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??

Going Zero Waste, Simplifying

Top Five 20 Minute Zero Waste Staple Recipes For the Family (Plus a delish coffee lover’s bonus!)

Time to roll up your sleeves, my friends! We’re going to do a little work- and I mean just a little! Here are my tried and true 20 minute or less Zero Waste staple recipes! Each delicious recipe will eliminate trash and/or recycling and won’t take you any time at all.

This is me being real. It’s my unedited pantry shelf. You can see we’re not completely plastic free yet, and I’m reusing all sorts of jars & lids instead of buying a cute set. But there is my homemade strawberry chia seed jam in the front and that almost empty jar in the back? Well, it’s time to make more pancake mix!

DIY Chicken/Veggie/Bone Broth – Definitely the simplest and least amount of effort here! (**I’m labeling this one as 20 minutes of overall effort – if that!**) Save any and all meat & veggie scraps from your regular cooking. Your leftovers determine your type of broth! Onion skins, chicken bones, pepper tops, celery leaves, herb stems and carrot ends all make yummy additions. Throw them in a big container in the freezer as you have them. When the container is full and contains a variety of goodness, put it in a crockpot and cover with water then simmer for the day. It will cook down a bit and become a nice rich color. Pour it through a strainer into recycled jars or even plastic lunchmeat or yogurt containers and freeze for future use. I keep several large containers on hand in the fall & winter for soups & chilis, then 1 or 2 cup size containers for regular dinner recipes. Broth lasts a loooooong time in the deep freeze. (& Here’s a more detailed recipe if you need more info with alternative methods.)

Pancake Mix – Who doesn’t love a big ol’ Saturday morning breakfast!? Collin & I get some bacon frying in the oven and whip up a double batch of these ‘cakes with blueberries and the kids wake up magically full of joy and eager to do their weekend chores. (Yes we shamelessly hold breakfast hostage until they’re done.) Unfortunately for the planet, the ease of a boxed pancake mix is undeniable, so make this mix ahead of time and measure it out as needed! 4 ingredients and 5 minutes of prep = super quick pancakes anytime you want ’em.

From Scratch Muffins – Going zero waste is absolutely more difficult if you have kids because kids love to snack and snack foods always equal individual wrapping and tons of single use plastic! Enter: the homemade muffin! I got the original red-checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook for our wedding (Eeeek! 15 years ago!) and this basic muffin recipe has been a fave ever since. The website has all sorts of variations but use your imagination! Cinnamon apple and banana chocolate chip are my kid’s faves! We bake a batch twice a week or double it and make it once. It’s a good snack for on the go and always pairs well with coffee when friends are coming over. (Make the streusel topping at the bottom of the page and people will think you’re real fancy! hahaha)

Chia Seed Jam – No pectin required! Only 3 ingredients, freezable or can-able (Is that a word?) and perfect for Healthy PB&J’s: Yum-O! I have made this exact recipe with Blueberries, Strawberries and Raspberries, all with grandiose success!

Easy Peasy Oat Milk – Here is a simple and quick recipe for easy oat milk. All you need is a blender and a strainer. I know many people have actual nut milk bags, but I like to minimize my kitchen gadgets and a simple mesh strainer works for any alternative milk recipe just as well!

***BONUS***Coffee Creamer – Now that you have some freshly made sweet and creamy oat milk, use two cups of it for some incredible chemical-free creamer! I’ve used this recipe for YEARS and although it calls for half & half, I have used every variety of store-bought or homemade milks and every natural/old-fashioned sweetener and it still turns out! It’s a great balance of not-too-sweetness and lovely froth when you shake the jar before pouring it into your coffee. It’s refreshing in your afternoon pick-me-up cold brew and soothing in a hot cuppa Joe before the kids are up. Try making it with some local maple syrup and your fresh oat milk and I promise angels will sing.

…sooooo creeeeeeaamy!

Chef’s Note: Hopefully you are buying your flour and nuts in the big bag, which is great, because you’ll use them up in no time. To go one step further, find a local bulk food store and take your biggest Mason jar to fill up. Also, any leftovers or mess from baking can be thrown into your compost bowl. You’ve got one of those right? NOW you literally have ZERO waste!

For the skeptics: I will admit the flavors of home made are different from store bought (SOoo much FRESHER!!) but if you have a house full of kiddos, maybe make them one recipe at a time to test them out or tweak them as needed. I often sneak a little extra sweetness in a recipe at first then taper off each time I make it. OR my other sneaky strategy for introducing new flavors is to make just enough for me and allow the fam only a taste of what I’m eating. Then they want a little more and they’ll just have to wait for the next batch. (Insert evil mom-laugh for using reverse psychology FTW once again!)

OK, start the conversation, folks. Which recipe are you going to try? Do you already have a fave recipe that reduces kitchen trash!? (Who’s got a “bottom of the jar” recipe from Rachel Ray for us!?)