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Making Do

February 12, 2010

Rural people know all about this. So do people teetering on the brink of poverty. So do Midwesterners like me.

What is “making do?” It’s working with things you already have and being creative. It’s how I cook most days.

Yesterday, though, was different. I made chili and cornbread, but as a yankee, I love my cornbread with maple syrup. Only one problem – we are out of maple syrup. Living in NY has spoiled me on the real stuff, so I can’t really eat the other stuff. My solution? I remembered something my mother did a long time ago when I was very young and we were out of pancake syrup on a very cold morning and she wanted to make pancakes. What did she do? She made her own.

Yep, just brown sugar and water boiled down until it formed a syrup. So I did the same last night. Here’s my recipe:

Brown Sugar Syrup (a.k.a. Faux Maple Syrup)

1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup water
2-4 tablespoons dark corn syrup (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and boil over medium heat (watching so it doesn’t boil over and stirring occasionally) until liquid is reduced by about half or until it coats a spoon. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and very carefully pour into a glass container (with a metal spoon in it to absorb the heat and prevent cracking). Molten sugar burns horribly, so wear an oven mitt and set the container on a flat surface while pouring – DO NOT hold it. Syrup will thicken as it cools. Makes appx. 3/4 cups. has been talking a lot about home and kitchen “hacks,” which from what I can tell are basically making do, or finding ways of getting things done in ways you wouldn’t normally consider (although it also seems to include generic DIY stuff).

Making buttermilk (whole milk + vinegar or lemon juice) or baking powder (baking soda + cream of tartar) are other old-fashioned ways of making do.

Making do goes hand in hand with DIY in the kitchen. Just think, making your own jam or citrus curds are ways of making do without store-bought stuff. Ditto homemade nut butters, bread, cookies, cakes, bread crumbs, pickles, croutons, salad dressings, spice mixes, cereal… the list goes on!

More and more I’m becoming a firm believer in cooking from scratch. I use frozen and canned foods just like everyone else, but I stay away from pre-prepared foods. You know, canned soups, frozen meals, etc. I am highly guilty of buying fresh french bread from the store, but that can’t be helped. 🙂 French bread is difficult to make and easy to screw up, so I’d rather spend the $2.50 and buy it from a local bakery.

The boy and I swung by Barnes and Noble today and I saw Michael Pollan’s new book Food Rules. I just flipped through it briefly, but one of the rules was to salt and sugar your own food (instead of buying sugary or salty processed foods). This really struck a chord with me because I realized a while ago that cooking from scratch means that you have to season from scratch, and if you’re adding your own salt and sugar, you’re much more likely to use a judicious hand. And y’know what? Reducing your salt and sugar intake isn’t as hard as you might think.

Processed and restaurant foods are CHOCK FULL of salt and sugar. Both are popular flavor substitutes for fat, and our fat-obsessed society is not nearly as sugar- and salt-obsessed as it ought to be, particularly when it comes to reducing those things.

And y’know what? When you get used to using less salt and sugar, you start to taste different flavors that you wouldn’t ordinarily. They are not always the most delicious flavors, but they are always interesting. 🙂

But I digress. Any other home hacks or making do you can think of?

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 13, 2010 12:33 PM

    My grandma lives 2 miles from town and decided one winter weekend, when we were stranded on the farm due to those wonderful midwest blizzards, to make rice crispy bars…however, she didn’t have rice crispies, so she used corn flakes, she didn’t have marshmallows so she used jet puffed marshmallow and peanut butter (didn’t have enough of one or the other, so she used them both) and she didn’t have chocolate chips so she used butterscotch chips. In the end they came out more like special K bars…but she stilled called them rice crispy bars. They were delicious all the same!

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