Do you ever play tricks on yourself on purpose?
LIKE (IN THE OLDEN DAYS WHEN WE USED TO DO THIS) inviting friends over so you’ll clean up the house, or telling the world you’ve signed up for a 5K so you’ll be too embarrassed to back out?
Well, I’m up to something like that right now, and I’m counting on you, dear readers, to hold me accountable!
If you’ve read any of my past columns in GRAND, you should know me pretty well. You’ll know that I am passionate about rivers, that I have a new baby grandson (who is now crawling, thanks for asking), and that I treasure my grown children, my grands, and my friendships. You’ll know that I completed my first triathlon at 58 and that I’m still active and grateful for my health. You’ll know that every spring (except this last one, darn it), I go to the FLAME Festival to celebrate the flow arts (especially those involving fire) and that I dye my hair purple for the occasion. You’ll know that I have even done a fire-walk of my own.
Yep, I can generate a righteous storm of hashtags with all the things I love to do, but there’s one that would not make the short list: #cook. Mind you, I can hold my own in the kitchen; it’s just not a top gig for me. But here’s what I’m doing: I’m writing a cookbook.
This will actually be the second edition of the cookbook that my lifelong friend Marsha and I published back in 2012 for a target market of four: our out-of-the-nested children. I say “published” because we did no writing in the first edition. In fact, it was so easy to do that I’ll tell you how below; you’ll be able to make one of your own in time for Christmas gift-giving!
Marsha and I met in the newborn nursery at McCall Hospital.
As we clinked our glass Evenflo bottles across our bassinets, we cooed a toast to our future, then slugged down that Pet Milk/Karo Syrup nectar and embarked on a life journey of friendship that is still going strong. That was the first meal we shared; hundreds more have ensued, the most recent being just last week.
Because our parents were friends, we grew up together. On summer Friday nights while our parents ate aspic and other hoity dishes over bridge games, we would feast on the Longboy Burgers her dad had prepared for us and then go play hours of Spotlight with neighborhood friends in her backyard (barefoot, btw!). She spent some weekends with me at our Lake Allatoona cabin, and we munched on my dad’s grilled chicken that smelled almost better than it tasted.
Our families took turns hosting dinner after church every Christmas Eve, and we all enjoyed countless Sunday lunches at The Partridge and The Forrest Hotel. We went to Furman and put on the Freshman Fifteen together; we began our careers together and left our nests, but Moms and Dads were still there to heft up the holidays. As they aged and passed on, we realized the family traditions were now our own to keep, so we kept many and created some new ones of our own. We grew our families together and are proud of our four young adults who live full lives on their own terms.
As they grew up and fledged, Marsha and I began to get the occasional urgent text request for a recipe they remembered fondly: “I’m invited to a party and need to bring a dish; how do you make that hot artichoke dip we always had at Christmas?” “What goes in that spinach and strawberry salad we always had at Easter?” Etc.
Have you ever tried to text a recipe?
Don’t even. It will wear out your eyes, your fingers and your patience. We soon learned to hack that process by taking a picture of the recipe with our phone and texting that to them instead of pecking the whole thing out.
Then came epiphany: let’s compile our family recipes into a cookbook for the kiddos! Not only would that preserve their fond memories in one place, but it would head off that eventual issue of who got which of Mama’s recipes when we were gone. They would love it! It could be a Christmas present! We needed to hurry; it was mid-November.
Selecting the recipes came first and was accomplished in four sessions at Marsha’s kitchen table with dozens of beautifully well-worn, food-splashed cards and notes, many written by our mothers’ hands. The memories and stories flowed. Gazing at her mother-in-law’s directions for cooking squash the “right way”, Marsha recalled the several attempts before it finally passed the husband-muster. It’s now a specialty of her own. I looked at my mother’s spaghetti recipe and still couldn’t understand why it never tasted like hers when made in my kitchen.
There were the Thanksgiving sweet potatoes and dressing instructions hastily dashed on the back of prescription pads by my fellow PACU nurses the year I lost my mother. It had never occurred to me to watch her make dressing; there would be plenty of time for that. Until there wasn’t.
November was fading, but we enjoyed these kitchen-table sessions so much that we crammed what should have been finished in two of them into four. I was to compile the book, and as I thumbed through this stack of memories, it just didn’t seem right to relegate them to black and white print on a page. And then it was December.
I had an idea.
Remembering the recipe photos we had texted to fulfil the requests from afar, I realized that we could preserve the character of every recipe (and save myself a lot of typing) if we scanned them to image files and arranged the photos in a book. Boom! Five days and sixty scans later, we had a thirty-page Walgreens photo-book with sixty recipes that we sent to print with just one click. The next day, armed with a 50-percent-off coupon, we picked up our six copies at Turner McCall and Martha Berry Boulevard. The Baxter/Barnett/Colwell/Lovel cookbook had published on-time at a twelve-dollar price point, and it was an instant sellout!
It garnered rave reviews. Marsha and I basked in glory as all four kiddos sat among discarded Christmas wrap, flipping back and forth through their books, smiling and saying how glad they were that this or that recipe was in there and how they had forgotten about that one. Stories of their own poured forth. We had done it: our cookbook was their favorite gift!
By the next Christmas some customer feedback was coming in. Like, “Are these recipes in any kind of order?” “Can you please put an Index in the next edition?” (???NEXT EDITION???) In laying out the book, I had made an executive decision to design for style instead of content. I rationalized that when flipping through the book in pursuit of the recipe they sought, they would enjoy seeing all the other ones too. Perhaps they enjoyed that the first five times, but the shine wore off and I was busted.
So here we are, with the second edition under way.
And yes, it’s going to have an index. It will carry forward the most favorites from Edition One, but it will also have fresh new favorites, because we all eat differently now. Gone are the “casserole years” where more than one Thanksgiving side gave homage to mushroom soup and cheddar cheese; we roast and grill our veggies now. These days we make our tomato pies healthy and are adventurous with herbs, veggies and grilling. Some of us don’t even eat turkey any more, but that dressing recipe will make the cut.
Remember how I said I am writing a cookbook? Cookbook II is going to be more than a photo-book: it will be a tribute to two lifetimes of friendship. Recipes will live alongside the stories they forged, such as the year we piled into a van and rode around looking for Santaland before coming home to vegetable soup and cornbread, or the Christmas Eve dinner made special with nine-day-old Jessica in tow, when the world turned white outside as we ate. Our children were small and our hopes were huge. Some of us are uneasy about the story contents, but they need not fear. Nobody will be embarrassed. Much, anyway.
Lately, we sit by the pool on a hot afternoon, babies splashing and children sliding. More stories pour forth; I go home and jot them down. This beloved, well-fed and happily adulted flock we’ve fostered is going to get our very best shot.