The Cookbook Sagas, part 2

I’m back with a progress update on my efforts to downsize my recipe hoarding collection. I’m actually really good at organizing things. Events, closets, information, home design, travel plans…but recipes, as a subject, seem to be my Achilles heel. I see potential in way too many of them and it has gotten out of hand in my kitchen.

This series of posts is my attempt to document my progress as I clean out. When I last left off with part 1 of this organization problem, I had accomplished two things:

  1. Admitting I had a problem
  2. Trying to figure out how to clean out the mess I had made

Those might not seem like huge steps forwards, but these warm seasonable evenings are when I start to really scout out new recipes to play with over the summer. Something new in cuisine type, something different in ingredients and or something more experimental in technique for me. All of these concepts lead to more recipe clipping when I find something interesting.

So, I decided to empty all of the recipes out of the eight (yes, eight) binders of clippings I had created over the first couple of years of marriage, years ago. These are all of the pages I had left:

Well, not exactly. This is what was left after I cleaned out all the pages I didn’t  want. And, in fact, this does not include the “Chicken & Beef” binder that is stilled used so regularly. Let me back up.

First, I pulled all of the pages out of (almost) every binder. And as I did that, I tossed or cleaned and saved-for-later-recycling all of the salvageable sheet protectors. I would hate to spend more money on sheet protectors if I can just give them good cleaning and save my pennies. That’s just how I roll.

Next, I sorted out duplicates of recipes. This was a bigger problem than I expected. Apparently, there were periods of my life where I needed to own every variation of Potato & Leek Soup, Lemon Muffin, Ham Salad and Deviled Egg recipe. I know this because those recipes, among others, were noticeable themes spread across many pages within their sections of the binders. Clearly, I was thorough.

Too many potato salads.

After I had finished the duplicates purge, I started crossing off things I know we will never make. You can see that in the picture above. These might be perfectly lovely recipes, but if I already make something similar, I’m good. I also crossed off things that sounded delicious, but might require a Master Class with Martha Stewart to actually make in my home. Frankly, I think life is too short for that scenario. (On many levels.)

As I tossed things, I did keep recipes that I had made notes on, like this one:

My mother always makes a similar Buckeye bar for my husband because she knows he loves them. She likes to make them as her special treat for him and I have never actually gotten the recipe from her. (This is probably better for our waistlines anyway, really. Since we only enjoy them on special occasions, they disappear quite quickly.)  I had stumbled across this recipe that I had meant to ask Mom about and there it was, hiding 37 pages back in the binder. I kept this type of notated recipe, along with others we had made and liked, because that had been the original point of these binders.

The last step of the binder page tossing was having Mr. CARO help make a ruling on the remaining recipes, which you saw in that stacked photo above. He is always an enthusiastic co-chef in the kitchen, so I was worried he would actually enable me to keep more recipes than I need. However, he was really great at browsing the ingredients and thinking about when in the year we would most likely enjoy the recipes. It was great to get a second opinion.

Does this sound overcomplicated to do this kind of sorting for a bunch of recipe clippings? It may be. But Mr. CARO and I love to do the grocery shopping together, because when we do, we feel like we have a better connection to what we cook together. We also make our evening meals about conversation over the table, which helps us appreciate our food, eat slower and connect more at the end of our busy days. This may not work for everyone, but we love it.

While Mr.CARO was helping me pitch recipes, we got to the dessert and appetizers binder sections. Many of these recipes have very important visual references for how the food is served, like the trifle you see pictured above. (I love making trifles in the summer.) We may need to keep some of these pictures to show how the dishes come together, but I’m still trying to figure out how to show the pictures in a tidy, manageable fashion. (To be determined…)

The issue we did solve is how to store all the recipes we are keeping. We’re upgrading the binders concept. After much discussion, Mr. CARO made a great case for how easy it to use a sheet protected recipe both in the binder and clipped to the hood over our stove. He liked that he didn’t have to worry about spills and that we could add our own notes easily, as we need to.

I liked that I can flip through the binder pages quickly to find something specific. I have never been able to work with the tiny recipe cards our grandmothers and great grandmothers used. Case in point, pictured below is a family recipe given to by my Great Aunt Millie. (You can read more about one of her great life philosophies in this post.)

I had originally typed this recipe so I could read it without squinting while I was cooking. (Tiny, delicate handwriting from the ‘1950’s + steamy kitchen = much re-reading.) However, as you can see, this one recipe takes up a whole sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 paper this way. Either we would need to tack on a separate kitchen library for our recipe binders or I would have to make these pages more manageable. This is the new version of this typed recipes format:

Doesn’t that look much more approachable? It feels that way to us, too. This does mean that I’ll have to type out all of my remaining recipes into this simple format. However, I don’t mind doing this, because it also make it easier to share my recipes. If you ask me for a recipe, I can just print or email you a copy. Plus, you’ll probably get a bonus recipe of whatever is printed on the page with it.

I’m not under any delusions about this method. All of this typing will definitely take some time, but I can work on it over the summer, little by little. It will be so worth it when I am done. So personalized and so functional. That’s kinda the feeling I want with all of these family and favorite recipes anyway. Better to savor what you love and respect it by taking care of it.

I also have plenty more to do on this project in the meantime, like make new binders. In fact, that is what is coming up next week: Making happy, handy, affordable binders to work in your kitchen. I’ll be taking pictures as I make mine this weekend and I will show you how to do it, too! Here’s a little preview:

Now I’d like to hear about your recipe experiences. Does this project make you think about your own recipe system? How do you store your absolute favorite recipes? How do you share your recipes with friends? Have you ever discovered you had a stockpile of similar recipe themes? Dish with me in a comment!

Posted on June 8, 2012, in Food, Organization, Other. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I admire your organization. I always mean to clean things out, but I never seem to find time to do it. I’m keeping books from my mother and aunts out of guilt and I just don’t want to look at that anymore. I don’t know if I can type out everything, but maybe I can throw somethings away. Looking forward to seeing the binders stuff next week!

    • Every effort of cleaning out can empower you for the next step, Paula. Maybe just donate some of your MOST unused cookbooks to your library, like I did in the first post? Just seeing that little bit of extra shelf space might be the inspiration you need to face more cleaning. It has worked for me so far!

  2. Nice tip on the binder sheets, Mr CARO. I’ve had do deal with plenty of spills on paper myself.

    • Mr. CARO is awesome in the kitchen, but, ironically, he splashes way less than I do when cooking. I think he was politely looking out for my joyful messes with his comment. 🙂

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