If you are curious about the local food markets around you or wanting to reduce your family’s intake of processed food, we have a great site for you! Swap out your Cheeze-It filled cabinets for a Homemade Pantry. Creator and cookbook author, Alana Chernila has broken down several food items you can stop buying and start making. Now, as a busy mama herself she understands the pressure of spreading yourself too thin. As she describes, she “became a mother practically when she threw off her cap and gown.” Among many jobs, she somehow always found her peace working at the local farmer’s market. Sometimes you get lost in the “to-go” mentality. That’s why her blog From the Ground Up is practical. She covers homemade pastries to replace the Pop-Tart and other common factory-made foods. Rather than cooking a ton, Alana provides simple ingredients in perfect proportions. Grab your apron, be prepared to get your hands dirty and hop in the kitchen with Alana as she explains the CSA lifestyle, finding time to cook naturally and her take on the “foodie” culture!

Alana

1. What inspired you to create the Homemade Pantry books and your blog?

 I did all sorts of jobs in my twenties, patching it together as I went so I could be with my kids as much as possible. In the midst of it all, I was working at my local farmers’ market for my CSA. I sold vegetables every week, but even more, I talked about them. I asked people what they were going to make, and I answered recipe, storage, and preservation questions. In 2008, I started a blog, Eatingfromthegroundup.com, to store recipes for the market and to have a little fun talking about them. Once I started writing, I loved how food was such a great window into everything else. We all eat and have to feed ourselves and our families, and that shared experience provides such a great opportunity to talk about everything from parenting to politics to just learning how to enjoy life. I love that conversation, and food is such a good way to get there.
Early on in the blog, I developed a fascination with homemade staples. This was partly out of financial necessity, but also came from a desire to feed my children without all the chemicals in most packaged food. I learned how to make yogurt, and I was hooked. From then on, I looked at every food and asked the question, “Can I make this?” I wrote about these projects on the blog, and the few people who were reading along asked for more. I looked around for a few good books to help me out, and I found that there were hardly any–either they were from the 70’s, or they were so geared towards full-on homesteaders that I felt intimidated. I thought that someone should write the book, and I started working on my own version of the book I needed!
2. We know that local food, markets and CSA shares have really inspired you. How does a mom find her way into the best markets? Where does she start? What’s the best way to save money and budget while still participating in the local food scene?

For the most part, if you’re feeding a family, a CSA share is always going to be a great deal when you work out the weekly cost. So I’d start there, absolutely. Even for people in urban areas, there are often CSA’s that will deliver to the city–they’re really widespread. And when it comes to farmers’ markets, it really pays to develop a relationship with the farmers. Many have “seconds”–less perfect produce you can buy for less money. In addition, I’ve found that although prices really vary from market to market, often the prices are equal or even lower  than the produce in the supermarket. And when you think about where that money is going–straight to the farmer, staying in your local community, and the quality of the food! It doesn’t even compare. I’d suggest that people start with the market closest to their house, get comfortable there and incorporate it into their schedule, and go from there!

3.  Can you break down the concept of CSA shares and why your family is involved? What are the benefits?

When you buy a CSA share, you pay a portion or all of the money for your share before the season starts–it’s like you’re investing in the farm. From there, every farm works differently. At my farm, I go once a week from June to November, and I pick up a huge basket of fruits and veggies, as well as flowers, herbs, and a few options I can pick myself. There are so many benefits! We get wonderful, fresh produce for a great price. My kids are involved in seeing where their food comes from. I’m supporting my friends, our farmers. I’m constantly introduced to new produce I get to learn about. And it’s a wonderful way to spend an hour or two every Tuesday!

4.    Where do your recipe ideas come from?
Alana3

Everywhere! Friends, cookbooks, online, restaurants, and my own imagination.

5.    What advice do you have for busy moms and women that don’t have a lot of time to get a balanced meal ready every night for their family?

There are a few great tools out there for busy moms- we just have to get comfortable with them. The freezer is really helpful, because we can make a few meals at one time and have them ready to go. I’m also a big fan of my slow cooker. Meal planning is helpful, because it eases the panic of “what on earth are we having for dinner?” and it helps you to be prepared to get dinner out quickly. But I also think it’s good to go easy on ourselves. I try to get guild and panic out of the kitchen, and if we have pizza every so often, so be it.

6.    How do you describe a balanced diet?

I think a balanced diet is a varied diet. I’m absolutely led by my tastes and my cravings, and I love that, because I want to love my meals! But I do my best to work in a lot of different grains and veggies, different kinds of meats and dairy. It also keeps it all fresh, and stops me from getting into too much of a rut. New cookbooks are always helpful for this.

7.    What’s the craziest diet trend you have seen and the most commonly misinterpreted or misused diet/nutrition practice (drinking so much water, cutting all carbs, cheat days, etc.)?

I think we should eat what we love, love what we eat, and do our best to eat real food. I think all these crazy rules and diets have done a lot more harm than good. My biggest work is to raise my two girls not to be afraid of their food! They’ve got a lot of other messages coming at them, but I’m doing my best.

8.    What is your favorite dish?

It changes all the time! Right now, I’ve been working with a few new Asian cookbooks, and I’m loving spicy noodle soups with lots of greens.

Alana4

9.  What is the one spice or herb everyone should have in their cabinet?

Oh, that’s a hard one! I love salt, and I think it’s an essential tool for any cook. I love playing around with different salts–the possibilities are endless. Smoked paprika is also a great tool–it imparts a smoky heat that I love.

10.  What is your favorite cooking appliance?

I’d have to say my trusty old red Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It has duck tape holding it together at this point. That mixer and I have been through a lot together.

11.  If you could eat one thing everyday without worrying about your health, what would it be?

I definitely have the capability to eat more chocolate than feels good! If I could eat tons of it without getting the sugar/caffeine jitters, I’d probably go for it.

12. What’s your opinion of “foodie” culture? How can someone who is intimidated of the kitchen and this new scene, get more involved?

After years of being called a “foodie,” I have to admit I’m still not entirely sure what that means. I know there are whole scenes out there, but I think they’re all different. I like to think that it really just means that people are having a new respect for their food, where it comes from, and how it tastes. That’s totally something I can get behind, and can’t we all? Whether you want to be a “foodie” or not, we all want to eat good food, and that links us all.

Want more from The Homemade Pantry? Check out Alana’s site here. Find Alana on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!