Welcome to Bite This Book! Each month, I feature a cookbook of my choosing, host a Q & A with the author, and then give you a chance to win a copy or two. It’s Bite This Book, good reads on Simple Bites.
She’s a mother of two with a passion for homemade eat and treats, and Alana Chernila’s cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making, is currently getting splattered and flour-dusted on my kitchen counter. I kind of want to cook my way right through it, from the first chapter on dairy to the sweet candy ending.
This is Alana’s first cookbook, and in it she shares 101 homemade versions of everyday supermarket essentials from yogurt and sandwich bread to salad dressing and crackers. Recipes are paired with charming stories that capture Alana’s home life and leave the reader inspired to follow suite.
We’re certainly no stranger to homemade substitutes for pantry staples here on Simple Bites, which is why I know you will enjoy this book. Its recipes are appealing to both the novice DIY experimenter, as well as the expert in all things homemade. We’re currently hooked on the pancake and waffle ready mix, which I hope to share here soon.
As someone who has been cooking from scratch all my life, I can definitely recommend The Homemade Pantry as a solid resource for anyone who wishes to move away from processed, packaged goods.
Read on for an interview with Alana and a chance to win a copy of The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making.
Q & A with Alana Chernila of Eating from the Ground Up.
Were you a writer or a cook first? How did you go from blog to book?
I certainly wrote before I cooked. I was one of those kids who kept journals for years and years. But somewhere along the way I stopped writing. I became a mother right out of college, and especially then, even though I felt like I should be writing, I just didn’t have the words in me–it felt like all my creativity went straight towards every moment with my girls. I did all sorts of jobs in my twenties, patching it together as I went so I could be with my kids as much as possible. And I was feeling a little panicky that I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life.
In the midst of it all, I was working at my local farmers’ market for my CSA. I sold vegetables every week, but even more, I talked about them. I asked people what they were going to make, and I answered recipe, storage, and preservation questions. Really, I was just learning all this myself, but these farmers’ market conversations inspired me to learn more and to think more about the week’s vegetables so I would have more to share.
I had an Ah-ha! moment in 2008 where I realized that whatever I did with my life, I wanted to work with food. I wasn’t sure where it would lead me, but in the mean time, I started a blog, Eating From the Ground Up, to store recipes for the market and to have a little fun talking about them. Once I started writing, I loved how food was such a great window into everything else. We all eat and have to feed ourselves and our families, and that shared experience provides such a great opportunity to talk about everything from parenting to politics to just learning how to enjoy life. I love that conversation, and food is such a good way to get there.
Early on in the blog, I developed a fascination with homemade staples. This was partly out of financial necessity, but also came from a desire to feed my children without all the chemicals in most packaged food. I learned how to make yogurt, and I was hooked. From then on, I looked at every food and asked the question, “Can I make this?” I wrote about these projects on the blog, and the few people who were reading along asked for more. I looked around for a few good books to help me out, and I found that there were hardly any–either they were from the 70’s, or they were so geared towards full-on homesteaders that I felt intimidated.
I gathered together a book proposal just for the experience of the process. I was entirely sure it would never go anywhere. But I sent it to an agent, he believed in it, and he went on to sell it to Clarkson Potter. Honestly, I was in a state of perpetual shock through that entire process!
Your beautiful book is creatively divided into aisles such as ‘frozen foods’, ‘dairy’ and ‘candy and sweet treats’. What was your favorite aisle to develop and taste test?
Oh, I have to admit, my heart belongs to home dairy. Those were the recipes that really enchanted me long before the book was even a thought in my mind. It’s the whole magic of it–the combination of science and intuition–I just love it. I also loved developing the recipes for the snacks chapter.
For me, snacks were the place where I really wanted to make changes in my own kitchen, and I think that’s true for a lot of people. The right granola bar recipe can be totally liberating and empowering–there’s something about not needing all those boxes anymore!
I frequently hear people admit they want to cook from scratch more, but don’t know where to start and are overwhelmed at the thought. What would you say to them and which recipes would you advise them to begin with from The Homemade Pantry?
When it comes to this kind of cooking, it’s easy to get intimidated. Over the last several decades, I think that the food system itself has taught us that we have no business making this stuff; we should just do the convenient thing and buy the boxes, bags, and containers they’ve prepared for us. Even more, when people get excited about making their own basic staples, they often want to get all the processed food out of their lives at once, and that, too, is a daunting proposition for many families.
I always advise people to start with one or two foods that feel really exciting to them. If we start with the joy of it, and let our curiosity lead us to a few recipes, than often, those foods themselves will lead you to others, and the process happens on its own. People write to me a lot and confirm this. One day, they might have started with their first batch of granola, and before they know it, they make their own bread, yogurt, jam, and crackers.
I think when we’re led by guilt, and by the idea that we should be making this stuff to be healthier, better parents, (or fill in the blank), it’s just not as fun and satisfying, and the habits don’t stick.
We’re big on welcoming kids into the kitchen here on Simple Bites. When did your girls begin in your kitchen and what sort of jobs are they in charge of now?
My girls have definitely grown up in the kitchen–it’s the heart of our home for sure. They’ve been cooking with me since they were little, although that process has sometimes been a rocky one! My little one, Rosie, who’s almost eight, is a pretty picky eater and not too interested in the whole process. She likes the art of table setting, and she likes to plan out menus. She also loves the garden, and so in the summer months, she helps me in our little garden and will often eat anything when she picks it herself.
Sadie, who is almost ten, loves to cook, and even more, she loves to feed people. Over the last year, she’s taken to making dinner for the family. She chooses a menu from a book off the cookbook shelf, and she gives me a shopping list a few days in advance. Her favorite book right now is from the Martha Stewart Everyday Food series, which is full of pretty simple and delicious recipes. Then on the afternoon of, she comes home from school and gets into it. I’m always available as her sous-chef, but I try to stay out of it as much as possible.
When people ask me how to help their kids learn to cook, I always encourage them to let the kids own the process! It’s hard to stand back and let them make their own mistakes, but then they really learn how to do it, and what they love to cook. It’s been wonderful watching Sadie come into her own in the kitchen, and I’ve learned so much from her.
Thanks to the publishers at Clarkson Potter, we have a copy of The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making to giveaway!
To enter this giveaway just leave a comment on this post and tell me a pantry item you’d like to start making from scratch.
Giveaway ends Sunday, January 20, at 8:00 AM. Good luck to all!