Monday, May 25, 2009

Eco Canteen: Stainless Steel Water Bottle

A few months ago I was contacted by Trish at Eco Canteen, who offered to send me a stainless steel water bottle to review, and I eagerly accepted the mission. See, I have been a regular user of re-usable water bottles since the early-mid 90s. I don't think bottled water in the ubiquitous disposable form that is so popular now was even conceived yet, but I loved the portability of beverage on demand. I was an undergraduate at Small Green College at the time, where such practices were standard. Every incoming freshman was issued a re-usable coffee mug; students typically attached these to backpacks with carabiner clips to cart around campus.

At that time, I used the re-usable water bottles primarily for hiking and camping. I started with Nalgene, that indestructible standby. I will confess to harboring nostalgic feeling of fondness for Nalgene to this day, regardless of the whole BPA ickiness -- that came much later. In the illustration below, you can see my original Nalgene water bottle (third from the left). I don't know exactly when I got it, but I do know I drank from it 24/7 during my five week summer session in 1995 at Remote Biological Station Accessible by Boat Only.

Note: one additional water bottle is missing from this photo,
as I forgot to retrieve it from its station on my bedside table.

The larger size Nalgene water bottles fit perfectly into the front pockets of field vests, and I spent many a happy summer tromping around in the woods, drinking 2-4 quarts of water a day. The small Nalgene bottle fits perfectly into an ordinary coat pocket, and can be easily smuggled into theaters or sporting events, sparing the indignity of overpriced disposable beverage. It got so I was using re-usable water bottles constantly... not just while hiking or out and about, but while sitting on the couch or using the computer.

Eventually the growing buzz about the health hazards of BPA became too loud to ignore, and I broke down and bought a few Siggs. I like the Siggs, I really do: they come in a wide array of fun colors and patterns, and are equally as functional as my old Nalgenes. However, I retained the old bottles, BPA and all, because I simply could not afford to replace them all at once. Siggs are mighty expensive, and on a hot day in the field, I might easily drink four quarts of water. Then, from a post and discussion over at Crunchy Domestic Goddess, I learned that Sigg aluminum bottles are lined with a proprietary epoxy, and that they aren't recommended for the dishwasher. Sigh.

The offer from Eco Canteen came less than a month later, so I was ecstatic. Eco Canteen bottles are made from food-grade stainless steel: no BPA, no aluminum, no epoxy. Yes, the offer came in early February; I am terrible for just getting this review up now. However, in my defense, I thoroughly tested this bottle. It has been used in just about every capacity:

  • Hiking - At a county park, a state park, a state wildlife management area, an experimental forest owned by Small Green College, and mushroom hunting.

  • Walking - In the woods behind the house, and around Childhood Village with the parentals.

  • Business Travel - A four day trip out of state, and a day trip to state capital for an agency meeting.

  • Around the house - While computing, watching tv, reading, and gardening.
The water bottle has held up to every possible use. I love that it can safely be used in the dishwasher. I've scrutinized the water bottle for faults, but honestly came up short. I got excited once when I noticed a wet spot on the car cushion where it was resting, thinking it was leaking and I'd finally have a more balanced review. Alas, it was user error; I hadn't tightened the cap all the way. I recommend this product with no reservations about the actual water bottle. Eco Canteen sells the water bottles from their website for the very reasonable price of $9.95 each.

However, be warned: shipping and handling fees are far less reasonable. If you are only purchasing a single bottle, the shipping and handling fee is $5.95, which would still add up to a fair price compared to Sigg or other stainless bottles, except for the free insulated tote, which comes automatically with each bottle ordered, with an additional $4.95 shipping fee. Ouch. This means a $10 water bottles becomes $20 when all fees are included, and is very troublesome to me. Not because of the cost, nor because the marketing is deceptive; all the fees are clearly explained.

It is the principle of the matter.

The literature Eco Canteen sent me with the water bottle claims they are a non-profit that operates with the goal of getting as many people as possible to stop using disposable water bottles, a truly noble goal. However, any truly environmental company would have an option allowing consumers to opt out of the "free" merchandise. For example, when you donate money to The Nature Conservancy, you always have the option to decline the free gift (and if you do choose to accept the umbrella/totebag/T-shirt, it really is free -- there is no shipping charge).

The other word of caution I offer is that shipping fee is not per order, it is per bottle. Therefore, it would be completely unpractical for ordering multiple bottles, because the shipping fees would be astronomical. The empty bottles are lightweight and assessing multiple shipping fees is unwarranted and downright hostile to consumers. [Again, there is no deceptive marketing, I obtained all this information directly from their website.]

I love the Eco Canteen water bottle, but I don't love the purchase policies outlined at their website. The bottom line is I would buy from Eco Canteen if I needed a single water bottle, but not if I needed more than one. Hopefully they will realize I am the target market and implement the changes I suggested in this review.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Taste of Spring

SodaBoy and I went mushroom hunting this weekend, to a place I had collected morels last year while delineating wetlands. It is a very remote place, accessed by turning off a rural country road onto a seasonal dirt lane that looks more like an ATV trail. Of course we saw wildflowers:

Canada violet, Viola canadensis

However, I stepped out of character and didn't photograph many. The blackflies were just too damn vigorous. Whenever I stopped and crouched in the shrubbery, I got bled. I knew how bad the bugs would be, from my stint there last year, so I insisted SodaBoy wear my headnet. I did fieldwork in Minnesota after all; my tolerance for such things is higher than most. He was skeptical at first but easily convinced by the swarms.

When we got to the spot where I'd collected the morels last year, we didn't find any, but kept looking. It is such a remote area I wasn't 100% sure we were in the exact same place. We kept thinking, they could be anywhere. Then we found something else, not the yellow morels I've collected in the past, but a different species of morel altogether: half free morels. Apparently these are also known affectionately as peckerheads.

I always slice morels in half before cleaning them, as it makes them easier to clean. With all the rain we've had recently, though, this batch was very fresh: only two slugs in the whole lot. The other benefit of slicing them in half is you can see inside the stem to better verify that it hollow. This is quite important, as morels should always have a hollow stem. There is a species of false morel that is superficially similar to the peckerheads, but it has cottony white fibers inside the stem (among other differences).

After I rinse morels, I always soak them for a while. This helps loosen up any dried soil or sand particles. Some people soak them in salt water, as it helps kill any remaining insects, but I rarely add much. I am afraid of over-salting and ruining the fine flavor. After their swim, I rinse the morels one last time, then pat them with a clean dish towel to soak up some of the water. I sauteed these ones with butter and garlic. While the pasta was cooking, I wilted fresh local spinach into the mushroom-garlic mix.

And for once I managed to snap a photo before we devoured them.