Ecohack 7: Making it from Scratch

One of the hacks frequently mentioned by the no waste fraternity is to make things from scratch to avoid plastic packaging and so you know what’s in your food. While some things are definitely worth making from scratch in your own kitchen, others are not both from an economic and waste point of view. 

Cooking is an enjoyable activity for me, as much for entertainment as it is for nutrition. Nearly everything I eat is made from raw unprocessed ingredients. I have the time and the means which gives me an advantage. Cooking whole foods with few if any additives is part of my life plan. 

The list of things I frequently make from scratch is pretty long and includes 

  • yogurt
  • ricotta cheese 
  • preserved salted lemons
  • bread 
  • kombucha
  • kombucha vinegar (when I leave the kombucha for too long!) 
  • granola 
  • breadcrumbs (fresh and toasted)
  • tortilla chips from stale tortillas
  • hummus 
  • energy balls (aka bliss balls) 
  • bircher muesli mix 
  • pickled veggies of various kinds like beetroot and roasted capsicum
  • baked goods like cakes/biscuits/pies etc.
  • spouted alfalfa, mung beans and lentils 
  • passata when tomatoes are cheap
  • soda water! LOL

I have had a go at making my own pasta, feta cheese, apple cider, rapidly followed by apple cider vinegar and sauerkraut. Although I can make jam and marmalade, I don’t eat them much any more, so no longer bother with them. 

Is it worth it?

The no list

The foods which are not worth it from a financial (time and money) and waste point of view in my opinion are:

  1. Ricotta cheese: 1.5L of unhomogenised milk gives you about 300 g of cheese and the whey goes down the sink. The whey is acidified when you add vinegar as part of the coagulation process. Unlike the sweet whey you get from straining yogurt, there is little use for this ricotta whey. You can use it for pig feed apparently but I don’t have any pigs. In a large facility they could collect huge quantities of whey that would be commercially viable to on-sell. The milk costs me $3.70 and 300g of shop ricotta is $2:40. The milk is in a plastic bottle so in terms of reducing plastic waste it’s a fail too. My ricotta is very fresh I guess!
  2. Pasta: I have written about making your own pasta before. Unless you want an afternoon’s entertainment and a good excuse to drink wine ( a lot of wine!) while you cook, it’s not worth it. You can’t taste the difference and you can get pasta in cardboard boxes, so waste disposal is not an issue.
  3. Feta cheese: Similar to reasons to ricotta cheese. I didn’t like the flavour of the soft feta I could make in my kitchen. Either I need lots more practice or a different recipe.
  4. Sauerkraut: Let’s start off with a few confessions here. Although I have a science degree in Food Technology and worked in the food industry, I’m always a bit nervous about my homemade sauerkraut. Every time I’ve made sauerkraut, it sits in the fridge until I throw it out. My sauerkraut does not taste as good as the ones you can buy. The lovely colourful beetroot and carrot ones from the supermarket are excellent. I might need some professional tuition in this area.

The maybe list

  1. Bread: The case for bread could go either way. I make my own wholemeal, wholegrain bread but frankly, it does not taste as good as shop-bought and the economies of scale mean my single loaf is about twice the cost of the mass-produced bread. The flavour is ok, but the texture is too dense and I don’t get a good “crumb”. I ditched the bread machine on the advice of a baker friend, and now hand knead. This has made a big improvement but it’s still not “amazing”. Bread is easily available in paper bags so the waste saving for DYI is minimal. The final frontier for my bread making journey is to try the sourdough experience. Bread making is very satisfying from a sensual point of view. Kneading is like an active meditation and the scientific fussing with the proofing and the smell of cooking bread overrides the economics. (A notable exception on the flavour/texture front is Samin Nosrat’s Ligurian Focaccia which is AMAAAAZING!!)

Things I could (easily) make but don’t

There are several items which I could easily make but don’t; including

  • stock
  • pesto
  • corn relish
  • vanilla essence
  • cleaning and cosmetic items
  • and many, many others

I’m dedicated to the cause but I not a magic unicorn! 🙂


Making things from scratch is more than just a matter of economics or waste reduction. It’s more about a state of mind and an enjoyment of being self-sufficient. About knowing exactly what’s in the food you are about to put in your mouth. For food nerds like me it’s also about the entertainment value.

Am I missing out on any home made fun? What do you make from scratch? Please add a comment below. 

Decluttering despair!

Wentworth Emporium

I have spent the last couple of days decluttering (Again!). Rather than feeling joyful as I sort things into piles nominally labelled ditch, donate and decide later; I am getting more and more depressed!

It’s bothering me because over the last few years I have tried REALLY, REALLY hard not to bring unnecessary things into my home BUT I still have a mountain of stuff. It’s all useful stuff in some form or another, but I am not sure it will all get used in my lifetime! I have followed the one-in one-out rule but I still have every available bit of storage in my home filled. I had a successful Year of Zero where I bought nothing (well nearly nothing) new in 2018 and again in 2020.

So why do I still have so much stuff? I should have less stuff! When I look at the offending items, most are things I have had for a (really) long time, like stationery that dates back to my first time at Uni, forty-odd years ago! I even have a blank exercise book that belonged to my grandfather! Now that’s serious dedication to resource husbandry and storage stamina!

Writing paper anyone?

I have so much blank and lined writing paper it’s embarrassing! You know that scene in Gone With the Wind where Scarlett is forced to write between the lines on a previously used piece of paper? Well, I need those circumstances to be recreated where paper is in short supply and everyone is desperate for sheets of unused paper! I could corner the market with the amount of ageing writing paper I have managed to accumulate! 

Another overstocked item in my stationery cupboard is packets of paper clips! I haven’t bought any in the last 10 years and for some reason, I have 3 unopened boxes of 100!

I know if I were decluttering in the style of Marie Kondo or the Minimalists I would have piles labelled something like: discard, recycle, donate and sell. Well, let me tell you no one wants to buy a hundred or so blank exam writing booklets that I purloined because they had widely spaced lines! You see, I prefer to write on blank paper or paper with 10 – 12 mm feint ruled lines. I hate the standard 8 mm stuff and the fat lined paper is so hard to come by.  When my school was ditching some fat-lined exam booklets back in 2009, I grabbed them! 

Just hate skinny lines!

And… I’ve still got them! I have used some but not as many as I obviously thought I would.  I guess my plan is to just keep using them until I fall off the perch. Or hope we get a paper shortage! Whichever comes first.

Hoarder or Frugal?

I’m beginning to think I might be a closet hoarder! (see what I did there?) Or am I just frugal? It is all very tidily arranged and nothing is spilling out and there is a place for everything but it’s overwhelming. I don’t agree with throwing things out for the sake of it. If I threw all the paper out eventually I would need to buy more and that would be a waste of resources and just add to landfill. In my mind, it’s better to plough through it one ream at a time!

My vow today dear reader is to not buy, accept or otherwise obtain any more writing paper until what I have is used up! I had better start writing a War and Peace length novel by hand! 🙂


I have written about minimalism, decluttering and consumerism before. If you’re interested, you can start at my post about the Konmari Bandwagon.

Year of Zero – End of Year Review

We have made it to the end of this mad, bad, sad year and here I am with the Year of Zero – End of Year Review. At least in Australia, things have returned more or less to “normal” with no community cases for COVID for X days. The US and Europe are in mid-winter and things are getting worse. (I wrote this piece in mid-December and since then Greater Sydney which now includes Wollongong, has been hit by another bout of COVID19 with partial lockdowns and borders re-closing. My return to normal prediction was a little early!)

End Of Year Review

Over the last three months, (October – December) I feel like I have taken my foot off the spending brake and not stuck to my plan well. I did reach my savings goal but I think I could have done better. I have made a few purchases in preparation for my Great Southern Road Trip and although I am putting those on next year’s balance sheet, it has led to a change in mindset. I have been less frugal and more ‘spendy’. I have succumbed to some unnecessary purchases and while for the most part, they were second-hand op shop finds they were still not essential. AND of course there was Christmas! Although I don’t need to buy many gifts there was some outlay.

On top of that, in late November I discovered that I have to do a very expensive plumbing job on my home as the roots from a large tree have cracked and blocked my stormwater pipes. The build-up of water is flooding my neighbours’ yards. It’s going to cost several thousand to fix. Thankfully, I can split the bill with the other strata owners and most will come from the Strata funds. However, I think it will be more than we have set aside. 

My ultimate financial goal is to pay down my mortgage debt so I can retire by 2023. As a result, next year and the year after will need to be Close to Zero Years as well.

My self-report for the Year of Zero – End of Year Review follows.

1. No overseas travel

A stunning success! All year I have not stepped off the continent of Australia! 

Score: 10/10

2. No extended travel within Australia

I did go to Broken Hill in late September which I included in the last quarter review. I also went to my Mum’s for Christmas. Only cost being the train fare so all good on this front too. 

Score: 10/10

3. No New Stuff

My goal is to buy no new items and only replace things that have broken or worn out. 

Allowed items

  • My phone screen needed to be replaced. This was expensive – but the repair was ¼ the cost of a new phone so worth doing.
  • The zip on my wallet broke so I had to replace that – 2nd hand. 

    Items not on the list

  • A book “Designing Your Life” by Burnett and Evans
  • I got my 2021 wall calendars printed but have sold enough to cover the cost so this does not really count. 
  • Gifts for family members including (too much) Lego for my Grandson. 
  • I spent a fair bit buying some unnecessary clothes from Op Shops this quarter. I justified it by clearing out some other stuff from my wardrobe but I really could have done without it. At least it was not new!
  • Not “stuff” but I did pay for a subscription to Future Crunch and The Guardian.

Score: 4/10

4. Reduction in expenditure on groceries

This category is back on track. I have been making good savings on food and usually have some leftover cash at the end of each fortnight. I have been squirreling this away to use as a food kitty for the upcoming festive season. I also have been stocking up the freezer so will be able to have a few “free weeks”. For those of you who might say why don’t you cook less? Well, it’s a bit hard to make a single serve of spag bol!! I think next year I could investigate cutting back the allocated budget a bit more.

Score: 10/10

5. Side Hustle Happening

I actually made some progress here. As I said above I have sold enough of my calendars to break even and cover the cost and I sold some of my beeswax wraps. I’m not ready to list myself on the stock exchange yet but at least I made a bit of cash! (BTW there are still some calendars left if you’d like to buy one!)

Score 8/10

Buy one!

6. Only sign up for free courses

I didn’t do any courses free or otherwise this quarter.  I have been snowed under with the day job! 

Score: 10/10

7. Sell some of my stuff

No, no action here

    Score: 0/10

8. Concentrate on free activities. 

I think I have done OK in this category. I went on a few adventures with my grandson which required only train fare and food. We got free tickets to the Australian Museum when it reopened. I did a long walk (31 km) with some friends in place of the Seven Bridges Walk, this was “free” although we did make a donation to the Cancer Council. I went out for dinner once with a friend and although I went to trivia several times, my expenditure was very low as I ate before I went and I stuck to one non-alcoholic beer. 

Score: 7/10

9. Zero-waste-eco-warrior

I am still using more plastic-wrapped foods than I‘d like as I am having trouble finding suitable replacements. I made a one-off investment bought some salad vegies and herbs. I think I could grow those in summer at least. Apart from this, this goal is going well. It’s become ingrained, rather than special now. 

Score: 7/10

10. Year of Zero Booze

The day before this post is published will be the 365th day of my Zero Alcohol challenge. I made it right through!  It is no longer a challenge and it will be a big decision as to whether I start drinking again. 

Score 10/10

and the final score is…..

This quarter, my frugal-o-meter score is 76%. The highest so far, so despite feeling like I let the side down buying clothes I didn’t need, I have ended up OK!  

Here end-eth the Year of Zero 2020. I’ll let you know at the end of 2021 if I have stuck to my savings target despite not having a declared Year of Zero. I intend to remain frugal but will be doing some extended travel! Stay tuned for the Great Southern Road Trip!