Creativity Unleashed, Food for a Family, Going Zero Waste, Never Enough House Plants

Food-Scrap Gardening

Ok, ya’ll know I married a dutchman, right? So FREE is a word we Schuiteboers love. {Also, we love to eat.} Also, if I’m doing my best to not create waste, then I’m going to use what I have to the very last little bit, am I right? Put these seemingly random concepts together and you have a food scrap garden! I’m afraid to admit, this theory fills me with ecstasy!

I have experimented for years with crazy plant ideas that I find on the internet around midnight and “save for a rainy day.” Never mind the fact that I constantly try to grow things {especially FREE things} despite my black thumbs. You’ll notice in the following photos that there are an endless supply of seeds and pods on my window sill drying only to be germinated in water and/or stuck in a pot and watered {mostly to no avail}. I just HAVE to try… I can’t not try… If you could see my mother’s breathtaking gardens you’d understand I have a lot of inspiration and absolutely none of her gardening organization or follow-through. But I find my own ways to grow and nurture the things around me.

So here are some of my most successful attempts at Food Scrap Gardening. I would love nothing more than to hear your attempts, trade a few secret {or not-so-secret} tips and all of us can buy/throw away a few less items in the process.

Avocado Tree:

We’ve all tried it. I know you have too. It’s really a 50/50 venture. If I’m going to try it at all, I will try it with all the pits I’ve got because along the way a few will fail. It’s not difficult to start a root. I found this little tip recently: start them off in a baggie with a damp cloth on a cool dark shelf, check it after a few days and add water if necessary to keep it moist. When a root sprouts you can either put it directly in dirt {somewhat successful} or let it grow half submerged in water a bit first {more frequently successful} until you see a green sprout on the top. The roots grow pretty long so a big jar and even bigger pot are required…remember it’s a TREE. And no I don’t have a pretty photo of a successful tree for you. Mine just died without documentation {hence the attempts to grow a new one, haha!}.

Basil:

Yum-O! I love pesto… On sandwiches, pasta, pizza, chicken, toast, in a vinagrette. I love pesto. We also add fresh basil to cheesey party dips, egg scrambles, summer salads and sangria. You understand how we can’t keep enough of it in the house? Basil is easily grown from seed but did you know you can also grow a whole bushy plant from the stems at the grocery store? And if you purchase a little plant at the garden center, you can easily multiply it to have a whole row of basil in your garden this summer. Trim the basil stem just above a set of leaves. You can see the photo on the left has little “stumps” where I hacked it off. Then stick the stems in water and wait a few days. The roots grow out like little hairs all over the stem {these babies are quick and prolific} and when they get a solid half inch or so long you can stick them in the ground or a pot and voila! You have more *freeeee* basil plants. Keep trimming the tops and your plants will get full and bushy with endless tender leaves.

Onions:

I know, onions are no fun. They’re just so normal. But the truth is: they’re a staple. We are going to use them and quite often we buy a big bag and half of them sprout or go soft. Here’s how to save the onion AND produce more onions when you see a sprout. As soon as you can, cut off the outer layer of the onion while carefully not cutting the center. It helps to slice a side of the onion and peel the outer layers until you get to the center. It’s a little more difficult to cut up the outer layers for cooking now because they’ve been peeled, so a food processor is probably best to chop those pieces. There may be a layer or two that has started to soften so throw those in the freezer for veggie broth later and chop the good stuff for your weeknight dinners. The lovely little centers with roots still intact {pictured below} can now be planted! I have planted them in the spring for summer harvest, in the middle of the summer for a smaller-sized fall harvest {still totally worth it!} or in the fall and they keep growing once spring comes again. I’ve tried every size, color and variety, organic and non-organic, they all grow. You can even see some of the onions below were sprouting all winter and already had pretty decent roots growing up inside the onion layers.

Tops and Greens:

You know the veggies where we eat the root and discard the top? Well the top is actually super nutritious! Just like spinach or kale or whatever greens you would usually put in a salad or chop up for soups and stews, these greens are packed with vitamins A & C, magnesium, calcium, iron, and believe it or not, protein too! Well, here is what amazes me even more: They don’t need the full root to grow! This is not an endlessly sustainable plant like the onions, but a second and even third harvest are no problem for these veggie tops. When you buy full carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, etc use those greens if they’re still attached. Then whether there is green already or just a nub, cut off the tops of your root veggie and place it in a shallow bowl {or jar lid, like me!} and keep just enough water in it. Those tops will keep on growing and you’ll have extra garnish for your fancy dinners, a variety of textures in your salads and loads of free vitamins for your smoothies.

Pineapple Tops:

I apologize in advance, this one is not edible. {Sorry if I made you cry.} But it is pretty… AND free! I love the look of pineapple tops. I may or may not have been accused of buying pineapple weekly just for decor… {I tell the fam it’s our extra vitamin C to boost our immune systems, but now you know the truth.} The green/grey foliage and spikey layers just make me swoon and it’s easy peasy to grow them in water or soil. Cut the top of your pineapple right off with the green and then you can easily peel the yellow/brown away and you’re left with just a stalk of leaves. Sometime you will already see some little white roots growing along the leaves. I usually peel the lowest few leaves off and find more roots. Then you rest the top in a jar half filled with water so there is no water touching the stalk. {If the water gets on the stalk bottom or in the leaves it will just rot and turn into a stinky, soggy mess.} Just like the basil, you can plant these pretty little diddy’s in a pot once you see a good half inch of roots. Be careful to only give it a few teaspoons of water each week. Pineapple plants do not like to be wet. The roots will rot quickly if you overwater.

Those brown tips often happen when starting a new plant. More sun/less water, please!

Citrus Trees:

One more non-edible house plant. Some people SAY you can force citrus trees to produce in MI, but I’m not buying it… Either way, I love the smell of these citrus-y leaves and the ability to prune the little trees into fun shapes. Like avocados, I save all the seeds I can find in a fruit and attempt to sprout them all. Moment of truth: I have a little tin of dirt that I keep hidden on the counter and press seeds into it frequently to see if they’ll germinate. I know it’s not truly scientific, but experimenting makes me happy. Harvest those seeds. {I’ve sprouted limes, lemons, grapefruit, and oranges.} Let them dry out completely then tuck into some good soil and water weekly. The soil should not be wet & soggy. Now if you google this topic you’ll see some very extensive instructions to get these little gems to germinate. You can try it. I never have. I just dry ’em and put ’em in dirt. Take note: they are slow growing plants at first, it takes about 2 weeks to get a sprout, so keep watering and watching.

This little Blood Orange tree is almost a year old.

Ok, give me some feedback! Who out there has tried to grow some scrappy little plants!? What have you seen on Pinterest that you’ve been meaning to try? What are you going to stick in water/soil and try to grow next??

Food for a Family, Parenting, Simplifying

Dinner in a pinch

Picture this: You’re driving home with a vehicle full of hungry, irritable monsters. Today has been a long day. You have been a hundred places at once and your brain has done all the gymnastics it can handle. It might be the end of the world if you don’t get some food fast… Btw, is it illegal to leave minors on the side of the road or is it merely “encouraging” them to walk home?

Ok maybe this wasn’t very difficult for you to imagine. Sounds like a regular weeknight during any particular sports season for us! So as we enter yet another busy spring, what’s a mom to do? I bet most of us would admit that the goal is to eat budget-friendly and/or healthy meals and not just on the weekends… While these options are slightly more “processed” than I would prefer, it’s better than takeout or high-sodium frozen meals, so a partial win is good enough for this Momma!

Well I’ve been meaning to make this list for ages and now I’ve got it here in one place and I’m more than willing to share. I’ve rounded up my fave “in a pinch” dinners that please a crowd and don’t cost much. Also, I know how the pantry situation is: there is what there is, you are NOT going the store anytime soon and let’s be honest, you probably don’t have what’s required for the fancy recipe you originally planned back when you thought you had time, so these options are all customizable for what you’ve got on hand. No sweat.

#1 Turkey Cheddar Sliders: No recipe required but here’s my inspiration (and I must give credit where credit is due!) So take a pack (or three!) of Hawaiian Rolls and cut them right through the middle so every roll has a top and a bottom but they’re still in a “sheet”. Place the bottoms on a big piece of foil on a cookie sheet. Then layer the turkey, cheese, tomato, bacon (or meat &cheese of choice) on the bottoms. The thicker the better to fill up those hungry monsters! I like some extra sauciness so choose some mustard/mayo/cranberry jelly/pesto, etc. to slather on the “sheet” of tops and place it on top of the meat and cheese. A little melted butter brushed on the tops and sprinkled with parmesan makes it fancy if you have an extra minute. Wrap the foil over the tops and bake for 10 minutes at 350°. So satisfying…

#2 Sheetpan dinner: If you have any vegetables, chop them now. Start with potatoes/sweet potatoes if you have them. Toss the potatoes in oil and roast at 400 degrees until everything else is ready (they take 10-15 minutes longer to get good and crispy) Add your other veg: carrots, onion, peppers, zucchini, etc. and some protein. I like chunks of chicken if it’s on hand, chicken sausage is a great option and easy to keep on hand because of it’s longer shelf (refrigerator?) life, you can toss in chickpeas or beans for the last 5 minutes if you want a “Meatless Monday” option. Seasonings are completely customizable and honestly I’ve used only salt and set out a variety of condiments and my kids are happy to dip away. Roast the sheetpan full of goodness about 20-30 minutes until your protein is cooked through. Rice on the side is tasty, too.

#3 Quesadillas: Again, no real recipe required (although this is a fabulously simple recipe for BBQ Chicken and Peach quesadillas) Just fill tortillas with any desired protein and cheese combo, add some herbs to make it millennial-cafe-style. My faves include the above recipe for BBQ chicken and peaches OR goat cheese, mint and apple OR spicy black beans and corn with cheddar OR add a little tomato sauce to pepperoni and mozzarella and it’s pizza quesadilla night! We’ve fried them in a pan with a little butter, toasted a few at a time in the air fryer, lined them up in a row on the griddle or put them in the oven on broil to make a bunch at a time. The hardest part is choosing your fillings. You’ve got this.

#4 Dump Chili: This is a great vegetarian option since cutting out the meat saves a boatload of time. I grab a big pot and dump in 2 cans of stewed or diced tomatoes (with green chilis for some kick), a can of corn, two cans of beans and some taco seasoning or chili powder with a dash of Worcestershire. (Sorry, no measurements, I’m in a rush!) Sautéed garlic and onion are great additions, if a kid wants to help ol’ mom out by peeling/chopping. While the pot is heating up, it’s easy to slice some avocado or set out guac, sour cream and shredded cheese for toppings. If I have a few extra minutes, this is REALLY good over instant-pot baked potatoes.

#5 Eggs in a Basket: Definitely Makenna’s favorite quick meal, which means she’s always willing to help out! We grab a loaf of bread and a glass from the cupboard and start punching holes out the centers of each piece. I warm up the griddle and slather it in butter so Makenna can lay out the bread slices and centers in rows. I follow behind her cracking an egg in the center of each and let it cook a minute or two. Now comes the tricky part… I grab a flipper and lift each piece of bread (with the egg half-cooked in the middle) while Mae reaches underneath and butters the spot so I can flip. You could probably skip the extra butter but we love butter, so the more butter, the tastier! If we’ve thought ahead we might have bacon or sausage cooking in the oven while all this is happening and some fresh fruit on the side could make it feel more wholesome.

Now for the family conversation while you eat. It’s time to be friends again, not monsters. We’ve got a bowl of conversation starters from various places and the kids like to be the one to think of it first so that THEY get to ask the questions. Here’s a fun list for your school aged kiddos to get started: 29 ways to ask your kids “How was school today?”

Well there you have it. I’m sure it’s not nearly enough recipes since you could easily make all of these in one week, but the fact that it’s customizable makes it easy to put these babies on repeat. I hope it saves you a little time and sanity. I’m rooting for you, parents. Bring on the scheduling nightmares, we’ve got this!