Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

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The most irksome decisions I faced as an adult and working mother seemed to be made at the supermarket. Fundamentally trivial, they were nonetheless maddeningly fraught, involving questions of time, quality, money, First World guilt, maternal guilt, gender, meaning, and health….Every choice I made was loaded, and every choice I made was wrong. The mental conversation was circular and chronically irritating and I couldn’t seem to shut it down. p. 2

So Jennifer Reese pretty much had me at hello. I could so identify with this. I’ve read Michael Pollen and Barbara Kingsolver and the one about the 100 mile diet. I liked them all and found them fascinating and inspirational. But also guilt inducing. I want to feed my family healthy local whole foods. But then I’m at Costco and it’s really hard to justify not buying the much much cheaper things there. Isn’t it also ethical to be frugal? But is the salmon there that’s cheaper sustainable? Or we have a 6 pm baseball game and everyone needs to eat quickly before or at the game. Sure, I could pack a gourmet healthy picnic dinner but that would mean I’m stressed and harried and running around . Doesn’t the convenience of McDonald’s weigh out the nutritional wasteland?

What ends up happening in our house is probably what ends up happening in most houses. We eat some homemade food and some organic and local food (more when the farmer’s market is open or our local CSA is available.) We also eat more than I’d like of fast food and things like Kraft mac and cheese. I often feel vaguely guilty for our food choices and at the same time ridiculous for even worrying about these things. Worrying about which of many food options to feed your family is a particularly luxurious middle class problem.

I loved this book because I felt like Jennifer Reese gets me (and the many other working mothers like me). I also loved it because it is laid out in an immensely practical way. Reese (the author of the new-to-me but apparently very popular blog The Tipsy Baker) found herself unemployed and set out to try see how much of her own family’s food she could make from scratch. She explores bread and bagels, butter and cream cheese, granola and tortillas. She keeps chickens and ducks and goats. She goes hard core and makes prosciutto. She makes hot dogs.  Each recipe comes with a bottom line: Make it or Buy it? She then goes further to examine taste vs. health vs. hassle vs. cost to give you a better idea of what you might find worth making.

Reese infuses the text with a down-to-earth approach and is very open about the fact that she happens to love cooking and that many of these recipes may not be for everyone. I liked her take on “having people over”:

The dinner party is a work of theater…It ruins the show if you’re in the kitchen in a pair of sweatpants and a jog bra, swearing over some misguided cioppino. p. 246

I appreciated that she shared as one of her family’s best memories ever the night that they watched all the Star Wars movies and shared a giant bucket of KFC. Or the fact that she admits that if she had it to do over she’d have occasionally saved her sanity when her kids were little and given them move boxed mac and cheese.

I got this book out of the library thinking it would be more memoir and less cookbook. I’d say it’s more cookbook with a heavy dose of funny text sprinkled throughout. I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, as in the end I decided that although I rarely buy cookbooks this is one I want to own. Bottom line? Buy it.