Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Anyone who has ever been on a diet, whether it be for general health or weight loss, knows that one of the greatest obstacles is label reading. It's ridiculous, isn't it? Truly, those center isles in your grocery store are a nightmare to say the least. Are you sure you know what's in your salad dressing, your ketchup, the loaf of bread on the counter, or the canned soup in your cupboard? Do you even know what some of those ingredients are, let alone if they mesh with your health goals?

But there is an easy and rewarding way to get past all this label reading - DIY. That's right do-it-yourself. Now, keep in mind this is coming from someone who, up until a couple years ago, was offended by the assumption that I had to cook just because I was a woman and refused to participate in such an outdated concept (needless to say, my family gets a good laugh out of it now). 

To be perfectly honest, I was amazed at not only how wonderful doing-it-yourself can taste, but how rewarding, fulfilling, and down right easy it can be as well. If you told me a few years ago that today I'd be baking my own bread, canning my own tomatoes, making soup from scratch, could make my own butter and yogurt (not that I eat it these days, but I can do it), and most recently, would be growing my own food; I'd have laughed at you then given you a verbal tongue lashing! How dare you!

Yet here I am, doing it myself. No more label reading. No more wondering what cancer causing additive the FDA let slip through THIS time. Nope, I know exactly what's in my food, because I made it myself. 

Now, I know some of you are saying, "Yeah, right, Heather. I could never do that" (whatever THAT is). But in fact, you'd be surprised. Look through the archives of some of your favorite blogs. Most of us started out not knowing how to do any of these things either and trust me, if I can do it, ANYONE can do it. Before long, you'll be wondering why you waited so long to try. 

So quit inspecting those ingredient lists, get out of those center isles in your grocery store, and head for the produce section. Better yet, visit your local farmers' market or hook up with a CSA for fresher, healthier, tastier veggies. Then become a do-it-yourselfer - it'll be tastier; it'll be better for you; and you'll discover the immense satisfaction and confidence that only a DIY'er can know.

For those readers who still aren't convinced, let's gets some comments posted here about the things you DIY'ers thought you could never do and what you're planning on trying next. Come on. Share the love...


Jen said...

It's so interesting you posted this today. Just last night, I was really inspecting labels on a lot of the stuff in my pantry and refrigerator!! Some of it was pretty scary, and is gone now! :)

I mostly avoid the middle aisles of the store, and do a lot of things in the kitchen myslef. There is definitely room for improvement though!

We have been slowly moving towards a whole foods diet, and now I'm working on going totally organic, and local as much as possible. Baby steps, right? It's a process.

There are so many things I still want to do: grind my own grains, and do all my own baking; make buttermilk, yogurt and other cultured dairy from my raw milk; learn to make my own condiments from whole foods (I couldn't live without mayo, ketchup and mustard in some form); learn to can; experiment with pickling and fermenting foods.

I keep two lists. One are items I want to source locally, which I add to as I think of them. The other list is methods I want to try in the kitchen. I'm just going to start at the top, and work my way down... one by one. It will take a while, but it will be so worth it to the health of my family!

Great post, Heather!!!

Melissa ~ Wife to 1, Mom to 5 said...

I never thought I could grow a garden that produced enough food to can... until I tried Square Foot Gardening. It gave me the atta-girl that I needed to keep trying! With all that fresh produce, we ate from our garden and canned the excess. I'm so proud every time we open a jar of food that I made! It's very empowering. I never thought I could bake bread, raise chickens, make homemade pasta and dozens of other things, but I do now. The point is, pick one thing. Just ONE thing. Do a little research and jump in. You'll be surprised to find how easy it really is and one things leads to another. Don't get overwhelmed and quit before you even try. If you want homemade spaghetti sauce, get 1 Roma tomato plant and 1 basil plant. Just one of each will give you several home cooked meals.

Good luck!

Chile said...

A few years ago, I never imagined I'd be canning. My mom canned, but she had to because my grandfather and dad grew such a bountiful garden. Why would I ever have such surplus?

Well, with the CSA, local harvesting of fruits, and occasional great shopping deals, I ended up with a surplus of my own that had to be dealt with. Canning friends encouraged me, blogs encouraged me, and my fond memories of wonderful homemade foods encouraged me.

I've now got a pantry full of jellies, marmalades, pickles, olives, chutneys, etc.

We won't talk about my foray into making liqueurs. Don't want to give the wrong impression now, do we?

Jen said...

Chile: My grandmother has been making wine with the fruits from her yard for as long as I can remember. And it's good! Rhubarb wine, cherry, strawberry, grape, even gooseberry.

She talked me through the process once, and I wrote it all down. I'll have to add that to my list to try someday. :)

Chile said...

Jen - I have CSA friends who are into making wine and champagne. I think they use Katz's book Wild Fermentation as their guide. So far, we haven't wanted to invest in the equipment to do it right. Liqueurs are easy: steep stuff in cheap vodka, strain, add sugar syrup if you want, and it's done. :)

Stephanie said...

I now make my own bread and yogurt regularly and make other home goodies from time to time. These were things I never thought I could do, but just started giving it a try. The most amazing thing is the sense of satisfaction you get from doing it yourself. Also, most are much easier to make than I thought they would be.

Anonymous said...

a year ago, when i became the sole adult in the house, i was certain that my family was either going to starve to death or subsist on a diet of fast food and sodas. last night we sat down to a dinner of quiche, lemonade and rice pudding. all of it was homemade by me. nothing came from a box, nothing came out of the microwave and the apron my ex's grandmother made me as a wedding gift now gets worn and used in the way it was intended. and it all started with an empty jar and some heavy cream. once i made butter, nothing seemed impossible. next on the list, cinnamon rolls. ages ago, my ex's grandmothers wanted to teach me how to make yeast rolls and pie crust and all of those basics of homemaking and i stared at them with disbelief that women would still "lower" themselves to being "kitchen slaves". now that they're both gone i find myself wishing i could call and ask for lessons on every thing from quilting to making a good starter sponge. i hope they're getting a good laugh at the irony of it all :)

Jen said...

Chile: I'll have to give liquere making a try. I have vodka, and frozen fruit... :)

Chile said...

I hope Heather doesn't mind if I link to my blog post about making liqueurs here. In the post are several links (the book and the Danish Schnapps site) to recipes online to get you started.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I grew up on a farm, so I knew how to grow food and preserve it. That was a given.

But I NEVER thought I'd make my own bread, pizza dough, tortillas, or pasta, let alone cheese!

I love it now, and it's so easy! (Well, the cheeses I try are easy, anyway)

Heather @ SGF said...

Jen - Sounds like you are on the right path! Baby steps is definitely the way to go. It's taken me 11 years to get to the point I am now (most of the food related stuff has been in the last 3 years), but the point is we learn as we grow, and as we become aware of different ways of doing things, we incorporate them into our lives. GREAT job!

Melissa - Yeah! That SFG stuff really is as easy as it sounds, isn't it! And I love that word: empowering. That's exactly how I feel as well.

Chile - I know what you mean about never having had surplus before. Our fridge used to be pretty empty (we ate out all the time). Now, I have trouble eating it all (and it's all so good). It's amazing looking back at who we were years ago and seeing how far we've come. You're definitely an inspiration to me!

Jen - ooh! That strawberry wine sounds good...

Chile - you realize you make everything sounds so easy. :)

Stephanie - Wonderful! You're right - for some reason we've convinced ourselves all these things are hard, but with experience comes confidence. Way to go!

blondeoverboard - That's what has happened to me too. The family is getting a good hearty laugh out of all this. My dad even bought me an apron for christmas to tease me :) They wouldn't if they didn't love us, right?

Jen and Chile - Don't mind at all. Especially if you share with me :)

Farmer's Daughter - It's good to know that even the people who have been doing this their whole life have a thing or two to learn :) Tortillas is something I'll be trying for the first time soon. Yum!

Libby said...

#1 - I am so excited I ran across your blog!

#2 - I am starting to get into the whole local. organic. diy. eating & cooking & I really appreciate all the resources & information I've found on your blog so far! thanks:-)

Heather @ SGF said...

Libby - I checked out your blog and you mention "Mr G's." You wouldn't happen to be in Bryan College Station, would you...

Let me know if there's anything I can do to help your wonderful new adventure into local/organic foods!

Libby said...

Heather - Yes, I am in B/CS...that's why I was so excited to find your blog! Thanks for the offer. I'll definitely let you know if I have any questions!

Heather @ SGF said...

Libby - I'll be doing a talk on campus on April 6 in Rudder if you'd like to attend. The website where it's listed is here:


Just be sure to RSVP so that they have enough meals. I'd love to meet you!