The Notebook: A True Cooking Love Story

Cookbooks and recipes are our family heirlooms.

My daughter moved out this weekend. Not far, just to Shadyside with her boyfriend so they can be closer to school. She's attending graduate school at CMU on her way to, hopefully, going into contract law. He's in pre-med there.

It's definitely time for her to move out, and I won't miss her messiness or her dumb TV shows. Still, we enjoy each other's company and do a lot together, , so it's going to seem very quiet around here.

Last weekend, we went through the kitchen to see what I had duplicates of or rarely used items she could take to help stock her kitchen. When we opened the cookbook cupboard, her eyes lit up. She loves my cookbooks.

But first I need to back up to tell a story about something that happened a few weeks ago. Like everyone else, we are collecting gift ideas from our family members for Christmas. The week before I was working on my menu and shopping list, when Wende spied me and said, "I know what I want for Christmas," she said, pointing, "This."

The "this" she was talking about was a black notebook I keep my recipes in. It's an old, ugly, nondescript, cheap three-ring binder I bought 20 years ago to keep recipes that friends gave me, or that I cut from newspapers or magazines, or that my mom sent me.

One thing in it that is beyond value is a recipe, in my mom's own handwriting, on two 3 x 5 index cards, for Milkman's Chocolate Cake, which our family has been baking for birthdays since the 1940s. You must actually marry into our family to get the recipe.

The notebook is as random a thing as you can possibly imagine, and of course I would never give it to anyone, so when Wende said she wanted it, I just looked at her in disbelief. She was quick to assure me that all she wanted were copies -- of every recipe in the book.

I just laughed. I mean, this notebook is a mess. It has pages cut from magazines and glued in, stuff I've typed up and torn to fit, notebook paper with recipes my friends have written in longhand, recipes I've printed from the internet. Most of the divider labels have fallen off, so it's more a matter of memorization to find anything. I told Wende that, but what she said was, "This is our family cookbook."

And that, in a nutshell, is what it is.

Nothing makes it into this book unless it's a hit with everyone in the family. Tucked and taped into and above the front pocket is our holiday "nibbles" menu for Christmas Eve. On the inside are detailed instructions for our Thanksgiving feast and for making our annual bûche de noël - - a tradition since I first helped Wende make one for French class her sophomore year in high school.

This crazy notebook is what she wants for Christmas her first year away from home at Christmas.

Going through the cookbook cupboard last weekend, she also decided she wants a copy of my big old Betty Crocker cookbook as well, because . Fortunately, I can buy that online and don't have to actually copy hundreds of pages.

That big cookbook is one my mom bought for me 25 years ago, when I was pregnant with Wende. The reason she gave it to me is because of the cookbook she bought me when I first moved in with my husband back in 1980. It was Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two Cookbook. I learned to cook from that book, along with Cookery for 1 or 2 by Barbara Swain. I guess my mom figured I needed a bigger cookbook for my growing family.

Amazingly, I still have both of those cooking-for-two cookbooks. Like most of my cookbooks, which get more than their share of use, they're a notated, torn, stained, taped and glued mess, but Wende doesn’t care. I don't use either of the books anymore. I've had to cook for so many people for such a long time that I'm going to pass them on to Wende. 

She can use them while it's still just her and her boyfriend. In a few years, when it's back to just me and her dad and all our kids have moved on, maybe she can pass them back to me. 

Recipe: Cornish Hens Parisian

The charming thing about Betty Crocker's Dinner for Two Cookbook is the way it's laid out. There's a section for quick meals, one for "Everyday Favorites," one for budget meals and so on. There's also a section called "Two is Company" that is basically fancier foods for a special evening. That doesn’t mean they're hard; they're just not tacos.

Betty presents these hens as a romantic picnic dish, but it's good at home too, cold or hot. It's one of our favorite preparations for Cornish hens and one I still make for my family — I just make more hens. I also allow one hen to serve two people, splitting it in half, whereas Betty has one hen per person. Which is her prerogative, I mean, she's Betty Crocker.


  • 2 Cornish game hens, about 1 pound each, thawed
  • 1/4 cup of butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup of vermouth or other white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt (I use garlic powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of onion salt (I use onion powder)


  1. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients except the hens. Heat to boiling.
  2. Wash and dry hens.
  3. Salt and pepper hen cavities.
  4. Place breast side up on rack in shallow roasting pan.
  5. Brush hens with sauce.
  6. Roast uncovered until cooked thoroughly, about 1 hour, brushing sauce on hens 3 or 4 times.
  7. Eat warm or chilled. 
Wende Burgess December 14, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Now all I need is a roasting pan for those little chickens...hint hint!


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