Sunday, January 15, 2023

A Salad for the January Doldrums

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Okay, one more January resolution post--at least from me! I am always trying to waste less food. This is such a huge issue, both for people's budgets and for the environment. Check out these numbers from World Wildlife Fund, just one of many sources of data. The amount of greenhouse gas emitted by food rotting in landfills is truly shocking, and I know we'd all like to do better. 

I plan meals, and try to use up what's in the fridge and freezer. We eat leftovers. Last week I think we set a household record with five meals from one recipe of Cauliflower Red Thai Curry. (I subbed Canellini beans for the chickpeas, and it was really good.) But I STILL ended up throwing out the last little bit.

But if you're doing your best and you just can't face another pot of Gotta Go Soup, here's my other favorite use-up-what's-in-the fridge trick--The Salad.


This was lunch the other day, but I had to examine the photo to remember what all I'd thrown in it! There was arugula (I am nutty for arugula. Does anyone else love it, too?) Shredded cabbage. Radishes. Little salad cukes. Grape tomatoes. (Nutty for those, too.) Grilled marinated artichoke hearts. Crumbled feta, and pine nuts. I'll throw in Italian parsley or cilantro or dill, whatever is hanging around in the fridge, and I usually just go for olive oil and lemon juice to dress, although if you were really motivated you could make a proper vinaigrette. Toss with maybe a sprinkle of flakey smoked salt and some fresh ground black pepper. Voila!

So I'm giving myself big props on the salad (and the multi-meal curry) but I have to confess that where I'm really falling down on the food waste resolution is on COMPOSTING. This is my Achilles heel. We can't do an open compost pile, so I keep trying other things. I couple of years ago I asked for this ridiculously expensive Vitamix compost thingy for Christmas. Turned out there are only a few things you can put in it, it doesn't hold more than a few cups of lettuce or whatever, and it takes hours to go through its composting cycle, all the while your house is smelling like burning food. And doesn't the power it takes to run the thing for six or eight hours sort of defeat the environmentally healthy purpose? The thing is still sitting in the corner of our dining room... The shame!

Enter the rotating drum composter. This is actually not bad, but the food has to be chopped up pretty finely and maintenance is a time-consuming daily chore. When we hit a steady streak of 110 F last summer and I couldn't even face walking out to the composter, I totally fell off the wagon and haven't managed to climb back on. There's lots of nice compost in the bins now, too.

So, dear REDs and readers, any tips on using stuff up, or composting, or just generally managing the food flow through our households?

74 comments:

  1. There are a few places to take pre-compost in our town but I hate driving around in summer with that bucket. Finally, I found a guy who will pick up twice a week. He is very reliable and has a huge compost pile at his house, which he gives back to his customers if they want it. It's a growing field (industry?). Hope someone near you picks it up.

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    1. Thanks for the idea, Marianne. I'm going to check this out!

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  2. Yes, it's hard not to waste food when you live alone. I can't compost in my apartment but Ottawa has a green bin program that picks up all organic waste each week from our apartment building to be composted by the city.

    Arugula lover, that's me. I grow plenty of arugula each year on my balcony garden.
    I will have to wait until April before I can start growing this year's garden outside.

    When I have tired veggies/leftovers in the winter, I usually make a veggie soup.
    It's currently -17C (2F) feeling like -24C (-11F) so that's probably a good Sunday chore for me.

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    1. Did you know that arugula has a second crop? If you let it go to seed it produces tiny seed pods that practically explode with flavor when you bite into them, a concentrated version of the arugula flavor. Radishes, too. I accidentally found this out when I had a huge crop of both--in the same bed--one year. Our Nairobi daughter has arugula in her garden right now, and some had already bolted. We made a couple salads with them while we were there.

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    2. Karen, I've had arugula bolt, but it never occurred to me to eat the seed pods! We do buy arugula and radish sprouts regularly from our farm delivery or farmer's market. Fabulous!

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    3. Grace, in Texas we'd say that was chili weather!!

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    4. KAREN: I am like DEBS not thinking about eating arugula pods. When the arugula plant gets leggy, I take it out and start growing a new batch and don't let it go to seed.

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    5. DEBS: Although my nightshade allergy symptoms are mostly gone, I still avoid eating a dish with tomatoes + chili peppers. A bad reaction lasts several weeks, and it's not pleasant.

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  3. When we had a separate house, we never had much luck composting. More than anything, we take the "leftover" route. In one way it's easier to do here in Braga, because my husband does a daily shopping as part of his morning walk, just buying essentials, after we've decided what the day's meals are. And we're good about using up leftovers or making recipes that can be frozen for leftovers another day. When we eat out, since we are small eaters, we usually bring some leftovers home that become lunch the next day.

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    1. I love the European way of shopping every day. Your Portuguese lifestyle sounds so wonderful, Elizabeth.

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  4. When I make a big pot of soup or chili, I freeze some of it after the second meal. I always feel awful if I toss fruits or veggies because they lingered too long. Sometimes, you just don't get around to making that pie, those muffins, etc. But I feel that personally, I need to do better.

    I know about food waste and it is shocking. Much of it happens right at the farm when fruits or vegetables are sorted for market. Some organizations are trying to bring that food to the hungry. It is not easy. Connections must be made with other orgs that provide direct services to people in need. Regulations need to be adjusted so that less food is wasted.

    If I remember correctly, when I attended UCONN in the 1960's, food scraps were collected at my dining hall, pasteurized, then turned into food for the pigs. One benefit of attending a big aggie school.

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    1. I wonder if they do that at Texas A&M?
      Judy, I used to be so much better at things like using up blueberries in muffins, or bananas in banana bread, but now I just never seem to have the time. It's so frustrating.

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    2. I throw black bananas in the freezer as is, ready to make banana when I have three or four

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  5. I am a multi-decades composter and have even taught a course on it. We don't put meat items in it, but everything else goes in and eventually ends up nourishing the veggie garden soil. These days we use a big black bottomless bin with a lid. Before the winter I empty it and bring it around front to sit next to the trash and recycling bins so we don't have to trek around back to empty the stainless kitchen pail that sits next to the sink (not that we have snow anymore, alas...).

    Foodwise? Sometimes a piece of fruit gets away from us and spoils, and I had to ditch half a pint of sour cream yesterday because I forgot to use it up. Mostly we stay on top of what's in the fridge, leftovers for lunches and so on. But if it spoils it just goes into the compost pail.

    I think I read about a program that goes around to restaurants and grocery stores and picks up only slightly dinged or expired food for either giving away or composting. That's what we need.

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    1. We have a program like that in Ottawa (and Toronto) called Second Harvest. They pick up imperfect produce & close to expiry items from grocery stores & bakeries to use at food banks/shelters. I also signed up two other apps: Flashfood sells near-expiry items at the grocery store at huge discount. Too Good To Go app sells end-of-day items at bakeries & restaurants for 70% off.

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  6. We subscribe to a weekly service that picks up our black bucket of scrap food items -- everything can go in from meat to fruit peels, cheese rinds, etc. It's great. Though it's too bad Winnipeg is so behind the times that we still don't have a city-run service like this; instead, we pay several hundred dollars for the private service.

    Over the years, we have gotten much better at 'eating the fridge' before going shopping for new stuff. I envy Elizabeth V's ability to shop daily for food to be eaten that day -- it's such a great European tradition. I spent a few months one summer in Toronto (big city, huge international population, great subway system, and many, many small stores that stocked real food) and I shopped daily, simply because it suited my living and work situations; I loved the simplicity of stopping off on the way home for one chop and one potato and something green for dinner that very evening.

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    1. Cheese rinds? Don’t pitch them. I use them in all sorts of soups and stews and sauces. They add so much flavor, especially the Parmesan ones. Really improve a pot of greens. Or marinara. Or anything.

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  7. I like having leftovers. it means no planning or cooking. We just had 5 meals from a 9X13 pan of stuffed shells. But we mixed it up on some of the in between days. I love your salad idea -- sounds yummy.

    We compost. Even on the bitter cold days, or after it snows and I have to pack a trail out there with snowshoes. I don't like the smell of the stuff in the garbage so I don't throw it away. And I don't like the chore of taking the trash out more often than necessary, so the trip to the compost seems easy. But we have simple wire mesh bins. I can understand that other systems might be tedious.

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  8. In my corner of Quebec we have an excellent service from the municipality. A brown bin is given to each home for composting. The bin is emptied once a week from April to November, than once a month during winter. Like Edith, I have a little pail near the sink and I empty it every day (or when something smells) in the bin outside.
    I use it diligently but unfortunately it is easy to see that it is not used by all the households around.

    I’m trying to avoid food waste. Making soups or salads and freezing portions is good. Living alone, I’m sorry that buying small portions is more expensive than buying in large quantities but it is better than wasting.
    Danielle

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    1. The packaging of food when buying for one person is such a problem.

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  9. In Portland, every household has a green 'yard debris' bin that we put out by the curb every week. In it we can add all food scraps (including meat) as well as grass clippings, branches from pruning shrubs etc. We each have a smaller container in the kitchen to collect the food scraps. The garbage companies collect the yard debris every week and it's made into compost. When they started collecting food scraps, they also reduced our actual garbage pickup to once every two weeks. It works great. I still feel guilty about food waste and try to plan so I eat it all up, but not as guilty as I did when food waste went to the landfill. I have thought about home composting, but I am just not enough of a gardener.

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    1. That is SUCH a great idea and I've read about cities doing that. Our does have yard waste pickup if you put it out in paper bags, but no food waste pickup. Hopefully one day!

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    2. We have a green bin that is emptied year round once a week plus we can put out up to 10 bags of yard waste. We also compost for the garden (no dairy, cooked veg, bones or meats-they go in the green bin). We have unlimited paper/tin recycling picked up weekly;there are some things like styrofoam that isn’t taken but you can drop them off no charge at the bottle depot,as you can with electronics. Glass goes in a separate gray bin and is picked up every two weeks as is garbage garbage. As you can imagine, there isn’t much garbage garbage! Mostly used cat litter.
      Food waste we try pretty hard not to over buy and I’m good at incorporating/freezing leftovers and making stock.

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    3. Our city has weekly recycling pick-up. They do yard waste pick-up, but it has to be in the paper yard bags, which can be a problematical--you can't put them out if it's raining or the sprinklers might run. The city also picks up a mulches Christmas trees! Maybe compost won't be too far behind.

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  10. I make a chicken soup and use a lot of veggie scraps in it. After I roast an organic chicken, we have dinner and I strip the bones, just leaving a little meat on them. Most of the meat I use for lunches and the rest I put Into the freezer in a Ziplock bag. After that, every veggie scrap, the stalks of broccoli, bits of green beans, white ends of asparagus, older carrots, half an onion left over–– even potatoes, anything suitable goes right into that freezer bag. And the water I use to cook the veggies, I save each night and reuse. When I’m ready to make the chicken soup, (usually a couple of days later) I use a big stockpot. I pour the vegetable water over the frozen contents of my chicken bag, top it up with tap water. I add salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Turn down and simmer for four hours. When done, I squeeze the bones and veggies through a colander to get the liquid. No picking bones out afterwards. You can add some chopped parsley and sliced carrots and boil it down more until it’s as rich as you like it. I add any leftover lunch chicken at this stage. Season to taste. This soup is never the same twice as I do different roast chicken each week. Rosemary garlic, lemon thyme, BBQ. And the soup always has that slight flavour, which you can enhance by adding extra herbs during the cooking. I let it cool and put it in large yoghurt containers and freeze. Usually two or three. Does two people nicely for lunch. So many variations, it’s fun. I put a carrot or two in for the last half hour sometimes, then remove, chop, and add to the final soup. So good. You an also use it for stock of course! But it’s lovely as soup. We compost in Toronto too. Great post, Deborah. Joyce W.

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    1. Yum, Joyce, nothing is as good as homemade stock. I keep a ziplock for veggie trimmings in my freezer, too. I don't think to save my veggie water, though, although I do give it to the dogs. I wish I had a bigger freezer.

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  11. Chickens! Very efficient as they provide eggs, entertainment, eat leftovers, and then recycle that as compostable poop for the garden.
    And a dog…
    The dog gets meat leftovers and the rest but he doesn’t like peas, beets or potatoes, or bread, the fireplace burns the bones, the ashes go on the garden.
    The chickens get all other compost, though they don’t like turnip peels, potato peels or citrus or coffee grounds so that all goes into a compost bin, which is layered with chicken poop. Chickens do however love leftover rice and spaghetti (I sometimes make ‘too much’, just for them.)
    Groceries – I buy the ‘stuff in the bag’ – just about past the sell by date, or impending spoilage, and deal with it at home – therefore rarely buy fruit – it is always in the bag. We have a seniors’ Good Food Bus which sells to seniors the most excellent fresh vegetables at a reduced or free price. I often get a month’s worth for under $10. It rarely has broccoli, but usually has fresh blueberries!
    Ignore all best before dates – unless it has green or pink mold on it, it is fine. If there is mold, scrape it off, flush well, and repopulate the microbes in the septic tank – and enjoy the rest. Don’t tell anyone!
    I always wonder what happens to the waste from restaurants. There is so much good food scraped off plates. Every restaurant should have pigs in their back yard for efficient composting.

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    1. Margo, my sister-in-law and her husband go out to eat most nights. She deliberately divides her food into two parts before she starts eating so she can take the other half home for lunch the next day.

      The only problem with that is the plastic container, but I suppose you could plan ahead and take your own reusable container.

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    2. That's a great idea, Karen. One of the beef vendors (local ranch) at our farmer's market sells cooked brisket from a big slow cooker on Saturday mornings and I try to remember to take my own container. $10 for two enormous portions--Rick will get lunches from that for days.

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    3. MARGO: Ottawa used to have a similar Good Food bus that went to different lower-income neighbourhoods (including mine) on different days every week. They changed to an online system last year for pickup or free delivery if you spent $20/order. Really good quality produce at much cheaper prices than the grocery stores.

      FYI, I looked into how you could use Libby without getting a cell phone/tablet for the Libby app. I used my Windows PC and accessed Ottawa Public Library ebooks (and probably audiobooks) using a web browser at libbyapp.com.

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  12. Like Edith, I've been composting in various ways since 1983. We almost never have "stinky" garbage, because there's nothing in it that is liable to rot. I've had open piles, closed piles, rotating drums, and done direct composting straight into the garden (not recently). Right now we have a rotating drum with two sides and an open pile that we use more in the winter. I'm hoping to replace them both this spring with a three-bin system alongside the garden. My gardening buddy Jeff lives in an apartment and whenever his compost bucket is full he brings it over.

    Composting food waste is such a big deal, and I can't understand why every city doesn't make it part of the waste control policies of the area. Boulder has done that for decades--every bit of waste has its own day and collection container, and Boulder recycles everything. Portland, too. Here in Cincinnati the waste collection company is Rumpke. Over the years I've seen at least three "Rumpke mountains" rise from the ground around the area, just from our waste. It's appalling.

    For the last couple years I've also been making bone broth from turkey and venison carcasses. Roasting the bones to caramelization, then simmering them with herbs and vegetables for 24 hours is rewarded with a rich, nutrition-packed broth. Luckily, we have the freezer space for it. One friend credits bone broth for getting her husband through cancer and chemo, it's that good.

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    1. Laslie Karst has also written about the roasting phase, which I've n ever bothered with. Might have to try next time I have a chicken carcass.

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    2. I mean to add that I always make stock from chicken and turkey bones, and recently boiled down a ham bone. Yesterday's split pea soup used the ham stock to great deliciousness!

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    3. Yum, Edith, you've reminded me I have a bag of split peas in the pantry and a smoked pork hock from the farm shop in the freezer. I know what we've having this week!

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    4. I do like making bone broth in the slow cooker, Karen, and I should do it. We can buy beef bones and chicken necks and wings from our local farm shop. It's really good for my arthritic dogs, too.

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    5. Edith, I roasted the venison bones this year, and the broth is infinitely better than the last batch I made. Night and day difference.

      Great idea, Debs! Even someone who doesn't cook might like to do that for their animals.

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  13. On Nome St. one of us currently weighs 18.57 stone, and the other is not saying. Obviously not much food waste here. We do focus on consuming most of the food that enters the house. I even recycle the freezer bags. I put my scrapings into them before they go into the kitchen trash. The humidity and heat in FL plus my ignorance put me off trying to compost. Yesterday I found a solution for the dried ends of bread. I added them to my root veggie soup and blended them in with an immersion blender. Finally found a creamy soup that we both enjoyed.

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  14. I'm having to relearn how to cook smaller portions, so there are usually lots of leftover meals here. The salad looks yummy! Next thing up is a compost container for the kitchen--compost will go outside to the garden bin.

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    1. I love the one we have. https://earthhero.com/products/natural-home-brands-recycled-stainless-steel-compost-bin-1-3-gallon

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    2. Thanks, Edith. I used a stainless bin for a while but decided I'd just as soon put the compost in a bowl and carry out at the end of the day.

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  15. Living alone, I think it’s easier for me to not waste food. I make only what I know I’m going to eat. I have “planned leftovers”; that is, I cook enough for four or five meals, eat one serving, and pack up the rest in individual serving-size portions, and freeze them. I usually have a salad with every meal, and arugula is nearly always in the salad. I love arugula! Most nights I reheat something, and make a salad. This has helped with not only not wasting food but with not overeating. I used to be quite overweight. I still eat the same foods, but with reasonable portions. When I was growing up, my family, which included five kids, didn’t live in poverty, but money was tight, and my mom had to be creative with meals. If there were leftovers we ate them within a day or two. Throwing food away was not an option.
    One of my sisters and her husband composted for decades. Then three years ago they moved to a more rural part of Connecticut where composting is not possible because it attracts bears!

    DebRo

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    1. Deb, our problem with the open composting is rats! We live in an old neighborhood and they are a real problem. We can't even fill our birdfeeders.

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  16. Nan McCann: I adore arugula! It’s always, always in salads I make for myself. I try hard not to waste food… an uphill battle because my husband hates leftovers. I need to do much better on composting… something to add to my New Year’s list of goals!!! 😉

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    1. My husband is really good about leftovers, especially things he can eat for lunch. My problem is that I like a lot bigger variety of veggies then he does, and I often can't eat up everything in a package on my own. And happy to find a fellow rocket lover!

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  17. Here in Bern we are very lucky. The city picks up all our compost--from food scraps to garden clippings from the big green containers we put out once a week. In this neighborhood, at least, everyone does it. Unfortunately, it's burned to produce heat or electricity, which I've recently read has been shown to be almost as bad for the environment as burning coal. Sigh! Just when you think you're doing a good deed, it turns out you're actually doing damage.

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    1. Oh, that's so interesting, Kim. Maybe they'll come up with cleaner technology.

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  18. What I need is someone to do the composting, lol. That's a job that Rick is not volunteering to take on!

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  19. Oh, I'm a big composter! I bought one of those composters that turn so the food waste can break down faster. We also have dogs so there's very little leftover meat products in our house :) The amount of food waste out there is truly horrific, especially when so many go hungry :(

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  20. Learning that frozen avocados are great for adding to smoothies helped me capture the short window when they are perfectly ripe.
    Lisa in Long Beach

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    1. I usually put my avocados in the fridge just when they're ripe and they keep really well.

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    2. Debs, a couple years ago I learned that just-ripe avocados freeze very well, too. My middle daughter eats one a day, but she travels and was concerned about wasting them. Now she always has some on hand when she returns from a business trip.

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    3. Thanks for that tip, Karen. I've read that but have never actually tried it!

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  21. We are so behind the times in my corner of Massachusetts - municipal pick up of compostable waste sounds like heaven. In all but winter I take most vegetable waste out to the back corner of my yard and dig it into the ground. It turns to soil within weeks. Earthworms abound.

    And like the rest of you I try not to waste. Yesterday I made a fruit crumble using the remains of a bag of frozen berries, a bit of leftover fresh blueberries, a couple of kiwis, and an apple. It came out just fine.

    Anyone put bananas in a crumble? I was tempted. I wish I liked banana bread.

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  22. Ha! I remember what else I put in that salad. Fennel! It was delish.

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  23. Alas, not a composter. I had a bin when I lived in Florida and I did use that. Here in Maine, it's tough to compost in the winter, and after storms, hard to get to the compost bin. I don't know of anyplace, municipal or otherwise, that will take scraps for compost.

    With only two of us, we try to be very good about eating/freezing meals so there is little waste. We also have birds and cats that help out with the problem.

    Deb, the salad looks great!

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  24. Living in a high rise, composting isn't possible. My husband isn't a fan of leftovers, but I refuse to toss out perfectly good food. When there's too much for one meal, I turn to Trader Joe's Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup. It's yummy alone, hot or cold. It's also creamy and exceptionally versatile. I add yesterday's vegetables and entrees to it for soup, or use it as sauce to re-flavor them.

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  25. Learned a long time ago that leftovers - veg or protein - can be combined with rice or couscous and seasoning for a quick satisfying salad or warmed up "bowl" meal. Sometimes I go all out and scramble an egg in a little oil, add everything else and some Asian seasonings (whatever i have - soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, chili sauce) and cook a few minutes in frying pan. Very tasty , 5 min, sort-of-fried rice.

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    1. We do a lot of "sort of" fried rice, too. Triss. We love it! We have a rice cooker (best appliance ever!!!) and cook big batches of brown rice a couple of times a week, so there is always rice for a stir fry or to put with beans or veggies.

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  26. I do have a compost pile (which, to be truthful, is more of a let-things-rot-into-the-ground pile) but needless to say it's in the far back of the garden, which means I have the same problem Debs does, just with the seasons reversed. It's fine in the summer, but in the winter, I just can't face crunching through snow and ice to chuck a cupful of onion peels and old cabbage leaves. The indoor compost thing has never worked for me - I don't have much room in my 18-someyear kitchen, and between the dogs, cat and mice, I don't want to leave any possible food exposed.

    One thing I've done that's worked out surprisingly well has been freezing or refrigerating compostable remains. In the fridge, they sort of dry and wither, and I've been able to fit quite a bit into one rectangular plastic box. Of course, there's an important caveat, which is I've been cooking for one, or at the most two, for several years now, so I don't generate nearly the waste I did when I had a family of five eating their heads off.

    Also, for those of you with no land for composting, do check your local recycling center. Ours has their own very professional compost operation - the end result goes to the town gardens and plantings - and they accept any vegetable material. If you have that opportunity, you could quite successfully refrigerate your peelings and drop them off every week or two.

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  27. I am trying to be SO careful. And not waste anything. I have been using a lot of riced cauliflower, and it's delish sauteed with anything. With ginger and garlic and soy sauce..yum. I had stockpiled frozen green beans in a flash of covid panic, and now I see they're great dry-fried. Andyes, we are really big on salads of everything. OH! I also have learned to make homemade croutons instead of tossing leftover iffy bread or giving it to birds. (Once I even used old frozen hot dog buns, infused with rosemary olive oil and baked.) Fabulous.

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    1. Hank, we have a terrific bakery just down the street. We buy their country sourdough weekly and I used any stale bread for fabulous croutons, or whizz in the food processor for breadcrumbs. These I can keep in the fridge or freeze.

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  28. We're lucky that our trash service includes a compost bin and our county now mandates use of it all the time. Even gunky things like soft cheese go in and, yes, it gets yucky until you add lots of plant debris. which also MUST go into it. But I'm like you, Deb, and hate to waste food. Recently I read a tip that works for me: for mozzarella cheese, which tends to spoil quickly, cut part of it into slices or chunks, free on something like parchment paper, then bag and take out chunks as needed.

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  29. Trying to find the screenshot that I took of an ad about easy composting, Deborah. IF I ever find it, I will send it to your IG. My Instagram is wonderwomandbookish.

    It was a little machine that simply grinds all of the food compost into very tiny particles and can easily be dissolved into water. You can just pour it down the drain.

    And my family definitely have a lot of left overs like the Gilmore Girls. I have been trying to stretch out the shopping days. If I eat enough for energy, then I do not have to go shopping as often. We have been warned about the floods in California and been told to stay home and inside if we can!

    Diana

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