Funnels, canning jars and the power of standardization


Norpro wide mouth funnelI was going to write a review of the Norpro Wide Mouth Funnel for the website Cool Tools, because the former is one of my favourite kitchen tools and the latter one of my favourite stuff blogs. But I realized the funnel is part of a larger system of canning jars in my kitchen, and that you have to be into jars to get excited about this funnel.

The canning jar – better known as the Mason or Ball jar – is the only cheap, standardized food storage solution I know, and therein lies its beauty.

There are, of course, fancier, more expensive jars available, but buying enough to be truly useful is cost-prohibitive. With new designs you run the risk the company will stop making them after you’re heavily invested. Weck and Fido jars, while classic and useful for specific purposes, lack cross-brand standardization: you take apart the lid for cleaning (so many pieces!) and then wonder which jar that lid belongs to. Similar lid-hunts will result if you build your food storage system around used peanut butter and jam jars. Not so the canning jar.

Usually around $1 apiece (or 25 to 50 cents in thrift stores), canning jars are cheap enough to build a collection. I have at least a dozen of each size in regular rotation in my kitchen, pantry and fridge and use them many times a day:

• I pack lunch items, including soup, tea, pudding, and nuts or seeds, in half pint and pint jars which then go into an insulated lunch bag (available at your local thrift store).
• Pint jars double as drinking glasses, of course. At our wedding we had an assortment of them and coloured sharpies for guests to label them with. Classy, I know.
Immersion blenders fit snugly into a wide-mouth jar to make shakes, mayonnaise or whipped cream. Leftovers can be easily capped and stored.
• When making sauerkraut or other anaerobic ferments, a 4oz canning jar makes a handy weight inside a wide mouth or bail-top jar, to keep the veggies under the brine.
• Straight-sided jars can be used in the freezer without breaking. Put them in warm water for a few minutes and the food slides right out.

Amco strainer

The generic canning jar is fair game for all kinds of innovative accessories. My favourites are the aforementioned funnel, which stacks elegantly on top of a small strainer and allows you to strain and store in one go. You don’t know how much you want this function until you have it. One-piece lids are also handy.

(There are a myriad of other accessories, including the cuppow, Kraut Kaps, ReCAP, Tattler lids, and the Holdster. So far none of these have proven themselves indispensable, or even all that useful, but they’re evidence that the magnificent canning jar continues to inspire.)

The website Food In Jars has a useful taxonomy of canning jar sizes. Note that my infatuation with jars begins and ends with the wide mouth variety. Unless you have tiny hands, regular canning jars are a pain to hand wash and should be banished to the tool shed.

Although “salad in a jar” is a thing, canning jars don’t make great lunch containers  for sandwiches or, ahem, salads. As far as I’m concerned there really isn’t a perfect non-plastic lunch container on the US market. I’ve tried many, from Indian tiffins to Ikea glass lunch containers. Inevitably they aren’t leak proof, or they are but then they get a dent, or you lose the lid, or the seal gets filthy or wears out, and then the parts aren’t replaceable, or the company stops making them and you have to buy a new set and throw away the old lids. I hate throwing shit away. Which is why I dream that one day someone will design a standardized, open-source, leak-proof travel bowl. I already have a name for it: the extra-wide mouth. 

Next in the series: An Ode to the Silicone Spatula…

Vintage trailer repair, JT style

Our friend Barnett fixes up vintage trailers to rent out during the Joshua Tree Music Festival.  I really like the way he fixes them: a coat of paint for waterproofing, rusted metal patches on the siding, wooden window frames, improvised doors. The insides are usually gutted and painted bright colours; plywood patches are applied where needed. A lot of the trailer renos you see on the internet are painstaking restorations. This is not that. This is something a little wilder.


Almost famous

Lloyd Kahn Spread

This is a draft spread from Lloyd Kahn’s forthcoming book, Tiny Homes on the Move, originally posted here.  Note the charming couple under the “the,” standing in front of their trailer. Awwww!

I think we also appear in the movie Tiny, though I haven’t seen it with my own eyes yet.

Somos quilt

Somos Quilt
Photo: Steve Lester

This quilt is headed for Project Somos in Guatemala, where the kid who picks it will get to keep it for life.

The piecing started three or four years ago, as leftovers from what became Yared’s quilt. About a year ago I took my pile of scrappy squares and cut them down to 6 x 6 squares. Creating a grid tamed the chaos just enough to make me think all these colours and prints could work together.

Some of the fabric (including some liberty prints) is left over from the nine bow ties and 100 napkins I made for our wedding. There are polka dots from a dress I modified, and thrift store odds-and-ends. The borders are made of light wool and linen suiting fabric from the garment district.

I hope one day I’ll get to see a picture of the quilt with it’s new owner.

Alz quilts on sale

The Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative has put all their stock on sale, including the last two quilts I made for them. All proceeds go to Alzheimer’s research.

Regular price: $35. Sale: $26.25
Regular price: $55. Sale: $41.25

Pod Living: Brian’s Off Grid Organic Farm

From Owen Geiger’s Natural Building Blog:

“Brian is an “obsessive craftsman” who believes he can build most anything in his life. On his Oregon farm he has built, or renovated, 5 tiny structures. After being told by the county that he couldn’t erect a yurt, he built a code-approved main house “to give us a place to legally stay”.

Once the main house was built, he created several smaller structures (less than 200 square feet) on the property from 90% local materials.

When we started fixing up the trailer I figured, “If we live in it two years, it will be worth it.” It’s been almost two years already, and we’re making plans for more “pods” nearby that will make things comfortable for another “five years or so.” (By “pod” I mean a purpose-specific shelter that is either temporary and movable, or falls under California’s 120 sq. ft. accessory structure limit, therefor requiring no building permit.)

We already have a bathhouse and a secondary kitchen/pantry where we keep our fridge, freezer and dry goods, which we hope to add a sink to soon. Next up is a sleeping pod, since the trailer is cold in the winter and noisy when the wind blows. Also, more shade – over the trailer and nearby – to get us through the summers. Later we might add studios for each of us (right now I’m using an RV as a sewing studio).

I’ve been referring to all this as “pod living,” or my “inside out house” since it consists of a bunch of small units around a yard/garden. It seems like the logical evolution of the tiny house concept in a rural context, and people are doing it – this video is an awesome example – but I haven’t come across a name for it really.