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Easy, Lazy, No Turn* Compost

For a while now, artisan, no-knead bread has been popular among foodie-types, myself included.  I particularly like the “even lazier” version of no-knead bread, which minimizes mess and hands-on time.  Last week while I was whipping up a batch of no-knead sandwich bread, it dawned on me that my version of making compost is just about the same: minimal fuss, minimal tools, basic ingredients, heat and time.

So, without wasting more valuable time, here’s a step by step guide to Easy, Lazy, No Turn* Compost:

1.  Keep a container for scraps handy in your kitchen.  There are all kinds and I have this fancy one with a filter, but I prefer to use these plastic berry picking buckets.  Each season I get a few new ones & recycle the old yucky ones.  I keep my bucket on the sink & everyone know to toss food scraps in there.

bucket on counter

2. Empty your bucket regularly.  If you are too lazy, it starts to smell … and attract fruit flies and ants… Yuck.  We typically fill a bucket every day or two & take it out to this compost pile.  The “active” compost pile is where I pile the daily scraps.  (Note: We’ll spread the remaining aged compost in a few weeks over my fall veggie bed when my plants are more established.)

compost pile fall 10.4.13

3.  Dig a shallow hole in your active compost pile.  We keep a pitchfork at the ready beside the pile so that this takes just a moment.  It’s kind of hard to see, but here is a close-up of what the pile looks with the hole prepped:

compost pile hole 10.4.13

4.  Add your kitchen scraps to the hole.  Colorful!  The discerning eye might spot two paper towels.  We don’t use many of them, preferring cloth dish towels & fabric napkins, BUT I do line every bucket with a half sheet of paper towel, otherwise clean-up can be gross.  Decomposition starts immediately, even in the bucket.

compost in pile 10.4.13

5.  Cover scraps with lawn waste.  Using your pitchfork, completely cover the scraps with grass clippings, brown leaves, etc.  My son had just cut the lawn & leaves were falling, so this is a nice blend of clippings and chopped leaves.

coompost pile covered 10.4.13

5.  Repeat the process every few days.  The more kitchen scraps you add, the more compost you will have at the end of the season.  I’ve mentioned this before, but organic in, means organic out.  If you eat mostly organic, non-gmo produce and don’t use chemicals on your lawn, you’ll be producing rich compost for a fraction of the cost you can buy.  WITH PRACTICALLY NO EFFORT ON YOUR PART.

compost fall closeup 9.16.13

6.  So, walk away and let nature work!  Rain, sunshine, heat and cold, lots of naturally occurring bugs and microorganisms work to decompose your potato skins, banana peels, and coffee grinds into black compost gold.  You can put that back into your veggie beds, annual or perennial beds, or even around your trees and shrubs for happy, healthy plants.

* No-Turn … every compost pile requires some turning to mix the rotting scraps and the fresh additions.  We turn the entire pile two or three times during a six-month season.  Sometimes more, sometimes less.  Mix more if you want to speed up the compost process.  Mix less if you are satisfied with a a six-month process.

Happy composting!

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Compost How To, Gardening

 

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September Salad Days

There’s a cool breeze in the morning here in the ATL, but it’s not soup weather quite yet.  We are still firmly in eighty degree salad days…

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

  • core of Iceberg lettuce
  • russet potato skin (baked)
  • 4 hibiscus tea bags
  • eggshell
  • red plum, well past its prime
  • onion skins
  • sprig of cilantro
  • shallot ends & skins
  • core of romaine lettuce
  • banana peel
  • squishy, moldy shallot (hate when I bring one of those home!)
  • grape stem

What you can’t see:

  • avocado skins
  • tomato core & tops
  • kale stems
  • more lettuce leaves

What I made with all of that:

Two days worth of big salads (including a version of this favorite) and baked potatoes and pitchers of iced tea!

 
 

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The Latest Dirt!

What happens when you pile bucket upon bucket of kitchen scraps into an open bin, add grass clippings and yard waste, and let the sun beat down and the rain pour in all summer? This is what you get:

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Rich, black gorgeous compost!  Here’s a close up of the dirt we (actually my ever-willing husband) dug out:

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We figured that this pile of compost represents roughly six months of “work,” which breaks down to approximately:

  • 1,000 hours of sunshine
  • 38.64 inches of rain 
  • a whole lot of earthworms (naturally occurring)
  • lots of other beneficial bugs and microbes
  • 120 buckets of kitchen scraps which could include:
    • over 100 eggshells
    • likely 100 tea bags (no string, tag or staple)
    • scrapings from about 100 carrots
    • scrapings from about 100 potatoes
    • at least 75 onion skins
    • probably 75 banana peels
    • most likely 75 lemon, lime, and/or orange peels
    • corn husks from at least 60 ears of corn (but no cobs)
    • core/stem ends of about 30 heads of lettuce
    • skin from at least 25 avocados (not pits)
    • grounds from at least 25 pots of espresso
    • peels from about 25 cucumbers
    • tough stems from about 20 bunches of kale
    • rinds from at least 12 whole watermelons
    • rings from at least 12 cantaloupes/honeydews
    • countless odds and ends from berries, tomatoes, hot & sweet peppers, broccoli stems, brussels sprouts, celery, garlic, and more
    • a variety of past-its-prime fruit, veggies, and/or herbs from my Toss-It Tuesday fridge clean-up
  • Plus:
  • 100 lawnmower bags of grass clippings (not all used)
  • assorted hedge & veggie garden trimmings
  • at least 1,000 spent rose petals & leaves
  • lots of spent spring annuals (pansies)

Phew!  Life is complicated enough without worrying about strict combinations of “greens” and “browns” or carbon/nitrogen ratios.  Like life, compost is a balancing act.  You provide the raw materials, Mother Nature provides the sun and rain, and by the end of the season, you’ve got compost to … start all over again.  If we can find time to do, you can too.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Compost How To

 

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Nearly Fall Garden Y’all!

There’s been a breath of cool air in my neck of the woods!   So … we’ve spent the last two weekends pulling summer veggies, tilling the beds, adding compost, and prepping for the fall garden.  Exhausting and exciting and exhilarating work.  But here’s the end result for the first two of my five beds:

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Isn’t a garden pretty when you first plant the seedlings?  Even though it was nearly eighty degrees when I dug them in, the temps have been dropping into the low sixties in the evening and the plants seem pretty happy.  They have been in the ground about ten days now and have doubled in size.  I’ve finally learned my lesson to plant at the end of the summer and not wait until it’s cool!  Every year I have done that my plants are struggling to gain size before the cold hits.  So, this year I have high hopes for cruciferous veggies all around.

The left bed is half broccoli and half brussels sprouts.  The right bed is all collard greens, with room for swiss chard (once I make pesto out of that last remaining basil plant – already have eight jars in the freezer).   Notice the repurposed triangular tomato cages acting as mesh holders.  Very effective way to keep the bunnies from munching.

This weekend I’ll be adding swiss chard and arugula seedlings, as well as potatoes.  Seeds include two kinds of carrots and beets, plus lettuce varieties.   Hopefully my favorite helper will find a new spot once I’ve tucked the seeds in!

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This is Lily and she definitely has a dog’s life!  (She’s curled up in the summer black eyed pea bed.)

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in Gardening

 

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Homemade Soaked Tortillas

For ages I have been wanting to make a soaked grain recipe.  (These are the kinds of things you contemplate as a trying-to-be-healthy baker.)  If you are not familiar with the concept of soaking your grains (flour) before you bake, essentially you are adding an acidic ingredient and “soaking” (basically fermenting) for 12-24 hours helps to make grains more digestible.  There is TONS of information out there (here is a good starting point) and I wanted to see if it made any difference in taste.  Added nutrients would be a bonus.  Since that 12-24 hour prep time is a deterrent in my last minute life, I was excited when the moon and stars aligned finally and I prepped my flour on Friday to make Flour Tortillas on Saturday.  Result?

Worth.  Every.  Minute.  Oh my gosh!  If you are a taco fan, run right out, get some whole wheat flour, olive oil, salt and good apple cider vinegar and make this recipe.  You know how 100% whole week is as heavy as a brick and even 100% whole wheat pastry flour feels weighed down?  You know how you eat the taco and leave the tortilla ends on your plate?  Not the case here!  These tortillas are light, airy and the perfect vehicle for a good filling.  In fact, if I hadn’t planned my filling, I’d be tempted to eat the tortillas plain dipped in salsa.  They are that good!  And I forgot to mention, they are a BREEZE to make role and nothing like their crazy cousins the corn tortilla … (another story)!

Sorry, there’s no photo of the tortillas, but here’s my bucket with all the other components of that meal:

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What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • Slice of red cabbage
  • Lots of wilted, yellowed green onion tops (I’ve been using the same bunch for two weeks and they were at the end of their prime)
  • Green onion root ends
  • Corn husks & silk
  • Lemon & limes
  • Red pepper core & ribs
  • Poblano pepper core & ribs

What I made with all of that:

  • Shrimp Tacos on Homemade Soaked Flour Tortillas, with Red Cabbage Slaw, and Chipotle Cream
  • Corn & Black Bean Salad with Peppers & Cilantro

You can tell the bucket is pretty full, so as a bonus, here’s what’s hiding underneath all those husks.  Early in the day I took a photo of my morning bits and pieces because they looked kind of artistic on the cutting board:

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Doesn’t that just scream breakfast?  Smoothies & fried eggs & toast.  My teens are pretty set in their breakfast ways!

 

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Box of … Kitchen Scraps?

Cool new box huh?  The compost buckets were sitting out by the hose, unwashed from a busy weekend, and after I made our standard morning smoothies (banana raspberry) I threw the banana peel in the used berry container and kept piling scraps.  Not sure why, but I found it amusing all day.  I guess I am easily amused.

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What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • banana peel
  • moldering poblano pepper
  • tangerine past its prime
  • half of a lemon
  • few moldy raspberries
  • apple core
  • earl grey tea bag
  • mint leaves
  • another tea bag

Not every day is an exciting compost day!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2013 in The Daily Bucket

 

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Sunday Supper

FInally, time to breath … time to relax … ah, Sunday.  After Mass we had visited the local nursery where we got free ladybugs, along with eggplant and pumpkin seedlings, and a new birdbath bowl.  We also popped into Whole Foods for fresh veggies after weeks in the ballet rehearsal/performance food desert.  That meant time to clean out the fridge!

Things you can see (clockwise from top):

  • A few badly bruised, inedible Ranier cherries (love these so much more than regular dark, sweet cherries)
  • Pre-cut organic carrot slices (normally don’t buy these because they taste stale and dry out quickly, as pictured here, but they are an easy snack with hummus)
  • Chopped cucumbers (cut WAY too many and they just got old.  Sad.)
  • Rose leaves from performance bouquets
  • Herbs – bay leaves, cloves, allspice & peppercorns
  • Damaged yellow & red cherry tomatoes
  • Spinach leaves
  • Avocado rind

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What you can’t see:

  • Saturday’s Bland Bucket
  • Lots and lots and lots of leaves from the many flower bouquets my ballerina received for her weekend concert
  • Eggshells

What I made with all of that:

  • Croque Monsieur, my breakfast version of grilled cheese.  There are lots of recipes out there (and I’m including Ina’s because she does butter better than just about anybody) but I keep it simple because I don’t have time in the morning to whip up a bechamel.  Besides, don’t you think that’s just too heavy for the morning?  So, here’s what I do.  Assemble my daughter’s favorite grilled cheese componenets: artisan bread, ham, good muenster cheese, and mayo (because she hates dijon).  Dip that sandwich in two eggs beaten with whole milk & let it soak a bit until it’s eggy, but not a soggy  mness.  In a hot pan with lots of salted butter, quickly fry until golden, and here’s the important part!  Turn the heat to low and cook until you can see the cheese melting.  Only then can you flip it over, turn up the heat again to fry until golden, and then flip it on the cutting board.  Let it rest a minute before cutting so the cheese doesn’t ooze, and hooray!  Grilled-cheese-french-toast-so-my-girl-doesn’t-pass-out-in-Mass breakfast.
  • Avocado, Pesto Parmesan Ham and Spinach sandwich for lunch
  • Brined roast chicken (truly yummy, brining is not just for your Thanksgiving turkey)
  • Roasted tomatoes because I had ’em and I love ’em

tomatoes

I don’t really use a recipe for these any more.  They are that simple.  Cut the tomatoes in half, drizzle with good olive oil on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with sea salt (I used pepper this time too – take my advice and don’t.  It intensifies and it fights with the sweet tomato yumminess.) Bake these at 225 degrees for about two hours or until they are dried to your taste.  They will look like this:

tomatoes roasted

I can pretty much guarantee you’ll eat this entire pan once you taste one.  It’s kind of like “cleaning up” the edge of a cake or pie.  You’ll just nibble away until you have a tiny handful left to sprinkle in your salad, or toss on your soup, or… into your mouth.  In the event you have more self control than I do, cool these tomatoes, put in a glass jar & cover with a bit more olive oil and store in the fridge.  I hear they last for weeks.  Ha!

 

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