Start a Revolution, Bake a Cake

Start a Revolution, Bake a Cake

NPR has been running a series this week about how people are changing their eating habits during this recession and I’m finding it really depressing. So far, it’s all about how people aren’t eating out, or ordering in, but they’re eating prepared foods out of the frozen food aisle. They had a home economist on yesterday pointing out that a bag of frozen french fries costs about five bucks, and for that you can get a five pound bag of potatoes. Granted, if you want fries, there’s the scary frying part, but as the home economist pointed out, is there anything easier to cook than a baked potato? A potato that isn’t fried is good wholesome food. It has lots of potassium and minerals and is a good solid whole food. With a five pound sack of spuds, you can keep your family fed for a while, or, if you’re a single chick like me, you will have the security of knowing there are any number of dead easy dinners sitting in that sack in the bottom of your cupboard.

That there is this enormous population of people who do not cook at all, who eat out or order in every night, is an ongoing source of astonishment to me. Even here, in Livingston, where most of my friends cook as a matter of course, there are still people like my next door neighbor who does not cook at all. She goes out for coffee in the morning. Because she doesn’t know how to make coffee for herself. The pizza and Chinese restaurant delivery people are at her door most every night.

My dearest friends have five kids, and because of E’s job, they spend most school years in LA these days. Last year, during the writers’ strike, when money was really tight, Nina had several really strange conversations with some LA mothers who kept trying to convince her that cooking at home was more expensive than eating out. We were both sort of stymied by that one. I suppose if you don’t know how to cook at all, or how to shop and manage your fridge so that you cook and eat the fresh veggies before they go bad, then yes, you might consider shopping and cooking at home more expensive. I’ve written before about how strange I find it that as a nation we’ve come to consider “cooking from scratch” something so out of the ordinary that it has it’s own name, but I find it very alarming. How did we become a nation of people who don’t know how to feed ourselves?

Granted, I like to cook, as anyone who has been reading this blog for more than five minutes can tell, and yet I’m going to have another tiny rant — you do not need a cake mix from the store to make a cake. There’s nothing in a cake mix that you don’t, most likely, have in your house. Cake mixes have weird chemicals and preservatives in them. Any basic cookbook will have a recipe for a basic cake. I’ve written a lot about cake. But I’m going to do it one more time. It’s really easy to make a cake.

My girlfriend Debbie has a birthday tonight, so I’m going to make a variation on the French Yogurt cake that I first learned about from Clothilde at Chocolate and Zucchini. Because she uses the traditional French method of measuring by yogurt containers, I now use the recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. This cake is dead simple. Flour, sugar, baking soda, eggs, yogurt and some oil. I do it in a bundt pan with some sliced almonds sprinkled in first, then add some of the sour cherries I put up last spring. Fifty minutes in the oven, flip it on a rack to cool, and I’ll do a little easy glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar. And there you have it — a cake that is made from nothing but good clean delicious ingredients. It takes about ten minutes to mix up. It looks pretty because you do it in a pretty pan, but even if you do it in a loaf pan like the recipe suggests, a slice of cake with some fruit and perhaps some whipped cream? What could be prettier? And you have the added satisfaction of knowing you’re feeding your loved ones something wholesome that will make them happy.

So just do it. Make a stand against the eroding life skills of a fat, rich, America. Bake a cake. Bake a cake from ingredients in your house, and serve it to someone you love. Let the revolution begin with cake!

9 thoughts on “Start a Revolution, Bake a Cake

  1. Cooking at home CAN be more expensive than eating out depending on what you are cooking and where you have been eating out. If eating out is Taco Bell and cooking at home is lasagna, then yes cooking at home is more expensive … but that is a little extreme.

    I do have to say that cooking WELL can be more expensive than cooking boxed mac and cheese and frozen fish sticks. I think that we are going to see a lot of that going on too. Fresh ingredients can ‘cost a fortune’ when you are looking at them through the filter of ‘are my 3 kids going to eat this or is it going to be thrown out’. When the money gets tight you start really thinking that way. Doesn’t make it good but reality often isn’t good.

    But just so you know we haven’t all abandoned cooking I did decide that I would start baking the deserts for my hubby’s lunches rather than buying so many snack cakes. It will take a while to wean him off of the Little Debbie Devil Cremes but I think I can do it. The cake I baked for last night (no box mix) seems to have kick started that.

  2. Having observed some of my new non-foodie friends in MN struggle with this, I intuit that part of the problem is that they don’t have what we would consider a pantry – not the physical cupboard, but the basic ingredients that we who cook keep on hand. You and I have flour(s), baking soda, baking powder, sugar(s), fat(s), nuts in the house – but someone to whom this is new would have to buy all that, and then would look at the cost, and think a cake mix is cheaper. Ditto the lack of tomato sauce, stock, pasta etc. etc. Example, to me a casserole is poverty food, but to The Mister’s best friend, it’s an expensive production because she has to buy all the ingredients from zero. (I find this especially odd since she grew up with casseroles – “hot dish,” here – whereas to me, the expat kid, they’re exotica. Yet because I keep a kitchen, I could whip one up if I had to.)

  3. Maryn, I have to completely agree with you. When I talk about what to make for dinner when you “have nothing in the house” the things in my pantry are invariably enlightening to friends that don’t cook often. On a whim I can make a cake, an omelet, a loaf of bread, pasta from scratch with tomato sauce from the garden, make a bean soup or any number of other things. If I didn’t already keep them on hand I can see how it would seem cost prohibitive.

    That said, I think the biggest issue is that home ec is no longer a common part of education. We have several generations of people that don’t know the basics of how to choose ingredients, measure them or cook. Everything is new and potentially complicated, even those things that many of us (“foodies” I mean) can make without even thinking about it. We need fewer Martha Stewarts on TV and more home ec teachers covering the basics of stocking a pantry and putting a meal together.

  4. How can you compare Taco Bell to Lasagna? I believe eating well out is much more expensive than at home. Unless one is just going to eat rice and beans! Of course, Rice and beans at home is very very cheap! This country has gone from being the strong pioneers to generation of I can’t, I don’t know how, and I am way to spoiled to even care!

  5. I completely agree with you…Lol tho’ I will say this…I’m not much of a baker…However I cook at least 6 out of days a week if not more…. : P

  6. Well said! We are, indeed, in for a world of hurt.
    And I for one am glad that YoungSon just called to double check on making a “scrap soup”. Good kid 🙂

  7. Personally I think the problem is specialization. People are used to quality products, not hack jobs. If you decide at age 40 w/ a family of 5 that you’re going to learn to cook, your family is going to have to suffer through some awful stuff while you learn. I can see how that would be daunting.

    Maybe we need a radio show that pokes gentle fun at people’s cooking efforts, which would free us to laugh at our own mistakes. One of my friends calls her mistakes “gut-fill” — you know, it tastes like crap but at least you won’t be hungry anymore — and that gave me really good perspective on my own mistakes.

  8. I agree with Laura. I’d like to see home economics classes offered in school again. Perhaps this ties in with the idea of schools returning to serving real food in real kitchens. I’d also like to see sewing offered in school again, too. Perhaps I’m one of the last to have had sewing in junior high. As a result, I made all my kids’ halloween and theatre costumes–and I kept every one! I hear there’s a new interest in sewing now with the Project Runway TV show. Anyway, your post inspired me to bake my grandmother’s carrot cake recipe. I even sifted the flour, grated the carrots finely, and beat the eggs. It took all afternoon, but it was worth it!

  9. I totally agree about the sewing — I had some basic sewing in home ec, and a family friend taught me a little — I’m an odd size and don’t like looking like everyone else, so I took it up again a couple of years ago. I’m still sort of a hack, but I got fed up when I started seeing a-line skirts with elastic waists in the store for sixty dollars! For that kind of money I can make myself 10 skirts … basic skills. Basic skills. We’re losing all the basic skills.

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