Monday Q&A | We’re talking pots. And skillets. And bread bags.

by Kristen on July 1, 2013 · 38 comments

in Q&A

Every Monday, I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

I’m just wondering if you have any opinions of cast iron. I know you advocate heirloom pieces and I’m looking to build a repertoire of life-long cook ware and I’m wondering if you think that’s the way to go for most everyday cooking? I have my grandmothers cast iron skillet and I’m hoping to use it but I haven’t used it yet.

-Charmaine

I do indeed use some cast iron pans. I’ve got a 12-inch cast iron skillet and a fairly small cast iron skillet, and then I also have an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.

I got the 12-inch cast iron skillet when I was trying to get rid of nonstick cookware in my kitchen, and I’m pleased to say now that it’s seasoned, it’s pretty much eliminated the need for nonstick. I can even make things like crepes in it without them sticking, and I frequently make eggs in my small cast iron skillet without any sticking problems.

The problem with cast iron is that it’s really, really heavy (which I’m sure you know if you’ve lifted your grandmother’s skillet!), so it’s no good for recipes that call for shaking the pan around…lifting those pans is a two-handed endeavor.

Oh, and you should know that I’ve (carefully) used my cast iron pans on my ceramic-top stove with no problems.

Anyway, I use my cast-iron skillet a lot, but I also have an All Clad Stainless-Steel 12-Inch skillet, which I use really frequently.

I think both of those pans will last a lifetime, and I’d be hard-pressed to give either of them up!

Cast iron pans need a bit of special care, and here’s a good article about how to do that. There are also plenty of YouTube videos about cast iron care.

I’ve just started bread baking and am trying to figure out a frugal and non disposable way to store the baked bread. For this first batch we put our baked bread into gallon sized Ziploc bags-but that’s expensive and not very earth friendly.
We thought about saving our commercially bought bread bags.
What do you do?

-Darla

Yep, that’s exactly what I do, in part because it’s tough to find plastic bags that will fit a loaf of bread.

IMG_6787

Commercial bread bags can be reused many times before they wear out, and since they’re generally not housing anything sticky, I don’t even wash them between uses. I just shake the crumbs out, make sure the bag is totally dry, and put it in the drawer.

Commercial bread bags are especially great for things like freezing homemade French bread loaves, which are way too long for any plastic bag on the market.

(For those wondering, though I do bake lots of bread from scratch, we end up needing to buy commercial loaves here and there, and that’s how I end up with a small supply of bread bags.)

I need a new pot, 6-8 qt size, for things like, making pudding and heating milk for yogurt. I was wondering if you had an recommendations.

-Dede

If you want something that’s not cast-iron, Cook’s Illustrated highly recommends this All-Clad Stainless 8-Quart Stockpot, but the price is pretty steep (over $250). I don’t own one, but I really love the All-Clad skillet I do own, and I hear really, really excellent things about All-Clad pans.

For less than $50, you can get a Lodge color enameled Dutch oven, but honestly, I’m a little iffy on enameled cast iron. I don’t like how careful you have to be with the enamel coating, and I find the coating to be pretty sticky. I do use mine regularly, but I’m not super happy with how the coating has held up.

IMG_4338

A plain cast iron Dutch oven wouldn’t be terribly appealing to me either. The main appeal it holds in the 12-inch skillet size is the non-stick factor, but I generally don’t need a nonstick surface when I’m using a Dutch oven.

So, I’d be inclined to save my money and get the All-Clad Dutch oven. I think it would last the rest of your life, so your cost per year would be pretty darn reasonable.
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Readers, what stockpot/Dutch oven would you recommend? And do share your bread storage and cast iron opinions as well.
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Leave a Comment

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa July 1, 2013 at 8:15 am

We’re gluten free now :(, but when we used to make homemade bread, we simply stored the cut end down on a plate and stored it in the microwave. The bread didn’t get stale (and we ate it within a few days), and there was no need for a bag.

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2 chppie July 1, 2013 at 11:41 am

We do similar. we leave it cut side down on a bamboo board but leave it out on the counter. Works great!

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3 Liz July 2, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I’d never be able to do this in the summer, since I live in an area that’s way too humid. Homemade bread molds really quickly. Then again, when it’s only one person (not a family of three-plus) eating the loaf, it tends to stick around longer than a day or two.

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4 Erin July 1, 2013 at 10:02 am

Wanted to make sure you know that you can get All Clad seconds here: http://www.cookwarenmore.com/
My 12 inch skillet and sauce pan are both from there. I’ve had them for years and they’re perfect — I don’t know what their imperfections are!

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5 chppie July 1, 2013 at 11:42 am

We do similar. we leave it cut side down on a bamboo board but leave it out on the counter. Works great!

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6 BarbaraB July 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

I’ve used Calphalon Triply pans for years (considered the All Clad but I have small hands and did not like the way the skillet handles felt in my hand. The Calphalon handles were just more ergonomic for me).
Amazon has an 8 qt. pot for $80!
I love my cast iron and use it often. However when I gave up Teflon (hope everyone has!) I eventually discovered Cuisinart Green Gourmet skillets which have a safe ceramic coating. They sear really well, are oven safe to 450 degrees and do almost anything a non-stick skillet should. I baby them like crazy to keep them nonstick (wipe them with a coating of oil each time BEFORE I heat them up and hand wash) but I love cooking with them. They won’t last forever like my cast iron (but neither did Teflon). I got mine from Bed Bath and Beyond with my always handy 20% off coupon.

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7 NMPatricia July 1, 2013 at 10:17 am

From one who is in a different developmental stage than you youngins’ with children – I couldn’t life a cast iron pot with the arthritis in my hands. My mom was concerned about that very thing when I got married and asked for cast iron ware. Sad for me.

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8 Economies of Kale July 1, 2013 at 10:29 am

I would love to get a cast iron frying pan (skillet) – I’m wondering if any of your other Aussie readers know where to get one in Australia? My current one is non-stick and I’d like to move away from using it for most things.

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9 Diane July 1, 2013 at 10:29 am

I dearly love my cast iron!! I’ve watched yard sales and thrift stores over the years, and have all sizes of pans, and most have lids. My husband found a grill (to go over gas burners) at a Goodwill, what a treasure that is. I use it on the barbecue outside, too. And I wouldn’t do without my 4 qt. and 8 qt. dutch ovens. HOWEVER. After wearing out a couple of enamelware canners, I bought a 22 qt. cast aluminum stock pot, and now can (water bath) in that. I liked it so much, I bought 8 qt. and 12 qt. pots, as well. These aren’t the cheapies – the bottoms are 3/8″, and weren’t too expensive. Guess what I’m suggesting is to look at a restaurant supply store for good stainless cookware. We have a Gordon’s Food Service here, and they’re in stock.

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10 Tammy July 1, 2013 at 10:52 am

I have an enamel-coated Martha Stewart Dutch oven, and I have used it a lot. It hasn’t worn well though. I don’t know if it’s my fault or not as I’ve been careful but not terribly careful! I would like to get something longer lasting.

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11 Kris July 1, 2013 at 11:53 am

I have a Cuisinart cookware set which includes an 8 quart stock pot and we love our set. The set also includes a 3.5 quart sauté pan which I lovelovelove. It was a gift so I don’t know how much it cost but I think the whole set was maybe $300? It should last us a lifetime.

I like cooking with our cast iron skillet, but it is NOT a good cookware item for older people as it is very heavy to manage. NMPatricia mentioned her arthritis–but it would also be not recommended for people with cardiac or pulmonary conditions as they need to be conserving their energy, not overly exerting it. The same would be true for those with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.

Hmm, I’ve always washed all my plastic bags out (I reuse commercial bread bags, too) instead of shaking out crumbs. Maybe I make too much work for myself?

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12 Cindy July 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I have the classic Le Crueset 5.5-quart enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven. It was pricey (something like $150 on a site like Half.com), and it’s heavy, but we probably use it five times a week, minimum for soups, stews, baking bread, braising. I’ve had it for eight years, and while it’s scratched a bit on the inside, the coating hasn’t scratched off or chipped. (If I were more careful, I’m sure it wouldn’t have enve scratched it.) It’s definitely going to last for our lifetime, and then get passed to one of the kids. Totally worth the money if you can invest in a lifelong piece.

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13 Beth Anne July 1, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I love my Le Crueset also! Worth every penny in my opinion. I especially love how quickly it allows me to reheat leftover soups. I usually use my bamboo spatulas and the coating has held up great, but I’ve only had it for about a year.

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14 Battra92 July 1, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Yes to wooden (on in this case grass) utensils on enameled cast iron! When I see metal utensils used on anything but bare metal I want to cry!

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15 Liz July 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

My mom buys me and my sister a “wedding chest” gift every year for Christmas, so I now have a cast iron Dutch oven and a cast aluminum stock pot, both by Le Creuset. I’ve really enjoyed them both – and especially that the large stock pot is cast aluminum, so it’s a lot lighter. (Can’t even imagine making a full pot of soup in that thing and trying to lift it!)

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16 Diane C July 1, 2013 at 1:03 pm

If you are a Costco shopper, you can score three bags with each bread purchase. If you are very careful, you can get five. When I buy Oroweat products, I always regret the amount of packaging involved, but don’t feel so bad if I can reuse the bags.

Works like this: Bread is sold in a two-pack (large, clear outer bag). Inside are two individual loaves of bread (two printed bags).Within each of these bags, there is a light weight clear cellophane wrapper. Since home-baked loaves are generally smaller, if you open the innermost liners very carefully, you will end up with bags four and five. They don’t last as long, but are still useful. Sam’s and BJ’s probably do the same thing. I agree with FG, just shake them out well and you’re good to go.

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17 Lauren July 1, 2013 at 1:15 pm

A suggestion for a future Monday Q&A: I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how to keep a positive attitude, specifically regarding frugality. Although I try to practice gratitude every day, I still find that one of my biggest obstacles is my attitude. I can get very down on myself if I “fail” by spending too much at the grocery store for example, and I tend to get very gloomy and defeatist. Any tips for staying up-beat and fun?

Slightly related is my feeling of awkwardness in dealing with situations where I have to say “no” to social events/ playdates that cost money. Is there a way to do this without bringing up money, or at least without feeling any sense of shame about “not having enough”? (I think this might be another “Attitude” thing.)

Another question I have is, how do you balance the practicality of having a very limited amount of “extra” money, with being generous and giving to others (the poor, neighbors, friends, etc.)? It seems too easy to slip into a tightwad/miserly frame of mind.

Thanks! –Lauren

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18 Elizabeth July 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I “learned” to be frugal out of necessity. There just wasn’t enough money for everything. Life happened and I “learned” to go with it. It’s a hard road. We had one car for 18 months. My friend drove my boys and I to our mom’s group and to several related activities that were 30 minutes or more away. I baked for her family because I felt like I was a burden. It’s hard not being able to do things. We’ve adjusted. I have friends over to my house as i live in a central location. I have 2 moms and their kids and we agree to share food responsibilities.
We volunteer our time instead of our money. I share extra food i bought and leftovers ive made with neighbora. We donate what we don’t use. I cook and bake for church members in need. I buy $5 or $10 a week extra in dry goods and we donate that to our food pantry (or most recently a family at our church who could use a little extra help. This year we have decided to give some of our garden produce to friends.
Sometimes, though, not being able to spend the money on a whim does get to us. We remind the children that money isn’t everything and we find something fun to do at home (crafts, a game, singing).
As far as spending too much at the supermarket…I make my menu for the week and my shopping list (including none food items) on the same sheet of paper and stick to it. I use post it’s to remind myself of sales and of coupons that I have-though I don’t really find coupons for the products I buy.
Sorry I wrote so much

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19 ~Dorthey July 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I THINK UR FAMILY IS RICH !!!!!

U & ur Loved ones & Friends are RICH look at All the GOOD that U are doing for ur Family & Others around U & in Ur Community. WOW ! what a BLESSING U ARE TO THIS WORLD !
U are Teaching Ur Kids alot of Good !
I wish I knew how how Cook better ;) I’m a Baker not a cook :(
I LoVe to hear about People Like U !

Blessings to U & Urs !

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20 ~Dorthey July 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Simply Put
U & Ur Family are Simply LIVING :)
U Have Made Ur Life RICH by Not Making IT about Material things !
That Is Living a Rich Life as well ;)

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21 Kris July 1, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Lauren–

What good questions. My heart goes out to you. It IS awkward to have to say no to social events. I don’t know what kind of area you live in; we are in suburbia and I have managed to find many free or low-cost activities to participate in (and invite friend’s kids to attend). In the summer our library has free kid’s programs. We live near a state park and, for the $10 seasonal pass, we can enjoy the park and nature center all summer long. You should be able to find VBS programs for your kids at local churches. We have local museums with kid-friendly areas which are free (some museums which charge admission will have a free family evening). If you have a 4H extension near you, you may be able to go to the fair to see the animals for free. We live near the beach and we are there a lot in the summer. We pack picnic lunches for many activities. We don’t have to penny-pinch as much as we did in earlier years but I find that I still try to be frugal with entertainment spending. (We camp in a tent for our vacations).

You might want to consider asking relatives to give your children “the gift of experience”–movie passes, etc.–instead of toys or clothes.

In terms of attitude–again, that’s so hard! I find it’s helpful to be honest with God and tell Him that I really don’t feel thankful but I’m going to thank Him, anyway. It seems to help. It also helps to have an empathetic friend.

I have struggled with becoming miserly–I think Elizabeth’s comments are great!

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22 Liz July 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I had to re-frame things for myself. Instead of focusing on being frugal, think about it in different terms. Like, I’m buying fresh produce, and that’s got better flavor than any complicated, highly-spiced dish. Or, by saving on groceries, I’m able to afford working less/taking small trips/saving for XYZ. And I agree with others: focus on what you can give, rather than what you can’t afford to give. One can of food every week, or an invited meal every month, goes a lot farther than no cans or no invites. :)

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23 Liz July 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Some other ideas: (1) Pre-empt the playdates by inviting people to do something that you would be comfortable with (like, going to the park to draw the scenery, or create a scavenger hunt for a park or other trip).

(2) Reduce the number of sources of information on things to do/buy that you review regularly. I was so worked up all the time about what other people were doing, thinking, reading, believing when I followed a lot of blogs and read all of the emails that came in from advertisers. Or, put a different way, I recently changed the way I shop by going to a small, local grocer rather than the big box stores. It’s not that I’m against those places like Kroger, Farm Fresh, Food Lion, etc., it’s just that there are always so many choices, so much advertising, and frequent changes in organization. It exhausted my willpower by making so many decisions all the time, and I ended up buying too much and stuff I didn’t even eat! (There’s actual science behind this.)

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24 Michelle H. July 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I second Liz’s suggestion to pre-empt the playdates. Look for free and low-cost kid activities in your area and start inviting friends to join you. Around here it seems like every weekend there’s some kind of free festival or fair featuring a kidzone with bounce houses and activities. Or invite them over to your house and supply the meal. We bought a family membership to the science and history museum for $95/year that allows us 5 free admissions each time, and often invite friends to fill out the extra tickets.

For the other question of balancing giving and low funds: when I was young and broke I went to my first blood drive because they were giving away free concert tickets, and have been a regular donor ever since. I may not have had money to donate to charity, but I had plenty of blood!

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25 ~Dorthey July 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Has anyone ever bought /Used a Plastic Bread container ?
I’ve seen them at Walmart but never at Target.

I was wondering if they work ?

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26 Heather July 2, 2013 at 10:24 am

Yes, I bought one at a thrift shop, thought it would be great. But it wasn’t. Maybe it would work for you. I, or rather my bread machine, bakes and those loaves wouldn’t fit. The bread got stale in two days. Usually I wrap up my bread in the bags that veggies come in from the grocery store.

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27 Rebecca July 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I find that my home made loaves are bigger than store bought ones but that the bags that hold the mini bagels my kids love so much work better for bread storage. We freeze our fresh baked loaves because I do 10 at a time, which lasts 12 days or so.

If looking for a nice cast iron pan, esp a 12 inch, look for one with a helper lifting handle opposite the main one. It is a must have for anyone with weak hands.

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28 Lesley July 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I have an enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven that I love, love, love. It is a Le Crueset knock-off that I got at Tuesday Morning for about $75 on sale. No problems with the coating.

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29 EcoCatLady July 1, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I can’t eat bread because of a yeast allergy, but I’ve heard wonderful things about bread boxes. That doesn’t help you for freezing it, but it’s supposed to be the best way to store a loaf that’s in use.

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30 chrissy July 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I store my homemade bread in a Rubbermaid container. We can fit 3 loaves in it. It has lasted 2 years and is still going strong.

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31 Shawna McMinn July 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm

All I own r cast iron skillets. I have several sizes. I recommend spending a little more and purchasing Losge brand. They heat more evenly and come ore seasoned. As far as bread bags go, if u have an IGA grocery store near u they carry a bread bag. They r on the isle with the other disposable bags. They r perfect for homemade breads.

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32 Megan J July 1, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I just bought this from King Arthur Flour for bread storage:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/expandable-bread-keeper

It’s still very new, so I can’t speak to how well it holds up over time, but so far I LOVE it. It expands to 11 inches so it fits virtually any sandwich loaf (or other bread products– on the box it shows bagels in there). It has vents that can be opened or closed, and the directions say to leave vents open in humid weather to prevent molding, and closed in dry weather to prevent staleness. All the parts are dishwasher safe too. It’s my new favorite bread accessory :)

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33 Sarah B July 1, 2013 at 7:50 pm

When I was making bread for myself, I happened to have a rectangular, plastic container that was almost exactly the size of a loaf (it was a hand-me-down). I actually used it upside-down, setting the bread on the lid and covering it with the dish. That way I could just lift off the dish and (carefully) cut my bread without gettin crumbs all over or dirtying a board.

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34 Battra92 July 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Ahh Cast Iron! I have fond memories of my grandmother cooking everything with cast iron and when I started to cook and buy my own pans, I wanted to learn to cook with cast iron. I have a bunch of cast iron but the only ones I use are a generic 9″ pan I got at Macy’s (first pan I ever got – it came in a three pack on sale for $10!!) and a Lodge 12″ pan. The 9″ is best for making cornbread and the 12″ is better for most everything else. That said, I use both regularly.

I also own (via marriage) a couple of Le Creuset dutch (French?) ovens and one Tramontina one. All three are excellent pans and yes, we really use two big ones at a time when making chicken stock! While the French made Le Creuset is fantastic, the Chinese made Tramontina does work just as good for a fraction of the price.

Speaking of Tramontina, a while back when I wanted a 12″ stainless skillet I really wanted an All-Clad and was checking Marshall’s/TJMaxx/Home Goods regularly for one to come in. In the meantime Cooks Illustrated highly recommended one by Tramontina that was sold exclusively at Walmart for around $40. I bought it and LOVE it! Sadly, Tramontina saw dollar signs with this recommendation and replaced it with a slightly smaller skillet that’s not as good. If I had to buy a new one, I’d get the All-Clad.

We also have a Revereware stockpot that was given to my wife as a gift. It works fine for boiling pasta and such but I don’t know that I’d simmer stock in it for hours.

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35 Battra92 July 1, 2013 at 8:27 pm

And I totally forgot about bread bags! I too save commercial bread bags (life is too short to make hamburger buns when Aldi sells a fantastic potato roll that is perfect for pulled pork or hamburgers.)

I also found some bags at Stop & Shop that my bread just fits in. I think after these all fall apart and are recycled (yes, you can recycle bread bags!) I’ll just ask my relatives to save a bunch of commercial bags for me.

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36 The Norwegian Girl July 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm

I always use commercial bread bags for freezing bread and other freezable products.

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37 S July 2, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I have a Le Cruset enameled dutch oven, and have no problems with the enamel. Yes, it was pricey, but I bought it at tjmaxx so I paid 1/2 price. I haven’t had any problems with it being sticky, either. In fact, any dried up stuff on it wipes out pretty easily once it’s been soaked in plain hot water.

When I got married, I never gave any thought to what I used for cooking. Now that I’m older, I see the importance of lifelong cooking tools, and so I’ve slowly replaced a lot of my cookware and felt very good about my choices. I expect that most of my cookware now will outlive me and be passed down to my kids and grandkids.

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38 Beth July 6, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Since my bread loaves tend to be larger than regular bread bags, I bought one box of 2-gallon size ziplock bags, and I reuse them until the zipper no longer holds. Usually they just need the crumbs shook out, but they can be washed as well. That one box of 10 bags has lasted a long, long time. For some reason, one loaf of my bread does not fit in a 1-gallon bag, but 2 will fit in a 2-gallon bag!

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