Day’s Verse:
Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
John 6:11 (context)

Since 2003, I’ve started learning how to cook. Now, don’t be alarmed; my mother did send me out into the adult world well-enough equipped to make pasta without burning it. I could also make pancakes and coffee cake. Over the last eight (!) years, as Ian and I moved from our crappy basement apartment to the first-floor Lancaster apartment and then the second-floor Marlborough apartment and finally into our own Bothell house, I’ve slowly learned some things about food preparation. For example:

  • Having butter at the right temperature matters. (Similarly: if it calls for butter, use butter.)
  • Although lemon goes well on salmon, orange does not.
  • Hot tomato soup blended in the blender causes the blender lid to fly off (something about steam…) and spew tomato soup everywhere.
  • Enchilada sauce and blueberries stain instantly.
  • A blender can’t chop cranberries or oranges.
  • Always under-cook cookies, especially chocolate chip ones.
  • Don’t rule out foods like beets and kale. They just need extra love.
  • 2 pounds of leafy greens sauteed produces about 1 tablespoon of cooked greens.
  • Pesto is about the only thing you can make with lots of basil.
  • Olive oil is one of the best things ever.
  • When a bread recipe says “lukewarm water,” make sure it’s lukewarm, and not hot or cold.
  • Keep your knives sharp.

I could keep going, but I’m sure you can tell that every one of these lessons has a story behind it. Over time, I’ve collected recipes that I like — who doesn’t? — and compiled them in a thick wad of scribbled notes, printouts from websites, email printouts from family recipes, hard-copy newsletters from our CSA, and dog-eared pages in cookbooks I own. It was a mess, let me tell you. I found notes with just lists of ingredients and a few terse instructions (“In pot: milk, veggies, meat. Simmer.”) that hardly gave a hint at what the recipe made. I lived in fear that one of my hand-scribbled notes would accidentally vanish and I would lose one of those precious, vetted recipes. Several times I set out to create a definitive cookbook of recipes I frequently use, and several times I was overwhelmed at the prospect of all the work involved.

Finally, in November 2010, my internship ended and I found myself somewhat at loose ends. I needed a break, but a productive break. It was time.

I collected all scraps of paper, the printouts, the cookbooks, everything, and started work. I started completely from scratch, with a blank Word document and my pile of recipes. I would create a recipe template and input every recipe into that template. I’d get it professionally printed and bound, and give it to our friends and family for Christmas. It took weeks (of intermittent work), but I eventually I finished the input stage. Then came the editing stage, which was difficult: I’d normally give it to somebody else to edit, since I’d looked at the recipes so many times, but I couldn’t ask any of my usual helpers, all of whom would receive the book for Christmas.

When I thought I was done, I got bids from printers. I settled on a truly wonderful printer, PrintWest in Woodinville. Working with Rob and Cathy at PrintWest was really a highlight of the project. They answered all my questions, gave me prices on all sorts of different options (alas, full color was prohibitively expensive), and were extremely patient with this inexperienced customer. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t finished at all. I had an entire nother stage left: Formatting. I quickly realized that the formatting stage was going to be the worst of all. Sure enough, I went through, oh, 20 hours of misery trying to wrestle Microsoft Word — which I thought I knew well after 3.5 years as a scientific writer — into submission to finally get margins and footers set correctly. Ian and I were about ready to take Word out back and shoot it before we finally got everything set correctly. I’ve never been so confused by a computer program before.

However, on December 13, I transmitted the PDF to PrintWest. A few days later, they provided me with a hard-copy proof free of charge. I’d elicited not to do that because it cost an extra $100, but they decided I should see a hard copy before doing the whole run because I’d put so much work in. So they printed it gratis. See? PrintWest is great. Anyway, seeing the Cookbook in hard copy was exhilarating beyond words. In the privacy of our empty house, I jumped up and down and squealed with delight. Then I buckled down and went through it with a fine-toothed comb, trying to catch every last little thing (I failed, but not for lack of trying. Sometimes your eyes just can’t see things once you’ve looked at the page for so many hours).

Finally, on December 20, I sent the final PDF. On December 23, I picked up the long-awaited box of cookbooks. It was a moment of sheer delight for me to see all those hours of work — the cooking and refining recipes as well as the computer side — turned into a real, tangible product. I almost burst having to hold the news in as I went through this whole process, but I think I succeeded.

All that to say, here it is! Recipes from Home, version 3.2, compiled by yours truly. (There is also a link to this cookbook in the NaNoWriMo tab.) Next edition will be retitled Home on the Range, courtesy of my brilliant mother.

It’s a work in progress; the hard copy was actually version 3.1, and I’ve since added a couple more recipes. If you have favorite recipes, please send them to me. I’ll try cooking almost anything once. I’m particularly interested in more breads, especially a good sandwich bread; and more entrees, especially involving meat (chicken, fish, turkey; beef and pork aren’t on the agenda). Happy cooking!

2 thoughts on “Cookbook Saga

  1. Your cookbook is a thing to behold! I wish I’d known what you were up to so I could have sent you the recipes I’ve been collecting over the past couple of years, but it was an awesome surprise. I’ll send you my recipe document sometime. (I need to give the cookie cookbook a good shake to get out all the scraps of paper I’ve embedded in there!)

  2. I know, I wish I’d had some way to obtain recent recipe innovations from family members without totally giving the surprise away. Well, maybe next edition, in another 5 years or so…

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