Eco-friendly Party Serving Ware (+ Adventures in Potato Stamping)

I really, really hate disposable stuff.  I just do.  It really grates on me.  But there are times when it is the only practical option.  Times like Baby Girl’s first birthday party.  For those times, I love that there are some cool new beautiful AND functional eco-friendly options.

Price-wise, all the eco-friendly serving ware ended up being comparable to those commercial theme birthday party options (i.e. Rainbow Brite paper plates, etc.).  Our menu meant we needed a lot of different types of items, and fortunately we have a lot of it leftover for future parties (the kind that won’t have to have a Rainbow Brite, theme).

We purchased nine items from two different companies (VerTerra and Green Paper Products).  Thankfully, everything worked beautifully.  The loveliest items were definitely the VerTerra plates, forks and spoons.  The plates remind me of the Tencel items we carry at Sweet Iris – they are a beautiful and truly eco-friendly option.

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Aren’t they beautiful?  These are actually made from fallen, crushed palm leaves, + steam, heat, and pressure.  That’s it.  They utilize an agricultural waste product that would most often be burned, biodegrade in less than two months after disposal, are completely compostable, don’t transfer heat, maintain shape when in contact with hot substances, and are microwave-safe up to two minutes on high and oven-safe for up to 45 minutes at 350°.  Could you really ask for more?  I don’t think so.

I was truly thrilled with the plates.  Not only were they gorgeous, they worked beautifully–there was no sogginess or weakness at all.  If for some strange reason we used these for a normal dinner at home, I’d try rinsing the plates off and reusing them.  They can’t be put into the dishwasher, but other reviewers have had success with a quick hand wash.  They are just so pretty it feels strange to throw them away.

The plates shown above are the 7 x 8.5 inch.  This size would probably be the minimum size I would choose for an entree course (unless of course you are going gourmet and/or you use nice modest portions).  Remember, there are sloped edges on all of the plates that take away from your useable plate space.  I.e., the 6-inch plates we chose as dessert plates (but barely used as we ended up opting for cupcakes) looked so petite that I almost wonder if they might be an awkward fit for something like a really large slice of a round cake.  Judge for yourself below, where you can see those 6-inch plates below in relation to the cocktail napkins.

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You might go with something bigger if you will offer several dessert options.

We really tested the forks out, and I thought they did a great job even with the salad, though I will say that my young nephew had trouble spearing the lettuce and asked for a regular fork.  VerTerra’s website mentions that these forks are “famous for being able to pierce a raw carrot”.  I would believe it–though I think most people would be too worried about breaking a tine to really go for it.  That may have been my nephew’s problem.

You’ll also want to note that the spoons are somewhat shallow.  They worked well for our soup, but if you have a very thin, brothy soup I think they’d be a bit frustrating.  They’d give you no trouble at all with a chili or stew.

We did mess up by not getting knives, though.  Our salad ingredients didn’t get chopped quite finely enough for everyone.  Ah well, next time.

We presented the spoon and fork wrapped in blue, green, and yellow napkins and tied with raffia, in a tall thin basket (shh…it was the bottom section of a facial tissue dispenser basket) because table space was at a premium.  We wanted napkins in all our colors, but didn’t want to be wasteful buying the huge packages offered at most party stores.  Fortunately, I swung into Dollar General’s party section while on a box-of-Corn-Pops run.  3 packs of napkins, $3.  Score.

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We also bought greenpaperproducts.com punch cups, drink cups,  4 oz. portion cups and wooden tasting spoons.  The cups were all made from Polylactic Acid, or PLA, a biodegradable and compostable bioresin derived from corn.  According to their website, PLA uses 65% less energy than producing conventional plastics, generates 68% fewer greenhouse gasses, and contains no toxins.  

You can see the 4 oz. portion cups and tasting spoons below, filled with my new love, lemon-basil sherbet.  I didn’t find any of the cups to be so thin that they smash in your hand, as some other eco-friendly products can do.

Lemon-Basil Sherbet

Lemon-Basil Sherbet

Liven up your Disposable Ware (etc.) with a Potato Stamp

We also chose these biodegradeable, compostable, renewable sugarcane barreled soup bowls and were very happy with them also–the size was perfect, they didn’t get too hot, and they weren’t too floppy.  We  partied them up using a potato stamp and a tube of yellow paint:

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Festive, right?  If you’re like me , it’s been a decade or two since you’ve tried your hand at a potato stamp.  My tip – keep your design extremely simple, and if you are working with a rounded surface, keep your design small.  This was a surprisingly time-consuming project for me, as it was difficult to get the large lemon design we chose to print clearly and evenly on the rounded surface–I had to keep tweaking my stamps.   In sum, you’ll want to do as I say, not as I do.  🙂

To potato stamp all you need to do is draw your design outline on your potato-half with a pencil and cut away the outside, leaving a quarter-inch-or-so tall raised design.  I could draw a decent looking lemon freehand with a pencil, but if you need a more symmetrical design, you can push a cookie cutter into your potato half, then use a paring knife to slice through the potato until your knife hits the cutter.  Even with the precision of a cookie cutter, I don’t think that potato stamping lends itself to a flawless, professional look (am I wrong here? If so, comment below), but if a more hand-crafted look works with your decor (as it did with our “painted” napkin-inspired party), give it a try.

Hope that helps!  If you want to see the deliciousness that landed on so many different products, click here for our menu.

10 Steps to Perfect Dyed Doilies – Tutorial

So the gorgeous Pinterest pictures have talked you into it (I hear them too!) and you are ready to dye some doilies.  Here’s how to do it:

 1. Purchase Doilies:

Buy your doilies.  A lot of them.  With dyed doilies, getting a wide range of shades is pretty much unavoidable.  You can get an idea of the kind of variation I’m talking about in the photo below–where you’ll also get a good idea about how to make a doily bow, or a doily puff (though this doily bow in particular is actually destined for a fabulous letter wreath–where the variety in shading looks gorgeous in the finished product)–but more tutorials later… Image

If that kind of variation is undesirable to you, be sure to use consistent heat and soaking times and dye much more than you need so you can pick and choose doilies that reach your desired shade.

When shopping for doilies, I found the best method was to first decide on the size I wanted, then do an Amazon search for that particular size.  I picked out a pattern I liked with the help of those results.  But before loading up your cart, do a separate search for the brand and pattern.  That’s how I found a huge box of doilies that didn’t show up in search results any other way.  I was able to score 1000 lovely Cambridge Hoffmaster 5” doilies for $12.41, with free shipping.   We used 5-600 for my daughter’s birthday party just on doily bunting and door décor.  And I still have a pile left over to feed my newfound doily addiction.  Hoorah!

2.  Purchase Rit Dye:

Pick out some Rit dye colors.  When you are ready to purchase, you really want to purchase your dye locally.  Wal-mart has a good selection of Rit dye for around $3 each, though they may only have liquid, like my Wal-Mart did.  That’s fine because the liquid works great.  I have very limited experience with Rit dye, but here are a couple of color tips:  Royal blue is lovely, but dyed/dried it leaves marks on your hands, and therefore your baby might slowly get a Smurfy look after handling her.  Not that I’ve experienced that problem, or anything ;).  Also, the Kelly Green ended up being more of a blue-green.  I solved this by adding just a little bit of yellow, and it got me much closer to my desired shade.  Lesson: if you want a kelly green doily, pick up a bit of yellow dye at the store as well.

3.  Separate doilies:

Grab a stack of doilies and start separating them into single layer.   Put them in stacks of 10.  If you run into a stubbornly close-knit pair, instead of picking them apart at the edges, try putting your thumb and middle finger on opposite sides of the center of the doilies and rubbing to separate. It helps.

4.  Heat water:

Pick a saucepan that is not much wider than the size of your doilies.  Fill with 2-3” of water, and heat water.  You don’t want it to boil, but you want it to be hot.  You can leave it on the heat as you dye, or periodically heat the water up again.  Your doilies will accept the dye much better with hot water.

5.   Add dye:

Add your dye to the water until you achieve your desired color.  Remember that your doilies’ color will deepen with time soaking in the dye.  How much dye you add to your water will depend on the Rit dye colors you have chosen and the color saturation you want.  I needed a lot more yellow dye than Royal Blue or Kelly Green (about 70% of the bottle vs. 30-40%).  You may have to add more dye and/or more water as you progress with your dyeing.

6. Test:

Before you jump in with a full batch, test dye one doily, submerging it in the dye and leaving it for five minutes.  Remove with tongs.  Adjust your dye if necessary.

7.  Dye:

Add one doily at a time to the water, placing it gently on the surface of the water, and then gently poking it with your tongs to cover the surface with dye without allowing your doily to fold.  Work as quickly as you can, adding the rest of your stack of 10 doilies to the water.  As tempting as it is, you can’t put the entire stack in at once.  You’ll get big un-dyed spots in the middle and an overall tie-dyed look.  Let your batch absorb the dye for five minutes, but not more—you don’t want your doilies to disintegrate.

8.  Dry:

Have your drying area ready.  If your baker’s racks aren’t otherwise occupied with cupcake recipe trials like ours were, they will work great (just be sure to protect the surface beneath from dripping dye).  We simply cut open garbage bags and laid our stacks on top.  For faster drying, put a stack of paper towels beneath the doilies and/or let your doilies dry in the sun.

Remove the entire stack of doilies at once with your tongs, letting excess dye drip back into the saucepan and transporting the stack (hovered over a plate) to your drying area.  Don’t worry about separating the doilies.  They’ll dry, albeit slowly in the stack.  As you place it on your drying surface, you’ll want to avoid folds, but wrinkles or minor bunching will iron out.  Fiddle too much with wet doilies and they will tear.

9.  Iron:

For really good-looking doilies, you don’t want to skip this step.  It makes a big difference.  A low temperature works well.  Remember to protect your ironing board from dye, and wipe down the surface of your iron after you finish—did I mention that the blue dye gets all over everything?

10.  Admire:

Aren’t they gorgeous?  Aren’t you the most talented little mini-Martha on the planet?  You are!  Now what will you do with them?  Sew them into bunting?  Fold them over treat bags?  Make a fabulous wreath?  The world is your oyster!  Enjoy!

Questions?  Suggestions?  Comment below!