Cinco de Mayo & Mother’s Day, Oh My

A sure sign of spring are two celebrations that are both in the month of May. Amid the beautiful spring flowers we have Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day. I often forget what they are truly about, so here is a brief history lesson that my dear friend, Ruth, gave me just the other day.

Cinco de Mayo
Somewhere along the line, Americans decided that one of Mexico’s important dates in history should parallel our own Independence Day. Maybe it was the way Cinco de Mayo rolls off the tongue, or the May 5/July 4 similarities for marketing purposes. Never mind that Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the historic Puebla battle of 1862 in which the Mexican Army tromped the heck out of Napoleon III’s occupying French Army (which, by the way, was supplying our U.S. Confederate soldiers, so the outcome of this battle also helped end the U.S. Civil War).

Well, anyway, Ruth says the holiday today celebrates Mexican pride and culture, and has a great food and drink tradition enjoyed all over the world. As for me, I see Cinco de Mayo as an opportunity to chomp chips and salsa, and to (symbolically) devour French pastries.

Mother’s Day
Although some may think Mother’s Day was created by greeting card companies to boost sales, the annual holiday was championed by Victorian Era peace activist Ann Jarvis, and later her daughter, Anna Marie Jarvis. In 1868, Mama Ann wanted to reunite families divided by the Civil War. Daughter Anna Marie just wanted to pay tribute to her late Mom, and to recognize all mothers for their special contributions to society. By and by, and after much to-do, the tribute day became a national holiday on May 8, 1914. It has subsequently gone internationally viral. By the way, carnations are the traditional flower for Mother’s Day, and the traditional meal is a lovely Sunday brunch (or breakfast in bed with the kids making pancakes). Gee, how about brunch at a Mexican restaurant to celebrate both holidays at once!

Come to think of it, these two holidays would be nice to include in a holiday section in your family cookbook, or if you prefer, in your recipe box with recipe cards easily made by Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software.

Now for my annual tequila shot and salt (with lime, please).

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

12 Items Left Over From Spring Cleaning That You Can Still Do Away With

Spring is slowly turning into summer. Where has half the year gone? More importantly, did you get rid of all the items you had planned to discard during your annual spring cleaning? Or did some of them get left on the shelf to deal with another day? I thought so!

If you’re ready to freshen up the kitchen in preparation for summer fun, here are 12 items left over from your annual spring cleaning that you can still do away with:

– Stale spices and old ingredients.
– Plastic containers with microwave cooking scars.
– Dried up tubes of anchovy paste, tomato paste, or anything dried up in a tube.
– The habit of eating the same foods repeatedly because they are “easy.”
– Sample menus from once-visited restaurants that you acquired for “inspiration,” but have never looked at or patronized the restaurant again.
– Recipes that you know you’ll never try.
– Jars of “that looks interesting” exotic sauces that you haven’t used in 6 months. (Donate them to your local food bank.)
– Freezer foods that have been frozen in place for a year. (Either throw the packages away or make a strong pot of soup to share with neighbors).
– Chipped teacups and saucers.
– Dented pots or pans.
– Table linens with stubborn stains and/or tears.
– Old potholders and kitchen towels that are too thin to absorb heat or moisture.

Many of you may be thinking that some of the above-mentioned 12 items are important to keep because they may have been given to you by someone else. Guess what? Even if you let go of the stuff, you won’t lose the memories. And if you are really afraid to let some of the items go for fear of not remembering, take a photograph of them, and then give the item(s) to the local thrift store. That way the photos will jog your memory and appreciation of the items, but they will be long gone….

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

Black plate of fritters on wooden table with title: Frittering Away Those Forgotten Veggies - Squash Fritters Recipe: Quick, Easy and Surprisingly Tasty!

Frittering Away Those Forgotten Veggies

Although I rarely fry food, occasionally I make fritters as a really good way of using those forgotten veggies I find at the bottom of the fridge. Leftover squash is particularly good in fritters when combined with cheddar cheese.

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Pregnant woman holding a paper heart in front of her belly with text: How Not to Labor When Creating a Family Cookbook

How Not to Labor When Creating a Family Cookbook

Some people think that creating a family cookbook is worse than going into labor. They obviously haven’t tried Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software. We made sure that creating a family cookbook is fun and easy and not like labor of any sort!Continue reading

young man with watermelon slice + text: Make a Family Cookbook for Single Cooks

Make a Family Cookbook for Single Cooks

My nephew Ben has a great idea to make a family cookbook for single cooks. He suggests creating a do-it-yourself cookbook using Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software.

The cookbook would be geared for solo individuals who cook for themselves. You know, bachelors, students, and senior singles — anyone who cooks for one.Continue reading

Wooden kitchen utensils on marble surface overlaid with text: Top 10 Essential Kitchen Tools to Make Your Cooking Efficient

Top 10 Essential Kitchen Tools to Make Your Cooking Efficient

Have you noticed that new kitchen tools have a habit of creeping into your kitchen cupboards and drawers?

Do these fancy doodad gadgets really make your cooking more efficient? Or would you be better off with a minimalist set of essential kitchen tools that do more than one task?Continue reading

American biscuits with jar of honey overlaid with text: How to Make No Fuss American Biscuits

Rise of Humble Homemade Biscuits in the Family Cookbook

The humble homemade biscuit has always had a place at the Southern table. It’s historically been used as an inexpensive quick bread.

But for the last few years biscuits have become less “country” and more universal in appeal. I suspect this might be because fast food burger and chicken chains have added biscuit variations to their menus.

The following homemade biscuit recipe appeared in a little photocopied newspaper called the Troy (Texas) Country Sun and it inspired me to write today’s column.

The biscuit recipe was attributed to George Patterson. George’s “no fuss” approach to biscuit making has probably come from years of making homemade biscuits every morning. He’d no more eat toast for breakfast than forget to shave. Continue reading

tortilla chip scooping salsa with title: Salsa: Food of the Gods for Your Cinco de Mayo Mini-Fiesta

Salsa: Food of the Gods for Your Cinco de Mayo Mini-Fiesta

If you like Mexican food, your favorite holiday will be arriving soon: Cinco de Mayo. What better excuse to enjoy a mini-fiesta and serve the dish I call ‘food for the gods’: Salsa and refried beans.Continue reading

Group of friends at birthday party overlaid with title: Make a Birthday Calendar to Track Important Family Dates

Make a Birthday Calendar to Track Important Family Dates

In our family, birthdays were always very special. The birthday celebrant got to sit at the head of the table, and was honored with a red dinner plate at supper time.

The birthday boy or girl also got to choose the main entree of the night. It could be anything within reason. One birthday I chose ice cream sundaes! Continue reading

Vanilla sticks on bowl of custard with text: Anything But Plain: 5 Little-Known Facts About Vanilla

Anything But Plain: 5 Little-Known Facts About Vanilla

I always laugh when I hear the term ‘plain vanilla’. Vanilla is anything but plain! It has a pleasantly complex, yet distinctive flavor and aroma.

Add vanilla, to improve whatever you’re eating or drinking. Nothing quite beats fine quality French vanilla ice cream with little black specks of vanilla seeds!

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Red pen resting on printed sheet of text: 8 Proofreading Tips for a Perfect Family Cookbook

8 Proofreading Tips for a Perfect Family Cookbook

You want to create the perfect family cookbook, right? But you’re afraid that you’ll overlook some glaring error.

You dread the pain and embarrassment of someone finding a typographical error smack dab in the middle of the family cookbook!

And you just cringe at the thought of those snide comments from folks in the family who think there’s a prize for finding fault (but didn’t help when they had the chance).

Don’t worry, you’re not alone in your fear! Every cookbook author shares this fear. And luckily, it’s not that difficult to overcome.

Here are some ways to boost your confidence and help you create a family cookbook to be proud of:Continue reading

Organize Your iPhone Charger, Cables & Headphones in this Box

Find out how you can easily stash unsightly usb cables, your phone charger, and headphones in a tidy Multikeep Box. Click here to see our selection of iPhone organizer boxes. 

Jams, Jellies, & Preserves: An Outdated Section in Your Cookbook

If you have as many cookbooks as I do, you know there usually is a section in the old-style family cookbooks called “Jams, Jellies, and Preserves.”  Nothing compares with the happy homemade goodness of fresh fruit jams, jellies and preserves made during the summer and spread on biscuits or bread right out of the oven.

It used to be that everyone canned the bounty from their gardens and fruit trees, making jams, jellies, and preserves in huge quantities. That was just what you did (and you liked doing it). Now you can hardly meet anyone who knows the difference between a boiling water bath and a sitz bath. Once in awhile I will make some refrigerator jam (the kind that doesn’t require boiled jars), but like most folks these days, I usually comparison shop for the best buy at the supermarket, and hope my choices are good.

For variety, I often try different brands of jams, jellies, and preserves to see if any are distinctive. According to How Stuff Works.com, jams, jellies and preserves are all made from fruit mixed with sugar and pectin. The form of the fruit is what makes the difference:

Jam – The fruit is from fruit pulp or crushed fruit.

Jelly – The fruit is in the form of fruit juice.

Preserves – The fruit is from chunks of fruit with sweet syrup.

The great thing about making your own family cookbook is that you don’t have to follow any pattern set by anyone else, even the tried-and-true cookbook rules.  It is all your own creation, and you can include whatever recipes you prefer.

If you are a jam maker, then by all means, add those family recipes to your cookbook in your “Jams, Jellies & Preserves” section. It is easy with the recipe template in our do-it-yourself cookbook software. Just click “choose this recipe’s type” and you can create a new section or category, and type in or cut-and-paste any family recipes.

P.S.  I have a Concord grape vine that is trying to make raisins because I keep forgetting to pick the fruit. If I don’t go out there soon, I won’t get a single whole grape or raisin,  and certainly won’t make any jams, jellies or preserves. Oh well, I really only grow them for the birds.

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

A Bowl of Popcorn

One of my favorite foods is a bowl of popcorn. I’ll admit it publicly. Popcorn with salt and a buttery flavor is divine in my book.  I’ve been known to eat a bowl of popcorn for dinner without any additional nutrients.

One time, my dear friend Ruth and I were sharing a bowl of popcorn.  I like to eat the small crunchy bits that have barely popped–you know, the ones that have the roasted popcorn flavor and can ruin dental work.

While Ruth and I chatted and munched, I kept getting cold wet pieces of popped kernel. I didn’t think too much about it, figuring the kernels were just pockets of cold oil surrounding the barely popped popcorn kernel.

So I continued munching. All of a sudden, I spied Ruth dropping something into the bowl of popcorn. She was putting back the pieces she couldn’t chew and I was eating them!  LOL. After a bit of lively discussion about disgusting habits, we divvied up the remaining popcorn.  Ever since then, Ruth gets her own bowl of popcorn!

I found more information about one of my favorite foods, and here it is:

Popcorn Trivia
– The shape of popped popcorn kernels can be classified as either “butterfly” or “mushroom,” with the latter more perfectly round popped kernels being favored for flavored popcorn treats, such as Cracker Jack caramel corn. The photo above shows the two types.
– The world’s largest popcorn ball measured eight feet in diameter and weighed 3,415 pounds.
– Popcorn is the official state snack food of Illinois.

Ways to Pop Popcorn
– Fireplace (a long-handled cast iron skillet with lid was often used or a wire basket over an open flame).
– Steam-driven stovetop kettle, invented in 1885.
– Stovetop (circa 1950s, remember the Jiffy Pop aluminum pan that always burned the popcorn?)
– Hot air poppers (circa 1970s when healthier eating was on the rise) that circulated heated air to avoid burning popped kernels and push the popped kernels out the chute into a bowl.
– Microwave.

On another note, I don’t use popcorn for decorative Christmas ornamentation. To me it’s far too good to string on a tree. And, the thought of using it for packing purposes is beyond me. And, popcorn balls for Halloween treats–nope.

Give me a plain old bowl of popcorn any time.

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

7 Steps to Backing up your Life Without Using the Cloud

What if you woke up tomorrow and your computer was destroyed? Would you mourn the loss of a $600 appliance, as though it were a broken refrigerator? Good for you. You’ve probably got everything saved somewhere else. You’ve got a backup.

If that idea brought on a rush of panic, you HAVE to back up your data immediately. Every computer on this planet will fail. Yours, mine, the ones at NASA. All of them. It’s just a matter of time. When yours fails, you need to be ready. You need to back up your data. If you don’t, you will lose everything.

You can back it up into the cloud with a paid service, but if you are like me you kind of like knowing not everybody in the world can access your data.

Here’s how you can have cloud-free backup that survives even home disasters.

Step 1. Find a Backup Buddy. This is someone you will trust to keep your backup data with. The important thing is that they are offsite. If your house burns down or a hurricane swept through, it would be devastating on many levels. It will be even more devastating if you lose all your digital pictures and old emails too.

Step 2. Buy two portable hard drives. An 80 gigabyte hard drive is the smallest common size and should do fine, unless you have a lot of video.

Step 3. Use backup software to copy your computer’s data to one of the hard drives. Windows XP comes with a free backup utility under Program Files\Accessories. Windows Vista comes with Backup and Restore Center found in Control Panel. There are also a number of other backup softwares out there too.

Step 4. Get your Backup Buddy to backup their computer on the other hard drive.

Step 5. Exchange hard drives. You keep their hard drive and they keep yours.

Step 6. Back up your computer again on the other hard drive. Make a backup once a day or once a week. Only you really know how often you should back up. The test is to ask yourself, “If I lost everything on my computer from now until the last time I backed up, would it be horrible?”

Step 7. Once a month, exchange hard drives with your Backup Buddy.

If you are worried about privacy, use a fire-proof safe or a safety deposit box as a Backup Buddy. The important thing is to get the information on your computer out of your house and somewhere completely safe from fires, burglars, hurricanes or whatever else life throws at you. Having two separate back hard drives gives you the convenience of backing up your information right at hand, and the added security of knowing it’s backed up in two different places.

Some people may think, “Well, if my house burned to the ground, losing my digital pictures would be the least of my worries.” Those people couldn’t be more wrong. If you lose your house, those precious photos, emails and *ahem* family recipes could be the one thing that helps you get through it all.

Erin

gourmet chocolates on white paper overlaid with text, "Try before you buy, visiting a gourmet chocolate show."

Try Before You Buy: Visiting a Fancy Gourmet Chocolate Show

I’m always fascinated by fancy gourmet chocolate shows.

The creativity is cutting edge. And it’s so much fun to speak with the proprietors who striving to please the public with their signature chocolate creations.

Best of all, at these chocolate shows, I have the luxury of taste-testing some very expensive chocolates that I’d never get to try otherwise.

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Are you the Family Food Historian?

Perhaps you are the family member other family members contact when they have a question about Aunt Betty’s apple crisp or Uncle Johnny’s barbecue sauce.  You are the one with custom recipe cards and have vowed to make your own family cookbook with the beloved family recipes.

Does that make you the family food historian? Well, perhaps.

Review our 10 point family food historian character profile and see if you fall into the family food historian category:

Family Food Historian Character Profile

1. Wants to know who in the family made a family recipe first.

2. Documents family recipes like the precious heritage they are.

3. Considers an old family recipe found in a dusty family bookshelf a treasure.

4. Has too many cookbooks and family recipes, but continues to collect them anyway.

5. Has created several family cookbooks with Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software.

6. Likes to share family cooking knowledge and kitchen techniques with others.

7. Cherishes the family recipes written in a family member’s own handwriting.

8. Enjoys making and eating old family recipes, and trying new ones.

9. Loves to entertain friends with tales (and samples) of family cooking exploits.

10. Knows that a family recipe — along with many beloved memories — will endure as long as it is properly appreciated and preserved.

If you recognize yourself in five or more of these 10 characteristics:  Congratulations, you are definitely the family food historian.  It is an important role; a job you do selflessly for the family out of love (and a bit of fame among the motley family group who cannot boil water).

Yes, being the authority on family recipes, family cookbooks, family cooking history, et al, certainly is a big job. Somebody’s gotta do it. Might as well be you¦the one who cares. We at The Cookbook People are glad to help.

Happy family cookbook making!

Erin

tea, spices, blanket overlaid with text "Warm and soothing Instant Chai Tea Mix Recipe"

Instant Chai Tea Mix Recipe

On a crisp autumn day there’s nothing more warming and comforting than a fragrant hot beverage. One of my favorite indulgences is my instant Chai tea mix.

The delightful aroma and the warm, soothing effect of the spices is a wonderful way to end a long cold day. I especially enjoy a cup of instant Chai tea while curled up with a blanket in front of the fire.

You can easily make it up in big batches and use it throughout the cold autumn and winter months.

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5 Tips for Planning Bake Sale Success

Is there a section in your family cookbook devoted to the age-old fundraiser known as a bake sale? If not, you might want to add these 5 tips for bake sale success into a new section devoted to such events, along with recipes for your favorite easy-to-make bake sale goodies.

With schools and churches having bake sales for fundraising, now is also a good time to review what makes a successful bake sale. Following are my 5 tips for bake sale success:

TIP 1. LOCATION & SET UP
Just as in the real estate world, bake sale success is all about location, location, location. There is no substitute for a highly visible location for your bake sale table. Being seen is the one major secret to bake sale success.  A busy pharmacy next to a supermarket may be a great place because you won’t compete with the store’s bakery.  Use tables to display the baked goods attractively (with a festive tablecover), and have chairs for helpers to sit down. Be sure to arrive early on the day of your bake sale to set up and get organized.

TIP 2. SIGNAGE & PROMOTION
Promote your bake sale in advance by putting up flyers around your community and in local businesses that agree to help your promotion. Make signs of yellow or white poster board. Print large letters on your computer or use a fat black marker to write BAKE SALE in big capital letters. Hang signs on three sides of the table. If allowed, attach some balloons. Also make your sales sail by using festive paper, ribbons, or stickers to add some creative packaging and pizzazz. Bake sale success is as much about marketing as great baked goods!

TIP 3. PRODUCT VARIETY
Ensure bake sale success by asking friends, family, and neighbors to contribute freshly baked items. Also ask for donations of bakery goods from the local supermarket to fill in the gaps not covered by the homemade goodies. A good product mix is to have brownies, small cakes, cupcakes, cookies, sweet and savory bread loaves, and whole cakes. You can sell some easy-to-eat individual items at premium prices, or pre-package baked items into an economical dozen assortment. Be careful about selling baked goods that will run up expenses. For example, a slice of pie requires a plate, napkin and fork. A whole pie requires nothing more than the plastic wrap over the top. Another good product option is to have sugarless, low-fat, or organic baked items for the more health conscious.

TIP 4. PRICING
Pricing items effectively is the other major secret to bake sale success.  Some people like to make price tags for each item.  Personally, it is much less work to group baked items for sale on the table according to a set price, and tape just one small sign on the tablecover, such as ”Whole Cakes $4.95.”  (Smart bake sale sellers won”t have that nickel change available to encourage folks to donate the extra nickel. This technique works great at yard sales, too.)

TIP 5. TIME MANAGEMENT
Ask members of your group to sign up for 2 hour shifts. Most everyone can spare 2 hours, even during a busy weekend. I”ve found that those who do come have such a good time chatting with customers that they often stay longer.  Make sure volunteers have water to drink, paper towels, and moist wipes or hand sanitizer.  Also be sure to have such supplies as Saran Wrap, plastic bags, and paper bags. And, always after the limelight of your bake sale success, be sure to send thank you letters to everyone who helped, from store manager right on down to the kid in the stroller who bobbed the balloon to get attention!

Weve had many bake sale fundraising triumphs in our town using these 5 tips for bake sale success.  Feel free adapt them to your next bake sale.

Good cookbooking,

Erin

Family gathered around cookbook in kitchen overlaid with text: Make a Family Cookbook for Family History Month

Make a Family Cookbook for Family History Month

Do you love researching your family genealogy?

You’ll be delighted to know that some states have designated October as “Family History Month.”

The month-long observance brings families together to remember loved ones, tell their stories, and celebrate family traditions.Continue reading