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From scratch

Things are going a little overboard these days at my house. Something’s growing in my kitchen.

No, we haven’t had an invasion of ants (though that has happened) or mold (ditto). It’s not that we’ve found a new unusual cuisine to pursue (though my husband is always on the lookout for that).

What's more beautiful than radish sprouts greening up on the windowsill?

I have started to realize that I can make pretty much anything better than it’ll be coming from a package. And if there is someone making a good version of something, I bet I can make it cheaper at home.

It started with the granola. My husband and I got into granola in a big way, and started to try out all the various types we could find. The stuff in the bulk bins varies in quality depending on how long it’s been sitting there. The packaged granolas that say “low fat” are too sweet. The high fat one we liked was unbelievably expensive. Finally, one day I cracked open the amazing and wonderful “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison, which everyone should have even if they are rabid meat-eaters. I love VCE the way my mom loved the old Betty Crocker (which you can’t get anymore; the new one is so wimpy). Madison, of course, had a recipe for granola. I tried it out.

Granola is unbelievably easy and cheap to make. And when you make it, you get to choose the ingredients. I love cardamom, for example, so my recipe has cardamom in it. I want it to be relatively low-fat but not too sweet. I love nuts.

So, OK, I had to make granola approximately every week and a half. I can handle that.

I eat my granola over yogurt, and soon I was noticing the stacks of yogurt containers that I was keeping, not wanting to recycle them because who knows when you’ll need a yogurt container? So I started making my own yogurt.

Yogurt is a little easier to mess up than granola. At first, I tried to make it in my crockpot. I screwed up too many times, forgetting to turn off the pot and killing off the yogurt culture. So I bought a yogurt maker. It’s pretty fool-proof, though I haven’t found one that makes quite enough yogurt to last me a week. Now I have to make yogurt approximately 1.2 times per week.

OK, I can handle that.

I will take a moment to say that I already make most of what we eat. We aren’t fans of packaged food (well, OK, we’re not fans of all packaged food though Indian Fare and TJ’s mini pizzas do creep in). I grew up in a house where we made our own desserts, so when we have dessert, unless it’s ice cream, I make it. (Please, don’t tell me I need to get an ice cream maker! Our freezer is too darn small.)

But what I’ve gotten into doing is making even our most basic foods. Not just things we eat occasionally, but things we depend on.

My latest is pickling in brine. In the summer time, I usually get around to making a few batches of half-sour pickles, which are great and easy to make. And I make preserved lemons. And we usually do some jam. But then the sauerkraut guys started coming to the farmer’s market and selling their excellent, expensive, hand-made sauerkraut. We saw our farmer’s market outlay go up an appreciable amount.

If you’ve only had it from a bag or a can, don’t think you know what sauerkraut is. Sauerkraut is one of a family of brine-aged vegetables that cultures all over the world make. In fact, the recipe I found was for “sauerkraut or kim chee.” The only big difference is in the flavorings. The new bible of the live culture vegetable set is “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Katz. These pickles are supposed to be excellent for stressing out your immune system and making it flex its muscles.

The amazing thing is how our kids can scarf it down. So a few weeks ago, I joined the craze by starting to make my own sauerkraut. The first batch was too salty and too mushy. The second is actually quite nice, though I broke my crockpot’s crock in the process of making it. Oops. Good thing I have a yogurt maker.

But really, at this point I’m starting to feel like a slave to my family’s bottomless stomachs. I haven’t even mentioned my longer-running tasks: making the family bread and weekly challah (though the wonderful Heather’s Bakery sells cheap and excellent challah, I have found a way to make it with whole wheat and wheat germ). What else? Periodic vinegar-pickled vegetables (sorry Sandor, we actually like these, too, even though they aren’t full of immune-boosting super-bugs). Last summer I couldn’t bear to throw away the amazing bounty from our tomatillo plant, so I made gallons of salsa and canned it. I make most of the cookies we eat and all of the cakes.

This summer we’re going on a three-week roadtrip and I already had a panic attack about fulfilling my gastronomic duties for our family: How am I going to make enough granola for a three-week trip? Where can we stop so I can make bread?

I imagine myself out on the mesa in New Mexico, rising bread on a flat stone like my children’s ancestors fleeing Egypt.

No time for challah this week, kids. Roadtrips are what matzoh was invented for.

Then I wake up and remember: I’ve been making my own sprouts, too.

Oh, boy. Something is going to have to give.

Posted in Parenting.

2 Responses

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  1. Gary says

    Great article Suki! Imagine if you had chickens and bees in the backyard, you would have an even harder time taking a vacation. I like you enthusiasm to try new things. Last year I went to a kraut making party put on by the “sustainable santa cruz” meet up group. We made a 50/50 cabbage and kale kraut.. someone else was pushing the boundaries with a kelp kraut.
    I’d also have to agree that a yogurt machine makes the process much easier. Ours consistently creates 6 little cups of yogurt with minimal effort.

    • Suki says

      So far, the best thing I’ve ever had made from kale is kale with sea salt dried in a dehydrator. That’s one tool I don’t have, and living near the coast, our weather pretty much never cooperates! However, I have been thinking of who I could borrow a dehydrator from… Stay tuned! 🙂 Suki

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