I don’t know how I’ve gone nearly all month without posting here. I have sat down a handful of times to write, but quickly give up out of either sheer exhaustion or just feeling like I have nothing to say. The Project Eden Gardens are doing great, but they have taken up much of our free time over the last month. In between gardening fun, we’ve been trying to sell two homes. I really want to go on vacation somewhere with Grant without a house to keep clean, kids, or cell service so I can stress as little as possible over (the lack of) real estate traffic. Since it doesn’t look like that’s happening any time soon, I’m stealing a post idea straight from Keeper of the Home: seven things that I (almost) always make from scratch and seven things that I don’t. Mostly because I don’t have any fresh ideas of my own, but also because I thought it would be fun to reflect on which things I think are worth the effort to make from scratch.
Things I (almost) Always Make From Scratch
- Stock: I have evangelized about my stock bag enough in this space. I never buy store-bought stock – the good stuff is pricey, and I think the homemade stuff tastes much better. Plus, it’s practically free since I use stuff I otherwise would have composted. I usually make a double batch in the pressure cooker when I make it, so I use one batch and freeze the other.
- Beans: I don’t really like the taste of canned beans or whatever chemicals are typically in the can liners. We eat a lot of beans in our house (which is a big reason why the Whole30 was hard on us). I buy organic beans in bulk 25-pound bags. When I make a batch, I usually triple or quadruple it so that I can freeze smaller portions for easy meals down the road. The homemade version is much tastier, much cheaper, and I know that they’re cooked properly. Plus, I find that canned beans are often overcooked for my taste.
- Salad dressings: Homemade salad dressings are so easy and so much cheaper than store-bought alternatives that we always a few different homemade versions ready to go in the fridge or on the counter. Grant makes a yummy balsamic version that is a staple at our house and takes all of 30-seconds to make.
- Mayonnaise: I don’t even like store-bought mayonnaise, so if we ever have it, I make it. It makes for a yummy addition to salad dressings and dips, a great addition to tuna and egg salad, and it’s tasty enough that I’ll actually eat it on a sandwich, which would shock my mom because I would never touch the stuff growing up.
- Spice mixes: I don’t taco or Cajun or Italian spice mixes. I used to make my own in big batches, but lately I just experiment with the spices that know go well together (mostly because I don’t make time to make up those big batch of spice mixes). If we’re making tacos, I add about a teaspoon of ground cumin, paprika, dried oregano, and chili powder, plus a dash of cayenne to the meat or beans as I’m cooking them. If I’m making some pasta sauce, I typically add a teaspoon of oregano, basil, fennel seeds, maybe a bit of ground cumin, lots of fresh garlic, and some frozen parsley or basil if I have it at the end. One of these days, I’ll make some big batches again and post the actual recipes.
- Kombucha: Grant has completely taken over this task, which is a good thing because he has mastered kombucha brewing. I keep bugging him to do a post and share all of his secrets. We go through about 2-3 quarts of it a week, which is a nice break from water for us and the kids.
- Fermented veggies: We try to eat lots of fermented veggies because of the crazy gut benefits, and we make them all at home – our homemade versions are fermented for a minimum of three weeks to maximize the beneficial bacterial activity. Most of the store-bought krauts are pasteurized, which ruins any microbial benefit.
Things I Don’t Make From Scratch
- Yogurt. I actually like to make homemade yogurt – it’s simple and more complex-tasting than the store-bought stuff. But the kids and Grant don’t really like it. They prefer their inexpensive, one-ingredient Costco version, so I just give in and buy that.
- Detergents: I have tried to make dishwasher and laundry detergent in the past, and they have worked well. I just find that I don’t make a priority out of making big batches of it. I wait for the green varieties at Costco to go on sale and buy those instead.
- Pasta: Grant bought me a pasta attachment for my KitchenAid a few years ago, and I looove to make pasta. It’s very relaxing or something, and homemade pasta is so much different and more than delicious than the store-bought varieties. But we use pasta as a failsafe quick dinner on busy nights, so I like to keep some whole wheat stuff on hand. I save homemade pasta for lazy evenings (usually in the winter) at home when I can take my time and enjoy the process.
- Toothpaste: I haven’t even attempted this. I feel like I’m doing great enough to get everyone’s teeth brushed every night that adding homemade stuff to the mix is unrealistic – so far anyway.
- Tortillas: I think homemade tortillas taste a little better, but Costco has this kind in the refrigerated section that only have four ingredients and taste great. We have tacos at least once a week, and I typically don’t have time to make tortillas so we rely on these more often than not.
- Bread: We don’t eat a ton of bread, so a whole loaf usually lasts us several weeks during the school year. We mostly use it for packed lunches once or twice a week. I have a go-to whole wheat bread recipe that we all like, but I never seem to stay on top of it. I buy a few ingredient organic version that we keep in the freezer and only use as needed.
- Tomato paste: I always roast down lots of tomatoes at the end of canning season to use as tomato paste – it’s so delicious. But it takes so many tomatoes to make tomato paste that I’m usually out of my homemade stuff by October. I use tomato paste in so many of my sauces and soups that I almost always have a can open in the fridge, so I always have a box of the Costco variety on hand.
Things I Would Like To Make From Scratch
- Sourdough: I have tried to do a wild sourdough starter many, many times…and I always kill it at some point in the process. This might have to be my resolution for 2016 because Grant and I loooove good sourdough. I even bought the Tartine Bread book (which is supposed to be the Bible on the topic for home bakers) on Kindle when it was on sale a few months ago, so I need to dig back into it and give it another try. I’d like to get in a regular routine of baking bread that would eliminate the sandwich bread purchases.
- Cheeses: I want to get more into making our own cheese. I love homemade ricotta, and I would like to try cream cheese next before moving onto hard cheeses.
- If I had a tortilla press (hint, hint Grant), I think I could get excited about making homemade tortillas and experimenting with weird varieties.
- Butter: I’ve been wanting to try homemade butter, especially now that we have a source for raw, grass-fed cream. It seems like something fun that the kids would enjoy too.
- Food colorings: I just try to avoid food colorings, but I do use them for sugar cookies around Christmas. I’ve been wanting to experiment with making our own so I could use them more often.
- Classic birthday cakes: I usually default to making cupcakes or sheet cake for the kids’ birthdays because I’m so terrible at baking and icing the classic stacked cake. I would like to spend more time practicing, so that I can make prettier homemade cakes.
What about you? What do you make versus buy? And why?