Friday, July 18, 2014

Plastic Free July Update Featuring Two Cracker Recipes

Sour Dough Crackers and Flax seed crackers may be able to replace bagged and box crackers for our family.

We are half way through Plastic Free July, so I felt it was time for an update.  The experience so far has been exciting, empowering, frustrating, depressing, inspiring and startling. Now that I have recovered from a bee sting on my foot, which kept me for 3 days from being my family's plastic cop and food preparer, I will try not to dwell on the depressing aspects. 

Aquarian Bath Update
I will start with the business end of the challenge for Aquarian Bath. So far the amount of plastic we have generated for business is relatively low, mostly clear plastic tape from suppliers or bags from bulk oils.  We try to buy the largest containers of oils possible to minimize packaging waste. Large hard plastic containers are repurposed for bulk grain storage, etc. I realized that one of our suppliers wraps the Dead Sea Mud containers that we order twice a year with a single layer of bubble wrap, even though the overall packing fill for the box is biodegradable. I contacted the supplier to tell them about Plastic Free July, and they have indicated that they would comply with my request to use minimal plastic packaging on all the items. The most startling experience that I had was to have an order from Mountain Rose Herbs come with plastic air pillows. My understanding from when I contacted them about it, was that they were reusing it.  I think this was meant to be a big lesson for me. I have been ordering from Mountain Rose Herbs for around 8 years. It was too ironic that they shipped to me with plastic fill for the first time during Plastic Free July. Usually they ship with a pretty green recycled paper that we in turn use to pack orders. The lesson of course is don't assume, always ask for biodegradable packaging. The good news is that Mountain Rose Herbs does primarily ship with biodegradable fill, and they have indicated that they will accommodate plastic free shipping requests.  I was worried that they had switched to 100% plastic fillers. The biggest dilemma that I have right now with Aquarian Bath's plastic "dilemma box" is our bagged Extra Virgin Olive oil. For years we had been buying good quality European Extra Virgin Olive Oil (but not Organic certified) in cans from a local restaurant supplier. We could even pick it up by bicycle. I really liked that option and felt comfortable with it. When that supplier became unreliable a couple months ago, we switched to QAI certified Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a bag which holds 35 pounds, the equivalent of around 143 of our Olive Oil soaps. Wanting to support Organic is important to us, so we have mixed feelings about whether or not we will be going back to the good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil in cans. We are not at the level where I can take in an entire drum of Organic Extra Virgin. 

Individual/ Family Update
Since Aquarian Bath is a family business, it did not make sense for me to sign up only for the business challenge, but also the individual/family challenge. During the first half of Plastic Free July, I have noticed that the main source of plastic waste which our family of four is generating is from Organic produce, lids from coconut or hemp milk containers, and bags from snack foods, so I have taken steps to cut out the big ones, which is bags from boxes of crackers.  But before I go on about the cracker recipes we made partial success with, I just have to take a moment to wonder if our family will ever reach a healthy equilibrium with the quality of the foods we are consuming and the amount of waste we are creating. Overall as a family, we agree that we want to eat as low on the food chain as possible; a plant based diet. These are the many times conflicting issues we are already trying to work with in terms of food preparations for one or more family members:

Tendency to excessive weight gain
Tendency to excessive weight loss
Aversion to (gag reflex) Avocado and Quinoa (staples in many in vegan diets)
Aversion to Dairy and Meats
Craving for Dairy and Meats 
Priority on Organic foods 
Priority on non-GMO (un-poisoned, nutrient dense) foods
Inability to chew hard or crunchy foods due to medical history
General distaste for soups, even really good ones
No un-fermented soy
Tendency toward high blood sugar with family history of diabetes
Tendency to over eat
Tendency to forget to eat

This list could go on, but I will leave it at that. Having burned out multiple times over a period of years on trying to prepare regular family meals with all these factors under consideration, adding zero plastic to the list adds another layer of difficulty. 

Our biggest successes this month is to get the children to get over their *need* for straws at restaurants. The solution was to tell them before going out that there would be no using straws for them at the restaurant. Wow, was it really that simple? We have also brought back home grown sprouts as a staple, having a greater awareness that the sprouts will be eaten more often if they are served as a salad, rather than sitting in the fridge waiting to be remembered. Another success is that our CSA, Front Porch Pickings, was willing to start delivering our locally produced produce without plastic bags. They used paper bags for Organic cherry tomatoes which were produced locally. Some of the produce like apples and bananas only come with bags and plastic tape.  Not from the CSA, but frozen blueberries in bags is something the kids eat often. Being in Central Florida, we can get Papayas off of trees this time of year, even in the backyard, but the kids hate them. Go figure. I get stuck often on produce options. I've had bad luck with blueberry bushes, which I've been trying to grow for a few years. On the positive side, the child who was weaned onto wild cherry tomatoes and broccoli that she picked herself while just learning to walk now grazes on kale and tomatoes in the front yard.

Moderate Plastic Free Cracker Success

This week we achieved two homemade crackers, which were partial successes. The first is a sour dough cracker, and the second is a flaxseed cracker made with a dehydrator. I have another Plastic Free July participant and customer to thank for the inspiration to get a sour dough starter going for crackers, tortilla and bread making. Check out Anne-Marie Bonneau of Zero Waste Chef for details on how to make a sour dough starter and sour dough crackers. Sour dough was something I tried a few years ago with very bad results, so I was glad to get off to a good start with this starter.  I followed her recipe precisely:

Sour Dough crackers:
2/3 cup unfed starter (see Anne-Marie's starter recipe here)
3 tablespoons Organic coconut oil
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (I use pink salt)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for topping 
pink salt for topping 

First, I mixed the Organic Coconut oil with the starter. Then I mixed the other dry ingredients in a bowl and added them to the starter-coconut oil.  I kneaded them and let the dough sit covered with a towel at room temperature overnight. In the morning I rolled out the dough on a floured surface as thin as possible (1-2 mm), transferred it to a parchment paper on a cookie sheet and rolled it out a bit more. Then I cut the dough into squares and baked them in a 350 F oven until they were crispy, around 10-15 minutes.  I lost my timer at that moment, so I didn't time it exactly. Eight minutes, followed by rotation and again eight minutes was suggested.

These crackers taste really great, like Annie's certified non-GMO Cheddar Bunnies.  The only problem with these sour dough crackers was that for someone with chewing difficulties they were basically impossible to eat. I am not sure if there is something I can do to fix that. I didn't like the texture of the ones that were baked for a shorter time period.

The next nearly plastic free cracker epiphany was courtesy of a mystery guest at Dr. Mercola's 60th Birthday party; (and yes I am proud to say Joe is also one of our customers). I never found out who brought the straight up flaxseed crackers, but they were amazing. I was excited to try making them, because we already get Organic flaxseed in 25 pound paper bags for our flax therapy pillows and hens. So it is not uncommon to have 50-200 pounds handy!  I searched pinterest for a how-to and found this recipe which I used as a guide. The recipe requires a food dehydrator:

Flaxseed Cracker Recipe
2 1/2 cups of Organic Brown flaxseed 
2 T Organic chia seed
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes
chopped veggie bits: Organic onion, Organic tomato
Organic Onion Powder to taste
Organic Garlic Powder to taste
Pink salt to taste

The first step was to soak the seeds in water for about an hour and a half. You need a lot of water because they swell up. While the seeds are soaking, line the trays of a food dehydrator with parchment paper, but skip the bottom tray if you have the common round plastic stacking tray type dehydrators.  If you don't then the bottom tray could overheat.  A better quality dehydrator, if you can afford it, is sold by our friends at Fresh and Alive for $200. The trays are made with break resistant polycarbonator, however. I'm not sure what the best way would be to be to make these crackers without a plastic dehydrator. Maybe in a solar dehydrator with wooden trays?

After the trays are lined,  strain the water from the seeds and add them to mixing bowl. Mix in your other ingredients and give it a taste to see if you like it. Then make a thin paste-like layer over the parchment paper. After the trays are lined and the seeds are soaked,   It takes about 2 and a half days to dehydrate them.  They are delicate and crispy, a much better texture than the sour dough crackers.  

This recipe I filed under "Wow amazing, I can't believe everyone else in my family didn't love it." I'm going to try next to make a hybrid recipe between the flax crackers and the sour dough in order to try to achieve the same sour dough flavor with a better texture from the addition of flax seeds. 

My next goal for before the end of the month, is to try again with a granola recipe, since I caught us buying boxed and bagged Organic granola, because it was on sale. I know I used to make granola, but I don't quite remember what put me off the habit a few years back, though I am guessing it may have been the high sugar content. We currently buy the 50 pound bags of Organic oats for oatmeal and for our chickens, so I will try making it again to see if we can make some to have stashed for a special treat instead of overeating it.

Thanks for reading our update.  Please feel welcome to leave a comment.

Cory Trusty, president

Aquarian Bath's brand new Lavender Vanilla Shampoo Bar is
made with the same base formula that we use for our
 Henna Shampoo Bars and Orange Lavender Shampoo Bars

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