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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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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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Posted by Christina C

7:12 AM, Apr 29, 2008


Margarine tubs, yogurt tubs, coolwhip tubs... anything plastic, with a chubby bowl-like shape and a lid.

I am jealous of some of your finds.

Posted by Cris

8:26 AM, Apr 29, 2008

After finishing off mixers in those fancy bottles, I peel off the labels and wash them out. Then I make my own limoncello or flavored vodkas and give them to friends. It looks a lot prettier than a recycled wine bottle. Plus, it's cheaper and I'm not sending it off to the recycling center right away.

Posted by redman

9:01 AM, Apr 29, 2008

what's leftover wine?

Posted by Ballard Boy

11:04 AM, Apr 29, 2008

You know Redman, I had the exact same question! I've never heard of such a thing.

Nancy, I also have those great glass yogurt bottles and I find them great for keeping my whole nutmeg and mini microplane in. It's easy to find corks online to fit them. Also great for keeping bulk salt handy by the stove as well as other herbs and spices that you buy in bulk.

Posted by Nancy Leson

11:08 AM, Apr 29, 2008

"Tub"erware? Oh, how I love that.

Posted by Avid

11:36 AM, Apr 29, 2008

This is a great blog topic. I gotta tell you, some of those upscale take out pasta places provide really nice plastic utensils. Not the brittle, easily broken ones; very nice strong and useful ones. We totally save them, run them in the disher, and use them for picnics, brown bagging, and my daughter's lunch box. If she happens to lose a piece, I'm not crying about my "favorite fork" that I always use...

Posted by Avid again

11:43 AM, Apr 29, 2008

And another thing. Those cute jars that jams and jellies come in? (Bonne Mama and others...) We collect a few types, with lids, cut a slot in the lid and the kids decorate the jar. Vi-ola! Piggy banks with screw tops for withdrawals. No more bent butter knives or shards of pottery flying everywhere. : )

Posted by Jen

1:27 PM, Apr 29, 2008

Pickle jars. I keep one under the sink and pour used bacon fat in it (instead of pouring it down the drain! MAJOR no-no). Big mouthed jars makes the transfer easy and that way I don't have to clean lard out of anything I want to keep. Just pop the lid on and under the sink it goes!

Posted by Foozy

2:39 PM, Apr 29, 2008

We are suckers for fancy tins. They get used for buttons, milk bones, etc. Somebody gave us McCann's steel-cut oats in a fancy tin, which now contains loose tea: we drink more tea than coffee. And, if you haven't noticed, buying loose tea from a tea shop is both jaw-droppingly cheaper and of far, far better quality than the floor-sweepings contained in teabags.

Posted by annb

5:03 PM, Apr 29, 2008

We use an old Gatorade container for our under-sink dishwasher detergent. I got tired of lugging out the big detergent box, opening the metal slot and having it trickle out the side. Now we just put some in a smaller plastic container, and the smaller container doesn't have the mess. Not fancy - but functional.

Posted by mama g

7:36 PM, Apr 29, 2008

pretty sure those cute little gelato cups are biodegradable. Made from a by-product of corn, if I'm not mistaken. So, if they are tossed into the trash, they wiil return to the soil.

Posted by Kate

9:56 AM, Apr 30, 2008

Where did you find that cheese? I'd love to try it and the container will fill out a set of those dishes I received from my mother. She uses them for creme brulee.

Posted by Clean Simple

9:12 AM, May 02, 2008

After reading this, I had those little glass yogurt jars on the brain. Stopped at Trader Joe's to pick up something for dinner (roast herbed pork tenderloin with onions, gala apple & red bell pepper) and had to buy some yogurt. Ate the berry flavour for breakfast--OMG, so good! It's a little pricey, so it'll be an occassional splurge.

And now, I get to decide what goodies to store in the cute jar!

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