March 23, 2011 by Leah
Making things from scratch can take time. So can going to the grocery store or waiting in a drive-through line. I personally would much rather be standing in my kitchen than sitting in my car. That said, getting up the energy required to make tomato sauce is sometimes hard, even for a dilettante like me.
I’m not a total dilettante. I had to start making to-do lists recently. Still, I don’t have a “real” job or, as people like to point out, any children. Believe me, I fill my time anyway. In a way, I’m looking at this point in my life as the time where I learn all the skills that are going to get me through the busier times ahead.
I have, of course, been looking for a “professional” job that will allow me to use my hard-won masters’ degree and pay me appropriately, but there is a certain sense of dread that accompanies the idea of learning a new corporate culture. There is also that nagging feeling that the only people I know who are often happy to go to work in the morning are those who are in charge. I don’t really want to be in charge of an office. The pettiness, the unhappy workers. Even people who are lucky enough to do meaningful work don’t always get the sense of satisfaction and pride they deserve out of it when the organization is an emotional clusterfuck. Even the bosses aren’t happy every day. Everyone wants more time for “real life,” which I think is ridiculous – how could we spend one half of our waking hours not living our “real lives?” Well over one half when you count commuting, lunch, and hair-straightening time.
Many would say that my reluctance to get back into “the office” is probably what’s blocking me from finding a job. It’s also that I’ve been holding out for a good one. It’s also that no one even sends “we have received your application” emails these days. That I moved to a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country (and they’re not even counting me in that number).
Increasingly, I’ve been applying for jobs that sound fun – working at Whole Foods, or in a boutique cheese shop, just so I can start bringing in a little bit of money while seeing how the Bailey Editing thing is going to play out. Making connections in the community never hurts when you are a small business owner, and really, how great would it be to work in a cheese shop?
By now, I’ve probably upset several of my friends and acquaintances who HAVE to work and don’t have a well-educated, personable, always-employable spouse to subsidize the search for the perfect job. I’ve definitely upset said spouse by not being able to find a job (actually, that’s not true – the only time I can remember his being upset about anything EVER was when I forgot to return a call from a headhunter because I was overwhelmed with Christmas preparations). I think the underlying issue there is that he sees me as smart, competent, and educated and doesn’t know what the big deal is with finding a job. With every day that passes, I feel like I have less of a chance of finding a job and less value as a potential earner, which is, as much as I try not to let it, and as much as we discuss it, skewing my sense of value as a person. I think this would have happened even if I’d chosen, for whatever reason, to stop working after I got married (or, later, when children enter the picture). But becoming a housewife against all plans and expectations has been, in some ways, hard.
I write all of this to explain the energy, enthusiasm, and even occasional fervor with which I have attacked the learning of traditional skills like making things from scratch and gardening. Many people do all of that AND have jobs and kids, but I feel that if I can, at least, take care of us by creating delectable and healthy meals, and be “productive” by growing some of that food, maybe I have a little more worth. Heck, when I was working full-time and playing in the Anchorage Symphony and going to graduate school on my nights off, I still kept a container garden on my apartment porch in the summers and cooked from scratch (well, cans, in those days) for myself. I’d spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon cooking and freezing single-serving portions of soups, casseroles – anything, really, and then impress my coworkers with my lunches all week long.
The difference between then and now is scale. I’m making a lot more from not-canned scratch, and my garden is a lot bigger. (So is my living space, and it is now occupied by a husband and a dog.) Operations, particularly in the kitchen, definitely might have reached an overwhelming point if it weren’t for machines. Yes, automation is a great friend to the housewife, or anyone who aspires to make more homemade food while still having some time to relax in the evenings.
(This is a controversial point. Some purists insist that bread is not bread if you don’t knead it yourself. And some people have stopped kneading bread entirely. Bread can be an oddly tricky, divisive subject.)
When I make yogurt, I rely on my digital thermometer with a temperature alarm, so I can walk away and do other things while the milk is heating and cooling. When I make bread, or anything else that starts as dough (noodles, dumplings), I rely on my stand mixer with the dough hook attachment (and then the thermometer again, to tell me when the bread is done). There are machines that will shape my noodles for me, and press my tortillas, too. Stock is a very good thing to make from scratch, so I do it often and utilize my slow cooker for the purpose (again, I don’t have to be hovering – I don’t even have to be in the house). Tortillas don’t take more time than 10-15 minutes to make, although I’ve discovered a taco dinner works best if I prep the toppings and then make the tortillas while Aaron cooks the taco meat. The hands-on time for yogurt, bread, and stock is all very minimal. Making crackers probably took me about an hour, and tomato sauce and even mozzarella also take an hour or less – including clean-up. Noodles are maybe half an hour to roll and cut.
I think it’s important that we know how to make things without the help of automation. I could certainly make a loaf of bread or a quart of yogurt without using machines. I stopped using the thermometer for a lot of roast meats because it often caused more confusion than it would have it I used other guidelines and signals to judge when meat is done (particularly my beloved roast chickens). Many people don’t have the financial freedom to go out and buy a stand mixer or an immersion blender (even if such things will last forever and therefore cost very little over one’s lifetime) and they still make amazing things from scratch. I’ve just happened to discover that machines help me keep some balance in my life.