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Food Grows Food: Composting for All

Written by Judy Thurlow on . Posted in Uncategorized

Jaclyn Hochreiter, public outreach coordinator for Addison County Solid Waste Management District, shows a worm-composting bin to workshop participants. Photo by Melissa Pasanen

By Melissa Pasanen

So, you’ve made quiche with sautéed kale stems and leftover grilled salmon; you’ve taken the last portion of tomato soup to your elderly neighbor; and you’ve trained the kids to grab the fruit out of the “Eat Me First!” box in the fridge.

But what to do with the rinds, skins, bones and other food waste beyond what is suitable to feed your neighbor’s backyard chickens? Sure, until the full rollout of the Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), which prohibits all food waste from landfills by 2020, you can toss them in the trash, but there is a much better option: compost and use food scraps to grow more food!

To recap: As much as 40 percent of the food produced in the world goes to waste. This is a waste not only of food and money but also of all the natural and human resources it takes to produce that food, as well as valuable and scarce landfill space. And, contrary to what many people think, food waste will not decompose in the landfill; instead, it rots very slowly and emits a significant amount of methane, a potent, destructive greenhouse gas.

Here is a summary of Vermont’s hierarchy of how to cut food waste and put it to constructive use: 1) cut waste at the source, 2) redirect food to people, 3) feed animals, and 4) use food waste in compost and anaerobic digestion. Last week, we shared ten tips to get you started on reducing food waste [http://vermontlife.com/waste-not-want-not], this week, we’ll share some composting resources.

Waste Not, Want Not

Written by Judy Thurlow on . Posted in Uncategorized

A quick egg and cheddar frittata uses up chopped kale stems and some leftover cooked spinach.

How to cut your food waste

by Melissa Pasanen

From the slimy green things in the back of your vegetable drawer to platters of sandwiches left after a lunch meeting, we waste as much as 40 percent of the food produced in the world. This is not only a waste of food but also of all the natural and human resources it takes to make that food, as well as valuable and scarce landfill space.

As Vermont moves toward the full roll-out of the Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), which prohibits all food waste from landfills by 2020, we need to shift how we think about food waste, turning it from trash into a resource. Much of the food we waste could be eaten or recycled in a constructive way. The state has created a hierarchy of how to approach food-waste recovery: 1) cut waste at the source, 2) redirect it to people, 3) feed animals and 4) compost/anaerobic digestion. Here are 10 tips to get you started on reducing food waste. Next week, we’ll dive into composting.

  • Do your own food-waste audit. Measure your food waste for one week and set a goal to reduce it. It might shock you; it will definitely inform you.
  • Shop smarter. Plan meals a week at a time if you can and shop with a list. When planning, always shop your own fridge/freezer/pantry first. Don’t succumb to deals on items you really won’t use. It doesn’t save you money if you end up throwing it out.
  • Appreciate imperfection. Push back against the insistence on blemish-free, identically shaped produce.
  • “Eat me!” It’s too easy to tuck things into the fridge and freezer and forget. Try a whiteboard on the front of the fridge to remind you what you have to use up. I love the idea of an “Eat me first!” box or shelf in the fridge. Get kids to make the sign, and they’ll be invested in using it.
  • Share the wealth. If you have just one portion of a dish left that does not lend itself well for lunch or other creative reuse, think about an elderly neighbor who might appreciate a visit and a home-cooked meal. If you are part of an event with more significant leftovers, volunteer to see if a local foodshelf or other nonprofit can put them to good use. (For Chittenden County, the Chittenden Solid Waste District has a good list. See link below.)
  • Try a weekly “reinvent leftovers” night. Pull all those random bits of leftover protein (meat, fish, cheese, tofu, etc.) and vegetables that are cooked or languishing in the fridge. Add staples like olives, toasted nuts, shredded cheese, canned chickpeas or beans, and maybe sliced hard-cooked eggs, and offer a salad bar, baked potato bar, omelet bar or “top-your-own” individual pizza bar (on English muffins or pita rounds). Look around the world for meal inspirations that happily use up all sorts of bits and pieces, like fried rice made with leftover cooked rice, cold sesame noodles with cooked spaghetti, quiches or frittatas.
  • Put an egg on it. A well-deployed egg can turn leftovers into a meal. Sauté up a quick hash of chopped veg and protein leftovers and top with a fried egg. Simmer homemade or packaged stock with leftover rice, noodles or grains plus vegetable and herb odds and ends to make a soup and finish with a poached egg. Add a crouton of stale bread, toasted or grilled and brushed with olive oil, as a raft for the egg.
  • Save crusts, stems and bones. Process crusts into homemade breadcrumbs and freeze. Freeze herb stems for soups or stews or process with olive oil or yogurt, a little lemon juice and salt and pepper to make a sauce or marinade. Freeze chicken or beef bones, mushrooms stems or shrimp shells to make homemade stock whenever you have time (the slow cooker is good for this).
  • Rebuff the yuck factor. Try refreshing limp chard, kale, spinach, beet greens and other greens by soaking them in cool water, which miraculously revives them. The good parts of bruised apples make great applesauce (use the microwave for super-quick sauce), and soft berries can be quickly simmered into a sauce too. (Both freeze well, too.) Chop limp carrots and celery and freeze in bags to throw into a stew or stock later when you have time to make it ― and don’t forget to write them on your whiteboard.
  • Share that you care. Let retailers, restaurants and other food providers know that you care about food waste and that you expect they should too.


  • FoodKeeper (foodsafety.gov) is a free mobile app and also an online database with food safety and storage advice created through the work of the Food Marketing Institute, Cornell University’s Department of Food Science, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Many Vermont solid waste districts offer lists of tips and resources for cutting food waste. Here are two: addisoncountyrecycles.org and cswd.net.
  • In the Burlington area, this new community website provides opportunities to share and swap extra food foodfightvt.com.

We’re Just Mad About Saffron

Written by Judy Thurlow on . Posted in Uncategorized

By Melissa Pasanen
Photo by Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist

One of the things I love about my work is how one story often leads to another. I was in a warren of small offices in the University of Vermont’s Entomology Research Lab reporting a short Vermont Life piece on growing saffron in Vermont with Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani, an agroecologist from Iran, and Professor Margaret Skinner.

After the pair explained how saffron-producing crocuses could be grown here in unheated greenhouses, I asked how Iranians would cook with the expensive spice. For that, Arash responded, I should meet his wife. Agrin Davari. Conveniently, he added, her office was in the same building. A few weeks later, I was in the cavernous kitchens at UVM’s Davis Center where Davari and other members of the Iranian Student Association were cooking a Nowruz spring feast featuring saffron in almost every dish, which I reported for Vermont Public Radio. Listen here to the VPR Café episode.

The saffron they were using in all of their dishes, including the main course of chicken (recipe below) is not locally grown yet, but some day it might be. 

Recipe for Saffron Rice With Barberries and Chicken
(Zereshk polow ba morgh)

Adapted from Maman’s Kitchen’s recipe.

Note: Please see the original recipe for the specific way to cook Persian rice that creates a crispy and highly prized bottom layer known as tah dig. To simplify, I simply cooked 2 cups of rinsed long grain basmati with a couple of tablespoons of neutral cooking oil and a couple of tablespoons of butter and salt. After it was cooked and still hot, I stirred in about ½ cup lightly sweetened, local dried cranberries in place of barberries and 1 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in ¼ cup hot water. Barberries can be ordered from sadaf.com.

For chicken:

¼ teaspoon ground saffron (this will be about 1 teaspoon saffron threads; place threads in a small bowl and crush them with the back of a spoon) 

6 pieces (about 3 pounds) bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, preferably dark meat such as thighs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon Persian advieh spice (can be ordered from sadaf.com or substitute ¼ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg plus 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin)

Pinch chili powder

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Place ground saffron in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon hot water. Set aside until needed. Pat chicken pieces dry and season well with salt and pepper. Put a heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat and add oil. When oil is shimmering, place chicken, skin-side down, and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes, until skin is golden-brown. (It might spit fat, cover pan if desired.) Turn chicken and cook on other side until golden-brown, about another 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.

Reduce heat to medium and return pan to stove. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add turmeric, advieh (or substitute), chili powder, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt and stir together. Add lemon juice and ½ cup water. Stir and scrape up any bits from bottom of pan. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat in sauce. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, checking to make sure chicken is not sticking, about 20 to 25 minutes until meat is cooked through. Serve with saffron-barberry (or cranberry) rice. Serves 4–5.

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