Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: A Review

I've not reviewed many books here. Given my former day job, it always seemed a bit of a conflict of interest. Honest praise for projects I worked on could have seemed self-serving. Sure, I could have written about books that I did not have anything to do with, but ignoring my titles and only praising those from other publishers also seemed strange. So, I generally avoided it. Which was hard for me, because I read a lot.
As I've mentioned before, my parents were librarians who opened bookstores and I've worked in books for almost my entire professional career. Whether I will do so in the future, either freelance or full-time, remains up in the air. In the meantime, I'm going to start writing more often about the books that cross my desk. 

First up, the very appealingly titled: Make the Butter, Buy the Bread from Jennifer Reese, which was sent to me as a review copy.

From simple projects like make it yourself peanut butter and home baked bread to onion rings, backyard ducks and raising goats for their milk, Jennifer Reese takes us through a diverse range of projects, both successes and failures, with 120 recipes and corresponding  “make or buy” recommendations. The press release included featured this blurb from Mollie Katzen and I tend to agree "I knew this important, original, and necessary book would be informative—and it is, very. What I didn't expect: pure entertainment in an original, fresh voice that will make readers feel they have a smart new best friend. I lapped this up in one sitting, learned a bunch, laughed out loud - and am about to try several of the recipes. You nailed it, Jennifer Reese!” The writing is inviting enough that I sat down and read the book through, eager to learn the results of each experience. The animal experiments, chicken, goats, ducks and turkeys, are particularly entertaining, as are the honest and often hilarious reactions from Reese's family. 

The idea behind the book is one that resonates with me: when does it make sense to make a product versus buying it, in terms of taste, cost and hassle involved? This is something I wish people talked about more often when discussing home cooking and the ongoing debates about convenience foods. For some, the major issue is expense but for many, it is time. A large part of the make versus buy equation becomes how much we enjoy an activity. For example, I could devote hours to making a homemade croissant, but I've tried it, not enjoyed it, and with Tartine down the street, I am not motivated. Yet, although I can buy excellent jam at Bi-Rite, I don't hesitate to spend just as many hours as I would on the croissants, if not more, making jam. Jam making for me is a hobby, rather than a burden. Although some people do work incredibly long hours, most of us have lives with a certain amount of leisure time. If you enjoy cooking or baking or jam making or urban farming, the time is not the burden it would be if even the idea of stirring a pot for hours sounds tortuous. I can or bake or cook because I enjoy the process and not just the results. I'd rather be doing that than playing online poker or golfing or many other activities. Do I save money with these projects, something that I am clearly even more sensitive to today than ever? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Which is why my personal make or buy recommendations don't always mirror Reese's and that is to be expected.
As to the projects themselves, I appreciated the sheer number Reese tried. Personally, I'm not a backyard chicken girl. Having been attacked by a rooster at 5, I may be one of the only people out there scared of chickens. But, I regularly make jam, pickles, chutneys, tomato sauces ryed or bourboned cherries and the like, have made cheese, bacon, corned beef, pates, smoked fish and meats, along with all of my everyday cooking and baking. This year we even grew our own corn for popcorn. Although I haven't tried many of the projects Reese did, I have done quite a few. In general I agreed with the make/buy recommendations, though I feel strongly that she is wrong about strawberry jam. That aside, I highly recommend the book.

I wanted to test a recipe, so I handed it to K, with the caveat that no sweets were to be selected. She chose bagels, a fraught topic for many East Coast transplants. The recipe can be found here. It turned out to be an excellent choice, because, although I buy few bagels these days, K eats them for lunch on days she heads to school from her father's house. Convenient to have a critic available!

After walking K to school this morning, I made the very simple dough (flour, yeast, warm water, salt and sugar) and let it rise while I went about my day. It took, mixing and kneading including, all of 10-15 minutes. After school, we came home and started in on the more interesting side of the project: shaping, boiling and then baking the bagels. Shaping and boiling probably took about another 15-20 minutes, including resting time. Then, into the oven for 30 minutes. The verdict: I was delighted with their chewiness. K felt they were "maybe a little better than store bought," though she was less delighted by the chewiness. I'd make them again, but next time experiment with onions or other flavors. I'm also planning on trying a few more of the projects in the book. Next up? Maybe I will finally try fried chicken at home.


With our homemade strawberry, balsamic, black pepper jam


No comments:

Post a Comment