Like many busy working moms, Laurie McNamara found herself turning to a box when it came to making dinner and desserts. McNamara started her blog, Simply Scratch, in February 2010 with a mission to get back to her rural Michigan roots and revitalize her home kitchen by swapping canned goods and prepackaged mixes for wholesome, healthy ingredients. Six years later, Simply Scratch logs more than 300,000 unique visits every month and has been featured on “Good Morning America,” in Woman’s World magazine, and on celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s blog. Her new cookbook, “Simply Scratch” (Avery, 2015, Hardcover, eBook), includes 120 wholesome recipes with photography, entertaining anecdotes, and personal tips on how to break away from processed foods and make homemade a reality. To learn more, visit simplyscratch.com or try her breakfast recipes on page 125 in this issue of BLUE.
If there’s one thing I know, with food you can make wonderful memories and form strong family bonds and connections.
I grew up on two acres in a rural part of northern Oakland County. It was the perfect place for my parents to raise my three sisters and me, with plenty of space for us to run and the absolute best hill for sledding down. We had chickens, horses and a garden where my parents planted everything from beans to cucumbers, corn, tomatoes and potatoes to make up our quaint little family farm.
Having our own chicken coop meant we always had access to the freshest eggs, and down a few dirt roads was Cook’s Farm Dairy, where we would purchase our milk, cheese and an occasional house-made ice cream cone. I loved to tag along with my mom on trips to the bread store and her local co-op to stock up on things from other local residents like nuts, seeds, oatmeal and other grains. With my dad, I enjoyed going to the feed store to pick up supplies for our horses.
We lived 35 minutes from the nearest major grocery store, which meant my mother did most of her shopping in bulk, but for the most part she would source our meals from the garden we grew. I recall our kitchen table being set up as a pea-shelling station, where my sisters and I were given big bowls and had the task of removing the peas from their pods. My mom would then freeze them to use with later meals during the cold winter months.
My sisters and I also were responsible for shucking all the corn, then my mom would freeze them in small batches, as well. I remember her pickling cucumbers, canning tomatoes, and she would make both strawberry and zucchini jam. In our basement there stood a few floor-to-ceiling metal shelves dedicated to all of her canned goods. Her bread-and-butter pickles were a favorite of mine.
Living in a remote area really is special. Not only did we pull from our garden and the farms in the surrounding area, but we also were several miles away from restaurants and fast-food chains which meant more time spent at home together. For me, it meant I was in the kitchen with my mom with the delicious aromas wafting about.
The kitchen in my childhood home will always be a special place that holds magical memories. As a young girl, I spent the majority of my time either outdoors riding my bike, swinging on our rusty metal swing set or at my mother’s kitchen counter. I remember being infatuated with cooking, on multiple occasions pulling our stepstool up to the edge of the counter, climbing aboard to watch my mother with fascination as she worked her magic in the kitchen. Whether she was kneading and rolling out pizza dough from scratch, making a pie with her amazing pie dough crimping skills or making us simple sandwiches, I soaked in every detail. Many of my earliest and most cherished memories are at that countertop.
I don’t think I realized until well into my adult years, and having children of my own, that so many of my fond childhood memories revolve around food. Memories that have played a part in creating my own family traditions to this day. It was as if having my daughters was the key to unlock these special moments in my life that I had somewhat forgotten.
Because of those memories, when my daughters started to show interest in the kitchen, I would encourage them to pull up a kitchen chair to crack the eggs into a small bowl before adding them to brownie batter; their favorite thing to do was to measure out vanilla extract or to sift in the dry ingredients. Not only is it so much fun for my kids to be a part of what seems to be an “adult chore,” but there is a special bonding that happens over cooking or baking with kids.
They will never forget being encouraged to help, even if they make a mess and it takes twice as long to prepare — the memories that are being made are, without a doubt, priceless. I can see their confidence in the kitchen bloom and that they are proud of a job well done. Who knows, the simple act of letting them bake a batch of cookies could lead them to pursue a job in the culinary field or do the same when they have children. Cooking alongside your children is a gift that keeps on giving.
One of my personal family traditions is Sunday breakfast. The tradition began when I worked full time at a hospital and I only had every other weekend to be home with my family. Now that I’m no longer working out of the home, Sunday breakfast has evolved to an every weekend tradition. We take turns picking particular breakfast items and set the menu together. Sunday mornings in particular are meant to be cozy days. I’ll wake up, put on the coffee and start cooking.
Some of our favorite breakfast feasts include homemade biscuits and sausage gravy, fried eggs and bacon over breakfast potato home fries, or what I like to call “Lazy Weekend Waffles” in which I prepare part of the batter the evening before and finish the next morning, whenever we decide to roll out of bed. In summer months, we love to have our pancake breakfast outside on our deck overlooking the canal.
When we are north at our family’s cabin, we will have a relaxed brunch menu with items like coffee cake, muffins and orange juice. Sunday breakfasts are always a family affair; one kid will set the table, another will be on toast duty, and if we are having a more elaborate breakfast or brunch, I’ll have my husband’s help. He makes the best scrambled eggs ever.
I still carry many traditions over from my childhood. One of my favorites is that, on each of their birthdays, my daughters choose, as I did, what they’d like for their special dinner and birthday cake or treat. It was something I looked forward to every year, and I know my girls do the same.
Ingrained in me my whole life is to sit down and eat as a family. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, or if we’re on vacation to our favorite spot along Lake Michigan, it’s a crucial time to put away the phones, click off the TV and spend quality time together. It’s the time where we all get to talk about the important and not so important details of our lives, looking into each other’s eyes, talking and making memories one meal at a time.
Laurie McNamara is a food blogger and author of the new cookbook “Simply Scratch” (Avery, 2015). She resides in Holly with her family.