Wells Family Favorites inside

My GoodReads Reading Challenge Goal was Thwarted by…a Book.

Last year I decided to spend more time doing something I had let fall by the wayside since I was a kid: read books. I got active on GoodReads and made a fairly ambitious (for me) reading challenge goal for 2018: 26 books. I fell short, reading “only” 22 books but was proud just the same. I probably hadn’t read 22 books in the ten years before that, all put together. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading; I just used my free time for other creative pursuits.

I decided to keep the same goal for 2019 and was projecting to achieve it easily when I took at look at the numbers in August, but alas, I will finish 2019 with “only” 19 books.

2019 Reading Challenge books 1
2019 Reading Challenge books 2

As you can see, memoirs are still my jam. The only book I didn’t enjoy: True Prep, by the author of 1980’s The Official Preppy Handbook. The new installment was a total drag, Bitsy.

Anyway, I’m fine with not hitting my challenge goal for a second year, and here’s why: instead of reading, I created a family heirloom for my sons that is also one of my favorite projects I’ve ever done. And yes, I realize I’ve said that quite a few times in the past couple of years. I’ve been creating some awesome things!

The boys are 24 and 27 now (I KNOW!! I can’t believe it either!) and they’ve been asking me for recipes here and there in the past couple of years. It occurred to me that creating a book full of our favorites that I’ve made in our house across the duration of their entire lives would be a fun Hanukkah gift. It was a huge project so I divided it into chunks:

  1. Make an organized list of recipes.
  2. Gather the recipes.
  3. Gather pictures.
  4. Download BookWright from Blurb.
  5. Work on the book for a couple of months.
  6. Create the cover.
  7. Order the book.

Make an organized list of recipes. I listed my own recipes along with recipes we’ve made from my mom, sister, grandmother, mother-in-law, and friends. Jim’s got his own specialties in the kitchen, so those made the list, too. I listed recipes from cookbooks and websites I regularly use. Nothing was off limits. After I made a general list, I organized it by categories (appetizers, salads and sides, main dishes, desserts and drinks, and Jewish stuff). Once I got that done, I texted Dylan and Jason just to make sure I had all of their favorites.

recipe text collage

Gather the recipes. This was both easy AND a pain in the butt. I grabbed my personal recipe book and my cookbooks and took them upstairs to my office. Many of the recipes that are in the cookbooks can be found online, so I bookmarked those (along with the recipes that I have always gotten online) so I could copy and paste them into the book rather than type everything out. I have posted some recipes on my blog over the years and those are pretty entertaining so I bookmarked those pages so I could include the entire blog posts in the cookbook. I pulled loose recipes from the folder I keep with my cookbooks so I could scan some that are written in my handwriting, or my mom’s, or someone else’s, and scanned them so I could include them in the book that way: I love how personal that little touch is. One of the last things I did in this step was ask Jim to type out the recipes for the meals he’s “famous for” (in our house), and email them to me. He did a great job with them, adding humor and long-time family jokes that I know will make our sons chuckle every time they read those pages. Every recipe whose origin I know had a source credit at the bottom, so my kids know where everything came from.

Gather pictures. Luckily I take a lot of pictures of things I cook and bake for social media. I wanted more pictures than what I already had, though, so I had to–you guessed it–cook and bake a bunch of recipes so I could take pictures specifically for the book. I meal- and dessert-planned for about three weeks straight to get it done and ended up stopping a few days early so Jim and I could go back to eating salad regularly. Our pants were getting tight! I loaded all of the pictures I wanted to use for the cookbook into one easily accessible folder on my laptop, the same one with the recipe scans.

Download BookWright from Blurb. I have used Blurb a few times in the past and have been overjoyed with both the user experience and the quality of the finished books. (Note that this is not a sponsored post; I’m just a happy customer.) One of the things I love about Blurb is that you actually build your book offline in BookWright. When you’re done (or anytime along the way, actually), you can preview it. When you’re satisfied with how everything looks, the program creates a PDF that is uploaded to the Blurb site for book creation. Pro tip: Blurb has sales ALL the time. I waited to pull the trigger until I found a 40% off sale: these books aren’t cheap. They’re worth every single cent but who doesn’t want to save when they can??

Work on the book for a couple of months. This is where my GoodReads Reading Challenge died. I spent countless hours from the end of August through the end of November working on this book, no regrets. I typed in some recipes, I copied and pasted some recipes (and blog posts), I inserted some scans of recipes. I even included the recipe for a Chicago hot dog because they’re my kids so you know, represent. (I included the “recipe” for open-faced turkey and cheese sandwiches too, by the way.)

I wrote an introduction for it that was a letter to my sons and talked to them about the importance of food and sharing meals in our family, and noted that this book was a food legacy I was gifting to them and I hoped they would continue some of the cooking and baking traditions that came before them:

“This is for you two. Like in many other families, food plays an important part in ours. Whether it’s a themed rainbow cake or a brownie sundae for a birthday, potato pancakes and blintzes for our annual Latkepalooza, or just homemade pizza made with Cousin Eric’s pizza dough recipe on any given weeknight, food is a part of so many of our memories together. Family favorites get passed down all the time, and I thought it would be fun to put together a big, fancy book of the 150+ recipes I’ve made over the past 30+ years—family favorites as well as some bonus recipes that I’ve made here and there—so you two can make this stuff in your own kitchens NOW. Or later. Or whenever.”

I made a Table of Contents and also typed little notes on many of the recipes with information or humor, like “This is the ‘disgusting’ dish whose smell made me SO SICK when I was pregnant with Dylan. Dad loved it, unfortunately. I have only made it for him probably 3 times since early 1992 but he loooooooves when I do. I will begrudgingly eat it but never, EVER with a smile on my face. *wink*” and “I have made this recipe more than any other. If I had to guess, I’ve probably made more than 250 loaves of chocolate chip banana bread in the last 30+ years. It is such an easy recipe and SO DELICIOUS. It’s easy to double, and they freeze really well. In fact, I just made some more yesterday!” You get the idea.

Create the cover. I wanted to do something special for the cover and decided on a rainbow cake, which has been a family tradition for fifty-ish years. My mom made rainbow cakes with Wilton-style frosting techniques for my sister and me when we were kids and we have continued the tradition as adults. I baked a rainbow cake and frosted it especially for the front of the book. The picture on the back cover is the same cake, but sliced.

Wells Family Favorites book cover

Order the book. This is the second best part (right after “Receive and gush over the book.”) Blurb recommends ordering a single copy first when multiples are involved, just to make sure that it’s exactly as you want it. Mine was perfect, so I proceeded with ordering the other two as soon as I got the first one. Oh, did I neglect to mention that my plan all along was to buy one for myself, too? I’m currently sleeping with it under my pillow. (Not really, but it is truly dreamy.)

That’s how I created one of the most special gifts for my sons, ever ever ever. I presented the books to them personally: Jason’s at Thanksgiving when he was here and Dylan’s a couple of days ago. Their reactions didn’t disappoint; they were so excited. Jason flipped through the pages and repeatedly pointed at select recipes, saying, “Mmm hmm!” for each one. (He even texted me late the other night to let me know that he and his girlfriend were making one of the cookie recipes from the book.) Dylan’s smile said it all; he thought it was such a cool thing and made my deviled eggs recipe here last night.

This is a mammoth project but it’s so personal, intimate, and generally special that I highly recommend you take the time to do this if food is important in your family. I love the idea of leaving something behind (even though I have no plans to “go anywhere”anytime soon, sheesh!), and this, well, takes the cake.

Wells Family Favorites book cover back

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