Zero Waste Week – Day 1

Today was the easiest day of zero waste week because it was a holiday and I wasn’t tempted by the junk food at work. Instead around lunch time I made a huge pot of vegan chili full of various diced veggies. FYI, this is also a great way to use up random veggies that would otherwise go bad. To start out the week, I’ll share the foods I stocked up on this weekend in preparation for this no-fast-food week. Not perfectly zero waste, but fairly close.

I knew I would need plenty of sweet fruits to avoid the week without regressing to soda so I picked up some peaches, pears, and holiday honeydew (maybe?). Plus there are a few canary melons in the backyard which are almost ripe.

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Fresh grub from the farmers market

Likewise, plenty of bread for satiety.

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Package-free bread and bagels

More carbs and plenty of nuts, plus peppercorns for good measure. (I’m already fully stocked on beans).

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No mason jars required!

Extra veggies, with a few stickers just to taunt me. I got these pears before getting the farmers market pears shown above and probably should have skipped these. And I know avocados aren’t the most eco-friendly item to buy these days, but my husband is so happy to eat the occasional avodado.

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Non-local produce
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Mixed greens and garlic that somehow avoided being in the previous photo

Then of course, there are the weekly wasteful things. Milk is a necessity for my husband and he’d be rather upset if I didn’t get him any… and then go out and get it himself. As for the toilet paper, well, at least the wrapper and cardboard core will be composted, and I imagine some of the tissue particles will wind up in Dillo Dirt.

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The wasteful things

To make up for that waste, though, I did something adventurous to make sure the pumkin blooms in my backyard weren’t going to waste. This morning there was both a male and female flower open, so I pulled off the male flower, stripped it down to the stamen, and showed that female flower a good time. I’m usually less concerned about wasting future food, so this is my first lesson learned for Zero Waste Week.

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Well, that’s it! Time to get to sleep early so I’ll be less tempted by the caffeine tomorrow.

Zero Waste Week 2016

The Fall Garden Begins!

It may feel pretty hot again here in Austin, but there’s some hope that we’ll see a little relief not too long from now, like those couple of beautiful weeks that we saw last month where it was a pleasure to be outside. A few weeks ago I described the couple of garden beds I planted during that brief pleasurable time. But now I know that it’s time for fall gardening. And it’s all because of this.

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A carrot!

Normally carrots take forever to germinate. Sometimes it feels like they never will. But one of my Paris Market carrots has already poked its head out of the ground and is telling me that it’s time to go.

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The canary melon vines have come back to life
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The pumpkin vines are also in bloom

I’ve decided to use go without any soil amendments for the fall garden and see what happens. No compost (because none of mine is ready) and no purchased mulch (crumbled leaves and grass clippings will have to do). But some new seeds were a must. As far as my Buy Nothing New project, I count seeds as food and therefore allow myself to buy anything I reasonably believe I can use. Last weekend I visited Shoal Creek Nursery to stock up. Reading about soil health recently, I ended up getting a few different legumes to experiment with, as well as some buckwheat. (Ignore that the buckwheat package says it’s for sprouting. I’m gonna plant it!)

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I intended to buy carrot and onion seeds, but things happened.

I’ve resolved to plant one row or square of something every day. So far it’s been just cowpeas and snap peas, but I have a lot of back lawn left to plant.

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The area chosen for cowpeas turned out to be really rocky. I cleaned out some, but it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning to plant carrots there. It’ll need more work in the future.

This morning I discovered something else wonderous.

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Some of the cowpeas sprouted already!

So today my husband and I went back to the garden center to get some onion seeds and maybe a few more beans to get into the ground while there’s still time. Somehow, with earlier season seeds on sale at 75% off, I ended up with this…

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So many seeds!

At least I’ll have plenty of time to learn about some of these varieties before starting them out in the spring. Other than carrot seeds (because I love carrots) and perennials, that’ll be it for me this year. Including the carrot seeds I bought a couple of weeks ago, I’ve spent altogether just over $20 on seeds and don’t at all doubt that I can grow $20 worth of food with minimal additional input. Well, that’s it, time to get gardening!

And my apologies for all of the exclamation points in this post. I’ve been messing around in the garden regularly for a couple of years now, and this is the most variety of veggie life I’ve ever had thriving at once so it’s pretty awesome. 🙂

Could you go Zero Waste for one week?

Could you go for one week without disposable cups, straws, napkins, bottles, or other single-use disposables? Well great news! Next week, September 5-9, is Zero Waste Week.  Sign up to participate. Or just try it on your own.

I, uh, drank a can of soda today and also picked up some fast food for lunch with significant packaging so I definitely have some room for improvement. For at least one week I can be prepared with bringing my lunch every single day! I’ll make sure to stock up at the market this weekend so I don’t fall to other temptations later in the week. And who knows, maybe it’ll really stick this time.

Zero Waste Week 2016

Every year they have a theme for those who have already mastered the previous years’ challenges, and this year the special theme is “Use it up!” You may hear a lot about plastic waste, but food waste might just be the worst waste of all. We’re talking about food that uses up good land and water, pollutes other water sources with artificial fertilizers, and so much more. And all that for food that doesn’t even get eaten!

So even if you feel like you can’t get away from disposable napkins for a week, consider some of the other things that you may be able to do to help reduce your food waste:

  • Buy only what you need.
  • Have a no-new-food day or two, and just eat leftovers or whatever other perishables you may find in your fridge. Consider making this a regular thing.
  • Learn a new recipe like how to make older apples into applesauce.
  • When you go grocery shopping and you see a wonky carrot with two legs, buy it instead of letting it get tossed out by the grocer later.

There are more less-waste ideas on the Zero Waste Week website.

So what do you think? Are there any Zero Waste changes you’re interested in trying out for a week?

A Happy Day: Library + RRFM + ZW Food

Sunday I made my regular monthly trip to East Austin for the Really Really Free Market. I dropped off a couple of items I decided not to keep from my last trip and just a couple of other things I no longer needed. Fortunately, most of the crowd had already been through all the bins to find their treasures so I had plenty of space while looking through the tons of clothing to see if there was anything I wanted to salvage.

This month turned into a fairly large haul and I went home with:

  • a new-to-me pair of jeans that fits me properly (finally!)
  • tshirts for Wheatsville and local bakery Easy Tiger (they make delicious pretzels)
  • a polo-style shirt to try out
  • one extra pair of socks to replace the one I’ve just worn big holes in (the socks aren’t exactly the same length but close enough)
  • some lovely fabric for my yo-yo quilt or another project

The Wheatsville shirt is a cotton-poly blend, and I’ve been trying to stick to natural fibers. But, hey, I’ll take it because Wheatsville is awesome!

Unfortunately, this also means I now own 23 shirts! Sounds like this weekend it’ll be time to pick out a few to get down to my limit of 20 and decide whether they end up going to the next free market or recycled into tshirt yarn. It’ll be nice to get back that little bit of free space in the closet again. A few shirts can make a world of difference.

Also this month, I finally realized that in.gredients is only a 15 minute walk away from Chestnut Pocket Park where the RRFM is held, so I wiped off some of the sweat dripping from my face and headed over for some zero waste and local foods. Another dragon fruit, a canary melon, some walnut bread (from Easy Tiger!), dark chocolate discs from the bulk bins, and more. Total success!

Combined with a stop at the library and some engaging reading on the bus, this was my idea of a divine weekend. This’ll definitely be a monthly zero waste tradition for me now that I know how easy (and satisfying!) it is to do both. Sorry for all the exclamation points in this post, but I had a great day and can’t help it. 🙂

Zero Waste Popcorn

I failed at many of my Plastic-Free July resolutions, including staying away from bagged popcorn at the office. But the journey doesn’t end with the end of July! Today I popped up some popcorn from the bulk bin to my own to satisfy my carb urges tomorrow.

It all starts with some a bit of oil in a saucepan. I love the occasional dab of butter, but popping with it hasn’t worked well for me as walnut and olive oil have. I’ve discovered by experimentation that this particular pan can handle six tablespoons of popcorn kernels, so I measure those out while the oil starts warming up.

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Stored potential

My mom has a specialty popcorn pan with a handle you can turn to keep the kernels from burning, but it’s totally not necessary. I grab the handles and lid of this pan with a dishtowel (so I don’t get burned!) from time to time and give it a good shake. Once it starts popping vigorously, it doesn’t really need to be shaken any more because of all the action going on inside.

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All popped!

If you have a glass lid for your pan like I do, it’s especially easy to see how much of your popcorn has popped. But the real determination for when it’s done is when a few seconds have passed and you haven’t heard any popping or if you start to smell anything resembling burnt popcorn. Yup, if you put in more kernels than there’s room for things can go bad. And as I mentioned before, my recent experiments with using butter for popping resulted with mostly unpopped corn. 😦

Anyhow, that’s it! You can season your popcorn if you like. Most of the time I just add a dash of salt and the popcorn disappears soon enough.

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This jelly bean container once had that nasty popcorn-flavored jelly beans. Now it contains delicious real popcorn!

For tomorrow, though, I stored most of it in this reused container. And for once, I will avoid the evil bagged popcorn, oh yeah!

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Popcorn–the condensed and expanded editions

P.S. – I know a lot of folks have always prepared popcorn this way, but I was raised on microwave popcorn and the occasional Jiffy Pop, so this is for other folks like me. For a while I also tried switching to popping the kernels in lunch-size paper bags which worked pretty well, until one day I left the popcorn unattended while it was popping and…

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Microwaved popcorn disaster

I freaked out when I came back into the kitchen and saw the microwave power was off, and then even moreso when I opened the microwave door and saw the popcorn bag on fire. This is what it looked like after I quickly grabbed the un-fire side of the bag and threw it into the sink to put out the flames. The microwave still seemed to work after that incident, but I’m much more comfortable with the stove now. And it’s way more fun to watch through the glass lid and see the kernels expand and pop all around.

A Visit to Zero Waste Grocery Store in.gredients

The Austin Zero Waste Lifestyle Meetup is all about getting people to try new zero waste activities, and getting food is definitely one of my favorite activies so I was excited to see this as an upcoming meetup. Today we met at the in.gredients grocery store, with the intention of learning more options about buying without packaging waste. Of course, this idea stemmed in part from a recent book club discussion with Josh Blaine, manager of in.gredients.

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Welcoming entrace to in.gredients, with seating for eating 🙂

As we settled in I checked out the grounds and was pleasantly surprised to find a Little Free Library.

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Bonus books at the grocery store

And then had a look around their on-site garden. Maybe one day mine will look similar.

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Groceries in the making

Inside the store, there was plenty of local food stuffs to make your mouth water. And they had bulk options for all the basics like flour and salt and chocolate-covered almonds, laundry detergent (no longer available at Wheatsville unfortunately), pet food, and even a soap log that you could cut your own bar of soap from.

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I still have enough soap for forever but really want to try this next time I need some

Since it was a Saturday afternoon, I was already stocked with groceries but tared one jar by the door for something special.

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Tare sticker. The only packaging waste I took home from this shop.

So, what did I get? They had samples of dragon fruit (so strange! yet delicious), which I was then sure my husband would want to try also. I managed to avoid the chocolate and grabbed some unsweetened coconut flakes to fill my jar. (Not a local option I’m sure, but they’ll come to good use.) Plus, I grabbed some long beans because they looked really good. I was already at the checkout when I spotted the package-free breads behind the register and took home a loaf of sourdough (in what was formerly a shoe bag).

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Groceries from in.gredients without waste packaging

Afterwards, the meetup organizer Melissa shared a bit of her kombucha, which was awesome for two reasons. One, because it was on tap and she was able to get it in her growler with no additional waste. And two, because in.gredients provides real cups to use when dining on-site. (They wash them of course.) This was my first taste of kombucha, and it struck me as tasting a lot like natural ginger ale. I may have to try more of that in the future also.

So all in all a successful meetup. And I’ll be back!

Plastic-Free July Grocery Shopping

I haven’t bought as many groceries this month because of the invasion of relatives who visited and left behind so much food that I can’t stand to see go to waste. But there’s still some decent variety in this week’s grocery trip so you can see what I do to try to keep my shopping plastic-free and where there’s room for improvement.

Bulk Goods

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Peanuts, chili beans, and rolled oats bought in bulk

In Austin we’re very fortunate to have a number of stores in the area with bulk bins. I’ve found that even at the stores where they don’t tare containers, no one blinks if you bring your own light-weight bags to purchase bulk goods in. But I really do like seeing what I have on hand easily, and have been using glass jars for my bulk purchases from Wheatsville. Most of the time I can even get away with reusing the same sticker as a previous visit or rubberbanding a piece of scrap paper to the jar as a label to get the goods home without any waste. Mason jars are especially good for this because I can cut out a piece of scrap paper using the lid as a pattern and display it in the lid after screwed on.

Fresh Fruit

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Watermelon, peaches, and figs

There were plenty of delicious fruit options at the farmers market today. A small watermelon, a basket of peaches, and a basket of figs made their way home for me and with nary a produce sticker. Anything left over after we devour them can go straight in the compost bin (although I’ve been eating the watermelon seeds and saving some of the peach pits for a future peach-tree-growing adventure).

Fresh Veggies

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Mixed greens, avocado, carrots, and onion

We were already mostly set on veg too, but I needed an extra onion from the farmers market. And to fill out our salads for the week, Wheatsville has both organic carrots and mixed greens available in bulk. I just have to be sure not to squash the lettuce! Yes, the avocado has a sticker, but my husband really enjoyed it so it was worthwhile. Today I used up many of last week’s veggies by dicing them up and making a hearty spaghetti sauce–no spaghetti jar needed.

Bread

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Package-free baked goods

Yum, fresh package-free bread from the farmers market. Plus a package-free bagel picked up from the display at Wheatsville with my clean napkin. (It was a full bagel until I left the store.) Normally, I’d get more bread than this but we’re still working through frozen bread leftovers from my sister’s visit.

Eggs

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Eggs in a reused carton

Normally a cardboard carton is good enough to get through plastic-free July. But bulk eggs that you can take home in your own (reused) cartons? Even better! This is an awesome option at Wheatsville… although this carton should probably be retired soon.

Milk

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TetraPak! 😦

I know, I know. TetraPaks have at least a couple of layers of plastic, and there aren’t even facilities to recycle them in my area. I’m about to try my hand at making some oat milk again. But I got this as a backup because my husband would be grumpy if he didn’t have some kind of milk product to drink. Well, only grumpy until he went out and bought some himself, likely picking up other plastic-wrapped goods in the process. If I keep my husband away from the grocery store, that in itself is a less-plastic success.

Household Goods

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Plastic-free toilet paper

Originally I hated not getting quite as good a deal on toilet paper as was possible with the multi-packs wrapped in thick plastic. But since then I’ve grown very attached to the idea of only having to pick up a single roll or two of TP every week and never having to lug home one of those monstrocities. Totally worth it.

Well, that’s it! I told you it was a smaller shopping trip this week. What do you do to keep your groceries plastic-free?

Can “package-free” be sustainable?

This month Josh Blaine, manager of the in.gredients grocery store here in Austin, stopped by at the beginning of our Talk Green to Me book club to discuss zero waste and other efforts. The discussion tied in with many of our read books including this month’s The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones, American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom, and of course Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free.

in.gredients was launched in 2012 as a package-free neighborhood grocery, which is pretty awesome. Of course, Beth Terry heard about this, and Josh describes her as “like a kid in a candy store” when she came to check out the shop.

I hadn’t heard of the store before reading Plastic-Free as it was nowhere near my neighborhood. When I visited the store about a year and a half ago, I think getting there on the bus took nearly two hours. It was definitely not my neighborhood grocery and visiting was anything but sustainable. It was a bitter-sweet visit too because this was after in.gredients had made the difficult decision to also sell packaged goods.

At times I’ve fantasized about opening up my own neighborhood grocery store (not too seriously) which really is package-free, but after Thursday evening I have a much better understanding of just how difficult that might be. Josh explained that they wouldn’t have been able to stay in business as a package-free grocery. When customers bring in their own containers, they’re less likely to pick up other things. Potential customers may skip a visit to the store or go elsewhere if they don’t have the right supplies on hand. And some things that customers want may not be available package-free, like coconut oil or soymilk.

Package-free food also doesn’t always last as long, which sometimes is irrelevant but sometimes is really important like for beer which is only at really good quality in kegs for a couple of days. That means it has a much shorter time frame to sell within. in.gredients is also a smaller neighborhood store, so having something things packaged like in kegs means that there’s going to be a lot less variety for customers to choose from. Unfortunately, there are so many reasons why packaged goods can be better for business.

To get more customers, in.gredients switched from all package-free to a focus on local foods 18 months after it opened. But that’s not just lipservice. Food sold at this store may be as local as vegetables grown in the garden in their front lot. They also work with many local farms like Urban Roots and Green Gate Farms. After hearing Josh talk about how closely in.gredients works with the vendors I’m more tempted to go back just because I know I’ll be able to pick up anything I see and buy it knowing that some really good people have already done the hard work of finding vendors with earth-friendly and community-friendly processes.

Josh is part of the Austin Zero Waste Alliance, and zero waste is definitely still one of the core values of the store. I don’t remember the specifics, but I think he said that the average amount of trash created by a person per day is five pounds, which is what their store creates in a month! They’re able to do this by making it a priority. They even work closely with local vendors to arrange for deliveries in reusable packaging like buckets of granola that go directly into the bulk bins before being cleaned and swapped out during the next delivery.

There’s so much more that was discussed, like involvement in the community or fair pricing, but my current dream is just to be able to buy what I need without getting a lot of extra trash as part of the deal. They still have a bulk selection filled with good food, though, and fresh local produce free even of stickers. So if you’re in Austin, stop by in.gredients to pick some up or other local goodies.

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The Garden after 4 Months

Yay! Four months after moving in, I’m finally eating more food from the garden. For a short while anyhow. All of May was clouds, rain, and thunderstorms, even into the first week of June. The rain finally cleared a couple of weeks ago, but the plants didn’t get any opportunity to sunbathe without the heat. We’ve had highs in the 90’s almost every day since, and it’s not going to get cooler again for months. (Time to start planning the fall garden!)

Here’s the breakdown for all my food plants:

Tomatoes & onions

I was elated when the first green tomato that I picked and left on the dining table as an experiment actually started turning red after a week or two. Fortunately, after the heavy rains let up several of the tomatoes started turning red on the plant. Unfortunately, with the dry weather, several leaf-footed stink bugs took up residence. I saw some while they were still nymphs, but my collapsed tomato plants are kind of a big leafy mess to pick insects out of and most hid when they saw me coming. I’ve harvested a couple dozen of these tomatoes so far and will probably pick the rest tomorrow. Even if they’re still green, I want them for myself and not for the stinkbugs.

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Roma tomatoes visited by a leaf-footed stink bug

The onions around it never grew very large bulbs, but I’ve been harvesting a couple every week. They’re still full of good oniony flavor.

Cucumbers

I love cucumbers but had to give a couple away this week because they were all coming out at once. Like the tomatoes, they didn’t fruit until the rain stopped and we started getting sunny days. I’m not sure if these plants will make it much longer. That picture was taken just a couple of days ago, and in that time many more leaves have already started curling up and giving in to the summer heat. They probably would have produced more if I had planted them more upright so that I could more easily find the cucumbers at the right time instead of when they had swollen well past the diameter of large supermarket cukes. Lesson learned.

Melons

July should be melon month, so I’m trying to be patient but it’s hard. Every day I go out there to look at this tiny watermelon hoping it will have grown a lot, but I can’t really see any difference day-to-day. There’s one other similar looking melon that I’ve found also. Not sure if they’re from the Crimson Sweet seeds I planted or from one of the bastard melon seeds. I planted them all in the same area and the vines are completely intertwined now.

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Baby watermelon

I just saw this one for the first time a couple of days ago. It’s larger but was in hiding under the foliage. Looks like the cantaloupe seed I planted.

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Here’s hoping that there are others hidden away. 🙂 Also, I really hope a couple of canary melons come out this summer, but I’ll end up picking up a couple from Engel Farms at the farmers market anyhow.

Squash

I think my squash plants are dying already also. They’re certainly less vigorous now. Spoiled by the constant rain but then sudden heat. Even though the yellow squash here hasn’t grown full-size yet, I’ll probably pick it tomorrow to ensure I get some sort of harvest from this crop.

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Squash plants no longer vigorous

Scattered plants

I transplanted this bell pepper a few weeks ago now, and it looks pretty happy although there’s still a ways to go before it’s large enough to produce any fruit.

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Bell pepper

The lemon tree sapling that was starting to look good last month is looking even better now, but the other one is pretty dead. 😦

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Lemon tree – 1 year 8 months old

The tomato plant I recently transplanted into the front garden bed is starting to look pretty happy also.

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Tomato plant in the front yard

The jalapeno pepper that’s in another bed out front is still pretty small, but peppers are supposed to be able to stand up to the Texas heat so it probably still has plenty of time to grow. I obviously didn’t do a very good job of removing grass from this bed.

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Jalapeno Pepper

Not pictured here but yesterday I also stopped by my mom’s to pick some oregano and the garlic that I planted in the garden there last fall. I got five good sized bulbs with nice papery skins so they probably won’t need too long to finish curing. There are still a couple more to harvest, but I’ll do that next week when I go collect seeds from the lettuce plant that bolted a while back.

Plastic Free July Planning

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We’re just a couple of weeks away from Plastic Free July! The goal is to give up single-use plastics for the month. Generally, people choose a few swaps they want to pay close attention to during the month so they end up being a habit afterwards. Fewer single-use disposables means less trash or recycling to deal with. It means fewer resources needed for making single-use containers. Less petroleum needed to be extraced from the earth. Less plastic ending up in the ocean. And more. plasticfreejuly.org has all the info.

If you’re new to PFJ, they propose the TOP 4 to look out for: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws. Ready to sign up for the challenge? Sign up for a weekly email with tips, tricks, and support throughout.

Since I’ve tackled the TOP 4 in a previous challenge, I’ll be tackling some custom goals for my Plastic Free July. You may notice these are all food-related challenges since that’s what I purchase most frequently.

  1. Quit bagged popcorn
  2. Make milks
  3. Make veggie burgers
  4. Make pasta

Goal 1: Quit Bagged Popcorn

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Plastic-free popcorn?

At the office, there are dispensers of already popped delicious popcorn. With a reusable bowl, it might seem at first glance to be a plastic free-indulgence. But then you figure out where it came from…

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Double-bagged in plastic and plastifoil 😦

At this point I’m an addict. I eat several bowls of this popcorn a day, even though I know it goes against my less plastic goals. For Plastic-Free July I’ll have to bring more alternative snacks to the office to help me quit this cold turkey. A month without this stuff should cure my unhealthy addiction too.

Goal 2: Make Milks

I buy alternative milk for my husband from the grocery every week. And it generally comes in those stupid part-plastic / part-cardboard / part-foil bottles. Worse than most plastics, they’re not at all recyclable and by weight are probably half of what ends up in our kitchen trash bin.

So, the goal is to not buy any such milks in July. Instead I can try my hand at making oat milk, rice milk, pecan milk, almond milk, or whatever other varieties look promising. This one will take some investigation.

Goal 3: Make Veggie Burgers

Not bean burgers. Not mushroom burgers. But burgers filled with all kinds of delicious garden veggies to add something new to my repertoire. A few burgers for immediate consumption and some for the freezer for my husband’s burger fix. This will swap out one of the vegan “meat” products that I buy for my hubby (in plastic) each week.

Goal 4: Make pasta

Okay, this one is a stretch. Not sure if I’ll get this far. But we regularly buy pasta in plastic bags because to the best of my knowledge there is no bulk pasta available here in Austin. (If you know of such a thing, please let me know. Then this goal will be updated to try out some bulk pasta instead.)

I won’t use a pasta stretcher or anything elaborate. There are lots of instructions online about simpler pastas to make. It’s worth trying at least one time.