For those of you who have followed my writing for a while, you may recall my post on Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that recounts the author's year-long foray into the Slow Food movement with helpful recipes and daunting tales of raising heritage turkeys, making her own pasta and eating only food born, raised and slaughtered within a 50-mile radius of her house.
It promptly made me want to plant my own veggies, raise my own chickens and never, ever buy another loaf of bread again.
I lasted about a week, then reverted to most of my former buying habits: organic, store-bought food with an occasional jaunt to the farmer's market if I happened to be in the area.
Feeling like a complete failure, I was certain I could never measure up to the Kingsolver clan's level of mindfulness and was about to abandon all hope of ever feeding my children something that didn't come from a box when Jennifer Reese came along.
Jennifer is my culinary hero.
Her cookbook, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of bed the first night I picked it up. A cookbook that is funny? Let's just say Jennifer is Barbara Kingsolver meets Erma Bombeck. She is seriously funny. Or funnily serious about food and what you can do to make your lives a little easier...and tastier!
For a delicious week, I savored every page as she unhooked me from my own First World guilt about Industrial Food and the harmful things we're doing to the planet.
The book arose out of Jennifer's own desperation. A victim of the 2008 recession, she suddenly found herself a formerly employed book critic for Entertainment Weekly. Watching the apple tree cast off its final fruit onto her Northern California lawn, Jennifer wondered if making apple sauce and living off the suburban land could save her. She set out to experiment with homemade food, starting her own silent from-scratch revolution.
But she is no proselytizer like some of her foodie contemporaries. Her side-splitting humor and distinct honesty about what is easier to make and what is easier to buy is extremely empowering and liberating. For Jennifer, food is not political. Food is food.
Her expression about buying ducks, then selling them because of their gang-ish, bullying treatment of the other suburban-yard foul, reveals a truly authentic voice. Just listen to her description of the turkey farm where she bought what she called a Frankenbird with a bad boob job whom she didn't have the heart to kill for her Thanksgiving meal:
"[The] farm was strewn with rusted car parts, overturned boxes of trash, empty,2-liter soda bottles, crushed cans, and downed trees, and through this WALL-E wasteland wandered dozens of chickens, cats, dogs, and three bloated, broad-breasted white turkeys - the standard factory-breed...the turkey may well have ingested STP, Mountain Dew, and crystal meth, but I remained confident that she was never polluted by an antibiotic. We loved her instantly..."
She tried it. It failed. Onward!
Unlike Martha Stewart's exotic list of ingredients for virtually every recipe she provides, Jennifer's book is chock full of easy-to-make items whose components are in everyone's kitchen. Flour, eggs, milk, salt, sugar. She brings food back to the basics. I will say, however, that some of the appliances may not be of your average variety. I, for one, don't have, or plan on having, an ice cream maker. I did go out and buy a food processor/blender hybrid for the Nutella recipe. Yes! You can make Nutella from scratch. I still have to refine the amount of cocoa my kids can handle, but my daughter, the Nutella connoisseur, highly approved of the healthier version. No transfats. No aromas. Just plain and simple ingredients that came from the Earth.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is a doable look at how we can embrace slow food with humor, grace and a pinch of kosher salt. I bet even Barbara Kingsolver would approve.