As I get more and more entrenched in book work, I find myself, unfortunately, spending less and less time here, sharing recipes. My days are dedicated either to recipe testing for my books or writing the actual book: narrative, headnotes, tips, editing recipes, and doing lots of research. What that means, at the end of the day, that recipe work, for the blog, falls by the wayside.
I do, however, like to hang around this corner of the web, and even without a recipe, I hope that this can still be an interesting place for us to congregate. As I focus more on paid work, this means that the blog has to change to reflect my current life and time management. I’m thinking about experimenting more with posts without recipes, anecdotes from cooking life, tips, and more informal recipes. In general, I’ve been gravitating towards a rougher feel for this space: Less formal, less styled photos, shooting with my phone, and sharing recipes that I cook for Andrew and me during the week. I’ve become disenchanted with styled food – it’s been looking the same for quite some time. Same props, same concept – and nothing that looks like food you would serve to someone in real life. I don’t want to get negative, but for me, personally, this approach rings false, and so I’m hoping to attempt something else.
Anyway, today, I wanted to share with you my 12 essential tools for book projects. These are tools that keep me organized and efficient. If you’ve worked, or are currently working, on a book, what are your essential can’t-live-without-them tools? I’d love to know!
1. Moleskine notebook – I prefer the regular size notebooks, preferably with graph paper. I feel hyper organized with graph paper, and even if it’s just an illusion, it’s worth it.
2. Pilot G-2 pen in .38 – For some reason my handwriting looks much better/neater when I write with this pen. I started out with a couple and then quickly graduated to a full box. If I had to give up all other pens, I’d be perfectly fine with it – the .38 seals the deal for me.
3. My computer – I’ve recently upgraded to MacBook – Air because my old computer was on its last breath – and I haven’t looked back. It’s light and lightning-fast! Perfect for when I’m on the move, which, these days, is rather often.
4. iPhone/headphones – I prefer to make/take calls using headphones (leaves my hands to type in case I’m interviewing someone), listen to music, and just generally tune out. Sometimes I just put headphones in my ears and work without music. Another great thing about iPhone is that should I ever leave my trusty digital recorder at home, I have Voice Memo app to bail me out.
5. Digital recorder – A lifesaver for someone like me. They are inexpensive, fit in your pocket, and the battery lasts awhile. I’m a big fan of this one. When I’m working with chefs and getting their stories and headnotes, I like to focus on what they’re saying – not writing their answers down. And it helps to capture their voice, in their voice, when you have an actual recording of it that you can replay over and over. Worst part about it is transcription – that takes forever, but if you have a budget for it, you can easily outsource that to TaskRabbit or whoever. There is a growing number of virtual admin services too.
6. Skype with Call Recorder feature - Skype is awesome – we can all agree on that. But my favorite feature on Skype is this $10 plug-in, Call Recorder, that allows you to record conversations. Perfect for those virtual meetings, when it makes more sense to not spend time commuting and just check in face-to-face, sort of. Perfect for when you’re chasing a chef down between meetings on his or her phone.
7. Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets – I live and die by Excel and no matter how hard I have tried, Google spreadsheets just falls short of Excel’s elegance. Yes, I just said elegance in reference to a Microsoft product. I run pretty much everything in Excel: from schedules to lists or recipes in their various stages of completion. Also, expense reports (tracking expenditures). I don’t think I’d be half as productive without it.
8. Dropbox - or whatever cloud-sharing system works for you. It beats email and besides, email can’t handle large files.
9. Pandora on Frederyck Chopin station – the best, except when they decide to sneak in some new-age piano stuff, and then I get annoyed. Stick to classical, Pandora.
10. Highlighter - for highlighting portions of narrative that need work and for various visual cues. I like a bright yellow one (classic), but currently, I’m stuck with green (first world problem).
11. A clear zippered envelope – for receipts – a must!
12. Recipe testing sheets - with fields for date, project, special equipment, time to cook, yield, and whatever else you might deem relevant when testing a recipe. Having a uniform format for such things really helps to streamline and organize.
And…. a bonus one!
13. Take-out menus – do you really think that food writers just have perfect home cooked meals all the time? Anyone who’s ever worked on a book will tell you the number of times they resort to ordering takeout, while on a project, is embarrassingly high. But, aren’t you testing recipes for a good part of it, you think? Yes, you are. But if, as in my case right now, you’re testing eight ice cream recipes a day, it makes for a terrible dinner – or an awesome one depending on where you stand on the whole ice-cream-for-dinner issue.