A challenge for us, with our busy, two career household, was finding the time to take our passion for food and cooking and turn it into the ability to prepare fast, gourmet meals at home. We discovered that, although we had an understanding of foods, their flavors and textures and the use of spices, etc., we lacked some of the basic skills needed to pull it all together quickly. Things like chopping veggies effectively (while avoiding our own digits,) or preparing flavorful sauces consistently without pouring over recipes time and again.
Here in Fairbanks, Alaska there really aren’t a tremendous number of dining out options. Don’t get us wrong, there are some nice places, but even the nicest places in town don’t change their menus very often, if at all, and after a while…well, you can see where we’re going here. We like a little more variety, not to mention the fact that the restaurant prices up here will make your hair stand on end. And so, The DIY Bistro was born. We didn’t call it that then, of course – just joked that our house was “our favorite little restaurant.”
Grocery prices here are also high, so we shop sales and use our freezer and are very thankful for Sam’s Club. (I’m certain that there are some anti-box-storers who are already stretching their fingers to write us a scathing social commentary. Sigh.) We’ve become pretty good at not wasting food and we even give our scraps to some friends who raise chickens in exchange for a spot on their egg list. In the summer, which is, sadly, entirely too short, we grow lots of edibles – along with flowers, for the sheer joy of it. This year we have several varieties of herbs, lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, arugula, tomatoes, peppers, peas, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, spinach, potatoes, cabbage, raspberries, strawberries and TONS of rhubarb. Most of it grows in containers on our deck because moose really don’t like to share. Later this summer we’ll go pick blueberries, and this fall we’ll get cranberries. If we ever get enough rain this summer, maybe we’ll get some mushrooms. We had lots of them last year – all it did last year was rain. Some years we even tap the birch trees and make syrup. Thanks to my grandmother, I know how to can food and I’ve been able to pass that along to a few other people over the years.
We buy in bulk to save money, then separate most things out into single-meal sized packages and put them in the freezer. 2 chicken breasts or 2 pork chops or 16 medium shrimp can be quickly thawed (inside their Ziplock(R) freezer bag) in a bowl of really warm water in the time it takes us to walk the dogs, and we’re halfway to dinner. It keeps us from feeling paralyzed with indecision when we get home in the evenings and we can spend our time figuring out something fun to do with it instead of running out to buy something or, worse yet, waiting for Chinese delivery – which might never arrive. A few years ago, in the dead of winter, we ordered from one of the local Chinese restaurants. 90 minutes later, when our food hadn’t arrived, we called back to check on it. A gentleman informed us, in heavily accented English, “We no deliver you! Too dark! Too cold!” I suppose he was right, as that was the exact reason we had chosen not to stop at the grocery on our way home from work. Serves us right.
So whatever your reason is for wanting to turn your home into your favorite bistro, we’re glad you came.