By Claire Harlin
When Canyon Crest Academy sophomore Amanda Presar turned in a 600-page, full-color cookbook with photos, poems and more than 100 recipes for a creative writing assignment, her teacher’s jaw dropped.
The 15-year-old received an “A,” of course, but she’s even taken the school project to a higher level. The book, “Amanda’s Kitchen,” now has its own ISBN number, is available on Amazon, and proceeds from the sales are going to charities such as Rady Children’s Hospital and the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Dieguito. So far, Presar has raised more than $1,000 from selling more than 200 books out of her garage and at the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market, and her goal is to sell more than 100,000 copies. The teen is pioneering this effort in addition to playing lacrosse, varsity tennis and soccer at school — and she isn’t personally profiting a dime from the sales.
Presar’s book brings together a number of creative influences, including her grandmother — who has authored two successful cookbooks — and her beloved cat, Tigger, who Presar took in as a stray kitten. The book features rhyming poems to go along with the recipes, written from Tigger’s perspective. She titled those pages “Tiggy’s Corner.”
“He shows up on the table at every meal, so he found his place in the book,” Presar said.
Some of the recipes were handed down in Presar’s family, and some are her own creative concoctions. Presar said her pork chop recipe with apples, pecans and caramel is her favorite. She has also come up with creations like muffins with cookies on top and “chocolate lace” cookies.
“I learned to cook before I could even see over the counter,” said Presar. “I used to dress up in little aprons ever since I was little.”
In the book’s introduction, Presar thanked everyone in her family for “turning the house upside down” for this massive project. Presar employed her family and friends to taste test her recipes repeatedly until she got the elements just right, and she spent hours hosting meals on the weekends. Not only did she cook and entertain almost every weekend for months, but she created themed table settings, which she also included in the book.
“I have everyone cooking daily,” Presar wrote in the book’s introduction. “I have even started contacting friends outside the family to join in. I feel this cookbook has the best recipes sampled by family and friends. The meal planning and parties are taken from my past, in which I expanded upon. My creative family always went over-the-top on birthdays and celebrations, which helped me compile this book.”
Something that sets “Amanda’s Kitchen” apart from many cookbooks, besides the personal stories behind many of the recipes, is that there are photos of every dish.
While Presar’s first draft of the book was a heavy 600 pages — bigger than a phone book — she realized the hard way it was too long and she condensed it down to 300 pages to sell for $25 a copy.
“We went to get it printed and it was not a good experience,” said Presar, adding that the lady at the printing shop was crying because the print job took her so long and the Presars were originally quoted $1,000 to print the whole book.
“We said, ‘What can we do to get it down to $500?’,” Presar said.
The printer agreed to do the job for $500, and Presar’s mom paid the amount with a check. Later Presar’s dad called the printer and negotiated a price of $250.
Presar spent hours each night, often staying up past midnight, redesigning the book, and some of the recipes didn’t even make it in.
Presar said she thanks her mom for spending countless hours providing feedback and helping with the design process.
“She also helped me clean up the kitchen after I made a huge mess,” Presar said.
To purchase a cookbook, look for Presar at the Rancho Santa Fe Farmers Market (16079 San Dieguito Road Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067; www.ranchosantafefarmersmarket.com) or contact her at (858) 353-7180.