While I will always promote gleaning your gardening gear from the recycling bin or second-hand via garage sales and thrift stores, there are times when buying new is required. A lot of gardeners looking to save money have been turning to the dollar store over the past few years, especially since many chains have been expanding their gardening aisles and selection has grown. For that reason I have put together a guide to products that I have purchased in my local stores and have found to be useful and of decent quality. Oddly enough, much of the best garden gear is not found in the actual gardening aisle so it helps to think outside the box and look around the entire store for objects in the housewares, craft, and stationary aisles that might suit your needs.
- Plastic Dish Pan Basin: These bins are fantastic for a variety of purposes and I keep a few on hand. I use them to mix up and moisten seed starting soil (and other potting soils, too) and as a working surface for filling pots. They can also be used for bottom watering delicate plants and as a wash basin for soaking and cleaning used pots. Brand new cat litter pans also work well for this purpose, although the dish pans tend to be deeper.
For the Cook:
Schmidt Brothers – 15 PC. Knife Set with Block $165.32 CAD: This sleek knife set probably won’t cut it in a professional kitchen, but it is a good deal and well above average for the home cook who doesn’t mind putting in the extra care that is needed to preserve the beautiful acacia wood handles and block.
Cuisinart Cast Iron Enamaled Dutch Oven $60-130 US: If you want the best dutch oven that will last a lifetime, get a Le Cruset. You really do get what you pay for. But for those of us who can’t make that investment, a more affordable Cusinart pot is a reasonable alternative. I have two: a 3-quart and a 5-quart that I got on sale at Winners, the Canadian TJ Maxx. I honestly didn’t realize how useful these pots would be until I got them. The smaller of the two quickly became my go-to pot and is used daily, if not multiple times per day. The white enamel interior has suffered some staining from added use as a jam making pot (I hear that Le Cruset pots don’t stain as easily as they have more layers), but other than that it is in really good condition and I expect to get plenty more years out of it.
GreenPan Non-Stick Fry-Pan Set $82.77 CAD We’ve tried a handful of “eco-friendly” ceramic, non-stick pans over the years and like all cookware it comes down to this: you get what you pay for. All of the cheaper pans we tried were crap, losing their coating quickly with careful use, or simply not working at all. We bought a 2-piece set of GreenPans very similar to this about 3 years back and they’ve been great. Although, there is some noticeable wear and tear, it’s in keeping with what you’d expect with daily use. I do agree with some consumers that they can be difficult to clean, but beyond that we’ve been really happy with ours.
For the Home Baker
Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce $19.77 US: This is our go-to book when we are baking from a recipe at home. No other baking book has seen nearly as much use as this one. While I have been baking primarily with spelt flour for years now, when I bought it in 2010, this book really pushed me to start experimenting with other overlooked grains such as buckwheat and barley. I also like that many of the recipes aren’t sugar-heavy. P.S. I have tried all of the scone recipes and while I tend to cut back further on the amount of sugar used, they are all really exceptional. This book is worth it for those recipes alone
Brass Frond Earrings $45 US: This Australian jewelry designer makes gorgeous and sustainably produced wearable art that is inspired by nature. Her work reminds me of walking along a beach or through a field picking up little bits of water-worn glass and pebbles or beautiful leaves and putting them in my pocket to be rediscovered later. I love everything she makes and splurged on a pair of these simple oxidized silver twig earrings a few months ago so I can personally attest to the quality of her work.
Water Right’s Ultra-light Drinking Water Safe Polyurethane Hose $59.95 US: No, it’s not cheap, but it is worth the investment. I was convinced to take the plunge back in September when I had the chance to hold one in Margaret Roach’s garden. I could not believe how light, yet sturdy it was. A local shop had them on sale and I was lucky to get the last in my preferred colour, olive, as they had very nearly sold out the previous day to attendees at our workshop who were also sold upon seeing them in real life.
Recently, the addition of an island/counter that has suddenly provided me with more counter space than I have ever had before, as well as the well-timed arrival of an indulgent purchase of newly published cookbooks has us spending whole days in the kitchen. I am always drawn to the kitchen in other people’s homes. It’s the room I always seem to migrate to and camp out in for the duration during a party. I can’t express how happy I am now to have a counter that offers me the chance to spread out a little while I cook and can, as well as the space to perch and socialize when Davin is doing the work.
Now, on those books. I’m slowly making my way through the pile, savouring each one. I began first with two that feature South East Asian home cooking: Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid and Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. The first, “Burma,” is my favourite sort of cookbook, with as much put into telling personal stories and offering a small window into a culture through beautiful images as it is a manual for cooking good food. “Vietnamese Home Cooking” is not a travel journal, but it does have a personable element to it that includes beautiful photographs taken by photographer Eric Wolfinger. I have already used the advice in this book to successfully purchase my first set of cleavers and tightly wrap a proper spring roll.
Emboldened by a cleaver buying guide in the book, “Vietnamese Home Cooking,” I set off to Chinatown on Friday afternoon with the intent to buy a cleaver.
As a teenager, I worked a handful of sweaty kitchen jobs where I was taught proper knife skills and somehow, through the experience of chopping a hell of a lot of produce, developed an interest and appreciation for kitchen knives. Twenty plus years later and I find that I genuinely enjoy chopping vegetables and herbs, and as long as I am not slogging my way through a pile of teary onions, I can chop and chop all day long. It’s a meditation in motion.