The Legend of the Book of Yum

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When I went away to university it was the first time I had been away from home. I wasn’t sure what to expect: would I love the freedom? Would I totally freak out? Either way I knew that I was going to be really homesick.

My solution was The Book of Yum and it started out as kind of a joke between my university friends and I.

In anticipation of missing my mom’s cooking, I painstakingly wrote out some of our family’s favorite recipes in a small black binder, organized using homemade construction paper dividers. Also included were some helpful cooking hints for myself on how to make the basics; for example, tips on making rice nice and fluffy, and how to make your basic white sauce. I was reluctant to call it a recipe binder because it felt more like a compendium of my mother’s advice, and a piece of my family’s culinary history. So I called it “The Book of Yum”, made some dorky labels for it and took it to college with me.

Anyone who has had roommates knows that it’s hard to keep a secret from them, so it didn’t take long before people started to take note of the little binder I was always toting into the kitchen with me. Maybe it was the colorful labels, or the fact that no one I knew had completed a similar project.

Mostly I think The Book of Yum caught people’s attention because I was one of the few people in my group of friends that could actually cook. And bake.

This was the start of a whole new college culinary adventure. While a lot of kids were out partying you could often find me at home with my roommates attempting to develop a garnish for fish, bake a pie from scratch, or experiment with a foreign food. (Ok, maybe I found some time for partying too.)

In some ways, it was my college years that fostered my love of cooking and food. I tried every kind of food, in every kind of restaurant in town and I always had a hungry mouth nearby willing to try whatever it was I was making that day. It was a time of firsts: my first pastry dough, my first experiment with phyllo, and my first roast.

It was also during these years that I discovered how cooking for others felt like a gift more to myself than a gift for them. Nothing gave me more pleasure than watching my friends enjoy something I had created and nothing made me appreciate food more than the act of making it myself.

More than anything, though, The Book of Yum was a way for me to honor my family; both my love for them and the traditions that we build and maintain.

I still have it too, even though it’s expanded to accommodate my expanded culinary horizons. Even though that little black binder has transformed, it still opens a floodgate of sense memories as soon as I lift the cover. No matter how successful I end up being in my writing career, I’ll still consider one of my favorite books that I’ve written.

You may not know it, but you’ve read part of The Book of Yum too! If you were looking at it now, you’d recognize these Chocolate Brownies, these Butterscotch Brownies, these Banana Muffins, these Chocolate Banana Cookies, these Sugar Cookies, these Maple Syrup Muffins, this Apple Pie and this Zucchini Bread. I hope you enjoyed them as much as my family and friends have!

KBwB-BFlower-50I’d love to hear about your own recipe collection. Which childhood recipes do you still include in your repertoire? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com or comment below. I’d love to try one out!

I try out a new recipe every two weeks or so and blog about the results, so if you need even more baking inspiration, you can find the complete list in alphabetical order here.

 

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Porch 5.0

Time flies pretty fast. One day you’re moving into your new apartment, and the next thing you know it’s been five years and you’re still in the same apartment!

Ok, so for some people this doesn’t seem like much cause for celebration but when you’ve moved as often as I have in the past fifteen years or so, staying in one place for five years feels like a real accomplishment.

One of my favorite things about where I live is my little patch of green in the city, my porch. It’s my number-one hangout from May-September (weather-permitting) and is the best place to read, write, draw, drink coffee or eating a meal. (Food has this way of tasting better in fresh air, doesn’t it?)

Even before I start getting my outdoors ready for spring, I started planning ahead of time the kind of plantings I want to do, and I go over last year’s notes to remind myself which plants were winners and which ones not to invest in again.

I get lots of inspiration, too, from browsing gardening books, and snooping other people’s gardens on Pinterest. I’ve got a couple of green-thumbed friends on Instagram that I like to steal ideas from as well.

Space, time and financial constraints mean that sometimes my plans aren’t always that elaborate, but I’m always trying to find a way to make things cozy. Thoughtful lighting, seating, plus special handmade gifts from artistic friends always seem to make an environment more inviting.

Here are some highlights from last year’s porch:

One of the many joys of last year’s garden was the amount of herbs that I was able to grow, and I’m excited to try more varieties this year, and start them earlier so they have more time to become healthy and strong. A lot of my planters need to be replaced after a damp, rainy winter so I’m excited to see how the landscape will change with some new additions.

The garden bug has spread to some of the other porches and balconies in my building, and we’ve already been in talks about making a more coordinated effort this year. After all, it is Canada’s bicentennial, and it’s always nice to have an excuse to do something special.

I may just have to break out a flag or two.

KBwB-BFlower-50How did your green space turn out last year? What did you learn? What are you looking forward to in your garden this season? Comment below or email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. And send your pics please!

If you’re looking for more outdoor and household projects, click here to see what I get up to around my home. I’m also usually on Pinterest hunting around for great decor ideas, both inside and out.

It Ain’t Easy Cleaning Green

“How do you find the time?”

“Doesn’t it cost more?”

“Why would you be bothered?”

These are some of the questions I get asked about my (mostly) eco-friendly cleaning routine. Some people seem surprised that this is important to me which puzzles me, because I can’t understand why taking care of our environment isn’t important to all of us.

Don’t worry- I’m not here as an ecological warrior, but as a blogger obsessed with trying to make her life more efficient and productive. I can tell you with confidence that making my cleaning routine greener has not been a waste of time or effort-if anything, it’s streamlined things even more.

Of course, sticking to a regular cleaning routine helps me avoid crazy deep cleaning sessions that in the long run saves me time and cuts down on the amount of cleaning products I use. That translates into more me-time, and more moolah in my pocket. Researching the best ways to clean has also spared me the extra time and effort I would have normally put into tackling the same spot over and over again.

Cutting down on the number of products that I use around my home has also saved me time, effort and money. You honestly don’t need twelve different cleansers for each individual room. Believe me, your cupboards will thank you too.

Making the switch to more eco-friendly cleaning materials has been pretty painless as well. In fact, I even make some myself. Some people may think making your own cleaning products is a drag, but you’d be surprised as how a few simple ingredients can go a long way. The few extra minutes it takes to mix up some new supplies is a trade-off for the money it saves you, plus it rids your home of nasty-smelling, potentially hazardous chemicals.

I still use paper towels to help out with the really heavy duty messes (keep in mind, I have a dog!) but I love using my reusable cloths and rags for all of my other cleaning needs. My mop heads are reusable as well, so everything gets dumped in the machine for a heavy-duty wash, separate from all of my clothes and nicer household items. They come out fresh and clean without me having to lift a finger (other than pushing some buttons).

But honestly? One of the greenest practices I’ve embraced is learning to live with the dirt a little bit. I always have people and dogs coming in and out of my place so over time I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s fruitless to expect the house to be perfect all of the time. I would end up spending all of my free time cleaning my home instead of enjoying it, and my time with guests would be ruined by my constant cleaning.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t clean your house, but lowering your expectations from hospital-clean to mostly clean saves you time, money, electricity and effort. Dare I say it? It also might make you a little bit happier.

KBwB-BFlower-50What are some of the ways you’ve adopted an eco-friendly approach to your cleaning routine? Let’s care for our houses and environments by sharing our tips with each other in the comment box below. Or email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and I may include your thoughts in a future post!

The approach of spring has got me in the mood to chat about all things housecleaning all week long. If you’re feeling the same way, may I suggest this post, this post, this post, and this post for more ideas on how to refresh your home in time for the new season. If you’re feeling ambitious, click here or here on ways to get your household more organized.