Rooted, I used to think.

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Monday, Mar. 05, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

While it is a bit far-fetched to imagine never buying any multi-ingredient products, over the last couple of years I have learned to make many things myself. For the most part, the homemade versions of these products are of better quality for less money with just a small investment of time. And the best part - as you practice making things at home, you become faster and more skilled, and the quality of your products improve with each batch (less the occasional disasters). Here is a summary of some of my successes over the years.

1. Soap. This is one that does not actually save money compared with generic factory-made soap; however, it brings the cost of farmer's market style soap within everyday use range. Since I began making soap, I have not bought a single bar of soap from the store. We use around one bar of my homemade soap per week. I also give soap away as hostess gifts at dinner parties, and I have sold soap to a few different people. Recently, I have acquired a regular customer who is totally enamored with one type of my soap - she bought $10 worth on the weekend. Total win!

2. Granola. Granola is super easy to make. I can stir up a batch while making dinner and throw it in to bake while we eat. By the time I'm ready to wash dishes, the granola is out of the oven and cooling on the counter. I sneak in all sorts of healthy things like wheat germ, oat bran, and ground flax, and I make it far less sweet than the Rogers brand we used to buy.

3. Bread. I used to make bread by hand every now and then on weekends, but I found it too stressful to plan my life around punching-down. Daniel liked the homemade bread and started talking about getting a bread machine. I did a bit of research and ended up buying him a Cuisinart version that was on sale at London Drugs after Christmas. We were both really excited about this - we measured out the ingredients for the first recipe, went to bed, and woke up in the morning to... a brick of sour hardtack. We tried a different recipe from the book and a recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Both failed as per the first. At that point we both lost interest. Wasted flour, dashed hopes. About a year ago, I decided that we needed to take a different approach. I researched the science behind bread making. I purchased the best ingredients I could find. And I went about it systematically. I weighed my ingredients and recorded the results of each batch. I tweaked the recipe by grams, watched the kneading cycle, and analyzed the crumb of the bread. After about six weeks, I had developed a bread that was soft, fragrant, whole grain, and presentable to guests. And it barely resembled any recipe from a book. I've gone on to make spelt, rye and flax breads. Oatmeal and honey. Even hamburger buns. The moral of the story is that just because it's a machine doesn't mean that it's magic. Bread is a sensitive animal - perhaps too sensitive for a machine - but with a little diligence comes big rewards. We still buy some bread from the store, but it's a treat to wake up on Saturday morning to our homemade bread toasted with homemade Saskatoon berry jam.

4. Jam. One of the perks of living in BC is ready access to free berries. The coast has blackberries; the interior has blueberries and saskatoons. Picking doesn't take much time - an hour of effecient picking each day for three days when the berries are at their peak will garner several batches of jam. I've lived in urban areas in three major cities in BC, and I've collected all of my jam berries within walking distance of my kitchen. We haven't bought jam in a long, long time, and we go through a couple of jars per month.

5. Pasta. This is a new one for me. I'd been looking for a pasta roller at thrift shops for several months, and I finally found one a couple of weeks ago. I let out a little squeek of excitement when I saw it on the shelf - it's the real deal Italian-made stainless steel version with two widths of cutters. We drove straight to the European deli to buy passata and Tipo 00 flour, and by 7pm we were twirling strands of fresh pasta into our mouths. That night we froze a batch of tagliatelle, and it cooked up beautifuly a week later. While I think that we'll still buy rotini and shells ocasionally, there is absolutely no way that we will go back to dry boxed spaghetti.

6. Pizza Dough. I came across this recipe a couple of years ago and never looked back. Semolina makes all of the difference. Try it.

7. Salad Dressing. You know what? If you buy really good balsamic and really good olive oil, then that's all you need to dress a salad. That row of plastic Kraft bottles on the dinner table really bothers me. That row of plastic Kraft bottles in the fridge door also really bothers me. All of those plastic bottles of dressings lined up on the shelves at the store? That also really bothers me. Buy balsamic and olive oil that bear the Protected Designation of Origin seal. The flavours are richer and smoother than their imitation counterparts. I make other special dressings such as coleslaw and Caesar on an as-needed basis.

8. Naan Bread. Lots of bread products in this list!! Naan is expensive to buy, and it's typically frozen before you get it. Disenchanted with store bought naan, Daniel searched through our library and found a recipe for garlic naan in the Vegetarian Times cookbook. Simple ingredients and a short rise - could it really be this easy? Yes! Heat up the cast iron fry pan as hot as you dare. Brush the bread with oil and slap it on the grill. Homemade naan is absolutely delicious, and it's ready before the lentils have finished cooking.

9. Beans. Soaked and cooked from dry. This is a tough one. I don't do this as much as I should. I've not had success with black beans - they seem to never get really soft. Soybeans? Forget it. And I haven't found a good recipe for baked beans. Kidney beans and pinto beans work well. Maybe these have higher turnover in the store and as such are fresher? Cooking beans from scratch is highly rewarding, but I find it hard to get into the routine. I have faith that we will master this one in the future.

10. Beer and Wine. This is Daniel's domain. He made several batches of beer for himself and one batch of white wine for me, but we eventually decided to sell the equipment last fall. The main reason is that we were drinking too much alcohol. The other reason was that we didn't expect to have room to brew in the future, and we had a friend that was eager for the gear, so it was a natural decision. In the future, we may see if we can get some friends together to go in on a batch from a u-brew place, but I'd really rather have a nice bottle of wine occasionally than an OK bottle of wine every night. Once Daniel is finished school (6 weeks!!! eek!), I'd really like him to reduce his alcohol consumption, and I think that this will happen naturally as the social engagements dwindle off.

My next projects include yogurt and cheese. Yogurt is happening tonight! In a crock pot!

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