Thursday, June 29, 2017

Made It: DIY Produce Storage Bags

Hello! I try to eat a good amount of vegetables every day, whether they be store-bought or grown by me. Thus, at any given time I typically have various lettuces, greens, sprouts and other such produce in my refrigerator. I enjoy having a variety of vegetables on hand for lunchtime salads and dinners, but this means I have to make sure my veggies stay fresh before they're eaten up. 

I've tried storing my produce in rolled-up old kitchen towels - fine, but the towels take up a lot of room in the crisper. I've used paper towels, but this seems wasteful.

Then I came across this tip somewhere (don't recall the source):

Cotton "Green" Storage Bags
  •  Make out of unbleached muslin or broadcloth
  • Cut and stitch a rectangle of about 11"w x 14"l
  • Doesn't have to have a drawstring
  • The cotton fabric allows the produce to breathe

Rather vague directions, but that's because it's very simple sewing. Here's a bit more detailed info on how I made mine:
  •  I used unbleached muslin for mine (most recent purchase of this was yesterday; paid $3.70/yd sale price at JoAnn Fabrics.)
  •  You can cut your fabric to any size you prefer. Since I favor a number of veggies with long leaves and/or stems (Romaine and leaf lettuces, kale, collards and other greens), I made bags that measure 10"w x 20"l. 
  • And for smaller produce like my home-grown sprouts, I also made smaller bags that measure 10"w x 7"l. These smaller bags are also good for transferring produce from the larger bags once some of that produce is eaten up (for example, a partially-used bunch of kale). 
  • Sewing directions: to save on sewing a side seam, I placed my patterns (made from newspaper)on the fold of doubled-over muslin. 
  • After cutting out the pattern, I opened up the fabric and sewed a narrow hem on the top edge (fold over 1/4" fabric, fold over 1/4" again, then sew this down)
  • Match edges and sew down long side and bottom edge to make bag. Use 1/4" seam.
  • I pinked the seams to prevent raveling. 
  • Turn bag to right side. 
  • To use, just place your produce in your bag and roll down the top. If the produce is too close to the top of the bag to roll down, I place the bag in a plastic bag from the grocery store produce section and roll down the top of that bag loosely. Using one of those plastic bags in this manner doesn't seem to affect the produce.
  • Machine wash and dry after each usage.
That's it! I've been using my produce bags for years now, and I can report that they work very well. My daughter apparently took notice, for she recently asked me to make her some. Here's how they turned out (I actually made her two of each size):

As I'd said, very simple sewing! But it's nice to have something so simple that works so well. 

PS I've found that the large-size bag works well when I make broth with the post-Thanksgiving turkey carcass. I put the broken-up carcass plus the vegetables and seasonings all together in the bag, tie it up with some kitchen string, and toss the bag into my soup pot along with some water. When the broth is done, I just pull the bag out and place it in a colander over a bowl to catch any broth that had seeped into the bag. This is easier than having to strain the entire pot of broth into the colander. I do reuse the bag (after emptying it out, of course). Since it's greasy from the turkey innards, I hand-wash the bag a bit in the kitchen sink with some dish soap, rinse it, then toss it in with the laundry. I reserve a bag just for this purpose.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thrifty Acres: Miraculous Messages From Heaven

Hello! I picked this book up recently at a thrift store:

I'm a sucker for book compilations that contain stories of "...Eternal Love, Powerful Connections, and Divine Signs from Beyond". And perhaps the main reason for this fondness is that I have a "Divine Signs from Beyond" story of my own. 

It occurred in early March 1998. My older sister, Ellen, had died of cancer less than two months before, and my husband had come up with an idea for honoring her memory: a family outing to a Detroit Tigers game. She had been a huge Tigers fan. 

Having grown up in Chicago, my husband is a Cubs fan, so he found  the perfect game for the outing: the Tigers were playing the Cubs at Tiger Stadium on June 24th. Ellen had liked the Cubs as well, and had attended one of their games at Wrigley Field with us years ago. 

In 1998, my husband and I were living in suburban Philadelphia, but were planning on visiting my family later on in March. We would bring up the baseball game get-together then. 

Shortly after my husband and I discussed the game outing, he got a piece of mail that struck us as unusual: an envelope from the Chicago Cubs that enclosed a copy of their season schedule and a form for ordering game tickets. Now, my husband had been to many Cubs games in his life, but the last one he'd attended had been well before we'd moved to the East Coast. It seemed very strange that the Cubs organization would send their schedule to someone who now lived nowhere near Wrigley Field. He hadn't gotten mailings from the Cubs before this.

But what was even stranger was the piece of mail I got just a few days later: a brochure from a sports souvenir shop located a short distance away from Tiger Stadium. "Come see us on the way to the Tigers game!" the brochure copy exclaimed. 

Good marketing copy to be sure, but I'd never even heard of the shop, and I'm not in the habit of buying sports souvenirs. So how and why did they even get my name and address? I had been away from Tiger Stadium even longer than my husband had been away from Wrigley Field, so there was no reason for the shop owner to think I'd be passing by anytime soon.

And, as with my husband's mail from the Cubs, I wasn't living anywhere near the shop. How on earth could I have been considered in its target market? 

I told my husband these mailings had to have been Ellen's doing. She was letting us know she wanted us to go ahead and plan the baseball game outing in her memory. He's not into such "life from beyond" stuff, so he poo-pooed that notion. But we did get the rest of my family on board for the event. Enough of us would be in attendance to get a group rate and our group name on the scoreboard during the game. 

And it turned out to be a quite a game! The Tigers came from behind to beat the Cubs 7-6 in 11 innings. Everyone in the family was happy except for my husband. 

But as he admitted later, he wasn't surprised that Tigers ended up winning. As they were beginning their rally, he claimed that suddenly he saw Ellen's face clearly in his mind. This dismayed him, as he interpreted it as a sign from her that the Tigers would win. So much for not believing in signs from the deceased! But he was right - the Tigers won, just as he had interpreted they would. 

By the way, we did the Tigers game family outings for a few more years after that, until it got to be too much of a hassle to arrange it. But my husband and I never got those game-related mailings again. I guess my sister just wanted to make sure it happened that first time!

And here's another freaky thing: I didn't remember the exact day of that game in 1998, only that it had happened in late June or early July. So I consulted my journal from that year - and learned that it had happened on June 24th. And I'm writing this blog post on - June 24th. 

Perhaps I got a nudge from Ellen to write up this post on the anniversary of that game! If so, well done, Ellen! We miss you.



Saturday, June 10, 2017

Thrifty Acres: Some Serious Garage Sale Shopping

Hello! Our daughter begins her grad school career next week, and in advance of that she signed a lease on an unfurnished apartment. Now, to fill it! She'd lived on campus all four years of undergrad life, which had meant a furnished room, of course. 

She's taking the furnishings from her bedroom here at home: desk/chair set, bed, dresser and another chair. She has some  kitchen supplies, for the last two years of her on-campus life were at a room-only residence hall (full-size kitchens on the premises). But needless to say, there are a number of gaps she needs to fill.

So she and I have been making the rounds of garage sales in the area. I think we could have done better if she was an earlier riser. As I'd told her, "if you snooze, you lose". Nevertheless, we made good progress in purchasing some things for her apartment - and as a bonus, I found a few things too! 

In no particular order, here are some of our finds:

A man sold us this coffee table and two matching end tables. Pretty solid wood, and just a few scratches that can be touched up. My husband was impressed, especially when I told him we paid $30 for all three pieces. I don't know how old the set is - a newer style than I prefer, but then again, our daughter's apartment complex is much newer than our house. 

This was the "big ticket" item from our garage sale excursions. She now needs a sofa to park behind the coffee table, but my husband rejected the idea of a secondhand version due to the possibility of bedbugs. I've seen pros and cons about this online, but I guess it's better to be safe than sorry. 

This was a fun find, and it didn't hurt that it were free. These may look like ordinary wooden spoons that one would use for stirring up something in the kitchen, but they were handcrafted by a man in southern Indiana to be played as a percussion instrument. There were several such bags for sale, and I liked that each was labeled with the type of wood used to make the spoons. Above, you see examples in black cherry and sassafras. How often do you know what tree your wooden spoon came from? 

These spoons will need to be seasoned, but the woman running the sale assured me that that can be done via food-grade mineral oil. 

This seller also had these on offer:

A couple of small hand-thrown dishes. I thought they  came from an art gallery or craft show, but no, the woman said she had made them at a pottery class. She obviously didn't care much for her efforts, since she sold them to me for 50c each. Since I know the seller slightly, she might have thought I was just being polite with my compliments, but I truly liked them. I'll keep one for myself and will give the other to our daughter. 

Our daughter had bought new sheets, so I scooped up this like-new set for our house. The woman who sold them to me said that most people now shun double beds, but there's no kings or queen in my house. The now-lowly full size rules when you own vintage bed frames (1920s to 1940s eras). We needed new sheets, so I was happy to find these, and at only five bucks. 

I'd show off more of my daughter's purchases, but they've been packed away in advance of the move. She was happy to find a kitchen canister set, still in its box, and some other small kitchen things.

But I can show off another purchase of mine, since it was a wonderful example of what I'll call secondhand synchronicity: 

Last weekend I'd admired the "lettuce bowls" sold by a couple of vendors at our Farmer's Market: plastic pots just like the one above, loaded with young lettuce plants. But at $13-$14 per bowl, I declined the purchase. After all, I had lettuce seeds at home; I just needed to get the planter. And that I did, for a quarter at a garage sale an hour later. My seeds began popping up a couple of days ago. I know that they won't like the heat wave that began today, but there's plenty of shade on our deck, so my lettuce blend should be okay. 

Of course, there's no guarantee that garage sales will yield anything that you want or need. I'm actually pretty fussy about quality and prices. I saw a very nice wicker rack that would have looked very nice in our daughter's apartment. The color and size was been perfect. But the seller was asking forty bucks. Nope! 

Another sale was rather sparse by the time we got there, but even though we didn't buy anything, I enjoyed the immaculate work area in a corner of the garage. Someone had set up a very orderly shelving unit behind a work table, with meticulously labeled drawers. It was a far cry from my father-in-law's system of small paper bags in his basement, each with a different nail or screw size.

At other sales I got to ogle patio decor, house exteriors and landscaping. And some of our garage sale trips took us down streets that were new to us. So all in all even the stops that yielded no purchases weren't a complete waste of time. 

And we came home with wooden tables, wooden spoons and more. Our serious garage sale shopping paid off!