Archive for Food and drink

Biodegradable water filters

Water is on my mind these days. It is either bone dry in the garden or sodden (yes….the climate is changing). And two of my evenings this week will be devoted, in different ways, to campaigning to preserve the ecology and beauty of the mighty Ottawa river.

On a more mundane level, summer means more thirst for most people. I am bad at drinking water. But when I do drink it, I love the non-taste of my home water, which flows through a reverse osmosis (RO) purification system.

I know this is a controversial technology as there is a good amount of water wastage. I do, though, enjoy the pureness and I feel reassured me when I dip my ‘total dissolved solids’ meter and find that my glass contains maybe 1 or 2 parts per million (PPM) while city water is typically up at 56 PPM.

I am not suggesting city water does any harm: far from it. Just remember that 1PPM is 1 milligram in each kilogram of water.

I abhor the out-of-control use of bottled water, and particularly the global traffic in water (when so many have completely inadequate access to drinking water). I am therefore very glad to see water fountains making a come back in public spaces.

If you are someone who is reluctant to forego bottled or filtered water, check out GAC filters: these small bag of black ‘grit’ (actually granular activated carbon made from old coconut shells) remove many of the superficial nasties and taste in city water. In fact, activated carbon is one of four steps in a typical RO system.

GAC is a family-run Halifax-based company that sells compostable, teabag-sized pouches that you can toss in your water bottle and reuse (each pouch is good for 50 litres). The filters are actually put together in Sri Lanka using carbon from Haycarb. This is a green carbon source (actually a carbon-neutral carbon source, if you get my meaning) that uses waste products whenever it can.

So the advantage of these filters is that they are lightweight (less than 5g) and fully compostable (no plastic casings, the mesh surrounding the carbon is plant-based). They are small enough to leave in a coffee maker reservoir or in a sports bottle, but you can also use them in a pitcher in the fridge.

Each (reusable) sachet cleans about 50 litres of water and costs C$1.55 (with free shipping over $15 domestically and over $20 internationally).

The ‘cleaning’  process takes about a minute, though you can also leave the sachets in your bottle or pitcher and just refill. Sadly the sachets only work for already potable water, otherwise they’d be a sell-out for camping trips.

One word of caution, though. The packaging suggests you rinse the filter before use. I do recommend this. My first glass of water was alarmingly grey. Not harmful but not reassuring either.

Finally, full disclosure here, GAC sent me a few of their filters to try out. We did a family taste test this morning and my discerning children ranked the GAC water up there with RO water.

A nice cup of tea

Beverages are very important to my well-being. I am not a great water drinker but am expert in the consumption of coffee, tea, wine and beer.

Right now, tea is top of my list. There are only so many cups of strong (albeit largely decaf) coffee I can drink in a day. And I have to fill the void left by my Lenten resolutions to give up processed sugar and alcoholic beverages (at least those that are consumed in the comfort of my own home).

Tea is the perfect drink. As a good Englishwoman, I drink `real’ tea in the afternoon: preferably lapsang souchong, the smoky flavour of which reminds me of the smell of horse tack. It is a huge anomaly that this should appeal to me as I dislike almost everything else about horses.

Mostly, though, I drink herbal tea. I start my day with a pot that I share with the kids before they depart to school and I depart to coffee (between 8am and 11.30: I am very precise).

I drink at least one further cup of herbal tea during daylight hours (often out of my trusty, but now discontinued, travel mug) and then conclude my day with a final cup and a good book (ideally). So you can see why water gets squeezed out.

I have been thrilled at the recent explosion of tea varieties and shops, though I think many promise more than they deliver. Tea needs to be super-fresh to be at its best; I often find the fragrance of teas has dissipated before it reaches me, even when it comes via quite fancy stores.

My other pet hate is individually-wrapped tea bags. Yes, they can be pretty (especially Pukka teas from the UK) and convenient, but do we really need an extra 40cm² of bleached and printed paper with every cup of tea?

Yes, the paper is recyclable/compostable but, as I have noted before, paper recycling is energy inefficient. Plus, individually-wrapped tea bags typically entail staples that add nothing to the compost stream and must detract – minutely – from taste and eco-soundness. I won’t even get into all the tales of the quality of tea that is typically used for tea bags….

So, though I do use bags for convenience, I try to find ones that come in good old boxes and that I can store in an airtight container for freshness.

Anyway, I digress.
I love most teas as long as they are not acidic – fennel is a top choice for me and my digestion – and I am an avid fan of rooibos tea. I discovered this in South Africa on the 1990s before it joined the mainstream. For those who find herbal tea to be somewhat insipid, it is the perfect choice and healthy too.

My favourite teas come from Herbal Republic, a small shop on Granville Street in Vancouver. I discovered this tea many years ago at an Ottawa retailer and have since purchased on-line and commissioned friends to bring bags back from B.C. for me (as supply is limited in Ottawa).

What is exciting now is the proliferation of rooibos blends: Herbal Republic offers some great ones. Its mokka rooibos used to come with a slogan that read something like: `with tea this good, why bother with coffee?’. I would not go that far (as I adore coffee) but this is a great, slightly sweet but by no means sickly, and gorgeously substantial tea. My second daughter’s favourite.

I also love earl grey rooibos and find that Herbal Republic makes a lovely aromatic version. This is one that needs to be fresh and well-blended (they blend theirs in house).

The company, which appears to have a good eco conscious and is part of the ethical tea partnership, offers plenty of other rooibos blends (such as African Dream and Ginger Bounce) all of which can be sampled (30g) or purchased in larger quantities.

Herbal Republic sells lots of black and green teas too, and has developed a compostable tea filter for restaurants and people who can’t handle loose leaf tea at home. Some are individually wrapped in plastic (grrr…) but you can also buy kits with tea that you insert yourself. This offers the ease of a bag without the extra packaging or lack of freshness that sometimes inflicts bags.

Finally, Herbal Republic has a herbal medicinals line which is Health Canada approved. Sadly I find the only one I’ve tried – the flu and cold relief – too bitter so I can’t attest to its healing merits. Let me know if you can.

The only snag about Herbal Republic is the website. It is in the process of being upgraded at which time I hope it will become a bit more user-friendly, with better descriptions and, most importantly, more transparent shipping rates.

The site currently auto-generates enormous shipping costs. They say that these are just estimates and you will be charged actual Canada Post rates, but pressing the ‘purchase’ button on a $30 shipping cost is disquieting, to say the least. You have to call in to ensure peace of mind.

If you are out there, Herbal Republic, do let us know when things are fixed up then everyone can plan a tea party (and I can fix the links in this article)!

Green veggie bags

I seldom extol the virtues of plastics, but there are always exceptions. I am a long time user of various types of green plastic ‘stay-fresh-longer’ produce bags to store my vegetables in the fridge.

The special thing about these bags is that they contain zeolite which absorbs ethylene gas…which is supposed to make your veg last longer. Looking on line, there is a wide range of opinion about whether this is true or not. Some people swear by them, others are less impressed.

Me: I am equivocal. I have used them so long that I no longer know what the counterfactual is.

So why do I like them if I am not convinced by the freshness claims?

First, I do worry (a lot) about food wastage. In western societies we waste a huge amount of food which is a big greenhouse gas problem. If you think of everything in your fridge as embodied carbon (for transport, processing, production) you may feel less inclined to waste it. Then think about the methane (a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon) that is released when wasted food ends up in landfill and your concern should grow.

So, bottom line: I hate to waste food and am attracted to anything that may limit food wastage.

Second, these bags are green. Green in colour. Colour coordination in my kitchen is important, of course, but the primary benefit is that I know these are reserved for veggies and veggies alone. So I reuse them with confidence.

Third, these are tough bags. They wash and dry very well. The Debbie Meyer site suggests that the bags are reusable 8-10 times. I suspect each of mine has been used hundreds of times. I like that longevity.

Fourth, knowing I have a bunch of these back home removes any temptation to help myself to a flimsy plastic bag off the roll in the grocery store. I always mean to have my reusable produce bags with me, but I do sometimes forget.

Fifth, the extra large bags are long enough for celery, and that’s nothing to be sneezed at!

I really believe that these bags have reduced my plastic use (and hopefully my food wastage) considerably over the years. Even though I swore, as a kid, that I would never, ever wash plastic bags (my most hated job was hanging wet bags on the clothes line), I do now. All the time. And I feel good about it.

My first bags were bought over a decade ago in the UK at Lakeland. Lakeland bags are a proprietary product made in Thailand. In north America there are a few choices: Debbie Meyer, Peak fresh, Evertfresh and I am sure some others. I can’t tell you which works best, but I can tell you that they are worth a try. I’d be interested to know if you agree.

LOL: Lovely Organic Lollipops

Having just spent the week with friends who don’t do dessert, I am painfully aware of my unhealthy love of sugar (and my children’s fixation on the second part of dinner). That said, I would like to sing the praises of Yummy Earth lollipops.

These are an established part of plane travel in my family and are top of mind for me today as I am writing this post in an airport. My kids are heavily invested in the belief that without lollipops their ears will explode on takeoff. So I always try to remember to throw some Yummy Earth pops into my bag. Happily, they come in packs large enough that nobody notices when I sneak a few myself…..after all, they only have 22 calories each.

Yummy Earth makes lollipops (with or without extra vitamin C), hard candy drops, gummy bears, sour beans and sour worms. Not only do the candies contain all organic ingredients (no nasty synthetic colours of flavourings), they taste really great. The company subscribes to a third party list of acceptable ingredients – the trunatural list – so you can be pretty confident there is nothing nasty hiding inside. And the packaging is very upfront about what the lollipops don’t contain, if you are worried about allergies.

Lollipops come in lots and lots of fruit flavours, all of which have intense flavours with just the right balance of tart and sweet. My kids have different favourites – Wet Face Watermelon and Too Berry Blueberry – but I do not discriminate myself: love them all.

Yummy Earth is a US company so I was a bit surprised to see that the candy is made in Mexico. But this is apparently because one of the founding partners is originally from Mexico. The website stresses that quality control is intense, with samples regularly sent to US labs, and that good wages are paid to workers. You can see a neat video about how the lollipop are made on the site.

Being Mexican-made does make the carbon footprint a bit higher, but the video notes that they source sugar from local mills, so that cuts down on emissions a bit (and suggests that they are aware of the energy use issues around their product). Being individually wrapped, there is a fair bit of packaging associated with the product, but this is true of most lollipops….and at least the stick is made of paper (good for removing tartar after sucking all that sugar and fruit acid).

Yummy Earth products are available pretty widely. I bought a pack last week in a grocery store in rural Nova Scotia. I often buy the large packs (previously 40+ lollies, now 50+) at the discount stores, HomeSense or Winners, so they are great value.

If you are at a loss you can always order them from the Yummy Earth site in the US or Canada or from iHerb, where you can currently get the 50+ packs for $6 which works out at a paltry 12 cents each, not much more than I remember paying for lollipop when I was a kid. And I am sure these are much better for me.

Organic chicken broth

Last night I hijacked my local eco-group meeting to run a blind tasting of organic chicken broth. In the line-up were 9 store-bought varieties and one home-made broth.

  • Shoppers’ Drug Mart Nativa Organic (700mg/47%)
  • Shoppers’ Drug Mart Nativa Reduced Sodium Organic (520mg/35%)
  • Pacific Organic (590mg/39%)
  • Pacific Low Sodium Organic (80mg/5%)
  • Swansons organic: Costco (570mg/38%)
  • President’s Choice (PC) organic (800mg/53%)
  • GoBio Organic (from cubes) (952mg/63%)
  • Harvest Sun Organic (from powder/cubes) (470mg/31%)
  • Better than Bouillon Chicken Base (from paste) (700mg/47%)
  • Homemade (no salt added)

This turned out to be an interesting experiment for two main reasons.

The first is that we did not agree at all on which was the most tasty chicken broth option. I had thought there would be one outright winner.

The second is the issue of sodium content. In the list above, the milligram figure in brackets is the sodium content per cup (250ml) from the product label. The percentage figure I calculated myself.

I know labels display this percentage, but I found a discrepancy in percentages between the different brands. So I went to the Health Canada site and found the recommended daily sodium intake at source. This varies from <500mg/day for children under the age of one, to a maximum of 1,500mg for a regular adult (older adults should have less).

I am not quite sure wherein the disconnect lies. Based on the percentages they offer, most of the nutrition labels seem to be using a much higher figure (between 2,350 and 2,600mg) for recommended daily intake. Am I missing something? I can’t figure out this systematic error, but it is significant enough to be pretty worrying. And this is on top of existing doubts about the actual measuring of nutritional value.

The bottom line is that store-bought chicken broth is salty, very salty. Some varieties certainly taste saltier than others, but all (with the exception of the Pacific low sodium) are big offenders. The two stand outs on the list are the PC product (claims 33% but 53% by my calculations) and GoBio (claims 40%, 63% according to me). Shoppers sells a reduced sodium version of its organic chicken broth, but don’t be taken in: this is not low sodium (still at 35%).

The only genuinely low sodium offering I found was the Pacific brand at 5% (and, of course, my own broth).

So what of taste? I imagined my homemade version (just boiled bones, no veg added this time) would win hands down. Instead, it elicited comments such as `not enough body’ and ‘innocuous’. I wondered whether that might be partly to do with how much salt people are accustomed to (I seldom add salt to my cooking) but, given the results below, maybe not.

Perhaps I am just used to my own stock and like it. Generally I found the store broths to be very single dimensional…little depth or body to the flavour (a common comment). But now to the results.

First the losers. Nobody had much good to say about the Pacific regular, Shoppers regular or Swansons. I, personally, hated the Loblaws/PC brand but others found it OK.

Overall the top scorers, interestingly enough, were the Shoppers reduced sodium and the Pacific low sodium. One taster liked the über-salty GoBio, noting that it was `delicious but a little too salty’ (another taster thought it  `chemically’).

So there you have it. An unscientific test but an interesting one, for sure.

Ideally I would always make my own broth, but I know that is not always going to happen. So, my choice from now would be the Pacific low sodium variety. The ingredient list is a bit worrying (containing, as it does, cane juice – i.e. sugar – and something called `organic chicken flavour’: what is this if not the whole product?).

The price tends to be a little higher than the store-brand varieties (round here it ranges from about $2.99 to $3.49 for a litre while other brands can be had for closer to $1.99 if you catch the sales or buy in bulk), but the absent sodium and robust flavour make it worth it, in my view.

My last observation is that that I struggle with buying any heavy liquid product that contains largely water (wine is exempt here!). It is a terrible waste of energy and packaging. The tetrapaks that house most broths are recyclable in most places but are one of the hardest and most energy-demanding products to recycle.

For that reason, and because I am originally from the UK where these are the norm, I have always favoured broth cubes. I was therefore disappointed that the 2 powder/cube products in the test did not score more highly. I found them both very salty. I’ll continue to keep the Harvest Sun product as a stand-by, but the GoBio ones have to go before my blood pressure goes through the roof.

Better than Bouillon products, which have recently appeared on many supermarket shelves around here, are also interesting. They are made in the US and come in multiple flavours from lobster to mushroom (not all organic). They are hands-down the cheapest option. A glass jar of paste costs around $7 but makes around 10 litres of broth, by my calculation. The paste will last for several months in the fridge, once opened. Salt content is at the high end and the broth itself is a little soapy. But for those days when you just have to make a soup but do not have anything else at hand, its another reasonable option.

 

Safe (and pretty) food covers

I admit it. I have a thing about food storage.

I am endlessly writing about containers (glass, stainless, silicone, thermos) for left-overs or lunchtime delicacies. I fear food that is inappropriately dried up/soggy/plastic-tasting and am scarred by childhood experiences of malodorous tupperware tumbling out of badly organized cupboards.

My friends seem to have cottoned onto this and so, for my birthday last year, I was given a Lily Pad.

lilypad

Not a real lily pad, but a delightful silicone lid in the shape of a lily pad that can be used in the fridge, freezer, microwave (though I am not a microwaver so can’t vouch for that) and even the oven (up to 500 degrees). It can be washed in the dishwasher (without even a `top-rack-caution’).
(NB. See this previous review for more details on silicone).

Being of French origin, the Lily Pad is well-designed and nice enough to hang on your wall from the built-in loop.
It creates a great seal on ceramic, glass or metal bowls, making it a good replacement for plastic wrap (for those of you who are still using this).

A quick word about plastic wrap: there is nothing good about it. Originally plastic wrap was made from PVC, `the most toxic plastic‘. PVC off-gases terribly, plasticizers in it are probably carcinogenic (just ask those lab rats), poisonous dioxins are produced in its manufacture and it is not recyclable. In belated recognition of these hazards, wrap is now increasingly made from low density polyethylene (LDPE). This makes it less clingy and arguably a less effective food wrap, but it is somewhat safer. It still can’t be recycled.

Anyway, let’s assume that you want to avoid plastic wrap and that you don’t always have to hand a lid of the perfect size to fit the salad bowl/mug/casserole that you wish to place in the fridge or oven.

lilypadset

Just reach for the Lily Pad. The Pads come in 3 diameters: 4″ (10cm), nearly 10″ (25cm) and just over 11″ (about 29cm). They are designed by a French company, Charles Viancin, though made, of course, in China.

The drawback? I have not found a source in Canada. All sizes (plus other neat Charles Viancin cookware) are available on Amazon (prices are between $5 and $14). However, they are sold by third party vendors who do not ship to Canada.

So, for the moment we are Lily Pad-less, as a nation. Is there anyone out there who can solve this problem for me? My food cries out to be covered.

Organic fruit on line

When I started this website I did not anticipate covering food items. But as I go on I find there are things that I want to share. So bear with me.

I love dried mango. I used to live in Zanzibar, which is a big mango producer. We tried drying our own in the sun but never quite managed to get it dry enough.

mango

Much of the dried mango in the stores is adulterated with sugar (whose idea was it to add sugar to sweet mango?) and sulphur dioxide (think volcanoes and acid rain…..). The sulphur dioxide preserves and prevents discolouration but it is not something that is on my `must eat’ list. Its use as an additive is regulated: while it is theoretically fine to eat in small quantities, there are known health risks associated with it (see here for a summary). So I prefer my mango straight up.

The problem is that straight-up dried mango is both hard to find and expensive (at least where I live). Not the sort of thing I would be packing in my kids’ lunch boxes everyday.

So when, late one night, I discovered the fantastic Nuts.com site, I was thrilled to see that they sell organic – and pure – dried mango for just $10.99/lb. Except I was sure they would not ship to Canada. But up there at the top of the shipping page I spotted a little red maple leaf and found that they do indeed ship here, at very reasonable cost.

mango bag

To where I live in Ontario (which I guess is not far from New Jersey where the company is based) shipping costs are $11.82 for 5lbs and $14.43 for 10lbs.

I ordered 10lbs of assorted nuts and fruits so effectively paid less than $1.50/lb in shipping. This still makes the mango cheap relative to what I would pay around here, and the choice of nuts is unrivalled.

Shipments to Canada are bulked up and sent by Purolator twice a week, to keep costs low. Mercifully they also deal with any taxes and duties so no nasty surprises. The most amazing thing is how quickly I received my order. I placed it on a Monday, it was shipped on a Tuesday and arrived on Thursday. Few Canadian companies could rival that.

The organic mango is very good and is one of 250 organic products available on the site, including some pretty off-beat stuff (kelp powder, maca powder, yacon syrup anyone???).

This is a family-owned company that has been around for nearly 80 years. They are very responsive to email questions and helpful with everything.

And though the company does not sell itself on its eco credentials, they do note that they are trying to do their best. They use 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard boxes and starch biodegradable packing peanuts. They have installed energy efficient lighting and motion sensors and selling in bulk has its merits too.

So I am now a late-night fruit and nut shopper…..and my kids do get dried mango in their lunch boxes from time to time. We are all happy!

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!

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.

Sipping soda through a straw

So, I have already let you in on my secret for unbreakable glasses and my friend Amélie has provided you with a green option for endless soda, but something is still missing….Yes, the straw!

Kids especially enjoy straws.

glass in cup

But adults like them too and they have a particular advantage for long, summer drinks: it is hard to inadvertently suck up a wasp if you are using a straw. This may seem a little far-fetched, but wasps are, of course, attracted to sugary drinks and it does not take much to gulp down a flailing wasp (especially if you are drinking from an opaque can). This issue is of particular relevance to me as my daughter has a severe wasp allergy (after having been stung in the mouth: the closer to your head the sting, the worse the reaction).

Anyway, back to straws. We all love them, and they can be had very cheaply at any plastic emporium. Since, however, we suck and chew on them, it would be nice to think that they don’t contain anything nasty (I am not sure my local dollar store can guarantee this…). Beyond that, though, single-use plastic really bugs me for its contribution to landfill and carbon/pollution. The solution? Glass straws.

Now I know that sounds a bit alarming since straws don’t usually get treated with much respect, but the glass ones I have are (nearly) unbreakable. They are hand blown from borosilicate glass which is very resistant to breaking (the type of glass used for laboratory equipment and kitchen measuring jugs, etc.). The ones I have are made in upstate New York (not so far from me) and sold through this website, for approximately $5 each.

(A note on the website: it is not the slickest looking site, but customer care is good. All payments are through PayPal and, a bit disconcertingly, you receive only a Paypal receipt after the transaction, not a receipt from the site itself. But it all works.)

The site offers a range of straw options (bent, straight, coloured, wide, narrow). I tried a sample pack and I found the standard width, straight, 8″ or 10″ straws to be the best bet. The `thick’ feel of the straw in your mouth does take some getting used to (which is why I don’t like the wider straws or the ones with coloured bubbles on the end so much), but the novelty of drinking from a glass straw and knowing that you can throw it (not too vigorously) in the dishwasher after easily makes up for that. It is also nice to think of each straw being handblown in an artists’ studio. The optional coloured dots on the straws reinforce this feeling.

One note on cleaning. I would recommend purchasing the cleaning brush that fits through the straw (another $5), as smoothies and thicker drinks do tend to deposit bits that the dishwasher cannot reach.

straw and brush

Finally…do they break? Yes, one of mine did break very early on (not quite sure how as my youngest was in charge). But they come with a lifetime guarantee. If you email a picture of the broken straw and send another $3 through your PayPal account, you will get a replacement in the mail, no questions asked.

(N.B. I was sent a sample pack of straws to try for this review, but only after having previously purchased a set of straws.)

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