Friday, December 31, 2010

Uh-oh (or Things I Didn't Consider)

Now that I'm trying to be more aware of the processed and pre-packaged items in my life I realized just how prevalent they are. And how much planning ahead it's going to take to cut them out.

For example, I have 2 CSA boxes-worth of potatoes that need to be used. So I was going to fix a favorite potato and cheese casserole. Seems simple, right? Homemade casserole, totally within the rules. But what about the ingredients themselves? What about the cream of chicken soup or the breadcrumbs sprinkled on top? I did a little research and both are completely reasonable to make. I just need to get the necessary ingredients and then schedule in the time to make them prior to putting together the casserole.

I love to make big pots of stew during the cold winter months. Not from a can, therefore homemade, right? Um. Sort of. The base is almost always purchased chicken broth. Which, again, I could easily make if I plan ahead.

Mayonnaise. Canned tomatoes. Salad dressing. Flavored creamer for my coffee (I am NOT giving that up!). Foods that come essentially ready-to-eat and that I use without a second thought. The list goes on and on. And that's just the kitchen!

This could get very interesting.....

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Rules

While some people could undertake an experiment like this without any guidelines, I always do best when there are specific rules to follow. In the beginning I’ll probably focus on food preparation but I really want to push myself to go homemade whenever possible. Stick around and eventually I’m hoping to make shampoo, cleaning products, gifts, perhaps even clothing and accessories. The internet makes it pretty simple to find instructions on how to make almost anything your imagination can think of! Since this endeavor could easily get out of hand, here are some more detailed rules to guide my way.

As my intro post stated, this is the all-encompassing Golden Rule: If I can, with reasonable effort, make the item in question, I cannot buy it.

1) I need to use up any item already in the house before I start making it from scratch. There is no reason to waste what I already have. But once the stock is depleted, the Golden Rule applies.

2) Common sense will prevail in determining “reasonable effort“. Technically, I can make my own butter directly from milk but that’s taking the experiment a bit far. I am not trying to recreate life on a pioneer homestead.

3) Some items will be exempt because, even if it would be reasonably easy to make those items, it isn‘t cost efficient for them to be homemade. Perhaps the raw materials only come in bulk sizes I would never use up or the item needs special equipment to make it. I don’t have the money to buy or space to store materials and tools that I won’t use on a regular basis.

4) I can resort to store-bought (and take-out!) if I get sick, have worked over 8 hours that day or when we first get home from an extended absence. Hopefully in the future there will be a stockpile of homemade foods in the freezer or canned in the pantry but until then I can use an escape clause. However, I cannot use this escape clause simply because oh-my-God-tomorrow-is-her-birthday-and-I-totally-forgot-to-make-her-something. I apologize in advance to all the friends who are going to get loaves of banana bread for presents this year.

5) I will not impose the Golden Rule on anyone else. If I’m out with family/friends, over at someone else’s house or get a gift, it doesn’t have to be homemade.

6) Personal care items are exempt unless I decide otherwise. I’m not making my own deodorant for goodness sake! And I’m certainly not going without. (I hear you all breathing a sigh of relief)

7) Three strikes, it’s out. If I attempt something 3 times and the results remain a failure, I’m allowed to buy the item.

I think that covers it. Anything you think I missed?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Introduction Time

I’m a 32 year old single mama to a talkative and dramatic 3 year old girl. We live in a tiny house in south Seattle with a fluffy orange cat who mostly sleeps the day away (lucky him!).

I am lucky enough to do contract work from home. I spend my days trying to keep up my little busy bee, while attempting to get the floor swept and laundry done. Then as soon as I put my daughter in bed, I sit down for 4-5 hours of paycheck work. My daughter was, until recently, a very early riser and so I have survived on around 5 hours of sleep per night for almost 3 years. I'd prefer something closer to 9 hours per night! Add in the stress of just squeaking by financially and it's exhausting.

To save time during the day, I fell into a pattern of quick and easy food choices- frozen waffles and sausages for breakfast, deli meat with crackers for lunch, every possible variety of pasta for dinner. Virtually everything was prepackaged, boxed, canned or frozen. It wasn’t healthy and, in all honesty, it wasn’t terrifically tasty either. I was too exhausted to make more effort, plus a 2 year old clinging to your leg makes it difficult and a little dangerous to be wielding a knife or standing at the hot stove!

Not surprisingly, the combination of constant stress, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition took a toll on me. I feel as though I’ve just been scraping by in so many aspects of my life. I wasn't actively living my life, I was simply getting by and it's not very satisfying. I needed a change.

Slowly this year, I’ve worked on digging out of the hole I’d gotten myself into. The easiest place to start was with the food we eat. Now that Isadora is old enough to play by herself for short periods of time, I can spend more time preparing meals. Initially it was as simple as adding frozen vegetables to pasta and eventually I moved on to casseroles and other one-pot meals.

With the help of a wonderful nutritionist, I created monthly dinner plans and worked in a greater variety of proteins, fruits, and vegetables. I tried new recipes. To further encourage myself, a few months ago I signed up for a bi-monthly CSA box with Full Circle Farms. Now, every 2 weeks a box full of delicious, organic fruits and vegetables comes right to my doorstep. It’s like a little tiny Christmas every other Wednesday.

It dawned on me recently that I now enjoy the process of cooking, which I used to dread. I also realized that meals made with fresh ingredients are infinitely more satisfying than processed foods. Okay, so everyone else probably knew that already, but it was quite a revelation to me when I started craving home cooked pot roast rather than fast food!

Everything was humming along nicely until a few weeks ago when I planned to make burritos for dinner but didn’t have time to stop at the store for tortillas. I started to cross the meal off the menu calendar when suddenly I had a crazy idea. Why not just make the tortillas myself? I knew that technically it was possible but had no idea if it was realistic. I looked up a simple recipe online and decided that it was worth a try. While the initial results weren’t fabulous, those wonky little tortillas still tasted better than what I usually buy.

What happened next was pure insanity. I was already doing a fair job of making a lot of our food from scratch. But what if I took it to the next level? What if, instead of relying on the grocery store, I tried making from scratch nearly everything we eat? No more store-bought tortillas? No more canned spaghetti sauce? No more Bisquick for pancakes? No more jars of apple sauce? No more pretzels, Goldfish or graham crackers for snacks? It’s crazy! I couldn’t possibly do it!

But… what if I could?

And in a move completely counter to my usual risk-averse self, I decided to take the plunge and am officially declaring 2011 to be my “homemade” year. The Golden Rule for the year: If I can, with reasonable effort, make something then I’m not allowed to buy it. I either make it or we go without.

I set up this blog to remain accountable; to post about the highs and certain-to-be lows as I follow the experiment though the course of the year. I expect it will be difficult at times but I hope it will also force me to take a more active role in my life. I also hope it will inspire others to push themselves further than they think they can go. If I can do, then surely you can, too!

Start thinking about it yourself: what food(s) do you currently buy premade that you could make from scratch?