On Letting Go of Having to Make Everything From Scratch

Kitchen Diary: Emily in Los Angeles

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Recently a friend and I were discussing how much we have grown to appreciate store-bought spice blends. This after years of making our own blends every time we needed them — as in, spend 20 minutes with a mortar and pestle before you start cooking dinner. The conversation got me thinking about how absurdly guilty I used to feel about using readymade products like this. I love making foods from scratch, but sometimes it's also good to let go.

Store-bought products had always represented a kind of failure to me. I told myself that a good/accomplished/healthy/environmentally responsible/etc. cook would do it all by hand, and perfectly (hello, Martha Stewart Syndrome). If you have the desire and drive, that's great. I hope to again someday. But in the past year my work schedule drained me of so much time and energy that the choice was to either tire myself further in the kitchen, or eat blander, less interesting meals. The latter often won out.

That is, until I learned to appreciate the convenience of a packet of store-bought spices or a bottle of marinade. Can I tell you how liberating it has been? Instead of feeling guilty about not making things from scratch and then guilty about eating boring food, I am feeling healthy and nourished.

Of course, it helps when you find brands that you truly like. Two personal favorites are the aromatic, freshly ground blends from Spice Station and the all-natural sauces from Tessemae's. Full disclosure: I am a former employee of Spice Station and Tessamae's sent our household a case of their sauces. With readymade spice blends like ras el hanout and berbere I can quickly and easily add complex flavors to tofu and tempeh, roasted vegetables, beans — anything, really. The Tessemae's can be used as dressings or marinades, and I especially like them as toppings for one-bowl meals. Plus these olive oil-based sauces are free of sugar, gluten, dairy, and xanthan gum (yay!).

I know some of you are probably thinking, "You could just make those sauces and spice blends yourself." Yes, I could, and I would have said the same thing a year ago. But today I am happy to let go, and to eat better in the process.

(Image credits: Emily Han)