Countertop mini dishwasher offers quick fix for dead appliance in pandemic-mode home

It is only with tongue firmly in cheek and a deep respect for the fact that I have enjoyed a relatively safe, comfortable, and very happy life that I state—cue swell of melodramatic music—the worst possible thing has happened:

My dishwasher died, mid-pandemic!

Red NO symbol crossing out broken stainless steel appliance

My dishwasher died, mid-pandemic!

This feels like a catastrophe because we run that appliance roughly four times most days with everyone working and/or learning remotely from home.

The Bosch dishwasher we got with this house no longer powers on following a few weeks of intermittent-but-increasing button-press failure. Our non-expert analysis of what was under the hood kick-plate didn’t reveal any obvious reset to try on our own. We have ordered a replacement.kickplate removed from stainless steel dishwasher showing hardwiring and soldered copper pipe instead of flexible tubing

For those who don’t already know me well, now is when I confess to being a thoroughly disinterested cook. The one time I directed a full kitchen remodel where my preferences reined over popular opinion, I bought almost literally the cheapest electric coil top! stove from Sears whilst splurging on a high end, German-made Miele dishwasher.

My priorities may not be common, but I’m quite clear on what they are.

The dishwasher is the most used appliance in our home excepting the stalwart, always-on refrigerator. It follows only central heating, running water, and refrigeration in my estimation of the crowning virtues of everyday technology.

Pandemic shortages & risks still affect appliance purchase, delivery & installation

Fortunately, more than half of our household of six is at least partially vaccinated, lessening the risk to us of having a plumber in to install a new machine. Risks to essential workers dealing with the public day in and day out remain much higher than those of their customers.

Since our atypical home includes a kitchen one story above ground level, we will also require delivery well inside the threshold. I imagine dishwasher delivery generally requires more than one single person. The model I chose weighs 107 lbs (48.5 kg.) That’s two more contacts outside our bubble.

Accomplishing this dishwasher replacement will mark the first time any tradesperson—let alone three outsiders—has entered our home since before the first shutdown began.

All of these health-preserving convolutions must also be viewed within the broader context of commerce in 2021. Plumbers were hard to book before COVID; getting one to show up now is beyond difficult.

Supply chains all over the world have been disrupted by the scourge of coronavirus infections. The Miele that I elected to replace my defunct Bosch SHU66C may have benefited in production from its maker’s domestic parts manufacturing, but getting the finished product from Germany to New England remains fraught with delays as of May 2021. The one I wanted due to arrive a few days after I contacted my favorite local appliance store is now back-ordered.

I’m not sure when I will get the new machine I’ve purchased, let alone how soon I can book professional installation by a qualified plumber.

I sought a short-term solution to maintaining household peace—and sanitation!—in the interim. A portable, countertop dishwasher is what I found.Aikoper countertop appliance on kitchen counter

Typical portable dishwasher requires standard faucets to accept adapter

I opted for an Aikoper Compact Portable Dishwasher with 6L Built-in Water Tank & Water Hose Inlet (Model KOP-DW2605A) ordered from Amazon.

Countertop dishwasher manual and warranty card

There were a few “portable” dishwashers available locally, but all were variations on the design I know well from my first apartment: full- or almost-full-size models that roll up to the sink and connect with a special “quick connect” adapter that screws onto a standard faucet. These adapters replace an aerator (i.e., a little mesh screen that twists off easily) and are widely available in hardware stores and online.

The issue with any of those models is that we installed a modern “pull out sprayer” faucet when we moved here.

Pull out spray heads are great for everyday use. I like the option for one fewer hard-to-clean protrusion from the countertop, eliminating the off-to-the-side sprayer I grew up with

Or, as we did in this home, integrating the spray function into the faucet itself frees up that existing counter cut out for installation of a plumbed in, multi-stage water filter. I find the tap water in our community distinctly unpalatable without filtration beyond a carbon block pitcher.

Either way, I didn’t want to change my self-selected faucet to accommodate short-term daily use of the countertop dishwasher.

My purchase of the Aikoper Compact Portable was also influenced by the fact that we have historically hosted at least one very large Thanksgiving banquet each year. I see this little machine as a way to more quickly zip through the multi-day process of cleaning multitudes of party dishes at holidays in the future.

For both cases, I would have to ditch the faucet design I prefer to accommodate use of most portable dishwashers. There’s no way I’m going to swap out my faucet in either scenario.

Tank based, compact dishwasher alternatives exist & solve common issues

On Amazon, I found a different portable dishwasher design.

Tank-based dishwashers like these seem to universally? include the option to connect via the adapter I’ve already described, yet they also incorporate a holding tank for the fresh, clean water that will be used to wash the dishes. A user can fill that tank via a pitcher or my preferred pull-out faucet, pouring water into the vented, screened hole on top after removing the loose-fitting white debris cap.

Once filled, tank-based machines complete their wash cycles without blocking access* to the kitchen sink throughout the run.

The included plastic pitcher and wide, flat funnel aren’t strictly necessary to manually fill the machine, but the funnel (marketed as the “pouring water assistant”) is particularly nice to have. Filling pitcher included with appliance, 1.8 L capacity

Since the pitcher is marked to have a 1.8 L capacity, you might expect that filling it just over three times and emptying into your dishwasher tank might be sufficient to prepare the appliance rated as having 6 L capacity. It seemed to require at least five pitchers-full the first time I ran the machine to test its functionality.

Filling with a pull out faucet sprayer is much more convenient, especially for those of us who lack hand strength and become exhausted easily lifting full pitchers of water. I found it annoying to fill the appliance via a pitcher.Filling funnel included with appliance

With the dishwasher sitting on a kitchen counter, it is a little bit high for me to reach over and fill, so I can’t see exactly where I’m aiming the water. The funnel helps channel every drop right into the receptacle where it belongs.Water flowing from pull out spray head into dishwasher filling hold

A 61 inch long water supply hose was included in the Aikoper box. The water supply hose has a right angle connection on one end which should help with keeping installation very close to a back wall. Remember that you will need a faucet adapter not included to install with this option.

If installing with the water supply hose option, your water pressure must be between 0.04 MPa and 1 MPa, per the Aikoper manual.

Because the water supply inlet and drain pipe outlet are set into an indented area at the back, bottom edge of the dishwasher and the supply hose has a right angle connection, the included hose should not require any additional clearance behind the appliance.

A side benefit of pre-filling the dishwasher with water, then letting it run without any connection to the household water supply, is that it eliminates that chilly scenario when a family member starts a built in model while someone else is showering.

In 2021, no one should live with plumbing that routinely scalds or runs cold, but that kind of annoyance remains common in many older homes.

Draining the used, dirty wastewater is also necessary. Tank-based dishwasher models like my Aikoper Compact Portable allow one to route the drainage hose into an adjacent sink or a large bucket.

The drain hose pictured was included in the Aikoper box. It’s about five feet long.

Because the water supply inlet and drain pipe outlet are set into an indented area at the back, bottom edge of the dishwasher but the drain hose has a straight connection, about one inch of additional clearance may be required behind the appliance if you’re trying to get it as close to a wall as possible. I have found replacement hoses with a right angle connection on Amazon, but I haven’t purchased one to confirm this gap could be eliminated.Ruler and cardboard showing gap between back of appliance and bent drain hose as if pushed back against a wall

A small suction cup on the hose is supposed to keep its end inside your grey water bucket, but mine does not stay fixed to even the smoothest plastic waste container I’ve tried. Happily, the exiting water does not seem to flow with enough force to cause the hose fly around spraying filth, as was my initial fear.

Obviously, if you drain your dishwasher into a bucket, remember that you’ll need to lift the receptacle for emptying. With the machine’s approximately two gallon (6 L) capacity, expect a weight of about 15 lbs (6.8 kg) of grey water to dispose of after running each load of dishes.

Those of us with arthritis or other physical limitations will benefit from emptying the waste bucket midway through a wash cycle. Doing so reduces the effort required vs. lifting a full bucket. I’m careful to keep a second, smaller dish handy to put the wastewater hose into while I do this, however, lest the machine discharge additional grey water at an inconvenient moment and flood my kitchen with filth!

dirty grey water in Rubbermaid Commercial square containerMost people probably have a sturdy office sized trash can, five gallon bucket, or other suitable container for catching wastewater in the quantity required. If looking to purchase a new, highly suitable receptacle, I’d suggest a Rubbermaid Commercial Crystal-Clear Square Storage Container in the 8 quart size which will accommodate more than 7.5 L, large enough to prevent splash-over messes.

The 6 qt size pictured above in the same product line is sufficient to the task, but only just, and mine ended up perilously full when I used it without taking care to empty mid-cycle. You could make this container work for the task if you have one on hand, but I wouldn’t recommend its purchase for this particular job.

A bucket with a handle or handles will be easier to lift and empty.rubber cap stuck on appliance with strapping tape

A small, black rubber cap stoppered the drain port on the back of this dishwasher. In order to avoid losing this small piece, I used the tape that had been employed for security during its shipment to adhere the cap to the back side of my appliance. It will be useful to avoid inconvenient drips when moving the Aikoper immediately after use. Small amounts of water are likely to remain inside the machine for hours or days after the last cycle.

Dishwashers save water vs. hand washing

This seems like the right time to point out an easily overlooked fact: full size, modern (post-1994) dishwashers clean an entire load with about 5 gallons of water. Hand washing a sink full of dishes consumes more than five times as much—up to 27 gallons of fresh, potable water—while not offering any improvement in results.

The mini sized Aikoper Compact Portable uses just 1.6 gallons (6 L) per load though, to be fair, an overflowing double sink full of dirty dishes might take two cycles to get through.compact dishwasher settings shown: Normal, Hygiene 162 F, Fruit

Typically, dish-washing machines increase water temperatures to a sanitizing 140-150 °F, well above suggested water heater settings designed to protect children from scalding while saving energy.

The U.S. EPA recommends setting hot water heaters to 120 °F.

My new Aikoper Compact Portable dishwasher uses 162 °F for its hottest cycle, well above the temperatures at my tap. In 2021, even a little appliance such as this one includes an internal heating element to optimize wash and rinse temperatures and improve hygiene.

Growing up in the American West, I was taught to wash dishes using two basins for soapy and clear water; we never let the faucet run throughout the task! My family appears unable or unwilling to internalize these habits, so my search for a backup dishwasher has an altruistic motive as well as supporting my hatred for manual household chores.

Energy use—according to the Energy Guide yellow card standard with all American appliances for almost as long as I can remember—compares as favorably as one would expect between my broken-down Bosch and my new portable.

The U.S. Government suggests the Aikoper Compact Portable will consume 150 kWh/year of electricity.

Keep in mind that compact and full size dishwashers are not directly comparable using this system. Also, due to the years that passed between issuance of the Bosch label and today’s Aikoper label, average electricity rates grew from 8.28¢/kWh to 13¢/kWh whereas natural gas averages went from 65.6¢/therm to $1.05/therm in the same period.

My broken, full size Bosch was expected to consume 430 kWh/year vs. 150 kWh/year for the much smaller Aikoper. By comparison, the new, full size Miele I’ve ordered is rated at 230 kWh/year according to the manufacturer’s website.

Aikoper Compact Portable: Do dishes come out clean?

More than any other fact or feature about the Aikoper Compact Portable Dishwasher, what most want to know first is, “Will my dishes come out clean?”

I always had to scrub or re-wash the spoons before. That doesn’t seem to be necessary with the new dishwasher.”

Continue reading

Books by my bedside 2021/April

I’m a little shocked by how long it’s been since I last posted about what I’m reading. Considering the rather desperate way I escaped into fiction during the pandemic, I might’ve been more forthcoming in sharing what I read for that release.

Now, back to my boilerplate:

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least make a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

Non-Fiction

History

Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia by Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Olga

Writing (Short Story as Literature)

A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by Saunders, George

Fiction

Young Adult

Akata Witch and Akata Warrior by Okorafor, Nnedi

The Real Boy by Ursu, Anne

African/Feminist

Nervous Conditions by Dangarembga, Tsitsi

Mystery/Thriller

Billionaire Blend by Coyle, Cleo

A Deadly Influence by Omer, Mike

All the Devils are Here by Penny, Louise

Water Memory by Pyne, Daniel

Open House by Sise, Katie

After Alice Fell by Taylor Blakemore, Kim

Science Fiction

Shift by Howey, Hugh

Reading Notes:

Exploring the world via fiction in a year without travel

The young adult novel, Akata Witch (like its sequel, Akata Warrior), is set in Nigeria. Please see my footnote about the derogatory term in these titles if Nigerian languages are new to you as they were to me. As I have no wish to offend anyone, I will not repeat the word except within the context of the titles chosen by the works’ creator.

Like the author—Nnedi Okorafor—herself, the heroine, Sunny, is American born. Sunny is a teen living in Nigeria, an outsider due to her foreign birth, albinism, and then… all the usual stuff that sets apart the protagonist of a fantasy novel. This is not a cookie-cutter, Western fantasy! I found Okorafor’s created world fresh and fascinating, and the heroine and her friends richly detailed, complex, and very capable of keeping my middle-aged attention. My heart does tend to ache for the girl’s worried mother, however, as Sunny undertakes dangerous quests typical of the genre.

I enjoyed being immersed in the African setting of these titles. Missing my usual travels, this scratched my itch for adventure and “seeing” new places. The American-born teens in the story helped this reader make the transition to a better understanding of Nigerian culture from a perspective with which I’m more familiar.books I read April 2021 - Okorafor fantasy novels

Of course, the bulk of the story involves magical powers and the unseen world. Even if I made it to Nigeria, I doubt I’d encounter most of the creatures or powerful wizards Okorafor brings to life on her pages. As the pandemic has taught me, living through historically exciting events is not always easy or desirable.

Aside from an enjoyable young adult narrative, I appreciate Okorafor’s thoughtful approach to her craft. Regarding her success in a genre whose “great men” were often virulent racists who may well have shunned her, Okorafor wrote on her own blog:

“What I know I want is to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it. If this is how some of the great minds of speculative fiction felt, then let’s deal with that .…as opposed to never mention it or explain it away.”

I believe this contemplative attitude helps explain why she opted to use a word with heavy connotations in her titles. I use her original titles as opposed to the less racially-charged British ones in an effort to show respect to the author.Copy of softbound library copy of Nervous Conditions by Dangarembga

Also set in Africa but half a continent away, I recently dove into Tsitsi Dangarembga’s masterful Nervous Conditions. It takes place in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the mid-20th Century. I devoured the novel in just a couple of days, perhaps identifying so strongly with its protagonist, Tambudzai, because of her intelligence and drive to get an education against all obstacles.

Tambu reflects upon a new school with: “Most importantly, most wonderfully, there was the library, big, bright, walled in glass on one side and furnished with private little cubicles where you could do your homework, or simply lose yourself…in…books…”

I was a girl just like that.

Quote from page 199 about the wonderful library in a girl's school

Nervous Condition is the kind of book in which I highlight multiple passages. For the library’s sake, I do that these days by photographing myself pointing to the relevant spot on the page. Less typically for me, I even highlighted some of the author’s comments in the “book club” discussion section at the back of this novel.

Tambu’s story isn’t light or easy. Colonialism, racism, sexism, and poverty all conspire against her success, though she’s quite young when the story begins. She’s complex and complicated, and Dangarembga has drawn her beautifully. Even better, the entire novel is peopled by fully dimensioned, believable characters. Dangarembga writes with a deft hand.Quote highlighted from Nervous Conditions page 183

“Marriage. I had nothing against it in principle. In an abstract way I thought it was a very good idea. But it was irritating the way it always cropped up in one form or another, stretching its tentacles back to bind me before I had even begun to think about it seriously, threatening to disrupt my life before I could even call it my own.”

I finished the book quite eager to read its successor, 2006’s The Book of Not. It was unavailable at my local library, though the third volume, 2020’s This Mournable Body could be had. I couldn’t even find book two in our statewide searchable catalog for inter-library loans. Resigning myself to an Amazon purchase, I discovered that a new edition of The Book of Not is due to be released in May of this year. Used copies from 2006 are selling for about $50 each, which is more than I can bear to spend on a paperback. The vagaries of international publishing, perhaps?

I opted to purchase the Audible audiobook version of This Mournable Body—Dangarembga’s only English language audio release, so far as I can tell—because I wanted to directly support the author of a powerful novel that moved me so profoundly.

Also, no lie, it drove me crazy that I still don’t know how to pronounce many names from the story. Unlike European languages and concepts, I struggled to search out definitions for unfamiliar terms, photos of garments about which I was curious, or quick phonetic pronunciation guides. I’m hoping that the audiobook recording will offer me the chance to hear these names spoken by a more educated narrator.

I’ve heard people argue about a lack of rich cultural heritage outside of their narrow conception of the “civilized world;” it’s hard to appreciate what you can’t see because your back is turned!

Segueing not very neatly from far away in distance to far away in time, I must comment on Hugh Howey’s sequel to Wool: Shift. They’re both part of the Silo Saga. These are really good books—if you can tolerate a dystopian future.

My librarian friend The Priestess recommended Wool to me during a weekend away together. I was complaining about how poorly most algorithms do in offering me literary recommendations. I don’t know if that’s true for anyone else, but Amazon and Good Reads do not get me at all. She’d heard good things about it, but not read it herself, I believe.

I enjoyed Wool. It was a fun read, I finished it… then I didn’t think about it again for several years. Somehow, during the pandemic, Shift came to my attention. I think, since Mr. Howey originally self-published via Amazon, that it may have been free to read with Kindle Unlimited. I was definitely hunting that source much more actively than usual in the early shutdown days when I lost weekly library access.

Here’s why I absoluely must mention Shift: I have never before read a sequel and been so much more impressed by it than I was by its precursor. If anything, I’m used to being disappointed by middling follow-ups to novels I loved. That sounds strange, because Wool was a good book. Shift struck me as an even better one, and much more profound.

Consider the Silo Saga if you enjoy Sci Fi and don’t mind reading about the end of the world in the middle of a pandemic disaster.

Myriad mysteries

The string of casual flings I carry on with light murder mysteries continues. Thankfully, our local library opened for pre-ordered, curbside lending after a month or two of darkness, but I have also relied more heavily on the monthly free titles for Amazon Prime members (most of which are mediocre, but they do pass the time) and digital psuedo-purchases, which I loathe on principle.Two Kindle ebook readers, one labeled kids, the other says Mom's

No, if I don’t have a copy of a book or song I can pass to my heirs when I die, I have not purchased it. I’ve rented a license to use my copy during my lifetime. There’s nothing wrong with the model, if it’s what people want, but calling these transactions a purchase strikes me as fraudulent! Stepping down from soapbox…

A Deadly Influence made a pretty fun read, but a single sentence late in the book stopped me cold, prompting me to check the author’s name and confirm that he must be a man. It was a description of an outfit that the protagonist put on to go out and meet a date… and it was so laughably bad, I guessed right that moment that a non-fashionable male had written its description.

The storyline there involves a professional police negotiator, Abby, the calm presence who talks down the guy on the ledge or the hostage holding one with a gun to someone’s head. She (the protagonist) was very believable, except for her dressing up scene, realistically, lightly flawed, yet still likeable. Peeking inside life in a modern cult or two also made this novel stand out from my crowd of similar whodunits. It’s one of the few Amazon freebies I’ve read where I will watch for sequels. I’d like to see Abby’s character develop, and A Deadly Influence ended on a bit of cliffhanger though one I admittedly saw coming, but I didn’t mind.

Better writing through considered consumption of literature

Finally, I can’t leave this post without some discussion of Saunders’ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. I’m so in love with this book at the moment! Full disclosure: I’m only 4/7 done with it as it was due back to the library and had holds so I couldn’t renew.

George Saunders teaches creative writing at Syracuse. The premise of the book is to explore seven classic works of Russian short fiction, then tease out lessons to improve our own writing from literary greats Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol.

The stories are magnificent. So are Saunders’ essays!Section heading for Tolstoy's Master & Man (1895) from the book A Swim in the Pond in the Rain

Perhaps the author selected just those few stories which are truly special. More likely, I have failed to read enough of the Russian masters. Technically proficient? Yes. Moving, emotionally rich? Definitely. Yet, somehow, this book is also a great deal of fun. I wish Saunders were my teacher though I’ve already spent far more time in Syracuse than I ever wished to.

I picked this up in order to plan a literature unit for my home educated teen. I thought it would complement the Russian History we’re doing this year. Note to home schoolers: it really, really does! I planned to peruse it, make some notes, then set the child to work on Saunders’ readings and my assignments over the summer term. Instead, I fell into the book myself, only reluctantly returning it on time because I’d foolishly let it sit too long on our library shelf before starting in.

Consider pairing A Swim in the Pond in the Rain with viewing the Great Courses video offering History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev taught by Mark Steinberg. Lesson 21: Peasant Life & Culture is particularly apropos, but everything from Lesson 8 (The Decembrist Rebellion) to 25 (War & Revolution) will enhance your appreciation for the context of those stories Saunders offers.

† IMPORTANT NOTE: Please be aware that the unfamiliar word—if you only speak English—in the title, Akata Witch, has derogatory connotations for some Africans and African Americans.

The first book was given a new title for publication in the UK and Nigeria for that reason (What Sunny Saw in the Flames.) My internet research was cursory, of course, since I know no African languages. In spite of many contradictory definitions across the web, my best understanding is that the word is Yoruba—or possibly originated from the Fanti tribe—and is literally defined as an animal (maybe cat or fox.) The emphasis is on an uncivilized creature living outside his/her/its appropriate milieu. I’m not qualified to explain the term beyond this attempt at literal translation.

I wanted to discuss this book, but I hesitated to blindly post a sensitive phrase without this acknowledgement. Read about the term’s slang usage on Urban Dictionary if you’d like to learn more.

Costco Executive Member swap of paper Reward Certificate for online use

Today’s tip will apply to a fairly narrow audience.

  • Are you a Costco Executive Member?
  • Do you still have your annual Reward Gift Certificate that was mailed out in 2020?
  • Are you avoiding shopping in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

If all three of those points apply to you, you may appreciate something I found out last month after a bit of searching. You can submit your paper Reward Certificate to the Costco home office by mail, and they will send you a Shop Card* redeemable for online purchases as well as in person, for example, at their gas pumps.

Costco Wholesale club Executive Membership Reward Gift Certificates dated 11/01/2019 and 11/01/2020As it happens, I hadn’t even gotten around to using my November 2019 certificate when I made my last in person visit going inside a Costco back in March 2020. The arrival in November 2020 of the next one brought the matter to my attention.

I was actually a few dollars shy of the break even amount for 2019—regular membership costs $60/year while Executive Members pay $120/year but earn back 2% of their spending in the form of this Reward Gift Certificate—and the $59 coupon in my wallet had completely slipped my mind.Costco Executive membership card in black leather wallet

My shopping habits changed a lot in 2020, however, and my two figure Reward from 2019 was more than doubled this year. In addition to regular orders of 2 Day Delivery shelf stable staples and household goods, I also bought Mountain House freeze dried meals and other long term storage foods, exercise equipment, and an expensive new vacuum cleaner from my favorite big box store.

While I frequented the Costco warehouse and gas station far less often during the pandemic, I did try to order as much as possible via Costco.com. I appreciate Costco’s consistent appearance on “America’s Best Employer” lists like this on from Forbes, plus their emphasis on value for dollar vs. lower prices on lesser quality goods matches my own preferences as a consumer. I feel much better shopping there than giving more of my money to Jeff Bezos over at Amazon.

With two Reward Certificates in hand, I found this page on Costco’s web site that explained how to redeem them for an equivalent amount of online-use-eligible gift certificates. I encourage you to follow the instructions on the official site at the link above, but here are the details on how to make the swap for yourself.

Mail your Executive 2% Reward certificate to Costco at:

Costco Wholesale
ATTN: Executive 2% Department
1455 11th Ave NW
Issaquah, WA 98027

Number 10 (business size) envelope with stampMake sure to include the following in a cover letter:

  • Member’s name
  • Membership number
  • Address to which you’d like the Costco Shop Card sent
  • Phone number in case they need to reach you
  • Executive 2% Reward certificate(s)

I took the precaution of photocopying my Reward Certificates before mailing them to Costco, and I’d advise anyone else to do the same or snap a readable photo. For good measure, and because my printer also works as a scanner, I captured an image of my membership card to the same document lest a foolish typo on my part prevent me from getting my money back!

I didn’t put the date on which I mailed my Certificates on my calendar, nor did I note receiving the replacement Shop Card, but the process felt pretty quick. I’d estimate that I had gift card in hand within a couple of weeks, even with the widespread postal delays of this past holiday season.Costco Shop Card gift certificate - 1

I was given no guff about submitting two annual Executive 2% Reward certificates, and the Costco home office combined both dollar amounts onto a single Shop Card gift certificate as I’d indicated was my preference in my cover letter.Pile of money

If, like me, you are sitting on a couple of hundred dollars or more in Costco IOU’s due to COVID-19, consider taking these simple steps to gain access to the money you’ve earned via your patronage. You might also want to express your appreciation for the opportunity as I did. Once again, Costco’s commitment to customer service has made me happy to continue my patronage of the chain, and I made sure they were aware of how their effort affected my feelings about my membership.

* Costco’s name for their gift cards

LunchBots stainless containers for life, even lids lost 10 years later

It can be hard to splurge on expensive items designed to last a lifetime when cheap, semi-disposable alternatives abound in our stores. Their ubiquity makes them seem like the obvious choice.

For parents preparing to pack daily lunches for school, stainless steel and glass containers are a perfect example. I can buy a week’s worth of plastic sandwich boxes for the price of a single stainless steel one.

Screen grab shows $17 for stainless sandwich box vs $8 for 3 plastic ones

Kids lose things. Kids break stuff. Kids aren’t necessarily careful with something just because Mom paid more for it.

And, after all, they are just children! While I want mine to grow up to be careful stewards of their possessions, I’d also like for them to be able to enjoy a meal without fretting about my reaction if the fancy new lunchbox gets dented or scratched.

In spite of such obstacles, the LunchBots brand proved to me this week that I was wise to invest a bit more cash in their products vs. the cheaper plastic competition in 2010. They stand behind their products, even 10 years after purchase!

LunchBots is one of a few companies I’ve personally patronized that opened for business c. 2008. That’s when plastic-as-poison was gaining mainstream steam, leading suburban moms like me to look for non-toxic alternatives to plastic food containers laced with BPA and other endocrine disrupting* compounds that may or may not leach at dangerous levels into what we eat and drink from them.

In 2020, LunchBots replaced a ten year old lid that my child lost. They didn’t charge me a cent, not even the actual cost of mailing it!

Replacement LunchBots Pico lid next to well worn 10 year old version Continue reading

Freeze meals in silicone bakeware to store more foodsicles in limited space

Freezing leftovers is not a new idea. Making a big batch of food and storing individual portions for later has been popular at least since mass production made containers cheaper than a home cook’s time. Sheltering at home due to COVID-19 has increased the frequency with which I do this kind of batch cooking.

Mushroom broth frozen in silicone muffin tray and stored in baggie

Recently, while browsing on Amazon, I noticed a product called Souper Cubes. These are specifically designed for freezing food in tidy, portion sized, rectangular chunks. They look incredibly functional, and I’ve added some to my Wish List.

This fairly expensive* specialty kitchen product reminded me of a similar hack I’ve employed for years. It might work just as well for you as it does for me, and it could save you money, too.

Smartware blue silicone brownie and bread pansWhen silicone baking pans first showed up at mass market stores a decade or so ago, I received a Smartware set as a gift. Since then, I’ve added a few shapes of individual silicone “muffin cups” to my collection of full size baking pans, mostly for use to create “bento style” packed lunches for my kids.

My orange Wilton muffin pan snuck into the kitchen along the way.

Frozen broth popping out of flexed silicone muffin tray

A standard size muffin compartment creates a very useful “puck” of homemade stock or broth. Half a dozen fit in a quart size freezer bag. These are easy to combine for recipes requiring larger quantities, and the small rounds melt more quickly than a solid frozen quart or even pint would.

A bread pan freezes the right portion of soup or stew for nights when I’m feeding just the kids. Couples with desk jobs would probably find this a useful size for the purpose; one large, athletic type might eat just as much. Keeping the fill to half depth or less, these “bricks” defrost in a reasonable amount of time. I reheat them back in that same blue bread pan. Being silicone, it is suitable for use in the microwave or oven.

Several stew bricks fit in a single gallon size Ziploc bag. I separate the bricks in the bag with parchment or freezer paper for tidiness and convenience.

Writing identifying descriptions and the date directly on each wrapped brick also prevents loss of external labels that tend to peel off in the chill of my freezer. I re-use the same large Ziploc over and over as long as there’s no obvious food residue inside.

A typical muffin tin or metal bread pan could obviously be used to freeze portions just as well. The main benefit of silicone containers is their flexibility. One would have to allow frozen portions to defrost quite a bit more in a rigid dish on the counter to remove them for more compact long term storage in baggies.

I think most of us are trying to shop less often to help prevent community spread during the pandemic. Freezing perishables helps me do that while avoiding feeding my family too many processed foods.

freeze silicone packed freezer - 1My freezer is crammed full, so every efficient storage trick is worth a try.

My scientist husband is particularly nonplussed by my use of the same Rubbermaid Commercial bins he uses to move frogs around his lab. It’s weird for him to pull the kids’ dinner out of one when his day-to-day experience primes him to expect a fecund xenopus.

I would enjoy the convenience of a Souper Cubes tray with its calibrated portion sizes stamped right onto the container. Those tidy rectangular prisms would probably improve the appearance of my messy freezer compartment, too. That said, I’m getting most of the usefulness of this method by using silicone items I already had at a cost of $0.

* ≈ $20/tray

Or in a Stasher silicone bag for those aiming to live plastic free. I’ve tucked a quart size Ziploc bag between the largest Stasher Half Gallon (white) and the pink Sandwich bag for scale in my photo here. The little aqua one is Stasher’s Silicone Pocket. I’ve purchased most of my Stasher stash at a slight member’s discount from online organic grocer Thrive Market.

Large, medium & small Stasher silicone storage bags with quart size Ziploc bag to show size