My favorite part of the book is where Pa builds a new house from scratch, all by himself. As his little daughter describes how he sets up the logs so that he could ax out the joints at perfect ninety-degree angles, how he smoothes down the entire wooden floor with his hand to make sure there would be no splinters for the girls, and how he oh-so-masterfully crafts the roof with a single beam at a time, I could feel my heart speed up and hands tighten around the book, while visualizing every part of the house in great details. When Pa completes the house by putting up the last shingle to the roof, I’d close my eyes and imagine myself dancing around in the big wooden house, with my bare feet on the smooth floor.
Growing up, I felt just as enthusiastic about the real-life opportunities to do things from scratch, whether it was making Elmer’s glue, growing cherry tomatoes, knitting a scarf, or growing my own tub of Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus. (Figured it out yet? It’s yogurt.) One time in college, I dedicated the entire spring break to experimenting with making soymilk, tofu, and butter.
So what’s all the fuss about? I might as well just get my own cattle to milk my own milk, huh. Oh and build the ranch he will live on…Well, it’s mostly about curiosity, self-empowerment, and commitment.
For the curiosity part: can you tell which one is almond in this picture? Then, do you know what an almond tree looks like? (Yes, it comes from a tree — see here) So much of the stuff I consume gets delivered to me entirely polished and manufactured (sometimes overly) that I usually have a very limited view, mostly to its final stage, of its life cycle. And this magazine article I read once, entitled “Finding the roots”, fueled my curiosity to learn more about the rest of the cycle. The journalist goes on to talk about the “disconnected roots” by industrialization and specialization, and that the efforts to connect them are worthwhile to expand the scope of the understanding and experience of our consumption. For instance, rather than limiting ourselves to appreciating the “fresh yet dark hazelnut aroma with a slight hint of smoke and chocolate” of the coffee, go beyond to find out where the beans come from and how they are grown, harvested, roasted, and brewed. It’s no longer the same cup of coffee, when, as you close your eyes to take a sip, you can picture the beans ripening on the other side of the world, the beans being slowly roasted to dark brown over time, and the barista intently keeping the water temperature at 200F degrees.
Now onto the self-empowerment part: it’s very simple — you have complete control and no longer have to decide between the options your grocery store gives you (or freak out when they run out it). You can make your own marshmallows, in the exact color and shape you want. You no longer have to decide between the little ones and the big ones; you can make both. You no longer have to buy a whole bag of pink ones just to use two for Valentine’s Day; you can make just the two you need.
The most recent motivation to do things from scratch is commitment. I’ve come across a number of chefs (and other professionals) who are insanely dedicated to achieve the desired quality by utilizing self-empowerment. It’s not uncommon to hear about restaurants owning their own farms or chefs doing their own shopping to get the best ingredients. The desired quality could be taste, being organically grown, or something else. Whatever it is, it’s truly inspirational to hear my favorite mochi store’s owner grows her own rice to “get it right”.
So I made my own noodles tonight. Just the consistency and the thickness I wanted. While surfing online after dinner, feeling proud of being so connected to the roots, of course I read about Bob del Grosso milling his own durum flour to make good pasta. Time to get my own farm.
ps. Oh, did I mention it’s also fun and much tastier?