I am pretty good at saying “good-bye,” with a handful of notable exceptions, but I am very bad at throwing anything out. Not that I’m in danger of being a hoarder. I don’t go out of my way to collect things that then pile up in hallways eventually to fall on top of me, leaving my cats to circle around wondering why they aren’t getting dinner. With some things, though, I just have a hard time letting go.
This is a fault, and I am not wild about admitting to faults. (Just ask my husband and children.) So I have tried to counter my tendency. Let’s take magazines. And let’s start with the New Yorker. Like every other New Yorker subscriber I have ever known, I had innumerable back issues of the magazine accumulating in a lovely wicker basket, waiting for that day (or days) when I would get around to catching up on the literate world. What if I missed a classic Updike story? What if I missed the seminal essay on civil disobedience in Kurdistan? And what if I missed a great cartoon? But I came to my senses. I now keep only three months of back issues, and that’s only to have them handy if someone says, “Did you see the piece in the New Yorker about the turmoil over the new Archbishop of Canterbury? It was sometime last month…”
I’ve become more draconian with other magazines. Out they go when a new one comes in. If I haven’t clipped a decorating tip from Traditional Home in June, then I didn’t want a decorating tip from Tradition Home in June. And after reading Runner’s World for decades, I know that there are cycles to topics. If I toss out the issue on training for your first marathon, no matter. Marathon training will come around again. Same charts, different graphics. The trickiest, though, was my Bon Appetit collection.
Years of Bon Appetit issues filled shelves in my kitchen bookcase. In the waning days of the 20thcentury, I came up with a plan. I grouped the issues by month: 10 years of January, 10 years of February, 10 years of March, and so on. I then went through each group to see what to save. Features did not make the cut. Only recipes that sounded yummy, that would not be rejected by my family, and that were within my culinary skill set survived. I clipped those recipes, put them in folders labeled by month, and tossed the tattered remains of the magazines. I even entered each recipe into an Excel file by name of dish and category (appetizer, beef, chicken, and on down the alphabet). Plugging away at this while keeping an eye on several Masterpiece Theatre series got me through all the old magazines in a matter of months. I then had 12 folders of recipes just right for each month of the year. In the front of each file is a list of that month’s recipes, culled by using the filter function on the Excel file. When pondering what to cook in October, I had plenty of ideas just right for that month sitting tidily organized in a folder. I was way ahead of the “eat seasonal” movement.
The results were mixed. While my family was usually delighted with my reinvigorated attention to delivering delicious dinners, they sometimes got tired of Indian Lamb Chops with Curried Cauliflower in December, Short Ribs Provencale with Crème Fraiche in January, Spring Lamb with Tomato and Herb Vinaigrette in April. Once, my son said wistfully, “Couldn’t we just have chicken in mayo and Italian dressing like the old days?” And when old friends were with new friends in my kitchen, the old friends invariably said, “Kathy, show Linda all your recipe folders!” Sometimes I got the feeling that maybe the fame of my recipe folders bordered on notoriety.
Nevertheless, I have followed this system religiously for more than ten years now, and I have no back issues of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, or the late, lamented Gourmet cluttering up my kitchen shelves.
What I do have is 12 very fat and frayed folders, each with hundreds of recipes that I will never get to if I live to be 112 and cook something new every night.