I don’t know about you, but we went crazy for donuts this Chanukah. I had hoped to post before the holiday started, but it got off to a hectic start at my house. I had a big work deadline the second day of Chanukah, so I was working extra hours in late November and early December; that didn’t leave me with any extra brainpower to think about a blog post of low-waste ideas for the holiday. And with all the donuts, I spent my usual writing time frying, filling, and frosting donuts. (A few nights we got so full on donuts nobody even wanted a latke!)
In the past we’ve always had store-bought donuts for Chanukah, but I wanted a way to make this year special for my kids, since we wouldn’t be going to friends or having anyone to us due to COVID. I just wasn’t sure if any pans I had were going to work for frying donuts. Whenever possible, I try not to buy kitchen appliances unless the item is something I will use on a weekly basis, like my food processor and stand mixer. Of course you have to make an exception for an immersion blender. How could I make a yom tov without it? So while I briefly considered buying a plug-in deep fryer, I looked around and instead chose a tempura pot that I thought would meet my needs.
You may be wondering why so much shopping is included in a low-waste blog. New purchases should be evaluated by low-waste standards. How often will I use it? Can it do more than one thing? (Unlike a Fry Daddy or other single-use fryer, I’ll be able to use this pan for regular cooking and reheating.) Will this last a long time, or will I have to replace it frequently? It pays to pay a little extra and get something that will last rather than “saving” money by buying an inexpensive version of an item several times, with each one winding up in the garbage. Thinking about what will happen at the end of the item’s life can also guide low-waste buying decisions. Can the item, or parts of it, be recycled? When I’m buying in a store I can evaluate how much packaging something has and make sure I opt for the low-waste option if it will work for me.
And in fact, the tempura pan has a lot of features that make it a great low-waste buy! I am really appreciating features like the thermometer that ensures I don’t scorch the oil. With the donuts, there weren’t any little bits that came off like there would be with latkes or schnitzel, so I didn’t have a chance to use the strainer/storage pot that came with it, but I am sure I will. The frying oil stayed clean and clear, so I was able to use it for several nights in a row. I also really like the built-in draining rack that lets oil run straight back into the pan. In the past I would have used untold paper towels, but the donuts had very little oil on them after having a minute to drain, and I just put them on dishcloths while I was prepping them for my family. The only part I’m not sure how I’ll use are the very long metal chopsticks meant for removing items from the oil. My not-so-coordinated self went with a fork and a spoon.
This year we also upgraded our menorah to a larger and more beautiful one. (This is a lot of shopping for a blogger whose focus is reduce-reuse-recycle!) It was really such a pleasure to sit and watch the flames while we talked and listened to music each night after lighting. I filled each cup as full as I could without submerging the wick so we had hours of enjoyment from them, even after dinner was over. That might sound wasteful, but it’s easy to go too far into the quest to be low-waste. I belong to several zero-waste and plastic-free groups on Facebook, and I often see people taking drastic steps such as not attending family events if they use disposable plates or not letting their younger kids play in the sink because it is a waste of water. I could never shorten the time spent enjoying the lights and the memories of the miracles HaShem has done for me and for klal Yisrael. We are here to be responsible stewards of our possessions, but we are also here to enjoy the pleasures of HaShem’s creation.
As I looked at the flames on the last night, I was thinking about the lessons of the commandment not to derive benefit from the flames – not to read by them, sew by them, or use them for any purpose other than bringing the light of Chanukah into our homes and proclaiming HaShem’s miracle out into the world. In a world that focuses so much on how useful things are – and has sadly extended that idea to evaluating people too, devaluing those who are old or sick or limited in some way – it’s a good reminder that HaShem values everything in creation, regardless of whether we do. So, if there is something in my life I’m not seeing the value in (and isn’t there always?), that’s because I haven’t looked deeply enough into HaShem’s plan for me and extracted the value.
Chanukah wasn’t all shopping; I wrapped two gift baskets for my son’s rebbe and his teacher using only materials in my stash of wrapping materials. Both baskets came to me with gifts for me, and it was such a pleasure to be able to fill them with a bottle of Israeli wine and a batch of homemade cookies. I had one silver basket, which I wrapped in grey tulle I had left over from a tablescape at my youngest daughter’s bat mitzvah and a piece of ribbon saved from a gift that was sent to us. After I finished, I realized it would have been prettier if I had wrapped the cookies in cellophane instead of putting them in a ziploc bag, with its blue sealing strip. I made a mental note to do that in the future, but this way they’ll stay fresh for the recipients.
The key to successful reuse is to keep your reusable items organized and easy to access. If I have to dig through a bunch of stuff I don’t need to find what I am looking for, I’m likely to decide it’s easier to just run to the store. At the moment, I have three boxes in a storage closet for gift wrapping: one for gift bags and boxes; one for tulle, tissue, and cellophane; and one for ribbons and bows. Larger items such as baskets are stored on top of the pile of boxes. Gift bags are grouped by occasion: birthday, Purim, Chanukah, and so on. Right now I organize my ribbon by wrapping it around empty paper towel rolls saved from the days when we still used those frequently (we do still use them occasionally, but a single roll lasts for months) and secured with a piece of tape. I have been considering instead looping the ribbon into a circle and securing it with a twist-tie saved from a bread bag. (Those come in so handy in all sorts of situations. They are great for tying up extra length on cords so they don’t dangle or spread out over a kitchen counter or desk.)
I do have to purchase gift bags when I don’t have a suitable one for the size of the gift I am giving or the occasion, and I buy a new roll of cellophane wrap as needed, but I can’t recall the last time I had to buy tissue paper, ribbon, or bows. Of course, before adding anything to my collection, I check it over and make sure it isn’t damaged in any way so it looks like new for the recipient. For the second basket, which was a natural color, I used cellophane wrap and another piece of ribbon from my stash. The items were nestled in colorful tissue paper that picked up the colors in the ribbon. I was pleased with how they turned out.
With Chanukah over, it is time to get ready for Asarah b’Teves. In the past, fasts have meant a recycling bin brimming with empty Powerade bottles as we prepare for the fast and recover from it. For Yom Kippur, I bought a big container of Gatorade concentrate. There is still plenty left even after Tisha b’Av, Tzom Gedalia, and Yom Kippur. We’ve generated no empty plastic bottles (the container makes about 36 of the 20-ounce servings that we used to buy bottles, and it saves a lot of money.
Wishing you all an easy and meaningful fast.