In a consumer-oriented culture, one in which money (or, ahem, credit) seemed to fall from the trees for a few years there, it can be counter-intuitive to NOT buy everything we need (and want), but this catchy little phrase grabbed me for other reasons as well when I first stumbled upon it. Namely, that I need to stop spinning my wheels and make things, you know? Not just to be less of a consumer in the financial sense (though that is often the driving force), but because I find such satisfaction, stillness and joy in making things. Hence the knitting, right?
Here lately, I have been digging a hole to the center of the earth when it comes to getting down to the basest of raw materials in consumption. It is all an effort to spend less on finished products, to better channel my meager funds into the local economy, to satisfy my own need to have a creative outlet, and really, to just flat out further my anti-establishment neuroses (of which I am quite fond); but what it means is that I have been lending enormous amounts of time and energy to thinking through each and every purchase I make.
Lest anyone think I've gone off the deep end, it isn't quite as neurotic as it sounds. To be sure, it is a little obsessive, but, well, I find it to be rather a fun challenge. And in the interest of full disclosure, I do still have cable television and plan to buy too many presents for The Boy Wonder's upcoming birthday. I am still an American, after all.
The thing is though, I want to whittle down my general household shopping list. It is the little things, really, that I'm devoting this kind of strenuous effort to, because we have long since shaken loose the sort of hangers-on like pre-made pasta sauce and bagged salads and other convenience items that encumber the typical grocery list, so my focus is narrowing, and now I'm being a bit spartan about the whole mess, even going so far as to try and make my own skin tonic (that was a disaster, by the way) in an effort to not purchase a particular type of skin cream that I do, it turns out, need to buy from the store.
Live and learn.
So I find myself somewhere in the middle, as usual. I'm simply not a purist - I'm just doing the best that I can. For instance, I will simply shrivel up and die a slow, agonizing death if forced to live without hair dye (I am a brunette this week, by the way), but I can, I have learned, live a full and happy life without commercial baking powder.
Have you seen the list of ingredients in a can of baking powder? What IS sodium aluminum sulfate? Calcium sulfate? Monocalcium phosphate? Do you really want those things in your dessert? A few years back, in an article on Scott Peacock in Gourmet, a recipe was printed for, get this, Homemade Baking Powder.
I had NO idea you could make it yourself. And it kind of pissed me off that I hadn't heard about it before. I mean, its no one's fault but my own that I didn't take Home Economics in school (and I will refrain from enumerating the details on the condescending attitude I held at the time), but why on earth aren't we all raised with this knowledge? Is it really so convenient to drive to the store to buy a package of baking powder when it takes all of three minutes to make it yourself?
This really steams my caboose, and I kind of want to stand in the baking aisle of the grocery store and pull a Michael Moore about the whole thing. I want a bullhorn and a camera guy, and I want to raise a big stink.
So it is kind of in that vein that I'm getting all slash-and-burn about our shopping list. And last month, when I reached up in the cabinet and pulled out the last of the bottle of Texas Pete or Louisiana Bull or Tabasco or whatever kind of hot sauce I had last purchased with a coupon, I got a little freaked out when I found myself just mindlessly writing 'hot sauce' on the shopping list. I mean, I can make homemade salsa. Why not hot sauce? Why should it be second nature to just go to the store and buy something without first even putting a few minutes of thought into whether or not I could make it myself? And, by the way, didn't I just see a recipe for pepper sauce in a recent issue of Food & Wine?
I did, of course. Right there, in the December issue that was lying open on the menu desk, was a recipe for Spicy Red Chile Sauce, and there I was, with a giant bag of red chili peppers that I had just picked up from Athens Locally Grown. Symbiotic moments like this are rare, I know. And this sauce, which I made on the spot, and which was not difficult and only took about 45 minutes total, has been a downright hit around here. Ours is rather spicy (we've taken to referring to it as 'Burn Sauce'), but the heat level can be tweaked to one's exact tolerance since, you know, it is homemade. The texture can be as thick or as fluid as you want, and the flavor, as I'm sure you can imagine, is so fresh and so pure that now I kind of can't imagine not having it around the house. Sort of the way I used to feel about bottled hot sauce. Funny, huh?
I may be neurotic, but in lieu of having a Michael Moore moment in the middle of the supermarket, I thought it might better suit my personality to just post these recipes here. Please share them; friends don't let friends buy baking powder.
HOMEMADE BAKING POWDER (from Scott Peacock, makes about 1/2 cup)
- 1/4 cup cream of tartar
- 2 Tbs baking soda
- Sift the cream of tartar and the baking soda together three times into a small bowl.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 6 weeks (mine has lasted for months, actually, with no detrimental effects on the finished product). It gets clumpy when stored, so just sift it again before using.
BURN SAUCE (adapted from Food & Wine, makes about 3 cups)
- 1 pound fresh chili peppers (green or red), stems removed & discarded.
- 2 cups (or more) water
- 1 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 1/2 Tbs rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 Tbs sugar
- In a skillet, combine the peppers, the water and the salt, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, cover the pan, and cook over moderately low heat for about 25 minutes, until peppers are tender. Check often to be sure water has not simmered off - in a cast iron skillet, more water will likely need to be added.
- When peppers are tender, stir in the vinegar and the sugar, and let the mixture cool.
- Puree the peppers and the liquid together in a blender, and taste the sauce. If too hot or too thick, more water can be added by the tablespoon until desired heat and texture is reached.