Mooky Cow and Cheval posing in reusable produce bags
DIY, DOWNTIME DIYS

DOWNTIME DIYS #3: Reusable Veggie Bags

HI. TWO POSTS TODAY COS I WAS BAD LAST WEEK. Anyhoo. Here in Australia, our supermarkets have gone back and forth about plastic bags vs no plastic bags at checkouts. They seem to have settled on no plastic bags, and offer several types of reusable bags for sale for very little dollars indeed (we call these Coles bags or Green bags depending where you shop I guess). Some of the more pricey ones of these are really quite nice.

But despite this push for more sustainable, more aware shopping, they still package many things in excess plastic, AND they provide plastic bags for unpackaged fruit, veg, nuts, and bulbs/tubers (onions, garlic bulbs, ginger, potatoes etc). Now we do have a wide variety of stuff available in supermarkets here, and people do like the option of being able to buy exactly what they need and not waste produce. But these bags do not have handles, and are very thin, and therefore rarely get reused.

There has been a big push in both the DIY and eco-aware communities for reusable veggie bags made from a variety of fabrics/materials, and there are even commercial varieties available for sale. But today, I am here to show you that you can make your own (and even some for your friends!).

So. Let’s go!

MATERIALS:

  • 1m plain cotton/strongly woven mesh (I bought a remnant roll of 3m of mesh, and used less than 1m. So 1m should be plenty).
  • 5m (or more depending on the size and number of bags you make) of cord/string/rope – whatever you choose to tie your bags with. We are making drawstring bags
  • Sizeable safety pin
  • White thread and needle if sewing by hand
A pile of white mesh fabric, and a coil of white twisted rope

And that’s pretty much all you need. OK. Here we go.

STEP 1: Lay out your fabric on a flat space – a table or counter (if it’s big enough) or you can use the floor like me – and fold it in half (length or width ways doesn’t matter for this). May fabric was a remnant roll which means the edges weren’t perfect, and gave me a good place to start working out the size of the bags I wanted.

If you like, you can use old newspaper or magazines to mark out the size of the bags you want. Think of what sort of produce you usually buy. You can use a pencil or some blackboard chalk to mark it out (or tailor’s chalk if you have some). Remember to leave some space for seams if you don’t have an overlocker or are sewing by hand.

White mesh bag pieces
I literally just fold and cut. I rely on my overlocker/sewing skills to even out the edges.

STEP 2: Cut! Don’t be afraid. Cut out your bags. If you’ve been smart and cut as you’ve gone along, you should be able to get away with having a fold along one of your edges. This should be the bottom of your bag, as it is still woven and uncut and will provide the strongest edge (especially if you buy a lot of potatoes).

STEP 3 (OPTIONAL): As I am working with mesh, and I have an overlocker, I chose to overlock all the edges of my bags pieces before I start an actual joining of seams. You can do this by hand with blanket stitch, but it could be time-consuming. You can also do this with zig-zag stitch on a standard sewing machine. This is step is not necessary.

METHOD 1:

White mesh fabric pieces in an overlocker

STEP 4.1: Now we fold each piece in half (with any uncut folded edges being the bottom of the bags), and we close up each side. Now, those with overlockers can continue as normal, standard sewing machines can use either zig-zag stitch (if you have a loose weave/stretch fabric) or straight stitch, and hand sewers should use back stitch – it is very secure.

PLEASE NOTE: we have folded the fabric in half, right sides together, and we join them with the inside of the fabric facing outwards. This way, when we turn them right-sides out, it will look nice. For most of the fabric used for this type of project, it really doesn’t matter, but some plain coloured fabrics will have a more saturated and less saturated side.

White mesh bag shells

STEP 5.1: Still with right sides facing, we fold over a section on the top to create a hem (edging) that will go all the way around the top of the bag. Pin in place, and leave one seam area open/unpinned. This will create a tube that we will feed our rope/cord/string into to make the drawstring. Sew down, leaving a gap at the unpinned seam.

White mesh bag pieces with hem being sewn in sewing machine

METHOD 2:

STEP 4-2: Take your bag piece and fold in half, right sides together. One section may have an uncut fold and this will be the bag bottom. Or you may not have a fold in which case you can decide which will be the top – you should sew this bottom edge closed before continuing with this step. Pin one (only one) of the side seams together (this means one of the joins between two pieces of fabric that will create the side of the bag), and sew.

STEP 5-2: Lay your bag flat with the right side facing down. At the top of the bag, fold down a section to create a hem that will go across the top (this means both sections, including the join). This will make a casing for the drawstring! Pin down and sew a little line near to the very bottom of the fold where the raw edge meets the main bag fabric.

Now you may notice that the tube is open because we haven’t sewn up the second side. Sew up the second side, leaving the tube openings open.

STEP 6: OK, back to the main bit. The two above methods are just options for having the drawstrings inside the bag (Method 1), and outside the bag (Method 2). It really comes down to personal preference.

White mesh bag with cord draped across it

OK. Attaching the drawstrings. Lay down your bag flat and lay your cord across the top along the seam. For smaller bags, I cut four times this (see pic), but for most bags I cut three. You may add a little excess to account for the knot. Cut your drawstring to the desired length, and take your big safety pin and attach it to one end.

white cord with safety pin attached

Feed the pin into one tube opening, and push and scrunch, and release the fabric along until the pin comes out the other opening. Adjust your drawstring, and tie a knot at the very end of each end of the rope.

White mesh bag hem with safety pin and cord inserted
White mesh bag hem with cord and safety pin inside
whit emesh bag with drawstring fed through
white mesh bag with drawstring knot

NOTE: Be mindful with twisted rope that it begins to unravel as soon as you cut it, and it might get caught in your casing if your fabric is mesh or rough. Take it slow, and keep a pair of tweezers handy.

white mesh bag with drawstring
interior of white mesh bag with internal drawstring

STEP 7: REPEAT for each bag, or do each step in batches. Turn right side out and enjoy!

pile of finished white mesh bags
Mooky Cow and Cheval posing in reusable produce bags
Check out my toy children modelling these reusable bags

Hooray! An actual sewing Downtime DIY. This should take you about 30 minutes to an hour depending on your speed of sewing/confidence, or in my case the amount you flail around doing dumb things.

You can use these bags and this tutorial for many things, and you might have enough fabric left over to make some bags for your friends!

Save the planet, and live a more planet conscious life by doing simple things like taking your own bags to the supermarket to choose and weigh your fruit and veg. Check out your local fabric stores for remnants and scraps and the ends of rolls to use to make your bags, and look out for scrap rope/cord pieces too! You also don’t need to add the cord just yet if you don’t have it – rather you can add cord as you come by it – the bag should work just fine without closures.

Just remember to wash your bags to prevent any produce scraps from lingering, festering, and creating a new environment of their own. And when your bags are old and unusable, wash them and turn them into cushion stuffing!

Well. that’s enough yapping from me. Double update today cos I didn’t post last week. Share this one with your friends and try it out and tell me how it goes.

steamed dumplings in a blue and white dish with chopsticks across the top.
EVERYDAY EDIBLES, FOOD

EVERYDAY EDIBLES #2: Homemade Dumplings

QUICK NOTE: Apologies for not posting last week. My sister was visiting, and I was busy napping and making these dumplings! She liked them though, so you have a second opinion. Try them out!

Nom. I LOVE dumplings. Particularly steamed ones. I’m not a fan of the fried or boiled varieties, and not a fan of fried food in general, though I do eat some fried stuff. I digress. I’m quite late for Chinese New Year, but here is my guide to making simple dumplings at home!

NOTE: These are pork and chive dumplings, but you can use any filling you like šŸ™‚

INGREDIENTS:

  • 500g pork mince (or another main filling of your choice. Veg used as a meat substitute should be chopped small or mashable (Makes 54 dumplings!!!)
  • chives – I used a packet of dried diced chives, but usually I use 1 bunch of fresh ones – to your taste buds.
  • garlic and ginger to taste
  • salt, pepper, maybe some chilli powder
  • soy sauce
  • a little water
  • dumpling wrappers – I use two packs of Double Merinos brand Gow Gee Pastry
Double Merinos Gow Gee Pastry packet

From here, you can add any other ingredients you like. I sometimes dice a little onion, or you can try adding some more veg.

Right, steps. Here we go.

STEPĀ 1: If you have time, do this beforehand, cover, and keep in fridge to marinate. Otherwise, you can do it as you’re cooking and it still tastes just fine.

Mix wet ingredients together in a bowl. The amount you add of the spices and condiments is really up to you. The water is important because you need to mix everything together. Not too much though. You can mix using a spoon but this is more fun to mix by hand.

dumpling filling mix
meat mash

STEPĀ 2: Preset your stove and countertop – I like to get my steamer set up on the stove and start the water boiling before I get around to folding the dumplings. I also like to use baking paper to line my steamers as they are metal and cleaning them is a massive headache if stuff gets stuck.

For your countertop, you will need a chopping board, and a small dish of standard room temp tap water. This is important.

Double stack metal steamer trays with baking paper
double stack metal steamer trays with baking paper, and metal steamer base with water on stove
wooden chopping board with six empty dumpling wrappers


STEPĀ 3: Folding time! I can fit 18 dumplings per steamer tray, and with this amount of ingredients, I can make 3 trays (54 dumplings). I only have two steamer trays so I have to do some quick switcheroos, but it works.

18 is a multiple of 6, and my chopping board can comfortably fit six open wrappers with room to spare. So. I lay out six wrappers, then i dip my fingertips in the water, and brush them lightly over the wrappers. This makes the wrappers stick together when you are folding them into fun shapes! You can use a pastry brush but the effect is the same, and you don’t want them too soggy else they collapse.

OK. Place a blob on mix in the centre of each wrapper – Pro Tip: use less than you think you need – see my tiny blobs). Then I fold each wrapper in half to make a semi-circle. I hold the folded semi-circle in the centre of the flat side, and pleat one side in (approx 3 pleats), and then the other side. This makes the dumpling look like a money bag (different type of dumpling), but when it steams and cooks, it will relax the folds so it looks somewhat like a fan.

I am by no means an expert, so do try your own folding methods! This is meant to be fun!

wooden chopping board with six dumpling wrappers with filling on them
some of these seem a little big.. :/

STEPĀ 4: By the time I fold the first 18, the water has nearly reached boiling point, so I can load up the first tray. USE TONGS. BOILING WATER IS BOILING AND WILL OUCH YOU.

While these are steaming away, fold the next lot, and load the next tray up. I tend to put the second tray on the bottom, the first tray would have cooked a bit.

If you have a third tray, repeat the above steps. If you’re like me, and only have two, then fold the next lot, and store them on a plate or chopping board (or both, in my case, cos I stupidly took out a tiny plate).

excess folded dumplings on a tiny plate
tiny plate
excess folded dumplings on a wooden chopping board
and the rest on the chopping board
18 dumplings on a metal steamer tray
semi-cooked dumplings.

STEPĀ 5: The dumplings won’t take long to cook, but be careful that they are not slightly undercooked. Wait for the smell to permeate your home, and some of the juice to leak out a bit. Then you can transfer the cooked ones to a plate (if placing on a platter or holding plate, place a double sheet of paper towel on the plate/platter first to soak up the oils that you don’t want to eat).

If you have more dumplings waiting to be steamed, you may load up the tray again, and swap positions on the steamer stack. I reused the baking paper as it is the same foods.

18 cooked dumplings on a metal steamer tray
DOUBLE STACK. Cooked dumplings. See the shiny sticky look – that’s important.

Leave to cool, serve with condiments, and ENJOY!

These are really simple, and really quick, and steaming means they are a bit healthier than the fried versions. WARNING: They are VERY filling, so don’t be fooled if your eyes are bigger than your stomach!

steamed dumplings in a blue and white dish with chopsticks across the top.

Thank you for following my recipes! And apologies again for missing last week. You get two posts today to make up for it!

Two different utensil holders in warm metal tones. One with spoons, and one with a hairdryer
DIY, DOWNTIME DIYS, HACKS

DOWNTIME DIYS #2 [HACKS]: Painted Cutlery Holder(s)

I’M LATE OMIGOD. Sorry. Yesterday was my birthday and I was doing a whole lot of nothing. This week’s DOWNTIME DIY is pretty simple, but I discovered some cool effects with these techniques so here goes.

I bought these simple stainless steel cutlery holders from Kmart – one for cooking utensils, and one for my hairdryer which needed an easily accessible home. I like warm metal tones so I have a lot of golds, bronzes, coppers, etc around the house (actually an apartment but whatever). So because these were stainless steel, I decided a simple hack was to paint them. But it’s in the painting that I worked out some techniques to get interesting effects.

Two different utensil holders in warm metal tones. One with spoons, and one with a hairdryer


METHOD 1:

The first one I did was the hairdryer holder which is a soft gold now after some spray painting. Aside from the usual “spray in well ventilated area” – i.e. outside – I recommend a matt finish spray and one that is not too liquid in it’s consistency. I use JET brand spray paint at $4.99 a can. You will only likely use about a quarter of a can for this as it is fairly straight forward. I think I did about 1 and half coats for this.

So. I flipped the tin upside down (let’s be honest, it’s a metal tin with perforations) and put my hand inside to hold it up and sprayed from a fair distance away while rotating the tin. I recommend a light but consistent press on the nozzle, and anywhere from 30-50cm away. This gives a lighter coat and makes the paint look softer. WHO KNEW!

The second coat was a lot faster as I did a bare minimum overlay as I was already enjoying the colour. I left it outside to dry after each coat, and I feel that it was particularly windy, and the dust particles have blown through and around the tin because the colour looks even softer now. Almost powder coated! FREE POWDER COATING. Especially if you live next door to a stable yard like me.

Gold metal utensil holder with hairdryer
Yes, I shed a lot of hair. Sorry.

MATERIALS:

  • Stainless Steel metal object (doesn’t have to be a cutlery holder but definitely better to be stainless steel to avoid rust)
  • Spray paint (JET brand is great)
  • Newspaper/drop cloth/rag for setting down
  • Air and outdoor area for drying/spraying


METHOD 2:

Bronze/copper metal utensil holder with paint tube, palette, and paint covered square sponge
Woo! Getting outside! Fresh air!

OK, number two. This one is slightly more interesting perhaps? I have a copper/bronze theme in my kitchen (kinda) and wanted an interesting cutlery holder for my millions of coconut shell cooking spoons. For this one, I used acrylic paint and a tiny square of sponge that I had leftover from another painting project.

So. Put some paint into a palette or plate or on a piece of cardboard or whatever you use for mixing/decanting paint. I used a bronze acrylic paint by Reeves. Now this sponge square was from a dish scrubbing sponge that I cut up so it has a small rough side, and a larger soft side. We are using the SOFT SIDE. Trust me on this.

Use the sponge dry. DO NOT WET. Dab into paint and get a good amount on the sponge and start dabbing onto the tin. I placed the tin on a newspaper and angled it slightly, and rotated as needed. Don’t daub the paint on or drag the sponge. You want it splotchy.

Once the first layer is done, you can go back straight away and fill in any gaps and do a second layer. The paint would have dried a little on both the tin and the sponge (more importantly, the sponge), so you won’t take anything off. The interesting part is happening with the sponge. By drying, it has stiffened in place, so when you put on the second layer, there will be some definition in the pattern that is forming on the tin and because you’re dabbing, you will get parts with more paint than others. Finish layer, leave to dry.

You can leave it outside, and it should dry within an hour. When you go back it will have dried into a pattern that is rough to the touch, and depending on the paint you used (or if you mixed some colours), you could end up with something that looks a bit like a bronze age artefact! Kinda. I think it looks cool.

So try it out! Cut the sponge into whatever shape or size you want, combine the two methods I’ve described, or try different colours with different coats! Make cool things. Show me!

MATERIALS:

  • Stainless steel object (see above)
  • Acrylic Paint (I used Reeves paint in a tube in the colour ‘bronze’)
  • Dish sponge (you can choose whatever size/shape you want)
  • Palette (or something that can be used to hold paint)
  • Newspaper
  • Air and outdoor area
Copper/bronze metal utensil holder with coconut shell spoons
Many many spoons


And that’s it from me. It’s a fairly simple pair of hacks, but I am super happy with the results, and hopefully you will be too if you try this out! Hacks don’t need to be complicated or time-consuming. Often, a simple colour change with a cool effect that can be easily achieved, will go a lot further to maximising aesthetic potential, and creating a fun and unique object that you can proudly say YOU upgraded from its original form!

HAPPY PAINTING!

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Bowl of stew being held underneath by a hand.
EVERYDAY EDIBLES, FOOD

EVERYDAY EDIBLES #1 – Garden Variety Roo Stew

Whew. We made it. The first Everyday Edibles! Woo! Also, I made an error earlier – there’s no way I’ll be able to make these weekly and have enough stuff to post, so both Downtime DIYs and Everyday Edibles will be fortnightly, on alternate Tuesdays.

OK, with that out of the way, welcome to my first recipe for the year! Now, keep in mind that I rarely work in fixed amounts so a lot of this involves your own intuition. Don’t be afraid! Try it out!

Note: You may use your common or garden variety kangaroo meat for this or some fancier game. The vegetables used here are standard garden variety, and can be found almost anywhere.

Bowl of stew

INGREDIENTS:

  • Kangaroo fillets – these are medium sized slices of kangaroo meat, often the really good bits. Though really, it’s a roo – with that little body fat, almost everything is a good bit. Not sure ’bout them legs though. I used approx. 500g. It came in a pack in Coles.
  • Cabbage – I used about a third of a standard head (ball?) of purple cabbage, but you can use cabbage of any colour.
  • Broccolini – this is baby broccoli, and I used two bunches
  • Garden peas – I had a can of garden peas that I used. Drain first. Or you can use fresh peas. Let’s say about two cups?
  • Water chestnuts – again, I had a can. 1 cup approx.
  • 1 small shallot onion – finely diced
  • Wholegrain mustard – I used about 3-5 tablespoons, but I cannot tell for sure. Add according to your taste.
  • Outback Tomato Sauce – this is by a company called Outback Spirit, and is v. delicious.
  • Coriander leaves – chopped or ripped, add according to taste.
  • Ginger – add to taste
  • Garlic – add to taste

Plus salt, pepper, and I added chilli powder. OK. Bear with me on the instructions, as I just cook and often don’t time things or know what’s going on.

HOW TO MAKE:

STEPĀ 1: Prep your pot – I have a nice medium sized tubby pot that has become my favourite one-pot-meal-cooking-pot. Turn fire on, place pot, and while it is heating up add salt (I use freshly ground Pink Himalayan Rock Salt), pepper (freshly ground 4 peppercorn mix), chilli powder (this is from Sri Lanka, but you can find chilli powder everywhere these days), and coriander leaves (chopped or ripped). Once you’ve added those, the pot should be hot so add in your oil (I use Rice Bran oil), and stir your seasonings around a bit.

Black pot with oil, diced onions, coriander leaves, salt, pepper, and chilli powder, sits on a stove
I forgot to add the garlic and ginger. Add here.

STEPĀ 2: While that’s heating up, dice your onion, then add it in, and stir. This is a good time to add your ginger and garlic (I use paste), though I added it later with the first lot of mustard because I forgot. Made no difference, so don’t worry if you forget. Add all of that and stir.

While that’s sizzling, slice up your roo meat. Though you can slice it beforehand, as I had to move the pot off the burner as it was about to burn. I decided to slice each fillet into smaller slices width-ways – these were about 2cm wide and about 6cm long (3/4 inch wide and about 2-3 inches long), but you can cut them however you like. Put pot back on stove and add to pot. Stir.

The key to cooking, I believe, is good stirring action, and a lot of it. STIR STIR STIR. MIX. FOLD. STIR.

Sliced kangaroo meat sits on a wooden chopping board. There is a small serrated-edge green-handled knife also on the board. The board is on a terrazo benchtop
Same as before sits on the stove, now with added sliced kangaroo meat.

STEP 3: Let that cook happily on the stove, it will take a little bit of time so you have a reprieve. Time to tackle the cabbage. Man, cabbage can be really annoying. But, I cut off about a third in smaller segments, and sliced length-ways where I could, and long slices where I couldn’t. The rest of the cabbage was wrapped and put in the fridge for the next set of lunch meal prep. I thought I would not have enough, but a little cabbage goes really far and turns out to be quite a lot. Add to pot, and mix in. At this point, you need to start folding the newly added stuff into the mix because it will get more cumbersome as you go. Folding is lifting and tucking under – kind of a scoop and drop situation. You need to do that and let it cook before it gets incorporated enough to stir.

Same benchtop and board as before, now with a purple cabbage, a third of which has been sliced off.
Yes, I rinsed my board in-between. I also washed it proper at the end. This is a bit less than the third, but I did slice more afterwards and I ended up with about a third.
Same pot as before, now with added sliced purple cabbage.

STEPĀ 4: Rinse and prep your broccolini. You can remove any excess leaves down the bottom of the bunches, and chop off the very ends. I then simply chopped them in half width-ways, so that I have plain stalks, and stalks with trees, and put them in the pot. Fold, mix, stir.

Goes without saying that you should always rinse your vegetables. RINSE YOUR VEG. PLZ.T

Same pot as before, now with added chopped broccolini
Can you see what I mean about plain stalks and stalks with trees? I didn’t know how else to describe it. :/

STEPĀ 5: Add in your peas. I simply drained my can before mixing them in. Peas are small and slippy so are much easier to incorporate. Fold, mix, stir.

Same pot, now with added garden peas

STEPĀ 6: Here’s where I went, “oh shit, the moutarde! (mustard), and realised I hadn’t added the ginger or garlic either. I wouldn’t put too much of those, just a bit to encourage the flavours. Mustard wise, I scooped some out straight into the pot, and mixed it in. Fold, mix, stir.

I then added the water chestnuts. Same as the peas, I drained the can, and then dumped them into the pot. Fold, mix, stir.

Back with the pot, and now with added water chestnut slices
These give a really nice crunch to the dish, and take on that lovely purple colour that the cabbage leeches.
Same pot, but everything is mixed through, including some wholegrain mustard

STEPĀ 7: Jeez, there’s a lot of steps to this. Time for sauce. I just poured it on. See the pic to see how much I added. I went, “oh shit, the sauce!”, and poured some on. Lol.

Then, fold, mix, stir. Then I let it cook a bit before adding more mustard, followed by still more fold, mix, stir.

Don’t be put out if you don’t have that particular sauce. A smokey tomato sauce will work just fine. Or a good herbed tomato-bbq mix.

Same pot, now with added outback tomato sauce on the top. There is a hand holding the bottle of sauce on the left of the pot. The sauce is by a company called Outback Spirit
Try this company. They also do really cool meat and herb blend sausages that tie up really nicely with the sauces. I wish they did Aussie game meat to tie up with the sauces. Maybe in the future.

And we’re done! I think the order stuff is added is really important. I didn’t want the roo to overcook as it gets tough and chewy. I was also worried that the cabbage would be too soggy or the broccolini would be discoloured and soft, but everything worked out correctly. Even the late addition of mustard and sauce didn’t mess up, though I suggest adding sauce at an earlier stage too. The main flavours were meant to be mustard and tomato and a slight roasted meat flavour, and it turned out pretty well, so I’m happy.

Same pot, but cooking is over and everything is nicely mixed through.

I understand that many of you may not be able to try this as kangaroo meat isn’t readily available outside Australia (hell, it’s hard to get it here too sometimes), but you can substitute beef or even venison! Works well with game meat. Someone try it with some venison and tell me how it goes.

The stew has now been served into a bowl, the inside of which is white. The bowl is on the benchtop and a metal fork sits in it with the stew. The stew is primarily purple and greenw tih interesting textures from the different ingredients.

WOO! Done! I hoep you enjoyed that. I love cooking, though I often have to psyche myself up to doing so, cos I am constantly tired. My relationship with food is complex, and often changing. I have some dietary issues and food dislikes that mean it’s easy for me to avoid a lot of unhealthy food (I eat little dairy due to lactose intolerance, and I dislike deep fried food), and I eat less carbs, especially pasta and bread. But I do get bored with food and cooking, so I try to mix things up and keep things interesting. I’ve developed a bit a of a rep for throwing things into a pot and it magically becoming tasty. Yae for useful skills!

I also don’t have a lot of space, so I like meals that use one pot (not counting the rice cooker or microwave). I also don’t usually use recipes or fixed amounts, and I apparently have the atha (hand) for judging quantities. In Sri Lankan cooking, we don’t measure spices, and if someone has a knack for judging the quantities, we say they have the hand for it. I pick shit up and put it in and it works. *shrug* I have learnt to understand flavours and combinations, and how to make things work together.

Close up of the bowl of stew

Anyhow, thank you for tuning in (lol), and please try this and share your results with me! See you next week with a Downtime DIY!!!

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