Crunchy Granola & Crunchy Compost

There is nothing nicer than friends bearing food and wine when they come for a visit--Judy and Nicole with granola and a crate--especially at the end of a day of top-dressing the bed. I wish this meant that I had been taking the seersucker blanket covers out of the linen closet, but it is too early for that.

What all this top-dressing actually means is that I have turned against mulch. Last year’s cover has bleached and hardened, and doesn’t seem to be doing anything any good. So my weekend began with the delivery of three yards of rich, dark leaf compost. Three yards because I couldn’t think of what to say, when the fellow asked how much, so I vaguely waved my arms around.

Three yards in my yard looks enormous. I began to whine, internally, as there was no one around to listen, as soon as I saw the pile, deposited in my absence as far from the beds as possible without being at the neighbor’s house. I took my shiny red wheelbarrow (what other kind is there?) and a spade out of the garage. I filled the wheelbarrow, and then I couldn’t budge it. My whining turned into that soft, liquid whimpering that children do so well before they crack up--internally, of course, still no one around; it was pathetic. I hit a tripwire of negativity and anxiety and complaining and lack of self-esteem: no way would I be able to do this alone; it was going to require at least fifty trips back and forth; I didn’t have the upper body strength, that's what men are for, where are the men, anyway?; no stamina; not enough interest in this project; what was I thinking? Then I shoveled out half the contents of the barrow, and got to work.

This has been going on for four days, and I am nearly done. The first two days, when I looked at my pile, it seemed to have replenished itself overnight. But the work has not been as satisfying as I had hoped, mainly because the compost is not good enough. It came from an outfit that got it from one of those municipal programs that seem like a good idea at the time. You rake up your leaves (or rather, the lawn guys blow out your leaves), the town collects it, composts it, and sells it. Excellent, right? Wrong. I have been picking out shredded plastic, bits of glass, and pieces of metal. My garden seems to have been visited by the uninvited population of a coastal (there are lots of shells) suburban enclave. They littered. I have found: plastic food bags, garbage bags, plant tags, shards of light bulbs and bottles, balloons, gloves, ball point pens, bottle caps, baggie ties, & etc. Thinking about what goes on under the trees of leafy suburban enclaves of a summer night, I can imagine other shredded plastic-based items this stuff might contain, but I will spare you.

Still, this dressing (down) looks far better than mulch, and plastic aside, it is good for the soil. I will have to find a better, source of compost, but it will cost more. I am destined to go through this Sisyphean task all summer. This time I will spare myself the whinging. At least now I know how to wield a wheelbarrow. 

As for the granola: what a treat. It fueled many trips. My friend Gabriel, who is Italian and knows about food, once told me Americans refrigerate too much. He never lets cheese get cold, for instance. Now I take the yogurt (the granola is for top dressing) out of the fridge the night before, so it is at room temp. The granola was made by Jessica Patrick and here is her recipe. Delicious, especially if someone gives you a tin. Thank you for bringing it over, Judy! What do you suggest, a nice Riesling? 


david terry said...

Thanks for your friend's comment concerning over-refrigeration. The owners/chefs of Ottolenghi (a deservedly successful restaurant in London owned by two men....one Palestinian and one Jewish, and both originally from Jerusalem) make a BIG POINT of avoiding the refrigerator for many, if not most, items. (as ever, go to Amazon.com and look-up "the Ottolenghi Cookbook"; it's a wonderful, fascinating, and quite beautifully-designed book).

On a similar note? My longtime friend, Newby, lives, with a pack of snapping sealyhams and ancient parrots, in an enterprisingly un-restored, five story, 1850 house in Charlotteville's Hysterical District. For d-e-c-a-d-e-s, She's horrified folks (and, to be honest, her modernized daughters, also) with her entrenched practice of simply leaving commercial mayonaisse "OUT". Her stance is simple: commercial mayonnaise contains more preservatives than King Tut's mummy, and home-made mayonaisse is so good that there's never any left-over to store. "Problem" solved. No one's ever died (yet).

In any case, She and the two fellows from Ottolenghi (not to mention my French mother-in-law and Robert Arbor of NYC's "La Gamin" fame) all agree on one thing: Refrigerating Food Kills The Flavor. Why make more than you need for enjoying it that day or evening?

As for this household? In hot weather (and this is the South), I never make more of anything than folks are likely to eat that day. In the winter, I make great pots of things....but it just goes out on the back porch overnight. I'll admit that, when I access my inner White-Trash (I'm from Northeast Tennessee, so I know whereof I speak) I also leave the dinner plates out there.

Pour some water over each one of them, let the sun hit them in the morning...and you can "clean" the plates with a simple swoosh-fling.

Yours for okay-if-not-exactly-"Good" Housekeeping, and less refrigeration,

David Terry

An Aesthete's Lament said...

We are starting a compost heap this year, finally! Most food scraps go to the chickens already though, but we've decided to truly garden this year, so compost heap, here we come.

April said...

I found your blog through the recent NY Times article. At the time, I laughed because I had just posted on my own blog a piece about the power of a home to heal, ending it with a quote from your book Around the House and in the Garden. When I saw the Times article, I added a comment to my post routing readers that way.

I like the rhythm of your writing.

My piece quoting you: http://tinyurl.com/ycp4d5v

Layanee said...

Best compost in RI comes from Earth Care Farm, Mike M. http://www.earthcarefarm.com/

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Why, oh why, do the men who do these types of deliveries insist on depositing them, when we are never at home, in the most inconvenient places possible? Be it firewood or compost, it's never left where it should be.

I smiled at your friend's advice about leaving food "out". Here in the South all of us are warned at an early age about the hideous things that can happen to potato salad if it's left out. Visions of hordes of hat-wearing reception guests falling over like flies enter our heads by the time we are old enough to wield a wooden spoon. Oh, but things taste so much better at room temperature.

Thanks for the granola recipe. I find the best things on blogs!

david terry said...

Dear "Pamela Terry"...

I gather we're both Southerners with the surname "Terry"? That's interesting. However, and just in case you feel the urge to do a little genealogical rooting (my father's always claimed that a sudden interest in genealogy is the first-warning-signal of every failing Southern Mind)?...."Terry" was the name my father's mother got saddled with during her brief-but-disastrous first marriage (sometime around 1939, I've gathered) to a Welsh immigrant. so, we're not related.

Still?....you're right about the men-who-deliver-these-mulch-&-such.

I was gone from the house, one morning last year, when my annual truckload (and I mean a BIG truckload) arrived. I returned to find that the man had simply dumped it all right smack in my driveway. This made a pyramid which was about 15 feet high (I'm not kidding), with a twenty-by-twenty base. I'd left a note asking the man to dump it at the "end of the drive"....by which I meant the OTHER drive (its entrance is no more than twenty yards away), which goes all the way to the BACK of my property.

I spent a month parking my car on the street and hauling mulch every single day....finally gave-up and alerted the "neighborhoood association" messageboard that anyone could have as much free-mulch as he/she wanted....but Please Come and Get It Now.

As for death-by-potato-salad? Yes, that was something we all grew up knowing about. Every Summer, it seemed to take out at least twenty or so Baptists (uually gathered for a "dinner on the grounds") in our county...just as surely as at least three county-boys would kill themselves by jumping into the very-same bridge (or into the very-same abandoned quarry "lake")where at least three of their uncles or cousins had killed themselves a generation previously.

So much for Southern Traditions, I suppose.

Level Best as ever,

David "Don't eat anyone else's Potato Salad between the months of June and September, no matter how good they tell you their grandmother's recipe is" Terry

Mrs. Blandings said...

Wheelbarrows are much trickier than they look. I dislike them only slightly less than the wheelbarrow race on field day.

But I'm loving the slideshow with the Palmer pieces. THAT makes me want to garden.

Carol P said...

When you spoke of the detritus in your compost pile I too thought of the non-compostable item you implied (under those suburban trees...) I am happy to have found your blog. I love your writing and visa-vis the NYT found your writing once again. Yea!

tdm said...

Mulch - glorious when it is good stuff - in my books I spurge and top dress the garden with coca shell mulch. This is after the annual delivery of 40 bags of manure for the flower and vegetable beds on our 20'x130' lot. We have no grass, as I converted the entire lot sans the house and pathways to garden areas. So now flowers and vegetable, herbs and ornaments grow together: marigolds around the vegetables, basil with the tomatoes, sage and lavender with the roses, etc, etc. It is a shock to friends to view the garden in the winter - jsut a few twigs greet their eyes. By mid summer the path down the center of the backyard is engulfed by foliage several feet high. The coca mulch gets laid following the bedding plants and veggies being transplanted into the ground. Here in that means early May. My neighbours still tell me I plant far too early. I'm told that the May long Weekend(around the 20th in Canada) is when I should plant. Hell, by that time I'm usually eaten my first crop of Lettuce from the pots on my front veranda!
The compost program here is better - I got several cubic yards last year for a flower bed. It was dark black earth. I must confess that I did consider the items that we are permitted to place in the compost bin: disposable diapers, kitty litter....I was not going to put this material into the vegetable bed. That only gets leaves and manure.

Dumbwit Tellher said...

I so enjoyed this post and your fabulous wit; especially since I could relate to you more than you could possibly know. Too many times out in the yard throwing a sissy fit only for my only audience to be is the hired help doing the yards of our more willing to part with their cash neighbors. It's me & the guys. Today it was wiring a light fixture & holding back the tears, but it's now hung! Found your blog thanks to Barbara @ My Dog Eared Pages, so happy she recommend you as a fabulous read. Thanks for the fun!
Cheers ~ Deborah

Sanity Fair said...

OK - this is MUCH better than the Archer's Farms granola I purchased on a whim this morning! A recipe so simple even I can do it!
-Sanity Fair

Anonymous said...

I tried the city mulch here once and found the same detritus. I make my own compost in a couple bins out back. It is precious and fortified by aged horse manure from my friend's horses. I topdress with it and a little goes a long way.

I found you because I got laid off. Still working on moving my mom who went into a very nice assisted living place last week. I hope that I will soon have time to get to my garden as there is so much I could do!

Unknown said...

Thank you for the timely recipe. I bought a huge bag of oats a while ago and in my cabinet it sits waiting.

Also, let me know if you ever need coffee grounds for your compost. I work at a large and busy coffee shop! Most are willing to save some for you.

Your blog is so pretty with all the great pics and minus all the ads-just saying.;-)


Anonymous said...

Turn the granola into trail mix and add M&M's. Or, skip the granola and eat the M&M's!

Anonymous said...

Re your 4 days of struggle with the wheelbarrow: think how many calories you burned!

skyecampbell said...

Dominique, The Hartford Courant just ran a piece on your rebuilding the Rhode Island cottage, with a bit about "Slow Love" the book & - happy surprise - this website. Very glad to know that you're writing again. Some gardening advice from one who does not enjoy the craft: buy a small Garden Way cart & ditch the wheelbarrow. Also, when ordering topsoil or mulch, insist that it be screened - totally worth the extra expense.

Vicki said...

Can I please have the recipe? It is no longer on your site and I have made this, loved it, given it away multiple times and people are clamoring for the recipe? Link is gone - help!

Vicki said...

Help! Still looking for that granola recipe