Archive for October 26, 2011

Ever tried smoked tofu?

I am not a vegetarian, though from an eco perspective I know that is the right thing to be. I guess there is always room for improvement, though, as a pig farmer’s daughter, it may take me a while to give up bacon and ham….Anyway, I don’t eat that much meat and am always looking for tasty non-meat options.

I admit, I find tofu a hard thing to cook and an even harder thing to sell to the kids. Smoked tofu, on the other hand, is the school snack of choice of my very fussy five-year old.

I first discovered smoked tofu through my organic delivery box when I lived in Toronto, a whole lifetime ago (or so it seems now). I am big fan of things smoked, so I figured it was worth a shot. And what a great shot that turned out to be.

I have been seeking out Soya Nova Smoked Tofu ever since. The problem is that it is hard to find.

smoked_tofu

This tofu is very dense and dry so can easily be sliced and eaten as a snack, in a sandwich or in cooked food (none of that disconcerting wobble of fresh tofu….). It tastes delicious; you can almost feel the goodness. I have a great recipe for smoked tofu rice (with egg, celery, mushrooms, peas) and, just last night, I ate it it in a sushi roll. Yum.

Soya Nova is a traditional-style tofu shop located on Salt Spring Island in BC (for non-Canadians, this is a small island that lies between the west coast of Canada and Vancouver Island. It’s quite a hip destination, lot’s of good food, plant nurseries and massage…).

It is a family business that has been going for 26 years. They make a variety of tofu products marinated, curried, spread, etc. using traditional Japanese methods and all Canadian-grown, organic, non-GMO soy beans.

The process involves soaking the beans in water (the water they use is from a 250 foot deep well and they tell me it has a perfect pH balance, which is important since half the weight of tofu is water), draining them, rinsing them again and grinding them up with water to produce a slurry. The slurry is added to a large open cauldron of boiling water, cooked for 20 minutes and ladled into a cloth sack which is then pressed to extract the milk, and the soybean pulp (okara).

A natural coagulant is added which turns the soy milk into curds and whey. The curds are placed in cloth-lined stainless steel boxes and pressed with weights for 40 minutes, then cut up and immersed in cold water before packaging or smoking.

Now I have whet your appetite, here is the hard part. Soya Nova sells quite widely on the west coast of Canada and is available even as far east as Winnipeg. But Soya Nova no longer has a distributor in Ontario. In addition, although they have a Facebook page, they don’t have a website, so it is hard to find out about the product.

But there is a solution. Deb is very helpful if you email her direct at soyanova@shaw.ca or call her on 250-537-965. She send out parcels containing 12 x 225g packages of smoked tofu. These will arrive in 2 days and last several months in the fridge.

The cost is $3.50/package before shipping (which costs about $30 to Ontario: a lot, but not too bad if you average it per pack). So, your all-in price is about $6 per pack, which is not much more than the price the tofu sells for in stores on Salt Spring Island ($5.60 per pack, I am told). And it is great to have it delivered to your door.

I think it is worth it to go through this effort. I have tried a more commercial brand of smoked tofu and it is nowhere near as good. I’d be interested to know if there is a good similar product in the US.

And for those who live close to me and are interested: come by for a tasting, I have a fridge full right now!

Moisturizers revisited

One of my very early postings was about face creams. At the time I was a fan of Lavera products. But my journey with ecoproductsthatwork.com has introduced me to a whole range of great new products. So I thought I would share with you what I am using on my aging face right now.

First, though, I want to remind you of what I wrote in my posting on cleansers, which holds for moisturizers too: what I look for in facial products is low toxicity (of course), a smell/texture/feel that suits me and a price that is right. Add to that a (more or less) local manufacturer and all my needs are satisfied: I am not looking for miracles.

GreenTeaLotion

So, my current beauty secret? My daytime moisturizer is Pure Anada’s Green Tea and Grapeseed Hydra Lotion. This is a light, delicately fragranced lotion that has felt great through the warmer months and this Indian summer. Maybe mid-winter I would prefer something richer – perhaps Pure Anada’s Berry and Bouquet Hyrda Cream, which I have not yet tried – but, for now, I love the Green Tea product.

It comes in a largish pump bottle. Beware, my pump is a bit wild and has several times discharged rather aggressively onto my bathroom mirror. It is, though, very well priced at $19.50 for a full 60ml/2fl oz (if you need an idea of size, I have been using this since early summer and still have some left).

You may remember Pure Anada from my recent posting on lipstick. It’s a small Manitoba company that is dedicated to low toxicity. None of the ingredients in the cream scores above 1 on the Skindeep ingredients database, though the magical-sounding ingredient in this Green Tea moisturizer, Olivem 1000, is not rated. You can read a bit about it here. It is derived from olive oil so does not worry me too much, and the fact that it claims to generate liquid crystals on my stratum corneum (that’s the top layer of the skin: dead cells, sadly) actually sounds rather enticing (if a little perplexing).

I was sent this lotion as a sample and was happy to hear that when it was mailed it had just been mixed up the day before. A new idea: freshly prepared cosmetics! I have had it for several months now and there does not seem to have been any product deterioration.

At night I am using a product from Olivier Soaps (remember my post on washing in the wilderness…I went to buy the shampoo and ended up getting a travel size of this cream too). It is billed as an anti-aging day cream – Femme Creme de Jour – but I find it perfect for the night.

It has a fresh, slightly medicinal smell (if you were paying attention to my sunscreen posting, you will know that this is a quality I like), imparted by oils of: neroli, rosemary, tea tree, sage, benzoin, rosewood, palmarosa and carrot seed. It goes on smoothly and feels nourishing and matte, not at all greasy (which is not true for all eco creams).

olivier moist

The cream scores 2 on the Skindeep database. This is low, but not quite as low as I would like. Looking at the ingredients, everything seems very benign apart from sodium borate. This is, in fact, the chemical name for borax and it comes with a warning from Health Canada (it is a skin irritant (especially for infants). Rather alarmingly it is also a food additive. Anyway, I checked in with Olivier and they tell me that they use only a trace amount in their formula as a preservative, so my mind is at rest for now, though it would be good if they could find a formulation that was entirely borax-free.

The 8g trial/travel size is not on the website but is available in the shops: maybe they would send you one if you asked. The big tub is 50g and sells for $54.95 (so close, yet so far, from the on-line free shipping threshold of $60). I know this is not cheap, but it does last and I figure that from time to time my face needs a treat. Others must agree as this is the company’s best selling product.

Olivier soap is a family-run New Brunswick company that sells both on line and through stores. There just happens to be a franchise store in Chelsea, Quebec, down the road from me. The company is a signatory to the compact for safe cosmetics, which is always a good sign. Customer service is not too hot, but they did answer my questions eventually. Pure Anada, on the other hand, are super-responsive.

So there you have it. I can’t say that my wrinkles are in decline, but my face is happy (and I even got an unsolicited compliment on my skin the other day…..it’s true!…..so I must be doing something right).

Shiny silverware (with ease)

So as I was setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner last weekend I noticed – horror of horrors – that my cutlery was all dull and stained. Fortunately that gave me an immediate opportunity to engage in one of my favourite cleaning tasks: polishing my flatware. I find this supremely satisfying. Curious, but true.

flatware

My cleaning product of choice for this task is washing soda, sodium carbonate (Na2CO3). If you don’t happen to have any washing soda on hand, you can substitute its close relative, baking soda, sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3 : shouldn’t that be sodium hydrogen carbonate?).

eco pionerr

Washing soda is quite a bit more aggressive and more strongly alkaline than baking soda but it is a little hard to find in pure form. I get mine at a local eco-store called Arbour. It is also the major ingredient in water softener so you can, according to this article, use that instead. Or try on-line.

For basic cleaning jobs, washing soda does a fantastic job. Its main strength, as far as I am concerned, is in removing brown tea stains from mugs, teapot spouts and teaspoons. Just soak items in a hot washing soda solution (I am very casual about my dilutions) and the discolouration simply dissolves away. Stubborn stains might take a few hours, or require a bit of rubbing, but teaspoons and other cutlery come clean almost immediately.

The only thing you should not allow to touch washing soda is aluminium (tools and pans) as it will turn these black. However….if you want to clean your silverware, aluminium is just what you need.

Aluminium Foil small

Place a sheet of aluminium foil in the bottom of a large ceramic or glass bowl and put your silver knives and forks blade-down in the bowl (the handles don’t tend to get that dirty anyway). For those who are keen on purchased inputs, you can actually buy aluminium plates to stick in the bottom of your bowl, but this seems a little crazy to me.

Next, sprinkle in some washing (or baking) soda. Then pour boiling water from your kettle into the bowl and, hey presto, your silver tarnish will dissolve away before your eyes. (after which you just need to rinse and dry the items). The solution suggested on-line is 1 cup soda to one gallon of water. Again, I am very approximate.

Obviously there is a clever chemical reaction going on when you do this (you will smell the gas produced, not an unpleasant odour). If you want to know more about what is happening, see this fact sheet.

This cleaning method is great for flatware, but also works for silver necklaces and other small items that you can fit in a bowl. The downside is that the chemical reaction does not put up any barrier to further tarnish (as I believe commercial silver cleaners do) so things do appear to get dirtier again a little sooner than they might if you were to rub away with chemicals. But I am actually happy not to be eating with flatware covered in anti-tarnish coatings.

And here’s a bonus: crafts. If you always wanted to make a washing soda snowflake crystal, look no further.

To finish, I should extend my thanks to my mother who taught me this, and several other cleaning tips, when I was still quite young. It is such a simple solution, I am amazed that it is not more commonly known. A silver-cleaning-product-company conspiracy, no doubt.

 

Food storage: the final frontier

OK, that might be overstating things: more my final posting on this topic for a while. I hope that there is infinite innovation on (eco) food storage in my future.

So, I have posted on stainless steel containers (one of my most popular pages, by the way…) and I have posted on silicone containers. Now it is the turn of glass.

I have been using glassware to store my food for about 15 years. Glass containers used to be hard to come by, but now they are everywhere.

Trueseal 1

Glass has so many advantages: it is inert, so no nasty leaching; it goes in the dishwasher, no problem; it can go in the oven as well as the freezer; and it does not stain or retain flavours. The only downsides are that it breaks (of course), though do bear in mind that unless you buy the very cheapest containers you will be purchasing borosilicate glass, which is far more robust that regular glass. Having said that, I really only use glass for in-home storage, partly because it is quite heavy (I did try the lunch bag thing once…not again).

The French were ahead of us all on tempered glass (think about those Duralex glasses that I like so much), or maybe they were just the first who discovered how to make lids.

My oldest glass containers are from Luminarc. I bought them in the UK around 1998 and they are still going strong, though the lids are somewhat split at the edges (I do not always observe the `top rack only’ instruction when it comes to my dishwasher, but since I always wash on the delicate setting to save energy, I figure I get a break).

But now everyone from the dollar store up seems to be making glass with lids (it is the lids which are key to food storage, of course).

trueseal 2

As noted, the cheaper the glass the less robust it seems to be (in my experience). It is also not clear to me what the plastic lids on the cheap containers are made from. There is little point in moving to glass if you are going to cover your food with an off-gassing, BPA-laden lid.

I have, as is my wont, tried most of the glass containers on the market today. I like the idea of the Glasslock type with the flaps that snap shut and make things water- and air-tight. But I don’t like them in practice. You seldom need this degree of seal and I find it hard to get them to close completely. You are also limited to rectangular or square shapes …. I have a soft spot for circles.

My new favourite glassware comes from no further away than the US (yes, the glass itself is actually made there, though the lids do, I am afraid, come from China).

The TrueSeal range from Anchor has flexible (possibly partly silicone?) BPA-free lids with a see-through panel in the top to help you see what is inside. The lids are super-easy to put on and seem to last well. The manufacturer claims that by pushing down the lid to squeeze out air you can make things pretty water-tight. There are differing views on this in web reviews, but I put water in one of mine and turned it upside down and the seal did indeed seem to be true.

The range includes round containers (which nest) as well as square, loaf-shaped and taller containers.

trueseal set

They are all microwave, dishwasher, oven and freezer safe. And since I have a soft spot for lime green (did anyone guess that ?), I like the way these look in my kitchen. They are also fine for serving which cannot be said for plastic.

In the US TrueSeal glassware is available most everywhere, it seems (so Target, Walmart, etc.) and is good value at $25 for a 10 piece set (5 round containers with lids) at Walmart online. I am not sure whether Walmart stocks the TrueSeal range in Canada (I guess I should visit and check it out but I can’t quite bring myself to do that, even for you, dear readers).

I bought the ones I have in a larger Loblaws store, but they certainly don’t sell them in my local Loblaws. I found a better selection at Canadian Tire. Of course they are more expensive here in Canada, around $6 to $12 per container or $19.99 for a set of 3 round containers with lids.

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