Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MetroVancouver - Tap Water Pledge

I would like to thank the beautiful Eva for the inspiration for today's post.

Eva put a comment at the end of my post on Life Lessons from Dirt Girl, with a link to a smart-phone app showing water fountains and taps for refilling your reusable water bottle all over our city.

And that got me thinking back to my Safe Water post (probably the most critical UN millennial goal of all!), and made me sad (again) that parents the world over still have to bury their children as a result of preventable water-borne illnesses (cholera, typhoid, dysentry, etc., as well as the protozoan and parasitic infections). You can help do something about that here, or here, or here, or even here, if you are so moved.

If you need a reusable water bottle, why not buy one from thewaterproject.org - profits go towards clean water in Africa & India. They sell coffee & coffee travel mugs too, and the stainless steel water bottles are really cool ("This bottle helps provide two children in Africa with clean, safe drinking water for five years. Ask me how.")

On the news last week was a fluff piece on high school kids taking the City of Vancouver's "Tap Water Pledge" and creating a moratorium on bottled water sales at the school. I didn't think much of it (maybe I should have), because back in the day when I went to school there were those old Haws water fountains which worked perfectly well. Aren't they still there?

The students displayed plastic garbage bags full of empty plastic water bottles, showing a portion of the waste generated by the student body. I suppose that nowadays with places like LuLu Lemon promoting adequate hydration (though I would love to point out that they have water fountains for use in their 4th Avenue store - check out the first bullet on their manifesto), trendy water companies like Fiji 'artesian' water (your water is not green - bite me!), and the irrational fear of 'toxins' building up in your body if you don't pee enough (yes, but it would be nitrogenous wastes and nothing evil or mysterious - don't forget you don't want to burn out your precious kidneys!), people in our part of the world are drinking water today more deliberately than ever before. And I suppose it's not a bad thing, in moderation of course (you could drink yourself to death on water due to renal failure so don't overdo it!).

But the empty plastic bottles are just disgusting! We don't need to do that! And certainly not in Metro Vancouver, boasting some of the best water on the planet (I believe that an Abbotsford watershed received international recognition last year for the world's purest water supplies). That said, if you're on well-water in Langley, you might want to continue to get that water tested (I have a friend who's studying fecal coliforms (bacteria from human and animal poo) in the water of that area - test that water!).

So clear it's hard to photograph.

I took the Tap Water Pledge. It's easy for me - I do it deliberately whenever I can. Unfortunately, I have some major hinderances - my workplace is primarily in a building that is over 100 years old, and rust flakes and green slime come out of the lead-lined pipes. Hmmm. So I refill my water bottle from the Canadian Springs water coolers scattered around the centre (on campus though, I refill with the water fountains! They're great!).

My other big hinderance is at home. I had Vancouver Coastal Health come out and check my tap water after many discussions with other tenants (who bought bottled water!) and the managers of our building. Those of us with sensitive tastebuds (i.e. people who have the potential to be excellent sommeliers!) have always tasted a nasty metallic tang on our flat-tasting water. The inside of my kitchen faucet was green (and green microbial slime was growing in my Brita jug), so I figured it was time to have it tested. A lady came by with a portable spectrophotometer, tested the concentration of chlorine (which was apparently in range) and said it was fine.

Hmm, yeah. The assumption is that if the chlorine hasn't been depleted, then it hasn't killed microbes, so there aren't enough microbes to worry about. Weak.

The taste of metal and concern about lead remains. "Well, can you test for lead contamination, please?" I asked, knowing that I still wouldn't be able to drink it because of the taste alone. "No, just run your taps for a few minutes to flush the system." She tasted the water and thought it tasted fine. I would not trust this lady to choose wine, by the way - her tastebuds cannot be very keen!

After 2 years of living here, I still can't shake the taste of our building's water. It's gross. And yet all the homes and restaurants in our area have nice tasting tap water. So we do, reluctantly, refill those water cooler bottles at Safeway and use that water to drink (tap water for cooking). I inherited our neighbour's water cooler stand when he moved out (see, I'm not the only one grossed out!).

I feel badly about buying drinking water, because Vancouver really does have lovely tap water. I suppose I'm probably just buying the same water, filtered, from Safeway anyway. Not so economically sound, but I really can't handle drinking this tap water.

And I am being whiny, I know that - I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to drink this water in Africa (article here on TreeHugger.com). I don't want to. And this shouldn't be happening still.

Note the contrast - this isn't right. Everyone should have clean, clear water.

Nevermind that Vancouver has perfect tap water when some of the largest populations in the world have no running water at all! No sanitation, no pipes or plumbing, no faucets or sinks.


Start by taking The Tap Water Pledge from the City of Vancouver. Let it be known that you care about environmental conservation and stewardship in our city.

Easy, right? Take it further - life is short:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bulk Food Storage Containers

You've just returned from Sabzi Mandi with a car-boot load of dried lentils, rice, peas and beans, and you've discovered (as I did) that you have nowhere nice to store your healthy goodies.

L-R: Yellow Split Peas, Chana dal (dry black chickpeas), and Mung beans (moong dal)

Plastic is finished. The more we think about it, the more likely we are to switch back to glass storage jars and steel canisters. If only for the mere aesthetic of it all, storing foodstuffs in vintage Mason jars and recycled Illy coffee containers* is far preferrable to shelves full of xeno- and phytoestrogen leaking plastic tubs.
*see upcoming post - still scheming on decorative overhaul

Along the top shelf: 1L Slom jars with beans, lentils and split peas.

True, I still use empty yogurt containers to freeze single-sized servings of soups for lunch (but I won't reheat it in them! Scary!). Plastics do still have important applications elsewhere (medical science is a good example - I don't think anyone wants to go back to the days of glass intravenous drip bottles and rubber hoses), but we need to cut back where we can.

L-R: Aged brown basmati rice, aged white basmati rice, and boring old long grain rice

Behold my beautiful collection of Ikea Slom jars. With spring-locked lids and a usable volume of 1.8L, they are a good deal at $3.99 a piece. The smaller ones (1L - not the smallest of the range) cost $2.99 each. (Another Broke Tip: Be sure to check out Ikea Richmond's and Ikea Coquitlam's "Wacky Wednesday" deals each week - the savings are HUGE. You just have to luck out and have them pick something you need!).

Ikea Richmond receipt from February.

Now that may not sound like the best deal in town (please notify me if you find a better one!), but the cylindrical jars that I use to store cornmeals (polenta grade and regular) with the metal tops (pictured below) are going for $5.99 each at the Superstore on SW Marine Drive! I'm sure you can find these fairly ubiquitous jars elsewhere for less, so I'm going to continue to keep my eyes open. Ming Wo might be the first place I'll look.

1.8L Slom jars with rolled oats and popcorn; shortie glass jars with metal tops

Glass jars are great for storing dried foods in the pantry. You can see what's in them at a glance, and I think they look rather nice in a old-fashioned, homestyle sort of way (for me, reminiscent of the wall of homemade scrumptious preserves at the Twisted Fork Bistro).

Recycled artichoke, jam, olive, capers and honey jars, repurposed as spice jars.

But you don't have to go out and purchase glass storage jars! Believe me, if I had the option not to, I'd take it! Call up your family members and friends and let them know you're collecting empty glass jars in ALL sizes (discriminate after the fact is my advice). Pickle jars are a perfect size, and if you know a Costco shopper, all the better! Big glass jars are easy to clean (and sterilize in the proper sense, if necessary), and once you do a little creative redecorating, they can look super cute on a shelf.

Paper I bought from The Book Warehouse - I bought several sheets and lined my kitchen drawers with it. And now I have a perfect use for the leftovers, thanks to the Design*Sponge blog!

Want to do this? Follow this link to Laura Normandin's (Wren Handmade) post on Design*Sponge. It's easy, and as she points out, mixed paper scraps can have a neat effect - so don't fret if you don't have excess coordinating drawer liner paper! Wrapping paper scraps, origami papers (visit Paper-Ya on Granville Island!), art papers from de Serres, even newspaper could work. Time to check your craft drawer!

And then I got carried away, and relined a stained bread basket, covered up a magnet for an animal hospital, and painted and decoupaged a very ugly but functional magnet clip.

Time for the very first installment of "Green, Broke & Living in Kits - Recycling Tips"! Here's a little Q & A that I would have found useful (but then had to go and find the answer myself, bah!).

Q: Can I recycle milk cartons (both the waxed cardboard type and plastic ones) in Vancouver?

A: Not easily. The City of Vancouver's Engineering Services website on Solid Waste points out that Encorp Return-It depots (i.e. bottle depots that aren't within other retailers like a BCL or Safeway) will take the empties from you for free and have them recycled. Otherwise, no - they cannot be taken in the blue bins. They apparently end up in the landfill if you do.

Don't toss out those milk cartons! They make great seedling pots!

There are many ways that you can reuse empty milk cartons, the most useful (to me) is to cut it in half and use the square bottom half as a plant pot for starting seedlings (punch a few drainage holes in the bottom first).

Perhaps the best option is to buy milk in glass bottles. Not only can you use the empty milk bottles for food storage (and they look so cute on the shelf!), you can use them as rustic vases or for storage of small things like the spare buttons that come on new garments or safety pins. They also work great to hold paintbrushes, tips up. They're narrow in the neck, but can be used to store a few pairs of chopsticks as well, or even knitting needles (in which case, you simply MUST knit it a cozy!).

You can visit the Metro Vancouver Recycles website to see if what you have (and it could be anything!) can be recycled, and where. It's convenient and easy, and even has a self-generated map to show you your closest option.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sabzi Mandi

Kitsilano positively sucks when it comes to buying Indian spices and groceries (in fact, it sucks for all ethnic foods, period).

Visit a Sabzi Mandi near you!

Once every 6 months or so, we drive out to Stupidstore (Superstore) on SW Marine Drive or on Grandview and stock up on basmati rice, garam masala, a few other Indian spices, and a gift for Chantal (last time, mutant coconut Macapuno balls. This time, Tasty Nuts).

Chantal's random Stupidstore gift du jour

Stupidstore has a limited selection of ethnic food, bizarrely stocked in the same aisle. Indian, Phillippino, Mediterranean, and Oriental collide in a jumbled mess of cardboard boxes and foreign alphabets.

It is physically impossible to shop in this aisle without being hit with a shopping cart at least once.

What irks me the most (apart from the fact I couldn't find a single can of chipotle peppers in a store that big!) is that you can buy green mung beans at both ends of the same aisle, and mango juice in at least three different locations as well. How is one to comparison shop exactly? You can tell I'm not the only person with this frustration - a lone bulk food bag of toor lentils sits on the shelf next to packaged lentils, clearly abandoned for the better deal. (That's just tacky - buy the bulk food you took out and chock it up to a lesson learned at the price of the $0.28 difference).

Hing (asafoetida). I can't tell you how many years I've gone without this in recipes!

Finding spices like amchur/amchoor, anardana, kokum, kalonji and several other crucial spices used in the Vij's at Home recipe book is just not going to happen at Stupidstore. It's sad, though, because by far the busiest aisle is the Indian and Oriental food aisle - demand is certainly there!

Purchased from Sabzi Mandi

So where can you go? Thanks to a lovely friend (Gurpreet - thank you!), I was tipped off to Sabzi Mandi, which is just a short few blocks from the SW Marine Drive Superstore on Fraser (south of Marine Drive).

Sabzi Mandi is an oasis of sanity in an otherwise chaotic and unpleasant shopping and driving district. The store plays lively Indian music, it's tucked away from the craziness of Marine Drive, and it's surprisingly spacious inside.

Sabzi Mandi: All the Indian spices you could possibly need! I did a happy dance.

The staff are helpful when asked, and the spices, OH the spices! I found everything! I had to ask for help only with the sumac (which is not a very commonly used spice in Indian cooking), and they had it. They had everything, in two or three sizes - I wish I knew this ahead of time, or I wouldn't have bought a cubic litre worth of ground cumin from Stupidstore.

Some of the indispensible spices called for in Vij's at Home

Sabzi Mandi has all the lentils, rices, mixes and fresh & frozen vegetables your cookbook calls for, including frozen paneer (hooray! I don't even have to try making my own!). They also have incense and other Indian grocery items, including all the sweets (mixes and pre-made).

On the left is 'gur', a raw sugar sometimes called 'jaggery'

I did buy most of my lentils from Stupidstore this time around, but I'll probably just go straight to Sabzi Mandi next time.

Lentils may not excite you the way they excite me, but they should! Hey, I hate lentil soup too. But I LOVE Indian food! I also love high fibre, low fat and economical meals.

As a child, I would never believe that I would one day choose to eat any of these.

High in iron, high in protein, high in folate and vitamin B1, lentils are something everyone needs to have handy in the pantry, along with a healthy supply of spices! The spices might not be cheap, but they go a long way - combined with lentils and rice (complete protein combination), you've got yourself a cheap, healthy and potentially very tasty meal.

Above is my best attempt to connect the Hindi/Punjabi names for the various lentils and legumes pictured with the most common English terminology, at least in Vancouver anyway.

Healthy and cheap! Lentils for Lent this year while you give something else up?

I think I'll conclude my 'ode to lentils' here, because my inner child is refusing to give any more praise to these pulses.

If you're really not the adventurous type in terms of kitchen DIY, you can cheat! Thanks to the lovely manager at Sabzi Mandi, I now have two "just add water" mixes (one is Butter Chicken - I figure my non-Vegetarian partner can use that).

Just add water - the cheater's version of Indian cooking!

And if adding water and chicken and having to use the stove is too much for you, then you can cheat even more and pick up some heat-and-eat meals, too!

The total cheat. Just microwave & serve!

Buy a Vij's cookbook and trek on over to Sabzi Mundi (I discovered a Sabzi Mandi EXPRESS on Main street around 50th avenue on the way back home, too!) for a fun field trip and the chance to stock up on hard-to-find Indian flavours.

(Don't forget about Planet Veg on Cornwall in Kits if you need a healthy Indian food fix, fast!)

A winning combination - Sabzi Mandi and a Vij's cookbook

Note: Sabzi Mandi doesn't appear to have a website, unless it's related to Subzi Mandi, which is a very similar chain of Indian grocery stores in the US and eastern Canada. Here's the info from my Sabzi Mandi bag:

Sabzi Mandi
  • FRASER: 8244 Fraser St., Vancouver V5X 3X6 - tel: 604 323 2400
  • SCOTT ROAD: 9486 120 St., Surrey V3V 4B9 - tel: 604 581 2400
  • NEWTON: 106 - 12568 72 Ave., Surrey V3W 2M6 - tel: 604 590 2400
UPDATE: Found this little gem on a product website listing retailers:
Sabzi Mandi 6684-Main St. @51st Ave.(604) 327-4911

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ocean Wise Seafood & Fish

If you haven't heard of the Ocean Wise program, you're either not living on the West Coast, or you're not into seafood.

Fish is fantastic for you, and certainly much better for you than the antibiotic-stuffed, ill chickens cooped up in cruel cages, and the grossly inefficient cattle industry. (Incidentally, I'm glad CBC finally got around to probing the poultry industry - I've had my BSc in Microbiology for how many years now, and the profs were always lecturing back-in-the-day on the incomprehensibly irresponsible use of antibiotics in the meat industry).

The 7 Seas fish market on 4th @ Vine. Great service, great fish!

Fish is easy to cook, given the right cookbooks! Read on to see two I can't do without, both with excellent fish recipes!

Fish is full of polyunsaturated fatty acids (the well-known Omega 3, 6 and 9 polyunsaturates), and if you're wise about what and how much you eat, the threat of heavy metal overdose is basically negligable (tuna's one of the worst for PCB's and mercury contamination, but then again virtually no tuna is considered 'Ocean Wise' these days - read on!).

Can't cook, won't cook? Go here for the best fish in town.

Concerned about PCB's and mercury? Read up on the 'safe' fish here, then continue on with my blog article, because there are some great fish choices you'll want to hear about! Keep this simple biological rule of thumb in mind when avoiding fish with high levels of heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls: the farther they are up the proverbial 'food chain', the more they'll contain. That's because fish like salmon and tuna are predators of smaller fish, and so the mercury and toxins that the small fish pick up are incorporated into the larger fish. That means that your large carnivorous fish will likely have a higher concentration of nasties in it than the small sardine would. The same is true with all environmental pollutants - the apex predators are always the ones getting the worst of it.

The Fish House menu - Ocean Wise choices

First off, let's stick to the Ocean Wise fish!

Ocean Wise is a Vancouver Aquarium conservation programme, partnering with the best Vancouver restaurants (which I can attest to - yum!) and several sponsor groups and businesses (VanCity, Capers, Marc Anthony group, etc.). If you visit the Vancouver Aquarium homepage, you'll see that they are now boasting an iPhone app for choosing sustainable seafood. If I had an iPhone, this would be the very second app I'd download (after Angry Birds, of course!).

Ocean Wise fish are those that are managed well (sustainable fisheries) and not endangered or threatened species. Here's an excerpt from their About page:

The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit association dedicated to effecting the conservation of aquatic life through display and interpretation, education, research, and direct action.

Overfishing is the number one problem facing the world’s oceans...

Ocean Wise is a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. Ocean Wise works directly with restaurants, markets, food services and suppliers ensuring that they have the most current scientific information regarding seafood and helping them make ocean-friendly buying decisions. The options are highlighted on their menus and display cases with the Ocean Wise symbol, making it easier for consumers to make environmentally friendly seafood choices. The Ocean Wise logo next to a menu or seafood item is an assurance that the item is a good choice for keeping ocean life healthy and abundant for generations to come.
Look for this symbol next to seafood options:
Fresh grilled BC halibut marinated in a ginger, miso & white wine reduction; wild rice pilaf & Chinese broccoli
It’s your assurance that you are making the best choice to ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come.

Ocean Wise participating restaurants across Canada (!) include all of the really good Vancouver restaurants, like:

Sustainable seafood is not a completely novel concept. The collapse of the cod fishery in the maritimes was probably one of the first fisheries instances where we humans started to realise that there is a balance to nature that is easy for us to upset!

Recent Greenpeace articles regarding sustainability of Canadian and Int'l fisheries

The gurus of environmentalism, Greenpeace, have their own list of "red-listed" seafood that is critical to avoid to help slow demand and influence thoughtful and deliberate actions in terms of conservation of that particular fish stock or affected fisheries.

Greenpeace's Out Of Stock logo. Love it.
Their "Out of Stock" campaign, like Ocean Wise, intends to remind consumers that there isn't always 'plenty o' fish in the sea' when it comes to many species! The Out of Stock t-shirts are especially snappy, and I certainly wouldn't mind being a visual reminder to others about this important campaign. I encourage you to take a look at their red list, just to identify which fish you simply must not consume. But let's stay on the positive - I'm going to list fish that ARE good to eat! Healthy for you, healthy for their populations, healthy for the environment in general.

Screenshot: SeaChoice.org homepage
SeaChoice claims to be Canada's largest sustainable fisheries watchdog, and was formed by The David Suzuki Foundation and The Sierra Club among others. It also has a very handy, easy-to-use guide for green-listed fish (good ones), yellow-listed fish (not so good), and red-listed fish (DO NOT EAT).

Other organizations are doing similar work, including Monterrey Bay Aquarium (California, USA). I was curious to see if their list gybed with our local aquarium, and not surprisingly it did.

And finally, we come to:


Here's a few recommendations (from me!) on fish to try out tonight! Hit up 7 Seas on 4th avenue (pictured in this post) for the best seafood I know of in town. They even have a page on sustainability here.

  • Arctic Char
  • Sablefish
  • Wild Salmon (from BC, of course!)
    The best place in Kits, maybe in all of Vancouver, to get your seafood!

    Arctic Char is a delicious fish, reminiscent of salmon or rainbow trout in texture (a related species, actually), but has a far milder, less-fishy taste. It has white flesh that is rich but not oily, and although it is farmed, it's farmed in isolation (safely!) in North America (Northwest Territories and Washington State, for example). Arctic Char is on all of the 'green-lists' I've read. It's especially good at The Fish House, where they cook it on a cedar plank. I love Ling Cod as well, and if you see an Ocean Wise symbol next to it, go for it! But when in doubt, I will always choose the Arctic Char knowing that it's a wise move (and a tasty one, too!). This is a great fish for someone who doesn't really like fish! Mild and smooth!

    Sablefish is a new one for me, and wow is it ever tasty! Oily and rich, this fish is probably better suited to people who like fish already. Described as 'buttery', Sablefish doesn't need a lot of spice or additions as its full flavour is often enough. In the Vij's recipe I've recommended (below), a simple spice rub dresses the fish before it's steamed. That's it - and it's amazing! Very rich and decadent, Sablefish will fill you up, fast.

    Steamed Sablefish (Vij's at Home recipe) . . . sooooo good!

    Wild Salmon (BC) is our coastal perennial favourite. We've had a few good salmon runs (the herring have returned! Fantastic news!) the past two years, so salmon stocks are fairly safe. The salmon really is part of our West Coast heritage (just ask a First Nations friend!), as the cod was to the Maritimes before it was fished away... As a former StreamKeepers volunteer (yeay high school!), keeping our salmon stocks safe is important to me (and should be to you, too) - always inquire as to the best sustainable choice each season when choosing salmon, and check those green-list guides periodically because the recommendations could change, quickly. Everyone likes salmon, and there's a million recipes out there for barbequed salmon! Tastes fantastic right off the grill.

    Price-wise (because I'm green and broke!), Arctic Char and Sablefish are cost-efficient options. Sablefish for two people (2 x 6 ounce portions . . . apparently the fishing industry doesn't think in metric! About 170g each) costs about $13 this week. That's pretty decent - Arctic Char is usually cheaper than halibut and the other less-Ocean Wise but still popular choices. Salmon prices vary and are typically a little more costly.

    What do you do with the fish now that you've purchased it? Here are two absolutely indispensible cookbooks that I cannot recommend more highly:


    In Vij's (and I haven't tried enough of the recipes yet - just got it at Christmastime), I recommend:

    • Steamed Sablefish (page 139)
    • Prawns in Pomegranate Curry (page 142 - don't buy tropic-sourced prawns)

    All of the seafood dishes are geared towards Ocean Wise fish (Vij's is a participating restaurant, don't forget!) and there is a page in the book dedicated to this subject. An excerpt from Vij's at Home:

    ...Not only is eating the wrong seafood harmful to our environment, but increasingly it's harmful to our personal health, too - we hear warnings of mercury levels in the news more often now. Most sustainable seafood guides point out these health factors as well. In the end it really isn't that difficult to identify which seafood is good to eat - from both environmental and personal health perspectives...

    Moosewood Restaurant (Ithaca, NY, USA) is also on the ball when it comes to healthful and sustainable eating practices. While 'New Classics' doesn't have an entire blurb on sustainable seafood (it's from 2001 - they have blurbs on GMOs instead as this was the big concern of the time, and really should still be on out radar!), it does have a rather fitting quote on page 442 ("Going Sustainable"):
    "In living nature, nothing happens which is unconnected to the whole" - Goethe
    In 'New Classics', I recommend:

    • Pecan-crusted Fish (page 367 - the BEST home-cooked fish dish I've ever had! Recipe free online, too)
    • Fish with Artichokes & Capers (page 365 - fish-in-a-packet section)
    One of my other favourite Moosewood fish recipes is from "Low Fat Favourites", and it's a chipotle-cornmeal crusted fish recipe (baked). I tried that recipe with Sablefish last night and it was delicious (but any fish tastes good with a chipotle-cornmeal crust! Don't limit yourself to Sablefish!).

    THRIFTY TIP: The 'New Classics' cookbook is available from $18.28 on Amazon.ca at the moment (weirdly, that's cheaper than the USED books . . . I always recommend used, but perhaps not in this rare case!). That's a real steal! Get it while the getting's good! I bought mine 'used' from Amazon and it showed up with a Costco price tag on it - I don't even think it had been opened. It was more than $18.28, though! There are some truly awesome recipes in this book (the best is the pizza . . . mmm, mmm, mmmm!). Act fast!

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Anatomy of a Healthy Craft Drawer

    Ah, the magical craft drawer! Before the days of having this lovely vintage dresser (which I use as a sideboard), I had to stuff all my 'craft stuff' into a Rubbermaid wrapping paper box designed to fit under the bed. It worked very well, actually, but I am so happy to be able to up-size to a full-length drawer to fit all of my gathered paper and tinsel treasures.

    See, the thing about being broke is that you can't afford many of the little 'extras' in life; extravagant gifts professionally wrapped in crisp, new, forest-unfriendly gift wrap is one such example.

     You have to learn to "make do" with what you have, a concept I've understood very well ever since I was about 4 or 5 and attempted to make my own snow globe. I must have been watching The Polka Dot Door or some other CBC kid's show that had a craft segment, and they had taken empty baby food containers, used plasticine to affix various items to the lid (which was destined to become the base of the snow globe), added water with a few drops of food dye (I made mine magenta, as always) and flakes of dessicated coconut for snow. The coconut snow flitted about the make-shift snow globe beautifully on the television. Mom said she didn't have any coconut flakes. The girl explaining the process on the TV said that if you didn't have coconut flakes you could substitute for rice, which I did.

    Rice sucks. It's not a good alternative. Glitter would have been a better choice (we probably didn't have that, either). I remember shaking my little snow globe and turning it upside-down to see the rice slide straight to the bottom like a rock in a pond. Hardly the same effect. I was utterly disgusted.

    Panettone tin stuffed full of salvaged ribbons, bows, feathers . . .

    Since that time, I've learned that it is important to have all manner of 'craft stuff' on-hand at any point in time (my pantry is also well-stocked. Ironically, I always have coconut flakes and never seem to use them in baking. I should make a snow globe out of spite!). I've also gotten much better than the aforementioned television presenter at creative compromises, learning the properties of various plastics and papers and being able to make good substitutions where necessary.

    Looking back at previous posts of mine (yesterday's was the real kicker), I realised that I've become that smug, over-confident person I cursed on all kid's craft programs (and in my adult years, Martha Stewart). "Who has all that sh*t on hand?!" I would internally scream. Well, these days, it's me. (I have become 'successful' in my own craft-centric viewpoint, I guess!).

    Rather than opine on my current comfortable state of affairs (contrasting back to the days where we didn't have construction paper and double-sided tape), I thought I would share with you the contents of my craft drawer, to date.

    If you don't have a drawer, at the very least find yourself a hat box or other largeish storage bin.

    The drawer contians scraps and various items I've accumulated from past Christmases, birthdays, holidays and other events, not to neglect the routine day-to-day detritus that builds up. It's not ALL garbage, and part of the way I attempt to achieve "Zero Waste" in my home is by reusing what is reusable. And arguably, that's more things than not!

    So without further adieu, a visual tour of the contents of this craft drawer. Please note that there is a separate storage area for yarn and sewing notions, and I appear to have fabric in several places in my home. The fabric here is just the $0.25 sample-size stuff from the Dressew bins which I intended to use as giftwrap (or, more likely, I liked the look of and thought I'd buy it and find a use for it later. Not very thrifty, spending money with no clear plan in place, but trust me - I'll use it eventually!).

    I think I purchased the sticky-tape kimono fabric from Rice Terraces (Broadway and Granville, by de Serres). They have a website: riceterraces.org but it doesn't appear to be functional

    It's wrong to destroy works of fiction (but this book SUCKED). Leftovers from hollowing out a book that I turned into a clock (author had same name as recipient). I think the clock is much more useful.

    Various junk - the front side of greeting cards, shellacked fortune cookies, sponge-tipped paint brushes, paper plates from I don't even know where, the sticky stuff you use to stop things sliding on boats, and a peacock decoration from Dressew

    Little boxes and drink containers (washed) are great for packaging small gifts, particularly baby-sized crochet items. I had styrofoam clamshell packages too, but used them up when I made Hamburger Coasters for giving away. It's good to reuse styrofoam and plastic - although they SAY it's recyclable, it still often ends up in the dump.

    Boxes and containers from Christmas. The paper stars made up my non-traditional Christmas tree! The popcorn tin is going to get painted and probably decoupaged, when I feel inspired.

    A gold plastic vinyl (ooh, bad!) tablecloth remnant - good for crafting AND as a painting drop-sheet. Various fabric  pieces from the big bins at Dressew - your $0.25 can go a long way there!

    Pipe cleaners are amazingly handy. The red plastic onion net has a very interesting pattern - one day I'll do something artsy with it. For now, I use them to store flower bulbs over the summer in my hall closet!

    Tissue paper might be THE single most useful item in my craft drawer. All of this is reused (gets a nice, crinkly quality to it after use!). It's good for wrapping gifts, but it's also terrific for making tissue paper flowers and borders of tufted tissue paper (I don't know what to call that process, but I used it to make a giant Valentine 2 years ago!). Can also be used in papier mache if you don't have paints to colour it with (need white glue or acrylic spray).

    Gift bags are easily reused. That birthday one I've seen on 3 separate occasions, and this is the first time I've received it! Talk about making good use of it! Gift bags combined with salvaged tissue paper is a winning combination.

    Plastic leis (yuck!), bows, more pipe cleaners and I think that's some raffia sneaking in under the black and white feathers. Doesn't look like much now, but keep it mind that it also doesn't take up much space!

    I think the black foam came with a computer component. Pretty sure the white batting is leftover from an amigurumi project (if you make small enough amigurumi, you can stuff them with yarn clippings - I have a whole shoebox full of yarn trimmings and it's quite handy to have)

    $0.79? No way, paid $0.25 for that pack of pipe cleaners, the one craft supply I never had on hand (visit Dressew!). The construction paper scraps might look small, but remember that SMALL is easily stored! Don't underestimate leftovers because of their size!

    Cello wraps (nasty plastic - reuse it to death!) and wrapping paper scraps. The green berries and fruit (kiwi and lime) paper is actually what I used to line my kitchen drawers (stuck clear sticky plastic over top of it to pseudo-laminate it and make it cleanable with a wet cloth).

    The beauty of having a craft drawer (and doing a visual inventory) is that you discover lovely things you forgot you had! I bought this awesome craft paper in Victoria years ago. Forgot all about it!

    I love those candies, and the tube they come in is the perfect height to hold my crochet hooks! This is an extra one, so it's kept with the corrugated cardboard piece and the little boxes.

    Paints - acrylic, watercolour, tempera and even acrylic sealant spray. I wonder where my Modge Podge ended up? Here somewhere! Acrylic paints are great, even though they're plastic-based. Tin pie plates make for easily-mixed paints. They're recyclable if you own a proper palette to begin with.

    And finally, the 'utility' drawer, where all the scissors, cutters, epoxy and glues, tapes, strings, tacks and glue sticks (hot and cold) live. Craft punches, staple-less and regular staplers and batteries also reside here. I have 3 packs of EarthZone recycled newspaper pencils for gifting, used envelopes (and new), origami paper I don't want crinkled (the craft drawer tends to do that for me), and various other bits and pieces like bamboo skewers.

    And so we conclude the tour! I hope it was inspirational - sometimes it's difficult to know what to keep. Will it be useful? What can I even do with this? These are questions that in time will crop up less frequently - eventually you'll be able to quickly appraise what is useful to you and what isn't. What tends to happen, of course, is that you'll just start to find MOST things useful, which means you'll need a bigger craft drawer. But it also means you're REUSING, and that's definitely a good idea!

    Everything has a use, so long as it's safe (i.e. you can disinfect/clean it, it won't cut you, and it doesn't breed bacteria or carry viruses on it . . . so don't even think of touching a discarded syringe, for example! Or broken glass, since you don't know what bacteria are living on the sharp surface that could cut into your skin). Another no-no is one that's more likely to tempt you: the styrofoam trays meats and fish are packaged on at the supermarket. My Mom never let us use those for crafts, and after a degree in Microbiology, I'm tempted to call her up and thank her for that. Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 are NOT your pals!

    Have something that you feel MIGHT be useful but don't know what to do with it? You can ask me (comment below!) or do a search with the words 'recycled' or 'reuse'. Thriftyfun.com  has forums dedicated to this - you might find several ready-made ideas awaiting you! Don't forget the term "repurposed" and do make sure you check out Etsy.com for inspiration, just in case!

    Design*Sponge has a great section for 'before and after', best for bigger things like furniture. They also have some great ideas in the DIY section for smaller things - you may find inspiration there!

    I'll leave you with a craft project I made when I saw a pile of disused filament Christmas lights in the grass at Arbutus and Broadway. I didn't know exactly what I'd do with them (I actually thought I'd paint on the light bulbs with glass paint and hang them as individual ornaments or tie them to Christmas gift parcels), but it came to me later the same day.