Thanks for playing. The game’s simple. All you have to do is answer, “What’s in that mason jar?” Yup, it’s homemade…

The prize? There’s always a prize for a game show. The prize–you get to eat it!

What? You can’t eat it because it doesn’t come from a frozen dinner box and there are no GMOs? Give me a chance here! Most of this stuff’s good. Ignore the jar with green fuzz on top. The rest is truly amazing.

I know, you think making stuff yourself is hard, but it’s not. It saves you a ton of cash, and you’ll be a food snob before you know it…you need to learn a few simple tricks… First, just open a jar and dive in…


If you open my refrigerator, you see wall-to-wall mason jars. Everything from pickles, jams, mayo, salsa, iced tea, prepped ingredients, soups, leftovers from dinner–even a salad or two. People mock me. Their loss–this food’s good. I’ve become my own celebrity chef. I make food from scratch most of the time. I date it, store it, and my food week’s set.

Once in a while I forget to date something. I want to eat it.

Did I put that in recently? Doubt creeps in. I open the jar and sniff. Bacteria and mold are funny things–I might have created a new pathogen but maybe I’ve cured a disease. I can’t tell if the food’s good. My ER copays just increased–near death experiences must wait, as good as the peach salsa looks. I don’t like waste. I don’t like painful deaths either. I’d rather get hit by a truck not killed by botulism. Into the garbage it goes.

Did you know the average American kitchen wastes over 25% of its food?  That’s just the food that gets into our kitchens. The food that never gets in–tomatoes rotting in the field, for example, brings the total to nearly 40%. Terrible!

Years ago, I set out to do better –to waste less and to cook entirely from scratch. It started during the Great Recession, a time that sucked for me and everyone else (otherwise it would have been called “The Great Block Party). I struggled, joining the nation in fear and frugal. Then, I took action. I decided I’d try to eat for nearly free. I’d grow my own food, waste zero, and make everything from scratch.

I didn’t want to suffer–I wanted to replicate the restaurant food I loved. I started shopping at ethnic stores which had the ingredients I needed nearly free. I studied cookbooks, Google, and watched TV chefs who never burned their food. I brought my dishes to my chef-colleague who’d say, “Casey, get that $#!^ out of my face!”

Step by step, cuisine by cuisine, I improved. There isn’t anything in the American processed food aisle that can’t be made healthy and fresh at home by studying just a bit. You can learn, too. When you do, you’ll hate processed foods and restaurants with chefs who use microwaves just as much as me. You might get a little snobby, too…

“I can make that better in ten minutes for a dollar fifty.”

I confess I went to the extreme, peaking in people’s grocery carts and judging students when they ate Pop Tarts and Lunchables. I wished Jamie Oliver would come in and take processed foods away while smacking kids with rhubarb stalks. Meanwhile, students laughed at my desk full of tiffen boxes, mason jars, bento, and coffee. A few brave kids tried something new. Although some spit it in the garbage, many got hooked on food.

“Miss, bring in more of that apple butter!”

“Can you make another loaf of bread?” Bread, you see, does not grow in the grocery store.

It’s easy to get started in food insanity. Make one thing you love–if it’s ice cream, then it’s ice cream. Whatever it is, you’ll be doing it yourself, saving money, and getting rid of chemicals and preservatives. Once you’ve mastered your first loaf of bread or soft cheese, you might just go crazy like me. Eating clean and natural foods–even homegrown or seasonal foods–isn’t about depriving yourself. Just the opposite. You gain the power to make anything in the universe and eat better than before.

Food expert Michael Pollan said something to the effect of (I’m misquoting his classic Food Rules) “You can eat junk food–if you make it yourself!” Pollan never met me. I can make a stack of candy with two simple ingredients. I took that to heart in the beginning, making organic homemade toffee, ice cream, muffins and pies. Now, I eat well. I’m eating homemade hummus with homegrown zucchini now.

It’s funny how a food quest started in economic fear gave me gifts–the ability to be a creative and frugal gourmet, the ability to waste less, and a way to see nature’s miracles in action as they grow in my garden which is finally producing enough food to give away. Nobody who visits leaves without fresh food.

All this makes me think about community, not only food.

Learning to make simple foods frees my soul and budget. It isn’t that I can make mayo instead of  spending $8 a jar. It’s about the eggs from two doors down and learning the skills our grandparents knew, then sharing results.  I think of prior generations going through tough times, planting victory gardens, and creating communities from scratch. Those are skills we need now.

Sometimes the worst experiences bring out our best selves. Then, we stand back, smile, and enjoy the bounty life provides.

Today, my bounty is still cucumbers and kale. A lot of both.

If you happen by, yours could be, too.



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