My Favorite Things
Now I’m no Oprah, but I am often asked what my favorite things for plant-based cooking and zero waste are. Being zero waste I don’t often recommend going out and buying new things. However, I recommend these items because they are durable, well-warrantied, and cut down on garbage production. I’m very careful about what we purchase, making sure they are safe for us and the environment and vegan. Many of these items will help you and your family eat more healthfully while making cooking and prepping more efficient. So, if you’re looking for things to fill your shopping list, here are things that we use and love.
I’ve organized it into kitchen, laundry/travel, and bath items.
Alright, I thought this was going to be a complete joke, but I was so wrong! Alan picked this up years ago after watching a demonstration where they used this peeler to peel a pineapple. We don’t generally peel our pineapples, but we peel everything else with this peeler. It’s sharp, works on everything, comfortable to use, and super efficient. It will peel your fingernails and skin too, so you want to be careful! I’m not a fan of the packaging and we don’t use the julienne tool much, but the peeler is simply the best. Most other peelers only last a couple years, if that, and this is still going strong with no signs of fatigue.
This was a gift from my mom. I’d really wanted a mandoline, but this is so much more. Not only can you cut uniform thick or thin slices, but you can cut fine juilenne and batonnet too. The blades are super sharp surgical steel and I have no problem slicing hard vegetables like celery root or beets. You can wash all parts of this slicer in the dishwasher too. I’ve had this slicer for 20 years, and it’s just as sturdy and sharp as the first time I used it. It makes cutting fast and easy and makes anyone look like an absolute pro!Microplane Cut Resistant Glove
Make all the Michael Jackson jokes you want here, but this glove will save your fingers! This was another gift from my mom (isn’t she so clever?). I thought it was a little silly at the time. However, it has saved my fingers so many times that I cannot go without recommending this single silver glove. I use it when I’m slicing things with the Borner Slicer, grater, and sometimes when I’m peeling with the Titan Peeler in a hurry and I’m concerned about my fingertips. It’s also terrific when teaching knife skills to new cooks. It will work for right- or left-handed people as it’s reversible. And they’re machine-washable too!
This is the key to baking and roasting without oil or worrisome nonstick surfaces. These silicone baking sheets are the best and extremely durable. I’ve had mine for years and years and they’re just as nonstick as when I first got them. I use them in my freezer, too, when I want to freeze fruits and vegetables individually to put into freezer containers (see After Party Food and Phantom of the Okra). They come in different sizes, so make sure what you pick up fits your trays.
I received these silicone muffin cups from one of Alan’s daughters after I oohed and ahhed at hers. They are the best! These replace disposable, single-use paper/foil cupcake/muffin liners. You can use them in muffin tins or on a baking sheet as they are sturdy enough to keep their form while baking. There’s even a line inside to show the common “2/3 full” height for making perfect cupcakes. They’re perfect if you want to make oil-free cupcakes or muffins without them getting stuck in the muffin tin! They clean up great and are dishwasher-safe. These even come in different shapes, like hearts (which Alan’s daughter gifted me as well). There are other brands with other colors out there, but I’ve not used them, just these, which are awesome!
This is a fun way to get kids (and grownups, too) excited about vegetables. Easily turn veggies into spirals and curlicues. I love to spiralize carrots, summer squash, sweet potatoes, celery root, beets, radishes, and more! Spiralized veggies are great to eat on their own, but a nice change in a salad or sandwich, like my Sweet Potato Bahn Mi. I also like to use them as noodles for a raw Asian noodle salad topped with a spicy, tangy peanut sauce using nut butter I made in the Cuisinart, or even steam the vegetable spirals and top with your favorite pasta or cheese sauce.
You’ll never need to use plastic produce bags ever again! I’ve used these bags for over a decade and I adore them! They are lightweight, you can see the contents, and the stores can scan right through them. The bags are perfect for any type of produce and even large grains and beans from bulk bins. I also use them as a straining bag when I make soy milk or Coffee Liqueur. They wash up great in the washing machine and I simply hang them to dry on our Wall-Mounted Drying Rack as the pull strings tend to get all wrapped around other items when dried in the clothes dryer. These will have a huge impact on reducing waste in your home.
Do you love infused water but hate having all the fruits, vegetables, and herbs messing up pouring yourself a glass? Me too! I love that this pitcher is glass and stainless, not plastic, and a big size, too. The top has a screen system just like a French Press tea or coffee pot except that it is fixed, no plunger. Fill your pitcher up with all the good things you want to infuse your water with (here’s a bunch of great combinations), top with water, refrigerate, and serve without making a big mess or getting chunks of things in your drinking glass.
I was a late adapter to the electric pressure cooker, thinking it was a fad. However, after using them with friends and family, I ended up getting one, two, seven…I have one for home, one for teaching, and have bought many as gifts. These are just so easy to use and very versatile (this particular model will work as a slow cooker, pressure cooker, and has a setting to incubate yogurt). And they are safe, not the scary pressure cooker your grandma used. While you can’t can foods in the Instant Pot, you can cook foods efficiently and quickly. I use it several times a week, especially for cooking beans, making yogurt, and vegetable stock from scraps. Simply put, this appliance will save you time and money, even if you just use it for cooking dried beans!
This was another appliance I was slow to get. I’m very pragmatic and tend not to rush out and buy the next big thing that comes out. In fact, I was a bit concerned when my mom told me she’d gone out and purchased a $400 blender (she really did preface it with, “please don’t take my credit cards away, I’m not addled!”). However, after using it with her to make hot, creamy soup followed by Nice Cream with frozen bananas, I could see the utility of the Vitamix.
Along with the Instant Pot, I use my Vitamix several times a week. It is simply the best for creating smooth and creamy sauces, especially ones with nuts or seeds that a regular blender just won’t blend smooth enough, and creamy soups, like my Radish Top Soup. In fact, you don’t even have to soak nuts to blend them smooth in the Vitamix, they can go in just as they are. The Vitamix blends at such high speeds that you can actually heat things to boiling due to the friction of the blades. This is a huge time and dish saver for things like my Trimazing! Queso for my Mac n’Cheeze or Nacho Mama’s Layered Dip, as I can blend and cook to thicken the cheesy sauce in the blender itself without dirtying a sauce pan, and I’m all about less dishes!
Don’t be afraid to purchase the Renewed Vitamix units. These are a great value, lower in price, certified rebuilt, and come with great warranties as well. I’ve purchased and used these without issue.
With my cooking training and teaching experience you’d probably never guess I use a 41-year-old hand-me-down food processor. My grandmother bought this Cuisinart Food Processor in 1978 from the Sand Point Navel Air Station (which no longer exists) Post Exchange (PX) and it just refuses to quit working. And it’s not like it hasn’t been used—Grandma made bread dough in it every week, including her famous bagel, and I use it to make nut butter, grate castile soap bars for laundry soap, and more. While I did buy a replacement feed tube after a part broke, this appliance has outlasted every appliance I’ve owned. I just can’t recommend Cuisinart Food Processors enough.
There are more expensive versions of this food dehydrator, but the base model works for me. The difference is that they have timers and automatic shut-off’s built in, but the unit itself is the same. I never run the dehydrator when I’m away from the house (always a firefighter), so a timer wasn’t a necessary expense. You could run it off an external timer, if you wanted.
I love that this is square. It holds more than the round units and the heating element and fan are in the back, not the bottom. Things dry much more evenly and there’s no hole in the middle of the racks. Nine racks are great when you have lots of things to dry, such as tomatoes, kale chips, plums, fruit leather, etc. It also works great for incubating yogurt, if you don’t have an Instant Pot with the yogurt setting. Some even use it for proofing bread dough, which I’ve not tried.
This pan is great for making Sourdough English Muffins, Sweet Potato Tortillas, pancakes, and more with no oil required! Years ago I chucked all of my non-stick coated pans and griddles due to my concern for Perfluorooctanoic acids (PFOAs) and Teflon coatings and switched to uncoated pans. When we went oil-free, however, I had problems with pancakes sticking to my pans. We have grandkids, so pancakes are a must at our house! After some careful research, I found ScanPan, which is has a titanium ceramic coating. It works great and we feel it is a safe option for our family. I am careful with it, however, and only heat on low or moderate heat, which is all it ever needs anyway.
This is the only non-stick pan we own. I got it to test the nonstick properties of ScanPan for clients who really wanted recommendations for a safe non-stick skillet for oil-free cooking. The CTX Fry Pan has the same ceramic titanium coating as the griddle and works great. The handle is very secure and stays cool. You can purchase a lid separately, if you want. This pan works great for Tofu Scramble and any other things you wish to pan sear without sticking. Like the griddle, I avoid super high temperatures with this pan. I use my other non-coated pans for braising, steaming, etc. and reserve this pan for oil-free, non-stick frying.
I actually have two different sizes of Le Creuset’s Dutch Oven, a 7-1/4 quart and a 9 quart. The 9 quart is huge and heavy, but it’s perfect for cooking soups, stews, and chili for a big party and just the right size for baking sourdough bread boules in my gas oven (it holds in steam for the perfect crust!). My 7-1/2 quart is my daily workhorse for boiling pasta, boiling soy milk for tofu, making one-pot meals, etc. Le Creuset pans are enameled cast iron and come with a lifetime warranty for non-commercial use. You get all the wonderful cooking properties of cast iron without having to season or oil the surface. And they’re beautiful, available in many amazing colors, even turquoise and lavender!
I love this dishwasher! That sounds so silly, I know, but it is the best dishwasher I’ve ever encountered…besides Alan. It’s perfect for parties, a couple or single person household, as well as larger families because you can run a half load at a time and not waste water. This unit doesn’t have a heating element, rather uses compression to hold in heat from the water used to wash the dishes to dry them; you just need to let the unit completely finish it’s cycle so that residual heat has a chance to dry the dishes. It has relatively few parts so our appliance repair person always recommends this unit as a high-value dishwasher. We’ve had ours for over 15 years and it’s still running strong.
Laundry & Travel
Wall-Mounted Drying Rack
Our laundry room is pretty small, so we didn’t have room to set up a drying rack. We discovered this wall-mounted one and it’s awesome! It’s stainless steel, so won’t rust, not plastic, so very sturdy and durable. We use this all the time and it decreases our gas and electric consumption by not using the dryer all the time.
I’ve had many, many suitcases, mostly because they’re usually cheap and break after a couple of trips. Alan, however, has had the same carry on suitcase by Brigg’s & Riley for going on 15 years, and it’s still going strong. He travels nearly every week for work, so this is no small statement. Not only are Brigg’s & Riley bags sturdy and well-built, they come with a LIFETIME warranty, where they will repair your suitcase FOR FREE and give you a loaner while they’re working on your bag. No joke! Alan’s had the zippers, scrape guards on the sides, piping, and wheels replaced, and even the telescoping handle repaired after it was destroyed when put in checked luggage one time. These bags are spendy, but it is the last one you may ever need to buy and will pay dividends in return. Once my cheapo carry on wears out, we will be replacing it with a Brigg’s & Riley bag.
Toothpaste usually comes in plastic tubes, which are not recyclable. You can find tooth powders or tablets that come in glass, or even make your own, but Alan just doesn’t like any of them. So our compromise for zero waste dental care is David’s toothpaste. It comes in a recyclable metal tube with a metal tube roller so you can get every last bit out. It’s also free of sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) and flouride, which many people avoid. The cap is plastic and is the only thing that cannot be recycled. You can find this at Whole Foods and some zero waste stores.
Most people, vegan or not, are found to be deficient in Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is essential to our health and deficiency can lead to neurological problems which can be severe and even irreversible. This vitamin comes from a bacteria that used to be prevalent in our soil and naturally innoculated our vegetables, and grasses and grains livestock ate. However, due to antibiotics, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, and more being added to the soil in farming practices, these B12-producing bacteria have been all but wiped out. In fact, it’s so deficient in our soil that livestock are injected with Vitamin B12 for their health, which is where people not eating a plant-based diet get most of this essential vitamin. Plant-based eaters can get some B12 in fortified foods, such as fortified plant milks, breads, cereals, etc., but it is also good to supplement as well, plant-based or not. We’ve tried many brands of Vitamin B12, and we like this spray that we can squirt under our tongue as our doctors recommend. It tastes great, easy to take, and easy to find at Whole Foods and many other health food stores.
This shampoo bar is made in Portland, Oregon. I’m able to find this locally, so I can’t comment on their shipping material. I love how this shampoo lathers up but rinses right away without any film or stickiness. It lasts a long, long time, too. There are other scents, but I’ve not tried them as I’m still working on the original bar from them.
I’ve tried several different hair conditioning bars and none of them met my needs until this one, made in Oregon. I love this conditioning bar. Unlike others, you can agitate it in your hands with water and get enough conditioner to use on your hair. You don’t have to run the hard bar over your head hoping to get some conditioner on your hair. Besides that, it conditions nicely, even my long, curly hair. Even though I cannot buy this locally, I’m thrilled to share that they ship in recyclable paper with recyclable cellulose tape—no plastic! You can save a bit of cash by choosing “Ugly Bar,” which is a factory second, and/or unwrapped, both options I love!
Alan has used Aveda products for decades and when we went zero waste, he didn’t want to stop using the Aveda hand and body wash he loved. But we discovered that they made the same product in a bar! Yes, it’s spendy, but it is the biggest bar of soap we’ve ever seen! They don’t make a travel size, so we simply cut the bar in quarters to take in our toiletry bag.
I hope this list was helpful for you!
I’ve linked the Amazon pages for most of these items so you can find more details on them, but most of them can be found locally as well. I realize many readers may not have the same shopping options we have in the Seattle area, so Amazon is helpful for them. My feeling is this, if you cannot find it locally and buying an Instant Pot on Amazon cuts down on garbage and recycling in your home for the next decades, it’s worth that online purchase. You can request Amazon package multiple items together and ship in the least number of packages as possible when you place your order, or before the order is processed.
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Cindy Thompson, MS, is a certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator; an American Council on Exercise certified Health Coach, Peer Fitness Trainer, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist; Tilth Alliance Soil and Water Steward; 5 Gyres Ambassador; Rouxbe Culinary School Plant-Based Professional; and retired fire captain and paramedic. She provides health and lifestyle coaching at Trimazing! Health & Lifestyle Coaching. Cindy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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