Hello convenience shoppers. I am talking to you. (That bag of pre-mixed-and-washed salad you are tossing in your cart? You’ll get no judgment from me.) But please, let me try to convince you, even if you’re an entry-level do-it-yourselfer, that it is possible to reclaim kitchencraft. All you need is a couple of mason jars, a few good recipes (trade ‘em with your friends), and a low-grade sense of horror at the industrial food complex. Nothing more than that. Here’s my take on the seven items you need never purchase at the grocery store again. And you don’t even need to throw down for a fancy food dehydrator.
Let the reclamation begin with cookies.
It’s not strictly accurate of me to claim that I haven’t purchased a box of store-bought cookies at any time in the last 20 years. Because Tim-tams.
But some things in life should not be outsourced. Many things, in the interest of time and sanity, ought to be. But some things are too sacred to let someone else do for you. Making cookie dough, licking the spoon and basking for 10 minutes in the smell of baking? Why would you outsource that? When the odour is as sensorially satisfying as the eating, science says you’re getting double the value – and are likely to eat fewer, and feel more gratified. A box of plastic-encased trans-fat-loaded crunch nuggets that you didn’t get to smell melting and morphing into golden perfection? Just say no. Make your own.
When I first left home, the extent of my culinary ability – like the FULL EXTENT — was to heat up a can of soup and serve it with toast. Hence my disdain for this entire aisle now that I’ve discovered that a batch of soup basically requires a massive amount of something in season, chopped into pieces, simmered, blended, and stored in the freezer in old yogurt containers. You barely even have to pay attention while it’s cooking. (I told you, this is the low hanging fruit of DIY.)
A can of tomatoes, lime juice, an onion, a handful of cilantro. Blend. That is how a friend first served me chips and salsa. Right. There. In. Front. Of. Me. Of course, you can next-level it with home-grown tomatoes, spices, or char-grilled tomatillos before blending it into a to-die-for salsa verde. Level up any time you’re ready. But it begins here.
Move next to salad dressing. Mason jar. Vinegar. Oil. Shake. I swear. Your fridge door will thank you.
Flour, water, salt, cream of tartar and a bit of food colouring (or a Kool-Aid packet). It’s as much fun to cook up as it is to play with. Seriously, something this simple should not be shipped over from China in little plastic tubs.
For you – the dry, the chapped, the friction-aggrieved, I have two words and they’re not petroleum jelly. Coconut oil. Miracle nut. Seriously. Rub it everywhere.
The berry is the quintessence of stopping, mid-lifestream, to appreciate the passing season. They’re here, they’re gone! Freezer jam requires no fancy footwork, no pectin, no tongs, no canning protocol… just a willingness to say, ‘Hang on, local berries are up, I must stop everything.’ It’s good practice for summer lake swims, meteor showers, full moons, and last-minute bonfire parties with friends. Some things warrant your immediate attention.
Making jam is a reminder of this, and a chance to freeze time. For there’s nothing better than opening the freezer in the middle of winter and pulling out a small jar of something that tastes of high summer.
Once you’ve done that, a beautifully labeled, store-bought comfiture seems shy of an essential ingredient – time, which you manage to stop in its tracks for a couple of hours, in your brilliantly insightful berry-brought realization that Right Now is vitally important and must be given its due.
Convenience is about protecting and honouring your time. I get it. But so, too, is stopping everything every now and then, to allow time to crystallize and gel into something even better. Something that you can enjoy later. Something free of regret.
How often can you have that?
Reclaiming certain foodstuffs from the shopping cart is not about being fanatical. It’s just about being a little bit more seasonally connected. Because as much as possible, putting energy and nourishment onto your table, and into your body, ought to be a celebration, not a chore.
That’s what Slow Food Cycle Sunday, to me, is all about. A baby step in that direction.