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!