Put together a family cookbook so everyone can cook the classics wherever they are.
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Multi-generation females looking at cookbook and baking in kitchen
Credit: Tom Merton/Getty Images

Fall is usually a season of anticipation. As soon as the breezes begin to cool, pumpkins appear in stores, magazines hit stands with this year's crop of Thanksgiving recipes, and we all start thinking about menus for everything from Diwali to Hanukkah to New Year's Eve. And while this season will be different and, in many ways, more challenging than any other before, there are also some opportunities to make it more special than ever before.

But one of the hard realities of this year is that a lot of our traditions, our flagstones in the hectic seasons, won't be happening. In an effort to keep ourselves and our family members safe, many of us won't be joining around the family dinner table any time soon. That also means you may be left without your custom of driving to Grandma's house and enjoying Aunt Karen's broccoli casserole or Uncle Pete's fudge. 

Whether you'll be alone for the foreseeable holidays or limited to your immediate family of just a handful, there is one thing you can do to make sure everyone can cook the family-favorite meals they don't want to miss: a personal family cookbook. Chances are there are certain recipes that are sacred and traditional to you and those who celebrate with you. Now is the time to be sure they are all written down, collected in one place, and shareable. 

The cookbooks you create will be more than just a resource for the holiday season, they will be a reminder of the resilience and fortitude of this whole year. They can be as simple as a digital file of recipes that can be e-mailed to friends and family or delivered on thumb drives, or as complex as a real bound book with hand-drawn illustrations or photographs to accompany.

If you have kids, they can help create pictures or drawings to include or design the cover. If you usually have to split time between two family gatherings, you can collect all the recipes from both and combine into one book and share with both families, so that everyone can have a fuller sense of what your extended family celebrations look like. 

Take the opportunity to talk to the keepers of the old family recipes. If nothing is written down, get on a FaceTime or Zoom and have them walk you thru it so that it isn't lost. Record those chats if you can; you can include the video or audio file with the final book. If your holidays, birthdays, or family gatherings are usually potlucks, the masters of each dish offered can provide the recipe. 

Everyone should get in on the action, even if they aren't the cooks in the group. If you have family or friends who usually take care of wine or beverages, have them offer some pairing ideas, and if others are usually in charge of decorating the table, some tips and tricks on tablescapes or flower arranging will make the book even more complete.

If you have people who come every year and don't do a thing, ask if they will send you some favorite photos or write down a funny or poignant anecdote to include. The header for Aunt Millie's famous layered Jell-O mold will be so much more meaningful if Uncle Ken writes down the story of the year she unmolded it and all the layers detached and slid around the buffet like tectonic plates.

Whatever direction you take with your family cookbook, the creation will help build that anticipation you might be missing this year, will give you a project to keep you focused in a positive direction, and will result in a very special gift to offer those who usually grace your table and cannot this season. You will give them all the ability to make those special dishes for themselves, not just this year, but always.