I’ve been on a total DIY kick lately. Why? Partly because I hate plastic packaging. Why must everything be packaged in a material that’s toxic both to us and the planet?
And partly because I don’t want to be the kind of person who relies on corporations to make the things that I need to survive. Right now, if I want bread, soap, beer, etc., I have to go to the store and then fork over my hard-earned money for the product — but, let’s be honest, my money is mostly paying for the packaging. (Watch this.) And in the event of natural disaster/zombie apocalypse/whatever, I’d rather not brave the local Kroger and fight off looters for that loaf of bread. I should be able to make it myself.
But mostly I want to learn to do this stuff because I think it’s pretty damn cool. My grandparents were part of the Depression generation and grew up gardening, making soap and darning clothes. My mom made bread from scratch and hemmed my skirts. What does my generation do? We buy shampoo at stores, hire people to alter our clothes, buy fruits and vegetables that have traveled thousands of miles (coated in pesticides) to arrive in the Publix produce section. (Well, not all of us. I’m sure many of you could totally DIY school me.)
DIYing/homesteading/whatever you want to call it is a lost art. It’s going to be a slow process, but I want to learn how to (selectively) do some of these things on my own because it’s fun and even empowering in a way. So I plan to master soap making (without inhaling lye again) and learn to make biscuits from scratch (ones that don’t look like pancakes this time), but I’ll overlook certain skills — namely, animal slaughter.
(Seriously, I bought a few how-to books that cover everything from making vinegar to building cabins, and they all contain sections on how to gut goats and kill chickens! Not my thing. I stand by vegetarianism and veganism as the healthiest and kindest life choices.)
So here’s what I’ve been up to.
Homemade sourdough bread from scratch: A+
I think my high grade on this skill is mostly due to the fact that my mother has been making this bread since the late 80s. I honestly didn’t know there was such thing as a breadmaker until a few years ago when Cody mentioned that he had one growing up. (I guess I technically did, too, but the breadmaker was my mother.)
Mom gave me some bread starter a few months ago, and I’ve been feeding it every few days, but I finally got around to attempting my own loaves last weekend. I’m not a big bread eater, but there’s something about hot, homemade sourdough fresh from the oven that just makes you devour an entire loaf…
Or maybe it’s the fact that after feeding the yeast, waiting 12 hours, mixing the dough, letting it rise for 12 hours, making the loaves, letting them rise for four hours, and then finally baking the bread, that just makes you damn hungry. Anyway, I don’t mean to brag, but it was amazing. I win at bread baking.
Home-brewed beer: B-
Cody and I actually attempted a pale ale in January because he got me a beer-brewing kit for Christmas. We cheated a bit because we used a can of hopped malt extract, but we followed the directions, let it ferment and then bottled it. It wasn’t bad. Just a bit flat, not exactly carbonated.
We’re hoping the carbonation error had something to do with the fact that our house was about 40 degrees back then. We live in a beautiful old house that lacks luxuries like insulation, but we’re becoming homeowners and moving very soon into a house that’s every girl’s dream: We’re talking insulation, a dishwasher, a garbage disposal. Oh, yeah. It’s deluxe. So we’ll try the beer again soon and hope that a regulated, normal temperature will help the brew along.
Homemade soap: We’ll see…
I dragged Cody around the city today in an attempt to find lye, and I’m not going to “lye” — it wasn’t easy to find. I was finally victorious at a locally owned hardware store that sells lye as a drain opener. I mixed the lye and water on the front porch in my soap-making outfit: sweatpants, sweatshirt, fuzzy bear slippers, ski goggles and rubber gloves. I looked HOT…but that might have been because it was over 90 in Atlanta today.
I probably overdid it on the safety front by trying to hold my breath during the water/lye mixing process. Naturally, I failed and took a big breath of lye-infused air, which made my throat burn. So far I haven’t noticed any bleeding or holes in my trachea so I’m going to count that as a win.
I followed a recipe for castile soap that I found in “Making It: Radical Home-Ec for a Post-Consumer World,” and mixed the water/lye mixture, olive oil and essential oils in a blender. I then poured the mixture into a milk carton a la the author’s suggestion and it’s currently sitting in my kitchen.
I don’t really feel like a professional soap maker since I was wearing my grizzly bear slippers and Cody’s bright orange ski goggles while pouring soap into a Silk carton, but if the soap turns out OK (in about four weeks), I can overlook the fact that I looked like a complete idiot.
Home-cooked vegan meal: A-
I cook fairly often, but I can’t really say I cook from 100-percent scratch. However, I did Thursday night. The menu was also 100-percent vegan. (I never eat meat, eggs or milk, but I occasionally indulge in some dairy so the vegan baking/cooking thing is still a learning experience for me.)
The menu: vegan “meat”loaf, mashed potatoes, broccoli, biscuits and gravy (for Cody — the man loves biscuits and gravy)
I found a few veggie meatloaf recipes on the web and then mixed and matched them until I found something I thought might turn out not-too-disgusting. The result? Surprisingly delicious! My roommate ate a lot of it and said it was great, but I’ve heard stories of his eating out of trashcans so I’m not sure if that’s the best test of my culinary skills. I really liked it, though.
Cody’s opinion? Well, I persuaded him to try a teeny tiny bite from the middle and he said it was OK. (I’d topped the meatloaf in ketchup, which is his kryptonite, so that was the best I could hope for.)
The mashed potatoes and broccoli were a breeze — how do you screw those up? The biscuits, on the other hand, were a bit more of a struggle. I’ve never made biscuits before, but I found the least-complicated recipe I could and gave it a shot. I needed two cups of all-purpose flour, but I had just 1 3/4 and when I went to get another bag of flour I realized I had wheat flour, bread flour and self-rising flour, but no more all-purpose. So I tossed in some self-rising and hoped for the best.
While I’d like to blame the flour, I think the fact that my biscuits came out looking more like silver dollar pancakes was because I rolled the dough out way too thin. The recipe called for half an inch and I clearly have no concept of that depth — hence, very flat biscuits. On the bright side, at least they tasted like biscuits!
Well, I made soap today and mixed up bread dough — in addition to buying this sweet “Pray for CATL” R.Land art — so I’m exhausted. I need a bubble bath, some YA lit and a bottle of the yummy Wild Heaven Invocation I bought today. (On the bright side, I’m probably still covered in some combination of olive oil and lye so I might not need to use any of my Lush bubble bath bar.)
But if you’re interested in my meatloaf or biscuit recipes, click “Read the rest of this entry.”
And if you want the sourdough bread recipe, let me know and I’ll email it your way. (I’m not ambitious enough to type that one out, but don’t let that deter you — it’s really pretty simple.) I can do the same with the soap recipe, but I recommend we wait until we see how mine turns out before I go spreading it around.
*Yes, that is me as a “domestic” cat for Halloween. Cat ears and tail + apron and feather duster = DIY costume!