Of the many gifts the internet has given us, I would argue the greatest may be this: Targeted recycling.
Yes, keeping stuff out of landfills is nice, but that isn’t why I recycle, and I suspect that’s true of a good many people. I will grudgingly separate out the recyclables in my trash because I am required to do so, to avoid a fine. I will happily recycle, though, when there is a monetary gain involved.
My most enthusiastic period as a recycler was during The Child’s infant and toddler years, when she required a new wardrobe with each change of season. Baby clothes are expensive, especially if you don’t have anyone passing along hand-me-downs, and even more especially when you crave only the most exquisite clothing for that baby.
It is entirely possible I was overcompensating for my own childhood, a time that photographic evidence suggests I spent wearing primarily hand-me-down boys’ play clothes, except for special occasions, which I spent in dresses sewn by my mother, and which was spent in the 1970s either way.
My Child’s photo albums would not suffer the same cruel fate, but my wallet could not bear the burden. I quickly discovered consignment stores, but then a magical thing occurred: Ebay.
I found out one could buy beautiful, slightly used boutique baby clothes at a fraction of the original price, and an obsession was born. I learned about internet auctions, and online payment systems, and bid sniping, and bid stalking, and became somewhat of a pro, buying at a discount, then selling what I could bear to part with once she had outgrown it.
Eventually, she preferred choosing her own clothes, and wore clothes long enough that they actually showed signs of wear, so I moved on from Ebay, unless I happened to be in the market for something from my childhood that I did want to remember, like a replacement for my favorite Christmas book, the now sadly out of print Grimble at Christmas.
I discovered other recycling sites had their uses, notably Freecycle, a Yahoo group that allowed me to get rid of large pieces of furniture without having to haul them to a donation site or pay for trash removal. I just emailed out to the group, and chose someone from among the replies, and that someone showed up with a pickup truck and an appreciative smile. The Departed’s massive, battered old desk was freecycled away to a grateful divorcee who needed it to study as she prepared to return to the workforce. Even he couldn’t find a reason to object to this hassle-free system.
Then Facebook came along, and with it, the Buy Nothing group. If you’ve never been in one of these groups, here is how they work: Group members, who live in a small geographical area, post pictures of things they don’t want anymore. Other group members comment on the photos if they are interested in having the item. The giver chooses a recipient. No one is allowed to ask for or offer money.
That’s it. Free stuff on the internet.
The posts are, not surprisingly, heavily tilted toward outgrown children’s items, but there’s quite a bit of other stuff. I posted quite a bit myself, after reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – a book we have two copies of, one for me and one for The Child – when I began my household purging, starting with my vast collection of last year’s handbags. I asked everyone who posted to come up with a creative name for each bag’s color, and whoever made the suggestion that tickled my fancy got the bag. I got some free entertainment and a lot of closet space from that.
Occasionally, I get chosen for other people’s items: On one occasion, some vintage cookbooks; on another, an elegant unused Kate Spade organizer, for The Child to keep track of her school assignments. A second batch of free cookbooks turned out to be mostly useless, but included a copy of Fifty Shades of Chicken, which gave me a laugh and a very handy last-minute gag gift for a newly divorced – and, apparently, newly vegetarian – friend. I wanted to find a reason to need someone’s extensive rubber duck collection, but, much to my dismay, couldn’t.
It’s summer now, and people are posting their garden surplus – they have too much zucchini, or too many apples. I shared some of my rhubarb. A woman who was overrun with plums offered them to me, and when I couldn’t get over to pick them up that same day, she delivered them to my house, so that they wouldn’t go bad before I could get them.
Suddenly, I had too many plums.
Fortunately, I also had a recipe for a plum torte that I’ve been wanting to try, having read about it several times over the years on various food blogs. Created by Marian Burros, the recipe was originally published in the New York Times in 1982, and it made an annual appearance in the paper until 1989, when the editors decided it was time to move on.
The readers thought otherwise, and the Times was “flooded with angry letters.”
Of course, it is now freely available throughout the year through the Times online, and pops up elsewhere with some regularity. I was surprised to find a version of it in Burros’ 1967 cookbook Elegant But Easy (it includes blueberries, apples, and peaches, alongside the plums). It’s the standout recipe of the book, which can best be described at a mesmerizing culinary time warp, particularly the chapter on salads, which contains 19 recipes, of which 12 involve Jell-O and a mold.
The first time I made it, I covered every inch of the batter with plums, since I had so many. The plums I was using were a tiny Japanese variety, so I couldn’t use the stated number of the recipe, and it looked quite pretty. It may have been a bit too much, because even baking the cake for a significantly longer time than called for, the center was still a bit more moist than it should have been. Delicious, but not quite right.
I decided to make the cake a second time, using fewer plums, and as I was washing out my springform pan, I happened to notice the diameter measurement stamped into the bottom: I was the proud owner of an 8 inch pan, rather than the 9 inch pan called for in the recipe.
When I say “the recipe,” I mean every cake I’ve made in a springform pan in the last ten years.
On the one hand, it’s rather disheartening to realize you’ve been fouling up any number of perfectly good cake recipes this way; on the other hand, it’s nice to have a reason to go to the cookware department and buy a shiny new 9 inch pan.
This cake comes together very easily, so making it a second time was a snap. I used fewer plums, and was probably a bit too cautious about it, as the plum to cake ratio was definitely tilted toward cake. But, the cake did cook through, in the expected amount of time, and it was perfect in every way.
The recipe could easily be made with other fruit; it struck me that apricots in particular would be a nice variation, when they are in season. Sadly, the rest of my bounty of plums had gone off by the time I finished the second cake, but it’s something to look forward to next year.
- 1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp/5 grams baking powder
- 1 cup/200 grams sugar, plus extra for topping
- ½ cup/115 grams unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs
- 12 small plums, halved and pitted, or six larger plums
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Heat over to 350°F.
- Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In a larger bowl or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, then the dry ingredients, mixing until just blended.
- Spoon batter into a 9-inch springform pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums on top, skin side up, covering the surface. Sprinkle with lemon juice and cinnamon, then one to two tablespoons of sugar.
- Bake about 45 minutes, until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
- And remember, once cool, if you can stand it, leave it covered at room temperature overnight as this cake really is even better on the second day. (But don't beat yourself up if you can't wait. We tried a slice on the first day and it was amazing then too.)