Next week marks my first anniversary as a kitchen composter. There were indeed a few times in 2016 that I gagged while dumping the contents of the used-to-be-white plastic countertop bucket into the five-gallon orange one with the green top before it hits the curb to be collected by the We Compost It folks on Thursday mornings. And I can righteously say that I have donated every last speck of rich, dark compost to the community at large as I’ve not gotten around to using any of it myself.

When I started this experiment, I’d planned to buy one of those fancy, filtering kitchen composting “systems” nestled into a hand-carved teak box like they’ll sell you in Brooklyn. I figured the bloated price tag would be worth it if I didn’t have to deal with fruit flies in my kitchen in the summer. Well, you know how those best laid plans go – they evolve into other things.

Living with my non-filtered starter bucket meant that I figured out a new way to deal with the fruit flies, which, by the way, I still loathe. It involves a quart-sized mason jar, a 1/2 cup of vinegar, a teaspoon of honey, a sliced-off strawberry top or two stolen from the compost bin, a few drops of dishwashing soap and piece of paper destined for the recycling bin.

You combine the edibles in the jar and form the paper into a cone with an opening large enough so that the wide end sits in the top of the jar at a level such that the pointy end is just above the liquid in the jar. Place the jar near your fruit bowl before you go to bed, and the little critters make their way from the really ripe bananas (see recipe) down the cone to try to feast on what they smell. But once they venture off the paper and into the jar, they can’t find their way back out.

Want to compost but can’t abide fruit flies? A Mason jar with a concoction of vinegar, honey and fruit bits from the compost bin works with paper cone. The flies go in and they can’t get out. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

This problem solved, I looked around by kitchen to see how I could remedy my other kitchen cleaning pet peeves via a greener avenue.

I still use the citrus rind-and-vinegar general purpose cleaner I found the recipe for last year. It does yeoman’s work cutting through the grease that collects on my ventilation hood and removing the finger prints on my appliances, and it never leaves streaks on my shiny stone countertop or my windowpanes. My only issue with this elixir is that I sometimes have to search for it in my daughter’s bathroom because it also easily removes toothpaste and the nag notes that I write in eyeliner on her mirror.

The salt-and-lemon-juice disinfecting combination for wooden cutting boards that I’ve used for years – sprinkle the board with coarse salt; use half a lemon, cut side down, to scour the surface; and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before wiping it clean – now doubles as a stain remover on those same wooden surfaces. Even beet juice and turmeric spots are powerless against it.

Since I’ve made the switch to cloth napkins, I notice that after a wintertime of daily use, even the clean napkins felt a little greasy and smelled a little rancid, too. I followed advice posted by Facebook friend and boiled them all in a stock pot with 1 cup of white vinegar and enough water to cover before throwing them in the washing machine for a quick rinse and a spin. To help keep them fresher longer, I tuck a 4-ounce jar containing a few tablespoons of baking soda and covered with cheesecloth in the back of the napkin drawer.

My mother wisely told me that if your kitchen sink is shiny and the tops of your faucets catch the sunlight, many of your untidy housekeeping sins are forgiven. I used to scour my stainless sinks with Comet. But baking soda works just as well, I’ve come to know. I can also help keep the kitchen drain clear by dumping a bit more (1/4 cup) down the drain, followed by a ½ cup of cheap white vinegar. As I scrub the sink and make the faucet sparkly, that combination sits in the drain working its degreasing magic until I rinse the gray gunk from my sink with boiling water, which flushes the out the pipes as well. I enjoy the shine on the sink even more knowing no damaging chemicals were used in the process.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special” (Islandport Press, May 2017). Contact her at: [email protected]


Bucket List Banana Bread

Like you need another banana bread recipe, right? I don’t either, because I have this one. It started out as Mark Bittman’s in his “How to Cook Everything” cookbook. I’ve made it my own with about a dozen modifications since 1998.
Makes 1 loaf

1/2 cup butter, plus some for greasing the pan
¾ cup raw sugar (such as turbinado or demerara)
2 eggs
2-3 very ripe bananas, about 1 cup, mashed with a fork until smooth
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup toasted wheat germ
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup grated dried unsweetened coconut
½ cup chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use the spent butter wrapper to grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, bananas and vanilla. This mixture will not be pretty. It will look lumpy.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring just enough to combine (it’s okay if there are lumps). Gently stir in the coconut and the chocolate.

Transfer the batter into the loaf pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until nicely browned. A toothpick inserted into the center of the bread will come out fairly clean when it is done, but because of the bananas, this bread will remain moister than most. Do not overcook. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

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