About a year ago, I read Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder. It is a simple book with a simple message.
How to be happy? Frauenfelder thought that moving to tropical island might be it for him and his family. It failed. Location is not related to your happiness.
But then, in the process of moving, he realized something important. He was happier when he made stuff for himself.
It is not about anti-consumerism. While I do not know Frauenfelder, I expect he has a big screen TV and a nice car.
Rather, it is the idea that if you can afford it, making your own stuff makes your life richer and more meaningful.
This message has changed my life. What have I done with it?
- I have learned to make thick yogurt. My recipe is simple but it still took me months to get it right. Mostly, I had to learn the hard way that the common recipes cannot be trusted. We never buy commercial yogurt. I make 4l of yogurt a week and I have been doing so for about a year.
- I have learned to make my own wine, port and beer. When I drink wine, I drink my wine. Of course, I don’t start from grapes, but rather from grape juice. But it is meaningfully my wine since I can screw it up. People love my port wine.
- We no longer buy commercial bread. I have learned to make several great tasting breads with very little effort. Do not do as I did and try to use a bread machine. It is a waste of time and money. Instead go buy these books:
- My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey and Rick Flaste
- Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day
If you want to save money, you can find these recipes online or on YouTube (e.g., see the GardenFork.TV recipe). It took me months but now I can reliably produce bread that is superior to what you can find in a store, with little effort.
I also make my own pizza, entirely from scratch, that has exactly the same great taste as a professional one. The only thing I have not gotten quite right is how to shape the pizza as a nice round pie. I have been making my own pizza for about 10 years, but I only got it right in the last two months or so (thanks to Peter Reinhart’s books). If you are curious, I use a stone and I cook the pizza at 500F.
- I produce my own herbs, tomatoes and lettuce from my garden. I have canned enough tomatoes to last a year.
- I build my own radio-control models. I have built two sailboats from scratch. My latest effort was a crawler: built from parts. I have also built a Mario-themed clock for my son. My basement is filled with half-completed robots, arduinos and random other items.
My wife is sometimes annoyed at my projects. I fail all the time. Sometimes I make a mess. I waste money.
Over time, however, I build up expertise. And more importantly, the stuff I make has meaning. My kids eat my pizza, not just any pizza. My kids love my bread, not just any bread.
It is not about saving money. On the contrary, it is about being able to afford to do your own stuff. It makes me happy that I can afford to make my own bread and that I am good at it.
Update: I also roast my own coffee. I picked that up from John Cook.