Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Files, not piles: the recipe edition

Today we shall discuss the joys of organizing one's recipe collection.

Zzzzzzz.  Snore.  With that opening, I'm even feeling drowsy myself.

No!  Stick with me for a minute.  This stuff is fun!

I have a big binder for recipes that my mom gave me when I moved into my first real kitchen, the summer before my junior year of college. This book is out of control.  It's also probably one of my most prized possessions, if that's not too dramatic to say.

In the last few years, I've started to enjoy both cooking and learning about cooking, and the binder has grown exponentially thanks to magazine clippings and internet search results.  It goes through periods of woeful neglect that actually run in tandem with great cooking stretches, because I shove both new and beloved recipes in the front of the binder instead of neatly filing them away. 

Maybe it's like how an artist's studio is the messiest when she is doing her best work? 

No, my cooking is definitely not good enough to employ that comparison.

Here are my sections, which I love because they are structured by tabbed dividers in my mom's handwriting:
  • Drinks (this section has morphed into a hodgepodge of drinks and breakfast)
  • Appetizers (I don't really have a lot here, either)
  • Salads
  • Mis. (I have scribbled "Soups" on the front of this divider)
  • Pastas
  • Meatless entrees (this is a divider I added myself with one of the extras)
  • Meats
  • Desserts (yum)
With all the fall soup adventures, a monstrous pile of bulky recipes had accumulated at the front of the binder.  That's when it's high time to create files, not piles - another shout-out to my mom, who uttered this mantra frequently upon seeing the chaotic condition of my room as a youth.

I sit down with a pair of scissors and a roll of tape and start sorting through the pile, trimming the excess paper that takes up precious space in the book and taping recipes together that had been split onto two pages. Then I have to find space for each one in its proper section.

The peanut butter is not part of the process, just moral support.
Part of this process is editing recipes, too, and I don't mean the content.  It's the quantity.  I sometimes find the exact same soup recipe printed twice, months or even years apart, and I know it's either time to actually cook it or discard it.  Some recipes seem hopelessly out of season now - I'm looking at you, Grilled Corn Guacamole. I frown at those and sometimes pitch them into the garbage, because in June it feels like I'll never need to cook chili ever again, and in January I just know I'll never lay eyes on another summer squash for the rest of my life.  (For what it's worth, I'm just beginning to get better with not doing this with gloves and hats every spring.)

I have to confess that my organization plans aren't just practical in nature.  I love to look at the recipes because, like old photos, they're linked to little snapshots of time and place.  Even though I cooked the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad recipe exactly one time, I don't want to junk it because it was the first Fancy Dinner I cooked for Josh.  My main memory from that cooking process was how impressed I was with myself because I made my own croutons.  I have a locro de papa recipe because I loved potato soup when I went to Ecuador in college.  I've never made it but have saved half a page for it in my book since 2004. There's a printed email from 2005 detailing a meal I ate on a backpacking trip in Arkansas during spring break that year.  I can't bear to tear these pages out of the book.  

Reader, are you all business, or do you keep some recipes in your collection for sentimental reasons?

And I haven't even addressed the mangled, loved recipes that can't really be contained in their pages.  Isn't this how a good recipe should look: all stained and crumpled?

Sorting through my recipe book this week was downright comforting, not unlike how I imagine some people find scrapbooking relaxing.  I snipped away at recipes, found ideas about which I had forgotten, thought about future projects and remembered the meals that emerged from these instructions. 

I have been very-nearly out of space for ages, and I'm not sure what will happen when I can't physically cram one more recipe into the laminated pages.  If you like cooking and thus presumably aren't asleep by now, what does your collection look like?  Should I start from scratch with a new book, taking a chronological approach because this collection isn't unlike a journal?  Or should I group the recipes by type, sorting them between two books?

I have no clue, but I'm not worried about it.  The book is stuffed with recipes properly filed away - for now.

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