Tuesday, January 15, 2013

De goed zak

Apparently, clear bags with a bright yellow banner on them have won a design award in the Netherlands. These bags allow people to see what's inside, so you can use them for useful items that you no longer want. Then other people can see what's inside, and take it.

Here in Portland, we skip the superfluous bag, and just call this a free box. Most of the time, there is not even a box involved, just a pile of stuff. It seems to me that most of the items you can find in a typical free box would look worse, not better, in a little window bag. It would make them less enticing.

These are the kind of things you find in free boxes here:

Old clothes. (My old housemate told me that it was a good place to find rags. Grab free box T-shirts, separate the backs from the front, and scrub away.)

Crates. In one case, the crate WAS the box (all of it. The crate was empty), and it was free. Actually I walked by a woman as she walked a random crate down to the corner. She set it down, looked at me as I walked by, and said, "That's free, if you want it." Because if you are youngish and live in Portland (yes, I do look like a hipster), you are probably in the market for a free crate. I could have bungeed it onto my bicycle.

Books. Especially things like textbooks and Cliff's Notes. Although I did find a book on Dutch painting once. I was on a jog. I jogged the rest of the way home a book on Dutch painting in my hands.

Broken chairs, questionable CDs, and other things that people probably don't want. Piles of wood.

I can't imagine something like "de goed zak" ever catching on here. I know people who don't even want to buy trash bags because of the environment, etc. The whole point of the corner free box is to dispose of your things in a way that is easy (lazy) and cost-free. I was about to say, "it's a nice idea, though" - but I don't actually believe that, so never mind.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Binge Baking

I love to bake.

Over the past year or two, however, I have rarely baked anything, mainly due to the tedious nature of baking in shared kitchens. (It's not very fun - or easy - to bake when you have to find all of the necessary equipment, and then discover that most of it needs to be washed before you use it. And then you can't really towel-dry a mixing bowl before you put flour in; it will stick to the sides. It also requires a well-stocked pantry, which I rarely have; when I do have one, it gets lost in the contents of housemates' pantries.)

I do bake a lot, however, when I get to housesit for my parents.

My parents went on a short trip a couple of months ago; I spent the week baking. I started by mentioning to my mother, before she left, that I wanted to try to make biscotti. 
"Oh, good idea!" she said. "Are you going to make Aunt Victoria's biscotti?"
"Maybe," I shrugged. "What book is that in?"

This is when my mom made her special face, the one that is reserved for specific moments of personal cluelessness on my part. All she has to do is say my name and make that face. (It translates directly to, "Your grandmother's book, of course. Honestly.")

"Oh." I said. Then, "OOOooohhhhh, that Victoria..." when I realized that Aunt Victoria is not just some aunt made famous for a recipe or product (I was vaguely thinking of an Aunt Jemima-like figure), but my aunt.

Well. My great-great-aunt. Or my great-grandaunt, whichever you prefer. 

Anyway, I made my great-grandaunt Victoria's biscotti, not once but twice. I roasted a chicken with vegetables (the fabulous Dorie Greenspan recipe, from Around My French Table, which has become a fast favorite in my family for the secret slice of bread tucked under the chicken. As it cooks, it becomes caramelized in chicken drippings. It is more delicious than this parenthetical description can make you imagine). I baked a yellow cake with chocolate frosting and then invited a few friends over to help me eat it. 

My brother came by for chicken soup and I made popovers. (So easy and delicious!) I baked meringues with a friend (the first batch sadly failed but we managed to succeed on the second try). And, although I might actually be able to eat all of these edibles on my own, I acknowledge what a terrible idea that is, and instead managed to share the majority of these goodies with a variety of friends. 

Well, surprise! I have moved back in with my parents (it's a long story, but at least know this: I have a deadline.), which means lots of kitchen access. A spat of trips also means I will have the kitchen to myself for parts of January.

I am thinking about exploring rugelach. I always wonder about these baked goods, because they vary greatly in taste, appearance, etc. I also tend to get curious about products that I serve at one of my jobs (because I have many, now), and it's nice if, when customers ask about a pastry, I actually know something about it. Even better if I can say, "Well, I find it especially interesting because I made a batch of these the other day..."

On the other hand, there are dozens and dozens (and this is not an exaggeration. There are dozens) of Christmas cookies in the house, and no one to eat them but me. I already had to finish the birthday cakes from my mom's recent party. I might just have to skip to the part where I invite my friends to eat with me.