Every Page Tells a Story 

I'm going to share a secret. For years I've kept a little black book and have made an entry in it every day. 

And just what does this approaching middle-age lady write that's so important you ask? Oh don't worry, I've nothing to hide. In fact, my little black book has become a kitchen tool.

I dutifully record my culinary adventures each day. Banish any thoughts relating this to keeping logs while on a diet. No, not at all! For me, the diary is a very pleasant thing. Every page tells a story.

Each year as the first of January approaches I make a visit to a local office supply store and buy a daily calendar. I write down what we prepare for dinner or brunch - whatever our main meal of the day is.

If I follow a recipe, I make note of where I found it - Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking p. 215, and so on. For recipes I get from the newspaper or online, I often tape it right to the page. This makes it easy to locate later. I spell out the entire menu, including the wine I served. In our kitchen, inventions are called "creations," and I include a brief description of ingredients and technique in the diary.

I constantly critique what I cook and encourage those who dine with me to do so. I make notes about how I would change a dish the next time - too much sauce, use wild mushrooms instead of button mushrooms. This may sound a bit harsh, but it's really all very good-natured. When the vote is for a "culinary triumph," I write that down too.

Discussing a meal makes kids more aware of tastes. What is "tart"? What is "savory"? Is that garlic you taste? Do you like this? Tell me why. Beyond developing their taste buds, it gives them a sense of participation. They realize that eating can be a pleasurable experience - not just something you have to do every evening and then run away from as soon as possible.

On nights that we eat at a restaurant, I write down what we ordered. I try and pay particular attention if I think the dish is something I might want to replicate at home. Was the meat braised or roasted? How were the potatoes made? How was it plated? 

One of my favorite replications is a dish called Volcano Beef. My husband ordered the house's fiery-hot specialty at a place called Under the Volcano in London, ON. It was on lovely warm, yet slightly breezy, Father's Day some years ago. We dined on the porch and lingered over the sunset with the last of our Margaritas. 

Luckily, I wrote-up good notes when we returned home. I've made that dish over and over; and every time even on icy January nights, we remember that wonderful summer evening.

I note a few other things in the diary too. For years I've keep a sourdough starter in the refrigerator. I use a back page of the book to maintain a table of when I replenish with milk and when I add water. When I made things for the pantry, such as stock or salsa, I also make a note. This makes my cooking more organized and I can keep track of the ready-to-serve meals -- after heating of course -- that I have in the freezer.

The book comes in handy when you can't decide what to make. After a quick thumb through the last several weeks dining it's amazing how you come away with something obvious that you crave.

You can use something as simple as a monthly calendar made by your word processor until you get into the daily routine for your diary. Think of a daily calendar as a small investment in better meals. I promise it won't be a chore. It'll be a good thing. You won't even notice you're doing it.

Best of all, occasionally I look back and just reminisce about the nice meals we've shared. Every page tells a story. The culinary triumphs return to memory as if you made them yesterday. The happy thoughts and smiling faces appear in front of you again. These alone always seem to give me enough energy to keep the caf
é open day after day and the frozen dinners far, far away.