Summer Reading: Less Stuff = Richer Life in The Good Life Lab

In her new book, The Good Life Lab, author Wendy Jehanara Tremayne documents how she went from being a high-powered public relations whiz in New York City to living in small-town New Mexico in a revamped shipping container. Ironic as it may seem, the story is a happy and inspiring one.

Have you ever felt so fed up with the materialism of the modern world that you wanted to opt out and go back to a simpler way of living? That’s exactly what Tremayne and her boyfriend, Mikey Sklar, ended up doing, in an effort to get in touch with what’s important in life. She and Sklar learn how to power their cars using old fry oil, build housing structures out of waste material, keep beehives, and grow most of their own food, among many other impressive feats. The photos throughout the book show off the comfortable and surprisingly attractive home that they build for themselves. They continue to document their projects on their blog, Holy Scrap.

Whether or not you’ve ever considered getting “off the grid,” as the author did, the story makes for a great read. Tremayne is a gifted storyteller, and I couldn’t wait to find out from one chapter to the next how she slowly comes to realize that she wants out of what many people would think of as “the good life,” and figures out her own guidelines for what constitutes living well. In the following passage, she and Sklar go to look at an apartment for sale in Brooklyn, and realize that they can’t continue with their old way of life:

Ron, the building manager, pulled up in his new-model Volvo. We climbed through the dangerously unfinished building and walked on planks that bridged a three-story-high gap in the floor. “$750,000,” he said, though we had not asked…For an extra $50,000 cash, I can throw in a parking space.” I saw a clear and distinct image of Mikey and me wearing matching metal shackles attached to long chains, ted to desks inside the cubicles that fill the city’s skyscrapers. I turned to Mikey and said, “Let’s go.” We both knew that I meant, “Let’s get out of New York.”—Excerpted from The Good Life Lab, by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne

After that, the couple hits the road, trying to find the right place to make a new home. They find their way to a funky artist town in New Mexico (Truth or Consequences, NM, population 6.451), populated by other refugees from what Wendy calls the “default world.” Through trial-and-error and the help of a quirky cast of characters, they build a satisfying new life for themselves based on self-sufficiency, scavenging, and an ethos of sharing.

In her new life, Tremayne learns how to make raw cheese and yogurt, ferment wine, and use indigenous plants for food, medicine, and cosmetics. Nuts are one of the local foods that she forages, specifically pecans and pine nuts. In the book’s recipe section, Tremayne suggests nut milk as a delicious, protein-rich alternative to cow’s milk. Below is her basic recipe for nut milk. Like the recipe, the book is filled with practical ideas for hands-on living whether your home base is the city, the ‘burbs, or out on the frontier.

Recipe: Nut Milk

Reprinted with permission from The Good Life Lab by Wendy Tremayne, copyright © 2013. Published by Storey Publishing.

1.   Fill 1/3 of a lidded glass jar with raw nuts or coiconut shavings. Fill the rest of the jar with water and place the lid on.

2.   Soak the nuts or shavings overnight.

3.   In the morning, strain and discard the water they soaked in. rinse the nuts a few times with fresh water.

4.   Mix the nuts or shavings with hot water so that the ratio is 1 part nuts to 2 parts water. Blend in a blender on high; strain; store in the refrigerator.

Author’s Note: Instead of throwing away the strained coconut or nut pulp, try spicing it in a frying pan and  using it to replace cheese and meat fillings in raviolis.

All photos by Wendy Jehanara Tremayne and Mikey Sklar.

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