Archive for October 20, 2012

Repurposing your Mason jars

I am a great believer in repurposing. I cut forlorn sweaters up to make mittens and I hoard old shoeboxes in my basement in the hopes of identifying future uses.

I am also a big believer in canning, but it is a skill I have failed to nurture in myself. I make delicious tomato chutney every summer and, very occasionally, jam. But wrestling bushels of vegetables into neat glass jars is beyond me.

Nonetheless, I delight in all the Mason jars and canning accessories that appear in the stores late summer, marking the fleeting weeks of abundance here in Canada.

I use large Mason jars to store my dry ingredients (sugar, rice, nuts, etc.) and have designed my kitchen drawers with this in mind. I love the wide mouths and the easy access of the jars, not to mention the uniformity, the low cost and the squeaky clean-ness when they come out of the dishwasher.
(NB. It seems I am not alone in my love of Mason jars: see here for 31 ways to use a Mason jar in your kitchen.)

I was thrilled, the other day, to find two clever new Mason jar add-ons that substantially increase the range of possible uses for my smaller jars.

The first is the cuppow. This is a slightly raised plastic (BPA free) insert that replaces the disc lid of your Mason jar and turns it into a drinking cup. Just screw it on and you have a convenient on-the-go cup.

The cuppow comes in two sizes to fit widemouth (76mm) or regular (60mm) Mason jars. It does not close completely so cannot withstand really bumpy rides, but does a great job if you want to sip a drink in the car, for example.

I don’t love the feel of the drinking rim/spout, but I am very fussy in that regard and like really thin edges to my mugs (see my earlier recommendation for vacuum mugs). It retails for $8. The price seems a little steep as there is not a lot to the product, but it is US-made and claims to be recyclable plastic.

The second option is the reCAP, which entirely replaces your Mason lid, both disc and screw collar. It is a fully close-able pouring/drinking spout for your jars. I prefer the way this feels on my lips, but it does present a large (about quarter-sized) round hole which might be a bit abrupt for hot drinks on the go (though great for gloopy things like smoothies if you want to grab these as you head out of the house).

It could also be used to turn a Mason jar of any size into a pouring dispenser, for example for sugar, rice or liquid honey. Its founding purpose, according to the website, was to turn a jar into a salad dressing dispenser. You can shake away and still pour with ease.

The reCAP is also BPA free and made in the US. It retails for $7-$7.50.

Both are available in Canada from a neat eco product site called Greenmunch (I should mention that they did send me free samples of both products after I enquired about them). Greenmunch also specializes in hard-to-find paper straws, another alternative to the glass straws I wrote about in the early days of my site.

End-of-summer sunscreen round-up

This is a guest post by Laurel Thomson

I realize that few readers are interested in sunscreens in early October, but if I don’t write this post now, if I leave it until next spring, I will have forgotten the vast majority of what I’d like to communicate (I’m even older than Diana!)

Here in Ontario it was probably the most glorious summer in recent memory, with many sun-drenched days. I therefore had ample opportunity to slather myself, and my slightly reluctant 11-year-old daughter, with sunscreen. We tried 10 different products and each of us has a favourite.

If you want more details on what to look for in a sunscreen, Diana’s old post has lots of information.

These are the products we tried:

Heiko Physical Sunscreen, SPF 30.
Approximate price: $30 for 150ml ($20/100ml)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide (non-nano).  My favourite, especially for the face. As Diana mentioned in her post, it has a slightly medicinal scent, which I actually like. It is thick, so easier for small surfaces, such as face, neck and shoulders. Takes a long time to put on my entire body, so I never bothered.

Thinksport Kids Sunscreen Benefiting Livestrong, SPF 50+.
Approximate price $16 for 3 oz ($18/100ml).
Active ingredient: zinc oxide (non-nano).
My daughter’s favourite. And it really works well. Goes on virtually transparent and, in the words of an 11-year old, “smells like heaven”. Highly recommended. Even the packaging is BPA, vinyl and phthalate-free.

Elemental Herbs Sunstick, Unscented, SPF 30.
Approximate price $8 for .6oz ($45/100ml: but it is a stick)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide (non-nano).
Excellent for the face and for a quick swipe across the nose and cheeks. I carried one with me all summer and used it on both my daughter and myself when we were out for more than a couple of hours. We love the cocoa-butter scent and the feel of it on our faces – silky smooth. It also works!

California Baby Face and Body, unscented SPF 30+.
Approximate price $40 for 6oz ($22/100ml)
Active Ingredient: titanium dioxide.
Rubs in nicely, very mild chemical scent that is not unpleasant. We both like it but the name is not “cool” for an 11-year old. My only worry is that there are some concerns about the photo-reactivity of the active ingredient, TO2, which could result in cellular changes in the skin. The jury is still out on this, however.

Beyond Coastal Natural Clear Sunscreen, SPF30+.
Approximate price $18 for 2.5oz ($24/100ml)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide.
I love this sunscreen for my body, but no one else in my family does. They complain that it is thick (it is) and leaves a white film. I have yet to see the white film on my skin, but it is definitely present on my husband’s hairy arms!!  It has a lovely, mild rose scent. The company also manufactures a product under the same name that contains both titanium and zinc, which I stayed away from given my, likely unfounded, concerns about the former.

Dr. Hauschka Sunscreen Cream SPF 20.
NB. This product is discontinued: sorry Laurie 
Active ingredient: titanium dioxide.
I love Dr. Hauschka products so I ignore my aversion to TO2 and put this on my face in the winter sun, when I want something lighter than SPF 30. It is pricey at $24 for 3.5 oz, but less expensive than many higher-end creams.

TruKid Sunny Days mineral sunscreen SPF 30+.
Approximate price $17.50 for 3.5oz ($17/100ml)
Active ingredient: titanium dioxide.
Nice product, that smells faintly like the creamsicles of my youth.  I’d love to use it, but am wary of the TO2.

ECO Logical Skin Care, all natural sunscreen SPF 30+.
Approximate price $17 for 3.5oz ($16/100ml)
Active ingredient: zinc oxide.
Claims to be unscented, but smells like rancid oil, if you ask me. Stay away!

Green Beaver fragrance-free sunscreen, SPF 30.
Approximate price $20/90ml ($22/100ml)
Active Ingredient: zinc oxide.
This sunscreen is greasier than I care for but several of my friends swear by it since it does not whiten skin at all. They use it on their kids who are indifferent to the texture. They are mostly young kids or boys. My daughter won’t go near it.

Alba Botanica very emollient Sport Sunscreen, SPF 45.
Approximate price $9/4oz ($7.50/100ml)
Active ingredients: octocrylene, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, titanium dioxide.
Given its chemical ingredients, it is not surprising that this product is a clear winner in the ease-of-rubbing-in contest. However, its composition is also why I do not use it. The EWG rating is 5, which is high enough for me to avoid. I suppose an upside is it does not contain the dreaded oxybenzone. So why did I try it? A friend gave me a tube. I don’t particularly care for its chemical sunscreen scent.

From Diana: A very useful set of reviews, thanks Laurie. Funny that we both worked on TOissues around 25 years ago.

Some of these products are not readily available in Canada, though many can be shipped here through retailers such as iHerb.com. (Use the code UQE399 to get $10 off your first order of $40 or more: shipping to Canada is only $4 for an average shipment!). 

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