Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trash and Treasure

Early last spring my eldest daughter got a job at a small health food store in town. Nearly every day she worked, she brought home expired dry-goods and/or a huge banana-box of “rotten” vegetables for my compost. “Expired” is probably a legitimate term for a stores selling dehydrated veggie crisps and gluten-free, wheat-free cranberry flax seed granola bars. But “rotten” is a term more subjective, I imagine. For health-food hippies, if you’re going to buy an organic bok choy, or organic lettuce for $5 more than you would pay at the WalMart, its leaves had better not be bent or wilted. The peppers had better be without blemish, and the asparagus ($7.99# for Pete’s sake) had better be crispy—or dipped gold if you ask me.

I really did enjoy foraging through these boxes full of often legitimately, slimy vegetables in search what a solicitous hippie might toss aside as rotten, but a humble, frugal mommy sees as cash (or slightly wilted cash) in the bank. My biggest boon was green onions, lettuce, and Swiss chard. I still can’t figure out why they threw away the lovely, crisp bunches of onions I rescued, but I won’t complain. Some of the regularly tossed items were broccoli sprouts, cilantro, parsley, sweet potatoes and kiwi. A few times I ran across a pear or a strawberry which an employee had partially eaten and tossed away. So this job of mine wasn't without its share of nastiness.

We were also given two huge salmon carcasses. I boiled one for fish stock and let the other one sit on the patio till it was positively wretched. Then I dug a big hole next to the garden and buried it there. My mom says this keeps bunnies away. Whether this helped, I'll never know. But next time, I’m going to skip the rotting fish and rely on my cats.

A few weeks into Lent Rose showed up after work with three gallons of expired, raw milk and four gallons of expired whole buttermilk. Having been making tvorog at Pascha for years, this was indeed a Godsend, and it turned out lovely. I also made buttermilk cheese which turned out very nicely too.

This year the kids and I have been dumpster diving of a different sort. I have a friend whose son built his entire treehouse from discarded lumber. There are a number of new neighborhoods popping up all around us, and since hearing this we have hauled in an amazing number of boards and posts from these dumpsters. Some are only slightly warped or knotty, and most of them are treated deck lumber. But they are entirely useful for our purposes.

At one house we visited there was a long board just waiting for us. We pulled it out and pushed it carefully into the back of our van. Just then, around the corner came a man with two other long boards on his shoulder. We thought we were going to get into trouble, but he asked, "Would you like these too? And there are a few more in the back I'll go get for you." Apparently he was making the stairs for the back door and had just finished his job. We were delighted and happy to accommodate.

Now I no longer have any excuses for not building the treehouse, the chicken coop, the picnic table and the miscellaneous other things I have wanted to do since buying this house with the acre of woods at the back. I got a miter saw for Christmas. So that with my circular saw and my jigsaw should be enough for us to get started on something soon.

I have wondered, though, which were worth more before they were thrown away, the banana boxes of organic veggies or the pile of lumber.