Monday, May 14, 2007

52 Weeks Down: Week 3: Make It Yourself

Welcome to week 3 of our 52 week energy cut. I'm hoping that this is starting to be helpful for some of you, and that you've found that the first changes I suggested weren't too overwhelming.

This week's project is "make something you usually buy." By doing so, you cut down on your need to drive to stores, reduce packaging and cut costs. I'm trying to do more of this myself - this week's project at our house is crackers. My kids like them, and I don't like to buy them, since most of the ones in the store aren't super healthy. Way back when I was testing recipes out of Carla Emery's _Encyclopedia of Country Living_, I tried all her cracker recipes, and some were extremely good, but I sort of forgot about them, and occasionally bought bulk wheat crackers instead. But I noticed that my family often has leftover oatmeal (favorite breakfast here) lying around, and so I've started making her "gruel crackers" (sounds awful, doesn't it, very Oliver Twist, but we really like them).

For someone just beginning, one of the best things you can make is bread. I don't know about you, but our family eats a lot of bread, and we like it best fresh. The thing about store bread is that you never get to eat it the way it tastes best - straight out of the oven! You don't need anything really special for this - bread is easy, it just takes practice - and it tastes and smells so much better than the store stuff. Or maybe you might want to try yogurt. I know my kids will eat all the yogurt they can get, and I want to avoid those little plastic containers. Or how about granola bars as a snack? NoImpactman has a lovely post about making yogurt here:, and I got my recipe for granola bars via Pat Meadows who got it from an old Mother Earth News. The recipe is listed below.

Or how about something that isn't a food. You could try shampoo - I've started washing my scalp with baking soda a few times a week to stretch out my need to shampoo, and when I do wash my hair, I do it with diluted castile soap, which comes in a giant bottle and is about 20 times cheaper than shampoo. Miranda writes about the benefits of the baking soda technique here: Or you could make toothpowder, about 100 times cheaper than toothpaste, out of salt, baking soda and a little cinnamon oil.

Or, if you are really fancy, you could make something complicated, like a pair of socks. I don't know about you, but I like socks, and I like to knit and crochet. Way back when I wrote a blog post about the fact that everyone needs to be able to make socks, because no matter what happens, you are bound to have to replace your socks someday. You can read it here: Or you could make a shower sponge. My friend Aaron famously makes loofah sponges, and they are really cool. Now you can't do that in a week, but you could start the seeds today. Here are instructions:

But if you are new to this making rather than buying, start simple. Make a loaf of bread. A little yogurt. Mix some baking soda and water together instead of squirting from that shampoo bottle. Do it for a week, and see if you like it. Don't get overwhelmed, it is easy, and it doesn't take nearly as much time as you think it will. The thing is, not only are these things usually cheaper and more environmentally friendly, they are better too. The real secret about living sustainably is that it is more fun and a better life, better food and more pleasure. But shhh...don't tell ;-).


_Molasses Wheat Bread_
(My husband makes 4-6 loaves of this most weeks - it is his favorite quick and easy bread. You can substitute for many of the ingredients, and it is a very good introduction to bread making. I would recommend that absolute bread beginners do the recipe using the first listed ingredient the first time, and then experiment. This recipe was taken from Marcia Adams's _New Recipes from Quilt Country_)

4 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups white flour (you can use all whole wheat, but if you are new to breadmaking, some white is probably better while you start)
2 pkgs dry yeast
2 1/4 cups of milk (or water, or buttermilk or whatever you've got)
1/4 cup oil (whatever sort you have, or you substitute mashed squash or pumpkin)
1/4 cup molasses (or sorghum, or honey, or sugar (but add some extra liquid) - we've also made this with maple syrup and blackstrap molasses - both have a much stronger taste, but are pleasant enough, but be prepared for a strong flavor if you use them)
1 egg, beaten

Stir together 2 cups of flour (doesn't really matter which), the salt, and yeast. Combine the milk, oil and molasses in a saucepan or solar oven and heat until just warm - stick your finger in to test. Add the warm liquid and the egg to the flour mixture. Beat for 3 minutes with a whisk or wooden spoon. Gradually add the remaining flour until the dough is soft but elastic. Knead for 2 minutes (knead means to smoosh it flat, fold it over, smoosh it some more and generally whack it around for a while).

Place the dough in a bowl in a warm place, covered by a slightly damp cloth (the cloth shouldn't touch the dough - it is merely to provide humidity), and let it double - 1-2 hours (we actually generally do the above the night before and leave it sitting around on the kitchen counter until morning. It does just fine. That way, we get fresh bread in the am without bothering with a breadmaker.)

When it has risen (or when you are awake enough to contemplate it), divide the dough into two portions and turn it into something vaguely loaf shaped. Let rise for an hour or so somewhere warm. Bake at 350 for 40 -45 minutes, until the bread is nice and brown and sounds a little hollow.

This bread keeps quite well for days, and freezes extremely well.

_Gruel Crackers_
(Boy does this recipe need a better name - eek! But it is a great use of leftovers, and really very tasty despite the awful name. Perhaps I'll rename them "Oliver Twist Crackers.")

Take 2 cups of leftover grains or beans. (They should be at the borderline soup/stew stage - if they aren't add some water and thin them out. I've tried this only with split peas and oatmeal so far, but Carla says you can use anything).
Add 1/4 cup of oil (you could probably substitute mashed veggies, but I haven't tried it)
1 t salt or soy sauce
whatever seasonings you want on your crackers (we like garlic, or chilies, but I bet cheese or sage would be really good - experiment)
2-3 cups of flour (2 cups of this really should be whole wheat flour, but the other cup can be anything, and should be - cornmeal, or rye, or millet or whatever suits you).

Oil a baking sheet, roll or press flat, cut or dot so you can break them, and bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes (the original recipe calls for 425, but mine burned at that temp).

_Homemade Granola Bars_
(These originally came from Mother Earth News, but I've amended them some to make them more local and sustainable for my diet - you can play around with what you have and make them suitable to your diet pretty easily.)

3 cups rolled oats (old fashioned or instant)
1/4 cup amaranth, or coconut
1 cup peanut, almond or cashew butter
1/4 cup sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds or pepitos (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup wheat germ or bulghur
1/2 cup slivered almonds or chopped hazelnuts
4 tablespoons butter or oil
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup honey, molasses or sorghum
1 cup raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit (chopped to raisin size if bigger)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

(you can leave things out if they don't suit or aren't available)

Bake the oats, coconut/amaranth, sunflower/sesame seeds, wheat germ/bulghur and nuts on a 9-by-12-inch baking sheet for 20 minutes, starting as you preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Heat the butter, brown sugar, nut butter and honey in a small saucepan, simmeringwhile the dried ingredients are baking. (I leave the sugar out if the peanut butter is already sweetened -
if you are using the natural stuff, you might want it.)

Add the raisins/dried fruit to the toasted mix as soon as it's removed from the oven.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, mix in the vanilla extract and pour the liquid mix over the oat mixture, stirring until all the dried mixture is coated.

Press the granola firmly into the bottom of a greased 8-by-8-inch pan and place the pan in the still-warm oven to bake (at 300 degrees) for 20 minutes. You can cut the batch into bars after the granola has cooled slightly, but wait to take the bars out of the pan until they're completely cool.

It really is no trouble to adapt this recipe to what you have - flavor it with anything you want, just keep the rough proportions of wet to dry the same. We like them with dried apricots and strawberries in them, and I once let my kids dip them in chocolate but that's not going to win me any awards either for environmentalism or healthy parenting, so we'll skip over the details. And we'll leave out how many *I* ate ;-).

Cheers, and a good week to you all!



Mimi said...

Hi Sharon,
Great post!

I just wanted to add that in regards to making your own food, as long as we don't use a lot of processed food when we cook, the food will be healthier. I used to be a restaurant addict. Over the past couple of years, I have been making a lot of my own food and I feel healthier and have lost 27 pounds without "dieting" or changing my activity level substantially. So the benefits end up being personal as well as global.

I have been making bread often too. In January, I started a wild yeast starter. It never managed to get sour so I use in place of commercial yeast in all of my bread making (from cinnamon buns to wheat loaves). It is easy to maintain (for me since I can't bake all the time and I live in a two person household who can't eat our way out of one baking session per week), I store the starter in the fridge and feed it on the weekends when I bake. Since your hubby bakes several times a week, you could leave the starter out and feeding would occur when you bake without having to toss any starter. You will not be tossing out the packaging from commercial starter and since you would reduce the liquid in your bread recipe, you would use less milk/buttermilk. The bread also comes out with a much better texture. If you or any of your readers are interested in trying this out, here is the recipe I used to get started:

Keep up the good work, these tips are great!

Mimi said...

Oops! The URL got cut off. The starter is at Do a search for proto dough (I love that name!)



I was only thinking today about saving energy and ways to reduce items that need to be recycled. I have a daughter who is autistic and she only eats certain things but they are things that bring a lot of packaging with them. She likes to eat plain cup cakes,bread and crisps so I thought that I would try making my own bread and cakes and try and cut down on crisps and buy her Pringles but less often. The Pringles packets are made from recycled materials but can't go to the recycling but my daughters school loves them and they must be better than huge amounts of crisp packets which you can do nothing with.

jewishfarmer said...

Mom of Many, You definitely have my sympathies. Eli, my eldest is autistic, and while he's a very, very good eater by any standard, he also has strong food passions, some of which are packaged foods, and he simply doesn't understand why he can't have them. We can cut back, but we've not been able to eliminate them without causing him severe stress and misery.

(For those without children with autism, many autistic children have strong sensory issues with food, and the word "conservative" doesn't even begin to describe how autistic kids feel about change ;-))

Eli's purchased things are popsicles, cheerios and apples every day of the year. We buy apples by the bushel, but it is usually too warm to store most by about May 1, so we buy out of season fruit (it is still local, though, since a local orchard cold stores it), cheerios and sugar-and-red-dye popsicles (sometimes.) I make juice popsicles, but the sugary commercial ones are, shall we say, a potent motivator ;-).
Anyway, my sympathies on that one -I really do know what you mean.

If anyone out there knows how to make something that tastes like cheerios, I'd be interested.

And Mimi, thanks for your point about yeast. I've made sourdough before, but not non-sour yeast (which we buy in bulk, not in packages - I forgot to change the measurements in the bread for bulk yeast - it should read ...or two tablespoons). But I'll definitely try your yeast! Cool.

Anonymous said...

Hi - great tip - I was just thinking the other day I cook all our own dinners and sweet snacks but don't have any cracker recipes - Ill be trying the gruel!

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog a few days ago, and I have to say, you're one of the clearest, funniest writers on sustainability/peak oil I've found. You spare no one's feelings or security in telling us how doomed we are, yet most of the time, it makes me want to go plant a garden rather than hiding in the corner.

And this last post has inspired me to finally really learn how to make bread without the bread machine. Lately I've been experimenting with flatbread and dumplings (I hadn't realized the same dough works well for both), and now the house is filled with somewhat unnerving quantities of whole-wheat bread and little filled buns (how much bread does the Joy of Cooking think people eat??) :-) I'll have to try that cracker recipe sometime.

lis said...

Thank you so much ... I'm going to try everything! I'm in Australia where we still haven't signed Kyoto either and I'm so inspired by all the blogs I'm discovering that I've started one here too. We have an election coming up this year and everyone is throwing themselves at doing something about it. I've quoted your Eichmann blog and on my newish blog I'm committing to one new personal and one political action a day ... thank you so much for your inspiration

Anonymous said...

I made the bread today--as I type this my kids are eating slices topped with big slabs of butter!

The recipe was easy to follow and kneading the bread was actually fun (got to work out a little bit of aggression, what a plus!). One thing though--I might have missed it, but you didn't state how much salt to use. I guessed, and the bread came out great, but I was just curious.


Sara said...

I'd add to this -- or maybe it'd be a good suggestion for next week -- that one of the best things you can do in addition to making things is learn to fix things. There's so much surplus stuff out there that often it's cheaper, easier, and more environmentally sensible to fix an existing thing than it is to make something from scratch.

Samantha said...

Wonderful series that you have begun with this! I'm with you all the way, even making a report about it on my blog; off course with links to yours. I'm curious to see where you might lead us.

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