Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cake Mix Be Gone

One of the problems with being recipe-impaired is that baking in particular can be highly dependent on exact measurements. Due to one too many mishaps and the pressure of getting a birthday cake for a huge party of people to be edible, I have come to rely on cake mixes for this purpose. I know, I know, this is not great for a woman attempting to separate herself from all things packaged and processed.

Every week or month I have chosen something from my fridge or cupboard that I buy that I would like to replace with a home made version. I’ve been doing this for years since the abundance of farm fare has been literally at my fingertips. Usually it is a staple, like ketchup or bread, granola or jam, sausages or yogurt. I stop buying it (or bring it into my home to give myself a break) and learn to make it myself. It isn’t for cost reasons, and not always even for health reasons alone, and it certainly isn’t to save time or because I have extra time on my hands. I have always done this no matter what is going on around me. My main reason is because we have almost every ingredient a little heart could desire and it seems nuts to buy things (with long lists of unknown ingredients) when I could learn to add it to my own processing habits. Because in time I discovered that these things are exactly that, just a habit. They are not earth shattering, life-changing shifts. The activity just quietly becomes woven into my every day and before I realize it, I don’t know anything else.

Today I made mayonnaise for the first time. We have plenty of eggs right now as the weather warms, and the light of day increases, we are getting more than our family needs. So the glass jar with the blue lid that is used regularly enough to have its own real estate in my fridge door has now become the latest casualty of my ‘cleaning’ exercise. The recipe for mayo? 1 egg, 1/6 cups cider vinegar and 1 cup oil with a dash of salt. And one blender. Like whipping cream, you know when mayonnaise is done because the sound suddenly changes while you are blending it. It goes from a thick liquid to a creamy solid instantly.

How long does it last, you ask? Well, word on the street (and don’t take my word for it) is somewhere between 6-8 days on average. Some say 1-2 weeks and others say eat the raw egg business immediately and don’t chance storage past a day. Fair enough, you gotta do what you’re comfortable with. Because you kind of have to use a whole egg, you end up with an amount that is larger than we need at any one time (unless it’s fish dipping night, and then we go wild with the homemade fish sauce).

This is where the story gets good. Use the extra in a cake or muffin recipe in place of eggs or other liquid. A very good baker once told me that every baking recipe should have something sweet, something salty and something sour. We never forget our salt and sugar in baking but how often do we think to put vinegar or lemon in our cakes? Lately I’ve been using the acidic whey runoff from cheese or yogurt for baking. A friend reminded me of the trick to use mayonnaise to moisten cakes, and I liked the idea, but I couldn’t help but think that using mayo when you have a fridge full of farm fresh eggs could be blasphemous. This is where the hunt for the homemade mayo recipe came in. Voila!

Today is Valentine’s Day. We had chocolate cupcakes for our treat and fish for dinner. That was a good chunk of the mayo right there. Rob’s mother gave me a very simple chocolate cake recipe made with sour milk (there’s that sour thing again) that I just loved. It has a very small handful of ingredients. This is my kind of recipe. Instead of sour milk and eggs, I used mayo (with the vinegar), fewer eggs and regular milk.

Alas, I have now decided that the cake mix will also disappear from my cupboards. And little blue-lidded jar, you may as well take a hike as well. If I don’t think I’ll get through the homemade mayo, there is always a cake recipe waiting in the wings for desert!


  1. How creative! I've used yogurt in many baked goods before because it adds such moistness and I can reduce the amount of oil needed. I don't think baking's all that exact of a science after all...experimentation's the name of the game with cooking in my book! I just might give homemade mayo a whirl using your recipe if you don't mind? I'll return to your blog often because your life is wonderful sounding to me. I've worked for others my entire life, and would love to work at home on a self-sustaining farm like yours. Most days, I think women used to have it better than they thought...you know, the grass is always greener scenario I guess. I'd love to have been a stay-at-home mom! And have animals to care for and in return they provide for us. Sounds nice!

  2. Of course you can use the recipe! Let me know how it goes. Thanks for the kind words. Although life is indeed good around here I believe we take who we are into every situation and I manage to drag unnecessary stress everywhere I go! I'm working on that...
    I do think the world is more complicated now than ever before. It would nice to find some kind of simplicity again - bring it all back to our homes, our local communities etc.

  3. Well I'll be. Mayo as simple as it is has always alluded me too but your plain as plain common sense about all it's uses has me thinking I'm saying good bye too to the the blue lidded jar. And the time is right as my love affair with Best Foods has waned since they went to plastic and deprived me of the ever usesful glass jar. Thanks.


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