Scratch Test

Finding the balance between making and buying

Consider a theoretical holiday meal:

The chicken (that you raised and slaughtered in your backyard) is roasted over Brussels sprouts (that you grew in your garden) and pancetta (that you cured in your basement), and is paired with a cold ale (which you brewed).

Sounds optimal for some, but in practice, such extreme DIY undertakings are the quickest route to a tinsel-strewn breakdown.

Instead, traverse this perilous trail with a handy new guide, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter ($24), by Jennifer Reese.

The book's conceit is simple: It aims to streamline the "from scratch" obsession, breaking down time, cost and reward to determine whether it's better to purchase or produce an ingredient.

Reese's comedic anecdotes prevent the book from falling into the dull manual genre. Her witty stories also negate any aura of judgment around buying mayonnaise, potato chips, even KFC fried chicken. Reese fully acknowledges the value of convenience.

Make the Bread is suitable for various types of cooks. Backyard agrarians will find egg-based recipes to use up their chickens' bounty, while weekend-only cooks can get advice on which aspects of the meal to commit the most time to.

This year, leave the nervous breakdowns to another family member.