Tag Archives | zero waste

Cream deodorant

cremedeodorant

I’ve written about homemade deodorants in previous posts. By now it’s no secret that name brand deodorants/antiperspirants containing aluminum may pose health risks. And no matter what your stance is on the Alzheimer’s link, most rational thinkers can at the very least agree that clogging up our sweat ducts with product to prevent a natural function of the body probably isn’t good for us. So in the interest of healthy bodies and a healthy environment, I have been experimenting with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) deodorant concoctions. Baking soda is alkalizing and it neutralizes the odor causing bateria found on the surface of skin and hair. I tried a very basic powder version and then switched to an even simpler spray. I’ve been very happy with the spray, but I decided to try making a cream deodorant for some friends who were interested in finding a healthy alternative to store-bought products but weren’t totally sold on sprinkling or spritzing. The cream is closer in consistency to the stick deodorants that we are all familiar with, and therefore perhaps more appealing to some folks.

The recipe I used is very simple: one part coconut oil, one part baking soda, one part cornstarch. I’ve seen some recipes that call for arrowroot in place of cornstarch but haven’t been able to find it in bulk nearby (though I did see some in bulk at Good Tern). I decided to start with a small batch and measured out 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of each ingredient. In a double boiler setup (a stainless steel bowl set over a pot of boiling water) I liquified the coconut oil. While the oil was melting, I mixed the cornstarch and baking soda together in another bowl. I then poured the coconut oil into the powder mix and whisked it well. Finally, while it was still somewhat runny, I poured the deodorant into a couple small jars and allowed it to cool and set up completely before capping them. Not including the setting time, the whole operation took less than 10 minutes. My friends, who are are all very honest when it comes to giving me feedback on my No Trash experiments, seem to really like the stuff. And they each have varying levels of perspiration and body odor due to their unique body chemistries and levels of daily activity. I sampled some myself and have to say it’s quite lovely. The coconut oil is very moisturizing and I personally enjoy the aroma. Like the powder and the spray, it works great! And I think it’s better than the other versions for travel because I can put it into a tiny salve or lip balm container.

Note: some people are sensitive to baking soda and can experience irritation when applying it directly to the skin, so it’s best to err on the side of caution when trying a baking soda body product for the first time.

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Tortillas

tortilla

A couple things impelled me to finally try my hand at homemade tortillas. The first was a conversation with my friend who professed the desire to wrap most of the meals I cook for us in a tortilla. I make a lot of veggie stir fry or fresh salad dishes, usually accompanied by some kind of cereal grain and legume, which would indeed be delicious in a flexible, foldable, flatbread. When I first started the No Trash Project, I did a little searching for a package-free tortilla source. I inquired at a few of the many wonderful Mexican food establishments located on the outskirts of Providence. On a couple of occasions I was able to purchase corn tortillas from one vendor who kindly parceled some out for me from a large bulk bag. But the bag was of course plastic, and while it seemed a little better than buying a plastic pack of 12 tortillas from the grocery store, I wasn’t satisfied with that option. Still, I thought I may be able to find a vendor who makes them fresh in-house that would be willing to let me purchase them with a reusable container. Over time, while I busied myself with other packaging problems, I guess I just adapted to a tortilla-less life. But my friend’s love of all things bread reignited my tortilla interest (and craving). So what about making my own? Ouff, it seemed like quite a project. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that lard or shortening was required—at least for flour tortillas, and finding a bulk source for either ingredient would likely be more difficult than finding unpacked tortillas. But what about corn tortillas? What goes into making those?

Then, while looking for recipes for my blue cornmeal, I wondered if I could use it to make tortillas. So I did some research. As it turns out, whole grain stone-ground cornmeal—which retains some of the germ and fibrous hull of the kernels—is great for crumbly cornbread, but won’t hold together on it’s own in a tortilla. Makes sense. Instead, corn tortillas and chips are made from a corn flour called masa (Spanish for dough). To make it, corn kernels are soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), and then hulled, leaving the soft endosperm of the grain. This is called nixtamalization, an ancient food processing technique that originated with Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Today, store-bought tortillas are produced with mechanized industrial processes. The processed corn is called nixtamal, which has a distinct flavor and texture. It’s easier to grind into a smooth dough that will hold together in a tortilla and the nutritional value of the corn is actually increased. The alkaline solution convert’s the grain’s bound niacin (vitamin B3) to free niacin, making it available for the body to absorb. The corn also absorbs some of minerals in the lime, increasing the calcium content. Another benefit of nixtamilization is that it decreases mycotoxins (molds) that commonly infect corn crops and can be harmful to humans. This information is a bit jargony but I’ve been learning a lot of these terms in my biology class and as a grower, maker, and eater of food I think it’s fascinating stuff!

masa

Okay so then where does one get masa to make homemade tortillas? Well, one doesn’t. Not from a store anyway. At least not in New England. It is certainly possible to make it from scratch at home, a project I’m very interested in, but it will require finding a package-free or bulk source for the ingredients (dried flour corn kernels and pickling lime) and I’m still not set up with my own food processor or grain mill… I know, I really should get around to that. But I learned that masa harina (Spanish for flour) is widely available on grocery store shelves. Simply reconstituted with water, masa harina becomes dough, ready to be rolled or pressed into tortillas. I called around to see if I could find a store that offered it in a bulk dispenser but had no luck. So, I did something I rarely do these days and decided to purchase a packaged food item. I bought masa harina in a paper bag and transferred the flour to the large glass jar above to preserve freshness. I planned to compost the bag, but instead ended up using it as fire starter in my wood stove on a recent raw and chilly night.

Once I finally acquired the flour, I discovered that making the tortillas is ridiculously easy. I started with half a cup of masa harina, and as per tips I found on the internet, I slowly added a little water, mixing it in to the flour with my hands until I had a dough that seemed to be a good consistency. Not too wet and not too dry. Then I separated the dough into small balls and rolled them out on my counter with a wood rolling pin. Many online instructions for this process will tell you to roll or press the dough (in a tortilla press) between two sheets of plastic to avoid sticking. But I was able to manage without the plastic. I just made sure to put some dry flour on the counter and my roller. When it did stick to the counter, I simply lifted the dough with a large spatula. I used my wide mouth stainless steel funnel to press out small taco size tortillas. I then cooked them over medium-high heat in my cast iron skillet, setting the dough on one side for about 20 seconds, then cooking for 1 minute on the other side, and back again to the first side for another minute. And that’s it. So simple. Tip: I found that placing the cooked tortillas in a covered container will keep them warm and help retain moisture until you’re ready to fill them.

tacos

For lunch I made fish tacos with leftover tilapia (from last night’s dinner), black beans, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, lime and pepper. Oh my goodness, they were so delicious. As with so many projects that have resulted from the quest for package-free foods, I’m really pleased with the outcome. It led me to learn a lot more about corn and corn products, and a little more about the agricultural history of the crop. I also gained the unique satisfaction that comes with making my own foods from base ingredients, which is in part due to the superior freshness of homemade meals and the cost savings. And of course, I get the enjoyment of a delicious food without the plastic packaging I used to regularly send to the landfill.

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Blue cornbread

cornmeal

I’ve had this blue cornmeal hanging around for a while and I’ve decided to put it to use before it spoils. Like many dry cereal grain flours, cornmeal has a very good shelf life (it may keep for several years if stored in a freezer), but it can eventually turn rancid. So I’m kicking some cornmeal projects into gear.

cornbread

Blue cornmeal is more flavorful and higher in nutritional value than yellow or white. You can use it in any recipe that calls for cornmeal. Today I made skillet blue cornbread. I love the taste of food cooked in an iron skillet and it’s a fantastic non-toxic nonstick surface. The bread is delicious! I’ve already consumed quite a bit more than the slice missing in this photo. I looked at several recipes online and then composed my own, which allowed me to work with the ingredients I had on hand—all of which were purchased without packaging as always. Here’s what I came up with:

1 1/2 cups blue cornmeal

1/2 cup oat flour (any flour could be substituted here, or just use another 1/2 cup of cornmeal)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup raw oat milk (made fresh from oat groats soaked overnight)

2 eggs 

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup finely chopped red pepper

1 medium size minced jalapeño pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚ Fahrenheit. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the oat milk, eggs, apple cider vinegar, honey (warm to liquify if necessary), and canola oil in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir in red and jalapeño pepper. Pour the batter into a 10″ cast iron skillet that has been rubbed with oil. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until done. Serve with a wink and a smile. Store in an airtight container. 

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Cereal love

breakfastcereal

I’ve never been too big on sizzling, savory breakfasts in the early mornings. I’m a cereal lover. Upon waking, I crave sweet carbs. I love cold mik over crunchy granola or warm bowls of cooked grains like quinoa, amaranth, and oats. I always add generous amounts of fruit, seeds, and nuts for varied texture and flavor. Most of the breakfast dishes I make happen to be vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free. It’s important to me that my first meal fuels many working hours before I have to break for lunch, so I focus on using ingredients that are protein-rich and high in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids. This morning I enjoyed some homemade granola (this time adding pumpkin seeds to the basic original recipe) flooded in a fresh batch of hemp milk with a diced bartlett pear. I tend to get pretty blissed-out over even the simplest homemade meals. This morning’s bowl of goodness was no exception, so I had to share it.

breakfastcereal2

Mmmmhmmm, look at all those delicious, package-free ingredients.

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Plot twist

twist

So, it turns out you don’t need clothespins to line dry laundry. I gleefully stumbled upon this ingenious technique during a meandering internet search. How is it that I never thought of this? It’s so simple and efficient. The twisted line seems to hold garments even better than my wooden spring clothespins. And I like the snapping sound it makes when I pluck the dry clothes from it’s grip. This method is especially good for my indoor setup, which I hang up and take down with each load I dry. Outside in the garden, the line I share with my landlady is a more permanent, untwisted setup. I imagine that in an open air situation, a twisted cotton line might be prone to growing mildew after a rain. At any rate, the pin-less approach will be my new indoor jam for the remainder of the cold season.

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Granola

granola

Homemade granola! Quick and easy to make. Granola is so delicious when it’s fresh and I love having the control over what goes into it. This batch is very simple—a good base to add any kind of fruit and nuts to. All the ingredients below were purchased in bulk. And as usual, my recipe is pretty freeform, so go nuts!

4 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup flour for “clumping” (I used rice flour because that’s what I had on my shelf, but oat flour would probably work even better)

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup canola oil (other oils can be substituted)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the honey, oil, and extract together in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread the granola in an oiled shallow pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the granola over with a large spatula, being careful not to break it up too much. Return to oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the granola to cool completely before removing it from the pan to serve or store.

granoladetail

Mmmhmmmm, so delicious. Store in an airtight container to preserve freshness. It will keep at room temperature for up to 10 days but because it contains oil (which can become rancid), it should be refrigerated or frozen after that point.

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Hemp “pesto”

pesto1

Today I used the hemp meal leftover from Monday’s hemp milk to make hemp “pesto”. I initially intended to use basil for this recipe but I couldn’t find any without packaging. All the basil at my nearby markets is currently being sold in PET plastic packs. I was able to find loose parsley tied with a rubber band so I grabbed a bundle and decided to improvise with that. I used 1/2 cup hemp meal (all that was strained out of the milk), 3 cups chopped parsley (stems included), 6 medium size chopped garlic cloves, 3/4 cup olive oil, and generous amount of cracked pepper. I combined the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pulsed them with my immersion blender until I had a paste. The total time to make the pesto was less than 10 minutes.

pesto2

The hemp meal provided the body that cheese and pine nuts give to traditional pestos. Hemp has a nutty flavor of it’s own that compliments the parsley well. And what a vibrant color! Because I love the taste of parsley, it’s a fine substitue for basil… but I can’t wait to make this with homegrown package-free basil this summer!

pasta

For lunch I cooked some pasta (this one happens to be a gluten-free quinoa fusilli I found in bulk at Karma Co-op in Toronto) and tossed it with a tablespoon of pesto and fresh chopped tomatoes. Oh man, it was delicious! I think this will become another go-to package-free meal.

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Hemp milk

hempmilk

A dairy sensitivity I developed in my adulthood led me to kick the cow milk I was raised on. Before starting the No Trash Project, I was purchasing nut, seed, and grain milks in Tetra Paks, which are difficult to recycle. After swearing off food packaging, I still craved some kind of milk to add to my granola or incorporate into recipes so I began making my own non-dairy milks at home. I’m always thrilled by how easy and rewarding it is. Every kind I’ve made has been far better tasting than anything I could buy off a store shelf. Inspired by a reader’s suggestion, I made hemp milk today. It was the quickest and easiest yet! It seriously only took about 5 minutes to make. I used hemp seeds purchased in bulk from Alternative Food Co-op. The ratio I used is one cup hemp seeds to 4 cups of water (the same ratio I’ve used for the oat, almond, coconut, and cashew milks). The seeds don’t require any soaking prior to blending. Because hemp is soft, the seeds and water homogenized very quickly with the help of my immersion blender. I chose to strain it for smoothness, though much like the cashew milk, the meal is so fine that you can drink it without straining. I would describe the taste as sweet and grassy. Delicious. Of course, it can be sweetened or spiced. I saw one variation online with orange zest that I plan to try.

Hemp seeds are very nutritious. They are nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and they offer a very desirable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 3:1. They’re also a fantastic source of protein, fiber, and amino acids—including all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own.

hempmeal

I love experimenting with the strained nut, seed, and grain meal I’m left with when making the milks.  I think I’m going to use the hemp meal to make a “pesto” with garlic, basil, and olive oil. Stay tuned for that experiment!

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My bathroom

bathroom1

I live in a beautiful space. I smile most times I enter my home. The apartment is located on the second floor of a house that was built more than 220 years ago. Of course there are many features throughout that are more modern, but some of the original details remain intact. It’s easy to see where the building has settled over time and the crooked lines give each room so much character. This place has great bones and shows signs of the many who have loved it before me. The few carefully curated things I’ve chosen to fill it with make it mine for now.

I love my bathroom. I love the old built-in medicine cabinet and the large 12 pane window. It looks out over a small alley and across to the siding of my neighbors’ house. None of their windows are visible from this spot so I don’t have to hang any curtains or blinds and all the natural light that reflects off the pale yellow clapboard floods into the room. My plants love it.

bathroom2

I’ve written a lot about how beautiful food looks when it’s stored in glass or stainless steel. I think the same is true for personal hygiene products. Bulk shampoo, liquid castile soap, baking soda, and package-free bar soap sit on the shelves of my shower. My linen bath towel and hand knitted hemp washcloth hang beside it.

bathroom3

In my medicine cabinet I keep my homemade spray deodorant, bulk carrier oils (sweet almond and grape seed) used as skin moisturizer and hair conditioner/detangler, homemade salve, bulk cornstarch for sockless sneaker wearing, bulk body lotion, an eyelash curler, a terra cotta body buffer, and bar soap. A ceramic dish holds my barrets, bobby pins, new razor blades, and a spool of floss that was once in a paper box dispenser—but the box got a little crushed and ended up as firestarter for the wood stove. The floss is wound around a small plastic spool, which will become landfill waste. The paper and cotton swabs are leftover from before the start of this project. I use them very seldomly because I just use gentle soap and water to clean my outer ears.

bathroom4

A cup of grooming tools (my toothbrush, gum stimulator, safety razor, tweezers, cuticle trimmer, and nail brush) sits on my windowsill next to the jar of baking soda I use to clean my teeth. I use the small stainless steel spoon to scoop a tiny bit onto my compostable toothbrush.

It has taken me some time to pare down the products in my routine to a few package-free essentials that work for my individual skin, hair, nail, tooth and gum care needs. But my space has become very functional and I love my daily rituals.

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Cashew milk

cashewmilk

This morning I made cashew milk. It stands as my favorite of the non-dairy milks I have made so far (including oat, almond, and coconut). The process is the same. I soaked one cup of nuts in a medium-sized mixing bowl overnight, rinsed them in the morning, added 4 cups of fresh water to the bowl and then mixed the two ingredients with my immersion blender. It homogenized much more quickly than the milks, which makes sense because cashews are so soft and less fibrous than most nuts. And straining the solids through a nut milk bag (my repurposed mesh produce bag) was quicker and easier than with the other three. The cashew milk is mildly sweet and very rich. This one might be my jam for a while. Or at least until my recently restocked supply of bulk cashews runs out, which I’m guessing won’t take long, as the milk is a morning breakfast and evening dessert kind of treat. I’m continually amazed by how easy it is to make milk from grains nuts and seeds. I’d also like to make sunflower seed, hazelnut, and rice milk.

cashewmilk

Many of the rubber gaskets for my swing top glass bottles have started to become brittle are breaking down. I searched high and low at my local hardware and kitchen supply stores for replacement gaskets but came up short. So I went online and found some on ebay. Purchased them and wrote a note to the seller asking if he could send them without any plastic and as little packaging as possible. They arrived today loose (12 in total) in a small paper manila envelop. With a stamp. No plastic. Fantastic. But I’m still hoping to find a local source.

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Skate date

skating

For my birthday, my friend took me iceskating. I’d never been before! We rented me a pair of skates for $2 and turned teetering circles around a nearby rink. We skated until my toes were frozen through and my cheeks hurt from smiling. It was a wonderful gift. A brand new experience to ring in the new year and to celebrate turning another year older. I look forward to the many trash-free adventures ahead of me in 2013.

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Quinoa bowl

quinoanewbowl

Another quick, easy, healthy, satisfying lunch. A bowl of protein-packed quinoa with roasted butternut squash, apple, avocado, and sprouted pumpkin seeds. This dish fueled many hours of work.

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Giving

succulents

succulents2

This year I am giving few physical gifts to friends and family for the holidays. I filled the ceramic pots I made with colorful succulents and will present those to loved ones without any wrapping, but I have wrapped some of my unplanted pots and hand thrown bowls with Furoshiki style cloth—something I’ve always wanted to try. There are many wonderful illustrated directions available online and I found this video, which was incredibly helpful! The wrapping is beautiful, elegant, and easy to give to the gift receiver or keep as the gift giver to reuse.

ceramicbowls

furoshiki

The rest of the gifts I will give this year will be experiences. Surprise field trips. And because my wonderful friends and family read my blog, I will wait to share those adventures until after they’ve been had! Sharing good food and conversation with loved ones this week is precious time spent.

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Lunch

squashsalad

I made this colorful, hearty, seasonal salad for lunch. It was inspired by a favorite Garden Grille menu item. Ooowee, it was delicious! And of course, all the elements were purchased without any packaging.

Ingredients

radicchio, arugula, roasted butternut squash, apple, black quinoa, sprouted pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds, olive oil, and black pepper.

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Trash talk

teethexray

At my recent visit to the dentist, I made a lot of trash. My hygienist Gena and I talked about all the garbage that is produced during a single patient visit while she worked on my teeth. Plastic film and paper sheets cover the dentist chair and the lamp handles. Disposable plastic suction tubes (called evacuator tips) suck up saliva and rinse water. Plastic sleeves cover the now digital xray devise that I can never quite bite down on properly. Every patient gets a paper and plastic (coated) dentist bib of course. Gena changes her mask several times throughout the day. And she explained that it’s office protocol for her to remove and toss her gloves every time she leaves the room. She used three pairs during my visit.

Lying in that ergonomically wonderful chair, as Gena diligently scraped tartar from my molars, I wondered if there are any reasonable, hygienic ways around medical waste. Our mouths are a jungle of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa, so it’s easy to understand why there are so many precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of germs amongst doctors, staff, and patients. When I got home I did some research to see if I could dig up information on active efforts to reduce the trash produced in a dentist’s office. I came across the Eco-Dentistry Association in an online search. The EDA website is wonderful resource. A list of “the big four” breaks down the processes responsible for the most dental practice waste.

1. Infection control methods including disposable barriers and sterilization items and toxic disinfectant

2. Placement and removal of mercury-containing dental material

3. Conventional x-ray systems

4. Conventional vacuum systems

There’s also a search function to locate an EDA member near you. Unfortunately there don’t appear to be any practicing in Providence. I’ve also been browsing stories of trail-blazing dentists who are committed to reducing waste within their small practices. My friend Kory sent me a video of this fellow.

My dentist’s practice may not be very advanced on the environmental frontline, but until I live near a EDA member dentist, I have no current plans to stop seeing them. I love my dentist and my hygienist and they are taking good care of my teeth. My x-rays look good—so far still cavity-free! And I’m still receiving positive reports about my oral hygiene since switching to baking soda toothpowder, a compostable toothbrush, and essential oil-coated cotton floss in a paper box. So I’ll keep on with my routine. I love my teeth. They’ve done a lot for me over the years.

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Warm up

Hang drying wool garments from the fireplace mantel in my bedroom. I’m using the fireplace to store wood for the cast iron stove in my living room. As long as I’m able to stay warm, winter is a breeze.

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Handmaking

The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Thrown and slab bowls.

Thrown and slab bowls.

The urge to make things wells up in me regularly. It’s real and tangible and may even be called a need. Sometimes I’m able to fill that need by cooking a meal, scribbling a drawing in my sketchbook, through photography, or by writing. Other times I’m consumed by a desire to make objects. Useful, functional, quality, beautiful objects. But No Trash practice can be extremely difficult when it comes to studio work.

Lately, while washing my cheaply made, chipped and cracked bowls in the kitchen sink, I’ve been wondering about ceramic production processes on a large and small scale. And as the official start of winter draws near and my seasonal inclination to maximize the amount of green life in my apartment grows, I find myself scrounging for more vessels to accommodate cuttings, separated plant pups, and newly acquired greenhouse perennials. I have been daydreaming of lean windowsill-sized, handmade pots to display them in. The itch to make some ceramics lead me on a trip to the North Shore of Massachusetts this past weekend.

My best friend heads a high school art department in a beautiful seaside town not far from where I was born. I drove up to see her with the intent to make some bowls and pots and to donate four brimming boxes of books (a pile my parents decided to get rid of during their recent move) to her classroom. Books have always stuck to my family and together we’ve amassed quite a collection over the years… and over the years, many of them have sat unopened on shelves. My friend and I sifted through the boxes with one of her students and they happily accepted most of the contents. I like to imagine young art students breathing new life into the books, smearing them with charcoal as they rummage for inspiration.

On Sunday we spent all day and a good part of the night in the classroom studio making ceramic gifts for friends and family. I hadn’t worked with clay since my own high school art class and I had so much fun relearning the basics. A company originally based in Laguna Beach, California called Laguna Clay manufactures the high fire white stoneware clay in Ohio. It comes in a large wedged (kneaded) brick inside a stretch plastic bag. The bricks are shipped to the high school in cardboard boxes from Portland Pottery of Portland, Maine.

Curious about the ingredients and manufacturing processes of clay, I called up the Laguna Clay national headquarters in Los Angeles County and was able to connect with Clay Manager Jon Pacini. He graciously and patiently answered my questions. He told me that the company uses about 8 common minerals mixed in different compositions to create clays with varying properties and characteristics. All of the minerals are obtained from mining companies in the states who distribute them to clay manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and livestock feed manufactures. Clay minerals are used as binders to pelletize feed. Yep, as Jon put it, “clay is used in a whole myriad of things we don’t think about.” He was able to break down the white stoneware clay I worked with on Sunday, which is meant to be durable enough to be used for tableware. It’s comprised of fire clay from Missouri, ball clay from Kentucky and Tennessee, silica from Illinois, and feldspar from South Carolina. These minerals are combined with water, mixed in a “pugmill” and compressed into bricks. Pretty simple. The base ingredient in ceramic glazes is silica sand, which is the same sand used to make window glass. Other glaze ingredients include feldspar, zinc, barium, limestone, and calcium carbonate. The pigments come from metal oxides, like iron, nickel, and cobalt oxide. Jon explained that glazes used today are not so dissimilar from glazes that Japanese potters were experimenting with 2,000 years ago.

Under my friend’s instruction, I tried my hand at throwing some small bowls on the wheel. She told me not to worry about messing up because the scrapped clay is rewedged and completely recycled. And it’s a good thing because my first few attempts collapsed. But after sticking with it for a couple hours, I produced a set of small bowls. Through all the fails and few successes, I had a blast! I also made some small slab pots by rolling pounded clay through a press and then wrapping and seaming it around a plaster mould. Once the vessels are dry, they will be fired in the electric kiln for 8-12 hours at 2,000 degrees! The high heat permanently alters the soft porous material, causing the particles to melt and flow together, strengthening the clay. After the bisque firing (the first firing) glaze is applied to seal the still somewhat porous pieces and they are fired again for another 8+ hours.

I love this kind of meditative, careful work, during which time seems to melt off the clock. I was lucky to be able to experience this every day at woodworking school this past summer. While we busied our hands shaping and forming the clay, we played the Ken Burns National Parks documentary series on the classroom computer, rarely glancing up at the monitor, but listening intently to narrated stories of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt and their work to establish protected “reservoirs” of the natural world. It was a wonderful Sunday.

Since beginning my No Trash Project, I’ve become deeply interested in the life cycle of objects, from the creation or harvesting of source materials used to make each thing I encounter, to the recyclability and biodegradability of those materials once they are disposed of. Taking on different “make my own” projects has led me to a greater understanding of the resources and processes required to produce the quotidian items I possess. My appreciation for the belongings I choose to keep, and my relationships with the objects I use daily continues to grow. So much energy and so many resources are required to bring ceramic making materials (and the packaging surrounding them) to me. So much time, labor, water, and electricity goes into creating each piece of pottery. The things I learned this weekend have changed the way I will look at every ceramic object I meet from this point forward.  

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Rainbow chard

From the farmer’s market. Pow!

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Baby bok choy

From Fertile Underground Grocery. Love those purple and green hues!

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Fertile Underground

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, "No farmers, no food... Know farmers, know food!"

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, “No farmers, no food… Know farmers, know food!”

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. "Sharing is Caring"

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. “Sharing is Caring”

Sprouted lentils!

Sprouted lentils!

Today I picked up some groceries at Fertile Underground on the west side of Providence. Since their opening last year, the cooperative food market has been slowly adding to their local RI farm produce selection (both organic and conventional) and expanding their bulk foods section. Today I was so pleased to see a significant increase the in bulk spices offered since the last time I stopped in. I was also impressed by the number of organic dry bulk legumes and grains (even a few sprouted) that are currently available. Rice, quinoa, cous cous, popping corn, oats, granola, garbanzo beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, red and green lentils, and coffee are stocked. The store is becoming a great local resource for No Trash efforts and as they continue to add more bulk items I’ll be able to rely more heavily on Fertile Underground for my grocery needs. Employees Nancy and Chrissy graciously allowed me to take pictures as I shopped. Every time I’ve been in to shop, the folks working at the register and cafe have been incredibly friendly and helpful. It feels great to be able to support this small business. Less regular trips to co-ops outside of town of course means a reduced carbon footprint. Thank you Fertile Underground for your work to bring alternative food shopping to Providence!

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Willimantic Food Co-op

Bulk Vermont-brewed organic Kombucha tea! This is the first time I've seen this. The elderberry flavor is so delicious!

Bulk Vermont-brewed organic Kombucha tea! This is the first time I’ve seen this. The elderberry flavor is so delicious!

A lovely selection of bulk teas.

A lovely selection of bulk teas.

Dish soap, laundry detergent, and Dr. Bronner's castile soap.

Dish soap, laundry detergent, and Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.

So many bulk spices!

So many bulk spices!

I spent this past weekend visiting friends and family in NYC. On my trip back up to Providence, I made a slight detour to check out the Willimantic Food Co-op in Willimantic, CT. I learned about the co-op from a woman who works at As220’s Foo(d) counter when I was picking up dinner last week and my reusable take-out containers sparked a conversation about package-free food shopping. She told me that her parents have been members since the co-op opened in the early 1970s and that a visit is worth the drive from Providence. So while traveling across the state, I made my way up to Route 6 and stopped in.

The co-op is impeccably clean and well-stocked. It’s larger than Fertile Underground, the Alternative Food Co-op, and Harvest Co-op Market in Jamaica Plain. The extra space allows room for an impressive variety of dry and liquid food and hygiene bulk goods. I bought some wild rice, local organic chestnuts and apples, and some ever-elusive package-free black quinoa. I also picked up some dish soap, shampoo, and Vermont-brewed Kombucha tea, which is available on tap from a stand on the edge of the produce section. The store employees were all wonderfully helpful and friendly and there was no hesitation in granting me permission to take photos inside the store.

This project has led me to so many wonderful discoveries. Seeing beautiful, inviting, and efficient establishments such as the Willimantic Food Co-op bustling with happy customers is energizing. Though I don’t live in the neighborhood, as I strolled amongst other shoppers, weighing my containers and writing down PLU codes, I couldn’t help but feel that I am part of a community of people in pursuit of a better way to get what they need.

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Takeaway

Oh Garden Grille, you do me right. But I always order more than I can finish because your dishes are so delishes. So I’ve learned to come prepared, with my own to-go wares.

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Coconut Milk

Last week I made coconut milk. Before starting my No Trash Project, I would pretty regularly buy cans of coconut milk to use in many favorite Indian and Thai recipes. Since I stopped buying foods in packaging, I have been adapting recipes that call for coconut milk, by either adding shredded coconut, or some other homemade nut milk. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me until recently that I could just make my own. After reading over a few different recipes online, I went to the grocery store and picked up two coconuts. My friend cracked them open and helped me remove the meat from the shells. I diced the meat into small pieces, placed them in a large bowl, added 4 cups of water and blended until smooth. Then I strained the solids from the milk. Voila. Delicious, fresh, and package-free.

The the milk was a little on the thin side and I had some trouble with separation in the bottle shown above. I ended up pouring the milk back into a bowl so that I could hit it again with my immersion blender before each use.

I came across several coconut milk recipes that call for shredded coconut, which I can get in bulk at nearby food co-ops. I think I’ll try to make it that way next time to see if my result is any different. Buying the shredded coconut would certainly save a little time and labor, but may cost a bit more.

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Tomato soup

I also stopped at the Rocket Fine Street Food truck, which was parked outside of Hope Artiste Village and got some tomato soup in another steel container I had carried to the market. I warmed it on the stove in that same container when I got home. It was a delicious lunch.

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Hake

Picked up some hake in my stainless steel container from The Local Catch today at the Farmer’s Market.

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Thanksgiving

‘Tis the season for family gatherings. I visited with my grandparents yesterday for Thanksgiving. After work on Wednesday, I swung by the Wintertime Farmer’s Market at the Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket and picked up some ingredients to make a couple dishes to share with extended family and friends. I bought a butternut squash, an onion, bulk cranberries (displayed in a large reed basket), russet potatoes, and apples. With the orchard bought sugar pumpkin I had on my counter at home, I made organic vegan potato, butternut squash, and pumpkin mash—seasoned with ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I also made cranberry sauce with my fresh berries, co-op bulk honey, lemon, and ginger. I poured the food into stainless steel and glass containers and refrigerated them until Thursday morning. My grandmother reheated the mash before dinner and the cranberry sauce was served chilled. The container above sits on the maple dining table my grandfather built for my grandmother. Dinner was delicious, and the conversations even better.

Back home with a friend tonight, I made soup from the leftover mash, sautéed onion and garlic, homemade vegetable broth, cayenne, cracked pepper, and olive oil.

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Bears love food scraps

Spent some time this past week at a friend’s cottage off the northeastern coast of Georgian Bay about 170 miles from Toronto. The area is pretty remote and there aren’t a lot of nearby grocery stores so we shopped for food before heading north. We brought bulk grains and legumes, fruit and vegetables. The cottage is located on a tiny rock island accessible only by boat. Not having curbside pickup casts waste management in a whole new light. Furthermore, having to boat one’s garbage to dumpster sites on the mainland makes generating trash inconvenient and impractical. Being removed from the amenities I enjoy in my usual urban setting leads me to think about how much my self-sufficiency depends on living in a city—with regard to everything from transportation to food access. Produce stickers were the only landfill trash we made while at the cottage. We composted our food scraps in the bin pictured above. The one (somewhat sizable) problem with keeping a compost bin in this area is that it attracts bears. We didn’t see any this time.

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Bulk Barn

So, there’s this chain store in Canada called Bulk Barn. I had my first Bulk Barn experience the other day and I was amazed by the range of products they offer. As I walked up and down they aisles all I could think was why don’t we have something like this in the states? I would think that such a business would do well because of the obvious savings it offers consumers. I was surprised to find that Bulk Barn doesn’t sell reusable bulk bags. Plastic bags that hang over the bins are supplied to shoppers. They do stock a few glass jars but there are no weigh stations in the store. My friend and I were able to purchase a few goods in his reusable mesh produce bags brought from home, but I’m not sure if it would be possible to buy any of the liquid goods in any container other than the plastic tubs provided in the store.

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They stock a wide variety of bulk teas and coffees.

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Bulk cake decorating supplies.

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Bulk pet food!

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Even bulk bird seed…

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Liquid and paste bulk food products like garlic spread, pie filler, and nut butters are kept in tubs at the back of the store. Bar soaps and powdered cleaning supplies are also available, but they don’t stock any liquid soaps or cleaners.

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Bulk molases, corn syrup, and honey. Bulk Barn #5 plastic tubs are provided… perhaps customers could wash these containers at home and refill them? Seeing such a large variety of foods sold in bulk is exciting because choice having choice is always appealing. The dry bulk food bins are impressively large. I’ve often wished for a similar business near me, but I picture a place that sells all organic products with weigh stations at which customers can tare their own containers. The truth is that I can get what I need in bulk at my local co-ops and supporting small businesses is certainly the way I prefer to shop. It’s clear that reduced waste is not an objective that drives the Bulk Barn business. While working on these posts I read on some forums that people had trouble using their own bags at some store locations. I assume fear of violating health codes must be the reason for this… what a shame. Still, I’m always interested to see different systems for dispensing wet and dry bulk foods. The inside of this store was impeccably clean. No food was spilled anywhere. These stainless steel honey dispensers are very efficient appliances. It seems to me that personal containers would never have to come in contact with the food source. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get honey from dispensers like these in reusable jars at any local grocery store? These are the kinds of things I dream about.

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Milestone

It’s been exactly one year since I started this blog. Posting about my daily No Trash adventures—however large or small, has become an important ritual in my life. Dialogue with friends and readers about the project renews my resolve to continue sharing my experiences on this platform. Thank you to everyone for your interest, your inquiries, and your encouragement.

Tonight I shared a delicious meal with a friend at a Cantonese restaurant in Toronto. My meal was pretty large so I scraped what I couldn’t finish into my stainless steel lunchbox, which I had toted around the city during the day. It’s lightweight and this particular box doesn’t take up much space. The rectangular shape fits nicely in my backpack. It’s become one of my favorite objects. I’m looking forward to eating these leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

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Refrigerated bulk

At a Toronto area grocery store—chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, ground flax, pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, etc… It’s the first time I’ve seen bulk nuts and seeds (which can go rancid in warm temperatures or when exposed to air because of their oil content) kept in the refrigerated section of a market.

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Air travel

Yesterday I took a trip on a plane. Trash-free air travel takes a bit of planning, but it’s very manageable. To tote toiletries, I fill small glass jars and bottles that I use specifically for traveling with my essentials (baking soda, shampoo, and grape seed oil) and pack them in a small nylon zip pouch.

Airlines make a ton of trash through food service and I find bringing my own sustenance is easy and far more agreeable than anything I could get from and airport cafe or on the plane. An airplane cabin is a pretty dehydrating environment, so I make sure to drink plenty of water the day before and the day of before going through security. I bring my stainless steel canteen and fill it at the water fountain on the other side of the checkpoint. Yesterday I packed my stainless steel lunchbox with a small meal made with ingredients from my garden—stir fried eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and basil. I also brought an apple… ‘tis the season after all. I brought a small bamboo utensil that I think I received as a stocking stuffer many years ago. It’s perfect for travel—practically weightless and compact. The meal was light and delicious and held me over until I reached my destination (Canada). My neighbor in the seat next to me expressed his jealously of my spread.

I sometimes get cold during flights so I like to bring a large scarf/wrap that I can use as a blanket rather than having to ask for plastic wrapped one from a crew member.

At the end of the day, the only piece of trash I made was my boarding pass, which feels good especially when I’m electing a mode of transportation that uses so much fuel.

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Eggplant

My eggplant off the vine. A recent conversation with my brother about the origins of the name “eggplant” led us to discover that it was the white cultivars like this one (and some yellowish varieties) that resemble goose or ostrich eggs that were first given the name. I enjoyed this one sliced into coins and pan fried. It was the best eggplant I’ve ever tasted. Seriously.

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Homemade Hummus

Since stocking up on bulk tahini from the Belfast Co-op in Maine this summer, I’ve been enjoying making my own trash-free hummus. It’s so simple and freshly made hummus tastes much better than anything I’ve ever tasted out of a #5 plastic tub. I haven’t been able to find bulk tahini at my local food co-ops. I don’t own a food processor (though lately I’ve been fixing to get one) so I’m not equipped to whip up homemade tahini. To satisfy my hummus hankerings, I had been making my own “chickpea spread” (blended chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil) and occasionally purchasing an 8 or 16 oz order from East Side Pockets with my reusable stainless steel container. Making my own is more satisfying and having the tahini makes all the difference. If I do get a food processor or perhaps borrow one from a friend, I will try making my own tahini. For now I have plenty from the co-op, which should keep for several months in the fridge. Below is the basic hummus recipe I’ve been working from. As always, it’s flexible. I usually throw in some spices and fresh herbs too—like cayenne, red chile, and cilantro. And of course, all of the ingredients are acquired without any packaging.

2 cups cooked chickpeas (I buy mine dry in bulk, then rinse and soak them for 8 hours before cooking)

1/4 cup water (I reserve some of the water used to cook the chickpeas)

2 tablespoons tahini

3-5 tablespoons lemon juice

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

After cooking the Chickpeas for about 40 minutes, I drain most of the water, reserving about 1/4 cup. Then I add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and blend with my immersion blender (love that thing) until smooth. Easy peasy.

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Chatham Real Food Market Co-op

chathamproduce

I took a trip up to the Adirondacks with some friends this weekend. On our way north we managed to find The Chatham Real Food Market Co-op in Chatham, New York. We stocked up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains to bring with us to our cabin destination. Local farm vendors were selling produce and baked goods out in front of the store. I was able to get bulk salad greens, kale, rainbow carrots, garlic, fingerling potatoes, and butternut squash without a single sticker or tie. Inside the immaculate store, I picked up an eggplant, some apples from the local produce section and some quinoa, red lentils and pepitas from the well-stocked bulk section. There was a small prepared foods section and a cafe area. The employees were lovely. It was the first co-op I’ve been to where I didn’t have to write down the price look-up code (PLU) for the dry bulk goods. I just told the woman at the register what was in my bags and she was able to pull the codes up on the computer while she weighed the goods. I get so excited to see one example after another of small and beautiful cooperative food markets that function so efficiently.

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Geeking over the impressive spread of dry bulk goods.

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Bike Days

bikeweeks

Today I realized that I haven’t driven my car in two weeks. Biking and walking everywhere feels great, especially since the weather has been so beautiful. This afternoon I ran all of my errands on my bike and still managed to make it to work on time. At certain hours of the day, biking in the city seems faster than driving. I hit the bank, the tailor, the grocery store, and Olive del Mondo (where I received 50¢ off my olive oil refill for returning my bottle to be washed). It’s been a great way to spend more time outside—something I always crave at this time of year as the days get shorter.

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