Getting Organized For The Upcoming Holidays

I love cooking and baking for the holidays. When I was younger, childless, and a less experienced cook with a much smaller repertoire, I had the luxury of spare time to plan and execute the holidays. Now, with children and their activities, a husband with a busy career, and extended family obligations, I need to be more organized and focused in order to accomplish all I want to from now until New Years.

I begin by planning holiday menus with the family Labor Day weekend. There are certain recipes that are family traditions and then there is room for new and experimental dishes. In October, I clean out the kitchen pantry and baking and spice cabinets. I throw out all of the old items, wipe out the cabinets, and make a list of things that need replenishing. I order needed fresh spices through San Francisco Herb Company and Penzey’s Spice Catalog and make fresh batches of vanilla granulated sugar and vanilla powdered sugar. I love mason jars. Since I order my spices in bulk, I store the majority of my spices in mason jars. The jars have wide openings and it is easy to dip in my fingers or measuring spoons to access the spices.

This past year I decided that I finally needed to organize and pull together my recipes. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I own more than 400 cookbooks, which have been scattered in various parts of the house. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get them catalogued on the computer and organized. Our children put them on a computer program called Delicious Library for me. I bought a new bookcase from Ikea for the kitchen to match the others I already had. Then I organized the books into categories. All the reference books are together and all the food writing is in one place. I have a shelf of English cookbooks, a shelf of Italian, French, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cookbooks. There is an area devoted to baking, one for single subjects, and a shelf for community cookbooks.

Our house has two kitchens. It was that way when we bought it 13 years ago. The least used items and books are in the downstairs kitchen and that’s where I prepare jelly, jam, and other canned goods. My most frequently used items remain in the main kitchen where I do most of the cooking. When I went to Sicily twenty years ago and met my relatives, many of them had two kitchens, one in the basement where they did their heavy duty cooking and a second, spotless kitchen on an upper floor where very little cooking took place, but where they entertained. To some extent, I am maintaining that Sicilian tradition.

My most recent project has been to sort out all of my recipes. I have a binder full of New York Times recipe clippings, a binder for Food Network recipes, a binder of recipes from the six years that I worked as a chef assistant for the Sur La Table Culinary program in our area. It seemed fairly organized but I wanted and needed to put all my favorite recipes from various sources in one place. I also have a recipe box. I went through my recipe box over the summer and pulled out the recipes I wanted to try, but never got to and decided to make my recipe box the go-to place for my most cherished and most used recipes. Now the box contains mostly recipes from the family, close friends, and my favorites. My recipe box is one that I acquired in 1991 in Tokyo. I bought a small wooden box used to store tea and covered it with beautiful pink Japanese rice paper. It is sturdy, but easy to handle, not heavy, and when I need a recipe I take it out of the box, keep it on the lid and it stays clean when I use it. I label the recipe according to holiday and where it came from.

Sometimes I enjoy flipping through my recipe box just to be reminded and feel connected to my past and the people I love. My recipe box has my history in it. There are recipes from my growing-up years when I took a foods class in high school, from childhood friends, from friends in England, a few from my Tokyo years, too, and of course recipes from my relatives.

I am paranoid about earthquakes and fire since I live in an earthquake-prone area. Over the course of the last couple of years I have also typed my favorite family recipes into a computer file and sent it to my mom, my spouse at his office, and a couple of close friends and relatives. Now, if there is some natural disaster and my recipe box is destroyed or lost, my favorite recipes are out there with other people and I can get new copies if necessary. I also have this blog.

This system works for me. It may not work for everyone, but I am finally satisfied with it. It feels comfortable and organized.

When I read food blogs, I love to see pictures of the space in which the cook works, so I thought I would share some photos of my kitchen where I spend the majority of my time.

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