Sunday, October 31, 2010

Soup Season

Middle stage of Curried Carrot Parsnip soup preparation

Happy Hallowe'en! Another beautiful, colourful autumn day on the south coast, sunny and relatively warm. I hope the rain holds off for tonight! The only trick-or-treaters that visit my apartment are crows, gulls, starlings and sparrows with an occasional junco in the mix (no chickadees yet this fall). They are currently enjoying some very stale Shreddies. One of the crows played a Hallowe'en prank by crapping on my Dad's truck yesterday while he stood next to it. Sigh. Better than spray-paint, I suppose.
Foreground: bottom shelf where the cheapies are! (New Apple Farm Market)
Desperately in need of a quiet and relaxing weekend (see previous post for why that is), I held my own private soup making party yesterday for me, myself and I. Three soups in one day, and another tonight (maybe two)! Tonight: Valle d'Aosta Cabbage Soup from Moosewood's 'New Classics', the best cookbook I've ever owned (just edging out The ReBar Cookbook and Moosewood's 'Low Fat Favourites').
I have heard that the Cantonese slang for ladies engaged in idle conversation is "making soup", in reference to the long process of making soup from scratch. When I hear "making soup", I think of Creed Bratton from the US version of "The Office".
Well, I am going to differ when I say that it doesn't take long to make soup (provided you're not making stock as well, which is easily avoidable), and your house will smell nice, not as though someone's dropped a deuce on your carpet.
I am also happy to share my tips for making an economical meal even more affordable!

Ugly veggies - mark-downs at New Apple Farm Market
Tip 1: Buy a bag of discounted, ugly vegetables. For $0.99 per bag, I bought about 2 lbs of carrots and parsnips, and a bag of portobello mushrooms (4, although 2 admittedly had to be tossed due to mold) from New Apple Farm Market on 4th at Vine. The carrots and parsnips were then subjected to scrubbing and slicing followed by boiling, and finally pureed - you would never know they were ugly root vegetables beforehand! The mushrooms were, alas, less of a success story, but the two large mushrooms that were still usable would have likely cost me 3 or 4 times as much in pristine condition. They made a delicious soup when combined with some dried chanterelles! Another tip - when buying dried mushrooms, carefully read the weight in grams. I found 3 different brands of the same type of mushroom that at first seemed similarly priced but actually varied widely in net weight!
If your grocer doesn't have a 'ugly vegetable' shelf, don't despair - go here to find out what's in season in Vancouver, or alternatively buy what's cheap and then find a recipe to match. A quick Google search will come to your rescue if your cookbooks let you down.

Tip 2: Store soup in 'single serving sized' containers. Freezing soup ahead of time is great for a quick meal, assuming you don't have to quickly thaw a cubic litre of solid soup. I'm pretty sure there's nothing more annoying than trying to evenly reheat a Mason jar of frozen soup or spaghetti sauce in a time-dependent manner! If you're a planner, thawing a frozen tub of soup overnight in the fridge for dinner the next day may be convenient. Then again, my idea of convenient is throwing open the freezer door and grabbing a masking-tape labelled yogurt container full of soup that will happily defrost under my desk from 9am until noon when it's ready to get nuked (note that this probably isn't "Food Safe", but when you're vegetarian you feel it's easier to take small risks). Single serving containers makes lunches and dinners on the fly much easier, and it also means that you don't have to eat the same thawed soup 3 meals in a row.

Dried Mushoom soup with Barley - low fat but delicious!
Tip 3: Make multiple soups in succession. Cabbage is a great reason to make more than one soup in a day, and you'll know why if you've ever cooked with it. The tightly folded crinkly leaves of your average green or red cabbage come perfectly compacted by nature, but once you start shredding it, the virtual volume of cabbage increases seemingly exponentially. I'm not sure exactly how many cups of shredded cabbage come from an average head of cabbage, but I do know that it's a lot more than I expect! I always end up with an enormous quantity of leftover cabbage that I do not want to waste, and so I've learned to make successive soups and/or meals containing cabbage - leftovers are carried over and used up right away! Tonight I'm making an Italian cabbage soup with nearly stale bread leftover from accompanying last night's soup (and lunch today, too). Later this week (Monday or Tuesday), I'm going to make a Basque white bean soup that also contains cabbage. If there's still cabbage leftover, there's an Italian bean soup recipe that will do it in! It's not just cabbage that gets leftover - squash, skimmed evaporated milk or light cream, spuds, fresh parsley, spare carrots and celery are often left as remainders. Cabbage, at least, is relatively inexpensive, though I really do feel it's an ethical and environmental sin to waste food (hence the birds eating my stale Shreddies!).
Single-serving containers, and soup ingredients waiting to be used up in round 4!

Tip 4: Make your own stock OR dilute store-bought stock. Making your own stock, which I didn't do this time around, is preferrable - it's usually more economical and it's definitely better for you if you watch your sodium intake (which we all should do, regardless of age). I didn't have the energy to make a huge batch of stock this time, so I bought some Pacific Foods vegetable stock and cut it in half - most of my recipes called for "stock or water" anyway. By diluting the stock, I not only got twice as much working volume out of the package, I also cut the sodium content by half. Another great reason to make your own stock is that you can customize it - avoid the flavours you don't want or avoid allergens (in my case, alas, garlic, shallot and red onion... curses!). If you do make your own soup base, DO NOT add the following vegetables as they will completely overpower your soup*: asparagus, Brussels sprouts (evil!) and other cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages), eggplants/aubergine, and perhaps surprisingly, tomatoes and bell peppers. *obviously, if you're making a 'Cream of Asparagus' soup, it's perfectly reasonable to put asparagus in your stock.

Label everything - a practice that's as good in the lab as it is at home
Tip 5: Inventory your spice rack. Even taking into account that I have acquired several of my partner's spices (he 'never cooks', so I inherit things from time-to-time), I'm positive that my failing memory is at least partially responsible for there being 3 different ground cumin packages open in my kitchen. Not only will taking stock of what you have potentially save you money (spices are not inexpensive!), it will also help you avoid accidents - unlabelled jars can occasionally lead to costly mistakes, and in some cases lead to injury! Take last night for example; I decided to amalgamate the 3 different ground cumins (2, actually - I threw out the oldest) and the 2 dill weeds with my own dried dill, and the two ground cinnamons.... I came across a ziploc bag containing what was either paprika or chilli powder. The smart thing to do would be to taste the spices, but because I had been sniffing my way through the jars and packages identifying fennel seeds from cumin seeds and ground cloves from allspice, I kept to the status quo. Unfortunately, it wasn't paprika in that bag, and apparently the teensiest whiff of chilli powder is enough to cause catastrophic inflammation of the mucous membranes. I sneezed, I burned, I watered and choked for much longer than I would have expected! A warning to the wise: although "I accidentally snorted chilli powder" makes for an amusing and popular Facebook status, I would still very much recommend labelling your spices!

You'd be amazed at the spices you forgot you had!
Tip 6: Use a single burner/element. The electricity required to heat a resistor (like a metal coil element) is staggering, so why get two going when you can use just one? If you're in a big hurry, you might want to sautee the mushrooms in a saucepan while you sweat the garlic, onions and carrots in a stock pot on another element. But I can honestly tell you that by spending about 5 minutes longer, you get away with using only one element and save electricity (and therefore money and your impact on the environment). I actually find I burn far fewer onions this way, too. In cooking soup, you're constantly "simmer, then remove from heat"-ing, so why not just switch pots on and off the one element? Another important (perhaps obvious) point is to use the element that is the same size (diameter) of your pots and pans. Don't use the little element for your big stock pot, and don't put your small sauce pot in the centre of the big element. Think back to kindergarten - match the shapes!

Transfer your pots and pans on and off the element in use.
This really is the perfect time of year for soup making - squashes are abundant (and cheap!), the nights are getting chilly, and it's a lovely thing to do on a rainy weekend (or on a sunny weekend if you walk to and from the shops).
This is the season that I crave ruby red borscht (a point of contention with my fiancee - his family's traditional borscht is orange and has chicken in it!) with Pumpernickel bread and herbed butter. I also like a dollop of sour cream in my borscht (an even bigger point of contention! I ask you - how can you NOT like sour cream?!). The ReBar Cookbook has a fantastic vegetarian borscht recipe with porcini mushrooms taking the place of the usual ham bone.
Of the soups I made yesterday, the "Dried Mushroom Soup with Barley" was by far the best (Moosewood - Low Fat Favourites, page 94). I also made "Curried Carrot Parsnip Soup" (page 100) which could've been better and less citrusy, and "New England Squash Soup" (page 96) which positively sucked compared to Burgoo's. Oh, how I love Burgoo! Tonight's soup(s) will originate from the full-fat (but still quite healthy and safe!) pages of Moosewood's "New Classics". I suspect that my butternut squash soup could've used a little lipid.
My cookbook podium - Gold to New Classics, Silver to ReBar and Bronze to Low Fat Fav's

I think the moral of the story is to not try to compete with Burgoo in the field of soup-making. If you feel like a soup tonight and have run out of time, why not meander down to Main Street (or up to 10th Ave, or across to Lonsdale) and treat yourself to virtually anything on their menu - you really can't go wrong. There's even an allergy menu available for people like me with special needs in the digestion department! Make sure you order a side of biscuits to go with it - mmm mmmm mmmmmmm!
Homemade soup you've made yourself is still a satisfying and cheap meal and perfect for a chilly fall or winter evening. A full pot will typically feed two for dinner as a main course and leave you with leftovers for lunches - many soups freeze well, too, so you don't have to eat the same soup all week. Pick up a baguette and cut yourself off a portion - much more economical than hitting up Quizno's on your lunchbreak!

Bonus material:
I just stumbled across FREE Moosewood recipes, including the following soups:
Black Bean and Chipotle
Roasted Red Pepper Coconut 
Very Creamy Potato-Cheese Soup
Spicy Carrot Peanut
Savannah Bisque
Oaxacan Potato

and my absolute, all-time favourite fish recipe, Pecan Crusted Fish. Try it - it's awesome!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Please bear with me for the next week or so! I just got engaged on Tuesday, which was a complete surprise! As a result, I'm floating here on Cloud 9 and being completely unproductive.
When the newness of everything wears off, I'll be back online and posting! The next big goal is to blog about holding a "Green Wedding", which will be the plan! Yikes, so much planning....
Back soon!
Ethical, Canadian diamond. He knows me well!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cheap Fun: Host a Learn-to-Knit/Crochet Party

 It's amazing how many skills and handicrafts move towards extinction with every generation. Take calligraphy for example - in the age of iPads and even (now) old-fashioned computer keyboards, penmanship is definitely falling into the realm of obscurity. And yet for countless generations, scribes of all types worked tirelessly, transcribing huge tomes (think of the Bible, for example!) by hand and with incredible beauty and accuracy. Remember - these were the days before 'Wite-Out'!

The phrase "they don't make them like they used to" springs to mind, doesn't it?

Other handicrafts like knitting and crochet also seem to me to teeter on the brink of extinction nowadays. If it wasn't for sites and online communities like Ravelry and Etsy, I feel quite confident that these pasttimes would slip into the past forever.
Fruits of our labours! Knit-a-Square-bound squares and toques
As a grad student and a scientist, I often have to deal with stressful and challenging situations (as I'm sure most people do with their careers and education!), and I'm so thankful that I'm able to come home and work on something artistic (be it painting, sketching, papercrafts or crochet. Or blog writing, for that matter!). If I wasn't able to unwind at the end of the day, I think I would go irretrievably insane.

A few of us grad students from our department got together in late September for the inaugural 'stitch and bitch', or knitting party. It was a great way to relax and have a laugh, and of course catch up with everyone's projects, experiments and publications. It was made even better by Corinne's chocolate chip cookies and Jen's lovely bottle of red!
Clockwise beginning with pink: Corinne, Mel, Mel, Jasmine, Corinne and Corinne.
Our main goal was quite straightforward: to produce at least one square each to contribute to Knit-a-Square, a charity based in Soweto, South Africa that stitches together donated squares into warm blankets for the AIDS orphans living in the endless slums and shanty towns of Johannesburg.
Please visit to read more about this innovative charity
(Before you start to wonder why children in Africa need warm blankets, let me point out that without a proper, insulated building to sleep in, a rainy 4 degrees overnight will be more than enough to set off hypothermia and 'exposure'. 4.1 C (39.4 F) is the average low temperature in June and July in Johannesburg, which would feel all the more bitter in a tent made of scrap tin siding with no central heating).
From - an orphaned boy and his Knit-a-Square charity blanket
Because of my area of research (HIV), I am acutely aware of the plight of the children in AIDS-endemic regions like sub-Saharan Africa. There are an estimated 15 MILLION AIDS orphans around the world, the vast majority of which are in Africa. Imagine losing both your parents early in your life, and then being left to fend for yourself in a desperate, impoverished community. The need is palpable.

So why not have a few friends over (male and female, if the men are man enough for the task!) and try your hand at knitting or crochet? Knitting instructions can be found online in a myriad of places (including YouTube) and there are even the basics on the Knit-a-Square website.

You may wonder where you can get the necessary materials, and boy do I have good news for you! I received more knitting needles than I could possibly make use of simply by taking out a free ad on Freecycle - a lovely neighbour left a whole box of them for me on her front porch! But if that's not going to work for you, the Salvation Army at 4th and Cypress has a whole jar of knitting needles in every size (go for a medium to large size, 4 or 5) for $0.49 a pair. I'm sure other thrift shops are similarly stocked (the MCC on Fraser sure is). You can try to buy yarn there as well (often sold in bags), or pop down to Dressew for the $1.99 skeins! Michael's on Broadway at Cambie (now open) has a terrific selection, but is at least twice the price on average.
I bought all of this lovely yarn (and more!) from the SPCA Thrift Shop for super duper cheap!
What you need for a successful knitting party:
  • Knitting needles (and/or crochet hooks for weirdos like me that prefer to crochet)
  • Yarn (various colours - varigated yarns that have multiple colours are great for learning!)
  • Scissors
  • Knitting instructions and/or a nearby computer and pertinent websites (or a resident expert willing to teach)
  • Project (start with 8" squares for Knit-a-Square - easy, fast and of benefit to a needy child!)
  • Guests (obviously!)
  • Finger food (preferrably not greasy or sticky or messy!)
  • Beverages (I think cocktails are beneficial to the process, but that's just my opinion)
  • Comfy couch or chairs and a place to host (home, the workplace or boardroom (after hours), a large coffee shop that won't resent your presence, etc.)
That's about it! Not only is it extraordinarily cost-effective, it's also a lot of fun (especially when things go horribly wrong and projects have to be 'frogged'!).

Read more about learning to crochet (my handicraft of choice in the yarn-field!) on my earlier blog post.
The majority of my stockpile is from a coworker's sister who donated it to me! Ask around!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

David's Dirty Dozen: How to Avoid the Nasties in your Personal Products

The David Suzuki Foundation has listed 12 chemical nasties to avoid in shampoos, body washes & soaps, cosmetics and other personal hygiene products. My contribution is to help highlight some alternatives that contain minimal 'dirty-dozen' members. I wanted to go 'dirty-dozen'-free, but it doesn't seem possible, practically speaking....
I'm not too surprised - this was the cheapest shampoo I could find
  1. BHA and BHT (preservatives - they're also in cereals and packaged foods)
  2. Coal-tar dyes including p-phenylenediamine, and colours/colourants in the CI-##### family (#'s replace numbers - there's a whole host of different formulae). FD&C's and D&C's are the same - this is the American nomenclature (same chemicals)
  3. DEA - diethanolamine (also MEA and TEA), i.e. cocamide DEA
  4. Dibutyl pthalate (banned in the European Union but not yet in Canada - often in nail polishes)
  5. Formaldehyde-releasers including DMDM hydatonin, diazolidinyl urea, imidiazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate (used primarily as preservatives)
  6. Parfum / "Fragrance" especially those containing DEP or dimethyl pthalates which usually aren't listed because these 'fragrances' are trade-marked. Pthalates are bad! They are currently being banned from kid's toys in Canada, but not your cosmetics!
  7. Parabens (i.e. methylparaben and anything ending in "-paraben"), used primarily as preservatives.
  8. PEG's (i.e. PEG-60, or related chemicals like propylene glycol)
  9. Petrolatum (the EU restricts its use in cosmetics - why doesn't Canada?!)
  10. Siloxanes (anything ending in "-siloxane", and chemcials like cyclomethicone)
  11. Sodium laureth sulfate (or "sulphate") and sodium lauryl sulfate (for similar reasons as the PEG's). This is a hard one to avoid, I'm afraid - they're types of detergents that foam and are therefore pretty ubiquitous in shampoos and body washes.
  12. Triclosan. I've said it before - don't misuse antibiotics! Bad things happen! The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is calling for a ban on this and other anti-bacterial compounds . . . and they know what they're talking about.
To hear WHY a chemical is on the list, follow the link to the David Suzuki Foundation's list.
They're out there! I've been slathering this on my skin...
Unfortunately, EchoClean shampoos and conditioners don't list their ingredients (which is technically illegal in Canada) and they haven't gotten back to me on my last email. And here I was all excited about a locally made, 'environmentally-sound' product. Hmmm. I think I'll postpone my excitement until I see the ingredients list now!

Well, EchoClean is certainly NOT the only option! LUSH products, which I have always loved, are made very locally (in fact, I've seen the warehouse where they're made from the SkyTrain!). Best of all, LUSH appears to offer some of the safest options for personal care products.
Lush on 4th Avenue (October)
They also respond to emails (albeit stock responses, but it's still a response!).

I visited and was thrilled that they freely and explicitly disclose the ingredients (which all manufacturers are supposedly required by law to do) and seem to encourage you to investigate. Thanks to this info, I'll be making some changes. Scroll down to the graphs to find out why I'll be switching to "Squeaky Green"!
Ah, LUSH. They do so many things right!
At first I was dismayed that virtually every LUSH shampoo contained not only sodium lauryl sulphate but cocamide DEA as well. I realised that it might be practically impossible to avoid all 12 of these 'dirty dozen' chemicals, and I temporarily gave up on this blog post.

But LUSH's email response encouraged me. Here are a few excerpts (it's a long email!) that I found particularly uplifting:
Here at LUSH we definitely are not fond of preservatives in general- by their very nature they kill microbes, and it is this reason that we make the majority of our products as solid as possible, as when a product is solid rather than liquid, it doesn’t need the preservatives that liquid products require to stay free of microbial growth.
Fantastic! I hadn't thought about my Method liquid soap (with a refillable bottle) as being WORSE for me, but they definitely made me rethink the whole approach. And the refillable bottle I haven't washed or attempted to pseudo-sterilize. Yuckers. I will be switching back to bar soap for a lower sodium lauryl sulphate load as soon as I finish up the refill pack!
For example a bar of soap by its nature doesn’t enable microorganisms to grow on it.
Yep, that's what I said in my earlier "homemade cleaning solutions" post. I love being right.
I love Alkmaar soap! Mmmmm!
The email highlights their solid shampoos and solid soaps by the virtue that all liquid products require more preservatives to be added (that's true - bacteria like moisture!) to prevent spoilage:
The solid products we offer are our body butters, massage bars, solid shampoo bars, solid conditioner, solid face serums, solid toner tabs, solid cleansers, soaps, hair hennas, bath ballistics, solid bubble bar slices, solid bath melts, emotibombs, sugar scrubs, deodorants, and solid perfumes! Whew, that’s a lot to list off! In our shops we also carry Biofresh face masks in the refrigerated section which do not have any preservatives and last for about 3 weeks.
100% recycled polypropylene containers  - and they're recycled again after that.
A little more on what they had to say:
Our LUSH products range in shelf life from 3 weeks to 14 months for products one would normally preserve. The reduction in shelf life is due to the lack of or the reduction of preservative levels.  Most manufacturers today will use 4 or 5 different preservatives in each product, and this is either because their manufacturing model is based on making in large quantities and shipping them around the world often having to warehouse them for extended periods or due to concerns over contamination. Our production methods are different in that we make small batches by hand every day and get them to customers as soon as possible.
And a note on the parabens they do use (in a few products only):
Only where necessary do our liquid hair and skin care contain small amounts of methyl and propylparaben at less than half the maximum permitted level. The parabens we use are still the safest and mildest we can find and this guarantees the quality and safety of our products we want our customers to enjoy.
The email also states that on the whole, LUSH uses "safe synthetic materials to support the natural ingredients we love to use" and that they choose their synthetic materials "very carefully and they are usually selected because of their long safety record and history of use"
This is based not only on over 20 years of use by our creative team (Mark Constantine, Mo Constantine, Helen Ambrosen to name a few), various reports from respected chemical experts, but also the fact that any information sometimes written for public consumption, is based only on supposition and out of date animal tests. We do our best to use these ingredients at a minimum and our creative team personally use the products for themselves and their families.
We as the manufacturers are responsible for making safe products and if we have any doubts we will drop an ingredient promptly. It is fair to say that ours is not a fixed position and that we are constantly looking at our ingredients, and changing formulations as we find it necessary. We appreciate your email, and take all feedback we receive to heart. We work hard to ensure we can confidently stand behind the safety, quality, and effectiveness of our products.
 That's the majority of the email anyway (told you it was a long one!). I found it encouraging - at least they care to some degree! I'm sure the friendly salespeople would be happy to assist you in finding the perfect soap or shampoo in-store, too.
So I did a little snooping and here's my review of several LUSH products based on the "dirty dozen" list (if it's listed, it's counted - concentrations/amounts of ingredients are NOT compared, FYI).

Best choices: NEW, Squeaky Green and Soak & Float.
Squeaky Green and Soak and Float are both flake-busters that DO NOT contain coal tar and coal tar derivatives! Now that's a step in the right direction!

Worst choice: Godiva
Well, we all knew she was a naughty girl. She's scored a whopping 6 on the dirty dozen inclusion scale, so best to let her ride on through town and keep her out of your hair.

*Note that Bohemian contains sodium palm kernalate. Palm oil is one of *THE* worst products you can purchase in terms of forest depletion and ecologically unsound practices.
Bohemian, Figs & Leaves and Sandstone are the cheapest at $6.95 per 100g.

Worst choice: Angel's Delight
Perhaps these are particularly morbid angels that want you to die quicker, or they forgot to add "Hell's" at the beginning of the name! It's full of pthalates because of the glitter and shimmer, and a ton of different dyes and perfume.

 LUSH's Shower Gels and Smoothies:

Best choices: Dreamwash* and Turkish Delight
*Note that Dreamwash contains sodium palm kernalate. Palm oil is one of *THE* worst products you can purchase in terms of forest depletion and ecologically unsound practices.
Dreamwash is the cheapest and best option, but I want Turkish Delight!!! Now!!!

Worst choice: Blue Skies
I suppose 'showers' and 'blue skies' aren't natural partners to begin with. They should stay that way! A couple of different parabens, a couple of different cocamides and some colouring amongst other dubious ingredients were its undoing on this chart. It was a 'retro' product after all - looks like they've made improvements in newer formulations!
I didn't chart out bath bombs or salt scrubs. Because I don't have accurate quantitative ingredient information (just relative quantities in terms of ingredient hierarchies), I can't really say anything definitive or even intelligent in terms of what products are safer, including the solid shampoos, solid soaps, shower gels and smoothies. So this is just a best guess, based on the number of the 'dirty dozen' members and their cousins (that I'm aware of, of course!) found in each ingredients listing.
Fizzbanger Bath Bomb from Steph. Bath bombs vary widely in their compositions - always read the ingredients!
I did take a few liberties in these graphs. Firstly, I scored them twice if they contained both methylparaben and propylparaben. I also scored them once for each colourant listed - that's potentially problematic, because if they only had minute quantities of each of the three colourants listed, and in comparison another only had one colourant but had five times as much total colourant, I won't have corrected for that. I also don't know which colours are more toxic than others. Secondly, I'm not infalliable and was quickly scanning over the ingredient listings on the website. I could have made a mistake, and for that matter the website information might also be inaccurate.

So as per usual, take all advice and info from me with a grain of sodium chloride (which is okay). Hopefully this post has helped remind you to scrutinize every ingredient listing you can get your hands on and also pointed you towards some potentially better options at LUSH.

Here's to hoping the 'dirty dozen' become ingredients of the past!

Additional: Read the David Suzuki Foundation's full report here:

Winners from their reviews (companies with products frequently containing NONE of the 'dirty dozen' listed! I stand corrected!):
  • Aubrey's Organics
  • Avalon Organics
  • Druide
  • Green Beaver
  • Kiss My Face
  • Nature's Gate
  • Nature Clean
  • Prairie Naturals
  • Rocky Mountain Soap Company
  • Tom's of Maine
October 30th UPDATE: Thank you to a reader who commented on this list! They would like "Tom's of Maine" removed from this list (accused of 'greenwashing' and incorporating nasty chemicals in their products), and approve of Nature's Gate, Green Beaver and Rocky Mountain Soap Companies.
They also recommend "Pur Alternatives" which sells Pangea Organics and Dr Bronner's brands, which received rave reviews.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Fair Trade Recycled Materials Christmas Gifts from Around the Globe

    So you don't want to try making it yourself, and you don't think that the intangible charity donation is a gift that will warm the heart of your intended recipient. What options are left?

    Quite a few, actually! In fact, far too many for me to post here. Here are some of the fair-trade, recycled material gifts that caught my eye. If you're not finding the 'right gift', do search the linked websites yourself - it may be that your perfect ethical, eco-friendly gift is waiting for you there.

    Incidentally, if you're looking for gifts for the cyclist or the tech-saavy, there's plenty of cool repurposed bike chain and upcycled computer circuitboard based art on offer! Environmentally sound and ethically traded - can't argue with that.

    By retailer & country of origin:

    Haiti: Recycled oil drum fishes wall decoration ($24) and leafy candleholder ($90)

    Vietnam: Recycled newspaper coiled ball ornament ($6) and coiled bowl/basket ($12)
    From Coiled Recycled Newspaper Bowl
     Nepal: Recycled sari coin purse ($6) and shoulder bag ($36). Reclaimed silk shoulder bag $55
    From Handmade Jute Paper Journal with Recycled Fabric Cover
    Bangladesh: Recycled glass and palm fibre drinking glasses ($20 for 4), matching pitcher ($25). Plain recycled glasses - tall ($5 each). Cheery fabric patchwork journal with handmade jute paper small ($16) and large ($24)
    From Recycled Glass Drinking Glasses
    India: Recycled polished metal bangle set ($16). Recycled bike chain small round frame ($18) and rectangular frame ($24). Repurposed metal washers photo frame small ($14) and larger washer frame ($24). Awesome metal washer fruit bowl ($38)
    From Recycled Metal Washer Fruit Bowl

    Philippines: Recycled newspaper beaded necklace ($5)

    Indonesia: Gorgeous modern recycled aluminum server with woven handle detail ($58)

    Guatemala: Recycled native Huipiles (blouse) fabric handbag ($42)

    Haiti: Recycled oil drum metal Christmas tree ornaments set ($14.99USD); Recycled oil drum metal sun wall decoration ($37.99USD) and beautiful 'Tree of Life' wall art ($79.99USD). Another with giraffes and trees ($79.99USD)
    From Oil Drum 'Tree of Life'
    From Oil Drum Giraffes Wall Art
    Kenya: Recycled beads made of washed-up flip flops earrings ($17.99USD) and another version ($24.99USD) - you're actually cleaning beaches with this purchase! Recycled newspaper bead long necklace ($24.99USD). Recycled tin and wire bicycle pin ($9.99USD)
    From Gorgeous Long Newspaper Bead Necklace
    Mexico: Pop-top clutch purse ($39.99USD); recycled wrapper coin purse ($19.99USD)

    India: Recycled inner tube messenger bag ($39.99USD)
    From Crabby scrap tin sculpture
    Zimbabwe: Recycled scrap tin crab sculpture ($11.99USD)

    From telephone wire bangles (featured by Diane von Furstenberg)
    South Africa: Recycled colourful telephone wire bangles (featured in haute couture designer Diane von Furstenberg's show!) ($24.99USD)

    Cambodia: Recycled newspaper (laminated) wallet ($14.99USD) or  messenger bag ($44.99USD). Recycled rice bag deluxe wallet ($24.99USD)
    From Laminated recycled newspaper messenger bag

    Indonesia: Recycled glass bead bracelet & earring set ($14USD) or necklace ($18USD)
    From Incredible woven recycled plastic floor mat
    Thailand: Fantastic recycled plastic woven "Turkish-style" floor mats for indoor/outdoor use ($39-$89USD); recycled fabric commuter laptop and computer accessories case set ($69USD)

    India: Recycled brass temple bells / mobiles - camels, horses and fish (5.99UK). Recycled sari fabric Christmas stockings (12.99UK) or star ornaments made of sari fabric (2.99UK). Recycled sari coin purse (7.99UK). Bike chain art - gear tealight holder (3.99UK), 3-hook bike chain coat rack (13.99UK)
    From Recycled Sari Fabric stocking in red

    Madagascar: Recycled pop cans racing car (6.99UK) and a mini version (3.99UK). Incredible recycled pop can airplane (14.99UK)
    From Recycled Pop Can Racing Car

    From Recycled Pop Can Airplane

    Haiti: Recycled oil drum metal sacred heart ornaments ($24USD) and small 'Tree of Life' wall decoration ($36USD)

    From Recycled oil drum metal small Tree of Life
    From Recycled oil drum metal sacred hearts

    Thailand: Recycled Singha or Chang beer (or Coke) can wallet ($22USD)
    From recycled beer can wallets

    Extra benefit: each purchase helps fund rainforest habitat preservation!

    Haiti & Ghana (jointly): Recycled glass bead and copper "Shared Hope" necklace ($18.95USD) and bracelet ($14.95USD)
    From "Shared Hope" recycled glass necklace

    Haiti: Recycled oil drum metal Christmas tree 3ornament set - probably the best deal for this material ($4.80USD)
    From Guatemalan coffee bag recycled tote

    Guatemala: Recycled understated but lovely coffee or rice bag tote with clasp ($14.95USD) - another great bargain

    France: Recycled garden soil bag gardening apron ($22USD)

    Indonesia: Recycled parachute, old paintings and magazine material Ikat-patterned tote bag ($19.95USD)
    From Ikat-patterned recycled tote

    Mexico: Recycled billboard fabric tote bag ($10.95USD)

    Ghana: Recycled water package cosmetics case ($14.95USD) or backpack ($29.95USD)
    From African bottle-cap basket

    Zimbabwe: Recycled African bottle-cap and scrap metal shopping basket ($29.95USD)

    Philippines: Recycled plastic and foil 'trashy-chic' 3 bracelet set ($8.95USD) and beaded bracelet ($12.95USD)
    From Recycled plastic bangles
    Burkina Faso: Recycled plastic floor mat fibre bracelets ($4.95USD)

    India: Recycled computer circuitboard products:
    From Recycled Circuitboard Ornaments
    Similarly, a recycled computer key box or telephone key box ($12.95USD)
    From Recycled sheet metal ornaments
    Recycled sari shoulder bag ($19.95USD). Recycled sheet metal colourful star ornaments ($4.95USD) or Punjab-style lantern ($14.95USD). Recycled and reclaimed plastic shopping bags material yoga mat bag ($20USD)
    From Recycled plastic yoga mat bag