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. 

Ecohacks – Episode 3 – Beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are pieces of cotton fabric which have been soaked in melted beeswax. When the beeswax hardens, the fabric becomes water-resistant. The wraps function to replace plastic film in most, but not all situations. This helps reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use. It won’t save you much money, but you can feel good about making the swap and reducing your impact on the planet.

How to use the wraps.

Because the wax melts at a low temperature you can use the heat of your hands to mould it around the object you are wrapping.

You can not use the wraps for food that is:

  • Very wet or sloppy – they are water-resistant not waterproof.
  • Likely to leak. They do not form a very close seal with the edge of a bowl or plate so you can not create a leak-proof barrier.
  • Intended to be stored for a long time. The barrier is not perfect, bread for example will dry out after a few days.
  • Hot – the wax will melt.

Beeswax wraps are perfect for

  • Wrapping the sandwich which you make in the morning for your work lunch.
  • Covering a plate or bowl of food in the fridge for a day or two.
  • Wrapping up some crackers or popcorn.
  • Wrapping up things like muffins and bread rolls.

Do it yourself Beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are super easy to make in your own kitchen and there are lots of YouTube videos to show you how.

Essentially the process is

  1. Pre-wash and iron the fabric before you start. This will remove any sizing or other chemicals that are lingering on the surface.
  2. Cut your fabric to size using pinking shears. I find a good mix of sizes is 25 x 25 cm, 30 x 30 cm and 35 x 45 cm.
  3. Preheat the oven to about 80 – 100ºC. If you can set it at 70ºC that would be better. The wax melts at around 60ºC. If the oven is too hot you will burn the wax.
  4. Line a deep baking tray with baking paper or foil (keep this to re-use)
  5. Lay the fabric in the tray and sprinkle with wax pellets. Approximately 1 pellet per 2 cm².  Another guide is about 15 g of wax for a 25 x 25 cm square.
  6. If the fabric does not fit in the tray, you can fold it over and sandwich the wax in between the folds.
  7. Place in the oven and keep a close watch. It takes about 2 – 3 minutes for the pellets to melt.
  8. When the wax melts, take the tray out and use a brush to spread the wax evenly.
  9. Pick up the fabric carefully by the corners and let it drip into the tray for a few seconds.
  10. Lay it down somewhere to cool and set. Repeat.

A few tips for your DIY:

  • Use lighter colours rather than dark colours. The folds in the fabric turn the wax white and you get ugly lines in your wraps.

denin wax wrap
This is a wrap I made with dark blue denim. Not recommended! Still works but it looks gross!

  • Use lightweight fabric like lawn or gingham. Denim is too thick and soaks up too much wax making them uneconomical. Do not use synthetics.

IMG_6012
This is made with organic cotton. The lines might still be there but you can’t see them.

  • Use pinking shears to cut your fabric. This, in combination with the wax, will stop them from fraying.
  • If you are going to make lots of wraps,  buy a 1 kg bucket of wax pellets, don’t buy the block. The block is cheaper and yes, you can grate it, but it takes ages and is very tedious. I buy mine from Australian Wholesale Oils or Happy Flame.
  • The organic wax is yellow and will change the colour of your fabric. The refined wax is cheaper and whiter.
  • Put a big sheet on the floor to catch the drips of wax. Believe me, you’ll be grateful you did. The wax is hard to clean up.
  • Put a towel or another sheet on your workbench to catch crumbs of wax.
  • Buy a silicone pastry brush to help you spread out the melted wax.
  • Some recipes use pine rosin. I don’t. The pine rosin makes the wraps stickier but some sites say the pine rosin is carcinogenic. It is also expensive and hard to get.
  • Make a big batch and give as gifts.  You’ll get a bit of a production line going.
  • If you want to earn extra eco-warrior points, use pre-loved fabric. The material used for men’s shirts is a perfect weight. I have also bought old serviettes and used them. They are already pre-cut and hemmed.
  • To care for your wraps, wipe down with warm soapy water. You should not wash them.
  • Some recipes also call for jojoba oil. I bought some and used it but to be frank couldn’t tell the difference.
  • I have also tried using the iron to melt the wax. I sandwiched the fabric and wax between sheets of baking paper. It worked OK, but made a bit of a mess! It was however very quick! If you have an old iron and a spare ironing board cover it’s worth a try.

I have been using beeswax wraps for 3 IMG_6009years. I have made lots, with the intention of selling them.

I have discovered that after a few months of use, the wax wears off. I have re-waxed these ones to rejuvenate them rather than making new ones. If they are really past their best you can compost them. Vegans can make wraps using soy wax, but I have never tried that.

 

 

 

PS if you don’t want to make your own, you can buy some of mine! Most of the wraps I have seen at markets are very ‘girly’. I have used more gender-neutral colours and patterns. I call them KingBee wraps. Cute hey! You can leave a comment or click on the contact page to arrange to order.

 

KingBee2