Showing posts with label Food Waste. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food Waste. Show all posts

Feb 21, 2011

I Have Compost! (And What I'd Do Differently)

To the uninitiated, it may seem strange I'm so proud of my compost. It is, after all, just rotted garbage turned to dirt. However, there is something very satisfying about taking stuff you'd normally throw away and turning it into garden gold. Compost adds nutrients to the soil, making plants thrive - and store bought compost isn't cheap.

I've typed before about composting and how I recently obtained a tumbling composter. This weekend I harvested my first batch of compost from this tumbler - and I was very pleased. In fact, the results were much better than I anticipated.

I'd been putting off this "harvesting" for several weeks. I couldn't find a sieve locally, could only find very small ones online, and couldn't find screening of the correct size to make a homemade compost sifter. So I thought the job was going to be a big pain. Happily, it wasn't.

I simply donned some gloves and hand picked the top layer of not-fully-composted scraps, putting them in two buckets so I could return them to the composter when I was done. Then I used a shovel (and sometimes my hands) to dig out lots of dark, wonderful compost. I got a full wheelbarrow full (much more than I thought I'd get and enough to spread a thin layer over the top of my entire backyard veggie garden), and there was at least one worm for every centimeter of compost. (That's a terrific sign of nutrient-rich soil.)

Then I took a handful of the finished compost and popped it back into the composter, along with the not-yet composted scraps, to ensure lots of good microbes and worms still remained in the composter to speed up the process of decomposition.

It wasn't very messy - and I learned I couldn't have used a sieve, after all. The compost was much too damp for that.

Someday, perhaps I'll have two tumbling composters: one that can just sit and let the contents decompose, and one I'll regularly add scraps to. Other than this, I'd only change two things about my garden composting:

1. I'll add more egg cartons, used paper towels, and toilet paper and paper towel rolls to the pile. I only started doing that this month, and was delighted to see almost all of these items were fully composted - and the paper helps dry up my compost, which tends to be too damp. (NOTE: If you want to add used paper towels to your compost pile, just be sure not to use towels with cleaning chemicals on them. I'd also avoid towels with animal fats on them, as these could attract unwanted pests.)

2. I'll peel the labels off store-bought produce before composting. Those little labels take longer to compost and are a pain to pick out of finished compost. And since I hope to get chickens this year, I want to be especially careful to keep them out of my garden. If a hen eats a produce sticker, it could make her very ill - perhaps even causing death.

What about you? Have you had good results with your compost pile?

Aug 31, 2010

What to Do with Green Tomatoes

It appears we're going to have lots of unripe, green tomatoes this year. And while that's a little disappointing, I'm not disheartened. There are lots of great things to do with crunchy, rather tart green tomatoes. Here are a few:

* Ripen them! Even fully green tomatoes will ripen if you give them enough time. The easiest method is to lay them in a single layer in a cardboard box so no tomato is touching another tomato. Place them in a dark, cool location (like the garage) and cover with a couple layers of newspapers or a sheet. Check daily for ripe tomatoes. Or, to continue having tomatoes through Christmas, wrap each tomato in a sheet of newspaper, place in a single layer in a cardboard box, and place the box in a dark, cool location. Although these tomatoes won't taste quite as good as those picked ripe from the vine, they do taste a thousand times better than store bought tomatoes.


* Pickle 'em.

* Make green tomato pie or cake.

* Make green tomato relish or salsa.

* Make green tomato bread.

* Make green tomato catsup.

* Fry or saute them.

* Bake 'em.

* Make split pea and green tomato stew.

* Make green tomato raspberry jam or green tomato chutney.

* Roast 'em.

* Make eggs Benedict with green tomatoes.



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Jun 15, 2010

Eating Bolted Vegetables

While I was away from home, my vegetable garden grew several feet. This is exciting - except that some veggies decided to bolt. (That is, they produced seed heads.) Most vegetables are inedible once they bolt; they become tough and bitter. For this reason, I had to compost most of my spinach (see the photo, left). However, I was delighted to discover collards (yes, I'm typing about collards again!) taste fine if you snip off the seed head early. They continue to grow new leaves, too.

And - lo! - those collard seed heads are edible! They taste a lot like young broccoli. We've been eating them raw, but you could just as easily cook them.

All this made me wonder if other bolted vegetables are edible. A quick Google search turned up only one interesting fact: You can eat bolted lettuce stems. Peel and steam them, then add them to a salad, serve them on their own, or add them to a vegetable medley. Delicious!



Apr 7, 2010

What to Do with Overripe Bananas

We go through a lot of bananas at my house, but occasionally, they ripen faster than we can eat them. Even though over ripe bananas are excellent for baking, I don't always have time to make a loaf of banana bread or muffins before the bananas turn to mush.

Fortunately, you can freeze over ripe bananas quite easily. Just place one banana (its peel in tact) into a freezer bag, seal, and place in the freezer. Bananas stored this way will keep for months.

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Mar 11, 2010

Did You Know You Can Eat That?

If you'd like to try something new at your next meal, or if you have a small yard and want to make the most of it when growing edibles, think about eating parts of vegetables that are often thrown away. Not every part of every vegetable is safe or pleasant to eat, but you might be surprised by the delicious nature of many "secondary edible" parts of veggies. Here are a few examples:

Try eating the young leaves and flowers off snap beans.


Beet, radish, turnip, onion, and carrot leaves are also yummy. Try sauteing them like collard greens or chopping them into salads. Young leaves off English and Southern peas are good, too.


Broccoli and cauliflower leaves and flower stems are a great addition to a salad.


The unfurled tassel and young leaves off sweet corn can be cooked into a garnish.

The stem tips and young leaves off cucumber may be sautéed or chopped into salads. The stems and leaves from sweet potatoes are edible, too.


Okra leaves are delicious, too.

Parsley roots are edible and are often roasted or sauted.

The young leaves, flowers, and yes, the seeds, from squash are excellent. 


What other "secondary edible" parts do you eat off your vegetables?

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Jan 30, 2010

Dollar Stretching Saturday: Meal Planning

I'm in awe of people who can go to the grocery store without planning meals ahead of time and end up with enough meals to get them through a week or two. I have no idea how they do that! But whether you're able to not plan and still have enough home cooked meals or whether you end up having to order pizza or hamburgers a few times a week, learning to menu plan is a huge money (and sanity!) saver.

I know some of you think you can't possibly plan every meal before you shop. But if I can, you can. It's not hard if you have a simple game plan. And, trust me, you'll enjoy the savings in your grocery bill - and the way you become that much better of a steward of the money God gave you. Here's how I do it:

A day or two before I know I'll go grocery shopping (usually around my husband's pay day), I sit down with my cookbook. I rely mostly on a binder full of recipes I've used for years, but I try to incorporate one or two new recipes every few weeks. I also have on hand a pen and a piece of paper.


On the far right hand side of the paper, I write numbers - one for each day I need a dinner. So if I'm buying for two weeks, I write the numbers 1 through 14 vertically in the right hand corner. Then I begin writing the names of recipes behind those numbers, always trying to share ingredients, if possible. (More on that in a moment.)

As I write down the meal names in the right hand corner, I write down the ingredients I need to buy on the left hand side of the paper.

When I'm done planning dinners, I think about the staple foods we eat for breakfast and lunch. They are pretty simple at our house (eggs, sausage, ingredients for bread making, etc.), but if you like something more complicated, you can make a list for breakfast and lunch, just as you did for dinner.

When I'm done, my paper is organized like this:








Ingredients

beef stew meat
onions (3)
celery
cabbage
carrots
beets
Meals

1. Borscht
2. Shepherd's Pie
Now here's a vital step: When I'm done, I tear off the right hand corner and post it on my refrigerator. I now have a list of meals I have ingredients for and I don't have to try to remember what I had planned - which usually results in forgetting and letting fresh ingredients rot in the fridge.

Then I take my list of ingredients to the grocery store and cross off items as I put them in my cart.
This method saves money because you'll only buy what you need. No more running to the store (and using up fuel) to buy a few items. No more ordering dinner in.

Once you've tried this a few times, you can save yourself even more money by trying to plan meals so ingredients are shared. This way nothing goes to waste, and you actually end up buying less food.

For example, on day one, I might make borscht (a Russian stew), which includes half a head of cabbage, plus beef stew meat. So for another evening, I'll choose a meal that uses up that second head of cabbage, and on another night, a meal that also uses beef stew meat (because it's cheaper to buy a larger package).

You might notice I didn't mention looking at your grocery store's sales flier while making your meal plan. personally, I'm more apt to plan without knowing the sales, but if I spot something at a great price, I'll pick it up and store it for another time. I recommend that if you're not used to meal planning, you try shopping this way, too. Once you're a confident meal planner, then consider adding the sales flyer into the mix. For now, keep it as simple as possible.

Give it a try!

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Nov 14, 2009

Dollar Stretching Saturday: Powdered Milk

Before I had two small children drinking milk on a daily basis, I'd buy milk for cereal or recipes and find that it went bad before I could use it all up. What a waste! That's when I learned the wonder of powdered milk.

If you only use milk for cooking and baking, or if you drink skim milk already, powdered milk is your best friend. It lasts (unopened) for at least a year and a half; after that, it's still good, but not as nutritious. You can buy it in large or small packages, and you need only use just as much as is called for whatever recipe you're making.

For cooking, it works every bit as well as any other milk you might buy, even though it is skim.

Using powdered milk is easy; just add some water, according to the package directions, and stir. Just be sure to store powdered milk in a dry, dark location, like the pantry.

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Nov 10, 2009

Gather Rose Hips While Ye May

Recently, while walking down the vitamin aisle, I noticed the most expensive bottles of vitamin C boasted they were made from rose hips. This reminded me that back during the Victory Gardening days of World War II, many Americans carefully preserved their rose hips and ate them. Hmmm...So why should I let the rose hips in my garden rot and go to waste? It turns out, they are packed with excellent nutrition!

Since most rose experts suggest cutting off faded rose blooms, many people don't even know what rose hips are. Simply put, they are a seed pod. They start out green, then turn bright red by the first frost. And if you stop cutting off dead rose blooms in August, almost all rose plants will produce at least some hips - although old fashioned varieties usually produce far more than modern hybrids. (It's a great idea to stop deadheading roses in the fall, anyway since this signals to the plant to slow down and get ready for the cold winter.)

Why Keep Rose Hips?

Here are a few reasons you might take a second look at the rose hips already found in your garden - and consider cultivating roses that will produce even more:

* Rose hips are a superb source of vitamin C; they have 2o to 40 percent more vitamin C than oranges (depending upon the variety).

* They have 25 percent more iron and vitamin A than oranges.

* They have 28 percent more calcium than oranges.

* They are also a great source of vitamin E, manganese, selenium, bioflavanoids, and B-complex vitamins.

Wild roses offer more nutrients than hybrids, but all in all, rose hips from any rose are a powerful food! As for taste, roses are in the same family as apples, and rose hips have been compared somewhat to the taste of tart crabapples.


How to Gather Rose Hips

First make sure the rose bushes you're gathering from have not been sprayed with chemicals. (If you must use sprays on your roses - and many hybrid roses seem sickly without them - use only chemicals considered okay for edible foods.) Then:

1. Ideally, wait for the first frost. The frost sweetens the flavor of rose hips.

2. Cut off the hips, using clean pruning shears. Cut only red, firm rose hips. If they're shriveled up or look dry, leave them on the plant. (The birds may want to eat them.)


To Use Rose Hips Fresh:

1. Cut or rub off any remaining stem, as well as the crown at the top of the hip. (The crown is where the blossom used to sit.)

2. With a knife or kitchen shears, slice the rose hips in half and scrape away all the seeds. (The seeds are hairy, and if eaten can irritate digestion and cause other unpleasant symptoms.)

UPDATE 09/01/2013: I've found that its faster and easier to scrape away the seeds after you've dehydrated the hips. So I suggest just slicing them in half, then drying them. Once full dry, scrape away the seeds.


To Dry Rose Hips:

1. Lay them in a single layer in a dehydrator try and dry them at 135 degrees F. Or, lay the rose hips in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and set them in a warm location. It will take around two weeks for them to dry; you'll know they are ready when they appear wrinkled.

2. Once completely dry, store in glass jars with well fitting metal lid placed in a cool, dark, dry location.

Eating Rose Hips

A few ideas:

* During World War II, rose hips were cooked like a vegetable, often in soups or stews. In fact, if you make rose hip tea (see below), save the left over hips for this purpose.

* Make rose hip tea. (Steep two tablespoons of fresh rose hips in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Or, use two teaspoons of dry rose hips and steep 10 to 15 minutes. Add a little fresh mint, if desired.)

* Make rose hip syrup. (Place fresh rose hips in a saucepan and barely cover them with water. Bring to a boil. Simmer until soft, about 10 or 15 minutes. Cool. Strain through cheesecloth, pressing the rose hips with the back of a spoon to help release their "juice." You may freeze the "juice," if you like, or, in a jar place one part honey to two parts of the "juice." Stir and refrigerate. This keeps about two weeks and can be reheated for pancakes or ice cream. You can also can the syrup in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.)

* Make rose hip jelly or jam.

* Or make other rose hip recipes, like rose hip apple sauce, rose hip pie, or rose hip nut bread.


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Nov 9, 2009

Grow Food from Kitchen Scraps

Last week, after I wrote about growing a tree from a grocery-store purchased avocado, I ran across a gem of a book: Don’t Throw It, Grow It! by Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam. Who knew you could grow plants from nearly any vegetable or fruit you buy in a grocery store? Not me! But in this volume, the authors give step-by-step instructions for doing just that.

If you have a sunny window, you probably won’t need to buy much of anything to grow fruits, herbs, or veggies in your house. If you don’t have a sunny window, you’ll probably need a grow light (available at almost any gardening center). Aside from produce, the only other things you’ll need you may already have around the house: a clear jar, skewers or strong toothpicks, gravel, and potting soil, depending upon the project you’re beginning. In addition, many of the projects are marked “Easy,” making them ideal for children.

You’ll find instructions for growing green beans, beets, carrots, chickpeas, Jerusalem artichokes, lentils, onions, garlic, shallots, peas, potatoes and sweet potatoes, radishes, summer squash, turnips, almonds, avocados, Chinese star apples, various types of citrus fruits, dates, figs, kiwi, mangos, papaya, peanuts, pineapples, pomegranates, anise, caraway, celery, coriander, doll, fennel, mustard, many Latin American and Chinese foods, and more. There are even instructions for making your own bean sprouts. (It seems a bit troublesome to do very often, but appears to be a great project for kids.)

I was surprised to learn that most of plants will produce edible food – although most fruits will grow produce slightly different from the original fruit used (because they are hybrids). The authors always state whether you can expect food from the plant, or whether you should only look for lovely foliage and flowers. (Did you know turnips and radishes bloom? Or that sweet potatoes produce flowers that look like morning glories?)

In addition, you’ll find instructions on transplanting appropriate plants outside, and ideas for dealing with common houseplant pests.

I’m so glad I ran across the book, and look forward to using it to do many science and gardening projects with my children.

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Oct 12, 2009

Expiration Dates and Food Waste

As I wrote earlier, Americans waste a lot of food. The Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network reports that we could fill the Rose Bowl every three days with the food we throw away. Much of that food is perfectly edible, too.

One of the reasons Americans throw away so much good food is they misunderstand expiration labeling. The following types of "expiration labels" tell consumers nothing about food safety: "Sell by," "Best if Used By," "Best By," and "Guaranteed Fresh By." Rather, each of these indicates that after the printed date, the product may not be as fresh - still safe to eat, just not of as high a quality and with the potential to have less nutrients.

Canned foods often have a “Pack” date; this is designed for the manufacturer's use and has nothing to do with either safety or quality.

Foods withExpires On” or “Expires By” dates do tell you something about food safety. If foods are eaten after the indicated date, they may cause food poisoning. However, if the product is frozen before the expiration date, it may be consumed much later.

In addition, while eggs usually have expiration dates, the USDA says they are safe for up to five weeks after this date, if kept in their original box in a cool refrigerator. However, for hundreds of years humans have stored fresh eggs for months in a cool location. For example, my grandparents placed them in the cellar or basement, and tested them by filling a large mixing bowl with water and setting the egg inside. Bad eggs float because air enters them as the shell disintegrates.

General Guidelines

Cook or freeze meat within three days of purchase. Ground meat or fish should be used within two days.

If kept unopened, butter can last for up to two months.

Milk is usually safe up to one week after the “sell by” date.

If kept unopened, hard cheeses last for around four weeks, soft cheeses a week.

Experts say baking powder should be replaced around every six months. (To test if it needs replacing, mix 1 teaspoon of baking powder with ½ cup of hot water. It should bubble instantly.)

Baking soda should also be replaced regularly. (Test it by dropping ¼ teaspoon into 2 teaspoons of vinegar. It should bubble instantly.)

High acid canned goods (like tomatoes) can be stored unopened for around 18 months; low acid canned foods and meats are good for up to three years.

Oct 8, 2009

Waste Not

Today is grocery shopping day. As I prepare by cleaning out the fridge (something I try to do before each shopping trip), I'm saddened by how much food we've wasted.

Mushy broccoli. Moldy hot dog buns. Fuzzy baby food I forgot about.

Worse, we're not alone. According to a University of Arizona study, 40 to 50 percent of ready-to-harvest food grown in the U.S. gets tossed. And the Discovery Channel says the typical American family throws out 14 percent of the food they buy. What a terrible, terrible waste, especially when there are hungry people all over the world - and even in our own cities.

So how can I (and you) waste less food? Here are some ideas:

* Never go to the grocery store (or the farmer's market) without a prepared list. Plan your meals ahead of time, and only buy what you need for those meals, plus appropriate snacks. Don't impulse buy.

* Keep a list of the meals you plan to make (along with page numbers from recipe books, if needed), post it on the fridge, and cross meals off the list as you go.

* If you run across a great sale, go ahead and buy - but only if you can freeze or can the food until you can actually eat it.

* As soon as you get home from the store, freeze freezable items you won't use within a few days.

* Sometimes you have to buy more than you actually need for a recipe. When this is the case, try to plan another meal within a few days that will use the rest of the food. For example, if I make a dish with broccoli in it and don't use an entire "tree," I should prepare another dish with broccoli within two or three days. When you don't can't do this, try to freeze what remains. For example, I could steam all the broccoli, serve one portion, and freeze the rest in serving-size bags that will make cooking another night even easier.

* Remember that "sell by" and "best by" dates aren't the same as "consume by" dates.

* Organize the fridge. Keep vegetables in one drawer, fruits in another (this actually helps them last longer, too), drinks in one area, condiments in another, and so on. Some people also like to put items they use together in a single plastic bin. For example, I might put all the sandwich fixings in one bin.

* Keep the fridge as uncluttered as possible so you can actually see what's in there. (This is admittedly more difficult if you shop less often than once a week.)

* Use up the most perishable items first.

* Understand many foods you avoid eating are actually fine. Cut mold off the end of cheese and it's quite safe to eat. Peel off a few layers of brown lettuce, and it's just as tasty as fresh.

* Keep a list of leftovers on the fridge; a dry erase board or a simple piece of paper work well. Erase or cross off foods as you consume them. You can do this with non-leftover foods, too.

* Don't leave leftovers to chance; either consume them the very next day, or freeze them.

* Make a soup or stew part of every week's meal plan, and throw in leftover vegetables, rice, beans, and meats.

* Keep your fridge at the right temperature. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, refrigerators should be kept at 40° F or lower. Your food will last longer this way. I also find that if I keep foods I know I won't be using for a while toward the back of my refrigerator, they stay colder and last longer.

* If these steps fail, and you still end up with rotten food, compost it. If you have any type of garden, it will benefit from composting. You can toss vegetable and fruit left overs and peelings into the compost (along with things like coffee grounds and yard clippings) and create completely natural fertilizer. The simplest compost is just a pile in a corner of your yard; you can also use an old garbage can with holes drilled all over it. Or try one of the compost bins described at the University of Missouri Extension Office. Or ask a neighbor if they'd like your kitchen scrapes for their own compost bin.


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