Thursday, February 23, 2012

I love a good {cook} book

While doing the Daniel Fast I had a revelation...

my recipe storage system needed an overhaul

Not only were my two main recipe binders full to capacity and disorganized, I had recipe books and magazines all over the house and garage...literally!

My two main recipe files, one for desserts
and the other for everything else.  Some recipes
were hole-punched and fastened in the binders
while others were loose.  The binders were
stuffed, the recipes exposed to the elements
(of cake batter, marinades and tomato sauce!)
and I had a basket full of recipes to be filed
that had not yet made it into the binders.

My cookbook shelves in the kitchen, the ones
I use most frequently

The basket on my counter with my binder and
three favorite cookbooks and all the
loose recipes needing to be filed

My pretty cookbooks are on display

My unattractive recipe magazines hidden away
 on the top shelf of a cupboard

And my seldom used recipe magazines
tucked away in the garage, next to
the breadmaker, which is also seldom used!
I felt my system was not very efficient, and I decided to do some research on recipe organization.

The cat joined me as I worked on my laptop.  I'm usually at
my desk and rarely work anywhere else, so she loves it
when she finds me in a comfy chair!
After looking at magazines, blogs, organizational websites, and online cooking shows, I decided that I still liked the binder system the best.  I haven't used a recipe box or card system for many years...too cumbersome.  I like the idea of an online system, but I don't want to have to scan all my existing recipes into the program, and I also don't like the idea of having my laptop so close to heat and liquids (an iPad could be the solution to that problem).  My current binders are too small, and I don't like having to re-write recipes onto pages or tape or glue them to pages, which really doesn't work when a recipe is written out on the front and back of a card.  Also, I wanted to keep recipes that were handwritten by the original cook for sentimental reasons or if I had written notes to myself on the recipes (like, "This was delicious!" or "Too sweet," "Too thick," "don't substitute with whole wheat").  And I wanted to be able to store recipes I'd clipped from magazines without having to copy them onto recipe cards.  So, I opted to stick with the binder system, but make it more efficient, flexible and organized.  I began the process by emptying out my old binders and baskets and separating all my recipes into piles by category.  I began with broad categories and then narrowed them down to "Main Courses," which I then broke down into sub-categories of "Meat," "Seafood," "Pasta," and "Brunch" which I broke down into "Sweet" and "Savory," categories, etc.  Same with desserts, which I separated into "Cookies," "Cakes," "Pies," "Creamy," "Frozen," and "Christmas."

I sat on the floor and made piles in a semi-circle around me.
Sometimes you have to make a mess before you can bring order!
For the old magazines on my shelves, I have begun to go through them and tear out the pages with the recipes I want and then I recycle the rest of the magazine.  This is a time-consuming job.  I'm still not done.  One thing is helpful, and that's the fact that most of the time I would turn the corner of the page down to mark a recipe I wanted to try or had tried and liked.  When I sorted through magazines like that my work was easy.  But sometimes there were no down-turned corners, and then I couldn't remember if I had looked at the magazine and didn't like any of the recipes or if I had simply forgotten to turn down the corners.  That's what takes the most time...perusing all those recipes to see if there is one worth saving!

As for my cookbooks, most of the actual books I own I have because I like the photos as well as the recipes.  These I left on my shelves.  I always put sticky bookmarkers on the pages of recipes I like best or want to try, so no problem there, and the books themselves are a pleasure to read or browse, so I chose to keep them as is.

One of my recipe books is very special to me.  It's an antique...a big, fat book with EVERYTHING you could possibly ever want or need to know about cooking.  It was my grandmother's.  When she gave it to me she told me that she had read the whole thing in one night when she went into labor with my dad and couldn't sleep for the contractions, yet knew it wasn't time to go to the hospital.  In the wee hours of the morning she distracted herself with recipes for deviled squab and pickled cow's tongue, how to thread fat through a roast, what made a good hostess, and how to be a thrifty, economic cook.

This is the has that "old book" smell
that reminds me of going to the library when
I was a little girl.

This is the binding : (
I really want to take it to a bookbinder and have it re-bound.

This is the inside cover...very old-fashioned photographs
in that funny "chromatone" color processing of the late 1930s.

And then the handwritten page
from my grandmother to me.  It says,
To: Karyn Wells
May 23, 1942
David James Davenport
Born May 24, 1942

If this is the "new revised edition," I'd like to see the original!
This book, while very useful, is also very interesting reading.
It is full of historic facts, cultural practices, quaint values from
the 1940s...and some very funny poetry and gross recipes!
Perfect "pinkish" eggs???

Green peas in fried bologna cups?
This is what the caption says: "Slice the bologna straight,
leave on the rind and broil for perfect cups."

This is what happens to a muffin when you bake it at too high
or too low a heat.   Now that's practical!

Throughout the book are little rhymes and anecdotes full of pithy advice for the young cook and hostess.

"You'll be one up on the rest of the crowd if you serve them this luscious chantilly sponge."

"Rolled veal roast is delicious when larded with salt pork or the fat of smoked beef.  Use the larding needle and draw it through carefully or fold frankfurters into meat as you roll."

"Somebody shook the dreamland tree and down came all these luscious cookies!"

"Add this golden crown to your laurels as a hostess." (golden crown cake)

"Revive your drooping spirits on a hot day with a frosty glass of sherbet."

"Unexpected guests will not daunt a hostess who knows how to make a fish roll."

"Red layers of tomato aspic with potato salad between will tempt
the most wilted summer appetite."

"Starring meatloaf with a supporting cast of onions, tomatoes and duchess potato planked for company dinner."

"Don't fret over fritters
Just prepare them plain
Or fill them with fresh fruit
For lots of fame"

"High-vitamin vegetable stuffing is the clever meat stretcher for savory beef roll."

"Creamed chicken takes on new glamor when it appears in a noodle or rice ring."

The book covers such necessary topics as, "The Fine Art of Carving," three different methods for boiling eggs, how to set a table, the names of the cuts of beef and pork mapped out on the animal, home canning, menu planning, and how to please your family and impress your friends with your cooking skills.

And now you can see how easy it is to get distracted!  I had to put my book away and refocus my efforts on my recipes.  I think this is the main reason projects take so long...we find ourselves taking pleasant rabbit trails and trips down memory lane and forget what we set out to do.

So, with renewed effort, I headed to the store to purchase supplies.  I switched from the small binders to large, standard size 8-1/2" x 11" binders.  Then I bought see-through colored dividers with pockets, plain tabbed dividers for notebooks, and clear photo page protectors.

I set up my binder like this:
- Clear colored divider - Appetizers, Main Courses, Side Dishes, Vegetables, Salads, Breads, Soups, Sweet Sauces/Jams, Marinades/Sauces/Salsa, Breakfast/Brunch, Beverages, Health Food/Daniel Fast, Entertaining, Nutritional Information 
- In the front pocket of the colored divider - recipes I am planning to try
- In the back pocket of the colored divider - information pertaining to the category (for the meat section, this is where I would tuck the diagram of the name of meat cuts)
- Plain tabbed dividers - sub-categories under Main Courses (meat, seafood, pasta, casseroles, Asian, Sandwiches), Side Dishes (potatoes, rice, pasta), Salads (fruit, green, grain, dressings), Brunch (Savory, Sweet).
- Clear photo page protectors - I slid my recipe cards into the page protectors.  These work great for a number of reasons. 1) You can see the recipe but it doesn't get dirty while you're cooking.  2) Because the page protectors are pockets, you can see both sides of your recipe.  3) You don't have to re-copy recipes from magazines or newspapers, just slide them in.  4)  If you have a handwritten recipe, it will stay archived in the photo page protectors.  (This is especially useful if you have a recipe from your mother or grandmother written in her handwriting that you want to keep as a momento and not just for the recipe itself.) 5) Get two that holds an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper and one that is divided into four sections so smaller recipes don't slide around inside the large pockets. 

Binder, colored dividers with pockets, tabbed dividers
The inside pocket of the binder I used for blank recipe cards
and a handy measurement guide

In the back pocket of the binder, I've got
ideas for entertaining.

Here is a picture of a colored divider for "Salads" with information
in the pocket...this one is for making vinaigrettes.
See how the recipes are displayed in the photo page protectors?
Easy to read, easy to take out, easy to clean, easy to see both sides.

Even newspaper and magazine clippings
can easily be stored in the page protectors.

Now when I want to make Grandma's scuffles,
I can take the recipe out, prop it up on a stand,
and not worry about it getting splashed, stained
torn or wrinkled while I'm using it.

It took me quite awhile to finish my first binder.  I worked on it slowly, sometimes renting a movie and working while I watched.  I kept all my supplies in a big box, including scissors, pens, glue and tabs, so I could take my project out when I was ready to work and then easily put it away when I was done.

For the outside cover of the binder, there are options:  I can either keep it plain and label it, use an already decorated one, or make a cover of my own using computer graphics, my own art work, or a picture from a magazine, maybe a picture of cookies for my dessert binder and a picture of a beautifully prepared table for my "Meals" binder.  I haven't decided yet, but here are a few examples.

Generic...just add a label on the spine of the binder

Christmas Cookies!

As I was putting my recipes into the page protectors, I realized I had a lot of recipes that I had kept but never tried, or tried but didn't really like, or used a lot when I was a young cook but would never make again, or I found doubles (even triples) of the same recipe.  So I chucked them.  It's okay.  Give yourself permission to throw things out.  Think of it as "culling."  That's a very positive administrative term.  You're culling your recipes...making room for years of new recipes based on new trends, new tastes, and new triumphs as you progress in your skills as a cook.  I also took the time to clean my recipes up by trimming torn or rough edges and re-copying if they were especially dirty and smeared.

Now my recipe binders are super functional and much more attractive!  I am very happy with my finished product, and I hope this system serves me well for many least until I am retired and looking for a new project!  Or maybe I'll just save my photo albums for that day!

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