How to organize your cookbook recipes

I know it sounds strange, but I have a very specific process for welcoming a new cookbook into my home. We get a ton of them crossing our desks at Stonesong—either given to us at editor lunches or sent by the publishers—but I only let a few of them come home with me.

(I’ve seen first-hand what a life of book-hoarding looks like, and I don’t want to be surrounded in my old age by a lot of books I only sort of like. And then have to dust them!)

IMG_2943

So on the rare occasion when a cookbook makes the first cut and gets an invite home, we have to have a little period of getting to know each other. We sit on the couch together, and I read every single last word the author has to say to me, starting with the front matter and all the way through the acknowledgments.

As I go through, I dog-ear each and every recipe I want to try, running through a whole list of questions before I’ll give a recipe a fold:

Can I cook this on a weeknight?
Is there something new and exciting about this recipe to me?
Are these ingredients I usually have or can easily get?
Is this a good weekend project to push me out of my comfort zone?

But see, the problem is that a dog-eared page doesn’t really tell me why I wanted to make that recipe. And it doesn’t call out to me that “This is the one!” when I’m in a rush and trying to plan a week’s worth of meals.

When I heard from so many people about how they hate to fold the pages of their favorite books, or how they love to use sticky notes to mark recipes they want to try, I realized this wasn’t just a problem I had. I think it’s generally kind of hard to mark-off cookbook recipes in the categories that actually matter to you!

So I decided to have some fun and work up a solution for myself that would make it much, much easier for me to find that just-right recipe from each of my cookbooks.

Here are the cookbook index tabs I came up with, free for your downloading and printing and cooking pleasure!

Free printable cookbook tabs, perfect for categorizing your recipes

cookbook index tabs

cookbook index tabs

cookbook index tabs

Cookbook index tabs

Aren’t these fun?! Jarrett has already requested that I make him a set for his cocktail books.

You can download the file for these cookbook index tabs for free here, print them on these sturdy Avery tabs, and then have fun indexing your cookbooks for the way you really use them!

Click here to download these printable cookbook index tabs!

 

Get one email per week with publishing advice + book printables delivered to your inbox!

 


What I’m Reading This Week

Which Cookbook Cover Should We Use? Your Vote Counts (Thriving Home): Polly and Rachel continue the fun by letting their readers choose the cover for their upcoming cookbook. I personally love both options–what do you think?

Losing by Winning (Seth Godin): “Culture, it turns out, is built on people losing in the short run on behalf of the long-term win. Connection and trust and reputation are worth more than any single inning. Not to mention that a tantrum not only ruins the relationship, it can ruin your day as well.”

May Sarton on the Artist’s Duty to Contact the Timeless in Tumultuous Times (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): This is not only timeless, but timely: “Now it has become impossible to guard one’s soul… we are forced to read the papers, and yet… our job is somehow or other to be above the mêlée, or so deeply in it that one comes through to something else, something universal and timeless.”

How to Become More Consistent in Your Daily Journaling (Michael Hyatt): Do you journal? I’ve always wanted to be the journaling type, but no matter how many pretty notebooks I bought, I couldn’t seem to stick to the habit. But I love Michael Hyatt’s idea here of using a template for journal entries, so you’re not reinventing the wheel each morning. And I’m determined to try the Day One app he recommends!


What We’re Eating This Week

On to more urgent matters: what are we going to eat this week?

Monday: We made this ridiculous bro recipe for Super Bowl Sunday (guess who’s idea this was…), and now we have very full bellies and too many leftover cold-cuts in the fridge. The only solution? Muffuletta salad! The definition of healthy-ish.

Tuesday: I’ll be in NYC for a dim sum party to celebrate the launch of Crown’s new online mag, Taste! Jarrett will be eating whatever’s in the back of the fridge.

Wednesday: If I play my cards right, I’ll talk Jarrett into picking up what we affectionately call “The Chicken” from El Pollo Rico before he picks me up at the train station.

Thursday: I’m still on my white chicken chili kick–it’s just the only thing I want to eat lately. Chili in the mornin’, chili in the evenin’, chili at suppertime

Friday: Taco night, and I’m hoping that between now and Friday I dig up a really great shrimp taco recipe from one of my cookbooks. But suggestions are always welcome!

Cheers!

Get one email per week with publishing advice + book printables delivered to your inbox!

Read More

7 Tips for Getting More Use Out of Your Cookbooks

Here it is, one month later, and I’ve been itching with excitement to get back to you all! Like I talked about here, if you’re feeling creatively burned out (or, you know, just worn out from life) then taking a mini-sabbatical may be just what you need.

Even Penguin Random House, the largest U.S. publisher, gets that creative minds need to recharge a little now and then. Their sabbatical program is legendary for offering paid time off to pursue personal interests, and I know the editors there, especially, love hitting that 10 year mark and taking a month off to travel, volunteer, or even just staycation in blissful peace.

And just because writers, bloggers, and other creative kinds work for themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give themselves the same benefits an employer would offer. As Ayn Rand would say:

 

ayn rand quote art print

 

Meanwhile, the wonderful folks over at The Kitchn were kind enough to have me on their site this month, sharing some of my ideas for getting more use out of cookbooks. And the conversations that sparked from that article were incredible! I was so touched to see dozens of readers leaving memories and tips about their favorite cookbooks and how they like to use them. There are so many touching personal reflections in that comment thread, and it honestly made me a little teary to think about how important and heartening our cookbooks can be to us.

As one commenter wrote:

“My mother passed away in April and I can’t seem to move on from her passing. Opening her cookbooks and seeing her notes, especially her hilarious reviews of recipes that weren’t so successful, brings her back to me. Cooking these recipes helps me keep her close to me even though she is gone. So, write in your cookbooks! Your daughters will thank you one day.”

If you also want to turn your cookbooks into well-used, well-loved family heirlooms, here’s the rest of the article!

7 Insider Tips For Getting More Out of Your Cookbooks

how to use cookbooks more to cook

Confession time: I make cookbooks for a living, but I don’t treat them nicely.

I treat my authors nicely — I love being their literary agent; it’s an honor — and I love the cookbooks we’ve made together (I hold them tight and sing them to sleep and feel all sorts of joy-sparks when I look at them). But let’s not be precious about it:

Cookbooks exist to help us cook.

They work for us, not the other way around. Cookbooks want more than anything to help you cook, and to cook damn amazing food — and sometimes better food than you could cook if left to your own panic-fueled decision-making. Cookbooks want to lure you away from that moment when you’re staring blankly into the fridge, fathoming the meaninglessness of dinner, and wondering why on earth you didn’t just plan something, like you swore you would.

Cookbooks will find you in that moment, wipe away your tears, and gently whisper, “It’s okay … I have an idea.”

So if you’re drowning in cookbooks but still parched for practical ways to get dinner done, you might need to reassess your relationship. Here are seven ways to make your cookbooks work for you like they mean it. They helped reform me from a hapless daydreamer to that stubborn soul that cooks a brand new recipe even though it’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, the fridge is empty, and the dog is on fire.

Click here to keep reading this article on The Kitchn!


And because I wasn’t lying when I said I’d been giddily squirreling treats away for you all, here’s a free download of that pretty watercolor kitchen pattern you see in my main graphic!

watercolor kitchen pattern utensils

Go ahead and use it wherever you’d like—on your blog, on Instagram, as a desktop background, or just print it out, fold it in half, and scribble a grocery list on it. I hope it’ll make some little corner of your life a bit cuter!

Click here to download this watercolor kitchen pattern.


What I’ve Been Reading

Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert): My goodness am I glad that I gave in to the hype and read this. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations after all I’ve heard about it, but it really was much different than I expected and the perfect read for anyone taking a creative sabbatical (or feeling like they need to). The main gist of the book? Lighten up and play with your work. Never forget that you do this because you love it, and it’s okay to delight yourself, rather than torture yourself, with your creative work.

This Time Lapse Of 52,000 Books Being Shelved Is A Bibliophile’s Dream (Maddie Crum for The Huffington Post): This video hit me right in my weak spot. I could watch it for days and sigh happily at all the beautiful books and the beautiful home for books that the New York Public Library is. Sigh. (See?)

John Green on Failure (John Green via GalleyCat): In this video, John Green talks candidly about struggling with writing after The Fault in Our Stars became a massive success. This is a great tie-in to Big Magic, where Elizabeth Gilbert also reveals what’s on the other side of mega bestsellerdom. (Hint: It doesn’t get easier, but you can choose whether you’ll let the weight of expectations crush you or not.)

The Economics of Dining as a Couple (Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View): We’re big fans of McArdle’s book The Upside of Down, and this hilarious piece is worth reading with your other half before you head out on your next dinner date. As McArdle says, “A communist economy is a terrible idea. A communist dinner table, on the other hand, truly is a bounteous paradise.” (Hail to the fork and sickle!)

Publishing a Cookbook: How Do You Develop Recipes? (aka: How Destroyed Is Your Kitchen?) (Thriving Home): My lovely authors, Polly and Rachel, continue their behind-the-scenes series as they work on their first cookbook. We’re planning their recipe and lifestyle shoots for this fall, and the design inspiration they’ve been collecting is gorgeous. I can’t wait to share this book with you all!

7 Must-Haves to Make Your Home Cozy for Fall Reading (A.J. O’Connell for Book Riot): Blankets! Socks! Stretchy pants! I hope you’re as excited as I am to get extremely cozy with a book this fall.

Why Do Books Publish on Tuesdays? (Laurie Hertzel for Star Tribune): In case you’ve been wondering. 🙂

What have you been reading to kick off the fall? I’m in search of my next book, so I’d love to hear what you’ve been enjoying!