Have you ever counted how many food items you actually stock up at home?
DORSCON Orange was officially declared on 7 February. What followed after was unbelievable: sights of empty supermarket food shelves where canned food, instant noodles, and rice used to stack neatly were widely shared on social media and made headlines for next two days. Even the earlier CNY promotions did not empty out the shops like 2019 nCoV did. You get the feeling something is terribly wrong when toilet papers were also being snapped up by worrying shoppers who went into panic-buying mode after the announcement was made.
Hubby asked if we need to buy anything before everything runs out. I confidently replied “No.” I have been sticking to my buy-enough-to-cook-four-meals shopping habit for years. Despite the lean grocery list, I find myself often cleaning out my pantry to use up older, expiring food. And I never run out of things to cook.
Food waste is a huge problem in Singapore, 763 million kg was generated in 2018. Of all the food waste created by households, rice and noodles are the most common types : exactly what everyone is hoarding now. How much will be wasted in time to come?
I may sound like a broken record, but if everyone buys and cooks the amount that they can finish, food waste problem will be easy to avoid. I took a quick inventory check before prepping today’s lunch. I have not shopped for the last five days, yet I found enough to make at least six more meals with my kitchen stock of fresh and processed food.
I thought it is pretty impressive, given how little I shop. Although the frantic buying seems to have subsided, nothing beats forming a good habit to know what you already have at home before a grocery shopping trip. I am sharing my inventory list, including meat items that I don’t consume, but rest of my family members do. I counted over 160 food items stored either in my pantry, fridge or freezer! The best thing you can do before filling the shopping cart with impulse, or worse, panic buys, is an inventory check of what you already have at home. Save the rice, noodles and canned food for people who really need them.
// Unopened Items
001. Olive Oil 2L
002. Suki Chilli Sauce ^ bought for CNY
003. Canned Bailing Mushrooms x 2
004. Canned Sardines x 2
005. Canned Cream of Mushroom
006. Pink Salt
006. Condensed Milk
007. Coconut Cream
008. Sambal Chilli
009. Bean Paste
010. Ground Vietnam Coffee
011. Peanut Butter
012. Cashew Nut Cookies ^
013. Green Tea Powder
014. Green Tea Leaves
015. Digestive Biscuits
016. Instant Yuzu and Honey Powder Beverage
017. Cake Mix
018. Brownie Mix
019. Tomato Sauce Hotpot Soup Mix ^
020. Mala Stir-Fry Sauce ^
021. Moneyhead Mushroom Herbal Soup Pack
022. Herbal Soup Pack ^
023. White Rice Cakes 300g ^
024. Spaghetti Pasta 500g x 2
025. Dried Udon Noodle 360g
026. Mee Swa 300g x 2 ^
027. Mixed Rice x 3.6KG
// Opened Items: Rice
028. White Rice
029. Black Rice
// Opened Items: Oil, Sauces, Spices
030. Apple Cider Vinegar
031. Sesame Oil
032. Olive Oil
033. Cooking Wine
035. Black Soy Sauce
037. Sea Salt
038. Brown Sugar
039. Vanilla Extract
040. Tumeric Power
041. Cumin Powder
042. Coriander Powder
044. Star Anise
045. Cinnamon Sticks
046. Corn Flour
047. Mala Stir-Fry Sauce ^
// Opened Items: Breakfast and Snacks
048. Ground Coffee
049. Almond Powder
050. Thai Tea Dust
051. Instant Coffee Granules
052. Milo Powder
053. Chinese Pu’er Tea Leaves
054. Sticky Rice Tea
055. Raw Honey
056. Peanut Butter, Creamy
057. Peanut Butter, Unsalted, Unsweetened
058. Quick Cook Oatmeal
059. Rolled Oats
060. Wholegrain Oats
062. Almond Nuts ^
063. Dehydrated Mango
064. Dried Prunes
065. Mixed Nuts ^
066. Marshmallows ^
067. Chocolate Bars ^
// Opened Items: Dry Goods
070. Dried Mushrooms
071. Bean Stick/ Tau Kee
072. Plain Flour
073. Self-Raising Flour
074. Chinese Barley
075. Holland Barley
076. Candied Melon Strips
077. Brown Sugar Bars
078. Dried Sago Pearls
079. Black Eye Peas
080. Black Beans
081. Red Beans
082. Assorted Instant Noodles x 21
083. White Rice Cakes
084. Sweet Potato Noodles
085. Red Onions
086. Garlic Bulbs
087. Mandarin Oranges ^ x 6
088. Oranges x 7
089. Apples x 4
090. Pears x 3
// Inside The Chiller
093. Soy Milk
094. Cow’s Milk
095. Prune Juice
096. Ribena Concentrate ^
097. Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
098. Liquid Amino
099. Light Soy Sauce
100. Chilli Sauce
101. Tomato Ketchup
102. Plum Sauce
103. Ketchup Manis Sweet Sauce
104. Hot Broad Bean Paste
105. Chilli Paste
106. Thai Vegetarian Chilli Paste
107. Suki Chilli Sauce ^
108. Red Wine Lees
109. Red Fermented Bean Curd
110. Spicy Fermented Bean Curd
111. Kewpie Mayonnaise
112. Japanese Curry
113. White/Black Sesame Seeds
114. Flax Seeds
115. Chia Seeds
116. Wholemeal Flour
117. Cheddar Cheese Slices
118. Cheddar Cheese Block
121. Yogurt Natural
122. Yogurt Strawberry Flavour
124. Milk Powder
125. Baking Soda
126. Baking Powder
127. Instant Yeast
129. Mee Swa, opened box
130. Red Pepper Powder
131. Dried Longans, Large
132. Dried Longans, Small
133. Dried Red Dates, Large
134. Dried Red Dates, Small
136. Peach Gum
137. Pine Nuts
138. Fried Bean Sticks
139. Silken Tofu
140. Miso Paste
141. Preserved Olive Vegetables
142. Pickled cucumber
143. Bak Kwa ^
144. Condensed Milk
145. Evaporated Milk
// Fresh Produce
146. Enoki Mushrooms
147. King Oyster Mushrooms
150. Bok Choy
// Inside The Freezer
152. Stale White Bread
153. Kueh Lapis^
154. Shabu Shabu Pork Slices^
155. Pork Ribs
156. Swedish Meatballs^
157. Chicken Nuggets^
158. French Fries^
159. Coconut Ice Cream^
160. Ice Cream Cones^
161. Rice Balls, Black Sesame Filling^
162. Julienned Carrots
Getting used to the routine of a full-time-working-mum means jam-packing my weekends with column-writing/ volunteering/ baking/ DIY projects. This schedule leaves me with little time to try out new DIY projects, only those that are simple enough made it to my to-do list.
Luckily, my life-changing shampoo is one of those easy to make ones; a mixture of tea seed/ camellia powder and water. I can hardly call it a “project” when all I do is combining two ingredients in a bottle and ending the two-step instructions with “shake to mix well.” But it still amazes me how something so simple AND affordable ($4.90 for 1kg) balances my oily scalp when no commercial shampoo can do so. I wouldn’t describe my current hair type as silky smooth but at least no longer limp and greasy.
The only thing I miss most from using commercial shampoo is a headful of great smelling hair after stepping out from the bathroom.
That’s why DIY kaffir lime shampoo intrigued me since the citrus fruit produces a beautiful fragrance.
I first stumbled upon the recipe via this 10-minute clip, but I could not find kaffir limes. I realised much later that this ingredient, common in Thai cooking, is sold by the florists in the wet markets. This is because customers buy them along with flower offerings as kaffir limes are believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. How interesting!
After a thorough scrub-clean with salt, boil to cook them in a pot filled with enough water to submerge the fruit. I make a small fresh batch weekly with 6 to 8 big sized kaffir limes. This usually costs me around $2. After 15 minutes of cooking, the peel turns yellowish, and the fruit is cooked to soft. Quarter the limes with scissors and transfer the entire pot contents, fruit and water, to a blender jar. I don’t have a countertop blender, so I use an immersion blender. Hence, I simply pour everything to a narrower but taller beaker to make sure my immersion blender blades are fully submerged during use.
Blend for a few minutes until you get a relatively smooth mixture.
This is not technically speaking not smooth enough, but it is the best my immersion blender can achieve. A counter-top blender can probably produce a creamier version.
Next, I strain the mixture to yield a smooth and creamy “shampoo”.
Then I strain the pulp residue further with a cheesecloth/milk bag, no wastage.
Bring the “shampoo” to boil again to sterilise, cool it completely and transfer to a squeeze bottle. Store in the fridge.
I add the pulp to my compost pot, hoping to produce organic fertiliser for my sweet basil plants.
To use, dilute shampoo with water (I use 1 part shampoo 4 parts water) and massage to dry scalp, rinse thoroughly. This shampoo doesn’t lather like commercial shampoo. Add one to two drops of castile soap to the mixture if you are not used to it, then slowly reduce or remove the soap altogether after a few weeks.
More on kaffir limes:
// this post by the Permaculture Sydney West has a long list of uses for kaffir limes
// this kaffir lime marmalade
// make kaffir lime tarts
// the leaves!
All these make me want to grow my own kaffir lime tree!
When I think of zero-waste bulk stores, small shops in the neighbourhood centres come to my mind first; wet markets for packaging-free grocery, hardware stores for spare parts and stainless-steel-everything, Chinese medical halls for loose-leaf herbal tea or medicine, even dried rose buds and lavendar, all sans the plastic bags.
I have shared so many of my zero-waste wet market grocery shopping attempts here and here that I started to wonder if I am boring everyone to death. So it was really a pleasant surprise when Mothership picked up one of my posts and shared it here.
If you want to find out more about zero-waste grocery shopping in the heartlands, start by exploring the wet markets first. Check out what your nearest wet market offers.
To locate a wet market near you, try these sites:
1)I found a list of markets on data.gov.sg, a very interesting website to gather local statistics and data. Unfortunately, it was last updated back in December 2016.
2) There is another list in PDF format on NEA’s website available for download here.
Here are 5 things I buy #byo style from the wet markets, that always surprise people who have not been to one before!
1. Ground Coffee
Not your atas single-origin coffee for a home-brew flat white. These are Nanyang-style blends, roast to perfection for making a full-bodied kopi-o. Bring a small air-tight container, no more than 500g volume. The stall-holder will tell you the coffee aroma escapes immediately after grinding. If left standing unconsumed for too long, the grounds will end up only good enough for scrubbing body or absorbing odour in the air.
2. Plain Flour
Prima Mill’s “for-professionals” ranges of flour are available through the dry goods stores inside the wet markets. I have come across two types: Flying Fish brand (my favourite, with a 10.8% protein level) and Necklace brand (9.5% protein level.) Let me know which one your nearest store carry! My container allows me to buy up to 2kg of flour.
3. Grains and Nuts
Offering varies, depending on the size of the wet market. I usually get my walnuts here. You can also buy raw almond and peanuts, bake them into healthy snacks. I bring drawstring bags to make it easier for stallholders to weigh and pack. Once I reach home, I will transfer them to air-tight containers.
4. Assorted “Old-School” Biscuits
Bring an air-tight container. Avoid the temptation to buy too many types!
5. Chinese Preserved Vegetables (酸菜，咸菜，大菜，四川菜。。。）
These pickles are great for adding flavours to Chinese-style meatless soups. The stalls sell them by weight, this means buying according to requirement, say, a quarter head of the preserved cabbage instead of the entire head. Bring a leak-proof container, and……
… a reusable shopping bag to pack everything, of course!
Happy zero-waste shopping in the heartlands!
Update (29.09.19): A failed attempt no more!
Photo above, this is the first batch of scones I made.
And this is from the second batch, made one week apart from my failed first attempt. A very steep learning curve, Hurray!
I think the first batch of scones did not rise nicely because I did not use a proper cookie/pastry cutter at first.
Not that I use a proper one now too, read on….
Recognise this “round cookie cutter?”
I upcycled from a 7-cm wide condensed milk tin by removing both ends using a can opener, making sure that there are no sharp points that could cause injury. If a 7cm-wide scone is too big, find a smaller metal tin to upcycle.
One more thing to note: always WASH AND WIPE DRY IMMEDIATELY after using, so that the metal tin will not rust.
I am going to keep baking scones with this recipe because everyone loves it!
Double Cream Scones
recipe from here but I first read it here Yields 10-12 pcs Ingredients 1 egg 50ml double cream 180ml milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 450g self-raising flour, sifted 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt** 50g caster sugar 110g cold unsalted butter, cut into small 1/2-inch cubes glaze: 1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon milk
// Note 001 ** the recipe calls for a large pinch of salt. I used 1/2 teaspoon.
Preheat oven to 180C.
In a small mixing bowl, combine egg, double cream, milk and vanilla extract and mix well. Set this mixture aside.
In a larger mixing bowl, mix self-raising flour, baking powder, and salt.
Run butter into the flour mixture with fingertips until they resemble bread crumbs. Create a well in the centre and add three-quarter of the liquid mixture. Stir gently with a fork, proceed to add the remaining liquid mixture until everything comes together to form a soft, shaggy dough.
Pour dough onto a floured workbench, using a scraper, gather dough together.
Gently fold the dough in overlapping directions about 4-6 times, without applying too much pressure on the dough. The surface should look less craggy by now, lightly pat dough into a circle.
Sprinkle a little more flour on the dough if it is too sticky. Use fingers to pat it to about 2.5cm thick.
Dip a round pastry cutter (5.7cm wide) in flour to coat surface, then firmly stamp out 6 scones.
Important: Lift up the paster cutter, do not twist -doing so will seal the sides and the scones will not rise up tall and straight. (like my failed ones below, which cracked!)
Gently gather the remaining dough together, lightly re-roll and cut out more scones.
Transfer scones to a baking tray, leaving two inches of gap between.
Brush top with glaze mixture.
Bake scones for 17-19 minutes, until well-risen or golden brown.
I baked my 7-cm wide ones to 20 minutes at least to make sure they cook through.
Transfer scones to wire rack to cool slightly. Best served warm.
Extra tip: according to the recipe, unbaked scones can be frozen and baked at a later time. When ready to bake, simply brush glaze on top and bake for 24-25 minutes at 180C.
After baking my own bread at home for so many years, I am so used to removing pretty loaves like this and this out from the oven. When I saw my first finished bake from the bread machine, I can’t help feeling disappointed. A shapeless loaf with a crust that looked too smooth/shiny/thick. I didn’t know where to start slicing.
Yup. I finally bought myself a breadmaker. It’s so difficult to find an opportunity to make bread at home lately. The bread-making process is not difficult; just plenty of watching and waiting. 15 minutes here, 60 minutes there, another 40 minutes of something, before finally bake it in the oven for 30 minutes. Followed by the tedious job of cleaning the kitchen tools and utensils after cooking: measuring bowls and spoons, mixer bowls, dough hook, and kitchen board…
So I revisited my wish for a bread machine, looking forward to fresh, healthy, homemade bread every morning. The decision process was pretty fast because I have done my homework so many times in the past. I chose a model that comes with a ceramic-coated pan, instead of a Teflon version. The rest is then up to my relearning journey to convert past recipes into breadmaker-friendly versions. My first two attempts were alright, edible but nothing close to the texture I have perfected with natural bread improver using root vegetables.
As with my past kitchen experiments, I am journalling it here so that I can refer to it and improve as I bake more often. A third loaf is cooling on the rack as I type.
For my own reference only. If you have the same breadmaker (it’s a Song-Cho) and a tried and tested recipe for it, share with me!
Experiment No.1 "Pumpkin Loaf" //Ingredients: Water 250ml Butter 24g Salt 1 tsp Sugar 3 Tbs Flour 420g Pumpkin puree 100g Milk powder 2 Tbs Instant yeast 1 tsp //Menu Selection: 4.Sweet Size@1.5lb Crust color@light
I pen a monthly column in the Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, sharing with the readers my eco-friendly habits and tips. Here is the loosely translated version of my article that was published on 5 August 2019.
How does one pick up environmental friendly habits and eventually stick to this seemingly inconvenient zero waste lifestyle? Compare bringing along own set of reusables such as utensils, lunch boxes, shopping bags, and drinking bottles versus accepting single-use plastic/paper/styrofoam disposables; worry-free shopping day out as the latter, right?
Even the stallholders are sometimes surprised by my bring-your-own (byo) efforts to go green. Occasionally, one would attempt to be encouraging by complimenting me to be “saving the earth and the world” by going zero waste. It is heartening to know that they are willing to accede to my requests to pack my order in my lunch box despite causing a temporary disruption to their “assembly line”. However, I am also discouraged by the fact that I am the only person in the queue (sometimes, the entire hawker centre) that refuses disposable containers, utensils and plastic bags for my order.
In July, I attended an environmental talk hosted by the Temasek Shophouse. As the young entrepreneurs shared their journeys in setting up their social enterprises that tackle the local food waste issue, all attributed their commercial breakthroughs to an essential aspect of their business model; that it must make economic sense to their customers, either help them make a fatter profit or save on operational costs. Just show ’em the money.
Assuming altruism doesn’t exist, how do I convince my peers to make the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle then? I came up with four reasons, four pragmatic ones, inspired by the Economics 101 lesson takeaway from the Temasek Shophouse session (check out more upcoming events here.)
1. BYO habit saves me money
In our throw-away society, many have been conditioned to pay an additional 20 to 50 cents for the use of plastic containers for their takeaway orders. These can add up if takeaway food orders are frequent. Recently, some retailers have begun to charge for plastic bags, while cafes offer discounts to customers who bring their own reusable tumblers. My nylon shopping bags and stainless steel tumblers are now money-saving tools!
2. Zero-waste lifestyle saves me time.
Before going plastic-free, I spent a considerable amount of time sorting and cleaning stashes of recyclable PET containers and packaging materials. A small recycling corner slowly expanded to cover half a storeroom with piles of “craft supplies” to-be waiting for me to work my upcycling magic. Luckily, it dawned on me quickly that my rate of upcycling too low for my plastic waste producing rate. I decided to stop accepting single-use plastics, and this simple step amazingly frees up a copious amount of time, now that I no longer need to deal with these avoidable plastic junk.
3. Place restrictions to boost creativity
According to this article, creativity can be boosted by restrictions as “the limiting nature of the task can bring out your most creative side.” Without always relying on convenient and cheap disposables as my go-to solutions, I started exploring different waste-free alternatives or come up with my own solutions through improvisation or thinking out of the box. Treat going single-use-plastic-free as a creative exercise for the brain!
Aside from creativity, I also picked up the good habit of planning ahead on what reusables I carry out as well as the discipline to stick to my shopping list based on the number of bags and containers I bring along.
4. Earth-friendly habits promote a healthier lifestyle
You may have heard of plastic pollution affecting the water and air quality, and marine life. How about the problem of micro-plastics invading our own body? As it turns out, what we thought we have thrown out as rubbish is coming back to haunt us, through ingestion. Scientists have found traces of micro-plastics in the food we eat, such as fish and even salt.
It’s awfully uncomfortable watching stallholders pouring boiling hot soup into disposable plastic containers as harmful chemicals from plastic containers could leach into the food. For the sake of my health, I would rather be safe by choosing takeaways packed in my own stainless steel Tingkat containers, even if this seems to be slightly more inconvenient way of pack food, compared to getting disposables.
These are some of my pragmatic reasons for turning green. What’s yours?
If you asked me what shifted my lifestyle to go eco-friendly, I would tell you about “TRASHED“, a documentary film released in 2012 that greatly influenced my plastic-free habits today. The scenes where an endless trail of toxic plastic waste piled up in the landfills or washed ashore will make one wonder how much single-use plastics everyone in the world goes through every day to create such a big environmental mess. It didn’t take me long to raise the sustainable flag and begin my zero waste journey after watching the film.
Determined to weed out all single-use disposables and unnecessary (or unavoidable, in some cases) packaging waste, I turned to the family-run provision stores, traditional medical halls and wet markets in the neighbourhood as my less trendy solution to zero waste grocery stores, think bulk food stores minus the neat transparent dispensers, stylish canisters, and minimalistic decor.
Utility comes first. An array of food items is displayed in the bags or cartons that they are delivered in. Canned food and bottled sauces are stacked up to fill any space left on the shelves or walls.
Besides getting my regular supply of fresh produce and dry foodstuff from these stores, I also made friends with a seamstress (who has helped mend countless seams and replaced worn-out elastic bands) and a hardware store owner (who finds my love for old-school enamel wares and natural bristle brushes amusing,) What a vast ecosystem that supports a waste-less lifestyle!
These stores are only as zero waste as you allow them to be. These small business owners have also kept up with Marketing101, packaging their products in clear shiny plastic bags to attract customers. But there are still plenty of choices that don’t come prepacked or sealed, these are what I usually go for.
Not all stallholders are prepped for zero waste shoppers though, but thankfully the ones that I patronised are patient enough to accede to requests for purchases packed in my own containers or bags. To save the stallholders’ time so that they can attend to more customers, I usually make my zero waste check out system as less hassle as possible for them, I can do the organising when I reach home.
Here are some of the packing habits I have adopted over years of shopping at traditional wet markets:
1. Put all purchase on the table. Stand back and admire the produce at their prettiest, sans plastic wrappers.
// I usually buy just enough groceries to cook about four meals, so that I don’t overpack my fridge and end up blocking the much-needed air circulation to keep the air cold.
2. Remove these rubber bands before wrapping the vegetables with newspapers and storing them inside the fridge.
// I always stop the stallholder from packing the greens in plastic bags, they usually loosely cover the roots with newspaper to preventing soiling my shopping bag.
3. Wrap hardy vegetables like bitter gourd, carrot, lettuce, broccoli or cauliflower in homemade beeswax wraps or newspapers. Store in the fridge.
// I notice that produce kept in beeswax wraps stay fresh longer, but I don’t recommend buying and keeping vegetables for more than two weeks just because they are wrapped in beeswax wrap!
5. Store vegetables that need not be stored inside the fridge in a breathable paper sack on the kitchen counter.
// Includes garlic, onions, tomato, potato, and today, I also bought monk fruit aka Luo Han Guo to make cooling tea.
6. Rinse to wash firm tofu, add water to cover tofu, store in a container and keep in the fridge.
// Wet market sells firm tofu and regular tofu without plastic packaging. Just bring a container of the right size. I love tofu, explore tofu recipes here and here, differentiate different types of tofu here and here!
7. Button mushrooms are almost always sold in cling wrapped plastic boxes. On occasions when I see them in paper box, I will grab enough to make a meal. I will place the whole box inside the fridge. They brown fast, so best kept in its original packaging with enough space to breath. This site suggests storing in a paper bag.
8. Rinse and hang dry produce bags and shopping bags immediately, ready for the next grocery shopping trip.
// Why buy when there are free ones? I asked for these mesh bags which the stalls discard. Useful for buying fruits.
There you go, all nicely wrapped and organised. The next step is to start cooking and use up the groceries!
// unlimited supply of sweet basil at home, it’s that simple.
// found a random encouragement note in a library book. I am not alone.
// removing labels from jars and containers without leaving any adhesive residue behind should be this easy to encourage reusing and recycling. Refilling these emptied detergent bottles with DIY citrus infused vinegar cleaner.
// mom couldn’t resist buying a box of unbelievably-cheap-but-expiring-really-really-soon Betty Crocker pancake mix from the discount store but needed help to finish. That’s how I ended up having pancakes AND waffles for breakfast.
// gave my favourite good morning towel a make-over using natural food dye: turmeric, a shade that I really love after using it for my DIY beeswax food wrap.
// using food dye means I can use my cooking pot for the project.
// because every drop counts. Transferring cooking oil to a repurposed glass bottle.