From torn and stained recipes to recipe cards to a cookbook
Updated: May 25, 2018
In my last blog I talked about coming to the realization that I’ve been collecting recipes for pretty much my whole life. I’ve collected recipes from my Grandma Vivian, cookie recipes from my Mom and Aunts, and any recipe that I liked and asked for copies from family and friends. I remember my favorite childhood recipes were “No Bake Fudge Cookies” from my mom and “Blue Cheese Dressing” from Margaret Clark, who was a clerk at my parents’ drugstore, who was an artist and also happened to be a great cook. Some of my best childhood memories are of making “No Bake Fudge Cookies” with my mom and dropping clumps of them onto tinfoil and getting to lick the spoon and bowl while waiting for them to harden. My dad used to eat Margaret’s “Blue Cheese Dressing” by the spoonful and would always exclaim, “This is so good I can just eat it with a spoon!” Which he did! She sent me a copy of her famous “Blue Cheese Dressing” for my wedding, handwritten on a recipe card, which I cherished and used as the base of my own “Sydney’s Bistro Bleu Cheese Dressing™” recipe. That recipe card, along with other handwritten recipes given to me throughout the years, was always kept in a recipe book with little pockets at my bistro and unfortunately wasn’t returned to me when I sold the restaurant. I can remember Margaret’s writing very clearly in my mind and to make up for that loss, my mom gave me a “pet rock” Margaret painted and gave to my dad “the Rock hound” to display near his pharmacy counter in the corner of the floor that was a fixture at Boulds Drug Store for almost 30 years!
The first time I started thinking of putting together a cookbook, I was a first time mom, newly married, and had opened my first business, The Bagel & Espresso Company, in 1997 (that’s another story and lifetime ago). It was going to be a cookbook for my family and friends only, comprised of a collection of my Grandma Vivian's recipes with contributions from immediate family for a Boulds Family Cookbook. Once I started asking family relatives for Grandma Vivian’s recipes and cookbooks, I quickly found out that her recipes and cookbooks were either taken from her house, lost, and perhaps many were just not written down. I soon realized that my measly three or four recipes of Grandma's, along with my own handful of recipes, would not fill the pages of a cookbook and I filed the idea in my brain and quickly forgot about the cookbook to make way for new goals and dreams.
Going forward to my new life in West Yellowstone, MT, almost ten years later and now the executive chef and owner of Sydney's Mountain Bistro. From the very first day of opening, people started asking for my recipes or how I made certain dishes. It was not uncommon for a patron or diner to ask for the 'chef' to come out and talk to their table and it was usually the same conversation that would lead up to them asking for a recipe..."I usually don't go to restaurants and ask for a recipe because I know you probably won't want to give out your secrets, BUT I was wondering if I could please have the recipe for your 'delicious salad dressings' - 'spinach dip' - 'butternut squash ravioli' - 'huckleberry elk' - 'chicken 'n dumpling soup', etc." always ending with "I would never, ever, share or give away your recipe if you gave it to me!" I even had several chefs ask me for my 'Artichoke Soup' and 'Corned Beef Hash' recipes promising to give me credit on their menus. I'm not sure if that ever happened, but I was honored that the then chef of the acclaimed Gros Ventre River Ranch in Jackson Hole, WY asked me in the first place. That’s when I started tossing around the idea of a cookbook again. AT the same time, I was getting so many recipe requests for my salad dressings, I started bottling them in pint mason jars and selling them right out of the bistro. It wasn’t unusual for someone to walk into the bistro during dinner service and buy a couple jars of dressing or for dinner guests to walk out the door with a handful of dressings. When it got to the point of people wanting me to ship them, my entrepreneurial nature kicked in and I started thinking of a salad dressing company. I abandoned my cookbook idea once again and started dreaming of a salad dressing company called “Sydney’s Bistro Dressings™.”
In 2011, the sale of my bistro became final and I was free to pursue my salad dressing company. In the summer of 2011 and a move across the Beartooth Mountains to the other side of Yellowstone National Park to Red Lodge, MT, I had met a lady named Jean Petersen through a mutual friend I grew up with. I hired Jean to work with me to get my salad dressing company off the ground. Jean was a published writer, but also had a construction business with her husband. That October I catered for their company, Petersen Builders, for an employee-friends pig roast party and her husband absolutely loved my beans and her guests loved my salad dressings so much, that it got me thinking about that cookbook again. I had mentioned to her that I always wanted to write a cookbook and had great recipes that I had created or perfected while at Sydney’s Mountain Bistro that I would love for people to have. That fall, I shared a few sauce recipes with Jean that would go well with elk as she was looking for ‘something new’ to serve with her wild game meats. In hindsight, I think this was all building up to the merging of our talents, mine - cooking and hers - writing. When Jean approached me in 2013 about a cookbook, I had already started putting my bistro recipes in small quantity format in my down time. It seemed like a perfect idea; Jean the unsophisticated cook needed new ways to make meals with wild game and with the natural resources of MT and me, the chef who needed an outlet for my recipes. I gave Jean enough recipes to pitch the idea to a few publishers. We got "not interested" by the few Jean sent out, and the cookbook idea was put on the back burner as both of us were busy with our own lives. I was trying to get a daughter through high school and college and Jean was raising 4 kids in a very busy and active household. Four years went by in a blink and by March of 2017, Arcadia Publishing and The History Press had been in contact with Jean about our proposal. The months were kind of a blur for me as I had gotten very sick in the months before and had been very sick up until my diagnoses in April. That May, I had just had major surgery for the removal of a large tumor when Jean called me to meet. She was super excited and told me that Arcadia Publishing was interested in publishing the cookbook and there was a deal on the table. In all honesty, it was like a dream to me as I was recuperating from surgery. I think she brought me flowers with the great news and I’m sure I feigned excitement as I really wasn’t in any shape to celebrate. We signed a deal with Arcadia Publishing on May 23, 2017, almost exactly 2 weeks after my surgery. I am positive I was still high on pain pills, but it was still a monumental day for me!
The next days, weeks, and months were a struggle for me to reach deadlines, trying to cater for pre-booked events, work my food trailer, and work at a nighttime job my daughter abandoned to go back to California that I felt obligated to fulfill. All the while, not being able to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk and getting reprimanded by my oncologist for not adhering to his strict orders of taking it easy so I could heal. In those following months I became a semi-professional proof reader, food photographer, and learned a lot about myself. I thought I always wanted a cookbook, but in reality, I wasn’t prepared to have my soul bared open either. The recipes were so personal to me and I had a story for every single one of them; good, bad, or indifferent. I felt like my therapist just gave my personal files and deep dark secrets out to the world to read! It was hard for me to hear that a recipe didn’t come out right through shared emails with our editor, that I had no control of how the food or photos turned out that Jean did and no control over how Jean garnished the food that she prepared, or when I was questioned by our editor about a specific cooking technique. As a chef we are arrogant one minute, riddled with self-doubt the next, incredibly, incredibly hard on ourselves, and living on the high of a perfect dish all in the span of a days work. Cooking is very personal to me and I didn’t want to give that to people I didn’t know and I didn’t want to share my recipes anymore. I am also a perfectionist with my food and I didn't want my name attached to anything that I didn't cook or garnish myself or that could be judged by another professional chef. I was ready to throw in the towel less than three months into the project, contract or not. Cooking is my outlet, my art, and my profession and I felt like I wasn't being consulted and my opinions didn't matter even though these were my recipes that some took years to concieve and collect or that were passed on to me in confidence. It was hard to let go of that ego and enjoy the moment. I had to step back and realize that my feelings were my own and were being ego driven, and then I remembered my saying that I go by "LIVE.LOVE.COOK. with Reckless Abandon" and what that really meant to me.
This has been a very humbling experience for me and after all is said and done, I am very proud of this cookbook and everyone’s extremely hard work to get it published, especially my co-author Jean. This idea would still be sitting on my mental shelf and would probably have been another 10 years down the road, if at all. I cannot wait to share this cookbook to the world! It’s personal, it has beautiful pictures of some damn tasty food, and it is filled with the rich history and foods of my home state, Montana, the last best place! Thanks for going on this ride with me and I hope you love this cookbook as much as I do!