Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Modern Art of Composting

It seems that now everyone not only knows about compost, they are all doing it, too. In homes, schools, restaurants they are dumping decomposable leftovers into buckets and turning them into nutrients for the earth. But I'm not sure anyone would call it an art form.
The idea began when sister's friend, Mark B. came over our house to rehearse for the Falmouth High play they were both "starring" in. Mark was a jokester and made me, the younger sister laugh. More importantly, he let me in on the joke, which I thought was a pretty big deal at the time- still do. I remember him coming home with Karyn after school, into our kitchen through the back door, both of them starving and looking for something to eat before they went upstairs to practice their lines. Mark hungrily looked into the big silver mixing bowl that sat on the corner of the counter top. He may have even taken a big whiff before he realized...What was it, trash? He looked quizzically at me and Karyn.
"It's compost!" I shrieked and fell into a fit of giggles as only a 13 year old girl can do.
"Compost?" Mark said. Back in the early 1980's, it wasn't very popular to throw your scraps in a bucket to make mulch instead of throwing them along with everything else into the landfill. What a weird thing to do!
Val came in and calmly explained why banana peels, egg shells, and used tea bags were taking up space on our kitchen counter. I'm sure she explained the benefits of the seemingly insane process while we kids made fun. As always,she offered everyone a delicious homemade snack then ferried me away so that my older sister could have some privacy with her friend.
Mark declared the pile of discarded food scraps, "Modern Art" and insisted on inspecting the contents of our compost bowl every time he entered the house. It became our running joke. That somehow what was trash could actually end up in a high end gallery where someone might pay large sums of money to own this work was very funny to us. We thought this idea to be very "punk rock". After all, it was the era of Blondie, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, all anti establishment heroes. Who knows where Johnny Rotten really got his name?
On Sunday mornings, when my father comes over for breakfast, he takes my overflowing hot pink compost pail and dumps the coffee grounds, and vegetable ends into our larger receptacle outside. As he wipes out the pail and lines it with newspaper (his own technique) to be filled again, he asks, "What did Karyn's friend, Mark call the compost?"
I always laugh when I'm reminded and say, "Oh yeah, He called it Modern Art!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Late Night with Chocolate Milk

My adorable,sleeping 5 year old son drooled all over the clean sheets on my bed. Not only did he wake me up with a loud thump and screaming wail, when he managed to fall out of bed at 1:30am, he pleaded to come into my bed and since my nerves were so rattled, I agreed. This little peanut then proceeded to hog my half and then his father added some loud snoring to ensure that I would not get back to any sort of restful sleep. I was driven to the couch downstairs. I knew that turning on the TV would mean I would be up for at least 2 more hours before I would finally drop of to 15 minutes of blissful sleep before my alarm went off.
When I need to use the TV as a sleeping aid, it's important to select the right show.
One that will not quite hold my attention so that I can actually drift off. The subject matter must be light but, again, in no way engaging- not too funny where I find myself listening to the jokes and absolutely no competition shows that will suck me in since I have a need to know who finally wins. Certainly nothing disturbing or jarring to add to my building middle-of-the-night anxiety. (You would be surprised at what kinds of freaky programing is on in the wee hours.) I continued to flip through the channels, squinting my dry eyes to read the digital information at the bottom of the screen. I finally settled on something mindless and burrowed down into the couch pillows when I realized that I was into it, I was actually watching... Why did I care what Paris Hilton was doing? AARGH! My fail safe, Food Network does no good either. "Cup Cake Wars" is not only a competition, it's arguably the worst show in their line up which causes me to be annoyed rather than helping me to get any shut eye. So I continued to flip, flip, flip, there are a million channels but I had trouble finding a suitable sleep aid. Finally! "St. Elmo's Fire", a truly horrible, classic movie from the 1980's featuring the "Brat Pack" that I probably saw in the theatre when it first came out. (Don't judge, I saw you there.) I've never been so thankful to see something I have probably watched a portion of a zillion times before but have never enjoyed so much to be immersed in the subject matter. Perfect. As I felt my body begin to relax and I snuggled up under the blanket, there it went, my stomach growled. Seriously? Now I have to take care of this issue? Before I flung off the blanket and got up to check the fridge, I mentally went through the inventory. What will work to take the edge off and still get me back to sleep? Liquor? Probably a bad idea. Tea? Takes too long to make, then I have to let it cool before I take a sip so I don't scorch the roof of my mouth (which I pretty much always do). Hot milk? I have no idea why this works for some people, it just leaves an icky taste in my mouth so I have to go and brush my teeth before I can settle in again and then there's that scorching problem. All right, I finally got it. Chocolate Milk. But not just any chocolate syrup will do. It must be rich and dark. Nothing imitation. (Yes, I am still a food snob in the middle of the night.) Thankfully, I made up some chocolate syrup for the kids yesterday afternoon. Yes! There was still some left; those kids would eat it by the spoonful, if I let them. I quickly mixed the sleep elixir and settled into the scene where Demi Moore's character, "Jules" hits rock bottom in her tacky, trendy totally 80's apartment complete with a monster sized likeness of Billy Idol on a hot pink wall.
Declan is no worse for the wear and has survived last night's episode. However, he claims he hurt his back. As he sings a song about it while laying on his bed tossing his stuffed dog in the air, he yells out to me, "Mom, did you know I write my own songs?: "I hurt my back, back, back, yeah!"" I'm amazed by the energy level. I've been dragging my ass around all day even though I only lost about 2 hours of sleep. I guess I'll have to use what's left of the chocolate syrup to make a mocha coffee caffeinated pick-me-up to get me through until I can put on my pajamas and go to bed.

This chocolate syrup is really runny and works best when mixed with other liquids rather than as a dessert topping.

Chocolate Syrup
3/4 water
1/2 cup sugar
5 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup strong brewed coffee

Place water and sugar in a medium sized sauce pan. Heat on medium high until sugar dissolves. Add cocoa and coffee. Whisk to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into squeeze bottles and refrigerate until ready to use.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


It's a sure sign of Spring when I hear the sound of the peepers in the early evening as darkness falls. Hearing them always reminds me of the time Val pulled our brown Nova 4 door to a halt with me and Jenny in the car one late April night back when I was in high school. Val cranked down her window and commanded us to do the same. We were parked next to a salt marsh somewhere in West Falmouth, I think it was near the post office. She yelled out, "Peepers!" to our horrified teenage ears. We had no idea why my totally "queer" mother was so excited about a bunch of loud noise filling the air. So, it became a joke year after year. You know the kind,when you are a teenager and you mimick your parents out of embarrassment for their lack of coolness?
These past couple of weeks I have found myself putting the windows down and driving slower to hear the song of the peepers. Even my friend Sheila gets excited about the sound that heralds warmer days and longer nights. Last year, at the end of her annual Derby party, she ran out as we were getting into the car. She wanted to know if I had heard them, too. We hugged and enjoyed the springtime moment together. I never thought about how "queer" I must now seem, getting excited about of all things, "Peepers!"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Making Dirt

I am the proud owner of a brand new compost bucket complete with a lid so I no longer have to use a salad plate to cover up the used coffee filter and eggshells. The new vessel looks like Oscar the Grouch's famous house only hot Pepto-Bismol pink. I love it. Val purchased it for me after I admired her new stainless steel compost can sitting on the wooden counter top in her kitchen. Although this bucket is not an official composting tool, it does the job nicely, much better and far more attractive than the margarita mix bucket I have been using for the past couple of years.
I have been recycling my scraps for quite a while now and the compacted, rotting mess inside the black Darth Vader looking composter sitting in the corner of my yard needs to be put to good use. I know I need a lesson in aerating and turning it so the worms can do their work. The pile of fermented orange peels and tea bags has been neglected for far too long. The squirrels have figured out how to loosen the lid or maybe its because we don't properly tighten it. And Stella, the dog, has been known to chew on corn cobs peeking out of the hole in the top. After she ingests too much of the indigestible roughage, she comes in to throw up on the carpet as if to remind me of the project that so desperately needs attention. That should provide enough motivation to deal with the compost once the ground thaws out. But for now, I am happy to fill my hot pink pail with leftovers from soup making, and apple peeling. I can't wait to have some dinner guests over to see my new counter top fixture. Especially my brother-in-law. He always used to look in the old bucket to see what was in there. Now, when he lifts the lid, hoping to find cookies or some delightful confection inside, he will instead encounter the cast offs of my labor.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Just Dessert

Last night, I engaged in a gluttonous dessert extravaganza that left me wanting to only eat lettuce for the next three days without even the tiniest flavoring of vinegar and oil.
My thirteen year old nephew, Ryson and I got together to create a confectionery feast for our family New Year's Eve celebration. To prepare his requested menu, we worked in my kitchen for two days beating eggs and scalding cream for creme brulee and dipping cookies to line our tiramisu. We melted chocolate, cooked caramel and set out potato chips, pretzels, Dunkin Munchkins and ginger snaps to dip in the sweet fondue. Oh yeah, we sliced some fruit for that, too. Hot, buttery and salty popcorn and spiced nuts rounded out the buffet with rich hot chocolate and cream soda to wash it all down. Since it was New Year's Eve, champagne garnished with blackberries and POM juice was featured as well but let's face it, champagne, proseco really any bubbly is welcome to the party ANY TIME.
Teenage boys especially love flames so the sterno under the fondue pot and the kitchen torch were Ryson's jurisdiction. He took on his responsibility with gusto, sugaring the individual Amaretto flavored creme brulee and blasting it with the blue flame until the sugar crystals melted into a hard, golden brown shell.Overindulgence came to a head when Ryson announced that he couldn't eat another bite of his umpteenth serving and Grampa Dick was so full, he went home to go to bed.
Gramma Val kept the party going by playing a spirited game of "Operation" with the little ones while Rob made Karyn and me a special holiday favorite beverage, "Nuts and Berries". When we broke out the "Apples to Apples" game, Uncle Dana was already fighting sleep even though he tried by drinking a Red Bull and some coffee.The kids could have stayed up all night but I couldn't make it. Even though I really wanted to see the "Wig Drop" on Bravo, I overfilled. So, just as I have in the past seven or so years since Ava came along, I went to bed before 10:00pm and woke up to a beautiful new year and the need to detox at least for breakfast, anyway. This morning, when I reached for the healthy egg whites (left over from all the baking), I think I saw some creme brulee hiding in the back of the fridge that I just can't let go to waste.

(Makes 12 small ramekins)

2 eggs
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
large crystal sugar for top of each ramekin

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the eggs, egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar until just combined. Meanwhile, heat the cream to scald until its very hot but not boiling. With the mixer on low, slowly add the scalded cream to the egg mixture. Add the vanilla and Amaretto. Pour into ramekins. Place the ramekins in 1 or 2 large pans and pour boiling water around them until the water comes about 1/2 way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the custards are just set when gently shaken. Remove from oven and water bath and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm.
To serve: sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons of large crystal sugar over the top of custard. Using a kitchen torch, heat sugar until it caramelizes and turns golden brown. Let sugar harden and cool for a few minutes and serve.