Tuesday, March 3, 2009

WFMW--Best Of Edition

This week's WFMW is themed--we are to share our best tip ever. I'm not sure that this is my best tip, but it did get the most comments ever, though granted, most are from my blogging real life friends. Either way, enjoy--or enjoy again!

WFMW--writing in my cookbooks

Until I was in middle school, I had never seen a highlighter. Even after my friends had them, they seemed...suspicious, somehow. Who would mark up a book besides a delinquent who hated education? Especially with something that looked like it was really a magic marker in disguise, waiting to actually black out what it was supposed to highlight?

In our kitchen, there was a fantastic lucite cookbook stand, used to protect the cookbooks. Not that they were totally unmarked; my father used to put lipstick on me so I could put kisses in them, and every once in a while, he traced my hands or feet in the covers of the books to personalize them when they were presents for my mother. But the recipes themselves stayed safe behind clear plastic covers, just like the sofas at my great-aunts'.

Once my mother died unexpectedly, I came in to a mountain of cookbooks, all of them used, and every bookmark was a mystery. Was this one of those dishes I liked and just never knew what it was called? Or something my dad wanted my mom to try but since she knew better than he did that he hated candied apples she wisely just kept marked but knew she'd never make? I felt truly lost--I knew the tastes of my childhood were locked in those books, but where?

Well, somewhere after I moved out of the house, my mother either lost her disdain for writing in books, or privately saw it as a secret thrill, or found it more reliable than hoping that bookmarks stayed where they belonged. In some of the books she used more often at the end of her life, there were notes in the margins, ingredients crossed out, directions tweaked, proportions corrected. One recipe noted my boss really liked it when she sent it in with me once for the office--only later to have "WHO CARES?!?!?!" written in big letters with lots of punctuation (after, I suspect, I was passed over for a promotion she--and I--thought I deserved). A recipe for ricotta cake called for some citrus zest. Mom had question marks and the word "never!" written next to that. And so forth and so on.

That was such an unexpected gift and an epiphany for me. Since we assumed we had lots more time together, I never got serious about sitting down with her to ask for specifics of favorite recipes, like "what tomato sauce do you use for the crock pot pork chops?" or "besides the garlic spears, what do you do to your eye roast to make it so good?"

Since then, I have written in ALL of my cookbooks or cooking magazines that I have used more than once. I note when I made a dish ("good, but too rich for summer; make again when weather cools and will be perfect!"), whether it was for an occasion ("served after Christmas Eve Mass when our son was Baby Jesus and we had 15 relatives for dinner"), and any suggestions for next time ("loved the flavor but WAY too hot; skip most of red pepper flakes next time" or "great even without the sausage!"). More important since the sons were born: who liked it, and how. ("wouldn't eat the chicken but the sauce on rice went to thirds before we cut him off.") This way, the record is always there, and someday, if anyone else in this house ever cooks with cookbooks (my husband is amazing at cooking on the fly) and is looking for an old favorite, they'll be able to figure it out. And that works for me! What's working for you? Find out what's working over at We Are That Family!


Bridget said...

I love this tip; I do it, too! :) I add the date the first time I made it as well. My husband & I always marvel at all of the years that have passed since!

I bet it's so nice to see your mom's handwriting, too! One year for Christmas, I asked my mom for a recipe box with her recipes. I love having her handwriting with me! :)

Emily said...

So here is a tip - not cooking related - that could backfire but usually works well. When your children wont get dressed on a cold winter morning, throw their clothes inthe dryer for 5 minutes. When the clothes come out, the kids cant wait to hurry up and get them on -- all nice and toasty. The flip side is when they insist that you warm their clothes - even in the summer. :) But as aspecial treat when you need to ge moving fast, this works wonders.

Mom24 said...

What a great idea! I do this also, but not consistently, you've given me motivation to do better.

Kate said...

Great tip!

I have a mental block about writing in nice books, so I sometimes use Post-Its instead. I think it would be nicer, though, to actually write in them, especially because you could then hand them down to your children. =)

"Which Proverbs 14:1 Woman?"

Kirstin said...

Very cool tip. I love recipes that have been passed down. Love writing in my books or making notes. My mom passed away years ago and I love the handwritten recipes I received from her!

Jessica said...

I have a cookbook from my Grandma and it is such a treasure. Her handwriting all over her favorite recipes. What a great legacy!!

Jerralea said...

This kind of makes me think about how nice it is to write in our bibles and then pass it along to our loved ones. It makes the bible even more valuable to us. Same idea with the cookbooks. Unless you are going to sell them again as mint condition, why not make notes?