DIY Mason Jar Lunch Kit Tutorial

diy mason jar lunch kit 7Do you ever find that one mason jar is just not enough? But that two mason jars rattling around in a lunch bag together make you fear you might lose your hummus due to breakage? (I guess you are also risking injury, and a mess to clean up . . . but the hummus, people! The HUMMUS!)

Well, if there is more than one person (me) in the world for whom this is an issue, I hope they find this post, because I’ve got the cutest solution!

DoubleJarThis quick DIY hack is inspired by this post by Kayla of Say Not Sweet Anne who calls her creation “DIY Lunchable Jars”. I saw her post and wanted to make some immediately!

So I asked my brother, whom I was visiting, if I could use his soldering iron. His reply?

“Don’t solder. Soldering makes too many fumes.”

Gah! So frustrating! But was I daunted? Oh no—I wanted to make these so bad.

So I asked my Dad if I could use his soldering iron. His answer?

“Don’t solder. It makes too many fumes.”

Do they share a brain those two???

“Why don’t you use tape instead?”

Tape? TAPE?? Tape is no replacement for solder! It would never hold!

I fumed. I schemed. I looked up “How to solder” on Youtube and priced out soldering irons . . . I spent days scheming how I could stitch rings together with jewelry wire . . . And then went absolutely nowhere with it.

Until one day when I was packing up my two doomed-to-rattle-and-endanger-my-hummus Mason jars for my lunch, I thought, “Oh, fine—I’ll try the dang tape.” I grabbed the closest thing, which was I think electrical tape (?) and hastily taped two Mason Jar rings together.

And do you know what? It actually worked. Not only that, it worked brilliantly! It worked so well that the next day I quickly taped together two wide-mouth rings with masking tape so I could bring salad and some crackers. Again, a flawless design (apart from it being really ugly).

But there is no reason to carry around ugly Mason Jars when there is Washi tape! And Washi-inspired tape!

Enter phase II of my design. I’ve always wanted a reason to buy Washi tape. So I picked up some Scotch brand and tried it. Super cute, though the inflexibility of the Scotch tape didn’t seem to grip the Mason jar rings quite as effectively as either of my ugly tapes in the prototype designs.

diy mason jar lunch kit 3

But the next thing I tried, well it combines two of the most beloved low-tech solutions: Mason Jars and Duct Tape. Not just any duct tape; not the ubiquitous silver kind, no. The cutest, girliest Duct Tape at the Staples store.

It did just the trick.

diy mason jar lunch kit 2

Flexible? Check. Sticky? Check. Super cute? Super check!

So please enjoy my super easy tutorial, and let me know what you’re packing in your new DIY Mason Jar Lunch Kit! Remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy (unless you’re secretly hoping someone will put it on Pinterest)!

DIY Mason Jar Lunch Kit Tutorial

Step 1diy mason jar lunch kit 4

Line up two clean same-sized mason jar rings.

Step 2diy mason jar lunch kit 5

Using tape of choice (or of convenience), wrap tape around the rings, keeping them even and together, until the tape goes around the whole circumference.

diy mason jar lunch kit 6Step 3

Put lids onto jars, and screw on rings one at a time. Make sure to decide which one will be upside down, and pack accordingly.

Step 4

Comment below and tell me what you’re packing in your new super cute kit (mine is hummus–of course–with Mary’s crackers on top).


Pink Things: a recipe for a frugal probiotic condiment

scrambled kale & eggs with lacto fermented rutabaga on the side
scrambled kale & eggs with lacto fermented rutabaga on the side
scrambled kale & eggs with lacto fermented rutabaga on the side

I’ve been doing a fair bit of fermenting here the last few weeks, with some successes, and some screw-ups here and there. But one of my successes has been what we call “pink things”. What they are, in fact, are sticks of rutabaga, lactofermented with garlic and beet in brine. The beet chunks mixed in with the rutabaga make everything turn a vibrant pink, while the garlic just makes it yummy.

I think these are the brilliant pink condiments that Lebanese restaurants add to Shawarma.

Rutabaga are under a dollar a pound at this time of year–making this one frugal ferment! I though I had shared my recipe on my blog before, but when I searched, I couldn’t find it. So here it is!

Pink Things

1 rutabaga

2-3 beets

3-4 cloves garlic

3-4 pint/500 ml mason jars, very clean or sterilized with boiling water

1 litre basic brine (approx. 1 tbsp salt to 1 L water: less salt in colder weather, more salt in warmer weather; see note about water to use)

Peel rutabaga and cut into spears, about the size of your pinky finger. Dice beets. Bruise or crush the garlic cloves so that the flavour will emerge but the cloves will stay intact. Divide the ingredients evenly between the pint jars, making sure there is at least one clove of garlic per jar, and a small handful of beet chunks.

When the veggies are divided up, pour brine over it all to cover. The veggies should stay submerged beneath the brine: you can use a lid from a smaller jar, maybe weighted down with a stone that you have boiled to sterilize. The lids should be put on "fingertip tight" to allow carbon dioxide, produced during the fermentation, to escape.

Leave on the counter for several days, maybe 3 days if the weather is warm, and as long as a week if it is cooler. They will lose the “raw” taste, the beets will start seeping colour into the brine, and the whole thing will take on a dark shade of pink. If they smell alcoholic, or grow a lot of mold, throw them out and try again with fresh ingredients and sterile jars. Using filtered or distilled water can also help if you have problems.

These disappear pretty quickly at my house! I hope they are as popular at yours. What a frugal way to get some gut-supporting probiotics, in the form of a delicious condiment!

Bird Treat Ornament Tutorial (Good last-minute diy hostess gift idea)

There are pictures out there on Pinterest of these beautiful heart-shaped bird treat ornaments made with bird seed mixed with gelatine. Unfortunately, I tried those and they failed miserably, never hardening at all. How disappointing.

However, I thought this year that a fool-proof alternative would be to make something similar, but this time with suet! So I saved my fat skimmed from various meats (I do often use those skimmings for cooking and frying, but sometimes I have extra) over the last few months in a can in my freezer. Today I used the fat to make lovely bird treats!

Heart-shaped Bird Treat Ornaments

Step 1:

Assemble your materials and ingredients.

Ingredients for home made diy bird treat ornaments

You will need:

– fat that will harden in the cold (chicken, pork, beef, butter, coconut, etc.)

– bird seed

– ribbon

– heart-shaped moulds (super cute as hearts, but any shape will do. Mini muffins are great for tiny treats that won’t weigh down smaller branches)

– plastic wrap

Step 2:

Warm fat until it is liquified. Mix it with bird seed until it is a uniform mixture. A little on the liquidy side would be better than too dry, to make sure everything will stick together. It should cool while you stir. Make sure it is not too hot for you to handle, especially if working with children.

Step 3:

Place plastic wrap over your mould form (this will make it easy to pop out. If you have a silicone muffin tray, you won’t need plastic wrap.

Step 4:

Spoon a thin layer of seed mixture into the mould.



Step 5:

Take a length of ribbon and knot it on one end to form a loop. Place the knotted end on top of your first layer of bird seed mixture.

Step 5 of homemade bird treat ornaments


Step 6:

Fill the rest of the mould up with seed mixture, burying the ribbon in the centre.

Home made diy bird treat ornament

Step 7:

Let these chill outside or in the fridge or freezer. It didn’t take long for them to hold their shape. We made several batches, and popped the semi-firmed ones out to continue chilling while we worked on the next batch.

Home made diy bird treat ornaments

Step 8:

Pop them out of the mould and hang them outside where you will have a good view of them, and enjoy keeping those little birdies alive through another cold Northern Ontario winter!


Iced Tea

If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself dealing with a daily afternoon craving for something sweet, caffienated, or both. For me, it’s both–and I don’t mean just sweetened coffee. No, I mean I want a coffee AND a sweet baked something, plus maybe a handful of chocolate chips for good measure.

Well, I’ve discovered a little solution to this problem quite by accident. It happened when instead of throwing out the half-pot of un-drunk tea, I stuck it in an empty yogurt container and squeezed in the juice from a leftover half a lemon. My husband scoffed. I shrugged my shoulders–waste not, want not I figured as I stuck it in the fridge, though I was a bit sceptical as to how this would turn out. It was chai tea after all–not a usual flavour for iced tea.

I was thirsty the next afternoon so I pulled out my tub-o-tea, spooned in some sugar and took a sip. Eureka! It was delicious–cold and sweet and lemony, blending perfectly with the chai spices. Plus I found it satisfying both my sugar craving and giving me my caffeine fix, but without any jittery feelings that sometimes accompany that afternoon extra cup.

So this is my new thing: never waste tea. Actually, it’s so good I’ve been making it intentionally. Brew tea, stick in fridge with lemon juice. Stir in sugar. And then grab a cookie.

You deserve it for being so damn clever.

Work Lunches: a new strategy

Some times you have to spend money to save money. It’s a hard, cruel fact. One that I’ve ignored for far too long. Today I broke the bank with pyrex, but it should save us a bunch of money in the long run!

Now that we’re doing Your Money or Your Life step 2 (part 2)–which involves tracking every cent that comes into and goes out of our lives–I’ve realized just how much money is being spent on food outside the home. Lots! One area where we have fallen down is in organizing my partner’s lunches at work. When he doesn’t bring something from home, his lunches out can easily cost around $10 per day. And that doesn’t count the $5 afternoon Starbucks run. Fifteen bucks a day adds up quick, and my partner is the first to admit that the food is crappy and not worth it.

Now that the baby is eight and a half months, things are beginning to stabilize a bit in our household, and we can start building some systems again, start re-organizing. So we had a chat about the lunches, and came up with a strategy for reducing his food costs at work.

Basically, the plan is to have five lunches ready and waiting in the fridge or freezer at the beginning of each week so that there will always be something to grab each day and he won’t end up needing to buy lunches any more. The specific strategy points are as follows:

1. Try to do better with leftovers. I always “intend” to make sure there are leftovers to take, but too often I forget to actually allow for them in my cooking. Leftovers will be priority #1.

Spaghetti lunches, ready for the freezer

2. Make big-batch home-made “frozen” lunches. This is where the pyrex comes in. I finally broke down and bought five glass freezer containers suitable for a decent portion of food for my partner’s lunch. My idea is to do just like the frozen dinners do and have a bed of noodles or rice dumped over with a good helping of sauce. Only this version will be home made, and it will be super duper cheap!

So, today I did a big batch of spaghetti. We ate a good helping for dinner, and then I made more noodles and packed up five yummy portions for frozen lunches. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I’m planning to make big meaty saucy stewy meals every Sunday from now on to stock up the frozen lunches for the week. These home-made frozen dinners will be priority #2.

3. Buy enough frozen meals to last a week. My partner doesn’t mind the President’s Choice frozen Indian dishes, so I will try to make sure there are at least five in our freezer at the start of the week. That way, if we fall down on #1 and #2, at least he has those.

4. Make cookies. What can I say? My man likes my cookies. I figure for the cost of maybe two cookies at Starbucks, I could make a full batch of cookies at home. If I make them, he’ll eat them. And we all save money.

So there you have it: the new plan. It involves a lot of Sunday cooking and shopping, but I think we’re ready for it. There is a lot to be said for getting ready for the week on the weekend, instead of playing catch-up the rest of the days.

I also wanted to add that today I shopped at the Isabella Loblaws and found some great sales. First off, the PC frozen meals were on sale for $3 each, so I bought enough for two weeks. There were also all these bread products, reduced to 50% off. Due date: June 15! I don’t know who is getting fired over this, but I got a loaf of bread, a bag of english  muffins, and two bags of bagels, each for between $1 and $1.50.

So we are really really really well stocked at the moment. It feels good. But MAN my freezer is full!

Pastured Yogurt!

Home-Made Raw Milk Yogurt
Home-made raw milk yogurt

I didn’t buy the cow, but I got the milk for free . . .

Raw organic pastured milk, that is. I was going to buy a cow share, but in the end took a long hard look at the budget and decided against it. The very sweet farmer, after hearing my budget constraints, sent a free bottle of milk along for me with my friend who did sign herself up for his milk.

So I became the owner of 1.5 litres of raw milk. It had nearly 3 cm of cream on top, and it smelled like a fragrant pasture. There are many health benefits attributed to raw, pastured, unhomogenized dairy products; access to this kind of “real milk” is lobbied for by the Weston A. Price Foundation.

The only thing was that I found it just a little bit different from what I’m used to. So instead of pouring it over my cereal, I used some for making pancakes, and the rest, I used for making yogurt. I took a very low-tech approach, as outlined below. Keep in mind, the milk is no longer “raw”, as heating for yogurt effectively pasteurizes it.

Home Made Yogurt (without a thermometer)


yogurt with active cultures

Warm up slow cooker on low setting. Add hot tap water.

Heat milk in a saucepan on the stove until frothy and steamy. Then cool the milk by placing the saucepan in a sink of cold water and stirring the milk. Cool the milk until it is “warm-hot, not owie hot” (as my daughter would say). Add active yogurt–approx. 2 tbsp yogurt per four cups of milk–and whisk until combined.

Pour into clean mason jars and place jars in the slow cooker, making sure the hot water does not rise above the jars. Turn off/unplug the slow cooker and wrap it with towels. Let sit for several hours. The longer you let it sit, the firmer and more sour the yogurt will be.

Remove from slow cooker, place lids on jars, and refrigerate. The yogurt will firm up as it cools.

~ / ~

It’s like magic: milk alchemy! I was so excited to be making yogurt that I kept on wanting to lift up the towels to take a peek–a peek of what, I have no idea! But it worked, and I’m stoked. The sourness of the yogurt works very well with the more complex flavour of the pastured milk. And the price is better than any organic yogurt out there, even with the $3 per litre price tag. And hey–no more plastic yogurt tubs to stress about!

How about you? Do you make yogurt? Have you tried raw or pastured milk?

Home Made Peanut Butter

Making peanut butter
Making peanut butter

My favourite peanut butter is the freshly ground kind from the grinder at the health food store. But I recently read that conventional peanuts are usually grown as rotation crops with soy–one of the biggest pesticide loaded crops of all. That got me a bit paranoid about conventional peanuts. The only problem is that bulk organic peanut butter is $12 something per kilo–more than double the price of conventional.

Luckily the bulk organic roasted peanuts are only $8 something. While still expensive, it’s cheaper, but now I have to grind it myself.

My first attempt at making my own peanut butter, I just chucked the peanuts into my food processor and ground away until I thought it was done. Unfortunately I didn’t process long enough and the texture was gritty and wouldn’t spread on crackers or bread.

For my next attempt, after doing some reading on the internet, I tried adding 1 tsp of oil per cup of roasted peanuts. I used some olive oil and some coconut oil (which is a liquid now since it’s heated up here!). I also decided to process it longer.

And it worked! At first, the blades were clearly chopping the nuts into tiny pieces, and it sounded like it. Soon, however, it started sounding smoother, and a ball of stuff formed inside the machine. That was the point at which I stopped last time. This time I let it keep going. Soon, I could see a smooth creamy layer forming at the bottom of the food processor. I let it keep going and shortly the whole bowl was full of creamy peanut butter.

It’s pretty tasty, and certainly spreadable. While it’s a bit more work, I’m planning on sticking with the organic. And now that the peanut butter has worked, I might try my own almond butter too!

The miracle of life–a sourdough starter

I started my new starter three days ago, according to Peter Reinhart’s new “Artisan Breads Every Day”:

Day 1: combine 1 oz flour with 2 oz pineapple juice. Stir together and leave at room temperature for 2 days, stirring three times per day.

Day 3: add 1 oz flour and 1 oz pineapple juice to the Day 1 mixture. Stir together, and leave at room temperature until it becomes frothy and bubbly, stirring three times per day.

The idea is that the pineapple juice prevents the bacteria leuconostoc from taking over, and the stirring  prevents the mixture from getting moldy. The next step is adding 2 oz flour and 1 oz water, leaving for 1-2 days and stirring intermittently. Then adding 3 oz flour and 1 oz water to 4 oz of the previous culture, at which point you let it ferment and then it is ready to become your Mother Starter.

So today is day 4 and I am delighted to report that my goop is starting to bubble! It is delightful to be bringing a new starter to life. It holds the promise of amazing tasting bread to feed my family. The promise of not having to go out and buy bread because I’ve just baked up a couple loaves. Just the smell of sour yeasty goodness makes me verklempt. (Really. I get choked up very easily).

Now, if only I had thought of doing this at the beginning of winter instead of the beginning of summer!

Stepping back into Sourdough

I’ve lost my sourdough starter. By which I mean, it got so polluted and gross that it wasn’t working at all any more. So I’m starting my starter over. Again.

I actually gave it a try not long ago, and found my starter infected with leuconostoc, which imitates a true starter by getting bubbly and smelling sour, but it is actually bacteria, not yeast, which is bubbling. It gets very sour right off the bat, and doesn’t have that yummy beery/yeasty smell that makes bread taste like bread.

Peter Reinhart says to make the starter with pineapple juice, so that is what I am going to do. I’ll start it tonight and will report back soon. Once my starter is established, I’m going to follow the methods described in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, which incorporates the no-knead approach with sourdough techniques, exactly what I set out to investigate last summer. Fortunately, Peter Reinhart, with his big team of testers, has taken the challenge instead!

I’ll let you know what happens . . .

Guerrilla gardening in my own back yard

Our apartment building has a side yard, breezy and shaded by several large trees and a row of small cedars. It faces south onto a parking lot, and no one goes back there. Last year a young guy who lived in our building used to smoke back there and play his guitar, but he moved out in the winter, and now we’re the only users of the leafy green space.

It’s falling into disrepair. The old super’s wife used to tend the garden, but since he died, no one has weeded or pruned or planted. The leaves are still on the ground from the fall. So I started poking around, doing a bit of weeding in the front, and one day a company rep said I could “probably put in a little garden in the back” if I wanted. He couldn’t see why not. And do I want? Oh yes!

I’m not sure why I never tried this before. I guess this year things are looking so particularly dire back there that I know I wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes. And since the general yard work isn’t being done, I figure I can earn my keep by raking, pruning and weeding.

The other thing that always kept me from leaping into the dirt back there is that it is quite shady. It’s glorious on summer days, but I’m just not sure what kind of food I could grow back there. There are rose bushes that flower, and peonies, and even a grape vine. Is there any way I can predict what might grow other than by trial and error? Any food recommended to grow in shaded south-facing lots?

I’m completely new to gardening, but now this summer I find myself gardener times two! Any help or advice is appreciated!

My plans thus far include:

– a rhubarb plant. I figure they will need more light at the beginning of the season, before the trees come into leaf. If anyone has a cutting for me, let me know!

– strawberries

– leafy green things like lettuce and chard

– some cooking herbs

– carrots

– green onions

– potatoes?

So, I’ve got lots of plans. I probably won’t grow all of these things this year, but gradually add more each year until I’m producing all our food from this little lot. Let me know what shady food plants you’ve successfully grown! And then in August, come over and share my harvest 🙂