Having debated with my husband for the umpteenth time about whether to give a store-bought cake or a bouquet of flowers as gifts to both my mom and mother-in-law for their birthdays (we sent them flowers and a card last year) a few months ago, it dawned on me that I had been putting so little effort into my gifts year in and year out so this year, I had to come up with more meaningful gift ideas for my mom and mother-in-law who love cooking.
While racking my brain, I remembered how, when I was growing up, my mom liked to clip recipes out of soup can labels, magazines, and pretty much anywhere she could find new recipes to try. It was a time when finding easy dinner recipes wasnt as easy as going online and visiting your favorite food blogs, so every recipe was either handwritten or clipped out of some random recipe resource. All these clippings and notes were tucked into a little box, while her favorites were given a special place on the cork board in our kitchen.
Through the years, my mom acquired quite a few clippings. Some of them had faded over time, while others were so fragile that they probably wouldnt have survived much longer if I didnt do something about it. The idea dawned on me while I was flipping through one of our customized photo books filled with family pictures.
It was then that I came up with the perfect birthday gift: a personalized cookbook filled with my moms and mother-in-laws own beloved recipes.
Having just a little over a month to complete both projects, it was definitely an ambitious undertaking.
Step 1: Collect the recipes.
I committed to compiling some of my moms and mother-in-laws most beloved family recipes (at least according to me and my husband, our siblings opinions notwithstanding). Under the guise of transferring their collections into digital form for my future reference, I borrowed my moms envelope of clippings and my mother-in-laws notebook full of handwritten Italian-American recipes from her side of the family with the promise that, yes, I would return them as soon as I was done.
Step 2: Curate the collection, and type up the chosen ones.
Its a process that, I wont lie, resulted in some minor disagreements between me and the hubby none of which, thankfully, got too heated. Since there were just too many recipes, we decided to pick out our favorites among the bunch. But we ran into some difficulty in agreeing with each others choices, with him having tasted my moms cooking and I having tasted his mothers as well. Clearly, we both had our own favorites from each households recipe repertoire. After whittling them down to a modest 15 recipes each, I tasked the hubby (as he is the faster typist of the two of us) to type them up on the computer.
If it sounds quite tedious, I can tell you now that it certainly was. But luckily, my tech-savvy husband found something that helped make the process faster and easier: the Google Goggles app. Its a free Android app that captures text from an image and converts them into actual text that you can copy and paste anywhere.
Step 3: Design a consistent and book-friendly format for the recipes.
Using simple pen and paper, I drew some layout ideas for my recipe books. I had never done this before, obviously, so I found some inspiration from the recipe books I had in my kitchen. For organization, I decided to divide the books into chapters, separating the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert recipes. I wanted the name of the recipe in a large font on the top of the page, with sub-headings such as Category, Serving Size, and Cook Time underneath. I also wanted a large photo of the dish taking up at least one-fourth of the page, with Ingredients on the opposite side of the photo and the Directions underneath.
For an added personal touch, I added a small Reviews section in the layout. This was made up of warm or funny blurbs contributed by various relatives about their fond memories of the dish.
Step 4: Cook!
Since no recipe book would be complete without pictures, I obviously had to do a photoshoot for each dish and for that to happen, I would need to actually cook them.
In the weeks before Mothers Day, I cooked nothing but the dishes I was going to include in the recipe books, making sure to make them as presentable as I could with lovely plates and fresh garnishes.
Step 5: Take photographs.
In the beginning it was just me and my point-and-shoot Canon camera, but after some initial (and quite terrible) attempts at food photography, I decided to enlist the help of my neighbor, who owned a DSLR camera and was pretty adept with it.
And even better? He allowed me to pay him in food! After each shoot, I would put a large portion of the recipe we had shot into a Pyrex dish for him to take home a setup that proved a great convenience to me, since my hubby and I would never be able to finish everything.
If you dont personally know any photographers or have the budget to hire one, there is no problem in doing it yourself with whatever camera (you can even use your smartphone) you have at your disposal. If you dont know the first thing about photography, there are many excellent food styling/photography blog posts out there with some helpful tips for beginners. They wont make you an amazing food photographer overnight, but they will certainly help you take halfway decent photos.
There are dozens of helpful tips and tricks out there, but below are the key takeaways that almost all bloggers agree on:
- Dont use the cameras flash.
- Use natural lighting, but not direct sunlight.
- Use the Rule of Thirds.
- Shoot from the diners point of view.
- Be creative with backgrounds, but dont overcrowd the shot.
- Experiment with light and shadows and their effects on your foods texture.
- Stabilize the camera.
- Use photo apps to edit.
Step 6: Create the book.
At this point, there was only one decision to make: should I go with a DIY scrapbook (printing everything on my home printer and gluing them onto a hardcover book with blank pages) or have them published in a sleek, professionally printed book? Eventually, I decided on the latter, as I wanted these recipe books to stand the test of time, and having them published by a reputable printing service would give me a much more durable and robust product.
Here are the options I contemplated on:
- Old-Fashioned Binder
For a truly homemade, no-brainer option, simply take a three ring binder, some plastic page protectors, a bunch of tabbed dividers, and insert the photos and printed-out recipes into the plastic pockets. Sure, its inexpensive and handmade, but honestly, its a mere step-up from the recipe collection techniques my mom implemented for herself.
- Cookbook Scrapbook
I have some scrapbooking experience from my days making a secret shrine to the Backstreet Boys (dont judge) and creating cute friendship scrapbooks for my friends, so I know that doing it this way is just as much a time-consuming effort as it is a labor of love. So when I came across this darling little farmhouse recipe book, the temptation to forfeit weekends lazing on the couch watching a Netflix series marathon in favor of cutting, gluing, and searching for scrapbook papers and embellishments was strong. But in the end, I decided that durability was the most important thing to me, so the power of scrapbooking adorableness did not compel me into going this route.
- Recipe Photo Book
Knowing that I wanted something truly sturdy and elegant, I did some research online and found out that printing up recipe books that look like a coffee table book wasnt difficult or expensive at all. I found that I could make a sleek and durable recipe book with glossy pages and a thick, hardbound cover by using any online photo book printing service.
I spent a lot of time researching the most reputable companies, and if you plan to go with the photo book option, I highly suggest you do the same. Look for reviews, impartial company comparisons, and anything else that will help you decide. But in the end, I went with AdoramaPix because I saw some really good reviews about the great quality of their photo books plus I found a 25 percent off coupon code for them online.
All I had to do was go to the AdoramaPix site, select my choices for the cover, shape, and orientation, size, paper finish, and design. They had a pre-set design for cookbooks in their food category, but I chose to design the layout myself so I could fully customize the entire book. After selecting my options, I simply had to upload my photos and export my recipes and other texts in any layout I preferred using their online photo book designing tool. It was a pretty easy process.
My grand total for two 20-page recipe photo books amounted to a little over $60 (thanks to the coupon) and shipping was free for orders over $39. However, since I wanted them to arrive as soon as possible, I sprang for expedited shipping and received my books after a few days which would have been one week if I had chosen the free standard shipping.
The result? The moms were seriously impressed! They absolutely loved the idea and vowed to make recipe books as gifts for all their friends this Christmas. Theyre meaningful, creative, and incredibly useful!
For more fabulous holiday and gift ideas, check out our Guide to Christmas.