Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Green Notebook Project

This project started in 1982, I think it was. Before I was married. Before I had kids.

I worked in a lab, and one of the other people who worked there liked to cook. She also liked to collect recipes. She would get cooking magazines, and women's magazines, and collect the backs of boxes and labels from cans, and find recipes that she thought were interesting. She would cut the recipes out, and taped them onto notebook paper, and keep them in a looseleaf notebook.

Several notebooks, actually.
She worked on these during her breaks and lunchtimes, and I thought it was pretty cool. Most of the time, when I saw recipes I thought looked good, I'd never be able to remember later where I had seen them, so it didn't do me any good.

I adopted her hobby for a while. I'd find recipes, and cut them out, then sort them into categories, and tape them into my notebook. I collected probably 200 pages of these before I noticed something.

I wasn't using most of the recipes. Maybe one or two, but not the rest, and it was fairly likely that I wouldn't ever use the others.

My notebook was great, but now, instead of having recipes all over the place on boxes and cans, in magazines and newspapers, or lying around on a shelf, where I couldn't find them when I wanted them, I had them in a huge notebook... where it was still hard to find the exact one I wanted.

I decided to do something different.
I got a small spiral notebook, and started writing down recipes, instead of cutting them out, being a little more choosy.
This was a little better, except it still didn't have any sort of table of contents or index, and it still had a lot of recipes that I had thought sounded good, but didn't use.

Next came notebook project, phase 3.
I bought a new spiral notebook. A green one.
And I started over.

This time, the only recipes that went into the notebook were ones that I had ALREADY TRIED. Recipes I knew I liked and wanted to use again.

It became one of my most treasured items. So much so that when we had a house fire, once I knew everyone was out safely, it was the main thing I worried the most about, since it was, by then, pretty irreplaceable.

It was irreplaceable because it contained recipes I had gotten from my mother. My mother had died three years earlier.

One of the things that we realized after she died is that there were recipes of hers that none of us had gotten. Recipes that now, we could never have.

I decided I didn't want that to happen to my kids. I cook a lot, and use a lot of personal and family recipes. Recipes I have collected over the years from various people and places.

I started making a list. Then I started typing some of them up on my computer, planning to print them all out and make a booklet of them some day.

"Some day" is not a very good goal, if you want to get something done.

My hard drive crashed. I realized that having all this work sitting on a hard drive was probably not the best option ever.

I made a plan.
A secret plan.
Well, it wasn't really all that secret, but it was a plan.

I started seriously typing up recipes, and got the bulk of them done over a couple of days.
I bought a binding machine (mostly for something else, but I knew it would help with this, too.)
I printed all the recipes, and bound them, then showed it to my kids.

They read through it, made suggestions for additional recipes, asked for clarification in some of the directions, and asked that I do more of what makes this collection of recipes unique.
It comes with stories. Who the recipe is from, how I got it, where the name came from, whose favorite it is, how we've changed it, funny incidents that involve it, etc.

Once they all made their suggestions, I went back and added things that had been left out. I clarified the instructions in some cases. I made a table of contents that included cross-references. The whole book ended up being two hundred and thirty pages.

I printed three copies, and wrote an introduction for each kid, and gave it to them for Christmas.

Then a funny thing happened.

I had sort of thought that they'd pack them away, and when the time comes that I kick the bucket, they'd have the recipes.

Instead, all three have brought their book out and used it.
Not only that, but with the increased interest in cooking, we've been trying new things, and new recipes, and I'm collecting up a bunch to add to the next revision.

We noticed that we use a LOT of dairy, so we're trying some things that are vegan, to make the collection- and US- more versatile. Also, we have a vegan friend who hangs out here a lot, so it's good to have tasty meals we can all share.

After years of being the only person who cooks dinner, suddenly, I'm not. I have three other people, all of whom are capable of making a great meal.  They've all done SOME cooking all their lives, so they could fend for themselves when I wasn't available to cook dinner for some reason, but other than having good ideas for WHAT to fix, they hadn't made a lot of evening meals.

This is fun.
BIG fun.

The new books all have a green cover, of course, in homage to the old hand written notebook, and because we've all come to associate a green notebook with "where the recipes are."

I'm really glad I finally did this. I highly recommend it. I'll keep adding to it every year so I only really need to keep track of one cookbook. The other million or so I own, those are for reading. :-)

Maybe in June, I'll print the "30th Anniversary Edition."
A cookbook that has been thirty years in the making.

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