to educate, inspire and equip the urban homesteader

Win a copy of Vanessa Barrington’s New Book DIY Delicious!

August 16, 2010

Submit your story to win a signed copy of Vanessa Barrington’s new book, DIY Delicious!

Many of us didn’t grow up canning or making our own artisan food from scratch or, if we did, we lost it somewhere along the way. If your story is like mine, you were too busy with college exams, a demanding job, and a busy social life to worry about where your food came from. But perhaps one day, the stars aligned and you had your ‘spark’ – that aha! moment when you realized that putting food away wasn’t a waste of time, that making cheese is sexy and that curing meat will win you more dates than a bikini wax.

As cliche as it sounds, I read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver and it changed the way I saw everything.  Suddenly for me, dirt was soil and vegetables were miracles.  Water became a resource to be conserved and appreciated and I started seeing time in seasons.  Around the same time, I met an amazing friend with a similar interest in food who worked at an organic produce wholesaler.  The stars had aligned and my cupboards were full of beautifully-colored mason jars and my freezer packed with vacuum-sealed treats.

For Vanessa Barrington, the author of DIY Delicious, it was visiting her aunt’s farmhouse (the house where her mother grew up). Seeing the pantry lined with homegrown and home-preserved fruits and vegetables was an unforgettable moment for her.  She likens it to experiencing a part of her history that her mother had left behind. She set out to reclaim it, and after several years of dabbling, her “from scratch” book, DIY Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food From Scratch, is being published by Chronicle Books.

What sparked your interest in DIY foods?  Submit your story today for a chance to win a free signed copy of Vanessa Barrington’s new book DIY Delicious, which is sure to be a favorite in your collection! The winner will be chosen through a random drawing from all story entries.

Contest Details:

Entries must be submitted by 12pm pacific on Monday, August 23rd

Submit the story of what inspired you to dabble in DIY artisan food through any of the following ways:

  • On Facebook – “Like” the Facebook pages for DIY Delicious or FarmCurious and add your story as a comment to our Spark wall posts
  • On – Add your story as a reply to this post
  • On – Add your story as comment to Vanessa’s DIY Delicious Spark Contest Post.
  • Use hashtag #DIYspark on twitter to link to a post on an independent site site with your story

The winning entry will be announced on the sites listed above on the opening day of Eat Real Fest, August 27, and the winner can stop by the farmCurious booth at any time throughout the festival to claim his or her prize.

Good luck!  We’re looking forward to reading your stories!


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  • For me, it’s incredibly important to not only know what’s in my food but also where it comes from. I try to grow as much as I can and then cook with what I harvest. What better way to have control over your food?

  • I have always loved food and am a believer in the idea that if you want something done right, you should do it yourself. I started cooking at a young age. My first special recipe, at 10 years old, was a chicken and asparagus saute with lemon and garlic. I am sure my parents grew tired of it, and thank goodness I learned to make up new recipes quickly. After college, I worked with single mothers who were living in transitional housing. I built a large raised bed in the common area of the apartment building and began teaching the mothers how to grow food. My own passion for really getting to the heart of DYI food – growing from seed – grew with me as I learned what I was doing so that I could teach others.

  • My story starts with bread. I don’t drive, so getting to the grocery store often meant hitching a ride with someone else or making them go out of their way. One day I was home alone, craving a sandwich, but we were-tragically-out of bread. We had cheese, we had salami…how could we not have bread? I was debating wrapping bits of cheese in the salami versus going hungry until my mom got home from work, when I glanced at one of the ancient packets of yeast in the fridge. From there, I turned to the pantry, where the bag of flour sat.

    “Seriously?” I thought to myself. “How hard could it be?”

    From the moment I pulled that first, delicious slab of faux-focaccia bread out of the oven, I knew it would only get worse.

    My grandfather and sister had kept up a small garden in our back yard, and come every summer there would be tomatoes and zucchini growing. Home for spring break and bored, I wandered out to the garden and inspected the four foot by four foot box that made it up. I thought about how much better it would be if we could maybe grow something that I’d actually eat, something that I wouldn’t mind sticking my hand past spider webs and busy bees to harvest.

    “Seriously?” I thought to myself, yet again. “How hard could it be?”

    A few afternoons, a few composite two-by-fours, and what certainly felt like a ton of clay and soil later, there were three new four-by-four beds next to the originals. My family and I crowded them with tomatoes, tomatillos, chili peppers, zucchini, and rhubarb. EVERYTHING grew, and by the fall I was making tomatillo salsa with 75% homegrown ingredients.

    Most recently, I was wandering through the backyard yet again, and discovered a long-forgotten fruit tree, with branches bowing under the weight of itself hidden behind the shed. Closer inspection revealed they were some sort of golden plums, delicious, and perfectly ripe.

    “Seriously,” I thought to myself. “We need to do something with these, before they go to waste. What do you do with plums?”

    I didn’t stop and wonder about how hard it could be, because I knew there was going to be something I could do with them. I knew I could. With help from my dad, I picked and pitted over ten pounds of golden plums, cooked them down, and canned over twenty-five cups of jam in the span of two afternoons.

    When I went away to school in Fresno, I ended up living down the street from a convenience store, which I had to pass at least twice every day on my way to school. One night, I was kneading some bread dough when one of my roommates walked into the kitchen and boggled.

    “Chrissy,” she said. “You know you can like, go to the store, and they have bread already made and ready, right?”

    “Yeah,” I said, nodding as I wipe flour off my hands. “But this is easier.”

    She scoffed and went back to her room, and six months later called me to ask me for the recipe. She was out of bread and kinda broke, and she was craving a sandwich…

  • After spending a few summers slinging peaches at the local farmer’s market, I had developed eating habits that gravitated toward fresh, local foods not only because this supported the local economy, but the food tasted better too! As my husband got me more interested in trying beers from the local craft brewing scene, it all clicked. If we’re eating local – and drinking local – we can probably be making foods locally too. I’ve always been an avid baker and aspiring cook, so it wasn’t a big transition to begin brewing beer and pickling tasty snacks right on our apartment stove. Luckily, the investment in supplies for many homesteading activities is minimal. We already had a large canning pot, which gets plenty of mileage as our brewing kettle and canning vessel. It’s so much fun to figure out how to make your own food and share it with friends. I know that when I have kids, teaching them homesteading skills will be an important part of how we raise them. I can’t wait till we eventually find a place with a yard, so I can grow more tomatoes for canning and add chickens to our little urban homestead!

  • I was drinking Coca-Cola and coffee at age 4 with my great-grandmother. I ate Saltine crackers soaked in a bowl of milk with my great-grandfather, lapped Quik chocolate milk out of a bowl like a cat, and absolutely refused to eat my grandpa’s Hamburger Pie. I had a long life of processed, unhealthy foods and a reluctance to eat fruits or vegetables. The first time I remember eating a real peach was in college, at my best friend’s kitchen table, sliced by his father and served with rosemary potato bread toast with lots of butter. Soon after this, I moved into a magical, rickety old Pink House near my school, where my dog and I enjoyed a huge, sunny back and front yard. I planted my first tomatoes, and the bushes grew over 6 feet tall, slumped over with the heavy red tomatoes, cherry and slicers. It was around this time I became interested in cooking. I always loved to bake… I was the official birthday-cake baker and decorator for my family, but my mom always did the cooking. I took my summer bounty of tomatoes and made them into sauce, froze them, gave them away…anything I could do to not let them go to waste. Fast forward about 5 years and I am here in San Francisco, working at the nation’s oldest organic produce distribution center, and I began to learn about heirlooms and varieties, and sustainability and organics. I am lucky enough to see the best organic produce, fresh from the fields, every day. I am literally thirty seconds away from a 20 pound box of the world’s best tomatoes, which inspired me to learn to can so that I could enjoy them through the bleak winter months of barely pink, mealy globs of matter I am told are tomatoes. Yuck! Every day, I am inspired by my friends and my work to be more sustainable, more crafty, and to MAKE as much for myself, my boy, and my dog as I can. I cannot WAIT to find a home to stead myself, with a large garden, a compost pile, maybe a chicken coop, a deep freezer, and a big, bright open kitchen…. with a dishwasher!

  • This is only the beginning of my story, but it started like this… I grew up in a rural area. My parent filled our acreage with a large garden and chickens roaming everywhere. When I move off to the “big city,” I assumed I had lost those “home grown” elements for good. It was only when I started my own family that I realized I needed to take a closer look at what we put in our bodies. When my son Andrew was born over a year ago, I worked hard on breastfeeding, to provide him with “natures best” nutrients. When he started to eat solids, I wanted to take the same care with his foods as I did with my milk. I began making his baby food with fruits and vegetables I found at the farmers market. I was amazed at how easy it was and how much money I was saving in the process! Now, we have moved on to a small home garden and compost barrel. One of my biggest “ah-ha” moments was earlier this summer, when a plant started growing in our garden. It was NOT something we planted – it was a “volunteer”. As it grew, we realized it was an acron squash. The plant grew from the seeds I had cleaned out of a squash when making food for our baby. We threw the seeds in the compost, and later, threw the compost in the garden – the plant grew all on its own! What an amazing full circle.

    • Alison, this is so similar to my story it’s scary! I grew up in the midwest with parents who kept a few chickens and had a big garden. They felt like they had lost me forever when I moved to NYC and spent 5 years there. It wasn’t until I moved to SF and started seeing things a little more differently that it really hit me. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Congratulations Alison, on being the lucky winner!! Come by the FARMcurious booth at Eat Real Fest at Jack London Square this weekend to retrieve your book!

  • Contest is over – this I understand. Just wanted to give you props on your book which I think is right on in its selection of simple skills for the new emerging householding culture. I have been teaching food preservation and “householding” for the past six years and have watched as the movement continues to expand. Thanks for your contribution


    • Thanks Harriet! It’s an exciting time and I love seeing newbies get involved in something they never would have considered before. The turnout and feedback at my events have indicate that the trend doesn’t fall along particular demographic lines – everyone is into it!