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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5 Things I Learned from Being a Bridesmaid

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I’m no Jane in 27 Dresses, but once I did have the pleasure of participating in the wedding of a good friend of mine several years ago. She was one of my first friends to get married and her wedding felt like it was a milestone in my own life, marking that transition from crazy college student to actual adult.

I have to admit at this point that I’m really not a wedding person (although I like wedding movies), but I was wildly excited to help my friend out with hers. I thought I’d be running around helping to schedule dress fittings, sample wedding cakes, and pick out favors. Kind of like in 27 Dresses. (Did I mention I used to be really obsessed with that movie?)

Being a bridesmaid, however, ended up being more like starting a job without reading the employee manual first. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, or that I didn’t have fun at her wedding, but afterwards I wrote a little piece about my experience as a bridesmaid to not only pass on some of my own knowledge to other first-time bridesmaids, but to process my own feelings on the subject.

Years (and many weddings later) I still stand by what I wrote; now that wedding season is fast approaching, I thought I’d share them again here with all of those bridesmaids-to-be that are out there- even those not obsessed with 27 Dresses.

Don’t expect to look attractive. I already knew the dress was horrible on me (as per the tradition of the bridesmaid dress) but I was still shocked when the first photos were posted online. That make-up, that hair, that general pasty awfulness? That I was not expecting.  Try and not let your ego be bruised too much. Your friend’s wedding day is more about her looking good than it is about you looking good. Years down the road, people will look at her wedding photos and forgive you for the hairstyle that makes you look like you have a giant cupcake on the top of your head. (At least, that’s what I’m hoping.)

Bridal showers are super boring. No one loves little sandwiches with the crusts cut off as much as I do, but other than that the bridal shower will more or less consist of you watching your friend open presents for two hours straight. I was happy for her, but it was kind of like spending two hours at your favorite housewares store and not buying anything. (Or maybe you torturing yourself like that!)

The bachelorette party may not be the party of a lifetime. They never show this in any of the movies (well, maybe with the exception of Bridesmaids) but you’d be surprised at how a seemingly innocent night of drinking can rapidly deterioriate into a night of screaming, crying and drama.

You’re not going to know anyone. Literally. After the ceremony you’ll be hanging out at the head table and all sorts of family and friends will be wandering up and congratulating the happy couple. They’ll smile vaguely at you because you were introduced when you entered the hall, but other than that you’ll probably be left to your own devices- and to the bottle of merlot the bride and groom are going to leave untouched because they’re too busy greeting everyone.

It’s going to make you really sad. Don’t get me wrong- I was so ridiculously happy for my friend that I found myself holding back tears several times during the wedding planning, throughout the ceremony and at the reception. No one really tells you what an emotional experience being a bridesmaid can be. It’s lovely and romantic and also bittersweet. Whether you’re decidedly single, or you’ve been married for several years, I don’t think that feeling will ever go away- that realization that you’re watching a person blossom into themselves; the sensation that they’re beginning the rest of their lives. We grow and change and get older, and having the privilege of watching a few select people grow and change along with you is both painful and wonderful all at the same time.

I know the above seems like I’m being all Negative Nancy, but fear not future bridesmaids: when all is said and done, being a bridesmaid can be a wonderful experience that can (hopefully) bring you a little bit closer to the bride-to-be and can help solidify a friendship between two people transitioning into a new phase in their lives. If you get the opportunity to try it sometime, do it!

Just never mind the ugly dress.

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Do you have a horrible bridesmaid story you’d like to share? Or even better, do you have a photo of yourself in your ugly dress that you’d like to share? (We won’t laugh, we promise!) Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com or comment below with your story and we’ll commiserate.

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.