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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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Compost is Messy, Just Like Life

Is it too late to say Happy New Year?  Even though it’s already late January it feels like Christmas was just a few minutes ago.  I’ve been meaning to post for days … well, actually for six months now …

Where have I been?  It’s a simple answer but a complicated response.  One week last July I received two passing comments along the lines of “no one reads this blog anyway” and “if you had a different format you might attract more readers.”  Those criticisms stung.  I wasn’t writing for readership.  I loved the colorful melange of scraps in those buckets, the meals that had created those scraps, the satisfaction of words on paper (or screen) and the resultant memories.  Was I really just wasting my time?

Instead of ignoring those thoughtless words and carrying on, I buried them.  I pushed them deep inside but rationalized that other people always see things more clearly.  I argued (with myself) that I had nothing to offer and it probably WAS a waste of time.  I heaped self-criticism upon self criticism and aired those harsh words (to myself) regularly.  Along the way I kept composting and photographing but the only writing I did was in my head. Eventually I stopped taking photos. I tossed my kitchen scraps in the trash. I put the entire endeavor asleep for the winter.  I was done.

But on a bitter cold walk earlier this month I realized I missed it all.  I was struck by how similar my actions were to real composting.  The thoughtless words I buried were much like the scraps I threw on the compost pile.  Insignificant individually, but after several months they resulted in something new and worthwhile.  I had – have – something unique to produce and to say.  My quirky idea of beauty or taste or style might not be yours, but it is wholly my own.

So, here’s to a new year of new ideas, new insights, and the latest dirt, um, compost.

frozen compost 2015

This frozen compost is from early January.  All that old stuff … I’m letting it go…. get it?  Frozen.  

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Composting Love

It’s no surprise that I’m a big fan of Sunday supper, where everyone can come together to share the day, rehash the week and enjoy a delicious meal.  It’s something I try to serve up each week, regardless of who is sitting around the dining room table, but with kids in all directions and one out of the house, those times when our immediate family is all together are infrequent and all the more precious when they happen. This week, due to college schedules, we got to enjoy Saturday breakfast instead.

The day dawned rainy, which was just what my family needed.  Not just a balmy drizzle but a cool, pouring rain, satisfactorily hammering against the windows.  The kids were snug in their respective beds, my hubby was snoozing on the sofa with a dog, and I was enjoying one of those great moments, an unexpected gift of grace.  How lovely to have my all kids home, asleep on a rainy morning, with no immediate pressing schedule (time enough for that later) and me awake to enjoy it.  The only way to improve the morning would be a great breakfast to start the day.  After a bit of quiet time, I started frying bacon.

It had the intended effect.  My husband opened his eyes and we shared a “wow, life is pretty great” moment.  I popped some cinnamon rolls in the oven.  (I had this in the fridge; not homemade but not bad.)  Kids started coming downstairs and flopping on sofas.  I started scrambling eggs with shallots and spinach and arugula.  Orange juice and cups of tea, our definition of cozy, were consumed.  A little sweet cantaloupe.

We didn’t all sit at once and we didn’t all actually eat, but we shared the morning and our love of rainy days and a whole lot of unspoken love.  And then it was time to pack up my oldest and get him out the door for a two week trip.  The spell was effectively broken, but my middle boy loaned his brother his own nicely tailored blazer for the conference and THAT was a silent act of love.  His sister folded all his tee shirts.  I put a warm loaf of homemade bread in hands as he climbed into his car and we stood in the drizzle waving goodbye.  I don’t know what everyone was thinking, but I was thanking God for those little fleeting pockets of time.  And for the inspiration to start frying bacon.

Here’s the breakfast bucket…

Saturday Breakfast 7.19

What you can see (clockwise top to bottom):

  • cantaloupe seeds (I normally don’t compost seeds but these local melons were so delicious I wouldn’t mind some volunteer plants in my spring garden)
  • cantaloupe rinds
  • lots and lots of eggshells, a dozen to be exact
  • shallot skins and stem ends (hiding under all those eggs)
  • a whole lot of love (hard to see but you know it’s there)

I wonder if all that love will compost … actually, I think it’s the ingredient that really makes our compost great.

 

 
 

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Trouble In Paradise

First, the bad news … Every single squash and zucchini plant (except one) in my garden is D.E.A.D.  No photos.  I couldn’t look at the withered leaves and the centipedes crawling all over the fruit.  Ugh.

The corn?  Practically flattened by a few days of strong, quick afternoon thunderstorms.   They are propped back up with stakes and string, but I’m not sure they have much of a future.  I feel like Ma in the Little House series when the thunderstorm has flattened the wheat or when the grasshoppers have eaten every green thing on the prairie and they aren’t sure what they are going to harvest this year.  Luckily I can go the farmer’s market or the grocery store.  Poor Ma must have battled some serious stress as a pioneer wife.

The green beans…notice they aren’t very green?  And my cucumbers are at once bloated and anemic.  We have a water issue.  I guess the daily rains are not providing quite enough moisture the garden, so I got the hose out this morning for a good long meditative manual soaking.  At least the unusual cool weather today is nice treat.  It was just sixty degrees and a record low for Atlanta today.  I’m sure this is a brief respite in all the standard southern summer heat.

beans & cucumbers need water 7.9.14

Now, the good news … while buying some squash from my local farm stop, I was moaning about my sudden squash death and a friend of the farmer confided an important squash tip.  Apparently, it’s a little known fact that in the South it’s very difficult to grow squash organically.  The farm trick is to plant seedlings every two weeks so that when the vegetable flowers and fruits once, they can be harvested, then pulled and tossed on the compost pile.  I felt so vindicated!  For years I’ve been trying to baby my summer squash plants through the summer, each year feeling like a failure when they are simply gone one fine summer morning with no warning.  Now instead of Ma, I’m feeling much more like Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow (or in my case, next spring) is another day!

UPDATE:  Came across this excellent article for controlling squash bugs today … Excuse me while I grab some duct tape and head out to check my remaining squash plant…

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Gardening, Musings, The Daily Bucket

 

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Toss It Tuesday: Garlic

If you are composting, it’s likely that you don’t use a lot of processed products, right?

We try to keep processed things to a very bare minimum around here and when we do buy packaged items we choose the highest quality, least processed products, without any added chemicals, and especially without high fructose corn syrup.  Of course, every now and again, I find a convenience item that I just can’t pass up.  In this case it was fresh whole peeled garlic cloves from Whole Foods.  Bad move.

Long ago I gave up the jarred chopped garlic.  For one thing it doesn’t taste like garlic.  For another thing it smells like formaldehyde to me.  Plus it has a shelf life of … forever.  That’s not my idea of “fresh” food, so I take the time to peel garlic cloves every time a recipe calls for it.

I buy and peel a lot of fresh garlic, so when I noticed this little tub two weeks ago, I thought, why not give it a try?  The ingredient list reads: garlic.  Although the flavor doesn’t seem too off, it’s not as good as fresh from my pantry.  Maybe it’s just that keeping garlic in the fridge isn’t optimal.  Whatever the case, yesterday when I opened the container this is what I found:

toss it tues garlic

Yuck.  Furry garlic.  I didn’t even toss this in the kitchen bucket but took it out and buried it deep in my compost pile.  Peeled garlic might be convenient, but it’s not worth the cost and certainly not worth the compromise for me.  How long had this mold been brewing?

Do you have any “fresh” convenience foods that you regularly use?

 
 

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Keep It Clean

You might find this a good reminder or an utterly unnecessary suggestion, but I feel compelled to remind you to clean your kitchen compost bucket regularly.

Unless you are ferrying scraps to your compost pile in a plastic bag that you subsequently toss in the trash, your kitchen container can get mighty germy.  I had some super slimy mushrooms that got pushed to the coldest side of my fridge & froze.  When I tossed them in the bucket they decomposed immediately in one day and the slime I dumped on the compost pile was enough to gag me.  Clearly this bucket needed an immediate wash.  For obvious reasons I have also spared you a photo of this disgusting mess.  

clean buckets

Cleaning is simple.  Fill your bucket, whatever kind you have, with hot water.  Add a squirt of dish soap and a slug of bleach.  Let it sit until the water cools (I usually leave mine in the kitchen sink overnight and scrub the sink afterward).  Dump out the water, swipe any bits off the insides and top with a paper towel, rinse, and air dry.  Good as new.  Wash whenever things start to look grimy, when you have a surprisingly slimy bucket or about every two weeks.  If you have the kind of bucket that has a charcoal filter on the lid to keep down any smells, make sure to change that according to your bucket instructions.  Remember, while you want good bacteria to break down the contents of the compost pile, you don’t want bad bacteria growing in your kitchen!

 

 
 

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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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