When Life Gives You Lemons, Preserve Them

My husband and I are on a very strict budget right now and so I was thrilled when I stumbled on The Hip Girl‘s Guide to Homemaking, while wandering around the bookstore: http://www.amazon.com/Hip-Girls-Guide-Homemaking-Self-Sufficiency/dp/0062014706

I lack domesticity like Stephen Harper lacks pigmentation, but for just $30.00 this book promised to teach me the “gratifying pleasures of self-succiency on a budget.” I was raised to cultivate fiscal and emotional self-sufficiency, to have a steady career and insulate my problems from bothering others. “Never be one man away from welfare,” my mother used to say. When it comes to home life, however, I have demonstrated far less independence. I buy all manner of ready-made food, including pre-cut vegetables  when work is particularly busy. Sadly, those vegetables all too often go bad when I opt for pizza instead, where the vegetables are not only pre-cut, but pre-washed and pre-cooked too.

Heeding my mother’s advice, I am now only one woman away from welfare (me)! I could sure use some more womanly wisdom and was anxious to read the book and discover all the really easy ways I could provide for my family at half the cost. The book, by Kate Payne, was engaging, accessible and most importantly had a beautiful green and pink cover that would look really pretty on my bookshelf.

Kate first insisted that I must learn how to bake my own bread. Grocery store bread is filled with evil preservatives, not to mention the fact that for the cost of a single chemical-infused loaf I could buy the ingredients to bake 10 loaves myself. Amazing! Not only does she bake bread for herself, but Kate explains that she also wraps up hearty loaves in wax paper and twine  and gifts them as housewarming presents. I love this! I definitely need to be baking and gifting  my own bread. I can’t believe, all this time, I have been eating store bought bread and giving store bought presents. Bread is now going to be my thing. From now on, I will be the girl who bakes bread.

I had none of the ingredients needed to bake bread so I popped over to the grocery store to pick up eggs, the three types of flour the recipe called for and yeast, totalling $25.00. Flour and yeast, it turns out, are not like a watched pot. I sat for an hour watching the mixture rise, in disbelief that it worked just as it was supposed to. Kneading the raised dough was a wonderful outlet for my anxiety and I enjoyed feeling it ooze through my fingers. Feeling more trusting of science now, I didn’t feel the need to monitor the dough’s second rise and thought it was a perfect opportunity to accomplish other, pressing, homemaking chores.

Like preserving lemons. Kate says that canning is a delicious and cost-effective way to prevent spoilage. Of course I should be preserving lemons! I can’t believe I never preserved lemons before! The only problem was, I had no lemons to preserve. A quick trip back to the grocery store for 20 lemons ($10.00) and to the dollar store for a bunch of glass jars ($10.00-as I’m obviously going to want to start canning everything) and I was ready to start preserving.

“When are we ever going to need 20 lemons!?” my husband asked.

He is so unhip.

I began cutting and squeezing away, dumping lemon wedges into the jar along with an entire box of salt. I didn’t have quite enough lemons to make it to the top, but air doesn’t effect the preservation process, does it? Kate didn’t say.

Covered in sticky lemon juice I went to rinse myself off in the bathroom. It was a perfect opportunity to also inspect my shower curtain liner for mold, which Kate says is even worse than bread preservatives. I didn’t notice anything overt, but according to Kate mold can be very sneaky. I began doucing the liner in vinegar, scrubbing the length of it with an old tee-shirt. I really liked that tee-shirt but Kate says that it is a big waste of money to use papertowels. She never uses them. Dragging the sacrificial garment down the liner I heard a tear as the plastic circles pop off their curtain hooks. I become engulfed in vinegar-covered plastic. I fight my way out to add a notation in my phone’s to-do list: buy a new shower curtain liner ($5.00); need more vinegar ($3.00).

There was no time, though, to run these errands because my bread dough was finally ready to go into the oven. Patting the dough into the bread pan, I lifeted it up for its ceremonial placing in the oven. I was so proud. Since moving out of my mother’s home, and building a home of my own, I had always felt insecure about my lack of domesticity. Spending time with other women who discussed the success of their latest recipes, I always felt a little left out. I never felt like I made anything worth sharing. Feeling a sense of defeat in the kitchen, I grew disinterested in it. Food became a means to an end for me, not something I really took pleasure in. But it felt good to be self-sufficient. It felt rewarding to be a part of something start to finish. I basked in my sense of accomplishment, having made bread, the staff of life! I made sustenance for me and my husband with my own two hands.

My self-congratulatory thoughts were interrupted by an unfamilar beeping: beeeeeeep, beeeeeep, beeeeeep.

My husband came to take a look, fiddling with the knobs and examining the wiring.

“The oven’s broken,” he said, “pulling out my half baked loaf.”

“Broken? Are you sure?”

The oven beeped its confirmation: beeeeeeep, beeeeeep, beeeeeep.

I fiddled with the knobs, examined the wiring. When that didn’t work I resorted to banging the display really hard with my fist: beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!

My husband called the manufacturer to discuss the problem.

“There’s something wrong with the temperature gauge,” he explained, “We need to order an expensive part that may or may not work.”

I stared at the sunken dough that took me all afternoon to make, wondering if I could breathe enough hot air to cook the loaf.

“How expensive?” I asked, giving up.

The part is about the cost of: a homemaking book, eggs, flour, yeast, 20 lemons, glass jars, vinegar and a shower curtain.

We looked at each other, dejected. We will probably need to save up for that part. Good thing I preserved all our lemons!