Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Recipe Organization - Dream or Reality? (or Something More?)

For many years I’ve had a dream.

It’s not an earth-changing dream or even a technically difficult dream. It certainly isn’t an impossible dream.

I’ve dreamed of organizing all my recipes. (Sorry if you were expecting something more exciting, this being the time of year we dedicate much writing and even an entire day of school to the man who had the most famous dream, does make my dream seem sub-par.)

I took a stab at this dream a few years back. I rounded up all the recipes torn from magazines and scattered willy-nilly throughout my house. I trimmed them neatly and taped them to notebook paper (see below, okay, maybe they aren't so neatly trimmed), and put them in notebooks.
The problem was that there were so many and the notebooks quickly became unorganized. Sorting the recipes and putting them in the notebooks in a sensible order became too big of a task. 

Where do you put zucchini bread? Vegetables? Bread? Dessert? The process was rife with too many tiny decisions that left me creating new piles of “Recipes that don’t belong anywhere but I don’t want to lose.”

Other piles grew from there – “Recipes I must try,” “Healthy recipes the kids probably won’t eat,” “Recipes to try for the blog,” and “Recipes to make for book club.”

The notebooks themselves were full to bursting already and any attempts at opening them to insert a new recipe generally led to much bigger disasters when pages slipped out of the overtaxed rings. Sometimes I’d carefully re-order the pages and squeeze them back into the binder but most of the time I just put the loose pages in a new pile called, “To be re-filed.”
I stacked these piles in my kitchen. And on the corner of my desk. And in colorful folders with tidy black lettering so that I wouldn’t forget. And when I did actually try a recipe and liked it, I made notes on it and then put it in my to-do box so that I could type it up with my changes. But I rarely followed through and these recipes became guilty reminders of my best intentions whenever I sorted through my in-box.

But this winter I’ve finally done it. Here's me doing it -
And here's a view from above (my hubby fancies himself a photographer...)
It’s taken several weeks and it isn’t quite finished yet, but it will be. I bought 15 recycled notebooks and covered them with gorgeous paper so they’ll look nice in the glass fronted cabinet where they will reside. I sat down and made a list of how I would organize the recipes. I changed the list again and again, but finally I chose 15 categories:

Appetizers & Drinks
Asian & Mexican (plus pizza & seafood)
Cakes & Desserts
Cookies & Candy
Fruit & Pies
Miscellaneous (canning, sauces, salsas, fondue, oils, vinegars)
Soups and Sides

Within each book I added dividers breaking down each category even more so that when it’s time to find a recipe for chicken thighs, I don’t have to thumb through every kind of chicken dish to locate one utilizing the lovely thighs I bought at the market this week.

I sorted and sifted through all the many piles – tossing out recipes I will never actually make and ones I’ve tried that didn’t have “AMAZING” or “OMG” scrawled in the margins.

Sure, I could have tossed all this paper and skipped the long organizational journey to this point. You can find any recipe online, but I guess I’m old fashioned. I like the handwritten notes on the sides of my recipes. I like seeing the grease splatters and the chocolate drips. I like seeing the date when we created a dish and remembering the event. “Made this cake for Mom’s 70th birthday!” or “Took this on camping trip to the beach.”

I cross out ingredients I left out and write in the ones I added in their place. Sometimes I’ll write suggestions for next time like - “Delicious but needs more zip!” or “Try this with coconut flour.”
Other notes say things like, “Addie’s favorite pancakes” or “Brady is a fan, but Ian not so much,” or “Makes a TON!”

My mother recently put together a cookbook celebrating 50 years with her Gourmet Club. It’s a wonderful book full of forgotten recipes, but more than that – it’s a history of their time together. Reading the ingredients from the early 70’s makes me gasp, but it also takes me back to Saturday nights when the laughter from the dining room lured my brothers and I to creep down the hall and listen to the conversations, curious to see what these familiar adults acted like outside their roles as parents.

I hope my recipe books record a history, too. The pages hold not just our favorites dishes that nourished our bodies, but maybe more, maybe the stories of how they nourished our souls.

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