The Best Gift I Ever Gave (To Myself)

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About a dozen years ago, my sister and I got a crazy idea to create a recipe book for all of our aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents for Christmas. Our grandparents were aging and our grandmother had begun to cook less and less (much to everyone’s disappointment, her own the greatest), and we just had a sense that we needed to capture some of the recipes that held so many memories for all of us. We also thought it would be fun to give everyone a chance to share their prized dishes with the family. We sent out a request in November, asking each member of our family to submit 3 or more recipes. Everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, was encouraged to share something.

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Even though it was 2001, most of the recipes came in via snail-mail, and NO ONE limited themselves to three recipes. This meant that I ended up painstakingly retyping over 100 recipes into a very primitive cookbook format that I had created in Microsoft Word.

The Stanley family's annual crazy Christmas photo, circa 2001.

The Stanley family’s annual crazy Christmas photo, circa 2001.

All December my sister and I worked on that book, haranguing cousins for their recipes, typing, proofing, paginating, printing and binding. The final result was more than 120 pages long, on simple brown paper, bound with cheap comb binding (we didn’t have the money that year for anything fancier). We handed them out at our family Christmas gathering and watched as my sweet grandfather teared up at the dedication, which was of course to him and my grandmother, whose kitchen was the source of so many great memories of cooking, eating and playing round after round of cards after dinner.

The funny thing was that at the time, I thought that gift was for everybody else. Now, over a decade later, I realize that the biggest beneficiary of my efforts was me.

If there were a fire in my kitchen and I could take only save one item, it would be that cookbook. It is without a doubt the most valuable item in my kitchen.

The fruits of our labor + a very treasured possession.

The fruits of our labor + a very treasured possession.

I don’t actually cook from it that often – mainly at holidays when I want to make something that reminds me of home and family – but every time I open it up, memories as vivid as if I were watching a family slideshow come back to me.

I remember the taste of my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls, which she baked every year for Easter. I laugh at my mother’s recipe for cherry mash that has the specific instructions to “stir like hell” (she could never submit that one to the church ladies’ cookbook because she was unwilling to tone down the “profanity”). I appreciate the shorthand that only families can share: there is a recipe simply titled, “Favorite Cookies” because they really were everyone’s favorite.

Mostly, I smile at the people we once were. There’s a recipe submitted by my then-10-year-old cousin for something called “Fluff,” which involved microwaving and mixing together peanut butter and marshmallow cream (he’s 23 and married now and likely not making Fluff very often). Another cousin who was deep in throes of early parenthood shared instructions for making homemade baby wipes. And then there are the “exotic” recipes I submitted as a West Coast twentysomething who was just beginning to discover food other than pasta. I’m quite certain that in 15 years, no one in my Midwestern family has tried the tabbouleh recipe I included.

My grandparents have long since passed on, and our extended family has migrated farther apart geographically, but at least for me, the cookbook binds us in a way that few other keepsakes could. It’s a taste – figuratively and literally – of what family is all about.

Our family has grown and changed, but we still love taking group pictures.

Our family has grown and changed, but we still love taking group pictures.

Happiest and healthiest of holidays to all of our Fresh Feast friends! May your table be full of family, friends and fabulous food all season long!


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One Comment

  1. Myra

    Beautiful post Stacy. I love this story. Hope you and our family had another special
    Christmas this year.


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