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.

 

How to Pick the Perfect Planner

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Ahhh, the beginning of a new year- time to reflect on all the successes and losses of the year gone by, and to plan for the months ahead. It’s bittersweet in a way, but I personally find it to be one of the more exciting times of the year.

Friends, it’s planner time. (Kind of like hammer time, except nerdier.)

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably excited too. Or maybe you’re wary of the whole planner system and are wondering whether it’s worth it to pick out a new one at all.

For those naysayers who claim they don’t need a calendar to keep track of their engagements, I say congratulations to you! I’m much better at committing something to memory if I record it somewhere, and although I’m generally good at remembering where I’m supposed to be at what time, I do have the occasional slip-up.

Consider this as well: your planner isn’t merely to serve as a reminder of all of your deadlines, important occasions and appointments. It’s also a great tool for prioritizing your workflow, and for forming a plan of attack for the weeks ahead of you.

Or maybe your reluctance to start a new planner this year stems from an inability to find a system that you can customize so that it best fits your needs.

Here are some common planner problems:

  1. Smartphones are just that: really smart, and there truly is an app for everything (and probably for some things I’ve never even thought of before.) But your smartphone is as only smart as the person using it, and if you’re finding it hard to keep track of appointments using the calendar function on your phone, it could be that you’re simply a pen and paper person. Just because a certain way of doing things is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
  2. Having said that, you may want to consider the format carefully before committingpeople whose days are packed with appointments may want to use a daily planner, while someone whose work involves taking care of more long-term projects may want to use a calendar with a monthly format to get a bird’s eye view of key events. For the electronic calendar users out there, you may wish to experiment with the view settings in your favorite app to get a feel for which one works best for you.
  3. Once you’ve chosen your favorite format, you have to make your planner’s features work for you. People who use a three-ring planner format often have the advantage of being able to include different sections they can use as resources to help plan their schedules (i.e., church calendars, volunteer schedules, school lunch menus, etc.) Make over a store-bought agenda or simple notebook by typing and printing out similar resources and information and pasting these sheets over the pages you don’t use. Many calendar apps also feature similar add-ons, such as reminder functions and the ability to sync appointments with the contacts in your phone. One last word of advice: Electronic users should not underestimate the usefulness of subscribing to other electronic calendars to co-ordinate anything from birthday parties to play dates with other family members and parents.
  4. Even though the ways to customize your agenda or planner may seem endless, it’s best not to go overboard. Any system that is overloaded with information is often too complicated to use, and you’ll spend half the time organizing the information you have instead of deciding what needs to be done with it. Paring your planner down to only the things you need hones your focus and clears your vision so you can actually get things accomplished. (And hopefully in a timely fashion!)
  5. It may seem simple, but if you don’t use it, your planner is not going to be useful to you. Keeping your planner up-to-date and referring to it often are key components in formulating a strategy for tackling your workload. If you have trouble doing these things, it means you probably haven’t chosen a system that works for you and your lifestyle (see 1-4).

KBwB-BFlower-50Are you excited to get your schedule on track for the new year as much as I am? Tell me some of the favorite ways you’ve organized your planner down below, or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. I may include your tips in an upcoming post!

For more inspiration on getting things more organized and productive, click here and here.

Have Yourself an Organized Little Christmas

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The day after Halloween should be its own holiday: it’s the first day that we can officially talk about Christmas without feeling like its way too soon.

(Americans take note: we Canadians already had our Thanksgiving so we’ve got almost two months of nothing to do except plan for this.)

In actual fact, a lot of the Christmas displays have already been up in the stores for a coupe of weeks. I hate to admit it, but there’s a part of me that’s growing excited. A lot of people may argue that Christmas has become too secular, or too commercial, but I can’t help but feel that there’s some kind of Christmas spirit that lingers out there all the same this time of year. People become kinder, more thoughtful. The daily grind starts feeling a lot more cheerful.

And everywhere there’s this urge to connect- with family, friends and neighbors. Maybe I’m just imagining it, but it’s the one time of year that I feel more than ever like part of a community.

There’s a downside as well to the holidays- the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” and give the most expensive gifts, host the most fabulous parties, and decorate until your house looks like Santa’s little workshop. It’s a lot easier when you plan ahead a little and keep yourself organized. Last year I shared my trick for organizing the Christmas cards I send, and how I organize my holiday shopping. I love figuring out way to become more productive and organized and this season I’ll be sharing a lot more on tips on last-minute gift ideas, party planning and taking time off of work to help things run smoothly.

This isn’t a happy time of year for everyone- the holidays can often bring up old memories and grudges, and many people still have to face life’s challenges despite all the cheer the holidays have to bring. I shared a story about one particularly lonely Christmas last year on the blog, and in the coming weeks I’ll be sharing more ways that I’ve been able to find inner calm and gain perspective during this busy season.

We can’t really talk about Christmas without talking Christmas baking either, and the Swedes have a special tradition every year of making seven different types of cookies. (Eating sweet things makes you nicer, apparently.) Part of my background is Swedish so I’ve invoked this tradition in my household again. I’ll be posting this year’s selections some time closer to the holidays but if you’re looking for inspiration in the meantime, my Swedish Gingersnaps, Maple Butter Cookies, Jam Slices, Rugulahs, Orange Crunch Cookies, Vanilla Horns and Chocolate Crinkle Cookies were all big hits last year. (These posts are all updated with new information, and brand-spanking-new pictures!)

And don’t worry- I’ll still be blogging about business, books and all things keeping busy (not just holiday-related!).

I hope you’ll join me on my quest this season to have an organized little Christmas, and to make the most of this special time with friends and family.

KBwB-BFlower-50I like to talk about the Christmas holiday on the blog because it’s what I know, and what I grew up with. It’s a special time of year for me, but for some of my readers I know it won’t hold the exactly the same meaning. I don’t want to be presumptuous either, and write about other holidays or traditions from other religions or cultures for fear of misrepresentation.

Having said that, I’d love to hear about all of the other celebrations my readers participate in, in their own words! Comment below and let me know what kind of meaning time time of year holds for you (if any!). Or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and let me know how to be more inclusive to my readers. Perhaps you’d like to collaborate on a post with me?

And as always, I’m happy to hear your comments and ideas over Twitter, or share some of your holiday projects you’ve been working on with me on Instagram. Pinterest is an especially dangerous place for me this time of year, and I’d love to see what you’ve been obsessing over as well.