Amy Choate-Nielsen has wondered if her cooking skills are lacking, compared to that of her grandmother's, and is it a generational thing?

True or not, one of the impressions I have of my grandmother’s era is that life was simpler then.

It was less genetically modified; more wholesome. It was homemade bread and butter and meat and potatoes, but people were healthier because they didn’t have computers and smartphones zapping their lives — that’s my inkling. My perception is the less-genetically-modified foods they ate were better than the corn syrup and diet sodas of our day, and my grandmother’s group didn’t have the health problems we now face.

For some reason, that’s the perception I have, notwithstanding the fact that my grandmother died from complications with cancer before I was born. Somehow, the idea that everything was farm-to-table — and better — in my grandmother’s day still hovers, even though her own cookbook calls for gelatin and lard and tins of Spam for a regular Sunday meal.

Sometimes I wonder about the messages that have always been aimed at my generation, that we do it all wrong, that everything used to be better, that we do not measure up. Tom Brokaw called my grandmother’s ilk “The Greatest Generation,” but I come from stock that straddles somewhere between Generation X and Generation Y, which Wikipedia calls the “latchkey generation.”

Google’s definition of Generation X says, “The generation born after that of the baby boomers, typically perceived to be disaffected and directionless.” At some point, we picked up the reputation explained in a 2016 Forbes article called, “The Undetected Influence of Generation X,” where the author says, “They’re normally known as the slackers. Caught between boomers and younger millennials, Generation X is mainly known for being neglected and ignored.”

We’re called the burnouts. In a 1999 article about my generation in The Atlantic called “A Politics for Generation X,” the author wrote, “Xers have internalized core beliefs and characteristics that bode ill for the future of American democracy,” and then he went on to outline all the debt and damage to the environment and family dysfunction my generation is inheriting from our predecessors and acknowledged he could understand our despondency.

So my peers get a bad rap. I guess I’ve internalized it, because all of this time, I have really been feeling guilty about the fact that I buy things my grandmother maybe would have just made.

What kinds of things? I’m talking about peanut butter. Yogurt, maybe. Regular butter.

And bread.

I didn’t even know how to make a loaf of bread. I sent my husband to the store on his way home after work time after time to grab some of my favorite artisan bread from the grocery store. I thought, boy, I should learn how to make this bread. But I never tried.

My husband knew how much I was thinking about how more things in our lives should be made from scratch, and he bought me a book called “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” to give me some tools to learn how to make more things on my own.

The concept of the book was based on the idea that some things, for taste, cost and nutrition, are better to make yourself. Some things, for cost, effort and result, are better to buy. The author, Jennifer Reese, says it’s better to make your own peanut butter and jam, buy butter — and make the bread.

For years, as I’ve looked at this book, I read the title and thought, “Yes, that’s what I need to do.”

1 comment on this story

But then I got to the subtitle, “What you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch,” and the recipe for peanut butter on page No. 4 and I couldn’t go on. I felt overwhelmed and disappointed. Maybe all that they said about me and my generation is true. How could I make peanut butter? I couldn’t even make bread.

Up until two weeks ago, that is.

Next time, I’ll tell you exactly how I learned to finally bake my favorite kind of loaf: crusty on the outside, and oh-so squishy and moist on the inside.

It wasn’t even that hard to do, even if I am a slacker from Generation X.