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Family Cookbook

Lives and memories told through food

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Carolyn Rosenthal

Carolyn Rosenthal’s homemade cookbook tells her family story through recipes. (Photo:

I think this was my opus.” That’s how Carolyn Rosenthal feels about the hardbound cookbook she created – a year-long project filled with family recipes and photos to be shared with her family and friends.

“When I started I was just thinking [compiling a cookbook] would be a great way to get all the recipes under one roof,” Carolyn says. “It was a good time in my life to do it, before I’m too old to cook, so all the kids would have it.”

But the process – and the product, Rosenthal Family Recipes Through the Generations – became much more than a compilation of recipes. It became a book of memories, told through food.

“My father used to say, ‘Life is but a collection of memories. Once an event is passed, you have the memories.’ When I made this book it was similar. A collection of memories, but instead of other memories, it was cooking memories.

“Our food is such a big deal, and everyone gets such pleasure in cooking and eating it. This was a great way to document the memories of all the food.”

Recent years of travels around the world with her husband, Harry, a pediatrician, motivated Carolyn to learn how to make photo books on chronicling their vacations. Armed with that basic knowledge and inspired by baking- and cooking-themed template pages she happened to see on the site, Carolyn embarked on a year-long mission to cook, bake and document her favorite family recipes. There are close to 100 recipes spread throughout 60 pages, all filled with photographs.

Carolyn Rosenthal

Carolyn Rosenthal makes chicken soup following her own version of her mother-in-law's recipe, which Carolyn documented in her cookbook. (Photo:

Carolyn, a former teacher who now supervises the front-office staff in Harry’s office, was a foodie before the term was coined. “My love of cooking came from my mother.” In the foreward of her book, she tells of growing up watching her mother cook, of the excitement of a high school home economics class – where she loved having “my own cooking station” – and of being a new bride occupying a pink kitchen in Washington, D.C., cooking so much that she gained 10 pounds in her first year of marriage. “All I did was make every excuse in the world to have people over for dinner and at least dessert,” she says.

“So I’ve had that wonderful drive all these years – when I was first married, then making things the kids like. I always went for the special. I would find really fun, pretty, delicious things, especially desserts and sweets.” (Desserts take up a large portion of her cookbook.)

“I had always wanted to do something with my recipes,” Carolyn says. “Years ago, when Jennifer [Kramer, Carolyn’s daughter] and her friends went to college, I had done a very general basic one. But I always wanted to do something more.”

Like many home cooks, Carolyn started with a big accordion file and a binder full of recipes originating from her mother Clara Pransky, her mother-in-law and other sources, all of which she says she “tweaked” over the years.  “Della [Rosenthal, Carolyn’s mother-in-law] had no recipes whatsoever, so when she was alive we would write down what she was doing as best we could. Those recipes are actually from her mouth and hands to our paper.” Now they are preserved for future generations, including her son Matthew’s family, in Carolyn’s cookbook.

Carolyn Rosenthal, Jennifer Kramer

Carolyn Rosenthal and her daughter Jennifer Kramer make banana bread from the recipe that is Jennifer’s and her son’s favorite. (Photo:

Jennifer Kramer, her daughter, says, “The cookbook is very special to me. The main thing I love about it is that I used to have to pick up the phone and say, ‘Mom, how do you make this recipe?’ Now all the recipes we love so much are all in one place.

“Whatever my mom does, she’s going to put her whole heart into it.”

To get started, Carolyn made one page, and then another, uploading photos from her computer, dragging them into pre-designed templates and filling in text boxes with her own words. After I had a dozen or so pages I’d start to clump them. Then I started an index. Then I just went through all the recipes I had in my house.

“The custom [Shutterfly] path allows you to do so much. You can crop, you can shrink, you can blow them up – the choices will blow your mind. It’s just a matter of taking the time to make it. I was able to tweak everything to my satisfaction.” Just like the recipes themselves.

The book includes a detailed table of contents, a thank-you to Carolyn’s twin sister, Rosalyn Margolis, stories and a dedication to her mother on the last page. The first pages of the book are titled “Heritage Recipes.” These are recipes that Carolyn’s mother and mother-in-law were known for – among them Starlight Pastry Twists (“When I look at them I think of my mother.”), Vegetable Soup (“This vegetable soup recipe has been passed down for generations.”), Cheese Blintzes and Monkey Bread.

“I feel like I have my culinary roots from my mother and then Harry’s,” Carolyn says. “I wanted to start out with their recipes, and hopefully our children after us will continue those recipes and traditions.”

Every recipe has a picture, and family photos are strewn throughout the book. Jennifer says she especially treasures the photos of her family cooking for holidays. “My favorite time of the year is when all the women in the family get together and cook, and that’s reflected in the pictures in the book.”

Throughout the year, Carolyn had help from her family and a few close friends, but the accomplishment is hers. “When I finished this book and saw it I was floored. This is just kind of who I am. But only after the fact did I think that way about making it.”

In the foreward to her cookbook, Carolyn writes, “I don’t often think about what defines me as a person besides my wonderful family both past and present. However, if I were to analyze what actually goes through my mind more times during a day than anything else, that, my dear family and friends, would be food and its preparation.” With that, Carolyn’s opus shines.

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