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Having a baby really cut into my dumpster diving, and not for the reasons you’d think. It’s no biggie to leave her home with dad, whilst me and my dumpster-lovin’ girlfriends go dive. But, unfortunately, dumpster diving degrades our diet.
Everything changes when you have a baby. I didn’t used to care so much about the quality of food I put in my body and fed those around me. I mean, I cared, more than most I guess, but saving perfectly good food from the waste stream (waste flood would be more accurate) trumped the healthfulness. I would try to buy organic, when I was buying, and then happily consume all those pesticides, antibiotics, additives, etc, when I “shopped” the trash.
Then I got pregnant. Polluting the tiny, fresh life growing in my belly didn’t seem worth the earth-saving trash rescue. Now I have a baby outside and a baby inside. Such clean slates. We eat 90% organic and/or wild food. We don’t have tons of extra cash laying around, but I afford it by buying all my organic staples in bulk, doing all the subsistence gathering I can (all our meat and fish is local and wild) and buying almost no pre-prepared foods. I make just about everything from scratch, including all of our bread, granola, even organic ice cream, to satisfy our very sweet teeth.
That said, I’ve recently had renewed interest in the dumpster as a source of treats for my good egg laying girls. When my hens finally started laying, my lackadaisical chicken care took a leap for the better. Hard not to appreciate them more when they’re giving me all their unborn children…
I had long since run out of my 5 gallons of dried carrot tops (which worked by the way, they did seem to eat them), and my frozen salmonberry seed ice-cubesicles ( a by-product of summer juice making). Chook treats were down to a scoop of barley and a handful of crumbled dried seaweed plus whatever meager days worth of veggie scraps.
The good grocery store in town, the one run by locals, the one with a surprisingly large selection of organic stuff, and a dumpster hardly worth diving, agreed to save me lettuce and cabbage leaves. But there wasn’t much. Not enough.
The evil grocery store, the one run by some big conglomerate, who’s policy actually includes never for any reason giving away expired produce, the one who’s dumpster is perpetually full of piles and bags and boxes of still perfectly good food, was beckoning.
The other night, while hubby dutifully put the baby to sleep, I thought I’d just pop down there by myself. I almost never go dumpstering alone. Mostly I’m paranoid. It’s freaky to have your head down in a dumpster with no one on watch. Especially this dumpster, which is surrounded (I kid you not) by it’s very own 12 foot tall barbed wire fence, who’s gate they only occasionally lock. Go figure. But also it’s just a pain in the ass getting stuff out with no one to hand it to.
I should have called a friend. But I just wanted to run down real quick, look on top for produce, not hunt for junk food I shouldn’t eat.
Why, why do I never learn?
The Big D was stuffed to the gills with milk (some of which was organic!), half and half, canned tomatoes, boxes of granola bars and organic oreos, bags of carrots, apples, lettuce, and a whole heap of corn on the cob! Being pregnant, I couldn’t lean down and fish stuff out. There was no getting around it, I had to go in. Getting all that crap out and into the car as fast as I could was a work-out. Actually I left a lot. But still came home with four giant boxes of goodies (and baddies– I hope nobody pays real money for those “O” brand organic oreos).
So my feathered ladies have been happily getting fat on genetically modified corn for days. The grapes they adored. The carrots they’re not touching, too hard I guess. I’m sure this degrades the quality of my eggs, but c’mon. I gotta draw the worry line somewhere.
I read on Ghost Town Farm, one of my favorite homesteading blogs, about raising pigs on largely dumpstered food. That’s inspiring. I’d like to see lots more about raising food animals on dumpsters. It seems a sound urban waste tactic.
While you’re thinkin’ on that, here’s what to do with those 8 boxes of weird tasting fake oreos—
Cookies n’ Coffee Ice Cream
(True you have to have an ice cream maker for this, how extremely un-ludite)
½ c. espresso or strong as possible coffee
½ c. sugar
1 ¼ c. dumpstered half and half
½ c. heavy cream
2 t. vanilla
1 c. crushed crappy fake oreos
Put the cookies in the freezer first thing so that they’re frozen by the time you need ‘em.
Brew the coffee, mix in the sugar till dissolved and set out in the snow, or in your fridge to cool.
When the coffee is completely cold, mix in the dairy and vanilla and pour into your ice cream maker. Freeze as directed. When the soft ice cream stage is reached, stir in the cookies and freeze till hard. You could eat it right at the soft stage of course, you can eat it whenever the hell you want, but it’s better when the cookies have a chance to suck in a little ice cream.
First off, where have I been? You ask.
Well, in Jan/Feb we took a trip, month and a half of fun and sun in the desert. Hardly looked at a computer while I was gone. It broke the addiction. By the time I got back, I had remembered that I don’t like computers. Took a full month for the twisted hunger to gnaw into my belly again. And here I am.
So yes, I re-hauled my carrots! Much of my garden harvest of these tasty roots got tucked away in damp (okay, actually wet) sawdust, in a five-gallon bucket in our garage, which stays a lovely root cellar temperature in the winter. I put them up in October.
Lately I had noticed that a few of the carrots I was pulling out every few days had bad spots. When you’re storing vegetables, a little rot can go a long way. So the other day I hauled the still half full bucket into the kitchen and went through my lovelies, one by one, picking out any with bad spots, and repacking the rest.
I guess I had secretly feared that at the bottom of the bucket there’d be a whole layer of rotten carrots, so I was ever so pleased to find only a dozen or so that had to be culled.
The carrots were still in great shape, all things considered. But they were getting fairly hairy with rootlets searching for soil, and some of them were growing 3 or 4 inch long new tops, all blanched a weird greenish-white from growing in the dark. I wonder if the sawdust being wet instead of the recommended damp made them more eager to grow, they did seem rooty-er as I got down deeper in the bucket, where the wetness had settled. Our garage stays quite cool, but
ideal root cellar temps are like 33-35 degrees, and our garage, cool as it is, ain’t that cold. And after all, it is April 3rd today. Those carrots have been in that bucket for more than 5 months. And they’re still crunchy and sweet!
Ordinarily you store root vegetables in a bucket, to keep the moisture in, but mine were so wet, a box seemed a better idea. I’ll keep an eye on them and cover the box with a garbage bag when they start to dry out a little.
So with my culled carrots nicely trimmed, I decided to make some muffins. My little one just learned to say “muffin” (though she makes the “ff” sound by blowing out through her nose, very cute) so of course it’s her new favorite food. I adapted my pumpkin bread recipe, and it turned out dee-lish!
½ c. white all-purpose flour
1 ¼ c. whole wheat pastry flour
¾ c. sugar
½ t. baking powder
¾ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
¼ t. each nutmeg, ginger, cloves
¼ c. + 2 T. oil
2 c. lightly packed grated carrots
2 T. water
½ c. chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Whisk dry stuff together to break up lumps in the whole wheat flour. Make a well in the center and whisk the wet stuff together. Stir it all together and spoon into greased muffin cups (batter will be very thick). Sprinkle nuts on top. Bake 15-25 mins, till nicely browned and a knife comes out clean. If you want to make bread instead, bake at 350, 40-50 mins.
I’ve been harvesting from my garden all through the winter. It’s not the coldest, snowiest of places, here in Cordovaland, but I’d say it’s cold enough, and snowy enough. People are shocked to see me out there, lifting the snowy skirts of my plastic hoop houses, and pulling out live foods. Basically what I pull out is leeks, and lots of kale. They are both incredibly, jaw-droppingly hardy, but kale especially. I just adore that damn plant. Takes a licking and keeps on… It’s tenacity is inspirational. If I pastored a big tent revival church, I’d preach kale.
But having a winter garden covered in plastic means keeping a rough tab on how much snow is piling up, and shoveling/sweeping the hoops off occasionally, to keep the plastic from ripping. Though I have been really impressed at the strength of this greenhouse plastic I got from Peaceful Valley Farm (just so’s everyone knows, if you’re in the market for said material, call PVF and ask what they’ve got for “remnants,” these pieces are plenty big for home growers, and sell for 30 cents cheaper per ft!) I didn’t want to leave it unattended. We’re leaving Sunday for a month and a half, and so, on my long list of buttoning-up-the-old-ranch projects was to dig out the kale bed and harvest whatever was left.
The plastic was covered with a one foot blanket of soft light snow which fell just before our last cold snap. I had left the snow there to help insulate against the cold. It was down to 5-10 degrees for a couple of weeks. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to find under there.
Not surprisingly, what I found was a lot of frozen kale. I hacked it all off and brought it inside. Dunked it in a big bowl of water, trimmed off the limp, slimy leaves and viola! About two thirds of those frozen solid leaves perked right
up into nice fresh greens. The rest went to my chooks.
I ought to clarify that not all kale is this headstrong. I grow Tuscan black and love it too, but it doesn’t last through November. What you need for a winter kale is Siberian or Russian kale. I grow the red kind ‘cuz it’s sooo purty. The curly green kinds are pretty hardy too. But my Siberian Red stumpy stems, with all the leaves harvested off, frozen in the ground all winter, even without cover, will sometimes sprout new leaves in the spring! Miniature uber-tender kale salads. All hale the kale!
But now you, who’ve never eaten and hardly seen a kale, are asking,
“But what do I do with it?”
Homegrown kale is mild and delicious. Harvested after a frost or two, it’s almost sweet. Hacked down mid-cold snap, it’s downright heavenly. I like to make a burly salad with thinly shredded kale, tart apple, and toasted walnuts, same as my Winter Mainstay Cabbage Salad. But when you cut the plants frozen, like I did yesterday, a lot of the leaves will be kind of soft for salading.
Fine for cookin’ though. I’d like to get more creative someday, but I have yet to get sick of this simple recipe:
Carmelized Onions and Winter Kale
Slice half an onion and saute in plenty of butter over med-low heat till soft and golden.
Wash and roughly shred a big heap of kale (it shrinks! Make sure you have plenty!) and add it to the pan. Put a lid on, keep the heat low and cook till the kale is tender, but still vivid green, five minutes or so. The water clinging to the leaves should be plenty, but add a teeny bit more if it gets too dry.
Salt to taste and enjoy!
Now, in case I got you creamin’ yer panties for some winter gardening info, here’s my fave two books:
- The Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman
- Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest: Cool Season Crops for the Year Round Gardener by Binda Colebrook