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A Week of Winter Compost

This time of year I wish I could be cozied up by a roaring fire, thumbing through garden catalogues, dreaming about spring gardens, but the reality is that I’m living every suburban mom’s life: balancing cooking, cleaning, carting kids, and, in my case, composting.

In other words, life is busy, and I love it all, but spare time is sometimes in short supply.  Therefore, I present a week’s worth of winter compost buckets.  Maybe it’s the gloomy grey skies and chilly temps outside, but I think all these scraps are pretty, in a quirky kind of way…

I'm not one for avocados in the winter, but they perfectly complemented the Roasted Beer and Lime Cauliflower Tacos as well as the Black Bean and Roasted Butternut Squash Tacos.  We like choices.

I’m not one for avocados in the winter, but they perfectly complemented the Roasted Beer and Lime Cauliflower Tacos as well as the Black Bean and Roasted Butternut Squash Tacos. Sometimes we need choices and these were two great ones.

roast chicken brussels lemon pound cake 2.21.15

Some things become classic for a reason, and this meal is our quintessential Sunday Supper: roast chicken, mashed potatoes, shallot gravy and pan-roasted Brussels sprouts. I make it often, but it definitely tastes best eaten on Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What's Sunday Supper without dessert?  Especially during Lent?  My middle boy loves lemon pound cake so we have a thin slice for dinner and the rest goes back to the dorm to fuel a huge college appetite.

This is the bottom of the bucket above…What’s Sunday Supper without dessert? Especially during Lent? My middle boy loves lemon pound cake (five eggs) so we each had a thin slice for dinner and the rest went back to the dorm to fuel a huge college appetite. Aren’t the spent stock blossoms from my bouquets around the house pretty even when they are destined for compost?

If your regular old meatball recipe has gotten stale, steal this idea: add a few ounces of chopped prosciutto to the meat mixture, bake, add sauce and spaghetti and get ready to swoon.  The best part?  My Whole Foods sells "cooking prosciutto" for just $10/pound.

If your regular old meatball recipe has gotten stale, steal this idea: add a few ounces of chopped prosciutto to the meat mixture, bake, add sauce and spaghetti and get ready to swoon. The best part? My Whole Foods sells “cooking prosciutto” for just $10/pound and it’s really just the dried ends of the pricey “good stuff”.  Here’s a recipe to try if you are intrigued.

Meal for a friend 2.24.15

One of the things I love about the South is the way friends and neighbors look out for each other with the gift of food. In this bucket you can imagine a meal lovingly prepared for an inspiring family who is coping with cancer complications and mitochondrial disease. I felt blessed to provide this meal and offered the best comfort food I know: two lemon roasted chickens, garlic mashed potatoes, pan-roasted green beans, all homemade Caesar salad, and my favorite weeknight dessert, Banana Poppyseed Cake.

 

Kalad Sale Parm Roasted Cauliflower 2.26.15

I’m pretty sure I could eat this meal once or twice a week if my family would concur: Kale Quinoa Salad (with dates, onions, and bacon instead of almonds) and Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower. It’s healthy, filling, and really yummy.

 

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Lemon & Onion: A Perfect Pair

Have you ever noticed that my compost bucket contains onion skins or lemon halves and oftentimes both?  (Eggshells too, but that’s another post.)  Why?

lemons & onions 2.2015

Most days I make hot lemon water as a “tonic” before my morning cup of tea.  It’s very simple.  Add the juice and half of a lemon (or a quarter if it’s quite large) into a 12-ounce mug  lemon.  Add about two tablespoons (or to taste) unfiltered apple cider vinegar plus about a tablespoon of raw honey.  I often add a few thin slices of fresh peeled ginger and/or fresh peeled turmeric root.  If I’m battling a cold I use all those ingredients and also add in about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  It’s definitely an acquired taste, but addictive once you’re used to it.

And the onions?  They are the one ingredient I always have in my pantry and the majority of my recipes include one.  In fact, when I’m creating a savory recipe I typically start with or add an onion at some point.  I still laugh when I think how opposite my sister and I are in this regard.  She said she always looked for another recipe if the one she was reading started with  “chop an onion …”

But why would lemons and onions be a perfect pair you ask?

Well, you know that chopping onions on a cutting board leaves the board and the knife with a distinctive pungent smell.  Even after washing with hot soapy water that smell can still linger, BUT if you scrub the cutting board with a piece of lemon, the citrus neutralizes the smell.  You can then wash as usual and the oniony smell is gone.  Rub it on your fingers to remove that distinctive onion aroma too.

Then toss the peels and the skins on your compost pile as usual.

 

 
 

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Composting Valentine’s Day

Confession: I love all the hearts and flowers and corny cards associated with Valentine’s Day.  Instead of thinking of it as a money-making holiday created by the candy and greeting card industry, I much prefer to remember it as the Catholic feast of Saint Valentine, a Roman priest martyred for marrying Christian couples.

I’ve got plush heart pillows on my soafs and pretty hearts hanging in my windows and of course a sparkly red wreath on my door.  Of course I’ve already made heart sprinkled sugar cookies and spent an entire episode of Downton Abby (just started season two) putting candy in mini bags with pretty red ribbons for my girl’s ballet pals.

So I made these lovely little Linzer tarts (tortes?) for my loved ones this weekend.  They are essentially a crisp almond meal cookie filled with raspberry jam.  I’ve got my own secret recipe but this one is similar. There is minimal compost from cookies naturally, but they are so pretty I had to share.

Valentines Linzer Tarts

The cookie-making bucket looked like this.

Brussels, Potatoes & Steak

What you can see (clockwise from the top):

  • brussels sprouts trimmings (really questionable quality sadly)
  • shallot skins & stem ends
  • eggs (for the cookies!)
  • carrot sticks (left over from lunchbox)
  • blueberries (left over from lunchbox)
  • In addition to the Linzer tart cookies, I also made a some quickly seared hangar steaks with this sauce paired with roasted brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes.

Here is the bucket for both Valentine’s Day family dinner and Sunday Supper.

Valentines Scallops & Sunday Supper Fittatta

What you can see (clockwise from the top):

  • lots of egg shells
  • lemon halves
  • bits of wilted salad greens
  • tea bag
  • orange peelsshallot skins & stem ends
  • espresso grounds
  • WhatI made with all of that:

Valentine’s Family Dinner

  • Scallops with Fresh Linguine
  • Caesar Salad with homemade croutons
  • Sunday Supper
  • Rich Vanilla Pudding with Strawberries & Lizer Tarts

My middle boy was a bit under the weather so our intended meal with friends and family was cancelled.  A sensible idea but when I cancelled dinner I didn’t make the meal… which resulted in hungry mouths at  seven wondering “what’s for dinner?”

frittatta eggshells 2.15

Frittatta to the rescue.  These never used to be in my rotation since I made my fair share of quiche and scrambled eggs, but quiche needs a crust and scrambed eggs really screams breakfast.  Enter the frittatta.  Made in my ten-inch cast iron pan with eggs, milk and whatever bits and pieces I have on hand, this meal is fast, fresh and super easy.

The Sunday frittatta included smoked salmon and shallots sauteed  in butter and some    almost old mozzerella.  A quick simmer on the stove and a minute under the broiler and dinner was served along with a quick Caesar spin-off, some sesame bagels and more Linzer tarts of course.

Hope your heart was happy this weekend.

 

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Can I Compost: Date Pits

Last night I was making this truly delicious salad and I had a small handful of date pits.  Trash or compost bucket?

date pits 2.2015

Ordinarily I do not compost pits from stone fruits or seeds from vegetables like squash, peppers, cucumber, etc.  The pits are rock hard and take years to break down, but the soft seeds tend to germinate immediately, take root and send up volunteers all over the garden.

Date pits are a bit different. Not too hard, not too soft, pliable, but still a really big seed.  Hmmm… I had to do a bit of research.  This info reminds me a bit of the old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood “field trips” that fascinated me when I was five (and when I was the mom of five year olds). It’s definitely worth reading if you are interested in where and how your food is grown.

My verdict was: compost. I’m pretty sure I won;t be growing a date palm in my garden!

Here are the rest of my kitchen scraps for the day.

kale salad

 

What you can see (clockwise):

  • yellow onion peels and stem ends
  • strawberry tops (lunch box)
  • carrot peels (lunch box)
  • Lacinto kale stems (especially in a salad I’m not a fan of the big stem crunch)
  • apple peels (sautéed in butter and topped breakfast pancakes)
  • garlic skin
  • lemon half (morning hot lemon drink)
  • lime & mandarin orange halves (salad dressing)

But back to the dates… and the salad… my daughter refused to eat it because she is not a date fan, but guess what?  Neither of us could not stop eating.  It’s really a keeper.  Give it a try.  And if you do, substitute bacon for almonds (I was out of nuts) and be prepared to reach for seconds.

 

 

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Toss It Tuesday: Pea Shoots

Aren’t these gorgeous?  Local, organic pea shoots.  I scooped them up in the grocery and couldn’t wait to get them home.  I planned my whole dinner around them because they were just enticing. So fresh, so fabulous.

Toss It Tuesday Pea Shoots 2.10.15

I roasted some small red beets.  You can do it too because they are infinitely better than the pre-cooked beets you can now find in the refrigerated cases.  Individually wrap each beet in a bit of foil and bake for about an hour at 400 degrees.  This method bakes and steams at the same time for perfect earthy goodness.  Cool, unwrap, and working one at a time, rub off skins gently with a paper towel.  Full disclosure: your hands will get bright pink, so work carefully with the paper towels or slip on some plastic gloves.  Slice your ruby red jewels into quarters and they are ready to eat.

For the salad I put a handful of pea shoots in a small bowl, added the sliced beets, some crumbled feta cheese and toasted pecans.  For dressing, I sloshed on a quick vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, dijon mustard, and walnut oil.  It was gorgeous.  (This picture does not do it justice because it was late in the evening. and there was no natural light.)

Beet & Pea Shoot Salad 2.2015

The salad was absolutely delicious; all the right notes of fresh, earthy, creamy, crunchy.  Whatever, with some crusty bread, it was a simple, satisfying meal.

About an hour later, my daughter complained of a tummy ache.  Then my husband felt a bit off.  Soon after, I joined them in feeling not terrible, but not good.  Nothing worsened, but we all agreed that all signs pointed to the pea shoots as the source of our ick. This episode kind of confirms my standard gut feel not to buy sprouted seeds.

So, on the compost pile they go. I kind of hate to toss them; they are still so pretty, but I like the idea of them quickly cooking away in the bottom of the compost pile.

Just so you know, the next time pretty, perfect pea shoots catch my eye at the market I am walking quickly by.

 

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A Bonfire and A Dutch Baby

What did you do with your Christmas tree this year?  Remember – I am catching up on posts – we took this down weeks ago!  Typically we pay a Boy Scout to recycle ours as a fundraiser, but this year no Scouts knocked on our door.  They always wince when they see the twelve foot tree so maybe it was for the best.

Everybody always asks “Why such a big tree?”  Well, I was allergic as a kid and never had a living tree until I was 21. We’re talking an artificial white tree with velvet bows arranged just so.  Quite lovely and very memorable but not exactly real.  Even the “kid tree” decorated with candy was plastic and white.  It was Florida in the 70’s and my parents defined hip.  Since then, my husband and kids have made up for my lost years by going BIG.

This year’s tree barely made it in the front door.  It was a monster, twelve feet tall and almost as wide. Let’s just say it had so much character the guys at the tree lot were thrilled to see it go to a good home.  Taking it out was a bit of a conundrum so we just did what any sane people would do; snipped off the lower branches, sawed it in pieces in the house and carried it out back to the fire pit.

Can I say it is downright SCARY to see how quickly a brittle tree is consumed by flames?  I always scoffed at the idea that a tree could catch fire in the house but I feel compelled to say keep your tree watered well and never leave the lights on when you aren’t home!

Just a few branches from this year's twelve foot tree. Brittle evergreens burn fast and hot.

Taking Just a few branches from this year’s twelve foot Christmas tree. Brittle evergreens burn fast and hot.

We usually roast some hot dogs on sticks followed by marshmallows over the embers but this fire was too hot and quick.  We opted for espresso (from my new Christmas toy) and an apple Dutch Baby.  We were still on vacation and it was great!

Apples and espresso grounds and eggshells, oh my.  Random banana peel too.

Apples and espresso grounds and eggshells, oh my.  Random banana peels too.

If you’ve never had one, a Dutch Baby is a fast, easy to make, puffy crepe-like pancake prepared in a cast iron pan, often with sautéed fruit.  It’s pretty to easy to eat the entire pan in one sitting.

A "Dutch Baby" pancake.  Serve this with a little heavy whipping cream or some good vanilla ice cream ... heaven.

A “Dutch Baby” pancake. Serve this with a little heavy whipping cream or some good vanilla ice cream … heaven.

I’ve almost memorized the simple Joy of Cooking recipe, but you can use this similar one.  Instead of preheating my pan in the oven, I sauté the apples in butter with a tiny bit of sugar, then add some extra butter so the pancake does not stick.  Give it a try on a lazy Sunday and see if it doesn’t put you in a holiday mood.

 

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Coffee Please, For Compost

If you’ve never considered them, coffee grounds are a great addition to your compost pile.  If you are a home brewer, you can simply toss the used grounds in their paper filter right onto your pile.   If you’re more of a drive-thru kind of coffee drinker like me, your local coffee shop will gladly give you their used coffee grounds.  I often see the brewed grounds bagged up and free for the taking at my local Starbucks.  Now, if they’d trade me a free drink for taking those grounds off their hands that would be even nicer, but sadly I pay for my coffee habit.

Every day my routine goes something like this:  (me) I need coffee.  (practical me) It’s not good for you.  It makes you jittery.  (whining me) But I love Iced Hazelnut Machiattos.  (scolding me) They’re expensive.  AND they’re made with crappy milk.  (petulant me) I want one.  I’m already in drive-through.  (realistic me) **sigh**  Now, run this scenario every day around three o’clock if I’m out and about.  Last summer this conversation involved a salted caramel frappucino, a terrible drink that’s bad for me.  Did you know you could have SIX KRISPY KREME DOUGHNUTS instead. of that drink?  Whoa.  I would MUCH rather have six doughnuts than one sugary drink.  Hence, my current iced milky coffee habit.  Lots less calories and added sugar.

But in the summer I crave something frozen, coffee, and sweet.  Years ago, I perfected a great “pseudo-cino” recipe but it’s more like a bottled frap and while satisfying, sometimes it just doesn’t get the job done.  Enter the  Coffee Banana Date Smoothie that I found on Pinterest.  What a cute blog!  What an awesome drink!  I’m totally hooked!  And, I the end result is I get good espresso grounds to add to my compost! I think we can call this a win-win for everybody but the coffee shop.

The coffee grounds:

coffee grounds

The newly addictive drink (note the knock-off cup and green straw, haha).

date almond coffee freeze

Wondering why used coffee grounds are good for your compost pile?

  • Even though they are brown, grounds are considered a “green” compost additive, meaning they’re a source of nitrogen.
  • Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen (20:1 ratio), which gives the bacteria in your pile the energy it needs to break down your scraps.  Manure, which is a great jump starter to break down organic matter, has the same carbon ratio.  Most home gardeners (myself included) avoid manure and animal products since they attract rodents and can harbor dangerous bacteria and pathogens.  Coffee grounds are a good substitute.
  • Brewed coffee grounds are relatively pH neutral (beans are acidic, but the acid is water soluble so it brews out).
  • Worms seem to be drawn to coffee grounds, which helps to aerate and further break down your scraps.
  • Grounds help to enhance soil structure.

The next time you indulge your coffee habit, remember to pick up some used grounds!  But be responsible.  If you decide to perk up your compost with substantial amounts of coffee grounds, be sure to layer it with equal amounts of grass clippings and leaves.

 

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