Homemade, as you like it.

One of the finished products - a gingerbread house - is displayed by Zoe and Abby McElroy at Hotel Fauchere in the Poconos.
One of the finished products - a gingerbread house - is displayed by Zoe and Abby McElroy at Hotel Fauchere in the Poconos. (Courtesy of LISA McELROY)

First-time do-it-yourselfer finds the joy in the process

Posted: December 30, 2011

I am not a homemade kind of gal. I'm not even a homemade kind of mom. While I admire the moms who paint their own furniture and sew their own diaper covers and regularly sit their kids down at the long beat-up farm table for craft time, it just ain't me. I make a mean brownie and a decent spaghetti sauce, but that's about as far as I'll usually go. But a couple of weeks ago, I was reading Jennifer Reese's inspiring book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and thinking about how cool it might be to raise my own chickens, when my kids and I got into the following conversation over pasta with heated-up frozen meatballs.

"What would you two think if we started making our own bread around here?" I asked.

Their ears perked up. "Could I make the butter?" my little one asked.

Now my ears perked up. "Well, Abby, according to Jennifer Reese, we should just buy the butter."

"No! I know how to make butter!" Then she proceeded to tell me why exactly her class teachers since pre-K had been sending home notes asking for empty baby food jars (of which I used to have plenty, because I did not make my own baby food). I was probably the only mom who didn't know you could make butter by shaking a jar full of cream.

Do you think the homemade gene skips a generation? Or are kids just naturally great at making things from scratch? Because, as I started to think about it, I realized that making things is what kids are cut out to do. My girls are pretty much always sewing pillows or making personalized stationery with construction paper and a calligraphy pen or weaving potholders. They begged for months for one of those apple peeler/slicer/corer gizmos that you attach to the counter and crank (I caved). Then they pleaded for years for a make-your-own-cotton-candy kit (I didn't).

Fast forward to a recent weekend.

Because it was kind of boring in our Philly suburb (plus, it was my 15th wedding anniversary, which seemed like it deserved some kind of recognition), my family got in the car and wandered out to the Poconos. We'd heard about this place called Hotel Fauchere that had llamas. As in, 65 of them. Plus a couple of baby llamas, which look like a cross between a lamb and a giraffe. We had to check them out.

Our first surprise: The Hotel Fauchere breakfast. It was totally homemade, from the granola to the hot chocolate to the yogurt served in tiny individual pots. I'm talking vanilla yogurt so creamy my kids begged me to buy the stuff at $5 a half pint and haul it home. It was so sweet and ice-cream-like that I actually considered hitting the general store (remember, this was the Poconos) for a cooler and some dry ice.

Instead: "We can just give you the recipe," the waitress said. "It's easy to make." And I remembered Jennifer Reese saying that yogurt was something you should definitely make, not buy.

"Sure, print it out," I answered bravely, squaring my shoulders and steeling myself for a list of ingredients long enough to fill a shopping cart.

Nope. Cream, milk, sugar, vanilla bean, and yogurt culture (although you can just add some store-bought yogurt to the rest of the stuff to cut corners). I tucked the recipe away in my bag, promised my eldest she could calligraphy a "special copy" when we got home, and zipped up my jacket over my very full belly.

Time for the llamas.

Except that the hotel was offering some classes on making a homemade Christmas. They'd clipped some evergreen and picked up some sticks and spread them out on a table in the back of the little bakery they owned next door. We could make our own wreaths! We couldn't pass this up, the kids argued. The llamas weren't going anywhere. We could ooh and aah over their long eyelashes later.

By the end of the weekend, we had made four wreaths, one gingerbread house (start to finish), and about a dozen button ornaments. We'd learned we can freeze cookie dough in logs, then slice it for cookies (much nicer than the break and bake alternative) and decorate them with a mixture of egg whites and confectioner's sugar. We'd passed around wire and ribbon and jars of M & M's and peppermint sticks. We still had not visited the llamas.

The weekend wasn't about llamas, after all. Nor was it about our 15th wedding anniversary. And even though, on the face of it, it turned about to be about connecting with our homemade sides, the weekend even rose above the vintage-y ornaments or the fresh-smelling wreaths. It was about the process, not a perfect product. It was about the personality in each project. It was about the present.

The anniversary was romantic. But the weekend of all things homemade? It would have been complete even if we'd never set foot on the farm or toasted a decade and a half of marriage with two glasses of bubbly.

As I'm writing, our yogurt is in little cups in a lukewarm oven. I'm supposed to put it in the fridge before bedtime. I'll let you know how it turns out.


Lisa T. McElroy is an associate professor of law at the Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law. Visit her website at www.LisaMcElroy.com.

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