thin camas

In praise of the pocket handkerchief

As a child, I remember that there were two things that my father always kept in his pocket: a penknife and a hanky.
Maybe I am too urban, but I don't carry a knife. I do, however, almost always carry a hanky. And it is amazing how often this comes in handy.

One thing you should know about me is that, almost every day of my life, I do at least two sets of rapid-fire sneezes so a hanky is of particular value to me ( you will think I am very weird and never read this site again). But, even if you are not weird like me, I promise you will find one useful (especially with kids and food around).

Although recycled tissues are now quite widely available, I am a firm believer in cloth handkerchiefs. They are less resource- and energy-intensive, kinder on the nose, more versatile and generally a most satisfying addition to life.
And for those of you who are squeamish: you don't have to wash them separately, nor at very high heat. They do just fine on a 40C quick wash in my household (and nobody seems to get sick as a result...).

I am pretty traditional and prefer a crisp cotton handkerchief (the type that you might see poking out of a breast pocket). But I am also willing to iron my hankies which - I recognize - puts me in a minority. Unironed (after line drying) they might be a bit stiff and unruly.

hankybook lots
If you are a non-ironer, there is help at hand as many of the organic handkerchiefs now available on-line are made from cotton jersey (non-fraying, stretchy and soft) rather than traditional cotton.
An interesting option, that is in my pocket even as I write, is the hanky book.

This is akin to a kids' cloth book (minus the stuffed cover). It is made of 4 sheets of organic cotton jersey sewn down the middle (so 8 pages) plus a coloured cottton `cover'. It is small (3" x 4" when folded closed). The idea is that you open it up, blow your nose on one of the `pages' and then close it. That way your bag/pocket/hand doesn't get contaminated by terrible things from your nose.

You have probably gathered that I am not squeamish about hankies, so this is not a big deal for me. However, the things works quite well and it's a neat idea, especially if it converts some tissue users to the cause. Hanky books cost $5 if bought in packs of 3 and $6 if bought separately. They ship to Canada at no great cost. If you are any good at all with a pair of scissors and a sewing machine, you could also make your own for much less (assuming you can source the cotton jersey).

hanky owls
Another, more traditional option comes from a company called Hank & Cheef. These are sewn in Vancouver using organic cotton from Turkey. I love the designs but my gripe is that the nicest ones occur on the regular-sized hankies which are really too small (8.5" square: a real handkerchief should be at least 10" square: dainty ladies' versions have never cut it with me). They sell only one 12" hanky and this is significantly over-priced (in my view) at $9.75. After all, you need at least 5 in your drawer to keep you covered.

So there you have it. In Canada, at least, it is tough to find regular hankies in the stores. Maybe that is not the case in Europe. I would hope not as I would really hate to see these items die out altogether. For now I have raided the back-up supplies of both my mother and my mother-in-law so I am in good shape....but they won't last forever (sadly: because I lose them, otherwise they pretty much do).

Right now I need all the hanky (and help) I can get as I have a lousy cold.
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Ever tried smoked tofu?

I am not a vegetarian, though from an eco perspective I know that is the right thing to be. I guess there is always room for improvement, though, as a pig farmer's daughter, it may take me a while to give up bacon and ham....Anyway, I don't eat that much meat and am always looking for tasty non-meat options.

I admit, I find tofu a hard thing to cook and an even harder thing to sell to the kids. Smoked tofu, on the other hand, is the school snack of choice of my very fussy five-year old.

I first discovered smoked tofu through my organic delivery box when I lived in Toronto, a whole lifetime ago (or so it seems now). I am big fan of things smoked, so I figured it was worth a shot. And what a great shot that turned out to be.

I have been seeking out Soya Nova Smoked Tofu ever since. The problem is that it is hard to find.

This tofu is very dense and dry so can easily be sliced and eaten as a snack, in a sandwich or in cooked food (none of that disconcerting wobble of fresh tofu....). It tastes delicious; you can almost feel the goodness. I have a great recipe for smoked tofu rice (with egg, celery, mushrooms, peas) and, just last night, I ate it it in a sushi roll. Yum.

Soya Nova is a traditional-style tofu shop located on Salt Spring Island in BC (for non-Canadians, this is a small island that lies between the west coast of Canada and Vancouver Island. It's quite a hip destination, lot's of good food, plant nurseries and massage...).

It is a family business that has been going for 26 years. They make a variety of tofu products marinated, curried, spread, etc. using traditional Japanese methods and all Canadian-grown, organic, non-GMO soy beans.

The process involves soaking the beans in water (the water they use is from a 250 foot deep well and they tell me it has a perfect pH balance, which is important since half the weight of tofu is water), draining them, rinsing them again and grinding them up with water to produce a slurry. The slurry is added to a large open cauldron of boiling water, cooked for 20 minutes and ladled into a cloth sack which is then pressed to extract the milk, and the soybean pulp (okara).

A natural coagulant is added which turns the soy milk into curds and whey. The curds are placed in cloth-lined stainless steel boxes and pressed with weights for 40 minutes, then cut up and immersed in cold water before packaging or smoking.

Now I have whet your appetite, here is the hard part. Soya Nova sells quite widely on the west coast of Canada and is available even as far east as Winnipeg. But Soya Nova no longer has a distributor in Ontario. In addition, although they have a Facebook page, they don't have a website, so it is hard to find out about the product.

But there is a solution. Deb is very helpful if you email her direct at or call her on 250-537-965. She send out parcels containing 12 x 225g packages of smoked tofu. These will arrive in 2 days and last several months in the fridge.

The cost is $3.50/package before shipping (which costs about $30 to Ontario: a lot, but not too bad if you average it per pack). So, your all-in price is about $6 per pack, which is not much more than the price the tofu sells for in stores on Salt Spring Island ($5.60 per pack, I am told). And it is great to have it delivered to your door.

I think it is worth it to go through this effort. I have tried a more commercial brand of smoked tofu and it is nowhere near as good. I'd be interested to know if there is a good similar product in the US.

And for those who live close to me and are interested: come by for a tasting, I have a fridge full right now!
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