my 12 essential tools when working on book projects


As I get more and more entrenched in book work, I find myself, unfortunately, spending less and less time here, sharing recipes. My days are dedicated either to recipe testing for my books or writing the actual book: narrative, headnotes, tips, editing recipes, and doing lots of research. What that means, at the end of the day, that recipe work, for the blog, falls by the wayside.

I do, however, like to hang around this corner of the web, and even without a recipe, I hope that this can still be an interesting place for us to congregate. As I focus more on paid work, this means that the blog has to change to reflect my current life and time management. I’m thinking about experimenting more with posts without recipes, anecdotes from cooking life, tips, and more informal recipes. In general, I’ve been gravitating towards a rougher feel for this space: Less formal, less styled photos, shooting with my phone, and sharing recipes that I cook for Andrew and me during the week. I’ve become disenchanted with styled food – it’s been looking the same for quite some time. Same props, same concept – and nothing that looks like food you would serve to someone in real life. I don’t want to get negative, but for me, personally, this approach rings false, and so I’m hoping to attempt something else.

Anyway, today, I wanted to share with you my 12 essential tools for book projects. These are tools that keep me organized and efficient. If you’ve worked, or are currently working, on a book, what are your essential can’t-live-without-them tools? I’d love to know!

Work this am. Couldn't sleep past 3 am - so trying to be productive.

1. Moleskine notebook – I prefer the regular size notebooks, preferably with graph paper. I feel hyper organized with graph paper, and even if it’s just an illusion, it’s worth it.


2. Pilot G-2 pen in .38 – For some reason my handwriting looks much better/neater when I write with this pen. I started out with a couple and then quickly graduated to a full box. If I had to give up all other pens, I’d be perfectly fine with it – the .38 seals the deal for me.

3. My computer – I’ve recently upgraded to MacBook – Air because my old computer was on its last breath – and I haven’t looked back. It’s light and lightning-fast! Perfect for when I’m on the move, which, these days, is rather often.

4. iPhone/headphones – I prefer to make/take calls using headphones (leaves my hands to type in case I’m interviewing someone), listen to music, and just generally tune out. Sometimes I just put headphones in my ears and work without music. Another great thing about iPhone is that should I ever leave my trusty digital recorder at home, I have Voice Memo app to bail me out.


5. Digital recorder – A lifesaver for someone like me. They are inexpensive, fit in your pocket, and the battery lasts awhile. I’m a big fan of this one. When I’m working with chefs and getting their stories and headnotes, I like to focus on what they’re saying – not writing their answers down. And it helps to capture their voice, in their voice, when you have an actual recording of it that you can replay over and over. Worst part about it is transcription – that takes forever, but if you have a budget for it, you can easily outsource that to TaskRabbit or whoever. There is a growing number of virtual admin services too.

6. Skype with Call Recorder feature – Skype is awesome – we can all agree on that. But my favorite feature on Skype is this $10 plug-in, Call Recorder, that allows you to record conversations. Perfect for those virtual meetings, when it makes more sense to not spend time commuting and just check in face-to-face, sort of. Perfect for when you’re chasing a chef down between meetings on his or her phone.

7. Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets – I live and die by Excel and no matter how hard I have tried, Google spreadsheets just falls short of Excel’s elegance. Yes, I just said elegance in reference to a Microsoft product. I run pretty much everything in Excel: from schedules to lists or recipes in their various stages of completion. Also, expense reports (tracking expenditures). I don’t think I’d be half as productive without it.

8. Dropbox – or whatever cloud-sharing system works for you. It beats email and besides, email can’t handle large files.

9. Pandora on Frederyck Chopin station – the best, except when they decide to sneak in some new-age piano stuff, and then I get annoyed. Stick to classical, Pandora.

10. Highlighter – for highlighting portions of narrative that need work and for various visual cues. I like a bright yellow one (classic), but currently, I’m stuck with green (first world problem).


11. A clear zippered envelope – for receipts – a must!

12. Recipe testing sheets – with fields for date, project, special equipment, time to cook, yield, and whatever else you might deem relevant when testing a recipe. Having a uniform format for such things really helps to streamline and organize.

And…. a bonus one!

13. Take-out menus – do you really think that food writers just have perfect home cooked meals all the time? Anyone who’s ever worked on a book will tell you the number of times they resort to ordering takeout, while on a project, is embarrassingly high. But, aren’t you testing recipes for a good part of it, you think? Yes, you are. But if, as in my case right now, you’re testing eight ice cream recipes a day, it makes for a terrible dinner – or an awesome one depending on where you stand on the whole ice-cream-for-dinner issue.


  • Aimee @ Simple Bites

    GREAT list! Bookmarking this one for sure.

    I’ve been LOVING the Voxer app lately. I use it for both personal and professional communication. It’s so much faster than testing and nothing gets misunderstood in tone or sarcasm. :-)

  • Cynthia A.

    I adore that you are meshing together old school (Moleskin and Pilot G2) with new school (Skype and Excel). I too am a big fan of writing things down, especially in the kitchen where goop happens.

    One tool I’ve really found useful lately is Evernote. Great platform for filing and sorting web stuff. I will be clipping this post and putting it into my Research/Book notebook. Thanks for taking the time to make the list!

  • katy

    I really appreciated this post, especially what you said about your disenchantment with styled food. I’ve been feeling this way myself for some time (although I’m sure that, to some extent, I’m guilty–on a very amateurish level– of doing the same thing); there’s something so strange about thinking about food that you will eat and props and styling in the same breath.

    In any case, to answer your question: While I worked on my dissertation, sticky notes (both real ones and the program on my laptop) were essential. I also found that I was fanatical about making lists; I liked having something to cross off at the end of the day (still do, too), so that, even if I didn’t do as much work as I would have liked, I still was able to see that progress had been made.

  • merry jennifer

    An excellent list! I also love my Moleskine journal, though I use a lined version (note to self: must try graph paper…). I’m also a recent convert to the Pentel EnerGel 0.35 mm pen. Discovering Jet Pens was a serious mistake for my wallet.

  • marcella from italy

    Me too I will enjoy whatever you write, Olga :)

    as for the list, great! I’m not working on a book but I’m a writer by trade nonetheless and the Skype call recorder is pure genius, thanks for sharing.

    my 2 cents: a brain-entrainment app such as the AmbiScience series. When I am really stressed out and/or working in a noisy, distracting environment, nothing and I mean NOTHING beats the “focus” entrainment program to help me stay, well, focused. From the outside it looks like I am listening to my favorite music, while I am actually tuning my brain up to a much more productive frequency. Trust me, it works :)
    (I’m not affiliated in any way with AmbiScience, btw :)

  • olga

    thanks, folks, for your kind words and suggestions, i’ll be sure to check them out!

  • Marianne S.

    I am officially a dinosaur, completely out of touch with all of these apps of which you speak, and the ones mentioned in the comments section. I like the moleskin notebook and pen, though. This is what happens when you have been a stay-home mom for the last 17 years. A brain entertainment app? Oh lord…..

  • Margarita

    I love this post Olga… I have been disenchanted with food blogging, mainly because it takes so much effort and precision to record ingredients, cooking process, time, etc. It takes away the pleasure of cooking for me. And taking pictures before eating, I just want to dig in! I also love your list of book project essentials, very simple tools but very handy.

  • Georgie

    These are some really awesome tips for anyone working or just managing your household . I follow all of these tools with the exception being a huge fan of Saint Saens.

    I work as media consultant all day so keeping up with my blog is almost impossible for me, sometimes weeks or months may pass before I post anything. I considered leaving the arena all together and I finally had to get ok with blogging occasional because it’s not my livelihood. So I totally get it. I just can’t leave my blog because I love it and the community it’s engaged me with; and it’s a-keepsake of family recipes for me.

    So I’m going try some Frederyck Chopin – happy ice cream testing!

  • olga

    Georgie – Love me some Saint Saens! What I meant by new-agey crap is, literally, elevator piano music from the 80s. Ew.

  • Sarah

    Olga, you are brilliant. I just went and made a Chopin station on Pandora!

    If you like symphonic soundtracks, composer Rachel Portman is also a good station to have.

    As for fewer recipes and more regular writing? I’m totally on board! I’m also disenchanted with food styling. It’s pretty, but it’s soooo labor-intensive and I feel like a lot of people just look at the pictures and scroll down to the recipe. Often because I think a lot of food bloggers spend so much time on the photos, that they forget to spend time on the writing (there is some truly awful dreck out there).

    I myself blog only when: I remember to take pictures (who cares about styling and editing? If it’s not blurry or too dark, I’m happy), I have something worth sharing, I have to get something off my chest, or I want to help others by sharing my knowledge. Oh, and of course, when I have a couple hours of free time! Lol.

    I am totally on board with unedited, hip-shot photos and fewer recipes. Go for it!

  • Karla

    I’m particular about the pens I use for grading and lab notebook entries, and I use the same kind you do. I should get an envelope like yours for receipts.

  • Flip Epic

    I enjoyed the blog! A nice list explained. I felt like I wrote the blog! you’ve just missed one thing- a bowl of pop corn. Take love. <3

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