Thursday, August 29, 2013

We Have Compost! Worm Update

I think it's time for an update on our super cheap DIY worm bin, don't you?

Despite some hiccups as we got the hang of maintaining the correct moisture level in the bins, we have had success! A couple months ago the first bin was getting pretty full, so we decided to rest it (that's when you stop adding new material so you force the worms to finish off everything that is in there and turn it into nice compost). I made a second worm bin (same method as my first) and transferred about two dozen worms in there so that we could keep composting our kitchen scraps while the first bin rested. I continued to turn the compost so that it didn't get too damp or packed down, but otherwise tried to leave the resting bin alone. And this past weekend, it looked done!

To sort out the useable compost and get the worms back into a worm bin to do more composting for us, I dumped the finished bucket into a large empty planter pot. Then, handful by handful, I put good stuff into another pot, things that need more time back into a worm bin, apricot pits that somehow made it in went to another pail (the worms can't eat them so they just take up space) and worms themselves got tossed back into the two worm bins.

Here's a nice fat worm:

And here is some good compost being sorted:

Now we're letting the second bin rest, while we continue to feed worms in the first once again. 

I'm very happy with how this experiment has been working out. I wish we had room for a larger worm bin, since especially on big canning days the worms can't handle all of our scraps. But it's certainly better than nothing, and these little guys divert the majority of our kitchen waste from the garbage, instead turning it into wonderful food for our veggie plants. And on a normal (non-canning) week, we really only need to take the kitchen garbage out if there's packaging from raw meat in there! I think this means that when either our complex gets green waste pickup, or we get a house with large compost capabilities, we will definitely be able to bring kitchen waste close to zero. Yay!

I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience with worm bins -- any great advice or stories? Please share!


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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Apartment Gallery Wall

My sister Laurel will be starting grad school next week. Since she is planning on staying in the same apartment for the next two years, we finally had the chance to do some fun decorating! (We couldn't do much when she was in the dorms, then she studied abroad, and then was only in her last apartment for 6 months -- not enough time to do much decor.) Last week I drove out to Sacramento to help her put together this gallery wall. I'll walk you through our process here.

Living Design: Apartment Gallery Wall

The layout of the apartment naturally pushes the majority of furniture towards the wall on the left, which the complex painted an avocado green as an accent:

Living Design: Apartment Gallery Wall

The wall opposite stretches into a somewhat awkward entry hallway, and also has the door to the balcony on it (as well as leading to the bedroom, bathroom, and linen closets, which you can't see here). With Laurel's furniture, the flow of the room worked the best with no furniture on it. The best way to take advantage of a completely clear wall? A floor to ceiling gallery!

We started by laying out the art she already had. She also wanted some shelves, since her small bookcase was already full and she hadn't even bought her books for this semester! After a shopping trip to Home Depot for shelves, as well as stops at Cost Plus and Target to get some more variety in frames, we figured out our composition on the floor. After many tries and lots of rearranging, we finally had something we liked.

Living Design: Apartment Gallery Wall

The next step was to hang it all up! We started with the larger middle shelf and the painting directly above it. We then moved outwards, readjusting as needed when we got close to the ceiling, or to the thermostat and light switches which we had decided would act as boundaries for the collage.

Laurel's style when it comes to hanging pictures is very different than mine (or Sean's). Sean is an engineer, and very much needs things to line up; I tend to break lines more often but I still gravitate towards more orderly arrangements. Laurel likes things even more random than I do! With the collection of differently styled and sized frames, and so many different finishes throughout the room (yay for second hand furniture!) it really works. We were able to achieve a nice visual balance without any symmetry, and most importantly Laurel loves it!

Living Design: Apartment Gallery Wall

Next up, Laurel and our mom are going to finish slipcovering her chair (you can see a little bit of it in the bottom of the picture above) and then more fun details for her living room! After looking at Pinterest together we've defined the look she wants for the apartment as "nautical with modern lines" -- basically beach inspired but modern and clean with a good dash of Restoration Hardware inspiration. It's going to be a lot of fun pulling the whole apartment together. Thanks for letting me help you decorate, Laurel!


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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Recap: Summer 2013

It's the end of summer break. Sean is back at school tomorrow, and I start again on Monday. Although summer was a bit anticlimactic since he has a regular job and I had a fairly regular internship, it's still a bit sad to get "back to the grind" and a bit scary to think that soon we'll be dealing with proposing and doing our master's theses! But before real life takes over again I thought I'd take some time to reflect on how much fun we did have this summer despite "grown up" work schedules.

We volunteered with Village Harvest, picking oranges, apricots, apples and more. We made jams, preserves, applesauce; baked bread, turnovers, cake and cookies. As Sean's interest in where food comes from grew, so did his confidence in the kitchen. After years of having a hard time cooking together, we truly enjoyed cooking and baking together this summer!

Our balcony garden was fairly successful, giving us beautiful plants and a decent amount of food.

We spent time in beautiful Monterey...

...and celebrated our first anniversary under the gorgeous redwoods of Felton (in the Santa Cruz mountains).

We went on lots of hikes, and checked off a few state parks on our list. (On our honeymoon we made a goal of visiting each of California's state parks together while married. At our current rate, we'll finish around our 40th anniversary.)

We spent time with friends, hosting dinners and attending dinner parties. We went to a play, the aquarium, and our own local parks. We spent some great time with both families, everything from my sister's graduation in June to relaxing pool time with Sean's sisters.

It was a wonderful summer. Here's to an equally amazing fall!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Packed Lunches for Adults, Round 2

My first post on packing healthy lunches for adults was so popular, I'm back with Round 2! Below are some examples of how I pack healthy lunches for myself, working in an environment with no reliable access to a microwave. Here we go...

turkey wrap, sugar snap peas, crackers, yogurt with honey and fresh berries

 salad, carrot sticks and plain yogurt with honey

 roast beef on half of a homemade hamburger bun, carrot sticks, yogurt with honey and trail mix

 sandwich on homemade sourdough bread, carrot sticks and trail mix

 bean and corn salad, watermelon cubes, and homemade granola bar

 sandwich on homemade bread, homemade granola bar, watermelon cubes and cucumber sticks

 chicken sandwich, bell pepper strips, homemade applesauce and trail mix

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Monday, August 5, 2013

And Then We Made Applesauce...

We had another great harvest with Village Harvest last weekend. If you remember from my post about apricots, Village Harvest is a nonprofit that harvests food that would otherwise go to waste, and donates it to community food banks and shelters.

Sunday morning, a group of about a dozen volunteers picked Gravenstein apples at the Phleger Estate (part of the Golden Gate Parks system). According to our great liaison with the park system, these Gravenstein apple trees were planted in the 1930's. There were only six Gravenstein trees, but old trees are huge and produce lots of fruit. Five of us worked on the biggest tree for nearly the entire 3 hour picking time. And all told, 975 pounds of Gravenstein apples were donated to a local food bank. Wow!

 these buckets just hold the "volunteer fruit" rejects - we were so busy loading the good fruit into the van that we missed the chance to take a picture of what 975lbs looks like

The rest of the orchard is full of other apple varieties, most of which will ripen in the fall. I can't wait to go back to this beautiful park later this year.

Gravenstein apples are one of those varieties you never really see in stores. They bruise incredibly easily, so make shipping difficult. They also mature mid to late summer, rather than during the fall harvest. They are a good apple for baking and making applesauce.

Because of how easily the Gravensteins bruise, there were a lot of "volunteer fruit." That means anything that might still be useful, but is unsuitable to send to the food bank. We were sent home with 32 pounds of apples -- and just like those apricots from last month, they all had to be processed immediately. What better way to preserve imperfect apples than by making applesauce?

 32 pounds of apples

First we had to wash all these apples, many of which had fallen on the ground at the orchard (which is open to redwoods and home to deer and other wildlife). Best way to wash pound after pound of apple? Fill the sink with water and a little white vinegar, dump them in and start scrubbing!

It took the rest of the day for Sean and me to peel, chop, and process all of the apples into applesauce and spiced apple preserves. We ended up with 11 pints of applesauce, 12 half-pints of spiced apple preserves, and a few tiny cans of applesauce that are perfect for lunches. Not pictured below are some more tupperware containers full of applesauce that went straight into the fridge -- we actually ran out of empty canning jars on this one!

In addition to applesauce and preserves, Sean decided to make an apple pie. He used Martha Stewart's recipe, and it was delicious! He sure does spoil me with his new found baking obsession!

We were so eager to eat the pie that we forgot to take a picture of it after baking. Trust me, it was delicious!

What are your favorite ways to cook with apples? Please share any great ideas, as we head into the fall apple season!


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