Working from Scratch: Lessons for Cooking and Life

“Friendship isn’t a big thing.  It’s a million little things” – Unknown

As I’m stumbling through Mom’s recipes and consequently the kitchen, the grocery aisles, the farmer’s markets, I’m slowly learning to appreciate the hidden benefits of cooking meals from scratch. For years, okay, for my entire adult life up until this past year, I took way too much comfort in preparing meals from mixes or nifty little packages where the food items are dumped inside and supposedly accounted for on the outside label.  There is some logic here.  It’s much easier to cook when everything has been preselected and combined and all it takes is one  final step before a meal greets the table.  It’s like being subbed into a game when there’s only 2 minutes left on the clock and your team has a very healthy lead.  That was me in the kitchen….subbing in at the last minute, looking for that easy lay-up to put in front of the kids.  A win-win situation, right?  No way!

This weekend my college roommate and her family came out to visit us at the beach.  A college roommate ranks fairly high on my “list of friends that should know me well (enough).”  Within hours of her arrival,  and upon inspection of the kitchen and refrigerator, she curiously asked me, “who took over?” Meaning, where did her old roommate go?  She inquired as she witnessed me making waffles from scratch (well, my kind of scratch!)…with eggs and oil and  water and honey.

Waffle Mix....better than frozen Eggo's.

For years she’s been conditioned to seeing me pull out the freezer-burned frozen Eggo waffles for a quick-fix breakfast.   She then recounted college tales of  me eating dry cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I was the one who never shopped for fresh produce or lit up the gas stove in our apartment.  I was the one who relished in prepackaged foods for convenience sake.  I’m not suggesting that what I ate in college was atypical for college-aged kids.  Nor do I believe college students partake in many home-cooked  meals or early morning trips to the local Whole Foods.  However, 20 years later, my roommate became acutely aware of my new found interest and openness to learn about food, their individual benefits, and how they work together to create flavors and yummy dishes.  And, in that moment, I too began to fully grasp the extent of my transformation.

Learning to appreciate and embrace cooking  (from scratch) takes a lot of cultivation and understanding and patience and time.  But, in the end, there’s a sense of accomplishment and pride. For this weekends’ Judy recipe, I decided to recreate Mom’s infamous pesto sauce.  This flavorful rich pesto sauce was often used as an accompaniment to everything from chicken to vegetables to pasta to pizza.  After scanning the very simple recipe, I realized I had never taken the time to a) get to know the ingredients in the sauce and b) make it myself.  Again, why spend the extra time creating something from scratch when I could simply take a quick walk to the local food purveyor on my block to pick up a nice looking glass jar of pesto? Yet, how could I deny making this sauce when I had a beautiful little garden bursting full of its feature ingredient: basil?

Garden war between basil and chocolate mint.

I ran to the garden in delight and cut off some of the freshest leaves from my newly sprung basil plant!  I also pulled up some handfuls of parsley too.  There’s nothing better than using (your) homegrown vegetables in recipes- it’s very comforting to know, first-hand, their origins.

Within ten minutes, my food processor was alive chopping and grinding and mixing the fresh basil and parsley and garlic and olive oil.  I watched the ingredients disappear to magically blend and create that familiar dark green bumpy sauce which graced Mom’s tables.  Last step, fresh parmesan cheese to complete the (now) simple process.

My very first ball jar of pesto. And, it tasted just as good as Mom's.

As I poured the pungent sauce into a Ball jar and secured it in the refrigerator, I thought about how cooking (from scratch) can be likened to true friendships.  Both require patience and the right ingredients and the willingness to take the time to create and cultivate.  At this point in my life, when my days are busting with jam-packed schedules and kids and appointments and after school activities and kids and more appointments, only the truest made-from-scratch friendships can prevail.  All of the pre-packaged friendships, the ones made from that unknown flaky substance, will never sustain a voracious appetite.

Judy's Fresh Pesto Pasta with Sweet Peas

Do you enjoy cooking meals from scratch or is pre-packaged the easiest alternative?  Isn’t it nice knowing the basic ingredients in your meals or, do you cook and eat for convenience sake?



  1. Nothing like an old friend to chart your progress. I will note that while I use a similar waffle mix, technically using a mix isn’t really from scratch. It is, however, worlds beyond Eggos. Well done.


  1. […] everything-  baked flourless chocolate cakes and fruit moulds and her flavorful chicken-with-pesto dish and burned the midnight oil hunched over at her computer doing taxes- all with a […]

Speak Your Mind