Encouragement,  Parenting & Family,  Recipes

When Your Hot-Mess Recipe Collection is a Trip Down Memory Lane

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My Hot-Mess Recipe Collection

This evening, I spent an hour (or three) sorting through part of my recipe collection.  It was a nice, relaxing task, and one I’d been meaning to get to for a loooong time.  Like YEARS.  One of my goals this summer is to go through all things food-related, and organize them to make my life easier. Especially since we’ll be doing a lot more driving next school year, because of the kids’ school changes, and it will be even more important that meals are easy, fast and even portable.  (Clean, healthy meals are a given.)  First, though, to tackle the hot mess recipe collection.

I’m starting with the piles and piles of loose papers – apparently I print things that sound yummy, then stick them in piles.  My pantry has a whole shelf unit dedicated to cookbooks, 3×5 cards and stacks of paper.  Guess how many I use on a regular basis.  About three.  Ha.  So yeah, it’s time to prune.  Heck, I even had a giant cloth bag stuffed with random recipes I’d printed, or ripped out of magazines….even a few whole magazines I was going to look through someday because they probably had something good in them.  From 2006.

What I Learned

For starters, I learned that I print too many recipes!  I need to be more selective.  Also, I had several duplicates – how many times have I searched frantically, with hungry kids waiting, for that super quick pizza dough recipe?  I knew it was in there because I use it all the time – well, tonight I found all three copies.  I kept the least messy one.

I learned that a recipe that sounds delicious one day, will not seem so appealing years later when your tastes have changed and your standards for clean eating have risen.  LOTS of food-coloring, condensed-soup, prepackaged-everything recipes got tossed tonight.  Blech.

I learned that I don’t care to belong to a meal-planning service.  I’ve tried a couple over the years, and I just never make the recipes.  Lots of packets of nicely organized menus, recipes and shopping lists…someone else’s…got thrown out tonight.  It’s just not my style.  I kind of like the idea of someone else doing all that work, but I’d rather make my own choices.  Fiercely independent, is what I like to call it 😉

I learned that my own repertoire of recipes and meals is reasonably varied, but I have no need for recipes involving capers, lamb, fingerling potatoes or anything else fancier than I am.  I’m a good cook, and I can whip together a meal for 10 outta nuthin’ on short notice (thanks, mama!), but I’ve said for years that if there’s anything high-maintenance in this house, it’d better be a kid!  That goes for pets, clothing, and apparently food too.   (On second thought…maybe I shouldn’t have said that so loud…I ended up with several high-maintenance kids! LOL All the more reason I need food to be easy.)

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I’m a piler, a stacker of papers.  I have stacks of papers everywhere, and I drive myself crazy with them.  (Another lofty summer goal.)  But I almost always know where things are, and I kind of have this visceral knowledge about how far down in the pile a certain thing will be.  And I’m usually right.  So when I’m rifling through my stacks of papers, I generally don’t mess up the order.

Because of that, tonight’s random spurt of organization was like a little walk down memory lane, food-version.  Wanna come along with me and peek into my kitchen over the last several years?

The Bok Choy that Never Was

When I do something, I tend to go all-out.  So during my early gardening years, I tried to grow everything there was a seed for, including bok choy.  I’d hardly even heard of bok choy and certainly hadn’t eaten it before, but it was planted anyway.  And I collected recipes in anticipation of a bountiful springtime harvest.  So a whole section of my pile was bok-choy-this and bok-choy-that.  Funny thing, tho…it never did grow.  So we’ve still never eaten any bok choy.  LOL

Everything Must Go in a Mason Jar

I don’t have much time for canning in this season of my life (ironic, really, since the kids eat MORE THAN EVER!).  But for several years, I did  a lot of home canning.  I canned meats, homemade broth, jams, soups, beans, you name it.  I made dry mixes for soups, pancakes, muffins, and put those in mason jars.  I made my own spice mixes and oatmeal packets, and put those in mason jars.  It was fantastic, and my kitchen pantry was never prettier 🙂

In my recipe piles, those years were represented by oodles of recipes and information about canning.  Canning at high altitudes.  Pressure canning.  Remaking jelly that didn’t gel.  How to turn the last miserable bits of mystery freezer foods into something amazing – and put it in a mason jar.  LOL

Hey kids, remember the time I bought five enormous boxes of pears?  At Christmastime?  And remember how fast pears ripen, so we had to peel and quarter and seed and can or freeze them day and night before they went bad?  Remember all the delicious spiced pear jam we made?  Remember how we got really sick of pears, and I’ve never ordered pears since?

And do you remember the time Gramma raided the neighbor’s peach trees (with permission), and brought us about 10.000 peaches?  We put them all on the picnic table out back, and Gramma and I watched you munchkins sneaking out there to eat yet another peach, while we blanched, peeled, quartered and canned until we couldn’t stand the sight of peaches?  That’s when our love for spiced peach jam was born…and you kids learned a little lesson about eating too much fruit in one day.  Good times.  🙂

Speaking of canning, does anybody remember my first big canning session with green beans?  LOL!  That recipes was in there, too, just waiting to be discovered so it could taunt me.  I’d like to think that if I attempted it now, they’d turn out less…shall we say…leathery.  But all those jars of inedible green beans sure did look pretty sitting up on my dining room shelves!  The kids were all under 4 then.

Better Watch Out or I Might Dehydrate YOU!

And then I got into dehydrating.  A whole half-inch of my recipe pile was dedicated to instructions for dehydrating everything that wasn’t nailed down.  And boy, did I!  Veggies, jerky, fruit leather, cinnamon apple slices, even sliced lemons.  Lord knows what I’ll ever do with half a million dehydrated lemon slices, but there they are.  Probably in mason jars.

But you know what?  All those dehydrated veggies really come in handy.  I use them all the time in soups and casseroles.  And when I want to make stew with 10 kinds of vegetables (so I can let the kids pick one thing out of it they don’t have to eat), my little dehydrated friends are there to help me.  A little of this, a little of that…

Found my Facebook post from that moment in time, true story:

Downside of my new toy (super duper dehydrator):

I tell Hubby I’m going to cut up peaches to dehydrate while we watch our Friday Night Movie.

He says, “Babe, I’m getting a little worried. One of these days I’m going to wake up, and you’ll have dehydrated me.”

Not to worry, I say. I’ll vacuum seal you so you’ll last forever  

OH! Remember the time we were overrun with apples?  We peeled, quartered, seeded, cooked, mashed and canned I don’t know how many jars of applesauce (which didn’t last long anyway)…then we decided to make Apple Dolls!  What a riot!  They were so hideous and creepy you kids couldn’t stand to look at them, lol!  Then they got moldy and we threw them to the chickens, who didn’t want them.  Oh well.  You gotta try the crazy stuff, right?!

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Everything

Once upon a time, I wondered if it might be gluten that was pestering my digestive system.  So I tried going gluten-free.  Lost 17 lbs in a hurry, and discovered it was, indeed, the gluten.  Boo.  So the next gigantic section in my recipe pile was all about tricking your taste buds into thinking they were eating gluteny deliciousness, only they weren’t.  They were eating Flourless Brownies, Artisanal Gluten Free Bread, Sorghum Tortillas, Cornmeal and Rice Flour Biscuits.  Actually, some of those were pretty good.  But for the most part, I’ve given up making complicated substitutions.  The kids don’t need gluten-free foods, and I’m feeling pestered by all grains these days, so I won’t eat it anyway.

But that section gave way to the Pumpkin Everything section.  Must’ve been Fall, eh?  Pumpkin This, Pumpkin That, Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Pum….you know what?  I don’t even like Pumpkin Everything.  I think I just wanted to give the kids a fun fall experience.  We did come out of it with a favorite recipe for pumpkin muffins…but the pumpkin soup can go take a hike.

I think we might’ve tried for Sweet Potato Everything the next fall…found several of those hiding in the pile.  I don’t even like sweet potatoes much, either.  Goodness.

Family is My Favorite

Mixed in to recipes I printed from recipe sites and bloggers I don’t know, were a few very special papers that I’m so glad I found.  I found handwritten notes from my Mama on post-its, sharing with me several crowd-sized recipes she used to make when she almost single-handedly ran her church’s weekly meal outreach.  My mama can feed a crowd, y’all.  And she does it with a great big smile, and more kindness than most people show in a lifetime.

I found a strangely shaped recipe card for our family’s Pot O Beans recipe, written in my uncle Dave’s handwriting.  Uncle Dave’s been gone for a long time now, but his handwriting looked a lot like my Gramma’s, and I spent several minutes just remembering the days when I was young and the whole family would gather for some occasion, everyone bringing the dish they were “famous” for.  How on earth did that recipe card sneak out of the special binder it was in?  I’ll tell you how.  I wanted to make it for my family.

And then there’s the Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip recipe.  The recipe is a well-known one, but I was reminded of the first time I had it.  My sister-in-law had just given birth to her first child like two days before.  But it was Superbowl Sunday and there she was in the kitchen, making the most amazing cheesy, chickeny, hot saucy dip…for a crowd of about 15 people.  From scratch, no short cuts.  Like it was nothing.  Like a boss.  So every time I make this dip (which is often, since it’s become one of our favorites), I think of Jenni, my SuperHero SIL.

 And speaking of things I found in the recipe pile that make me tear up…

Somehow several years’ worth of Christmas planning lists got mixed in there.  That was the year she got a hamster!  And he got a little bitty guitar.  And OMGosh, the pink cowboy hat & boots!  She’d die now to know she ever wanted Hello Kitty anything!  OH and remember when we bought all the kids those weird little plasma cars they loved, and they spent hours and hours zooming around the living room?  And how excited they were that Santa put corn bread mix and mac & cheese in their stockings? Silly kids. Remember the year every one of his gifts was related to steam engine trains, and he wanted me to officially change his middle name to Steamie? Remember the gigantic popcorn buckets that lasted til May?

Remember when we had so many extended family members come with us on The Polar Express that we threatened to take over a whole train car? And Santa brought us all Santa hats with bells, and train whistles?  I’m sure that didn’t annoy anybody.  Remember how we almost missed the train that year, and they waited for us?  And the hot chocolate that was so safe it was tepid?  Remember the year we got 4 feet of snow overnight, and every one of our guests was out there the next morning, shoveling as if their lives depended on it? LOL  Good times!

And speaking of the holidays….check out our favorite Million Dollar Fudge recipe.  It’s SOOOOOO easy and amazing, I have to restrict myself to ONLY making it once Christmastime (twice if we’re taking it to a family gathering).  Otherwise, I’d literally be eating fudge every single day.  (Well, ok, there was that one time I made myself a big ol’ platter of Million Dollar Fudge for my birthday, in lieu of a cake.  Hehe.)

I Don’t Do Anything by Halves

So I like to do things the hard way.  Apparently.  Found recipes for Gluten Free Play Dough.  Natural Egg Dyes made from boiled cabbage and the like.  DIY baby wipes.  Homemade laundry detergent.  Some of these I’d forgotten all about.  But you know what?  The second I read the recipe title, I was right back in that moment, pulling the play dough out of the fridge for my little ones to smear all over the table.  Or sawing paper towel rolls in half, so I could wipe their poopy little bums with something less toxic than what came out 🙂

Remember the year we took the kids to Disneyland?  And I threw a Disney movie themed party for them every single week leading up to our trip?  (Seriously, there are whole forums online dedicated to this.  It’s fascinating.)  Well, I found my planning list for the Winnie the Pooh party.  I made Tigger Tail Pasta, Rabbit’s Hunny Glazed Carrots, Milky Tea, Pooh’s MuddyPuddle Pudding and Hunny Limeade.  We also went on a Hunt for Heffalumps, played a game of PoohSticks, and had our very own Pebble Hunt with holey socks.  Then, of course, we watch a Pooh movie in our 100 Acre Wood Living Room, and played with our little Pooh toys. <3

Turns out my Hot Mess Recipe Collection wasn’t such a mess after all.  It was a priceless pile of romanticized homemaking dreams, lofty culinary goals, and the kind of focused research a worried special needs mama does in the middle of the night.  It represented a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this mama’s part, and a lot of yummy nourishment for my babies, starting from the very first homemade baby food recipe. I rarely cry, but unexpectedly uncovering wave after wave of my whole heart will sideswipe me every time.

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