Wide Mouth Canning Jar Accessories

I was planning to write a review of the Norpro Wide Mouth Funnel, because it’s one of my favorite kitchen tools and has revolutionized my food storage process. But then I realized the funnel is a small a part of a larger system of jars in my kitchen.

The iconic canning jar — better known as the Mason or Ball jar — is the only cheap, standardized storage solution I know. There are, of course, fancier, more expensive jars available, but buying enough of them to be truly useful is cost-prohibitive, and with new designs you run the risk the company will stop making them after you’re heavily invested. Weck, Fido and Bernoulli jars, while classic and useful for specific purposes, lack full standardization: you take apart the lid for cleaning and then wonder which jar that lid belongs to. 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:

  • In the morning I pull out a few 4oz jars and dole out my vitamins for the 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).
  • We use the pint size as drinking glasses, of course. At our wedding we had an assortment of jars and colored sharpies for guests to label them with. (Classy, I know.)
  • My immersion blender fits snugly into a wide-mouth jar to make shakes, mayonnaise or whipped cream. Leftovers can be easily capped and stored.
  • When I make sauerkraut or other anaerobic ferments, I use a 4oz canning jar as a 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.
  • Their usefulness is by no means limited to the kitchen.

funnel

The website Food In Jars has a useful taxonomy of canning jar sizes.

Presumably because the patent has long expired, the canning jar is fair game for all kinds of innovative accessories. My favorites are the aforementioned funnel, which works elegantly with a small strainer in both wide or standard mouth jars. One-piece lids are also handy.

There are a myriad of other innovative accessories, including the Cuppow (previously reviewed on Cool Tools), Kraut Kaps, ReCAP, Tattler lids, and the Holdster. So far none of these have proven themselves indispensable, but they’re all evidence that the magnificent canning jar continues to inspire.

A couple of caveats:

Unless you have tiny hands (or an excellent dish washer), stick to mostly wide mouth jars. Standard jars are hard to clean (except for the shallow 4oz size).

Although “salad in a jar” is a thing, canning jars don’t make great lunch containers if you pack sandwiches or just want a “bowl like” dining experience.

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. 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.

-- Reanna Alder  



Rinnai Direct Vent Wall Furnace

I’ve had a similar Rinnai direct vent heater similar to the newer model for over 3 years. It replaced an older Italian made direct vent heater that was poorly designed. The Rinnai has a digital thermostat and uses a piezo lighter. It comes on reliably and there’s no pilot light at all. It direct vents to the outside through a very small pipe and is very easy to install. This heater heats my office in Connecticut from October to April reliably and efficiently.

It has a low setting that keeps the temperature above 5OF and then you can set the thermostat from 60 to your preference. When it’s 0°F outside my office is comfortable and my total heating costs for the season are around $300.

They have versions for propane and natural gas. If you have a small space that needs to be heated reliably you should consider one of these heaters. They also have larger models but I’ve never tried them. I had considered putting in a heat pump/air conditioner (Mr.Slim). It would be interesting to see which would be more efficient/costly to run.

-- J. Sciarra  

Available from Amazon



T-Reign Retractable Gear Tethers

I use the T-Reign gear tether to keep my stuff within reach and ready for use. I received a gear tether as a gift and quickly had to order a couple more for other uses. I keep one for my EMT shears clipped to a D ring in a cargo pocket. The shears are ready for immediate use and if they’re dropped they retract right back to where I can find them again without looking. I have another for my GPS and a third with a case for my digital camera.

Made in the USA they have a strong kevlar cord which after a year of continuous use is not fraying or showing signs of wear.

My sons are in the army and both use these to keep critical tools and gear secure and available when on duty.

-- Charles Kinnear  

Available from Amazon



SuperMemo + Anki

In high school, I tried to learn Spanish, and failed. In college, I tried again, and failed again. Then, in my thirties, I discovered SuperMemo, and within a year I had memorized thousands of Spanish words and phrases and was finally on my way to speaking Spanish.

SuperMemo is software premised on the idea that there is an ideal time to practice any item you are trying to remember. You want to practice when you have almost forgotten it. Too soon, and you waste your time, and even interfere with long term memory formation. Too late, and you’ve lost the trace, and have struggle to learn it again. There is a simple equation that describes the shape of the forgetting curve, but the exact curve is different for every item and for every person. There is no single “best pace” for memorizing all things.

However, your ideal time to practice can be predicted from your history of attempted recall. The inventor and memory expert Piotr Wozniak reduced this practice to software many years ago, and his technique, called “spaced repetition,” is now available in quite a few learning products, including Wozniak’s own SuperMemo, and an open source version called Anki. None of them are perfect from a usability point of view. But any of them will work far, far better than random study of flashcards. These tools will not give you all the pieces of the learning puzzle, obviously. Memorization is only one step. But it is a crucial, difficult, first step, and it is wonderful to get a boost.

I recommend SuperMemo or Anki to every student who needs to memorize: vocabulary, science and medical terms, names and faces, musical chords, technical specs — anything that can be reduced to a flash card.

SuperMemo for Windows (its main version) has a famously slow-to-evolve interface that will irritate anybody used to the convenience of modern UX, but it contains many wonderful features, including “incremental reading,” which is a way to save and remember passages from books and articles. Anki is quite primitive in terms of features, but has an up-to-date interface and is available on most platforms, including an iOS and free Android app.

an

-- Gary Wolf  

SuperMemo (Windows)
$60

Anki
Free, donations welcome

SuperMemo iPhone app
Free, with in-app purchases for language courses



Dorkfood DSV Temperature Controller for Sous Vide

Works flawlessly, controlling temperature to one degree. Using it with my 25-year-old Proctor Slo-Cooker (Original cost $19). Best thing so far is 48-hour short ribs. Cooking them at 140 degrees for two whole days makes the best tasting beef dish I ever had. The meat is totally different texture than what a braise gives you and they still are pink on the inside.

It sure beats spending $400 for a sous vide water oven. I just set it up in the garage and let it go. I do use it with my vacuum food packer but you can use it with regular zip lock bags, (just remove the air using the archimedes principle).

-- Bruce Johnson  



Camelbak Eddy Bottle

At night I wake up with a dry throat and reach blindly for water. I used to knock over glasses and cups until I found this two years ago. It’s basically a sippy cup for adults. It has rubber mouthpiece that doesn’t open until you squeeze slightly with your lips, so no dribbling, and it has a straw so you don’t even need to tip it. Plus it’s dish-washable. I love my sippy cup.

-- Ross Reynolds  

Available from Amazon



Science Fair Handbook

Science fairs are the hidden secret sauce for America’s innovation. They instill the joys of the scientific method early in impressionable minds. Sadly, science fairs are in decline in the US (and on the rise in China, which has a million kids do them each year.) Get your school to run one, or do your own.

My kids’ school promoted science fair participation, and one of our daughter’s projects made it to the California state level one year. In assisting my kids (yes it is okay) I’ve accumulated a entire bookshelf of science fair guides and idea books. The best of all these is the second edition of a 120-page book co-authored by the great science and science-fiction author Isaac Asimov. Aimed at parents wanting to help, and teachers hoping to set one up, it emphasizes the process of science fairing at the elementary school level. Basically, how to do a small experiment and report on it. Then how to judge it.

Unlike most science fair books at this level it is not packed with experiments recycled from others; the ideal experiment is one you don’t know the answer to. That makes your experiment more valuable and more fun for everyone. This handbook does list a few suggested topics by age to spur an idea. For inspiration of possibilities, we haven’t found anything better than old episodes of Mythbusters. As Adam Savage said in one, “Remember kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.”

-- KK  

Science Fair Handbook
Anthony Fredericks, Isaac Asimov
2001, 128 pages
$19

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

science-fair-handbook1sm

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Developing a Hypothesis

After students have designed an appropriate question, they must turn that question into a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an educated guess, a statement of how the scientist thinks the experiment will turn out. It is a prediction, based on the best available information, of what the scientist believes will happen at the conclusion of the experiment. Although the hypothesis is founded on factual data the student has collected during the research stage, it is the student’s opinion deduced from those facts. A well-constructed hypothesis identifies the subjects of the experiment (plants, mice) and states what is being measured (rate of growth, weight), the conditions of the experiment (different-colored light sources, junk food versus regular food), and the results expected (light colors produce faster growth rates than dark colors; a nutritious diet produces higher weights than a junk food diet). Thus a student’s question about a specific area of interest can be developed into a hypothesis that forms the foundation of the student’s investigation.

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Avoid clutter

It is important to include enough items to illustrate important concepts of the project, but it is equally important to avoid crowding the display table. Too many items detract from the display just as much as too few.

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Scientific Thought

Is the experiment designed to answer a question?
Are the procedures appropriate to the area of investigation?
Is the topic or problem stated clearly and completely?
Has scientific literature been cited?
Have scientists or other experts been consulted?
Has a systematic plan of action been stated?
Is there a need for further research or investigation?
Is there an adequate conclusion?
Is a project notebook provided with the display?
Is the project notebook sufficiently detailed in relation to the scope of the project?
Have any problems or limitations that occurred been noted?
Is the amount of data commensurate with the scope of the project?
Does the student understand all the facts and/or theories?




Ammo Can Organizer

I can’t believe it took me this long to find this set of three organizer trays that stack neatly inside a common .50 caliber ammo can (available at any military surplus store, or here on Amazon).

The three sturdy  trays contain a total of 22 compartments of varying sizes and can be stacked in any order. The largest compartment runs the length of one of the trays and is large enough to hold a couple of screwdrivers. The organizer is made in the U.S.A. from chemical-resistant polypropylene.

Combined with the toughness of a .50 cal. ammo can, it should be a waterproof and practically indestructible small parts storage solution.

-- Curt Nelson  



Win a signed copy of Maker Dad

We are giving away a copy of Maker Dad, signed by me. To enter in the drawing, subscribe to our free weekly Cool Tools newsletter. (If you are a current subscriber, you are already in the running). We will select one person at random on July 15, 2014 at Noon PT, so make sure you sign up before that.

See photos of Maker Dad at Wink.

What are you doing this weekend? I’m going to try to set up a Minecraft server on a Windows laptop.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Maker Dad
$13

Available from Amazon



 

The Truth Behind Old Comic Book Novelties and Other Great Books

Wink is Cool Tools’ website that reviews one remarkable paper book every weekday. We take photos of the covers and the interior pages of the books to show you why we love them.

This week we reviewed:

R. Crumb: The Weirdo Years (1981 – 1993) – All of Robert Crumb’s work from his fantastic Weirdo Years

Mail-Order Mysteries – Revealing the truth behind the outlandish gizmos advertised in comic books during the 1960s-70s

Warhammer 40,000 (7th Edition) – New rules, new game direction, and surprisingly lovely new rulebooks for the popular tabletop role-playing game

The Red Book – Carl Jung’s amazing self-illustrated dream journal

The Day-Glo Brothers — The story of Day-Glo paint, told with Day-Glo inks

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities —  Striking artifacts from one of the masters of fantasy and horror

Take a look at sample pages from these books and many others at Wink. And sign up for our Wink newsletter to get all the reviews and photos delivered once a week.

-- Mark Frauenfelder