By Kyrie Robinson
I have a small nuclear family – it’s just me and my twin boys at the dinner table every night. But we have a large extended family and friends network. Parents, step-parents, a brother, a sister, a step-sister, all their spouse/boyfriend/girlfriends, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and cousins, not to mention my close friends and all their kids. So when Christmas comes around, my shopping list is looooooooong. The last few years instead of a simple list, I had to have a spreadsheet, and a budget, to manage it. There are something like 30 people in my spreadsheet, and it has separate tabs dating from 2006-2012. It’s a massive undertaking to find the right gift for all those people – and yet I love them all, and whom would I skip over?
For Christmas 2012, I did things a little differently. In 2012, I had the idea, waaaaayy back in September, of creating a cookbook. My idea was use one of the various photobook websites like iPhoto or Shutterfly to make a book of our family recipes, with pictures. I can’t claim credit for this idea. I had worked at Shutterfly from 2004-2007, and we had created templates especially for family cookbooks. And my good friend Jeannine (who also worked there) had made one, and I had looked through it one night at her house. Her book was all the passed-around-family-classics – their famous pumpkin pie, their handed-down recipe for sourdough waffles, and so on. She said her family had a habit of all calling each other up when they lost the recipe – “Hey, do you have the recipe for lemon meringue pie?” She had decided to make a book so everyone would have every recipe, safely archived for at least the next 30 years or so.
So I had seen these photo cookbooks before, but somehow in 2012 I had the idea at the right time of year, which is fall, when there is still time to make it. (Don’t kid yourself – these are not quick nor easy to make. There’s a lot of planning, and typing, and gathering the right photos. And the ordering process alone took me several evenings.) But I didn’t realize at the time how much time it would take – it seemed pretty easy to me. So one September night at dinner when I had the idea, I mentioned it to my boys, Andy and Jack.
“Hey, what if we made a cookbook this year and gave it away at Christmas? We could put all our favorite recipes in it. And we could make each recipe and take a picture to put in the book. What do you think?” Nothing gets my boys more excited than the topic of food. Especially while we are already eating food. They dove right in and started suggesting some of their favorites to include.
“Vegetable Soup! Brownies! Big Pop’s Bean Salad!”
Yes, my kids actually like vegetable soup.
No, our brownie recipe is nothing special. It’s the Ghiradelli recipe.
Yes, my father likes to be called Big Pop rather than Grandpa (which he said would make him feel old). And as a side note – my son Jack will eat 3 bowls of that bean salad – he loves it. It makes me proud to have a kid that will eat bean salad.
So anyway, we started this recipe book project. My jobs were to
* Make the list of recipes
* Write the recipes
* Shop for the food
* Cook the food (most of it)
* Take photos of the food
* Put the recipes and the photos into iPhoto and make the book
* Make a schedule so that all of this could happen in time to order the books.
* Type all the addresses into iPhoto (for the out of town folks)
* Order the books
* Wrap the books (for the in-town folks)
Andy and Jack’s jobs were to:
* Eat the food
* Pose in the photos eating the food.
Well, who cares how much work it was? We got to eat some of our favorite dishes, and I got to learn about close-up food photography (not as easy as it looks). We took photos at the farmer’s market, photos of us making the food (Andy was proud of his brownies!), photos of boys eating food with giant smiles and taking huge bites, photos of us looking at poisonous mushrooms in the forest (for the mushroom tarts). And as we sat at dinner eating each one of our creations, we’d talk about how our family and friends would just love this cookbook. Or we’d reminisce about where a recipe came from, or who invented it.
One night I told the story of my warm black bean dip. “One night Aunty Beth was visiting me….” This was way back in ’98, before my boys were born. (Why do children love stories about before they were born?) Aunty Beth and I somehow got the idea to make a bean dip. Why? Where did this idea come from? I have no idea. But I do remember standing with her in my teeny tiny 6’ x 10’ pre-remodel-kitchen, opening cabinets and finding beans, vinegar, spices, onions, and completely making up this recipe. It’s the kind of thing I might not have done by myself. I’m more of a follow-the-recipe, cookbook kind of person. It’s also a kind of random dish – warm beans, slightly mashed, with onions and spices – it’s not a smooth puree like a Trader Joe’s bean dip you might buy. And it’s not like mild refried beans that you might put in a burrito. It’s delicious with chips dipped in, and it’s good with guacamole, so it’s kind of like a snack. But it’s warm, like a homecooked meal. You’d never find it in a restaurant. “Warm black bean dip.” What is that? But I love it, and it has a story, so into the cookbook it goes.
Plenty of the recipes in our cookbook are really more like stories. One page is “Andy’s homemade lemonade.” If you actually need help from a recipe making lemonade, you really need help.
So why put this recipe in? Because the photos tell the story of my twins when they were 5, doing their favorite activity of making a lemonade stand, and then counting the money at our old dining room table – they made $14. They then turned proudly to me and pushed the money towards me, declaring they wanted me to have it for “our new house” that we were about to build.
So there we are in 2012, actually sitting in our new house – which cost a bit more than $14 – and sitting around our larger dining room table, eating dinner and reminiscing about lemonade stands as we plan our recipe book.
When my friends and family all received their recipe books that year, the results were immensely gratifying. Aside from the fact that I didn’t have to shop for 30 unique gifts, there was the fact that everyone loved them. People love personal gifts, handmade gifts. I could not possibly ever manage 30 different handmade gifts, but one gift, printed 30 times, I can do. And most of my family and friends also love gifts about food. I felt like I’d finally managed to find a gift that people really, truly loved.
I am thinking of doing it again this year. Family Recipes, volume 2. It will give us something to talk about around the dinner table.