Hot Chocolatey Goodness

I haven’t made hot chocolate in a long time. Sure, I’ve had it at cafes (I’m a pretty big fan of rich chocolatey goodness), but I haven’t made it in my own house.

The last time I bought a canister of hot chocolate was something like 3 years ago when we started the zero waste thing, and I’m embarassed to admit it, but it never crossed my mind that you could make hot chocolate without hot chocolate mix, so I’ve done without ever since.

Until yesterday. Yesterdayday it snowed, and then the sun came out, and it became just the sort of gorgeous wintery day that beckons to you to grab a book, curl up at the window seat, and sip hot chocolate. And then it hit me. I had cocoa, I had sugar, I had milk; by golly, I could make hot chocolate.

Of course, after my “breakthrough”, I checked online and found out that I was far from the only one who had ever done this. Obviously people used to make it before Carnation and Nestle stepped in with pre-packaged mixes. In truth, just about everything we buy at the store can be made from scratch. Well, maybe not Kraft Singles, but you know what I mean.

What’s something that you used to purchase before realizing it was nearly as easy to make it yourself?

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Simplicity and Slippers

Somewhere on the road to zero waste, I became a bit of a hoarder. I don’t mean a hoarder of garbage, I just meant that I don’t throw things out if I think they “might” be useful, and I definitely don’t throw them out if they’re in perfectly good condition.

Take, for example, my slippers. I have 5 of them. All in very good condition. All very cozy and comfortable. Some high cut, some low cut, some hand knitted, some store bought, some with padded soles, some not. The thing is that I don’t have a single matching pair.

And I can’t throw them out because they are perfectly good slippers. And I can’t donate them to charity, because who’s going to buy a single slipper at a thrift store? So I’m stuck wearing random pairs of slippers, refusing to get rid of any of the 5 lest its partner show up (it has been known to happen).

It gets worse. This problem extends to socks too. I have a bag of over 50 mismatched socks. Good socks. $15 smart wool socks, and ski socks, and socks that still have lots of life left in them of only they could find a mate.  Before you interrupt, yes, occasionally I wear mismatched socks. In fact, those who knew me when I was a kid know that for about 12 years, I exclusively wore mismatched socks (but that’s another story altogether. And those socks weren’t mismatched, they were the same socks, just in different colours), but at the office, mismatched socks don’t cut it. And, call me a princess, but I just like the feeling of wearing two matching items on my feet.

I don’t have the answer here; I think I’m just realizing that it’s hard to “minimize” and “live simply” when you can’t get rid of something as simple as a slipper. . . . . anyone else have a bag of orphan socks laying around?

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Filed under Around the house, consumerism

Memories Not Garbage

Like it or not, the holidays are soon to be upon us, and like it or not, people are going to give gifts. I know there are some who have successfully removed themselves from decorating their homes with frivolous festive trimmings and giving “things” to their loved ones, but I’m guessing that there are many many others who want to give something; it’s just that they’re tired of the same old crap that gets used for a few months and then tossed.

Our regional government is actually running a campaign this year encouraging people to “Make Memories, Not Garbage”, meaning giving gifts of experiences or material goods that are good quality and meaningful (if you go to their site and scroll down, there are some great gift ideas and ecards).  So, in that spirit of giving, here’s my two cents on low impact gift options.

Wrapping

  • reusable fabric gift bags
  • furoshiki
  • table cloths, dish towels, napkins or towels
  • reused wrapping paper, newspaper, or kraft paper
  • reusable mesh produce bags
  • boxes from shoes, oranges, scotch, etc
  • lunch containers or travel mugs (works well for gift certificates and jewelery)
  • rafia and twine or quality, reusable cloth ribbon
  • gift tags made from reused Christmas cards

Gift Ideas

  • tickets: theatre, music performance, movie, theater sports, comedy club
  • passes: rec centre, gym, museum, aquarium, science centre, yoga studio
  • classes: art, dance, craft, cooking, language, theatre
  • outdoor experiences (this might be an organized tour or a promise to do something together): snowshoeing, horseback riding, cycle trip, camping
  • health and wellness experiences: massage, haircut, housecleaning
  • consumables: preserves, crackers and fancy cheese, coffee in a tin, cookies, gift in a jar, etc. Or even better, a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or a few months of deliveries from a local food company (thanks for the idea Anna)
  • secondhand items (almost anything can be found lightly used  – it’s just cheaper and has less packaging): books, housewares, clothing
  • homemade items: calendar, consumables, ornaments, etc
  • zero waste helpers (yes, they are things, but they’re really good things): compost bin, travel cutlery and containers, mesh produce bags, plastic free shaving set, package-free toiletries
  • Services! (thanks to Beth for the addition via twitter): Clean their bathroom, organize their digital photos; plant bulbs in their garden

Yes, if you’re wondering, we have actually given a compost bin as a Christmas gift before.

As an additional note, we’ve found that if you’re giving experiences, it’s best to actually sign them up to lock in a date rather than just give a gift card that could well be forgotten. What are some other low impact gifts you’ve given or received?

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Filed under DIY, gifts

Gumboots and Soup

perfect handmade soup mugs from http://www.mugrevolution.com

Yes, it’s that time of year. My mystery volunteer squash that threatened to overtake the garden have been harvested. The raised beds are looking a little bare, save for a few remaining carrots and beets, a scrawny row of last minute radishes, and the over-producing kale and swiss chard (Grant was done with kale back in June).

The wet weather has blown in. In short, it’s soup time.

My friend Keith called and insisted we go hunting for wild mushrooms. Dreaming of mushroom soup, I grabbed a few containers and we headed out to harvest a local and zero waste meal. Turns out that the mushroom patch wasn’t, as I’d expected, in the forest. It was right downtown. On the edge of a large grassy median in the heart of Yaletown (which, if you’re not from Vancouver, is a pretty fancy pants area).

And that is how I ended up in my gumboots harvesting mushrooms on a median in downtown Vancouver at rush hour as streams of business people walked by. (Never one to draw attention to myself in a public place, I found it a tad embarrassing). I was a little worried about the toxic traffic fumes impregnating the mushrooms, but Keith insisted he’d done this before.

In the end, we had wild, urban, shaggy mane hungarian mushroom soup for dinner (hungarian mushroom soup courtesy of The New Moosewood Cookbook – that recipe alone is worth the price of the book); zero waste, local, and pretty darn fun.

 

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Filed under DIY, food

Package-Free Shopping

I love finding stores that make it easy to shop zero waste. Stores like Unpackaged (England) or In.gredients (Texas) or La Forêt (Wakefield).

My most recent “find” was this past weekend in Powell River, BC. When we pulled into town, we noticed Ecossentials first thing what with its “get unpackaged” and “refillable cleaners” window signage, but it was Sunday, so we satisfied ourselves with pressing our noses up against the glass.

The next day, we headed there before leaving town. Ecossentials sells bulk food and cleaning supplies as well as food tins, glass straws, ethical toys, lunch kits, and even an electricity-free espresso maker.. . all with nary a plastic bag to be seen. It’s our kind of place.

In the dry goods section, they have neat stacks of cotton bags you can buy if you forget your own. In the back, they have shampoo, liquid soap, and laundry soap on tap. They even do door to door delivery with reused containers.

Even better, Melissa, the owner, had seen our film the night before and offered to sell our movie in her store. How awesome is that!?

I could go on and on, but Grant got a new iphone plugin that he was itching to use, so maybe I’ll just let you see it for yourself:

PS – she mentions Pebble in the Pond in the video – they have great information of plastic reduction here

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Filed under consumerism, packaging, reusable containers

DIY Baby Shower

You’ve maybe noticed that I haven’t been around this here blog much lately – partly because I’m been busy over at www.cleanbinmovie.com – but that doesn’t been I haven’t been thinking and doing zero waste.

Case in point: one of my very good friend recently had a baby shower. No, I didn’t push my mandate on the hostess . . .she was right on board, and it worked out really well!

Food: The Mom-to-be’s Mom made all the food from scratch, including quiche, salads, cupcakes, and appies – right down to the fig jam! (we offered to help, but she said she was under control). Sure there was some packaging, but nothing like what you’d expect from a standard gathering, and they had bins for compost and recyclables (hurrah!)

Dishes: I have a case of wine glasses  (a souvenir from my cousin’s backyard wedding) that I keep in a kitchen cupboard for events, and her Mom rented real plates for only a few dollars that could be returned dirty to the rental company, making cleanup super easy.

Games: Yes, yes, what is a baby shower without games? One of our friends planned this portion, and she managed to avoid  gimmicky plastic oriented shower games altogether! We had to remember baby animal names (anyone know the technical term for a baby monkey?), guess the circumference of the Mom-to-be’s belly (with compostable cotton string), and guess the number of jelly beans in a baby bottle (which was then given to Mom as a gift). We also had a clothespeg game with wooden clothes pegs which the guest of honor took home for her new clothesline.

Decorations: This was my category, and I manged to do it DIY (and free). Grant had photographed a wedding that week, and the bride had handmade hundreds of pink tissue paper pompoms. I knew the sister of the groom well enough that I could ask about whether the decorations were headed to the landfill.  Turns out that the bride was ecstatic that her creativity would be given a second life at the shower, so I went home with a pack full of pompoms.  To balance the overwhelming pink theme, I also made a couple of fabric banners (way more time consuming than expected) out of scrap yellow, blue, and green fabric I got at the free store with the word “congratulations” in felt letters also made from scrap. The decorations were snapped up after the party for yet another shower.

Wrapping Paper: Ak! There was a lot of it. All I can say is that we salvaged what we could for reuse, and recycled some, and luckily there weren’t too many plastic bows or that sort of thing.

Gifts: My lovely friend is the practical sort, and I have to give her A+ because this was the first baby shower I had ever been to where second hand gifts were given the ‘ok’ right on the invite. She ended up receiving loads of lovely, quality gifts (some new, some preloved) that I think she will really use.

And while we’re talking DIY, one of the gifts I gave her was a pair of baby booties made out of felt I already had at home. I forgot to take a photo, but luckily Kim remembered her camera (thanks Kim).  I got the pattern from Heather Bailey (http://www.heatherbaileydesign.com/BittyBooties.pdf)

So cute, aren’t they? I was so stoked about how my “bee booties” turned out that I promptly made two more pairs (with different designs) for future babies.

So truly, it was a group effort (with double points awarded to the Mom-to-be’s Mom), and we really did produce hardly any landfill garbage.  Whether it’s because of thrift or concern about waste, if you have more ideas on how to do a low impact party, please put them in the comments!

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Composting in The City of Vancouver

Pretty much everyone I talk to thinks that composting is great. Just the fact that you are reading this blog probably means that you also think composting is great. I mean, at 35% (by weight) of our waste, why the heck wouldn’t you want to compost?

But the truth is that some people need a little extra help. They don’t have the space for a backyard compost,  or they need somewhere to compost meat scraps and cooked food, or maybe they would just rather pay for someone to take it all away instead of dealing with it themselves. That is why I support municipal composting pickup – not just the kind we have right now in Vancouver (fruit and veggie scraps every two weeks), but the kind that is being proposed in Vancouver tomorrow that will take meat and cooked food and dairy and bread, and paper takeout containers, and all that other stuff that might have a hard time in your backyard compost, and they’ll pick it up every single week!

Yup, the City of Vancouver is proposing to start a complete composting pilot that would be delivered to 2000 single family homes and even a few multi-family buildings.  This is a really important step. If the pilot goes well, then they could roll the program out to the rest of the city and everyone could be composting ALL their food scraps, not just their veggies! We’re talking about an extra 26,000 tonnes of food waste diverted from landfills every year. Read more about the pilot here.

I’m pretty confident that Council will agree with the recommendation for the composting pilot, but they can always use a little nudge. If you live in Vancouver and you think composting is important, please come to City Hall Council Chambers on Thurs July 14th at 9:30am and show your support. If you don’t have time to go down, send a quick note to one if the Councillors via email or even Twitter (@andreareimer @MayorGregor @VanRealDeal @SuzanneAnton)

Side note: Yes, I do think that backyard composting is still very very important, and we should all be backyard composting as a first option.

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Filed under food waste