If my young, newly-married 21-year-old self had been given the opportunity to peek at her 37-year-old counterpart’s grocery cart, she would have been very confused. The differences between my grocery cart then and now are pretty amazing, considering that I married a picky eater whose palate hasn’t changed all that much in 15 years.
My grocery cart then would have likely contained the following: Ragu Sauce (of the “flavored with meat” variety), a giant loaf of frozen Pepperidge Farm garlic bread, Manwich, a block of Velveeta, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Minute Rice, an Old El Paso taco kit, Steak-Ums, Hamburger Helper, frozen chicken nuggets, Lean Cuisines and frozen pizzas.
These were our staples, this was what we ate. Pretty much the only thing on that list that has survived is the ubiquitous blue box of mac-and-cheese. Oh Kraft, (some) members of our family just can’t quit you.
What’s changed over the years isn’t necessarily the meals we eat, but how we come by the ingredients to make those meals. We still eat pasta, but I make my own sauce – not “flavored” with meat, but actually slow-simmered with real meat. Sloppy Joes? Not out of a can, but instead made with a sauce that consists of pantry staples and only takes a few minutes longer than opening a can. Tacos? Again, homemade taco seasoning and freshly fried corn tortillas. Pizza is either eaten out or made at home.
I’m not exactly sure when my habits shifted from opening a box to making things from scratch. I know it was gradual and that the biggest shift occurred after I began staying home with Elena. It was a confluence of factors: I had more time at home, I thought more about what we were putting into our bodies, and money was tighter.
Mike tends to be initially suspicious at my attempts to make things from scratch that can easily be purchased. Why mess with something that’s already working? But that’s kind of my thing … messing with things that seem just fine the way they are. He usually ends up squarely on the side of homemade, though. Most of the time, it is better.
Still, there are times when I stand in the grocery store, looking at a pile of ingredients versus that very thing, already made, looking pretty good, and sitting in my cart ready to consume. I wonder, “Is this nuts?” At what point is it not worth it, whether it’s cost, taste, hassle, or all of the above?
Jennifer Reese‘s new book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter attempts to answer that very question. Finding herself unemployed, she decided to make things herself she had always paid for. As my same questions entered her mind, she launched into countless experiments to answer the eternal grocery store question – make it or buy it?
I loved the book, probably in no small part to the fact that I saw myself so often in Jennifer. I’ve made my own ice cream, bagels, chocolate syrup and vanilla with incredible success. I’ve made my own kefit, hoping to end the cycle of buying expensive cartons of drinkable, kid-friendly yogurt only to end up with this in the end:
Verdict on kefir? Buy it, as when we do so children are happy
and we don’t find blueberry puree and fermented
milk halfway up the kitchen cabinets.
I’ve contemplated curing my own salami and wisely talked myself back from that crazy charcuterie ledge.
The book is filled with recipes, but it’s also part memoir of how a family can start like mine, shopping only the inner recesses of a grocery store, and end up in a very different place. A place that is much tastier and satisfying, yes, but also a huge pain in the ass at times. It’s nice to read her experiments and realize that the world will not end if you decide that your organic, grass-fed burgers actually taste just fine on store-bought buns.
I read the book right after my surgery and flagged an impressive amount of recipes. Of course, I didn’t make any right away as the hassle factor won out: I couldn’t actually stand up in the kitchen to make anything from scratch. I’m up on my own two feet again and thought it would be fun to give you a choice of what you want to see me attempt to make. Take a look at the following choices and vote for your favorite in the comments. I’ll pick the top two and chronicle the recipe and the verdict – make it or buy it? – in a few weeks.
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Breakfast Sausage
- Chocolate Croissants
- Fig Newtons
- English Muffins
- Pop Tarts
I’m looking forward to finding out which ones you choose, along with something you always buy and something you always make.