Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cooking the Compost

Here's a really useful thing I've learned to do: make my own vegetable broth.

My sister in law, Rachel, has elevated cooking vegetable broth to something like neuro-science with variants that produce beef-like effects or chicken-like effects. She will often caramelize onions, add seasonings, or include extra vegetables to produce some desired, pre-designed result. This is wonderful and admirable. I aspire.

But, bless her understanding heart, Rachel taught me the bare-bones basics of constructing my own homemade vegetable broth. It's so simple that I thought I would share it here with you. Considering that boxed broth runs towards $2.50-$3 a box, it's a skill I find worth having.

When I want to make vegetable broth, I begin weeks in advance, really. Don't let this daunt you, though. I have a gallon size Tupperware container that I keep in the freezer and when I'm cooking dinner I simply throw my compost in this container instead of the compost bucket (with the exception of things like onion skins, which I don't think you're supposed to eat). That's right--carrot peelings, potato peelings, celery ends, squash seeds, old spinach and parsley, leek tops--all the things that I would normally stick in the compost pail I put in the Tupperware container. Gross, I know. But before you get all uppity about it, though, I beg you to consider what the manufacturers are using to construct the broth the store sells. I seriously doubt that they're using fresh, virgin produce unspoilt from the dew-kissed garden. Not for broth, my friend. Kind of makes you wonder what they use for the beef broth, eh?

Anyway, when the gallon container gets full, I start thinking about making my broth. When I'm finally ready to proceed, I pull the container out of the freezer, pull my stock pot out of the cupboard, and I'm ready to go. The frozen vegetable matter gets put in the pot and covered with water. I'll swish some water around the container to loosen any parsley leaves or carrot peels that get stuck. Then I put the big pot o' slop on the stove and bring it to a boil. If you want to add something and make this Work, you can peel and quarter and onion or two and toss it in the stew. Now it's time to cook the compost.

Let the veggies simmer for an hour, covered. Then, put a colander into a large bowl. Dump the pot into the colander to strain out your vegetables. Set the stock pot aside.

I like to put a plate on top of the mash to help me press out any extra liquid before I lift the colander out and hand it off to P to take to the compost bin. Then it's back to the stock pot for your broth. Let the broth simmer, uncovered, for another hour. At this point, I sometimes get fancy with the spices and add some pepper. Then it's off of the stove and into some old mason jars. I got the plastic lids you see in the picture at Wal*mart. I'm not sure if they carry them when it's not canning season, but it's worth a look. I let them cool a bit before putting them in my freezer. And then, ta-da! Homemade vegetable broth.

For the record, I think referring to this process as "cooking the compost" is totally hilarious. This is probably because this is exactly what you are doing when you make this recipe. This may be made even funnier for me, though, because Rachel always seems so affronted by my irreverence towards The Broth. One should not take lightly the making of The Broth, you see. It is Serious Business. One must not meddle with The Broth. I don't have the proper consideration and am really not Worthy. Compost, indeed.

In any case, if you want tips on elevating this to an art form, call Rachel. It is not zen-like, but you will get excellent results. Her French garden approach is the complement to my English garden approach. I may not do it as well, but I get it done. And I love getting that extra bit of use from my vegetables before they head off to the compost heap. Tonight I nearly saluted the colander as it made it's way out the door. Well done, my little veggies. You're little lives were not spent in vain. *sniff*

Have a good night! and Thank You, Rachel!

Monday, March 17, 2008


Last week P took a couple of days off of work so that we could have a little break from our daily routine. We went up to Duluth and stayed at a hotel in Canal Park right on the shore of Lake Superior. Both P and I went to college in Duluth and have many happy memories of enjoying the city in our early twenties as young single people and as newlyweds.

The kids love Duluth, of course. There are so many things to see that are unusual and removed from their normal lives. I don't think they are generally overwhelmed with the natural beauty, but they get a huge kick out of the lighthouses and the lift bridge. Thomas is obsessed with signals--traffic signals, train signals--so of course the red and green lights at the top of the lighthouses are of particular interest. Sadly, the port was closed for the season still and wasn't scheduled to reopen until after we left on Saturday. We did, however, take a drive over the lift bridge and Anna and Thomas waved good morning to Lake Superior.

I think that the biggest attraction for the little ones has to be the hotel (pronounced HO-tel, if you are four years old). They love the room, the BIG beds, the long hallways, the huge breakfast, and most of all the POOL. Yea, Pool! They spend as much time as they can splashing in the pool. Thomas is not a big swimmer. With encouragement, he will allow you to carry him out into the water, kick, and then be brought back to the stairs where he will sit and enjoy the pool in his small way. His love for the pool is wholly platonic. Anna's love is whole-hearted and wildly enthusiastic. From the very first time her little body met a pool of water her love has been nothing less than ecstatic. She is thrilled by the very notion of swimming. Her biggest frustration is that she seems to lack the coordination to both kick and tread water. She loves to play games with me and P and delights in "swimming". She always wants us to "let go", but of course we can't. I don't know how long it will take for her to learn to swim on her own, but she's like a 15 year old pining for a license to drive.

We also got to take the kids out to eat at a restaurant a couple of times. We don't go out to eat very often and sometimes the kids will ask to go to a restaurant like someone might ask to go to Grandma's house. "Can we go to a restaurant, sometime, please?" The highlight of our dining experience was for P and me, though. We took them to eat at the India Palace on Superior Street. They have a buffet during the lunch hour that is good, if mildly flavored to suit the Scandinavian diners. We were beyond pleased to see that they didn't charge us for the kids' dinners. I had kind of hoped that they wouldn't charge for Anna, since she's two years old and not prone to eating great amounts of food. I didn't really think we would get away with not being charged for Thomas, though. What a nice surprise to get our check and only have our own meals to pay for! I think I will love this restaurant forever. Aside from it's generous policy towards children, P and I have been visiting this place since it opened years and years ago and we would go together as a young couple. *sniff* Now I'm getting all sentimental.

I wish I had some pictures to share, not only of the children, but of the beautiful scenery we enjoyed of the lake, the lighthouses, and the buildings. I lived there for four years and it never gets old.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Happy Homemaker Strikes Again

It's baking day.

I say that like it's this definite, certain thing in my house, but it isn't. I wish I could have this really great, regimented schedule like Ma in the Little House books, but it just falls apart for me. Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Bake on Wednesday, Sweep on Thursday. . . I mean, what happens when it's Tomato Season and you're canning tomatoes and spaghetti sauce all day? Or it's time to make the cheese? Or the kids get sick and there's no way to get a loaf of bread in the oven? I have no idea. I need regimented flexibility. Most things get done in a week and if it gets to be too much, I hand P the vacuum cleaner. But what would happen if my survival depended on my ability to wash laundry (by hand!) and make my family's supply of cheese curds for the year? Lord, what if I simply had to grow my own wheat? I suppose it's a good thing I'm not a homesteader. We would have languished without sugar because I have no idea how to tap a maple tree.

I think I need to hug a farmer.

That said, this is what Thomas and I made today.
It's the Cinnamon Bread from the Simply in Season cookbook. I can't say how much I enjoy this cookbook. I have a good friend who also has this cookbook and it's uncanny how many times we'll be chatting and one will say to the other, "Hey I'm making Hearty Lentil Stew tonight!" and the other will say that she is either making the same dinner or just made it a day ago. It's a lot like being in middle school and owning matching legwarmers with your best friend. It just doesn't get cooler than that.