How to be happier while annoying your wife

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:

    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.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

22 thoughts on “How to be happier while annoying your wife”

  1. I also do my own bread and pizza, and also olive oil. In general I like to cook: I can prepare traditional cous-cous with fish, I can cook roast-beef, lasagne, every kind of home made pasta. However, I do not dare to make wine, even though I was born in southern Italy.

    And I think I am willing to taste everything you produce, except your wine (sorry!) 🙂

    (but, why you use powered milk for yougurt? why not liquid milk?)

  2. Prof. Lemire,

    When making your own wine, isn’t methanol a problem? How do you measure the concentration of methanol?

    I would guess that methanol is why Giuseppe does not dare to make wine. I may be wrong, of course.


  3. I’ve always found that I am happiest when I am working. And that it is helps if I am switching between different things, rather than just obsessing on one. So, I’m building software at work, but on the weekends I am cooking or building decks or doing photography or playing with mathematics. Anything other than software. It doesn’t really matter so long as my weekends break up my weekday focus and I am headed for some goal.

    Someone once told me that real happiness was that moment of appreciation that occurs right after you’ve completed some significant effort.


  4. DL: “Fermentation at home is perfectly safe. No methanol to speak of.”

    Is your assertion based on measurement, or on faith?

    Or is your certainty based on the fact that you make wine out of grape juice, not actual grapes? What kind of grape juice? The kind you find in supermarkets? I suppose that grape juice has been processed heavily and, thus, may be safer than grapes.

    Also, do you use any kind of yeast? I ask this because normal wine ferments due to the yeast in the skin of the grapes. The processing that grape juice goes through may inhibit the natural yeast.


  5. @Ted

    I put 4l of water on the stove. On my stove, I put it about 7 minutes. It should be warm but not burning to the touch. It helps if your stove as a timer with auto off.

    Don’t worry about using a thermometer.

    Then drop 6 cups of powdered milk. Stir a bit. Check the temperature again.

    At this point, put some yogurt starter if you are doing this for the first time. Otherwise, just drop half a cup of existing yogurt.

    While the yogurt is still quite warm, put it in small containers, then put the whole thing into some insulated container. An ice box could do. The goal is that it should stay warm. I once used a pile of clothes.

    Now, everywhere, they will tell you to wait 4 hours and then to quickly refrigerate or else you might poison yourself or die from a terrible disease. The problem with leaving the yogurt only 4 hours is that it needs to stay at the very best temperature or else you are not going to get milk.

    I just leave the yogurt out for about 12 hours (I don’t actually record the time) and then I put it in the fridge.

    Remember to keep half a cup as a starter yogurt.

    The resulting yogurt is a bit acidic (like orange juice).

  6. I would imagine children have the same feeling when they wish to share an accomplishment with their parents. Be it a drawing or exam result.

  7. Thanks for sharing your recipe for yogurt. Would you mind sharing your recipes for bread and wine too. I make my own yogurt. Used to use bain-marie but I used a microwave since it is much faster. I have never been able to make a decent bread or wine though. So I appreciate any help I can get.

  8. @Giuseppe

    I do not dare to make wine

    I would challenge you to spot the home-made wine among regular commercial table wines.

    why you use powered milk for yougurt? why not liquid milk?

    It works better and it simpler.

    With fresh milk, you have to bring it to high temperatures before cooling it down. This takes precious time.

    Fresh milk is more expensive (in Canada).

    And fresh milk is often not rich enough to make solid/thick yogourt. With powdered milk, I get more consistent results.

  9. @Rod

    Fermentation at home is perfectly safe. No methanol to speak of. It is also very easy.

    I don’t make my own brandy. Making your own spirits can indeed be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.

    This being said, I’m sure there are safe ways to make brandy at home. I remember seeing a book on this topic on Amazon.

    Knowledge is power.

  10. @Carvalho

    Also, do you use any kind of yeast?

    Yes, I use yeast when making wine and bread. You buy yeast for wine making at a wine-making store. Or you can order it online.

    What kind of grape juice? The kind you find in supermarkets?

    No I purchase a juice that matches the kind of wine I want to make, for example Shiraz, at a wine-making store. Again, you can also order it online.

    Is your assertion based on measurement, or on faith?

    We have over a couple of thousands of years of experience in making wine. It is entirely safe. It is far more dangerous to prepare hamburgers or use mayonnaise with ham in a sandwich.

    The worse you could ever get from my wine is a headache, but nobody ever got headache with my wine. I have never even made a bad tasting batch of wine.

  11. @Rod

    We are getting far from the issue of making wine at home and entering into politics.

    According to the New York Times, the ban on American grapes in the European Union comes from a pre-existing French regulations:

    The French government banned wine made from American grape varieties on the grounds that it tasted like raspberries and was thus offensive to the palate.

    Thus, American grapes are banned because they make bad wine. The claim regarding methanol is ridiculous.

    Drink as much wine made from American grapes as you want. You’ll be perfectly safe from the methanol whether you make it at home or buy it at the store. Of course, alcoholism might kill you or ruin your life, but that is another story.

    For the record, almost all food, including water, has some level of toxic content. Methanol in the tiny quantities found in fermented wine is not at all harmful. That is called FEUD. It is used to scare away consumers.

    This being said, if you try to distill it and you don’t know what you are doing, you could make yourself blind. But there are perfectly safe ways to proceed.

    I’ll add that my wine is not made from American grapes, though I would not hesitate to use them. Heck, I might just do that next. (Except that I might not like the wine, oh well…)

  12. This is far too entertaining. 🙂

    The ban on American grapes is funny, given that most European vines use American stock, as a result of an earlier blight that wiped out the European vineyards. There are even rogue European winemakers that use American varieties, and get exceptional results.

    Breadmaking, done that. Pizza, that too, though tricky since I am allergic to tomatoes, onions, and garlic – took experiments to find a similar flavor profile. Pasta, with sauces from scratch. Slow roasted meats. Still learning spices – only up to the level of simple algebra. All the heavy carb foods went out a few years ago (to my kids’ dismay), to change my shape. Latest bit started as an attempt to make something like “sloppy joes” – lean meats, heavily spiced, braised, fruit juice added then reduced.

    And there is new sawdust in my garage…

  13. Let me suggest you give sourdough a try. I used the starter formula in Tartine Bread. Their rye is my steady blend. I don’t use his method of cooking in a pot, but instead shape in a cloth lined basket (San Francisco Baking Institute) to hold final shape and bake on a thick stone. Takes a while to handle 80% hydration, but not difficult. Learn to use baker’s percentages then you can make a spread sheet that takes only the final mass, and gives you how much of each ingredient in grams. I don’t do any kneading, but do stretch and pull it perhaps 4 times. Keep the starter refreshed daily, but I don’t believe that absolutely essential.

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