Zero Waste: Toilet Paper

Zero Waste: Toilet Paper

Of course these two things are a contradiction in terms. Toilet paper is perhaps the ultimate in waste: a single-use item that gets flushed down the toilet. Talk about mindless usage. Recently I’ve been rather fixating on how to improve our consumption of toilet paper. Costco stopped selling Cascades recycled toilet paper and so I decided to stop buying vast quantities of TP from there. Instead I bought PC Green from the Emporium of Bread Swindling. This assuaged my conscience about using virgin wood pulp (hello, songbird habitat!) to wipe our bums.

In an ideal world, one would use not have to dispose of a manufactured product every time one relieved oneself. I have been informed by a reliable source that any suggestion of reusable wiping technology would immediately void my marriage vows. I’m rather attached to my marriage vows, so I’ll avoid that solution. We have to buy something for this purpose, and I thought PC Green might do the trick. But not quite.

20180209_133506The spouse is the designated toilet paper fairy in the house. We have one nice main bathroom and one horrible basement bathroom that is strictly used as a last resort. He is responsible for keeping the TP stocked in the bathrooms. Our stash lives in the basement pantry and he keeps an eye on supply in the loos and refills as necessary. When we redid our bathroom, he built in a little shelf for it so that if the roll ran out, you could actually reach it from a seated position, as it were. If the nook is full, we can have 4 rolls in the bathroom at the same time. It turns out that the change from acquiring 48 rolls at a time to 12 rolls at a time undermines the toilet paper fairy’s sense of security. All of a sudden I was fielding a lot of questions about whether I was planning to buy toilet paper that week. Are you mad, spouse? We still have five rolls.

The problem is that PC Green does not come in massive packages, so if I want to buy 48 rolls at a time (no problem with the cargo bike, or if I take some children as donkeys with me on a pedestrian shopping trip) I end up buying a lot of plastic packaging instead. Thinking about the plastic made me consider whether I could find a solution that involved no plastic at all.

Now, if everyone would just use moss or leaves in a composting toilet, then I could have everything, but we’re not there yet as a household. The teenager is already accusing me of conspiring to get rid of our running water. No chance. I’m very fond of the bathtub and the washing machine.

I believe I have found a solution that fulfils all the criteria:

1. No using songbird habitat for “personal care”.
2. No limping by on stingy little packages of twelve rolls each.
3. No reusable, washable cloths.
4. No plastic packaging.

Sadly the solution involves the retailing behemoth that purveys many goods online, but I can’t have everything and that’s not on my list of criteria. It’s rather alarming to blow almost $100 on TP at once, but it’s not going to go off, is it?

Lo! A box containing 80 rolls of toilet paper, wrapped in paper, delivered to my house. The toilet paper fairy can have the security of abundance and I can stop thinking about sourcing toilet paper every ten minutes. There is one slight drawback: the texture of this paper is slightly “Memories of the Public Library”. Sigh.

Teaching Kids to Cook: Stir-fry

A nine-year-old made this: Baked tofu, rice and stir-fried baby bok choy. It was delicious. She was very proud of herself. These recipes are of course perfectly suitable for adults to cook too. Here’s how:

Simple Baked Tofu (based on the recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics) and known in our house as Tofood, thanks to toddler pronunciation

1 package extra-firm tofu
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 375°C. Cut the tofu into bite-size cubes, and toss in a 9×13 baking dish or a cookie sheet, with oil, garlic and soy sauce. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring about every ten minutes. We like ours really chewy so we turn off the oven and leave it in there while the rice is cooking. It is delicious and moreish and one of my sisters calls it crackfu.


Boiled rice, as taught to me by my dad, who remained convinced, even after he had five children, that one cup of rice would always be enough. He is otherwise a completely marvellous cook.

Use 1 cup of rice for every three people. Add two cups of water for each cup of rice, and put pot on high heat. When the pot boils, turn it down to low. Check it after about 15 minutes. Once there are holes in the surface of the rice and no water is visible, turn it off and leave the lid on.

So, you see where this is going? Two out of the three parts of this meal can sit happily and wait while the stir-frying takes place in all its splattery goodness.

Stir-fried greens in oyster sauce, from the Young Thailand cookbook. Young Thailand is a restaurant in Toronto and going there was one of our favourite treats when we lived there. I have not been able to find gluten-free oyster sauce, so I just use soy sauce instead.

A bunch of any kind of greens, such as bok choy. We used 6 baby bok choys and doubles the sauce quantities for five people, one of whom hates cooked greens.
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tbsp cold water (As you mix it, you and the child can talk about how it’s a non-Newtonian liquid in that the pressure of the spoon causes the liquid to act like a solid for a few second. Newtonian liquids, like water, don’t do this).

20180130_181700.jpgChop the greens into a size you would like to eat. Heat oil until very hot in a wok or large frying pan. Add garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, making sure it does not darken. Add greens and water and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until the greens are starting to wilt. Add the sauces of your choice and cook for about 1 more minute. Add your non-Newtonian liquid and cook briefly until the veggies look shiny and you have a little sauce around them.

Serve your masterpieces!

Our younger two (nine and twelve) started learning to cook in January. The teenager started cooking one meal a week when he was ten. He has always been interested in food, and he started complaining that my cooking was getting boring. “Be my guest,” I said. It would be inaccurate to say I taught him to cook. I prevented the occasional conflagration, but this is a child whom it has always been difficult to instruct. He wants to puzzle out everything for himself. In the early days, while he was figuring out that recipes gave quantities for a reason, we ate some odd meals. The Japanese noodle salad with a whole package of dried seaweed in it, instead of a quarter of a cup, lingers in my memory as one of the saltiest meals I have ever eaten. He persisted, and last week he made homemade macaroni cheese based on a beautiful cheese sauce. When I’m ill, I know he can step in and make sure the household is fed. And that’s the goal. Yes, we want the children to be able to look after themselves, but what they really need to is to be able to look after other people

It’s a different story with my younger children. They relish the idea of cooking lessons. Little has hers on Tuesday and Middle’s is on Wednesday. We start at 4;30 at the latest, for a 6 pm dinner. Cooking takes a lot of time for beginners. I’m trying to teach them useful menus to have up their sleeves, as well as the art of making what it is in the house. Little’s first meal was chicken noodle soup, made from homemade stock and leftover chicken from Sunday dinner. I showed her how to serve it with chopped vegetables, herbs, lime juice and hot sauce in little bowls so that everyone could make it to their own taste. After struggles with the garlic press, she exclaimed, “I didn’t know you had to be a body-builder to cook.” Once the meal was ready, she professed surprise at how hard on the legs cooking is, and how tiring. I concurred, remembering the joyful days of bathing the toddler, putting the baby to bed, and getting supper on the table, all by 6 pm. That first week, Middle made meatloaf and baked potatoes and broccoli. Once we were sitting at the table eating their meal, each of them had an expression of delighted disbelief: “I made that, and it’s good.”

Cooking has made them notice the work others do in the kitchen, and appreciate it more. It’s one thing to be vaguely aware that there is activity in the kitchen that results in a meal, and quite another to produce the meal yourself. It’s like watching Olympic snowboarding and then trying to snowboard on your local hill. It has made them think about food differently. Middle, always, shall we say, a discerning eater, decided to try out the lettuce he had torn and washed himself, and he actually liked it. He was completely thrilled to be using the salad spinner all by himself. He also suggested a lesson on roast chicken so that when he was a grown-up he could invite people over for dinner and cook it for them. One Sunday his dad taught him how to do it, along with the roast potatoes for which the spouse is renowned.

The rules in our house are simple. Don’t complain; you only have to do this once a week. Cook from scratch; opening a jar and calling it spaghetti sauce does not count. Whatever you serve, we have to eat. Right down to the saltiest noodle salad in the history of the world. But mostly it’s a joy for all of us.

Time to get the lunchboxes down again

Time to get the lunchboxes down again

Two years ago, we decided to splash out and buy new lunchboxes. The old ones were smelly, stained, creased and too small, and that was after one year of use. We had experimented with metal ones, but they were poorly made and the rivets popped or the clasps broke. Surely there must be some sort of lunchbox that was made to last, to be bashed around, and that would survive the numerous yoghurt explosions that seem to be our lot.

And then I found the perfect thing: made in Canada to last 30 years. The Miner’s Lunchbox was invented by Leo May, a miner at INCO in Sudbury, Ontario. He wanted a lunchbox he could sit on. I’m not sure our children have ever done that, but their lunchboxes do get hard wear. The lunchboxes have been made in Sudbury ever since 1956 and at one point almost all of INCO’s miners had a lunchbox from L. May Mfg. I ordered one red anodized version and one bubblegum pink version from They are not cheap; at that time they cost $65 each, plus shipping. They have been worth it a thousand times. OK, possibly not literally, since $13o, 000 for two lunchboxes would be a bit steep.20160905_185724

They are now beginning their third year and look only slightly worn. In that time, I would have bought at least two more soft-shell lunchboxes, which I would have washed by hand and then waited for them to dry at their usual achingly slow pace. The carrots would have left marks on the inside and the split yoghurt would have made the zipper edges stinky. Now, no matter what disaster comes home in those miners’ lunchboxes, I just wash them with the dishes, and they drip dry in two minutes, all ready for the children to fill them again.

And now the best part: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of packed lunches I have made for children. One reason is that we are mean slave-driving parents who have the children make their own lunches from grade two onwards. They have to pack a vegetable, a fruit, a starch and a protein, and otherwise the choice is theirs. Since it’s the first week, they are allowed to take a pudding as well. One of them packs the exact same thing every day. The other two love taking leftovers, veggies and dip and a wide variety of fruit.

The other reason is that I was raised in a household where my dad made the lunches. I can still remember the taste of slightly soggy cookies, wrapped up in wax paper along with a salami sandwich, and bearing the perfume of that same salami. We had to make our lunches starting in grade seven, and packed them in manila envelopes. My mother got a lot of manuscripts in the mail at that time, and I often ate my lunch out of a big UNESCO envelope.

I emerged from the parental home with the firm belief that women do not pack lunches. When I moved in with the spouse, we made a bargain that he would make the lunches until the end of time, and I would do all the ironing to the end of time. It’s 23  years later, and we’re still happy with the arrangement. Unfortunately, my equally firm belief that women do not vacuum or go grocery-shopping did not survive.