A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Monday, February 21, 2011

One man's trash. . .is sometimes another man's trash

I am not too proud to admit that our entire apartment is furnished with cast-aways.

Oops!  I meant cast-OFFs.

In fact, it gives me a lot of pleasure to rescue still-usable items from an eternity in the landfill.  It allows me to feel that I am doing my part for the planet, to own things I might not otherwise be able to afford, and to enjoy that exquisite thrill that comes from getting something for nothing.

You need to develop an eye for finding just the right garbage, however, and I have studied under the master — my partner, Peter.  Peter was born with a highly discerning eye (I think it's the left one) — and a huge dollop of good luck.  He has found countless treasures in the trashpiles of our neighborhood: a navy blue cashmere sweater and a pair of men's dress shoes, both by Ralph Lauren, in like-new condition, and IN MY SIZE; three enormous bolts of black knit fabrics, including one of pure silk; a working Brother sewing machine; Italian designer lamps retailing for hundreds of dollars. . .I could go on and on.

I haven't begun to match Peter's prolificacy, but I have found some darn good sh*t myself: a designer carpet we had in our entryway for a couple of years; a really cool beat-up-just-enough motorcycle jacket IN MY SIZE; about 4,000 clay pots — really beautiful ones, in unusual shapes and in every size from seedling to tree; and not a few books.  (If you're wondering about the state of hygiene of our home, rest assured that we have become a little more finicky about what we cart home since the recent bedbug epidemic.)

Living in a huge apartment building with hundreds of units suits our gleaning lifestyle perfectly.  Every time we exit the building, we pass through the dumpster area, where other residents have often deposited perfectly good stuff they no longer want for themselves.  Here's a (tiny) sampling of some former trash, all discarded by inhabitants of our building,  that is now enhancing our home:

A Design-Within-Reach bentwood coatrack that is beautiful enough to be mistaken for sculpture
A huge wood-framed mirror that I use every day in my teaching
A flourishing jade tree that started with 6 leaves when I rescued it a couple years ago

A boldly distinctive lamp that reminds me of the paintings of Mondrian
Given our continual good fortune up till now, you can probably understand why my eyes were in their usual search mode on Saturday morning when I took the dogs out the back door of our building to do their business.  I was initially delighted to spy this "treasure" sitting atop the plastic recycling receptacle:

Wow! The Greatest Garlic Slicer — presumably ever — and in its original box!  A time-saving tool by Rowoco, that well-known purveyor of fine Chinese-crafted kitchenware.  After an initial jolt of thrill, my enthusiasm cooled faster than the Chihuahuas' body temperature when I took them out out the back door without their coats.  (I had incorrectly assumed that we were going to be treated to another uncharacteristically balmy spring-like February day like Friday.)

Once I got back into the apartment, my finder's high dissipated and my rational brain back in charge, I realized that the Rowoco G.G.S. was not a time-saver, but a space-waster.  I was not going to be able to give this loser a new home after all.  (Sorry, Mother Earth!)

I also realized that I already owned the greatest garlic slicer ever:

This amazing appliance may also be used on Aubergines, Bananas, Celeriac, Dill, Eggs, Fennel, Grapes, Horseradish, iPhones*, Jalepeños, Kale, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Nuts, Offal, Pickles, Quince, Radishes, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Ugli fruit, Venison, Watercress, Xtra-sharp cheddar, Yams, and Zucchini

*OK, smarty-pants, YOU try to think of a slice-able food beginning with "i."
Tomorrow, I'll blog about my criteria for determining what tools are allowed to be part of the paraphernalia in my kitchen.  In the meantime, please leave a comment about something you currently treasure that had been discarded by someone else.  (Your significant other does not count.)


  1. I guess mine would be my 1928 Wilcox & Gibbs industrial sewing machine. It's a beasty (at 4,000 spm it can easily sew my finger to the table) but it works perfectly. A friend of mine got a call from a woman who wanted to get rid of it after her aunt passed away. I spent about $100 on minors repairs and use it as my main machine now. One thing I love is the sound it makes, it has a clutch motor and the bushings make this great humming sound. Very early 20th century and quite different from sound of servo motors on modern industrials.

  2. I have a wonderful side table that was rescued from the neighbors trash. It was wobbly and had been painted orange. I sanded down the legs to unwobble it, and stripped the orange paint off. It now sits in my living room and everyone comments on how nice it looks.

    When it comes to my very small kitchen I want everything to fit well and be able to multitask. I don't have time or space for inefficient kitchen gadgets.

    Mom says hi and wanted to know if you have ever used habenero jelly. She had a bumper crop this year and doesn't know what to do with it all, outside of the usual chili. She looking for suggestions but I'm only suppose to hint and not be so obvious....

  3. I've just been corrected..it's jabenero jelly.

  4. Hi, Pikojiko. I think you are trying to write "habanero" and "jalapeño" simultaneously! My favorite way to use up an abundance of hot peppers is to pickle them using a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey (World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, p. 367), which uses fresh ginger, mustard seeds, and mustard oil. Fans of spicy foods always go crazy over this pickle, which is pretty easy to make.

    You can also freeze chillies, but they are mushy after thawing.

    Hot pepper jelly on toast with cream cheese — mmmmmmmm!

  5. @Phyllis: your vintage sewing machine sounds like a gem. Does Peter know about this machine? He's always commenting on the pleasant sounds his older machines make.

  6. Half of my baking equipment consists of foundlings. People are always discarding pudding molds, flan rings and other intersting stuff. Or people say, "you like to cook, would you like my ______?" That's how I received my pasta roller and ravioli rolling pin.

  7. He might not, I last blogged about her over a year ago. Vintage industrial machines are readily available, Gigi (Peter knows her blog) has about 18. But they take up a lot of space because they're mounted to a table and each type does only type of stitch (e.g. a zig zag stitch requires a zig zag machine) They're very much "form follows function" and not as pretty as the machines Peter collects :)

  8. @LHC: Let me try this out: "You like to cook, would you like my Greatest Garlic Slicer?"

  9. Spellin' is not my thing. It's a jelly made from roasted jalapeno peppers. It very spicy(okay, it's HOT) with a sweet smoky undertone. The heat sneaks up on you. Her neighbor grows them, mom roasts and preserves them, and they split the "proceeds". This year she ended up with 40 some pints. She's looking for something a little 'different' to make for work potlucks-not chili.

  10. How about Iceberg for an "I"? I enjoy both of the blogs. Wish you were my neighbors. :)

  11. Iceberg! D'oh! I can't believe I didn't think of that. Wish you were our neighbor, too — I could run over and borrow a word any time I drew a blank.

  12. When my partner's grandfather was "moving" into a nursing home, we drove out to his farm in PA where items were being discarded, we drove away with several wonderful pieces, but the pièce de résistance was the dining room table used to serve the hands. Unfortunately we were only able to salvage 5 of the 12 (!) leaves for the table.

  13. Too bad you weren't able to salvage any of the hands....

  14. My sister is luckier than me in this, although I'm much more inclined to do it! Sometimes it's surprising what people throw away. She has found a perfectly fine frying pan. I guess someone threw this pan away because they got new, lighter ones and did not want to bother with this old, heavy one (with a very slightly wobbly handle) anymore, but it works for us. A student household appreciates every piece of kitchen equipment that comes free!
    Plus she found a pair of boots, truly as good as new, in her size. She could not believe anyone would throw them away, and put a sign at the bins, asking if someone missed them, but nobody did.

    But: Once at the paper recycling bin, I found a beautiful 1940s book, a fairy tale, with beautiful, and very 1940s illustrations.

  15. Your sister is the world's most honest citizen! I love it! Thanks for the fun story....I wish I could see the fairy tale book.

  16. I can put up pictures of it on my blog. I think I will.