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April 29, 2008 7:00 AM

Use, reuse: One (wo)man's trash is another's treasure

Posted by Nancy Leson

It is easy being green -- most of the time. And though I'm far from a maniacal recycler, there are some things I just can't bear to throw away. Like those square-ish bottles the cheap-but-delicous Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinegar comes in. When the balsamico runs out, it makes a great bottle for leftover wine. That way, when I'm cooking and I need a little wine to deglaze a pan -- voila! There's always some ready to pour:

And I don't know about you, but it makes me crazy when I see people tossing out those adorable pastel-colored gelato cups at local gelaterias. I always have this vision of the owners of those places insisting their employees take the cups out of the trash and run them through the dishwasher. NOT that I'm suggesting that's what they do, but it would certainly make sense to me. Meanwhile, I always take my cups home and re-use them for ice cream (here they are filled with Dreyer's), plus, they're the perfect little cups for mise en place:

And what about those cunning little earthenware rounds sold at better cheese counters filled with luscious, gloriously-gooey Saint-Marcellin (man, I love that stuff)?

These have myriad uses, including this one, below. And no, I don't usually keep my toothbrush and toothpaste in the kitchen.

The first time I tasted European-style yogurt was in Paris, where it was served in little glass jars. I've been ooh la la-ing over the stuff ever since. Then, a few years ago, I found Italian Spega brand yogurt in glass jars at Trader Joe's. I've amassed quite few of those squatty jars since then. They're handy to have around. My kid uses them when he's watercoloring, and my husband keeps a couple of jars in the laundry room. The one on the left, below, is his "tip jar" (that's the deal: he washes our clothes, and whatever he finds in our pockets is his), the other one's for errant buttons and such:

Last year, while staying in Vancouver, B.C. hotel, we were given a complimentary bottle of spring water. The glass bottle was so elegant I brought it home and have been using it ever since, refilling the bottle with water, refrigerating it and keeping it on the table during dinner -- just like all those groovy bistros around town (the cork stopper's recycled from somewhere-or-another).

Of course, sometimes you find something that works perfectly well for the purpose it was intended, and it lives on long after the original contents are used up. For example, I once spent way too much money on this jar of yeast:

These days I buy standard-rise yeast in smaller quantities from the scoop-it-yourself department at Shoreline Central Market. Buying it that way is much cheaper than spending $5.99 on a 4-ounce jar (and it keeps the live yeast that much livelier). The original Fleishman's jar owes me nothing, though. Check out the "use by" date:

Now tell me: What are your favorite food-centric recyclables? Secondary uses: What was in 'em then, and what are you using them for now?

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