Bad recipes and why I keep them
Fueled by a rare rush of spring cleaning adrenaline, I lifted the bloated behemoth off of my crowded shelf of cookbooks, careful to catch the loose clippings stuffed haphazardly between her cracked covers. The 30-year-old binder full of collected recipes was surely in need of a good purge after all this time.
She was full of so many yellowing newspaper scraps, hand-written index cards, jagged-edged items clandestinely ripped from magazines in dentists’ waiting rooms, photocopied pages of cookbooks and hole-punched computer printouts, she was literally bursting at the seams.
Her bulging faux leather cover had split along its binding. The pages hanging precariously on the rings were a messy combination of baseball card collector sheets containing small clippings, ancient magnetic photo pages plastered with cutouts and hole-punched sheets of paper.
Something had to be done.
Gripping a pair of scissors and a trash bag, I plunked down on our couch with the slovenly old gal, envisioning her slimmed-down version sitting neatly back on my cookbook shelf within the hour.
With her weight in my lap, I lifted the top cover, mindful of the splitting spine, and allowed loose recipes from recent years to fall out in a pile beside me. I’d deal with them later. I was more interested in the musty archives, purging all those old recipes I never used anymore.
The metal rings creaked open like the doors of a Pharaoh’s tomb. Although I’d never part with the dog-eared Betty Crocker Cook Book I’d received as a bridal shower gift, the first thing in the binder was a 50-page supplement that was a nonessential bore. I threw the whole lot into the trash bag with a satisfying “thunk.”
“Ah,” I breathed, and went in for Round 2. But soon my momentum slowed, as memories crept into my consciousness.
“Turkey Divan” on lined notebook paper brought me back to the early years of our marriage, when I was trying so hard. I’d stopped making this dish a long time ago, but the warm feeling of nostalgia prompted me to turn the page.
“A classic!” I thought, spying “Karen’s Chicken Stew.” Stationed together in the ‘90s, Karen was my first close Navy wife friend. She had married a few years before me, so she was my role model in those early years. She’d made her stew recipe for me when my newborn son was hospitalized with meningitis. It required only condensed soups and basic ingredients thrown into a Crock-Pot, but to me it epitomized comfort. For many tours of duty afterward, I made Karen’s recipe for military spouses or friends in need. Hell would freeze over before I’d throw out Karen’s Chicken Stew Recipe.
I got lost in succeeding pages, unable to part with the recollections they inspired. Pepperoni Cheese Bread from my Virginia Beach neighbor conjured afternoons when the kids played in our cul-de-sac. Summer Squash Tart — the fun night I hosted Bunco. Oriental Snack Mix — that hilarious military wives’ Polish pottery-shopping road trip. Pumpkin Soup with Maultaschen — my military spouse writers’ group in Stuttgart. Hot Crab Dip — a staple when my best friend since ninth grade and I get together. Kalua Pig — my son’s Webelos Troop crossover ceremony.
Those recipes were definitely worth revisiting, but others would never be referenced again. “Erin’s Beef Dish” produced a bland glop of tough meat and mushy vegetables swimming in grayish gravy. But it was given to me by a Marine wife who was one of the funniest people I’d ever known. “Spinach Rolls” were too labor-intensive to ever attempt again, but the dish reminded me of an ego boost that came at a much-needed moment in my life. I’d never made “Sue’s Brownie Recipe” but, strangely, it was written on the back of a copy of my deceased father-in-law’s will.
Bent over the heavy book in my lap, I turned the pages, one after the other. I realized that these scraps and scribbles were moments frozen in time, blended with my psyche, baked into my subconsciousness. This was no recipe book — it was a treasured scrapbook.
And it’s a keeper.