Thursday, May 21, 2020

Beware: Exciting Project Ahead

You may be wondering where I’ve been. Well, of course I’m still hunkered down at home, but that’s where I fell down the rabbit hole.

I promised myself – as I heard tales of people learning Italian or finishing novels or writing sonatas during Covid-19 – that I was not going to be one of those people.

I most certainly was NOT going to organize my unsorted photos. I’d flunked that before.

This all started with the daughter – who used to have a chef at work preparing her meals – phoning to ask for some recipe favorites from home. I felt so … flattered. I eagerly pulled recipes from my cookbooks, magazines, index cards, folders, and scraps of paper and sent them on.

But as I scanned a few cookbook pages, I discovered other recipes – long forgotten ones – that had “delicious” marked on them. In my ratings hierarchy, “delicious” is the top. Those recipes get added to what I call The Repertoire. Yet these had been forgotten, buried in the pages of the cookbooks, lost in recipe clutter.

In this Covid Spring, I’m ordering grocery pickup like a military logistics person: how can I use every bit of produce so it doesn’t go to waste? I go through my cookbooks, maximize my ingredients. When I see an unknown, unremembered “delicious” – marked in my own handwriting so that other Barbara must have really made it – I try it again. It’s still delicious!

I am not and have never been a foodie. When I take my urban infusion months, I don’t visit fancy restaurants; I eat street food. I don’t know the names of famous chefs or 5-star restaurants. My fascination with food starts and stops with The Great British Baking Show.

But it’s Covid Spring and I’m reading cookbooks page by page.

I’m also getting my daily email from Shutterfly to make a photo book with big discounts and free shipping if you order by Tuesday. That’s not going to happen, but maybe I could eventually make a photo book of our favorite recipes. Maybe I could scan in those original, oil-stained pages – unbury them. Maybe I could do this over a year or so and catch whatever discount was in play.

So I start.

Soon I’m immersed in recipes. I’ve broken the bindings of two cookbooks from scanning. I have little slips of paper with headings: Holidays, Soups, Salads, Appetizers and page numbers. Or magazine pages, torn out. Or more slips of paper.

I’m artfully arranging pages, designing headings and comments and stories. This is so creatively absorbing, I can’t blog. I can’t garden. I can’t watch Netflix. I am a recipe-aholic. It’s delightful.

Then I get an idea: add photos of our family eating some of the dishes.

That’s when I pull out the huge carton of unsorted photos. That’s the door to the abyss.

The floor of my office is covered in photo envelopes and little tags: 1999, 2000, 2001, etc. Instead of just looking for food photos – which I found – I became obsessed with … ORGANIZING.
Organizing is a curse. I emailed my siblings: what year did we go to Victoria? What year was the first Girl Scout Encampment? I’m not only dealing with photo clutter, now I’m dealing with the terrible confirmation of memory loss.

It gets worse. For the Salad section, I wanted the photo our family calls “Sophie Salad.” She is an infant, and we have put her in our giant wooden salad bowl. I go right to the album, and the spot where that photo has always been is BLANK! Yes, I remember I’d pulled it to make her yearbook collage in high school, but didn’t I put it back?!?

I tear the house apart. Ultimately, I go through every single photo envelope looking at negatives. Negatives! Hundreds and hundreds of negatives. This is not a rabbit hole; this is solitary confinement in the cuckoo’s nest.

But I found it!

This is a Pyrrhic victory. I have won the battle, but lost the war. My enthusiasm for the great recipe photo book has waned. I don’t even want to cook any more. I can’t face the piles of photos and tags strewn across the floor. I should just pack them up, clear them out, and de-clutter my brain.

So now I’m gardening.


  1. Barbara! I want this book! Shutterfly, make Barbara make lots of copies of this book and charge double/triple for them to her fans! You can put hearts on the faces of your family members to give them some privacy, but I want this book! Did I already say that? Have I used enough !!!? I want it both because it looks and sounds fantastic and would be because all your columns are full of quirks and insights and goodies and because all of us should be making our own books but aren't. That's art, creating something in a way no other person would or could. All goofing aside, Barbara, I would love a copy of that recipe book, spotty, oily, scrappy and torn. Now I have to go find the family banana bread and oatmeal cake recipes. Even a long weekend isn't going to help me with that task...

    1. You have totally made my day! I don't think I've ever received a compliment this enthusiastic. I'm over the moon. But I don't think, really? It's vegetarian. I just finished Salads, am on my way to Appetizers, Desserts, Beverages, and Camping Food. All much easier because there is so much less (I say before I've begun them). Oatmeal cake? I'd take a look at that...

  2. This is similar to the experience I had with fabric, patterns, and uncompleted sewing projects. I can relate.


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