Archive for Glassware

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.

Glass plates: Another great alternative to plastic

If I have learnt anything this week, it is that I am getting old. My youngest made her way to full-day school for the first time and tomorrow is my birthday (before you ask, I am very ancient). But what surprised me most was that when a friend asked for suggestions on baby shower gifts, I had no ready answers. Have I really moved that far beyond the baby years?

Shortly after giving her a lame, holding response, I realized what I should have recommended: Brinware plates.

I wish these had been available when my kids were in the early stages of eating food. Back then I struggled to avoid plastics and melamine. It was tough to part with those hard plastic plates that seem to do so well in the dishwasher, but when I learnt that the full name of melamine was melamine fomaldehyde and that cats, dogs and infants were suffering from melamine poisoning it became easier.

The challenge lay in finding alternatives. Many ceramic bowls and plates have come to a sad end on the hard stones of my kitchen floor.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I needed was a tempered glass plate with a non-slip silicone `sleeve’. Thankfully the folks at Brinware have provided us with just that option and made it pretty, to boot. The glass in the plates is not only tough, but etched with cute designs from owls (my favourite) to frogs, pandas and butterflies. And the sleeves, which can be removed for washing, come in some of my top colours: orange and green (I am hoping that purple will come soon).

Since my kids are now older, I have been using the plates without the sleeves. That frees the sleeves to be employed as useful all-purpose small toy displays and even frisbees, at a pinch. Meanwhile, the plates – which are gently curved to keep the food in the right place – wash well in the dishwasher, though without rinse-aid (which I seldom use these days) the glass does get a bit blotchy, as you might expect.

Brinware plates cost about $10 each and can be purchased on line or from various US retailers. The sole Canadian supplier is Jess’ Crunchy Store, a great little on-line business out of Kitchener, Ontario. If you act fast, Jess currently has the plates on sale at 20% off: you get two for C$17.59 (shipping and taxes extra).

If you want to reach the free shipping threshold of $79 at Jess’ store, you might also want to try the silicone placemats (also from Brinware, but I have not tried them) or the lip balm that I recommended in a recent post.

So there you have it, Alessandra, a great baby shower gift suggestion: sorry it is late.

Food storage: the final frontier

OK, that might be overstating things: more my final posting on this topic for a while. I hope that there is infinite innovation on (eco) food storage in my future.

So, I have posted on stainless steel containers (one of my most popular pages, by the way…) and I have posted on silicone containers. Now it is the turn of glass.

I have been using glassware to store my food for about 15 years. Glass containers used to be hard to come by, but now they are everywhere.

Trueseal 1

Glass has so many advantages: it is inert, so no nasty leaching; it goes in the dishwasher, no problem; it can go in the oven as well as the freezer; and it does not stain or retain flavours. The only downsides are that it breaks (of course), though do bear in mind that unless you buy the very cheapest containers you will be purchasing borosilicate glass, which is far more robust that regular glass. Having said that, I really only use glass for in-home storage, partly because it is quite heavy (I did try the lunch bag thing once…not again).

The French were ahead of us all on tempered glass (think about those Duralex glasses that I like so much), or maybe they were just the first who discovered how to make lids.

My oldest glass containers are from Luminarc. I bought them in the UK around 1998 and they are still going strong, though the lids are somewhat split at the edges (I do not always observe the `top rack only’ instruction when it comes to my dishwasher, but since I always wash on the delicate setting to save energy, I figure I get a break).

But now everyone from the dollar store up seems to be making glass with lids (it is the lids which are key to food storage, of course).

trueseal 2

As noted, the cheaper the glass the less robust it seems to be (in my experience). It is also not clear to me what the plastic lids on the cheap containers are made from. There is little point in moving to glass if you are going to cover your food with an off-gassing, BPA-laden lid.

I have, as is my wont, tried most of the glass containers on the market today. I like the idea of the Glasslock type with the flaps that snap shut and make things water- and air-tight. But I don’t like them in practice. You seldom need this degree of seal and I find it hard to get them to close completely. You are also limited to rectangular or square shapes …. I have a soft spot for circles.

My new favourite glassware comes from no further away than the US (yes, the glass itself is actually made there, though the lids do, I am afraid, come from China).

The TrueSeal range from Anchor has flexible (possibly partly silicone?) BPA-free lids with a see-through panel in the top to help you see what is inside. The lids are super-easy to put on and seem to last well. The manufacturer claims that by pushing down the lid to squeeze out air you can make things pretty water-tight. There are differing views on this in web reviews, but I put water in one of mine and turned it upside down and the seal did indeed seem to be true.

The range includes round containers (which nest) as well as square, loaf-shaped and taller containers.

trueseal set

They are all microwave, dishwasher, oven and freezer safe. And since I have a soft spot for lime green (did anyone guess that ?), I like the way these look in my kitchen. They are also fine for serving which cannot be said for plastic.

In the US TrueSeal glassware is available most everywhere, it seems (so Target, Walmart, etc.) and is good value at $25 for a 10 piece set (5 round containers with lids) at Walmart online. I am not sure whether Walmart stocks the TrueSeal range in Canada (I guess I should visit and check it out but I can’t quite bring myself to do that, even for you, dear readers).

I bought the ones I have in a larger Loblaws store, but they certainly don’t sell them in my local Loblaws. I found a better selection at Canadian Tire. Of course they are more expensive here in Canada, around $6 to $12 per container or $19.99 for a set of 3 round containers with lids.

Sipping soda through a straw

So, I have already let you in on my secret for unbreakable glasses and my friend Amélie has provided you with a green option for endless soda, but something is still missing….Yes, the straw!

Kids especially enjoy straws.

glass in cup

But adults like them too and they have a particular advantage for long, summer drinks: it is hard to inadvertently suck up a wasp if you are using a straw. This may seem a little far-fetched, but wasps are, of course, attracted to sugary drinks and it does not take much to gulp down a flailing wasp (especially if you are drinking from an opaque can). This issue is of particular relevance to me as my daughter has a severe wasp allergy (after having been stung in the mouth: the closer to your head the sting, the worse the reaction).

Anyway, back to straws. We all love them, and they can be had very cheaply at any plastic emporium. Since, however, we suck and chew on them, it would be nice to think that they don’t contain anything nasty (I am not sure my local dollar store can guarantee this…). Beyond that, though, single-use plastic really bugs me for its contribution to landfill and carbon/pollution. The solution? Glass straws.

Now I know that sounds a bit alarming since straws don’t usually get treated with much respect, but the glass ones I have are (nearly) unbreakable. They are hand blown from borosilicate glass which is very resistant to breaking (the type of glass used for laboratory equipment and kitchen measuring jugs, etc.). The ones I have are made in upstate New York (not so far from me) and sold through this website, for approximately $5 each.

(A note on the website: it is not the slickest looking site, but customer care is good. All payments are through PayPal and, a bit disconcertingly, you receive only a Paypal receipt after the transaction, not a receipt from the site itself. But it all works.)

The site offers a range of straw options (bent, straight, coloured, wide, narrow). I tried a sample pack and I found the standard width, straight, 8″ or 10″ straws to be the best bet. The `thick’ feel of the straw in your mouth does take some getting used to (which is why I don’t like the wider straws or the ones with coloured bubbles on the end so much), but the novelty of drinking from a glass straw and knowing that you can throw it (not too vigorously) in the dishwasher after easily makes up for that. It is also nice to think of each straw being handblown in an artists’ studio. The optional coloured dots on the straws reinforce this feeling.

One note on cleaning. I would recommend purchasing the cleaning brush that fits through the straw (another $5), as smoothies and thicker drinks do tend to deposit bits that the dishwasher cannot reach.

straw and brush

Finally…do they break? Yes, one of mine did break very early on (not quite sure how as my youngest was in charge). But they come with a lifetime guarantee. If you email a picture of the broken straw and send another $3 through your PayPal account, you will get a replacement in the mail, no questions asked.

(N.B. I was sent a sample pack of straws to try for this review, but only after having previously purchased a set of straws.)

Glasses to last a lifetime

I have many children (which I know is not eco friendly). During their short lives they have all broken many glasses, usually at the dinner table, at the end of the day, when I am not feeling particularly forgiving.

One way to get around this would be to use plastic glasses. But I don’t like plastic in any form, even when it is BPA-free, etc. You never get quite the same sense of clean and fresh with plastic as you do with glass.

So, I started hunting for the glasses of my youth which were, I was certain, virtually unbreakable. We had the same glasses at home (I know these never broke: my sister still uses them, 45 years later, in a kitchen with stone floors) and at school (anyone else remember reading the little numbers off the bottom while struggling to consume inedible school vegetables?).

duralex-picardie-hiball

A bit of research led me to Duralex a French company that has been making tempered glassware since the 1930s. The tempering process is achieved through heating the glass to over 600C and then rapidly cooling it (needless to say, that means no worries about hot/cold when you use the glasses). Glasses come in various classic styles: I like the Picardie Hi-ball 12oz (pictured), though for school memories, you will need Gigogne. The company also makes bowls and plates, which is great if you are worried about microwaving in plastic.

Yes, all glasses are made in France and shipped around the world and, yes, there must be considerable energy used in their manufacture. But, the pleasure of a well-balanced glass that you can use for decades, indoors and out, that won’t chip in the dishwasher and that can, apparently, double as a hammer at a pinch, makes that all worthwhile for me.

Duralex glasses are generally sold in sets and retail for about $5 each. See here for US stockists. In the UK, try here. In Canada, you can find the Picardie glasses in various sizes at Bed Bath and Beyond ($26.99 for 6 Picardie 12oz). You can find the full line, including bowls, plates and ramekins through the Duralex Canada distributor. See here for a list of retail locations.

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