Confessions of a Foodie: Homemade- How Far is Too Far?

posted in: Cooking, Dine, Experience, Savory, Seattle-ing, Sweet | 39

I’ve done it now. Gotten myself in too deep and forgotten a step- now it’s too late! Will my guests realize the cream cheese is store-bought? Should I feign illness and beg-off when it’s really that I’m ashamed of serving something that is not homemade, even if it’s only a condiment?

A few days ago I read this article and it made me think long and hard about my approach to holiday cooking.

In life I’m spontaneous and a little loco.

In the kitchen, I’m type AAAAAA.

Sure, I can cook off the cuff, often tossing three random ingredients together to make an accidental masterpiece (or failure), but for the most part I plan. I am a firm believer in mise en place. I study. I approach food anthropologically and draft heat maps based on predilections for certain spices. I generally don’t cook from recipes, so planning and research are essential in order to understand the fundamentals and science behind what makes things work.

I realize this makes me part of the 1% (please don’t occupy my kitchen though- I’ll serve you excellent wine if you just stay the eff in the living room), but you know what? I’m ok with that when it comes to cooking. It’s my craft. Everyone should be allowed to be a geek about something, and food is my chosen medium. You know what you can call me without me going all Pulp Fiction on your ass like many of my peers? A Foodie.

I was recently in the kitchen of a friend whose cooking chops I respect and admire, and he pulled out a jar of pre-peeled garlic. In my world, this is tantamount to raping one’s own mother. Luckily he is thick-skinned enough that he shrugged off my jeers and kept the drinks flowing freely for the rest of the afternoon, during which we dismembered a pig head and made noodles from scratch.

Was my derision justified or am I a big ol’ bitch? It’s ok to choose the latter; I’m comfortable with that title. Should I be experiencing gut-wrangling throes of guilt over not making the cream cheese for Thanksgiving dinner? Is someone going to take away my Foodie ID?

On that note, what is homemade? Can someone go to their neighborhood Safeway, pick up a gallon of Lucerne whipping cream, whizz it in the food processor until it separates and really call that homemade butter? Personally I don’t think so because it’s homogenized, ultra-pasteurized cream that came from some mechanical cow who shuddered it out of her udder three months ago and it reached the supermarket shelf via a long journey from Iowa to Idaho. But is mine that much better just because I sought out raw cream from a local farm, cultured it first with homemade yogurt, and preciously finger-kneaded it into butter as soft as a Babylonian’s breast?

On the one hand I have guilt that the cream is not from my own cow whose teats I would have lovingly massaged with Crème de La Mer at the crack of dawn every morning and who I would have fed acorns and basil at mealtime to make both her milk and her life sweeter. On the other, I recognize the inherent lack of sustainability and sheer ridiculousness in the concept of every one of us urbanites raising the bar from backyard chickens to backyard barns.

I’m still going to call my butter homemade. I plan to swath my sourdough-leavened lye bagels in a slick of it, as well as to dapple the French Onion Soup stuffing with it once it emerges from the oven. In order to arrive at French Onion Soup stuffing, I’ve had beef bones simmering for days. I also made sourdough-gruyere bread Monday and swatted away the greedy fingers of my family when they wanted to eat it fresh from the hearth. In other words, I baked bread for the sole purpose of turning it into stale, dry crumbs. But I didn’t grow the grain for the flour in the bread. Nor did I mill even store-bought grain into flour. I did import the flour from France and Italy because I like the way they mill it there better, which I realize makes me a non-locavore at best and an extreme snob at worst, but this is my lot in life and I’m embracing it.

On Thanksgiving I will single-handedly make 15 courses, as will many of you. This does not include the staples that precede those courses, such as the homemade salt, buttermilk, butter, pumpkin puree and sourdough starter. I cannot fathom purchasing a pre-cooked or half-done item, such as rolls in a can, stuffing in a box (I just learned this existed and I’m appalled), or even jarred pumpkin. I realize I have the luxury of time, although I carve it out gingerly and I am prone to neglect when it comes to looming deadlines and bills that need paying. But even when I’ve worked at a job I loathed 60 hours a week for little pay, I prioritized cooking. It makes me happy and clears my head. When I travel too much and my hands start to lose the sense memory of chopping an onion, I feel like a junkie sans heroin.

Ultimately what I’m saying is that it’s ok to over-foodie Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims had to do it that way- there was no Whole Foods to sell them a holiday in a box. By embracing our inner foodies, we are truly giving thanks.

Thanksgiving is the biggest cooking holiday in America and if you want to fling your balls to the wall, do it the way a horse would- with his head held high and his you-know-what hung out and proud.

My turkey is brined and ready to be spatchcocked so I can better fit it into the bag in which it will be sous vided. Afterward it will be sprayed with CO2-charged batter and dipped in a molten vat of duck fat to crisp its skin. Nobody is going to get hurt, dinner will be served on time, there will be plenty of wine, and all in all I’ll have created an idyllic holiday. Except for the mortification of the store-bought cream cheese.

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39 Responses

  1. I totally agree, even foodies should never feel guilty for taking some store-bought help. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself, is this really worth my time and energy when the store-bought version has the same few ingredients?

  2. You would abhor our dietary practices even though by non-foodie standards they are pretty decent. Some day I want to come to Seattle and observe you for a day. I know I would be absolutely blown away. I never really learned how to cook well so it would be like teaching a virgin.

  3. You inspire me and put me to shame all at once. I prefer homemade food over store bought any day, but on Canadian Thanksgiving chose to do drink wine rather than be in the kitchen and ended up just coating the damn turkey in bacon so I didn’t have to baste it. Then I threw the bacon pieces into every dish. No boxed stuffing or powdered mashed potatoes, but store bought butter, bacon and Ontario wine (which is nothing to brag about). I dream of eating Thanksgiving in your dining room, yes, yes please.

  4. I absolutely blame Martha Stewart and the whole “if the recipe calls for just one slice of bacon, you need to raise the pig on your own hobby farm or else you’re a FRAUD!” mentality.

    This kind of guilt-tripping has gotten totally out of hand and probably has a lot to do with the fueling of newbie cooks’ insecurities.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with this because…

    …that being said, this post absolutely reflects my own freakish tendencies of ‘over-home-making’

  5. Always enjoy your humor, and your recipes :)

  6. We cuisine enthusiasts are fortunate to have bloggers like Linda The Adventurous showing us home-made preparations which perhaps we’ve never heard of or would be hestant to attempt otherwise. And the inventions we’d never, ever even think of, such as the ‘awful-offal’ experimntal campaign. A shining inspiration, in this case inspiring us to never make ‘awful-offal’.

  7. Interesting question – how far is too far? Your derision to jarred garlic is totally justified. I look down from my very high horse on egg beaters, bottled lemon juice, shop-bought granola, cartons of gravy, boxed stuffing and instant coffee. To get the real thing does not take that much more time and the taste:effort equation is well worth it. I think in most cases laziness prevails – getting back to real food is one way of claiming back some control of the ludicrous food situation we are facing here (obesity on the rise, yaddy yada). However I think the Alice Waters view of living totally in harmony with the land, getting raw milk every day from a herd of beautiful cows is not within most people’s reach….but each to their own.

  8. An interesting – and as always, hilarious – perspective! I always say we should make everything from scratch we have the time and inclination to do. For some that’s zero, for others it’s, well, you! I don’t think people should ever feel bad about not wanting to cook, as long as they manage to feed themselves. This female Jew cannot abide those too pathetic to eat. Sure our food system is broken. Sure everything is processed and big evil company owned and terrible for you. But there’s a middle ground. We have access to all kinds of foods. We pay money to employ lots of people to make our food for us. Yay jobs! Is it better to support a small farmer over a minimum wage burger slinger at Burger King? I think so. But not everyone geeks out over quality food like you and I. :) That’s ok.

  9. I always say I made everything.

    “Yep, I made that cream cheese. Sure I baked these potato chips. And I most certainly built that sofa you are sitting on and wove its upholstery too!”

    They always believe me, or at least they say they do when I make them sign a pledge on the paper I hand-crafted with pulp (from trees I grew). GREG

  10. I think each to their own, personally I love doing some things from scratch…home smoked chicken, homemade bacon, homemade ice cream….all so much better than the bought stuff. I am happy & proud to be a foodie….& most of my friends, family & neighbours very much like that I am too as they get to sample everything! I also think the preseerving & not being wasteful is something only to be proud off, and the more people that do it the better. Saying that will still use the likes of store bought puff pastry :)

  11. First time reader here (found you via Tastespotting, aka food p0rn). I loved this post and was a little shocked by the commenter who claimed you must be incredibly wealthy/privileged/vapid/disconnected/etc. to be so hell bent on making things from scratch or planning elaborate, balls-to-the-walls meals.

    I am far from wealthy–in fact, I’m at the completely opposite end of the spectrum ($17,000/year). I’m an adjunct college teacher and I actually qualify for food stamps (though I don’t get them). I don’t have beautiful clothing or photogenic dishware. I can’t afford $40 candles or gastronomical trips to Europe…but…I eat VERY, VERY well. I grow many hundreds of pounds of fresh, organic produce every year on my 1,000 sqf city lot (in six raised beds). Because I have such an overload of produce from March-December, I have to figure out what to do with all of that luscious, seasonal food. Becoming a foodie seemed like a reasonable response, and the more I got into creative cooking, the more guilt-ridden I became about things like canned whipped cream or pre-packaged croutons. Good food is a deep pleasure for me–a necessary indulgence, I suppose. :) It’s my escape. The kitchen is my happy place. Good food is not only for the rich, and I hate the way people act like it is. With a little education, a handful of simple ingredients, and a plot of decent earth, anyone can have gorgeous, nutritious meals.

  12. Dean Winchester

    I have just read your article and I really enjoyed it. Then I realized it was not meant as an ironic stab at how far upper-middle class women will go to make the “perfect” holiday meal. And I stopped laughing.

    I was even more baffled at the responses. There are more people like this out there? Is there a whole culture of super-privileged, upper-class white women who have not only the insane amount of time, but also money to live like this? What kind of sheltered, padded world would one have to come from to not even know about boxed stuffing!?

    I’m all for homemade. I think it’s ridiculous that the average person doesn’t know how to complete basic tasks in the kitchen. I had a roommate who didn’t know that whipped cream could be made outside of a factory (How is anyone that knowledgeable about food?). But the idea of pasteurizing my own raw cream with homemade yogurt just to make butter is equally baffling.

    For all that this has come across as incredibly rude, I just am so confused. What kind of upbringing has led you to eat and cook like this. Or rather, what kind of world must you live in where you feel actual guilt about buying cream cheese?

    Linda Reply:

    @Dean Winchester, It doesn’t come across as rude at all, to me, anyway. I was hoping there would be more balance in the comments, so thanks for providing it. Although I’d steer clear of making snap judgements about the people who embody these principles- many of us aren’t upper class and most of us aren’t 100% white, plus there are a lot of men who go this far too. I also hope you realize that the article is a bit tongue-in-cheek- clearly I know you can take it too far, or I wouldn’t have posed the question in the first place. The reason I, personally, cook and eat like this is because I grew up in a household where cooking didn’t exist. I had to fend for myself in the kitchen, being a (former) vegetarian in a household of fast food-dependent major carnivores. I never knew about boxed stuffing because it never occurred to me that it would exist- we didn’t have celebratory holiday meals, or if we did, they were not at home, therefore I didn’t know what went into the preparation until I started cooking myself, and it would never dawn on me to look for stuffing in a box when I could simply make it.

    Dean Winchester Reply:

    That was an amazingly close-to-home response and I wasn’t expecting it. So thank you for humbling me and piquing my interest all at once.

  13. Embracing that we are indeed ‘foodies’ is in itself a sign of independence; to hell with naysayers who try to lump us into a realm of individuals who have tarnished that notion. I love the history, the planning, the preparation and yes, the eating; what would I be called?

    I do not make my own butter or my own cheese. I have on occasion flung a piecrust that has been made and rolled into a cylinder and frozen for my use. But I also make my own corned beef, yesterday smoked a turkey and tomorrow will be smoking pork belly that I’ve had curing this week so that I can give my own home cured bacon to friends and families for Christmas…along with the homemade coffee and cranberry liqueurs that are brewing in my distillery (garage).

    Do I sweat the stuff I don’t make totally from scratch? Never. In comparison to the majority of people I know; I’m a from scratch cook; I think your efforts go beyond that designation. Admirable and a reminder of when my kids were young.

    I was the first Pioneer Woman, we had a huge garden and I canned and froze enough produce to get us through the winter. A winter that required we keep wood cut for our wood stove. Which ran while I made my kids clothes and because I know that type AAAAAAAA personality, I wasn’t done until I had cross-stitched their name or favorite cartoon character on the bib of the homemade overalls.Was I over the top? My friends might have thought so but I was fulfilled and I wanted to do those things.

    Now I do things because of a challenge or because it sounds fun but I don’t have a cause and I’m not embarrassed at all by the way I cook today and/or the ingredients I use.

    True confession? I volunteered to bring dinner to my daughter and her friends at work; all 20 somethings. I fried a turkey, made cranberry sauce (not in my own bogs), put together a sliced sweet potato dish and a pie. But I bought mashed potatoes from Costco. I was feeling some pressure to get it all done and delivered so I checked ingredients and they were not filled with fillers and crap and I’ll tell you…no one turned them down or the bread that I also bought. I think my problem has too often been to put so much pressure on myself that I would never give myself a break from that Type A stuff; some might call me a perfectionist and they are not being complimentary; they are lamenting that I can never do it easy. So I’m trying and that day…the food was good and it was easier.

    Everyone else has said it too but it bears repeating; we each have to do what works for us. I might not be able to understand why people flock to those freezers at Costco for all of their foodstuffs but I don’t condemn them either; especially now that I’ve broken and gone the mashed potato route!

  14. I love you for this Linda. My theory on time is that no one actually has time, people make time for the things that matter. Making something from scratch with your own hands, tasting it with your mouth, sharing it from your heart with those you love is always worth it. It is a gift to yourself and those you share it with. And Jesus- canned pumpkin?!! I remember seeing that for the first time a couple of years ago- I am still in awe of the shit people want to avoid doing in the kitchen.

  15. […] This article kinda puts it into perspective. On the one hand I have guilt that the cream is not from my own cow whose teats I would have lovingly massaged with Crème de La Mer at the crack of dawn every morning and who I would have fed acorns and basil at mealtime to make both her milk and her life sweeter. On the other, I recognize the inherent lack of sustainability and sheer ridiculousness in the concept of every one of us urbanites raising the bar from backyard chickens to backyard barns. […]

  16. Growing up, Thanksgiving was pretty much the only holiday that featured homemade food. (Never a turkey though! We had Honeybaked ham.) I looked forward to the sides and desserts made from scratch by my mother or grandmother, and at some point, myself. Now that I live on my own, I’m all about making things from scratch…in degrees. Last night’s whipped cream was the result of Lucerne heavy cream, Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste and C&H powdered sugar. There’s no shame in my game! You’re good for going for the gold. And that’s why folks like eating with you. :)

  17. I thought you were the Queen till I heard a guy on NPR today who made venison hams and acorn stew from his very own oak trees. Jacques Pepin told him to cheer down but I think he was just jealous that all he had to offer up was butternut squash stuffing. My boxed stuffing was delicious, BTW.

  18. Linda, I loved this post. Imagine my dismay when I learned my sis in law uses lemon juice out of a bottle for her salads! Its the easiest thing in the world to squeeze lemons. I think the simple things should be done at home by everyone, but the fact is most people either for one don’t enjoy cooking (blasphemous) or are too busy to cook or just don’t even know how to do anything or even worse they don’t cook.

  19. That is incredibly intense Thanksgiving preparation. Definitely laudable, and I would kill for leftovers. I can send you my address via email and payment via…. but if that’s too much to ask, pictures should suffice.

  20. Sharon Miro

    I have been thinking about this a lot. I am not sure what is too much for you…that is a line that only the cook can decide.

    I would say from 50,000 feet, that whatever makes you happy is what is enuf. Less happy? Stop doing it. Do not set such high goals for yourself that they take the joy from your art.

    But from a closer to the ground view point, I think that caution has to be used when viewing what others do. I am in awe of what you do… do I want to do it? Emmm, not to that extent anymore. Our lives change and with that, so do our priorities of time.

    I want more people to cook. If they don’t make their own butter, I am pretty much Ok with that, but if they shirk at cream cheese, well…

  21. I don’t make my own butter, but am definitely on the slippery slope that brings me there (my wife pulls me back from the brink now and then). I am in a weird state where I am away from my kitchen and heading to my inlaws for T-day. The only thing I am able to bring is canned cranberry liquor sauce. I am sad to not be exhausting myself on the kitchen nurturing my craziness like every other foodie in the country right now but living vicariously through you all.

  22. So long as you do what you like in your kitchen and I do what I like in mine who the hell cares. haha Happy Thanksgiving. I’m very glad there are over achievers such as yourself to make me feel better about my outlandish endeavors in the kitchen.

    I think that if someones trying to do better in their own kitchen they can call it homemade. It’s better than them eating at a fast food place. You my dear are in a category all your own.

    Have an amazing meal and day!

  23. How far is too far? Really, that’s a personal thing. I used to be an all-the-way, everything from scratch person. Now, due to health issues, I can’t stand in the kitchen that long or I’ll have to have someone carry me out of the room. Seriously. I draw my line where I’m comfy with it, everyone else gets to draw their line. As long as no one gives anyone else crap for where they draw their line, it’s all good.

  24. This is my third day straight cooking for my Thanksgiving dinner (fourth if you include a day of grocery shopping). I will happily wake up tomorrow at 6 am and continue on for another day. For one of three signature cocktails to be served, I made a flavored simple syrup, infused vodka and prepared pitcher of freshly pressed juice. Garnishes to be prepared at the last minute. I’m sure some think I’m crazy :) But to be honest… I just love being in the kitchen. I love cooking. And Thanksgiving is the one day of the year where I can get many of the people who are special in my life together to share my love for food.

    As always, thanks for the laughs. Jarred garlic?! Really?

    Have a happy Thanksgiving :)


  25. ChuckSeattle

    How far is too far? I appreciate the fact that with preparing food, you go, “All the way.” Your post is both timely and something I often struggle with, cooking for a family with three young kids, busy schedules, two working parents, yada yada. I refuse to purchase processed food and crappy ingredients.

    Tonight – after a long “short week,” I was looking to cook something simple and delicious, and was craving seafood, thinking about tomorrow’s meatfest. Crab cakes popped into my head. I was thinking, “OK, buy some fresh lump crab, pick up a decent loaf of artisan bread, and steam some fresh green beans (The current fave of our 3 y/o.”

    I purchased 1.25 lb. of lump dungeness, which I was attracted to beacuse of the large meaty leg pieces, and was at the same time staring the $8.99 live crab in the face. Much raced through my mind, namely, “OK, purchasing live crab would require me to figure out a way to cook and clean it, in between picking up my kids from their mid-week camp during their school break and having to taxi one of them to a dentist appt.” In the end, I opted for the lump crab. Simple, easy, fresh, high-end grocer, right?

    No. The cakes turned out salty as hell (Sorry, no pun intended). I think these crabs from which this meat came were cooked in the Dead Sea; that’s how salty the crab cakes were (I added no salt to them whatsoever), and there was nothing I could do to correct it. So, $40 worth of crab, and the meal ended up too salty for the kids to tolerate. Had I taken the extra time to purchase the live crab and cooked it myself, I would have had full control of what went into the final product.

    The main takeaway here is that taking the time to do things yourself results in the outcome you’re looking to achieve. Depending on the convenience of ingredients and products only places the cook at their mercy, evidenced by my shortcut through the woods tonight.

    In the end, the wine still rocked!

    Thanks Linda for a thoughtful post and raising the question about the struggle cooks have with time versus ingredients.


  26. Too far? There is no too far as I’m concerned, though I did get my knuckles rapped by Paula Wolfert one time when we were sitting on the lawn at the farmers market and I mentioned a box of store bought chicken stock…big NO NO. I’m not cooking this Thanksgiving and will probably have a pretty bad meal (I know where I’m going and I’m not kidding myself) But, I’ll start out the day in our kitchen with homemade waffles, and home cured bacon, and local eggs) I haven’t made my own butter but I know where it comes from right around here. I’ve got a vat of starter in my fridge that I’m slightly scared of and I look forward to vicariously enjoying your dinner. I’m doing a friendsgiving on Saturday so all my craziness will be two days late. Have fun!

  27. I love that you don’t have a problem with the word foodie. I’ve never understood the fuss, but maybe because to me it’s a lot more all-encompassing than the definition many people give it. I love what you said about embracing our foodie being how we can give thanks. I whole-heartedly believe that. Here’s to our craft, and thank goodness for those who understand, or at least humor us, and push us to learn and become even more insane!

  28. Never invite anyone that would question your gastronomic integrity. I’d be honoured to be a dinner guest at your place. I’ll even bring my own shaker and keep your guests at bay in the effin living room until dinner’s ready. xo love you for you.

    Linda Reply:

    @Melody Fury //, Well considering that @franticfoodie is coming to dinner… :) And I would love to have you for dinner soon- surely Seattle must fall on your radar somehow?

  29. Well, as much as I am also a foodie (no Pulp Fiction moments here either…), and I love making things from scratch (bread, butter, nut butters, stuffing, cheese, brown sugar etc.) I think it definitely okay for us anal retentive types to take a teeny tiny break every now and then and buy store bought items. I buy butter…and cheese most of the time. But I always bake my bread from scratch. I’ve never bought premade mashed potatoes, stuffing or anything along those lines.

    I only eat homemade pasta, cream whipped by my own hands, and cakes that started as ingredients laid put before me in there mise en place. Does this make us food snobs? Maybe. Does this mean we are better than everyone else? Perhaps. Does this mean we are eating better then 99% of people in the world? Definitely.

    Happy Thanksgiving you old food snob!

    Linda Reply:

    @Elizabeth, I love your calibration. I only brought it up because some things people feel are “staples” can actually be made too, as you point out in terms of pasta, butters etc. Since I can’t technically wish you a happy TG since yours is past, how about- cheers, baby!

  30. I think Vicky said it best – it’s totally your choice”! Now, on the question of whether you should buy it pre made or make it yourself … well, like most things in life, that depends!!!
    When faced with that question what I ask is…will a homemade version be better and will it be better enough to justify the time required required to make it?
    I draw the line though at raising my own cows… one of the downsides I guess of Food Safety Certification – every time I re certify I swear I’m never cooking for anyone ever again – LOL!!!
    Your feast sounds truly amazing and I know your guests will love it – not only for the quality but for the love and passion you put into it!
    Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    Linda Reply:

    @Nancy@acommunaltable, Oh my, you have me totally fearful to ever get certified in Food Safety- sounds ominous.

  31. Anne Burrell

    Speaking from the perspective of someone who supplies eggs, chickens and other farm-fresh produce to consumers, I am thrilled that more people are interested in making things from scratch nowadays because it only seems to draw more attention to small farms like ours who strive to bring quality to the items we sell on a small-scale.

    Linda Reply:

    @Anne Burrell, I applaud your welcoming nature and am happy you don’t think we wannabees are stepping on your toes!

  32. @vicky, Ha- well thank you. I’d be interested to hear where others fall on the spectrum.

  33. I thinks it’s ok – follow your passion, follow your dream – even if it means you go over board. You did it with gusto and are committed to excellence. Nothing wrong with that.

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