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: http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/2007/03/do_a_dance_for_.html, 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: http://simplereduce.wordpress.com/2007/05/02/unshampoo/ 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: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2005/02/great-sock-rant-of-05.html 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:http://groovygreen.com/groove/?p=689
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.
(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!