Portable Cutlery Set Tutorial

Recently, a video about a sea turtle that had to have a plastic straw removed from its nose went viral on the Internet. So powerful was the suffering of the poor animal in this video that it sparked plastic straw bans in many cities. As much as I appreciated the sentiment behind this move, my personal opinion is that it treats a symptom rather than the underlying disease. For example, to reduce plastic straw use, some restaurants redesigned the lids of their disposable cups — but continued distributing single-use plastic lids that could not be easily recycled. Bans also left many people with disabilities in a tight spot, since they have no options but to use disposable straws. Plastic straw bans don’t help any of the old straws already out there to get recycled instead of going into landfills — and according to this site it takes 100 to 500 years for a plastic straw to decompose. It doesn’t address recycling policies that keep plastics from being properly recycled in the first place. And once the furor raised by the video died down, a lot of people — and more importantly, a lot of companies — went back to single-use plastics without a second thought. As it stands right now, 89% of plastic is not recycled in Canada.

So I asked myself, what can I do? Well, I personally I can stop using plastic straws whenever possible, that’s a given. But in all of the viral-video-fueled excitement for people to buy their own personal reusable straws to use with their takeout food, I think a lot of people forgot about the disposable cutlery that goes hand with those straws. While personal cutlery sets have been available for years (and are especially popular with those who camp), and they’re definitely better than disposable, I think it’s possible to do better. Why? Because these are generally made with new materials.

If you go out to any thrift store you will find that there is lots of perfectly good, used, stainless-steel cutlery that can have a second life as a portable cutlery set. Not only that, it’s generally quite affordable! When I buy vintage kitchenware for my market stall, it often comes with old cutlery thrown in; a lot of people don’t see its value. But all it needs is a recycled travel case to put it in so it can be thrown in a purse, briefcase, backpack, desk drawer, or lunch box.

I made up a bunch of these sets and brought them with me to the 613Christmas this past weekend. However, I think it’s more important to encourage everyone to use them than it is for me to make a profit, so I thought I’d share a tutorial online. It is very basic and can even be hand-sewn if desired. Of course, if you are a master sewer, you can probably make something even nicer, and I encourage you to do so! Experiment! Use even tinier scraps of fabric and quilt them together in incredible designs! Knit a case! Crochet! There’s no limit to the techniques you can use. What’s most important, to me, is that your materials be recycled — not only the cutlery, but also the textiles.

So your first step is to pick your cutlery. If you’re lucky they will all be from the same set, but they really don’t have to be. I recommend the basics of a knife, fork, and spoon, but you can also include a steak knife (although probably not if it’s to be brought to school), reusable chopsticks, and a reusable straw.

Secondly, you’ll need a piece of fabric, preferably recycled. It can come from old clothing, bedding, or draperies, but another good resource (if you don’t sew much yourself) is a friend or family member who sews, who will inevitably have lots of scraps and remnants that they just can’t bear to throw out, but would be happy to see used.

Cut a piece of fabric that, when the fabric is folded in half length-wise, is at least 6″ longer than your longest piece of cutlery. Width-wise, you want it to be twice as wide as the widest piece of cutlery, plus 4″ or so to allow for the depth of the deepest piece. I found that a 30″ x 6″ strip of fabric was adequate to comfortably accommodate every style of cutlery that I tried.

Fold the fabric in half so that it is long and skinny; in the case of our demo, it became 30″ x 3″. Make sure that the wrong side of the fabric faces out. Sew a seam with half of a centimeter of seam allowance around the two longest edges. Alternately, you can serge the edges, which is what I did. (Seams indicated by blue lines in the photo above.)

Turn the tube you have made halfway inside-right, so that the right side of the fabric is visible on the outside. The tube will now be half as long as when you started (15″). Press flat.

On the unfinished end, fold the top layer back about 4″. Sew a seam on the inside layer about 1″ into the fabric, as per the blue line in the photo. Leaving an allowance of about half a centimeter, cut off the excess fabric at the end.

Fold the top layer back so that it lies flat. Fold the two unfinished edges of the top layer inside the tube, and stitch the end of the tube closed as close to the edge as possible (blue line on the right). Making sure to catch the inside layer, sew a second seam parallel to the first, about half a centimeter further in (blue line on the left).

Insert your longest piece of cutlery (usually the knife) into the tube, making sure it goes all the way to the bottom. On the middle of one side of the tube, mark a spot 1″ down from the top of the knife; sew a button on there, making sure to sew it only to one side of the tube. On the other side of the tube, mark a spot 1/2″ from the top of the knife; sew a loop of elastic onto this spot. The length of the elastic will depend on the level of stretch and how big the button is, so it may take a bit of experimentation.

Insert all cutlery pieces in the tube, roll the top closed, and loop the elastic over the button to secure it.

There you have it, your own personal recycled portable cutlery set. Make them for your friends and family this holiday season! They make great stocking stuffers and teacher appreciation gifts. And after many years of hard use, when the cutlery does finally wear out and the bag falls apart, the steel is recyclable and many fabrics are biodegradable. Even if you chose a synthetic fabric, it’s better that it be reused instead of going directly in the trash. Perhaps only the button (depending on the kind you chose) will end up in the garbage at the end of life of your portable cutlery set — and with any luck by then our recycling programs will accept them too.

613Christmas Saturday December 1st

Tomorrow is 613Chrismtas, 613flea’s once-a-year Christmas event, and I couldn’t be more excited to be participating! It’s my biggest market of the year, and even the weather is predicted to cooperate.

I have so much new stuff to bring that I can’t photograph it all. My bins for vintage Pyrex and Tupperware are overflowing, and I have a whole bunch of beautiful Blue Mountain Pottery that are waiting to be shown off. I’m enlisting my husband to help me set up so that I can bring a third table to fit it all (usually I only have two tables and lug it all myself). It means that my booth will look a little different than usual, but that’s so I can bring all of my very best “new” stuff!

There is a change of venue for this market: it’s at the much larger (and better-heated) Carleton University Fieldhouse. I’ll be more or less in the middle, in booth 808.

I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve upgraded my Square card reader for this event, so I’ll be able to take debit cards, Apple Pay, and Google Pay, as well as the usual credit cards and cash. The new machine makes it so easy!

So please pop by and say hi, even if vintage kitchenware isn’t your thing. I’m always excited to meet people who read my blog.

Grilled Cheese & Orange Slices

I’ve been so busy prepping for my biggest market event of the season that I haven’t been able to set aside the time to cook anything fancy. But we’ve all still gotta eat!

Dinner last night was grilled cheese on homemade bread (my usual go-to of bread machine herb bread without the herbs) and orange slices. Of course, the ones I made for me were with lactose-free cheese; instead of the usual cheddar I had a rather nice Gouda, which was a nice change.

I’m looking forward to the holiday market season being over so I can spend more time cooking — especially cooking for Christmas!

Cleaning Coloured Pyrex

At my last flea market, one of the other vendors (a lovely lady selling the most fabulous knitwear) asked me how I get my Pyrex so clean and shiny. She’d had some issues keeping hers looking its best, and was wondering if I had any tips or tricks. I kind of brushed it off with an, “Oh, I just wash it!” But later I thought about it and realized that I really do have a process that I use. I thought I would share it here so that I can help other collectors.

For the purpose of demonstration, I’ll use the two pieces that came into my possession recently. The top one is a JAJ Pyrex casserole in the Market Garden pattern from 1971. (James A. Jobling’s company produced Pyrex in England from 1921 through 1973, when the patent rights reverted to Corning; after this point, the “Pyrex England” backstamp was used.) The bottom is a rectangular casserole from 1956 by the American Pyrex division in the Snowflake pattern, which is the very first pattern that was ever screen printed onto Pyrex. Given the age and condition of these pieces, I really want to keep the designs intact. Most importantly, when I got them there were no chips or nicks, which is something even the best cleaning can’t fix!

To be honest, these dishes aren’t in the worst condition of the ones that have come into my collection; some good examples of how bad it can get are in my old Cleaning Glass post. As is quite common, the inside of the casseroles were in pretty good shape, since people are most picky about keeping the parts that touch their food in the best shape, but the bottoms were worse off. But do not despair if you see this brown residue on a dish that you want, since it will totally come off with a bit of work!

One of the most important things I can say about cleaning old coloured Pyrex, whether it be solid-colour or screen-printed, is not to put it in the dishwasher. They won’t warp or chip in there — after all, they’re meant for the oven and even the oldest are safe for the microwave if there’s no metallic trim. However, the harsh chemicals and high heat of the dishwasher can fade or even completely erase the beautiful colours over time, so I really would recommend avoiding it! Of course, modern Pyrex and Corningware are dishwasher-safe, so if you’re not sure of the age of a piece, look for the stamp on the bottom that labels it as such.

On the Market Garden piece, the worse part was where food debris had collected in the edge around the rim. This is usually really hard to get out, but I have a technique for that which works for most dishes.

When cleaning coloured Pyrex, one of the things you want to avoid the most is heavy-duty scrubbing. So, no highly abrasive cleaning powders or scouring pads! (Although I’m quite enamoured of Lee Valley’s stainless-steel chain mail scrubber, which is great for cast iron, it would utterly ruin a Pyrex dish.) So your best bet is to fill up a sink with hot water and a generous helping of dish soap, and then let that sit overnight. Yes, the same technique for tackling the roasting pan from the Christmas turkey works with Pyrex, but why wouldn’t it?

When it comes time to scrub the dishes in the soapy water, I like to use the double-sided cleaning sponges with the green scrubber. I find that they’re generally abrasive enough to get rid of stains, yet not abrasive enough to remove designs (unless you scrub for a really long time — always be careful!).

And here you can see my secret weapon: bamboo skewers. They’re perfect for getting into tiny little areas that accumulate grime, but because they’re so breakable it’s really difficult to scratch the finish with them. The wide end of the skewer can even be used to concentrate your effort on areas with a thick layer of baked-on grease; I used them to great effect on my enameled cast-iron pan. As a bonus, they’re not strong enough to go through the enamel on cast-iron either (on which you also don’t want to use anything too abrasive lest you damage the finish).

I was lucky this time in that the Snowflake dish came completely clean with this treatment, even though it looked like it was in the worst shape. So I only had to do the next step on the Market Garden piece: a paste of baking soda and lemon or lime juice. The juice is acidic and the baking soda is slightly abrasive, which makes for a perfect cleaning combination. I left the past on overnight to dry, then added more lemon juice to scrub off the stains the next morning. Then, for a super-shiny finish, I gave it one more good wash in dish soap and water.

Sometimes, with dishes in really rough shape, you have to repeat these steps a few times. One other thing you can try, although only as a last resort, is a sink full of hot water and a single dishwasher detergent packet, left to sit overnight. I only do this when the dishes have resisted every other cleaning method, because the detergent is really harsh and concentrated. But I much prefer using one of the packets instead of giving up altogether! However, this time I didn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.

So here are my cleaning results:

Pristine bottom surfaces.

Edges like new.

And interiors from which you’d be happy to serve any guest.

So next time you see an old Pyrex piece that’s a bit worse for wear, don’t automatically discard it because of the amount of work that’d be involved bringing it up to snuff. It may take a couple of rounds of soaking, but it can look like new again without all that much elbow grease!

Boxty

I was browsing through articles recently about interesting things to do with Thanksgiving leftovers — Canadian Thanksgiving was over a month ago, but the American one was just last week, and it seemed like every cooking blog on the Internet was talking about it. One of the websites (and I’m sorry that I can’t remember exactly which one, but there were so many) suggested using leftover mashed potatoes to make boxty, or traditional Irish potato cakes. The IrishCentral recipe looked pretty straightforward, so I had to give it a try.

Although it’s not something we ever ate at home, my mother has been raving about boxty for years because there’s a local restaurant that serves it. Apparently the version she had is served with roast beef that is marinaded for twenty-four hours in some kind of whiskey sauce — which honestly sounds delicious, but I didn’t have the ingredients at home. Other topping suggestions I found online were butter and sugar, jam, fresh berries, sour cream and chives, butter chicken, creme fraiche and caviar, smoked salmon and whipped cream cheese, whiskey and mushroom gravy… The list goes on. Basically, boxty can be eaten plain or can be used as a base for sweet or savoury toppings, much like rice or potatoes or bread can be. Personally, I think I’d like to try it as the base for an open-faced hot roast meat sandwich with gravy made with leftovers after a traditional Sunday dinner.

Sadly, we didn’t have any roast in the fridge today, so I had to make do with ingredients that wouldn’t take me another day’s worth of cooking to prepare. I served the boxty with eggs sunny-side-up and Andouille sausages. When I tried the boxty dipped in the egg, I discovered that I’d definitely tried this flavour combination before; my husband’s family likes to throw leftover roast potatoes (chopped) into an omelette, and of course that tastes like potatoes and egg, much like the boxty dipped in egg. It seems really obvious when I write it out like this, but it took me a moment to realize why the flavour was so darned familiar!

Everyone in the family really liked the boxty and requested that I make it again. I honestly wish I’d tried it before! The kids especially liked theirs dipped in maple syrup much like a regular pancake, which is a very Canadian way to do it. In the future I think I’ll try making some of the other topping variations. There are so many delicious-looking ones, though, that it’ll be hard to decide which one to try first!

Holiday Tea

This past Saturday was the annual Girl Guides’ Holiday Tea, which was held at Epiphany Anglican Church just like last year. This year the funds from the tickets, bake sale, and calendar sales were being raised to finance a trip to Europe for the local Pathfinder troupes. Parents of girls in the Guiding movement were asked to contribute baked goods to the tea, so this year I used up some of the bananas in my freezer and made mini banana muffins.

(Bananas for scale.)

I used the recipe that I almost always use, the one for Banana Bread Cockaigne on page 628 of the Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). Of course, I omitted the chopped nuts and/or dried apricots (which usually have come into contact with peanuts or tree nuts), since anything baked had to be school-safe. I also omitted the grated lemon zest, as I usually do, since I don’t often have lemons in the house unless I’ve bought them for a specific purpose.

As usual, the tea was lots of fun, with the tiniest of Sparks and Brownies bringing out cold drinks and trays of treats, while the Guides were in charge of serving hot drinks, and the Pathfinders and Rangers ran things from the kitchen.

Of course, I never got any of the fancy-looking shortbread or thick brownies because the children snatched them up right quick. And I didn’t see any of my tiny muffins come by, so I guess they went out earlier in the day, since my container came back empty. I was rather impressed with the surprise flavours of lemon in some of the shortbread, and maple syrup in the Rice Krispie squares. I think I’ll have to try those additions myself in the future.

Hot Chocolate

Yesterday morning when I woke up it was a frosty -18°C (0°F) — okay, technically -17.9°C (-0.22°F), but the weather network rounded up. That felt like -27°C (-16.6°F) with the wind chill. Non-natives to the area might just think, “Well, that’s Canada for you, it’s always ridiculously cold there.” Okay, sure, it’s colder here than in many places, but not usually so early in the season. This is February weather. In November it’s generally grey and dreary, and hovers around the freezing point. Yesterday was the coldest November 22nd in the history of the city, beating the 1972 record by three and a half degrees. My friend in Whitehorse pointed out that it was a “balmy” -4°C (24.8°F) where he lives.

So I feel that I am justified in commenting on the fact that winter has come quite early to this neck of the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like winter — for a while. I enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s when the season doesn’t seem to want to change that I don’t like — either the stifling, humid days of high summer or the dragging, freezing days of the most intense part of winter. Those days when it seems like all there is to do is endure the season, not enjoy it. And it seems like that part of winter has come on pretty darned fast this year. Heck, my husband went on a ten-day business trip, and when he left it was still autumn. When he returned home, it was February.

The kids, though, don’t mind the biting cold all that much, because it means hot chocolate when they get home from school. They walk, you see, so the weather hits harder than if they just hopped on and off a school bus. It won’t be the hearty meals that they remember fondly from this time of year — at least not until they get a bit older. No, it will be that warm mug of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows while they read at the kitchen table and let the worries of the day fall away. Or perhaps, on slightly warmer days, that same mug after coming in from playing in the snow, red-cheeked and raw-nosed. How do I know that? Because it’s one of my favourite childhood memories as well.