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138 of 141 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 19, 2011
It's really tempting to think of Jennifer Reese's 'Make the Bread, Buy the Butter' as a cookbook - but quite honestly, it's so much more than that. And if you consume it like you would a cookbook (piecemeal) than you'll be seriously missing out. The book came out of Reese being laid off from her job during the economic crisis a few years ago. Confronted with financial woes and general frustration towards corporate America, she decided to start experimenting with homemade foods. Eventually (or perhaps immediately, as a means to a financial end) she compiled these experiences and successful recipes into a book.

There are roughly a dozen sections in the book that cover everything from raising livestock (chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, and bees have all been denizens of Reese's backyard at one point) to the experience of whipping up simple dishes (croutons) and complex creations (danishes). Almost every recipe - or lack thereof, since some of her experiments were failures - is accompanied with an anecdote. And that's what truly sets this book apart. I genuinely recommend you read it from cover to cover first, with the understanding that you will want to jump up and make a million of the dishes along the way, because that way you not only get some entertainment value and storytelling (her family is well characterized), you also get a good gauge as to what type of person Reese is, and how manageable her recipes and foodie adventures would be if you tried adapting them for your own lifestyle.

The bonus benefit of this book - or perhaps simply the core benefit - is the way it skewers the industrial food system. Every recipe is prefaced by three bullet points: should you make it or buy it? how much hassle is it? what's the cost compared to store-bought? Of course, on the latter point in particular, cost shouldn't be your primary factor: a lot of Reese's recipes focus on the nutritional benefits (avoid preservatives, trans fats, and other nasty shelf stable food staples) and the actual taste benefits. Even if something costs a little more than store bought, she might recommend you make it at home because the taste is so much better. But she's also willing to take a few hits - sometimes her recipes simply can't beat store-bought, and she wholly accepts that the convenience of grocery foods isn't to be messed with. Sometimes.

Two minor knocks against the book: one, it has no pictures (again, why I see it as more of a memoir than a cookbook). Two, it has no nutritional information - although her arguments against shelf preservatives are pretty solid. Despite those two things, I loved this book, and the first recipe I tried was a wild success. I'm not going to recommend it as the be all and end all for making everything by yourself at home, mostly because the gamut of recipes included here are a little random and based on Reese's personal preferences. But the combination of storytelling, the no-nonsense approach to recipes, and the sheer level of inspiration you'll feel while paging through this book *easily* make it a worthwhile buy.
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74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2011
So I ordered the book back on October 21st and am devouring it. It's one of those truly good books that makes me feel like I just got off the phone with a close friend -and does actually make me "laugh out loud". It's joined the ranks of a small number of books good enough to make me buy multiple copies to give to friends, family, and total strangers (I've bought 3 copies of this book in the last month). Just what I needed after the let-down that was Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes. Even better than The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week), though I loved that book, too.

The book is strongest when it compares a finished product from the store (a loaf of bread) to what she can make at home using store bought staples (flour, salt, yeast). Since store-bought cream is more expensive than store-bought butter, she concludes it is not cost-effective to make your own butter. This in turn works best with products that were once homemade (hummus, peanut butter, bacon) and less well with items that are an industrial invention (poptarts).

The book does not work as solidly outside of this format, such as when she discusses gardening, bees, chickens, and goats. These chapters are entertaining, but not as well constructed from a cost-benefit-analysis point of view:

The fruit and vegetable sections are shockingly short (vegetables is 6 pages; fruit is 7 pages, 2 of which are for making lard). We try to get as much produce as possible from the backyard (and it meets her criteria of "cheaper, better, and less hassle than a trip to the grocery store"), and especially love the ultra-cheap orange juice and pomegranate juice, so I was surprised at the omission.

The chickens, bees, and goats sections make hilarious and thought provoking stories, but are incomplete in answering the question: "Make or Buy?" SPOILERS: Regarding eggs, she doesn't compare the cost-per-dozen of store-bought eggs versus backyard eggs. Rather, she compares what she was spending at the store a year (about $150, it sounds like) with the cost of housing and caring for 19 birds at a time (she seems to have bought a total of 29); the former provided her the exact number of eggs she needed while the latter left her drowning in eggs, even with giving them away to all takers. Take away lessons: when you build a run, make it predator proof (see Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World for good advice here) and don't buy more chickens than you need. 3 or 4 is plenty; they live in much less space and require only 1 nesting box (resulting in MUCH cheaper building costs), they use considerably less feed, straw, and wood shavings and so your ongoing costs are less, too. Because we garden, eggs aren't all we get from the chickens. Each chicken produces 45 pounds of manure a year, which mixes with the deep-bedding straw in their run to make wonderful compost (which we muck out once a year).

SPOILERS: Regarding the bees, I was surprised she didn't have any use for the beeswax. With Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, I use beeswax in concocting deodorant, lip balm, decongestant chest rub, furniture polish, lotion, and more. It's what finally convinced me I need to get some bees. She says she got 3 gallons of honey in 6 months from 2 hives and that it would "last her family a decade." But what if you took the many recipes in this book that call for sugar and reformatted them to work with honey? And she said her "bee folly" cost $1,200 or $25/cup of honey -but that includes Hive 3 and Hive 4, which she had to know were doomed to fail. If the original 2 hives cost $600 and they gave all 3 of the gallons (she says she got nothing from the next 2 before they died), that's *really* $12.50 a cup. Which is still insane, but if they had survived... And in cases where a project was too productive (eggs, honey), she *could* recoup costs by selling the excess (she says the bees and chickens were the 2 projects that ate up the savings created by other projects).

SPOILERS: Regarding the goats, the book is published before either gives birth and therefore before either gives milk, so there's not much information there. And she doesn't mention what she might do with the 2 kids (the original pair of goats -the mothers- cost her $450 so I wonder if she could sell the babies for $450 and recoup some costs? As is, she concludes that goats' milk is "buy". January 28 update: I just finished Little House in the Suburbs: Backyard farming and home skills for self-sufficient living which had this to say: "The first rule of selecting a goat is don't buy pedigree unless you're going to breed for profit. There's no reason for a pedigree goat. It's like paying for a show dog when you just want a friend to take on walks. A good mixed-breed goat costs between twenty and fifty dollars. Pedigree goats can be in the hundreds or more." (p. 89) "Goats typically give birth to two babies at a time." (p. 100) So, if you pay $50 each for a pair of goats and can get even $20 each for their four offspring (which would just about recover the stud fee expense), the math shouldn't be devastating. Little House in the Suburbs: Backyard farming and home skills for self-sufficient living, by the way, would make a great companion to this book.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2012
I enjoyed reading the book and will probably use it as reference for whether something is worth making from scratch. However, I will be looking elsewhere for the recipes because not one of hers has been good, let alone outstanding. I also want more nutrition than most of her recipes offer.

I'd recommend checking the book out from your local library, making a list of things you want to make and then searching elsewhere for recipes. Internet makes that easy!
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2011
Full disclosure: I have not yet read the entire book. I have, however, read enough to know that it is as enjoyable as the author's blog, which I have been reading for over a year. (In my experience, a good blog is no guarantee of a good book, but in this case I find the writing style transfers perfectly.)

As Jennifer Reese might say on her blog (which is ostensibly dedicated to trying multiple recipes from successive cookbooks to decide whether or not each is a shelf essential, but often digresses (enjoyably) to pop culture, travel, family, etc.), her recipe for Everyday Bread is worth the price of the book. I've been making similar variations on Moro bread ever since I read about it on her blog, and pretty much everyone who tastes the results asks for the recipe. I love that she has written an actual cookbook, because while I've loved everything I've tried based on her blog recommendations, it's been costing me a lot of money: if she tells me a book is a shelf essential, the thought of my cookbook shelves without it nags at me until I break down and order it.

True to its title, the book isn't about new ideas and exotic recipes (though Reese is an adventurous enough cook and eater that the selection isn't boring either), but about great versions of more-or-less familiar foods. I'm excited to try Apricot-Ginger Bread, Almond Butter, Lemon Yogurt, Clotted Cream, and Canadian Bacon, among others. Not that it should really matter to the reader of reviews which recipes interest me, but when I'm reading reviews, I always like to have an idea of what kind of recipes the book contains and the general tastes of the reviewer, so I'm assuming others may like it too.

My one disappointment is how cheap the book feels. It's lightweight and the paper used reminds me of those no-credited-author super-cheap cookbooks organized by nation or type of food that one finds at discount book outlets. I generally prefer my cookbooks to be actual books so electronics don't get splattered, but in this case I'm wishing I'd saved my money and bought the Kindle version. I'd subtract a star for this, but the content is so great that I can't bring myself to give it less than five stars, so I'm giving it six stars for content and deducting one for the actual volume.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2013
I have mixed feelings about this book, as it's not really what it's billed to be, but is still a worthwhile work.

I have mixed feelings about this book, as it comes from a point of view that my own frugality and background makes me squirm.

So, how it's billed: Writer loses her job and decides that it'd be a good idea to see if she can save money by not getting so much convenience crap, instead making stuff for herself. Love the hook. It's fantastic, interesting and relevant.

Not two chapters in, she's going on about spending $3500 on a fence for CHICKENS?

That little anecdote really lost any fellow-feeling for me in terms of how much that lost job really meant to the family. The long-suffering husband of the story must have still had a great job, even if the loss of her income was a bit of a blow. If that had been my family, a $3500 bill because I hadn't done my research would have meant the difference between having a place to live and homelessness. So...

In the face of that, Reese is still an entertaining writer, and she does make some excellent points about what it's worth to make on your own or not. I disagree with her about the difficulties of making stock, but agree that it's worthwhile. Yes, it is cheaper to make your own baked goods for the most part, and while she seems to be into making cheese, I'd really only do that as a hobby rather than a cost-saving measure, were I do to it at all.

This is simply NOT a book about how to save money cooking, though. The author lives in upper-middle class suburban Northern California and it really shows that she's not really in touch with people outside her income demographic.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2012
The author and I have a similar philosophy a out when it makes sense to do it yourself. When deciding whether to make something vs. buy it, I look at several criteria, as does the author: cost; is it better than store bought; and the pain-in-the-butt factor. She and I have come to the same conclusion on many items. I would like to point out, however, that on at least the bread recipe, she's comparing apples to oranges. Her bread recipe does cost less than a dollar per loaf, and it's easy. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any nutritional value and it doesn't taste very good. My family won't eat it, so it's going out to the chickens. She compares this bread's cost against whole wheat and premium bread. For me to make a whole grain, multigrain loaf, it costs me about $3 for each loaf. I can buy premium, multigrain bread with no HFCS at the store for $2.50 a loaf on sale, so I'm far better off buying bread on sale and putting it in the freezer. I'm not saying that her ideas are bad; she and I have come to exactly the same conclusions on many items. I am saying that you need to take into account regional price variations on a lot of things.

In addition to her list of things where the store does a better or cheaper job than you can at home, I'd also like to add frozen veggies like corn, beans, carrots, and broccoli. If you really look at the money you put into your garden, it's cheaper just to buy these. They are frozen soon after harvest, and often taste better and are cheaper. I don't even plant them any more. We get our fresh corn for eating from the farm stand and put our energies towards tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, herbs, fruits and other items that are better and cheaper than what you can buy.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2011
I heard about this book from my sister-in-law, who mentioned it in response to my husband's mild complaints about my "projects." I built my own backyard pizza oven, and grew and canned 200 lbs. of heirloom tomatoes this summer, and raised chickens for their eggs (which are delicious, by the way. I was angling for bees, and my husband put his foot down. He felt we had too many creatures to look after already. His sister had heard the author interviewed (and said she didn't recommend beekeeping) so I pre-ordered the book and have been looking forward to reading it.

I was not disappointed! I practically couldn't put it down. Ms. Reese seems to have my attitude exactly about chickens (all my tea towels seem to have chickens on them now!) and her problem with bees was actually that she had a tree in her yard that was toxic to the bees, and she would love to try again if ever the tree dies. She has nice recipes and funny anecdotes, and the book was really vastly entertaining to read. So I will try to talk my guy around to bees, and in the meantime, I've got homemade camembert in my fridge. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to make things from scratch.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2012
I first read an excerpt of this book in a magazine while taking a flight last summer. I loved what I read. I bought the book and it is a fabulous read. However, every recipe I have tried out of this book has met with terrible results. I will probly try a few more and if they don't work out I'll be selling this one back to Amazon.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2012
I enjoyed this book because the author shared not only her triumphs, but also her humiliations (the goat she returned after staying up with it all night as it bleated at the top of its lungs in her suburban neighborhood, the chicken massacres, etc.). I empathize with her because my adventures in the kitchen and garden often crash and burn too.

She also packed in a lot of information and ideas, but take them with a grain of salt because she is clueless about some things. For example, the instructions for cheesemaking suggests using either cans with the tops and bottoms cut off or lengths of PVC pipe. She carefully recommends against cans coated with BPA... but what about the PVC? There are questions about carcinogens in PVC, not to mention it is usually meant to irrigate lawns--not to culture cheese.

She also seems to have dismissed some ways of making things at home with very little effort to figure them out. She is against grinding meat or stuffing sausage at home as too difficult. She apparently kept clogging the grinder, which requires disassembly and cleaning. A little inquiry and she would have learned the secret is to cut the meat smallish and run it through the machine half frozen. Likewise, she dismisses hand-rolling pasta with a rolling pin instead of a machine. Actually, I find a rolling pin much easier than a hand-crank machine--if you allow the dough to relax on the counter for an hour before attempting it.

She also has a curious prejudice against canning and chutney in particular... perhaps due to issues with her mother's industrial canning efforts.

Overall, though, the issues above would not stop me from recommending the book. It is the type of book I would write if my wife allowed me to buy goats and set up a cheese factory.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 19, 2012
Market Place Money interviewed Jennifer Reese because she had written this book as a result of losing her job and needing to try to "economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for." The interview was entertaining and made the book sound like something worth checking out. And so that is what I did, checked it out from the library.

Now, even though I am giving this a hearty three star rating, I am very glad I used the library as a first resource before buying this book. It was an entertaining read and there truly are some ideas for perhaps trying to make a few things that we rather routinely buy. Still, this is not really a "cookbook," at least not for most of us. Let me start with the weaknesses first:

Reese is adventurous in the things she tries, but these lean very, very heavily toward meat. She tries, with partial success, to raise chickens, ducks, turkeys, and goats but does not find a garden something that really works for her. That may be all well and good, but this is clearly not a book for anyone even slightly on the vegetarian side of things. Not only does she make her own pancetta, Canadian bacon, and salt pork, she also describes--hilariously--her attempts to make hot dogs.

And if anyone is concerned with the fat level of their diets, this book will also not provide many usable recipes, as she uses butter and oils with abandon. She even makes her own lard as she finds this just the right fat for some dishes. I'm sure the food is rich and lovely, but still...

Perhaps most surprising about the book is the relatively high cost of so many of the foods she prepares. Yes, there are attempts to compare the cost of home-made to store-bought dishes, but this is not by any means an "economizing" cookbook. Crème brulees are cheaper made at home, at only $5 for six small ramekins. She tells us that Camembert can be made for a reasonable $9 for two and a half pounds but the list of ingredients includes esoteric cultures, mold powder, etc., that almost all readers will have to order over the internet and then wait for delivery. When I went to the two recommended sites for these cheese making basics, it looks like the cost would really be much closer to $25 or so. Now that may still be less than what you would spend on this much Camembert from the store, but the author admits the hassle level is high and that there is a relatively high risk of failure the first time or two.

So don't expect to get a cookbook that will have many recipes to try, and don't expect to cut your food bill down to basic levels with what you will learn from this book. But do read the book if you enjoy good humored writing and are happy to find some nuggets of actually usable recipes or preparation information here and there.
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