A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cookbook
Digging through years of recipes and seeing the forest for the trees
I never intended for this site to be a food blog.
It’s not, really—if there’s any way to describe what I’m aiming to do here, it’s “syndicated newspaper columnist who also cooks”. Heck, the name “Action Cookbook” had nothing to do with food when I adopted it as an online moniker more than a decade ago—at the time, its only purpose was to be a complete non-sequitur, a name separate from both my real name and old AIM screen names.
But, in 2019, a few months after launching this newsletter, I started sharing food content, a little bit at a time—a grilling technique I liked, a recipe I had success with. Over time, that evolved into my Friday newsletter, which for more than 180 weeks has been headed up by a recipe, the vast majority of them original creations.
Along the way, I ended up among real chefs and cookbook authors on Substack’s Food & Drink rankings, was named a Substack Food Fellow, and even had the chance to cook for real people at a restaurant.
Recently—after numerous requests toward this end from readers—I’ve taken up an effort to archive the recipes and drinks that I’ve shared here separate from their original posts, in the hopes of making them more easily-navigable.
It’s a laborious process, and one I’m not done with yet, but my hope is that it has real utility for you. *I* might easily be able to recall that my recipe for Stuffed Cabbage Soup originally appeared in a newsletter titled “Make ‘Em Say Hygge”, or that my cocktail The Handsome Idiot was buried under a The Hold Steady reference in one titled “It’s One Thing to Start Out With a Positive Jam”, but I don’t expect you to be able to know that.
And heck, maybe you subscribed after these things were published!
When I started out, there were just a few hundred people reading, and not the many thousands who now subscribe.
Hence, the archive.
I’ve got more than two years backed up now, available for easy navigation under the Recipes and Cocktails tabs, and I hope to get everything beyond that up shortly.
The Action Cookbook Newsletter is a reader-supported publication; when you upgrade to a paid subscription, you don’t just get access to a treasure trove of content—you make this place possible.
A funny thing happened in the process of doing this archiving work, though—I realized that this archive isn’t just for you.
It’s for me, too.
Producing these newsletters has become an essential part of the rhythm of my week over the last four years. I’m always planning ahead, juggling new ideas and finding ways to fit them into my schedule.
This archive—these recipes—have become a sort of accidental journal of my life.
It’s strange—I write directly about personal things on here, including frequent essays on my experiences as a father of young children, and those are important personal artifacts to me. I’m very glad, for instance, that I could capture a fleeting moment in parenthood like “Giants in the Night-Time” for posterity.
Strangely, though, the recipes paint a fuller picture. Each of one of them—released one at a time, every Friday, without fail—is a small data point, a reflection of what what going on in my life at the time.
In 2020 and early 2021, when the sensible ones among us were hunkered down at home, I featured a lot of labor-intensive, all-day-effort recipes because—well, what else was I going to do? In 2022 and in to 2023, I can see my schedule getting busier as the world re-opened and I began to shift focus to simpler, easier-to-make recipes that others might want to do, too. I can see the things I was thinking about, my fleeting little obsessions that mean nothing in the long run but meant everything at the time.
I can also see that I’ve become a better cook, a better mixologist, and a far better photographer of both over time.
There’s a few embarrassments in there—times I clearly got a little bit out over my skis, recipes that didn’t fully work, cocktails that were just plain dumb ideas. But as I continue this process of fleshing out the archive, I’m glad for all of it, glad to have these little weekly snapshots of my daily life. Few things are as ephemeral as food, but few things are as closely tied to memory either.
Life goes by fast, and as I get older, I find it’s moving faster every day.
I lived in New York for most of my 20s and early 30s, and it felt like a lifetime that I was there. I’ve now lived in Kentucky for nearly as long, and it’s felt like six weeks. My kids were infants yesterday and they’re beating me at video games and using slang I don’t understand now. I was out to dinner with my wife a few nights ago, and one of us made a casual reference to doing something in 2009, and we both stopped in our tracks realizing that that was nearly 14 years ago.
Time moves fast, and it’s no small thing to find a way to measure its passage. If that happens to be in food? Well, all the better.
So let’s eat, drink and be merry—tomorrow will be here before you know it.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
I recently realized that me taking notes in my cookbooks could end up being "grandma's handwritten recipe cards" 50+ years from now and got a little emotional, especially since the first and only drawer my grandpa cleaned after my grandma died was apparently her recipe drawer and his kids (my mom and her siblings) still haven't quite forgiven him decades later, even though he has since died. Recipes, dumb, delicious, and otherwise, are so important and so telling!
Wow, congrats on setting up the recipe archive. I have no idea if I'm an early subscriber or not, so I have no idea what I'm missing, but I have over time made my own personal archive by saving the friday emails in a big dumb folder so I can do a word search.