For years, I have collected recipes. I have a handful of scribbled notes transcribed on scratch paper while on the phone with my mom who would read me the very few family recipes we have. I cut out recipes from magazines. If it is a borrowed magazine, I photocopy it. If there was a dish I read about on a blog or a website, I print it out. Then, when Pinterest came along, my YUm! (yes, capitalized U, as well, because I mistyped and have yet to go fix it….) board was one of the first to be created. I also own many, many cookbooks, which, to my defence, I do cook from most of them.
Recently, I have become interested in minimalism and reading about it and de-cluttering. Although I haven’t made the plunge to apply those principles to my home, my closet or (omg. so. much. stuff) in the garage, I know that for sure, my recipe organization needs a cleanup.
I know I’m not alone in my recipe hoarding, but I like to think that compared to most, my recipes are uber organized. Yet, this highly organized system has always been my excuse, that I didn’t need to get rid of things and I didn’t need to purge. My thousands of pages weren’t just in a pile, they were organized, and therefore should be exempt from any de-cluttering projects. Behold: the binders.
Instead of filing pages under the usual designations like “soups, meat, desserts,”, etc., I’ve gone one step (maybe leap?) beyond. My recipes are organized by ingredients, in 3, 4″ binders with alphabet tabs. And each of those tabs have tabs of ingredients.
Now before you start calling me crazy, let me explain. When I was first learning to cook with local, seasonal food, I was getting overwhelmed with having to look through the index of countless books and stacks of notes in order to find something that used up all the kale/carrots/tomatoes/squash/whatever the food of the week was. So I decided to put all my cut-out pages together in a binder, but sort them by the seasonal ingredient. For example, a cut out for a pasta dish with zucchini and carrots would be stored under “Squash, summer”, and then listed on the binder paper that I kept behind the squash tab. I would THEN go to the carrot tab, and write “Pasta with zucchini & carrot, see zucchini”. If I made something from a cookbook I owned, I would record that: “Chicken with tomatoes and kale, see blah blah book, pg. your insane”.
Over the years, I’ve collected lots and lots of recipes, and this system has worked well for me. However, now it is time for a change. For example, I have 7 recipes for tomato soup. I have 8 recipes for chai (which I DON’T EVEN DRINK ANYMORE!!!) There are a handful of recipes that I go back to, like spicy roasted squash with lentils and goat cheese (from Smitten Kitchen), but most of these dishes were only made once, or totally forgotten about and ignored once they were filed away. I also came to dread adding new things to the binder, because of its laborious process- which is why I also stacks of torn out pages in my craft room. I simply don’t care or want to keep these binders up.
Since these binder’s inception, I am more confident in my cooking. I now know how to adapt most recipes to what’s currently in season. My cooking style and homekeeping philosophy has also evolved, and I no longer feel pressure to put a different dish on the table every night.I rarely follow recipes step by step, but use them as inspiration. I put a higher value on a dish that will only dirty one pan over a dish that uses a new technique. I don’t need 7 different versions of tomato soup. What I want now, is easy access to that damn tomato soup recipe (which, by the way, is from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) that I love!
So this is my project for the next few months: go though these binders, pull out what I regularly make or can see making in the immediate future (Martha Stewart’s Beets and Yogurt with Pickled Rose Petals?….yeah, not so much), and creating a well-organized collection of recipes that I turn to regularly.
Now wish me Godspeed, I’m off to the purging! I’ll keep you updated on the project, and how I decided to organize my new life with recipes. If you have a favorite way of organizing your recipes, please leave me a comment, I’d love to hear about it!