"How I Journal" with Elizabeth VanDerwerken

"How I Journal" with Elizabeth VanDerwerken

Food connects us. No matter where you come from, what language you speak, or the continent you live on - it’s a universal fixation where strangers can find common ground. Whether it be home cooked meals, fine dining, or an irresistible dessert, they all have their unique way to please one’s palate and provide solace. After all, it’s called comfort food for a reason.

We teamed up with a local foodie who caught our attention with her savory recipes and fascination to cook, travel, and journal. See our one-on-one with Elizabeth V. and her flavorsome recipe journal.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in southern New Jersey. I miss the forests and farmlands and ocean of where I grew up, but these days call Provo, Utah home. I love Utah’s mountains and alpine meadows, red rock, and canyons. It helps that there are also really great people and lots of great food, too.

cook book recipe journal

When did you start cooking?

I’ve been cooking ever since my childhood—my dad would put “make one dessert” on our Saturday chore list. In between Saturday morning cartoons and vacuuming (or whatever the luck of the draw landed me with that day), I would spend part of my Saturday mornings as a kid making a blueberry cobbler or apple crisp. The dessert in question varied depending on the season and what type of produce was overflowing from the crisper drawers in our fridge.

I became genuinely interested in cooking sometime in college. I spent a couple summers back home in New Jersey working on a research farm, and I’d come home with armfuls of extra produce, whatever was being harvested that week—asparagus, peaches, potatoes, blueberries, tomatoes, peppers, basil, watermelon, and so on. My love of cooking is intrinsically connected to my love of good food and I remember researching recipes to make quiche using tomatoes and basil, pie or cobbler with the fruits, and other interesting dishes incorporating each kind of produce. Since then, my love of cooking has remained and it has grown as I learn more and become ever more comfortable in the kitchen.

recipe book cook journal

Did anyone teach you or are you self-taught? 

A little of both! I have had some significant cooking influences over the course of my life, but I have also learned a lot on my own from trial and error, reading cookbooks, and following food blogs. My parents always involved me and my sisters in cooking. My mom makes amazing bread and would let us help her and she would jot notes in her bread cookbook about which were our favorite recipes. My dad has a very experimental style which showed me a different side of approaching cooking and has informed my own approach to an extent. Both of my grandmothers taught me some of their favorite family recipes, too, which I love to make.

After I graduated from college, I spent several years working for a local restaurant group. While I worked in their home office primarily as an administrator, I ran our social media and blog for a while and in doing so, got lots of exposure to the goings-on of a restaurant kitchen. You’d be amazed at the things I picked up just from my exposure in that setting!—I learned all about proper knife handling and use, kitchen organization, selecting ingredients, and cooking with the seasons. I learned all about the chefs and food writers my boss and the chefs loved, and that really broadened my cooking worldview. I attribute a lot of what I know to my peers in the restaurant group and the starting points and ideas they shared with me.

cook book journal

What does cooking mean to you? 

Food connects us to nature, to people, and to places; it nourishes us and delights us. Others have written exhaustively on the subject, but in particular, I love the food philosophies of Alice Waters and Heidi Swanson. Alice Waters’ book “The Art of Simple Food” and Heidi Swanson’s book “Near & Far” are two of my favorites among those on my cookbook shelf. Alice Waters has a well-rounded and simply beautiful approach to food—I love her rules of eating well as outlined at the beginning of “The Art of Simple Food.” In “Near & Far,” Heidi Swanson shares recipes from her home in San Francisco and from her travels around the world. The photographs accompanying her recipes are gorgeous and document beautiful memories and experiences. Food, with its combination of taste, aroma, and aesthetics, can carry such powerful associations and memories—I love to travel and one of my favorite things while traveling is exploring the local farmers markets and discovering amazing things to eat and places to try. Heidi Swanson actually inspired my keeping a food journal or recipe journal; she writes in the introduction to her book how she keeps a journal documenting food finds during her travels, interesting ingredients, or other things she wants to remember when she is back in her own kitchen. As soon as I came across that idea, I knew I wanted to try something similar—having a repository for all my personal kitchen experiments and ideas, favorite meals from travels, and any other food-related odds and ends felt very in tune with my list-making nature.

What kind of recipes do you jot down? Personal Favorites vs Family recipes? 

I use my Rustico ‘food journal,’ as I call it, for several purposes. One of my favorite cooking principles is something I learned from the site Food52. Their staff write: “Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.”

This really appeals to my style, because really, you can do so much with so little! Recipes are wonderful, but if you feel tied to only using recipes, it can limit your cooking. I think it is so important to learn the skills that are necessary to cook well, and to understand flavors and seasoning. Once you know these elements, it becomes second nature to make off-the-cuff versions of your favorite dishes. That’s where my food journal comes in—I pull it out when I am trying out a new idea or a new combination of a tried-and-true favorite dish. I like to jot notes about what seasoning I use, what temperature I cooked something at and for how long, what ingredients I used (was it a new-to-me variety of tomato from the farmer’s market? An amazing cheese that I might not recall the name of unless I jot it down? etc.), and more. My food journal serves as a reference point more than anything.

I do also like to write down family favorites or recipes shared by my friends. I love flipping back through my journal to remember the good food that I made and ate with people I love.

recipe journal cook book

Do you have a preference in writing tools? 

Yes, possibly too many favorites to name! They are: 

  • Pilot G-2 07mm pen - my everyday favorite
  • Staedtler Triplus Fineliner
  • Pigma Microns (I have a variety of sizes)
  • Le Pen
  • Sailor brush pen

I also love stationery stores generally and trying out new pens. I love walking the aisles at MUJI or any little hole-in-the-wall stationer in Chinatown in any large U.S. city.

What do you look for in a recipe book? 

I like unlined pages, as it allows for more flexibility in how I want to fill a recipe book. I also love cookbooks that leave empty space or a text box where I can make my own notes after I’ve tried a recipe. I also love to use something that works well as I’m referring to it while cooking; it helps if a book opens and lays flat on the page I’ve turned to for reference. The journal you see in my pictures is my Traveler Journal in saddle and it works great! 

recipe journal cookbook leather

How did you come across Rustico?

I found Rustico through my dear friend and roommate Candace, who worked at Rustico for several years! Her set of Rustico leather journals on our bookshelf was always a conversation starter when friends would come over. I own and use several Rustico journals, a lunch bag, and other odds and ends (key fob, headphone keeper, etc.). I love the smell of leather and everything is beautifully made to last. Not only that, but it just gets better with age.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not cooking?

I love traveling, writing, reading, spending time outdoors, hiking, camping, and creative projects. My food journal is a culmination of several of these hobbies, as I love to document favorite foods from my travels. I love all things botanical—houseplants, flowers of all kinds, exploring gardens when traveling, and identifying wildflowers while on a hike. As for travels, I hope to spend lots of time in the mountains and I’m looking forward to a trip to Iceland this summer! I also plan to spend plenty of Saturdays at the local farmers market and cooking and eating the good things I find there.

cook book travel journal

Advice to someone starting a recipe journal? 

Don’t be afraid to try new things! Some of my favorite kitchen discoveries have been the result of pulling random things from the fridge or the back of my pantry. Sometimes the constraints of using whatever you have or whatever is on sale can inspire kitchen creativity in a way you don’t expect. Seasonings go a long way—whenever I’m experimenting, I always jot down what seasonings I use so I can refer back if something turns out even better than I’d expected! I try to take lots of notes as it helps me improve the process and to replicate something when it worked well the first time (or maybe the second or third).


Food has its natural way to get people talking and writing them down in a journal can help keep a written record of your favorite tastes and flavors. We appreciate Elizabeth setting time aside to discuss and share her creative and fun ways she uses her journal to document her favorite recipes, ingredients, and cuisine uncoverings. To keep up with Liz’s discoveries, see her blog. Get started on your own recipe journal today!

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