The Real Reason to DIY
My fascination with DIY cooking started with almond butter — or, more accurately, it started with the transformative realization that a single jar of almond butter was close to a fifth of my meager grocery budget for the week. I was working my first salaried job in Boston — which was, at the time, one of the most expensive cities in the country. Forget artisanal almond butter, my entry-level starting paycheck was barely enough to pay rent and car insurance. Bulk almonds, on the other hand, were a much better deal.
I skimmed through a few recipes online, and I realized that my hand-me-down food processor could do just as good a job making my own nut butter as any boutique food company. Plus, I quickly learned that the homemade stuff is infinitely customizable. Sea salt, chocolate, and honey are just the beginning.
But this is not a story about almond butter. It’s not even about saving money, for that matter. It’s about taking that first step toward total immersion in your own personal culinary experience. Since I started DIY-ing my nut butter, I’ve tackled many, many other projects. Some — like mustard, yogurt, and granola — are practical, cheap, and shockingly easy. Others — like homemade Sriracha, sprinkles, and candy corn — are involved, time-consuming, and not always better than what I can find at a grocery store. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth it. Indeed, these homemade pantry ingredients bring me more pleasure than the average culinary project.
To whittle a paragraph-long ingredient list down to a few items bound together with a little technique and a little faith feels like an act of magic. Like many fellow cooks today, I take pride in the foods I bring home from the grocery store and the farmers’ market. My DIY pantry certainly plays a part in that pride. Still, I don’t just cook everything from scratch to maintain control over ingredients. I cook from scratch because it forces me to slow down and take the time to pay attention. It is meditative, this cooking.
That first whiff of pureed and lightly fermented chiles, sugar, and vinegar gently gurgling away in a saucepot? Pure heaven. The calm, focused mindset required to shape individual pieces of candy corn? Restorative. And the spoonful of vanilla ice cream piled high with homemade mint sprinkles is more than wonderful — it motivates me to step into the kitchen another day. These uniquely personal aromas, sensations, and tastes inspire appreciation of each and every bit of food I eat.
DIY cooking doesn’t have to be challenging. Again, it can be as simple as throwing warm almonds into a food processor. But I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try tackling a food you never thought possible to make at home. Sriracha and candy corn are two good places to start. Once you see the magic happen on your own stovetop, you just might get hooked.