we need more than just cake for dinner, I also whipped up a last minute Summer Squash Quiche with homemade rye crust (it’s a new flour kick I’m on).  Even the bucket filled with yellow scraps echoes the sunshine.

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Another gorgeous Sunday called for a bit of leisurely yard work (this is Sunday rest in my house) and grilling.  We spent a few hours prepping our back deck for resurfacing, which meant drilling out all the old fasteners.  Hundreds of them.  Naturally my husband was a pro and could zip out a dozen screws in a minute.  Not to be outdone, I gave it a try too and held my own with a much slower work rate but a very satisfactory bucket of nails to show at the end of the afternoon.

Naturally a day in the sunshine called for a meal eaten outdoors.  That go-to meal is grass-fed burgers.  I dressed them up with homemade tomato jam, arugula, avocado and caramelized onions.  Triple yum.  We topped off the leftover Meyer Lemon pound cake with a sweet gingery strawberry sauce that was kind of like this.  Blissfully delicious Sunday Supper with grandparents and good times.

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Here are some shots of the tomato jam production.  It was just so vibrant and smelled so fresh I had to keep snapping away … chopped tomatoes, jalapeños, ginger and spices … very heady stuff.

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When it started cooking down it smelled spicier and sweeter than ever.  I may have tasted it a few too many times.  And burned my tongue for the efforts.  Note to self: bubbling sugary jam is HOT.

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Skip a week and we’ve got double buckets.  Temps dipped back into the twenties and three soccer games made the week fly by like the wind.  We cut as many daffodils as we could carry so the cold did not wilt their lovely little faces and at least all was sunshine inside.  We feasted all week on fresh strawberries and citrus and on Sunday my oldest boy came home for a few days of spring break.  (Family complete.  Life is good!)

I pulled out all the stops with a recipe straight off the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit: Beef Short Rib Pot Pie.  Mine looked just a perfect as their picture.  My only beef (haha) was the crust, which, even though it was too dense for my taste, mopped up the juices perfectly.  With mashed potatoes, carrots and a really tart lemony mixed green salad it was the perfect Sunday Supper.

Dessert was an utterly forgettable Strawberry Milkshake Cake from Pinterest that seduced me with its spring hue.  Plus, I’ve never had or baked a “poke cake”.  Take my advice and just enjoy the pretty picture.  Even though I freshened it up with sweet strawberry puree and whipping cream in lieu of Cool Whip, the artificial preservative taste came shining through.  Not even is it not a keeper, half of that cake is still in my fridge a week later.  **sigh**  If a cake is untouched in my house …

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That brings us to Toss It Tuesday … I cleaned out the produce drawer in the fridge and came up with this sad moldy citrus and a few wrinkled soft old apples.  I tired to think of how I could use them but decided the compost pile would be happy to have them so I chopped them up and tipped them in.

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Have you noticed my lack of eggshells?  Just wait until you see what I’m up to …

In the meantime, I hope the bluebird of happiness is flying around your neck of the woods!

 

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Still Life With Scraps

Call me odd, but it’s compositions like this that first inspired me to start photographing food meant for the compost pile.

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Look at all those colors!  And textures!  Can’t you taste the cool, juicy orange segments and the creamy soft banana?  The sweet syrupy strawberries?  And the brilliant beets … wait, they don’t match right?  It reminds me of the old Sesame Street song, “one of these things doesn’t belong here, one of these things is not the same…” song.  But the beets are just as sweet as all the fruits if you roast them in their skins or if you bake them into Almond Beet cookies, which I did for a soccer dessert tailgate.  Love spring, love soccer, love cookies, love life.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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Toss It Tuesday & Ash Wednesday

So, with a broken dryer, I spent the week channeling my grandmother and hanging out my wet laundry to dry.  No kidding, I washed some light “dog” blankets that cover my sofas, put them out to dry in the frigid temps, and just when I was ready to bring them in I realized it had been raining for ten minutes.  Ugh!  Wet again!  I truly began to identify with all those pioneer books and English countryside novels where the women wait for sunshine to wash or have to hang wet laundry over the Aga in the kitchen.  Button down shirts and undershirts, ballet tights and leotards, and lots of soccer stuff was hanging everywhere.

Midweek we fasted for Ash Wednesday.  God was giving me some things to offer up and be thankful for let me tell you!  I reflected that these little deprivations followed two months of washing dishes by hand due to a broken dishwasher, a Monday spent preparing a meal for a friend and having only broth for us, and now wet clothes on my counters.  My comfort go-to is always a cup of tea or a quick Starbucks drive through, but I’ve decided that I’m drinking only water only for Lent, so how to chill?  A sip of water and a prayer … feeling spoiled and living in a land of no real wants, I definitely need forty days of Lent.

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What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • yellow onion skin & stem ends
  • sugar snap peas ends
  • garlic paper
  • clementine peels
  • used lime wedges
  • Toss It Tuesday shriveled cabbage (left over from weekend tacos)
  • organic strawberry tops
  • hiding underneath: cabbage core, banana peels, orange peels, more citrus

All I remember making with this bucket was the obligatory morning smoothies, a big pot of haluski (cabbage fried in butter with noodles – a staple in my family growing up and one of our four family food groups even now) and quick roasted cod with red curry sauce that is similar to this.  I was a little too worried about how hungry I was and how much I really wanted a warm cup of tea in my hands.

 

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Leftovers … and Dryer Lint

After all that weekend sunshine, it turned C O L D again!  Brrrr!  Forty feels freezing when you’ve been frolicking in shorts and flip flops.  No garden work for me!  It was one of those days to curl up by the fire and read…  Or tackle indoor chores…

I’m a creature of habit.  Monday is clean up day: vacuum the carpets, mop the floors, begrudgingly clean bathrooms, change the sheets on the beds and lots of laundry.  Sound horrible?  Not really, since Monday is set aside for cleaning I’m not scrambling every day to fit in time to keep things tidy.  Off and on over the years I’ve had people to help with cleaning and it’s a luxury that I love, but it’s also one that it’s easy to cut out of the budget fore me.  There is something to be said for a shining clean house at the end of the day that you have scrubbed yourself and a pot of something delicious simmering on the stove.  I know that’s a little June Cleaver-ish.  Oh well, I be true to thyself, right?  And really, I never clean in heels, but I do wear pearls …

Back to laundry.  Did you know that you can compost dryer lint?  Technically you can, but I don’t.  First of all I have two big, barking, shedding dogs and I count on my dryer to remove most of that from my clothing.  I think I saved my lint I could quickly have enough fur for hair shirts or new dogs.  I don’t want that dog fur in my garden beds.

Secondly, while many clothing fibers like cotton and wool are eventually biodegradable, they take time a long time to break down.  Plus, so many natural fiber cloths are sewn with synthetic thread or are treated with flame retardant substances.  We try really hard to avoid all chemicals but we don’t live in a bubble.  I cut out dyer toxic dryer sheets years ago, but I’m still don’t want my dryer debris nurturing my vegetables.

On a quick side note, my dryer simply stopped drying today.  Crisis!  It was late and I had lots of wet soccer stuff that needed to dry for a Tuesday game.  Luckily I also had good neighbors with dryers.  We’ll see what the week brings!

But back to that little something delicious simmering on the stove.  Thank heavens I had leftover chicken in the fridge from my Sunday bird.  Luckily it still had lots of meat on it, so I turned that into a warming, bubbling chicken pot pie with a crispy rye crust oozing with carrots, summer squash, peas and potatoes … and I delivered  it to a friend whose hubby is in the hospital.  I also made a simple salad and a dessert of all sorts of citrus drizzled with honey.  For my family, I simmered those chicken bones into soup.  Lent (and sacrifice) is just around the corner.

chicken pot pie & stock 3.3.14

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • carrot scrapings
  • yellowed parsley leaves
  • hydroponic romaine lettuce leaves
  • sweet onion skin & stem ends (with a sticker!  Argh!)
  • potato peels
  • half of a lemon
  • summer squash ends

Here’s what the bucket looked like when I tossed the citrus peels in.  Aren’t blood oranges pretty?

citrus salad 3.3.14

Now I’m off to call appliance repair …

 

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Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Okay, I’ve never been to Las Vegas but I have watched the movie “21” which must be where I heard that catchy little phrase.  Did you know “winner winner chicken dinner” is from way back in the day when you could get a meal for under two dollars?  Apparently, if you won two bucks in the casino you could treat yourself to a complete chicken dinner.  The things we learn …

Well, I never plan to venture out to the land of neon, but my roasted chicken Sunday supper was most definitely a winner.  A “winner winner” if you will.  Why?  Pastured chicken.  If you’ve never had it then you are missing out and should really try to find some.  It’s just head and shoulders (and wings) above even a good store bought organic chicken, although I use those often.

Late last fall, I bought several pastured chickens and had one big precious bird left in the freezer.  I was saving it for a special occasion … and I think seventy degrees, sunny, and Sunday qualified.   As always with quality food, simple is best.  I simply rubbed the skin with butter, sprinkled it with salt, filled the cavity with some fresh thyme and a cut up lemon and roasted it at 400 degrees.  It was perfection.

Of course Sunday Supper typically means a “meat and three” down here in the thankfully sunny South.  In addition to my classic thyme and sage gravy, I mashed some organic russet potatoes with sautéed baby spinach, caramelized onions, garlic, butter, and light cream.  That’s a keeper recipe!  Also roasted a head of cauliflower drizzled with olive oil and then a big acorn squash cut in quarters with butter and brown sugar.  Here’s my bucket:

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What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • russet potato peels
  • spent tulip petals & stems
  • cauliflower core & outer leaves
  • garlic paper
  • acorn squash seeds
  • yellow onion skin & stem ends
  • clementine peel
  • spinach leaf
  • hiding underneath are six banana peels, chopped & froze for smoothies & ice cream

Sunday’s dessert, quite possibly my favorite part of any meal, was a choice of exceptionally delicious leftovers including the very healthy but still fantastic cowboy cookies that I had shipped to my college boy or the most amazing chocolate cake you will ever eat, or my version of “leftover” rice pudding.  Since that rice pudding is so simple and foolproof (I think) I’ll share it with you.

Leftover Rice Pudding

  • leftover rice of your choice (brown, basmati, jasmine, just not instant)
  • milk of your choice (I used whole milk, but almond, coconut, etc. work too)
  • sweetener of your choice (honey, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice, brown sugar – I’ve used them all, but would not recommend agave)
  • half and half or light cream or heavy cream if you’d like
  • raisins or other dried fruit, like dried cranberries, cherries, blueberries, apricots…

If your rice is still in the pot in which it was cooked (I make extra rice to make this recipe so I leave it in the pot and refrigerate immediately) break up the grains with a spoon so there are no large chunks.  Smooth out all the rice into a nice layer and add milk to just cover the rice by about an inch.  Place on the burner (I use gas) over medium high heat and bring to a quick boil.  As soon as it boils, turn the heat as low as it will go and simmer until the milk is absorbed.  The lid can be on or off but I usually cover it.  This might take 15 to 30 minutes depending on the rice you used, the amount of heat and how quickly the rice absorbs the milk.

Once the rice is absorbed, check for consistency – taste it!  If you like it the way it is, move to the next step.  If you think it could be softer, add more milk and keep simmering (no need to bring back to boil).  I usually add more milk.  I like mine to be really creamy with a little bit of bite to the rice and a lot of thick milky goodness.

Once the rice has reached your desired consistency, add sweetener to taste (I used evaporated cane juice).  Stir well and add any dried fruit (I used regular old raisins).  You’ll want the fruit to plump up a bit, so add a little bit more milk than you think you need (maybe a quarter to a third of a cup) and simmer another ten minutes or so.  Keep checking and tasting.  When the fruit is the way you like, you can add a splash of cream for richness, and, if you think it needs it, a little bit more sweetener.  All that added milk tends to dilute the original sweetness, so check to make sure.

That’s it.  Cool a bit and eat it warm and soon you’ll be making extra rice all the time for this recipe too.  If you decide to put it in the fridge make sure the rice is a little bit runny as it firms up as it cools.

A final note … you really can’t ruin this recipe.  I put my rice & milk on to simmer with a lid on it and LEFT MY HOUSE.  In the car.  For over an hour.   Honestly, I forgot I had started it.  My husband called and said, “uh, honey, what’s on the stove?”  Whoops.  It was a little sticky with some golden spots (not brown burned spots) when I got home so I added a lot of milk, simmered a bit more and, amazingly, it turned out really delicious.

See what I mean about “winner winner chicken dinner”?

 

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Warm Weekend Sunshine

After months of unseasonably frigid weather, we’ve had a weekend respite.  Celebrate!  With temps nearing seventy we headed OUTSIDE for some warm Southern sun and a little lawn work.

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We left the head gardener in the middle of a painting project and while the boy begrudgingly tackled the front lawn (hatehatehatehatehate Bermuda), I went to work on the rose/perennial beds.

Luckily I had pruned back most of my old (these and these) and David Austin roses around Christmas so I only had to rake out some early weeds then tackle a little dead wood.  I happily snipped, then fed them (compost in the fall, this in the spring).

Are you a pruning fan?  I totally am.  I love to get my shears into a plant and visualize its best shape.  I spend a lot of time standing and looking.  It becomes very meditative, communing with the plant.  Roses, more than any shrub, really make you concentrate.  Watch out for thorns, carefully gauge the green from the dead wood, cleanly and swiftly cut, and watch out for the dead wood thorns.  Pruning is probably a metaphor for life.  You can’t prune mindlessly and for me, it’s a gift to be utterly absorbed.  And the promise of rosebuds is just around the corner… bliss.

If you remember to watch out for aphids.  But I digress.

Anyway, not sure how in the fall I didn’t notice that some of my Siberian and Japanese Iris are essentially out of control.  I pulled out the dried foliage but stopped short of dividing since I know old man winter isn’t finished with the South yet.  Although these plants are best divided in the fall, they are extraordinarily tough, and, in my neck of the woods, can be moved anytime that you can commit to watering them in after transplant.  But even that is not always necessary.

My large 4×3 mound is the result of a single small clump of iris that was rescued from a weekend weeding heap a few years back.  My husband accidentally uprooted some sad looking stalks and let them dry out in the sun before I realized what they were.  Yikes!   I hastily dug them into a rose bed with fingers crossed.  And then I forgot about them,  I honestly never watered them more than a time or two.  Mother Nature handled the rest and now I’m contemplating dividing them.  Soon.

But first, the lamb’s ears need some attention since they are similarly out of bounds.  I really love this perennial, even though it gets a little invasive and crowds out anything less hardy in its path.  It looks gorgeous with roses.  Every late winter I survey the beds with dismay wondering if winter has finally killed off that fuzzy foliage for good.  Every spring I find lots of new growth and I’m happy.  I guess I’m going to wait a few weeks to start grubbing out the old leaves because I’ve gotta say, this stuff looks REALLY bad this year.  I’ll check back in a few weeks…

Broken pots … argh!  I know terra cotta is not meant for winter, but honestly in all my twenty-five plus years in Atlanta, I’ve rarely lost a pot.  This year I lost multiples: several terra cotta, two cute ceramic giant “teacups” and some gorgeous blue pottery.  Clean up on aisle seven.  I researched ways to recycle this stuff, got rigorously honest with myself KNOWING that I am not making mosaic tiles from pottery shards (it hasn’t been high on the priority list even though I’ve thought about it for years) and with much guilt I tipped them into the trash. **gasp!**

I even said goodbye to some frozen stiff rosemary topiaries that never had any business being outside in the first place.  I replaced these with some bushy new ones that now bookend my kitchen sink and make me happy every time I see (and smell) them.  I’m happy all the time!

Spending all that time hauling clippings to the compost pile meant we didn’t spend much time inside.  Here’s the Friday-Saturday bucket, um, paper towel…

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What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • blood oranges
  • lemons
  • onion stem ends & skin
  • more blood oranges (three words: blood orange margarita)
  • more lemons
  • some lime too!
  • limp cabbage outer leaves
  • garlic paper
  • brown banana peels
  • more lemon
  • clementine peel (I think I have citrus covered)
  • grape stems & a few hiding moldy specimens

What I made with all of that: Salmon Tacos with Cabbage Slaw,, Mango & Pineapple Salsa (bought at Whole Foods), Feta, Lime Cream and Crispy Onions, plus Blood Orange Margaritas, a couple of smoothies and lots of orange and grape snacks.

Bring on spring!  I’m totally ready for tacos and margaritas on the deck.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2014 in Gardening, Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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