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Once Upon a Cookbook

So, here’s a story for you.

I don’t have to tell anyone that COVID shut down life as we know it in early 2020. At my job in a Greater Toronto Area Emergency Department, we came face-to-face with stuff in pretty short order. It was hard, it was scary, and it was real. For the next year, we rode the waves of that pounding storm.

Finally, in April 2021, with COVID numbers going down and vaccination rates rising, it was time to take a deep breath and look ahead to summer, hoping that COVID would soon be behind us. Feeling that relief and optimism, a couple of us were chatting at work one day about the lockdowns and all the cooking people had done while stuck at home. One thing led to another, and we hit on the idea of a departmental cookbook — like, what were we all cooking when the restaurants were closed? We talked about old favourites and how some of our index cards and cookbook pages were covered with stains and spatters. This somehow evolved into the thought that our cookbook could have actual pictures of well-loved recipes, not just typed-out versions, and voila! We had an idea for a unique book, plus it would be so easy to ask our co-workers to snap a picture of their recipes; no laborious copying-out required.

It was a terrific idea, but if this thing was going to take shape, someone had to collect recipes and put them into proper cookbook format. That someone turned out to be me. I became a bit of a pest when requesting recipes, but after asking, hinting, and a bit of outright arm-twisting, they started to flow in. I bought a cookbook template, started adjusting photos to be easily readable, and typed out those that arrived as documents. It took hours and hours, plus a few more hours, but it was fun. In May 2021 our cookbook was ready, and I ordered full-colour bound copies for those who requested them.

Fast-forward almost a year, and a friend, who had once worked in our ER, contacted me. She’d seen something in The (Toronto) Star newspaper asking for submissions about old family recipes with spattered-up pages and the stories that went with them. She felt I might have such a recipe book. I mulled the idea over for a while, and then I realized that while I did have my own messy recipes and a few stories, I was also in possession of many much-loved recipes gathered from many people, and I submitted the story of our ER cookbook.

It was super-exciting to hear back from Karon Liu, a food reporter at The Star, that our cookbook might make a stand-alone story. A phone call and several emails followed, and it all seemed to be coming together. Then … the let-down. Unfortunately, for editorial reasons, the story ended up not being published, and I admit to crushing disappointment, but not for the reason you think.

The second year of COVID has been almost unbearably difficult for our ED staff in many ways and for many reasons. What you have read about healthcare workers in the news is all true, and even the strongest were almost brought to their knees. I was absolutely delighted that I would be able to share my fun story about the cookbook, linking them all to the article. “See? This is us! We’re in the Toronto paper, you guys!”; such a happy thing in the midst of everything else.

But that’s okay. Instead of a big newspaper publication, you’ve read it here. And not only that, but if you click the link below, you can see a PDF of the actual cookbook. I think it’s fun to look at. Despite everything, I’m so pleased to share the book, and I hope you might try a couple of the recipes.

If you know someone who might enjoy this story and the cookbook, please feel free to pass this post on. Goodness knows we can all use a little bit of ‘happy’ right now.


Phyllis writes words: words for stories, and words for books. Phyllis writes words for blogs too.

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