Homemade Everything: Off the Deep End I Go

As anyone who’s read this blog even occasionally or lackadaisically knows, I’m on a constant quest to feed my family better.  (And if you’re new here, hi, let me sum it up for you: I’m B., and I have incurable culinary OCD.)  Less than a year ago, when I started writing RRG, I thought it was just going to be a journey of trying to be more local eaters, trying to be perhaps more aware of pesticide use and over-the-top additives in our food, and of course, continuing the never-ending mission to make vegetables and fruits and whole grains appealing to our whole family.  But a funny thing has happened along the way: I’ve really come down with a case of the conscious eater’s conscience.

There are so many fewer boxes, cans, and packages in my pantry than there ever have been before; and even though J. and I probably ate more fresh produce and a more varied diet even when we were first married than many Americans do, there are now so many vegetables and fruits on our table at any given time that I sometimes sit back in amazement at the CHOICES we have.  Of course, as I’ve written about before several times, in fact — we’ve still had to eat consciously, upping our consumption of organics, limiting our animal proteins to pastured and sustainably raised, etc., on a budget.  And it’s funny how well you can eat on a budget; but it’s also funny how many tricks I find myself employing to hold fast to that budget while still feeding us WELL and plentifully.

Neither J., nor I, nor our two boys — who, even at the ages of 4 and 2, often appear to be approximately as ravenous as small wolverines — would take kindly to the overall reduction we’ve experienced in our consumption of meat, refined sugar, and packaged snacks if there were any hint of deprivation.  So I’ve had to make a conscious effort to figure out how to stretch pennies, which is something that earns me strange looks from well-meaning people.  How, they seem to be wondering, can you possibly be concerned about your budget if you’re shopping at Whole Foods?  How does being a prissy, fussy, foodie type equate to stretching your dollars?

As I’m discovering, there’s more symmetry there than people might think.  It’s a simple equation, actually: Spend what you must for quality meats and produce, and figure out the rest.

Bread?  Kind of expensive.  Flour?  Really cheap.  (Even organic whole-wheat flour.)  Cereal?  Getting more expensive…and smaller.  Oats?  Dirt cheap.  Homemade pancakes and waffles?  Also insanely cheap.

See where I’m going with this?

Yeah, I’ve really gone off the deep end this time.  I’m starting to make EVERYTHING myself.  I’ve always enjoyed baking, and I’ve always been a good bread baker — a skill which I know not everyone cultivates — but at least I haven’t got any fears about yeast or proofing or fermentation or whatnot.  Frankly, I may not always have time to put together loaves of whole-wheat sandwich bread, but I’ve discovered recently that I can easily slap together homemade wheat pitas.  It’s made me want to dive into the world of make-it-yourself in a way I never even thought possible.

There are so many things we all take for granted as food items that must be bought at the store.  I never thought much about the tortillas we’ve always kept on hand, until I read somewhere about making your own.  Now whole-wheat tortillas are becoming a favorite project of mine.  Pasta, too — if, like me, you don’t own a pasta machine, you might consider it ridiculous to even attempt making your own spaghetti.

You might.  Or you might pull out a rolling pin and make whole-wheat spinach ravioli entirely by hand, which is what I did for almost 2 hours last night after the kids went to bed.

Yes, it was far more effort than I think most people would put forth; and yes, I’m likely going to continue to purchase most of my pasta, especially since there are very affordable whole-wheat varieties that don’t require me to sweat over a pastry board and rolling pin until all hours.  (Also, the ravioli turned out pretty well…but not impressively so.)  It was definitely an “off the deep end” kind of crazy ODSKG moment.  But you have to realize why I did it.

There is something.  Immensely.  Satisfying.  About doing it yourself.

Knowing that I’ve saved $4 on the big package of tortillas at the market, and can make something that tastes light years better and is far healthier for just pennies in raw ingredients (and about 30 minutes of time), is deeply rewarding.  Soul-soothing, in fact.  Watching L. and J., neither of whom care much for store-bought pita bread, fighting over the last scrap of my warm fresh pita, gives me a sense of pride.  And eating this way — wholly from scratch, everything made totally from whole ingredients in my own kitchen — tastes amazing, feels amazing, and makes it possible for me to say YES to so many things.

YES, darling grizzly bear sons of mine, when the smoked salmon is on sale at the store I will buy you two packages for your lunchboxes, because the money for that luxury purchase comes out of not buying breads and cereals and processed grains of all kinds.  YES, you may have the high-quality maple syrup and local honey and cashews for topping your oats and pancakes, because I’ve figured out how to feed you breakfast without having to open up any vacuum-sealed packages.  YES, dear husband, we can buy the good cheddar cheese and the lovely goat cheese you crave, because we’re learning to eat less of it as we enjoy better, healthier, more flavorful meals that cost us less than they used to when we bought all the lower-quality ingredients and convenience items at the supermarket.

Maybe best of all, though, even better than enjoying our food more and getting better value from our purchases, is the freedom I feel in being able to make these things myself.  I know it sounds strange, but before, when I relied on other people to make and sell to me staple items like breads and pancake mixes, I had to be very sure not to run out of them.  If we ran out of tortillas and I’d been counting on making quesadillas for lunchboxes, there would have to be a trip to the store…or a last-minute panicked rummaging for some kind of substitution.  But just last week, we found ourselves absolutely clean out of bread, tortillas, crackers, and basically grains of any kind — with two days’ worth of lunches to account for.  And as I felt myself go into that mode of dread, I stopped suddenly, opened the pantry, and found a bag of flour.

Less than an hour later, we had a double batch of warm tortillas and some whole-wheat waffles cooling on the counter, and absolute peace of mind.  Our family continued to eat abundantly and happily for the rest of the week, with no sense of deprivation, no sense of compromise, no realization, even, that our cupboards had been “bare.”  There’s POWER in knowing that you can make this stuff.  There’s satisfaction in self-reliance and in breaking free of the emergency mid-week grocery trip.

I know it’s not a solution for everyone, and certainly, there will be times in our lives when making it all from scratch doesn’t work as well as it has been at the moment — schedules happen, life happens, and part of the reason convenience foods like packaged breads evolved was to help fill the gaps for busy families.  But I’m happily plunging off this deep end for the moment, knowing that if I can make passable ravioli with a sharp knife and a rolling pin, I can do just about anything in the kitchen that I’d ever want to do.  It’s hard to describe how this feels, but trust me: When you’re able to embrace homemade everything, food, and life, are just so good.

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11 Responses to Homemade Everything: Off the Deep End I Go

  1. Alissa says:

    Hi! I’m joining this conversation a little late, but wanted to chime in because I know exactly how you feel! Lately I have been making more and more things at home, creating my own freezer stocks of things like oatmeal pancakes, whole grain waffles, muffins, etc. Also, about a year ago I bought a bread machine and it changed my life…I too was becoming increasingly unhappy with the ingredient lists on packaged bread, but with my bread machine I can have homemade, 100% whole wheat organic bread in about 2 hours, with only about 10 minutes of effort. It’s a bit of an upfront investment, but I haven’t bought a loaf of bread in a year, so I’m sure at some point the machine pays for itself…plus the machine makes it so easy to make pizza dough, hamburger buns, etc…but it never occurred to me to make tortillas at home, and I am intrigued – I buy them at WF by the stack and would love a better option!

    • Don’t worry about being late — always glad to have newcomers! The tortilla thing has utterly changed our lives. 🙂 The fact that we can make them anytime we want to, with just a few ingredients, is really a lifesaver, especially when we’re trying to come up with something inventive for the kids’ lunchboxes. I bake my breads without a machine and find that it’s a fine solution for me, but I do think that for a lot of people, the bread machine can make the difference between baking or not baking, so I’m all for it. Come back soon and share more thoughts!

  2. Pingback: Three Basic Dough Recipes | Red, Round, or Green

  3. Bri:

    Love this post and will share on The Lunch Tray’s Facebook page for others to see.

    And you really struck a nerve with tortillas. My son adores “breakfast tacos,” i.e., scrambled eggs with a little cheese and green salsa rolled up in a warmed tortilla. He would eat this combo for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack! I find myself buying the name brand tortillas at the supermarket even though I hate the ingredient list, because they are much better textured (and yes, they last longer – wonder why?) than the WF brand.

    So of course I must ask — can you share your tortilla recipe?

    • Hi Bettina! Thank you so much! I’m planning to link to the tortilla recipe this week. It’s actually from another blogger, to whom I have to say I owe a huge debt of gratitude for giving me the idea that I could even make them myself! Stay tuned…

  4. Megan says:

    Have you ever tried Tortilla Land raw tortillas? They have 3 varieties: flour, corn, and multi-grain. I’ve only had the flour tortillas, because that’s the only kind our local Costco sells, but they are REALLY good and only have 5 ingredients: wheat flour, water, canola oil, salt, and sugar. At Costco they come in a bulk package with two smaller packages inside. We usually freeze one and then use the other right away. They are cheap and taste MUCH better than the pre-cooked, preservative-laden grocery store type. Great option for those of us that aren’t quite ready (or have the time) to make them from scratch!

    • Hi Megan, thanks for the tip! I hope everybody’s reading the comments so they can go look for these! 🙂 I think it’s great that there are options out there for people who are not as completely nuts as I am, but who want to keep their families healthy.

  5. Donna says:

    Hey B.–I haven’t commented in a while but I am still a loyal reader 🙂 I agree with TB–more recipes please! I think part of being able to confidently make your own bread, tortillas, etc., is just practice. Think about it–we all have a few go-to recipes that if life were to get crazy, we could pull out the ingredients and make them in 20-30 minutes without even thinking. That’s because we have made those recipes enough that they are in our heads, in our hands. If bread and tortilla making were to become that well-known to us, we wouldn’t have to rely on the store brands. I have never myself made bread, but would love to give it a shot and make it part of my lifestyle. Which brings me back to my first point–recipes please 🙂

    • Point taken! I actually got the tortilla recipe from somebody else’s site, and want to get her permission first before linking, so hold tight! But I’ll absolutely be happy to share the pita recipe and maybe do a weekly bread feature with tips and tricks, if that’s something you all would like. 🙂 There are a couple of bread recipes on the Recipes page already, but we can always do more!

      Thanks for chiming back in, Donna, and I’m really happy to hear from you and from all readers about what you want to see here!

  6. TB says:

    What a timely post! Just yesterday I admit, I closed my eyes and bought tortillas and some sort of “flat bread”. After lunch, we (my hubby, friend and I) were discussing what *might* be in said flat bread…… Well, the list was long. Hubby was NOT happy, I have to agree but I felt so helpless. The store I had shopped at, didn’t have any options, so in a pinch I got what they had and hoped for the best. I felt like the 45 minutes I spent making lunch was just a waste. Nobody was happy after the fact and I just wanted to throw my hands up.

    I would love your tortilla recipe. Quesadillas and other tortilla wraps are a staple for my 20 month old, all the stuff that goes in it is good, why can’t I wrap it up with goodness too?

    I really want to become a good bread maker as well. I tried it last month with not so good results. I make pizza dough all the time and it works fine. Don’t know why the bread was different.

    • It’s such a shame that it can be hard to find breads and grain products that are, oh, I don’t know — actually made of just the things that are necessary for baking bread/grain products? I was thinking tonight that years ago, any average 5th-grader could have not only told you with reasonable accuracy exactly what goes into bread, but had probably made it or watched it being made several times in their lives. Now how many 5th-graders do you think could do that? And of those who could, how many would be able to tell you what’s in the supermarket varieties most of us are used to eating?
      I’ll hopefully be linking to the tortilla recipe, which is NOT mine, next week. I want to be sure it’s cool with the other person first. (I’m sure it will be — we bloggers love links!) But I have to say that until I saw it somewhere else, I hadn’t ever thought of making my own flour tortillas either. We’re conditioned to think that’s the province of experts…but it’s really simple. I’m so thankful I found a recipe and tried it out!
      I’m going to start a bread baking tutorial here on the blog soon. A few people have expressed interest now, and I think it could be fun!

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