I left most of my cookbooks in New York when we moved out here. With epicurious and all the other food websites (dinnerdujour, anyone? or the fantastically named ezrapoundcake?) I figured I could use that space to pack more of Caleb’s important Sticks and Rocks. I did, however, bring my binder. A binder with recipes in it, not women (thanks Mitt, for an image that will never, ever die).
At some point before we moved, in a fit of organizational madness, I got tired of all the random bits of paper floating around the cabinet where I kept my cookbooks, so I bought a binder and got all Martha Stewart, with little dividers and thematic details (all the tomato recipes clustered together, for instance). I even had a section for “wine,” a hopeless thought if ever there were one. Mostly I buy “that stuff I had that one time at the place with that tapas.” And that selection process is a significant step up from purchases made on the basis of whether or not I liked the design on the label.
So I had this binder, jammed full of random bits (because the Martha-method of organization didn’t last more than about six months), and I brought it with me. Before we moved, I weeded out the recipes (was I ever really going to make a seven-layer cake? Not if my life depended on it. Ditto fondant. Ditto anything that involves large quantities of anchovies), and so when I arrived in my new dun-colored Abu Dhabi kitchen, the binder had become a collection of greatest hits, tried-and-true, and the occasional Pulling Out All The Stops (beet napoleons from Cooks Best Illustrated). I still get recipes off the internet but more often than not, I turn to the binder.
Thanksgiving, of course, requires a lot of binder-time. Thanksgiving, more so than Christmas or birthdays or any other holiday, is when I feel furthest away from my regularly scheduled life in New York. The reassuring – and rather bizarre — idea that everyone (or most everyone) is sitting down to eat some version of the same food, for the same reasons…it’s not easily translated to other countries, most of which lack a parallel holiday. Luckily, we once again this year were invited to a Thanksgiving feast by the friends who took us in last year – and once again, I offer up hosannas in praise of colleagues and friends who are also excellent cooks. It wasn’t my good china on the table and the babies clambering around weren’t related to me, but nevertheless it felt good to be cradled in the comfort of ritual.
As I puttered around my kitchen making my mother’s dill bread, Suzanne’s carmelitas, my aunt’s vinaigrette – all recipes from the binder – Liam wandered into the kitchen and begin to flip through the binder pages, which are transparent sleeves into which I’ve slipped emails with recipes, clippings, jotted recipes gathered from friends.
“This isn’t really recipes,” he said. “It’s like a whole book of memories.”
Maybe that’s the real reason I left the cookbooks in New York but brought along the binder. The cookbooks are just recipes but the binder is history.
As my special Thanksgiving present, the recipe for Suzanne’s oatmeal carmelitas (which for all I know, came from the back of a package somewhere, but in our house, they come from Suzanne):
14 oz bag of light caramels (your basic Kraft are fine); 1/2 cup evaporated milk or light cream; 2 cups each of flour & quick cooking rolled oats; 1 1/2 cup packed brown sugar; 1 t baking soda; 1/2 tsp salt; 1 cup melted butter; 1 cup semisweet chocolate bits; 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Heat caramels in heavy-bottomed pot with cream, then let it cool slightly
Combine rest of the ingredients, except for chocolate chips (and nuts if you’re using nuts) in a large bowl to make a crumbly mixture.
Press 2/3 of mixture into greased 13×9 pan. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes (slightly browned at edges); remove pan from oven
Sprinkle with chips and nuts, pour caramel over top of chocolate chips, then sprinkle top with the remaining oats mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes. Let cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then chill for 1-2 hours before serving (do not attempt to cut these into slices until they’re really cool, or they will ooze into a gooey (but delicious) mess.
If you can’t find caramels, which is weirdly hard to find in the UAE, you can make your own caramel sauce or use dulce de leche sauce from a jar.
as you sit there, still reeling from tryptophan, why don’t you click over and see what’s cooking in the yeahwrite kitchens?