Hoping someone who knows something will respond to this and give me some assistance. I was absent for most of a month and while I was unable to write, “someone” made a lot of changes to my blog. Now I can’t find any of my familiar places on which to post new material. I had 624 blog posts on sandyscookbookchatter. PLEASE RESTORE MY blog to what it was before someone changed it. I have never figured out an easy way to contact anyone at wordpress. and prior to THIS blog I had another that was all articles and material about collecting cookbooks. I paid for an entire year on my blog and it hasn’t been a year yet. help!!! Sandra Lee Smith/sandyscookbookchatter.wordpress.com
It’s not as though I’ve never botched up something in the kitchen. Heaven knows, I am the person who set the kitchen oven on fire when we lived in Florida (I was not very familiar with electric stoves) and I had a strange misguided notion that I would be able to dry out the graham-cracker houses I had constructed with melted sugar. Yikes! Well, it wasn’t a very big fire and my then-husband had the wherewithal to pour baking soda on the flames. At least I think that is what he did – by then I was out in the back yard prepared to jump into the pool to escape the flames.
When did I start cooking and baking? Around the age of 10, I think, when I broke my mother’s yellow mixing bowl while making muffins and wanted to hold the bowl just the way I’d seen my mother and grandmother do. Well, needless to say I dropped the bowl and broke it, and ran upstairs crying. I don’t remember what happened after that. Presumably, I started another batch of muffins, but maybe not. I only remember the incident, not the aftermath. What I also do remember is that it took me about a year to save up enough money to replace the yellow bowl. You couldn’t buy just the yellow bowl – you had to buy the entire Pyrex set, which was about $2.98 plus tax in the 1950s. It might as well have been a million dollars as far as I was concerned, at the age of ten. The set of bowls was on display at Pete’s Camp Washington 5 & 10 and eventually I did buy it. I think my younger sister now has some of the bowls from that replacement set. I can’t even look at a yellow Pyrex bowl without thinking about this incident. Acquiring money in my younger years was always a challenge.
If Grandma gave me a nickel to take the bus home because it was dark—and I walked home instead—I had a nickel. (A long way from $2.98 plus tax). You could run errands for the neighbors who might or might not give you a nickel for your efforts. Or they might reward you with a cookie. Pop bottles were searched for diligently, because they were each worth 2 cents, redeemable at any grocery store. All the kids searched for pop bottles though, so finding one was always a challenge.
I sold greeting cards for my mother, for a nickel or dime each—I am guessing that she paid me for my efforts although I don’t remember receiving the money. She would give me bus fare to go to Cardinal Craftsman to pick up her card order and bring it back. It was somewhere on 8th and State in Cincinnati, and required my changing buses under the Western Hills Viaduct. I was probably no more than eight years old when my mother began sending me on these errands. But I digress!
My intention was to write about culinary mishaps! I should mention that around this age, between eight and ten, I began experimenting in my mother’s kitchen. Some of the recipes didn’t always turn out just right. I remember a battle between myself and my childhood girlfriend Carol Sue, when she wanted to make frosting one way and I was adamant about making it another way. Hers turned out green and runny and we fed it to my two younger brothers, who sat outside the back door just waiting in expectation for such opportunities!
I also remember ruining all of my mother’s kitchen dish towels, when I decided to make grape jelly. Uncle Cal brought us the concord grapes from their back yard, and I decreed that I knew how to make jelly from those grapes (I think this was an assignment in cooking class). Did I make grape jelly? More importantly, did we EAT it? I guess I’ll never know. I’m inclined to think we ate it – food was never wasted in my mother’s kitchen. We often ate a lot of borderline bad food—but no one ever died from it.
The episode with a can of salmon is remembered by three of my brothers; I was about 12 at the time. My parents were going somewhere for dinner and I was to make supper for myself and three brothers (Scott wasn’t born until I was 17). I knew how to make salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, spinach (from a can) and cottage cheese.
When mom and dad came downstairs dressed in their going-out-somewhere finery, one of my brothers implored, “Do we really have to EAT this?” as I was busy cooking the salmon patties.
“Yes!” said my father (he knew he wasn’t eating any of it). “Every bite!!”
And so my parents left and I prepared my first dinner (we called it supper) and put it on the table. My brothers ate the meal and then, standing up (they had planned this part beforehand) they clutched their stomachs and fell to the floor. I think I may have kicked one of them and I surely burst into tears. They all remember this story and love to tell it. (Salmon patties was, back then, one of my comfort foods and it remains so even to this day—despite the incident related above).
I don’t remember any other major culinary catastrophes of my childhood—I did begin collecting recipe booklets, offered free on the backs of cans of food and boxes. You could get almost anything free, just for writing and requesting it. I’d buy ten penny postcards and send away for these recipe booklets and pamphlets and got myself into a heap of trouble sending for free stamps—with approvals. I had no idea what approvals were, but I understood “free” and sent away for free stamps, putting them all in a big box. Then letters began to arrive demanding payment of the “approvals” and since I didn’t have any money and wouldn’t have even known which stamps belonged to which company, I tearfully confessed to my mother, who wrote to the stamp companies and told them their customer was ten years old and didn’t know any better. After that, I loathed the stamps (many of them quite beautiful) and gave them all to my cousin Margie when she was visiting us one summer. Out of sight, out of mind.
I thought myself quite an accomplished cook/baker by the time I married at the age of eighteen. My brother and his girlfriend came for dinner one Sunday and I made a pot roast, which my then-husband later claimed it was as tough as shoe leather. My brother, being used to my cooking I imagine, claimed it was delicious and chewed away.
I’m sure there were many other culinary disasters along the way – one time it wasn’t so much a culinary disaster as it was kitchen-related. My friend Connie and I decided to have our children—her three and my four—make ornaments out of baking soda or flour, or whatever it was that you used to make these things. We may not have followed the directions carefully (not unusual with seven children underfoot) and we both had ornament dough in our hair, under our fingernails, all over the table and the floor – not to mention all seven children.
Another time I thought it would be “FUN” to have the two daughters of two of my close friends come and make cookies with me. I hadn’t counted on rivalry between the two girls who bickered constantly and fought over whose turn it was to use the electric mixer. I was raising all boys, what did I know about girls? We only attempted that project once. One of those girls is my goddaughter and now the mother of two little boys; I’ll have to ask her if her boys bicker for attention—and remind her of the time she and Jennifer bickered constantly when I invited them over to make cookies. I should mention that I have a history of burning the last batch of cookies—this goes back many years; when you put the last cookie sheet into the oven and start cleaning up the kitchen, it’s easy enough to get distracted. Nowadays I try to remember to turn two (yes, two) timers on every time I put cookies into the oven.
I’ve mentioned my setting the kitchen ablaze when I started a fire in the oven when we lived in Florida—I should mention that I had a tough time mixing and baking almost anything in Florida. The sugar was different from what I was used to using—in California we got cane sugar from Hawaii. In Florida, the sugar was made from beets. I thought it was grainy and hard to get it incorporated with the butter. That was many years ago and might not be an issue today but I was so put out with beet sugar that I had a girlfriend bring me some bags of C&H cane sugar when she and her husband came to visit us.
More recently, I thought it would be easy to make two different kinds of oatmeal cookies at the same time, since I had most of the same ingredients out of the pantry and on the kitchen counter. My reasoning was—I’ve made the one kind of cookie, oatmeal raisin, for over thirty years. The other cookie came from an All You magazine and makes thin and crisp cookies, which I love to dip in melted chocolate, like a Florentine. Well, the oatmeal/raisin/walnut cookies turned out just fine. The thin and crisp cookies, however, were a disaster – they didn’t spread at all and were not the least bit thin and crisp. I thought I could “fix” the recipe so I added more ingredients – first more apple butter, then more melted butter. Nothing worked. Then I sat down one day to read the recipe again, line by line, comparing the original page from the magazine with what I had written on a tablet so I could read it better. I had the granulated sugar and brown sugar amounts completely wrong. (I could blame it on my eyesight—I know I need new glasses—but I think the problem was getting cocky in my old age, thinking I KNEW the recipe) – but at some point in time, I had copied the recipe and doubled all the ingredients—the original recipe only makes 3 dozen cookies—and I wanted to be able to make more..but I had the amounts of sugar completely wrong. To prove to myself that I did know how to make these cookies, I carefully copied the recipe again and then made the cookies. They turned out perfectly thin and crisp and a perfect size to dip halfway into melted chocolate. My friend Iona’s son Michael liked the “wrong” oatmeal cookies and happily ate them—the rest I gave to the birds which aren’t especially picky how cookies are made.
I suddenly remembered the first time I made peanut butter cookies—when I was a child. My mother was in the hospital one winter and I made these plate-sized peanut butter cookies for my father to take to her at the hospital. I never asked if anyone had eaten them. My two younger brothers happily ate the rest of the cookies. They were never especially choosy about cookies—our motto was quantity, not quality. And now I remember that my older brother. Jim, was working part-time for a few years at Durkee Foods, which had a warehouse in nearby Camp Washington. Jim brought home foods that had expired dates. There were a lot of canned biscuits which were fairly new to the marked about that time—they often exploded in the refrigerator or when you started to open one of the cans. We made a lot of doughnuts out of the canned biscuits. Jim also brought home boxes of Nestle’s cookie mix; I think all you had to add was water or maybe an egg. I had a good time experimenting with those. If something turned out reasonably well, I presented it to my parents. If not, I fed it to my two younger brothers.
I should mention, the only cookbook to which I had access was an old Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook (I have written about Ida Bailey Allen before) – I’d go through the cookbook looking for recipes that contained ingredients in my mother’s pantry. Mom didn’t care what I cooked – as long as I cleaned up after myself – and she never went shopping for ingredients. It was what was in the pantry or nothing. Many years later, I inherited that cookbook of my mother’s and then embarked on a search for a better copy, which I did find, and other cookbooks written by Ida Bailey Allen. That, and the free cookbooklets I sent away for were my culinary library. That, and watching my mother and sometimes my grandmother as they cooked, baked, mixed, stirred and created food for all of us to eat.
If mom or grandma had any culinary disasters, I never knew about them.
Sandra Lee Smith
Updated July 3, 2019
When it’s springtime on the prairie
And the birds begin to sing,
And young blades of grass come poking
Through the earth, with other things,
Comes a morning mama beckons,
And, as she hands me her soup pot,
Says “I bet today’s the day for
finding greens,–I’ll bet a lot!”
Fresh greens, I hanker longingly,
It’s been a long winter without,
Not counting string beans strung and dried.
Of that there is no doubt—there’s
Brooklime found in ditches, and
Cattails from the pond
Can be eaten in a salad,
With chickweed, and dandelion;
Great Burdock can be eaten
In a salad or just raw,
Lamb’s Quarters, some may call a weed,
But steamed it’s not at all.
Clover can be used for tea,
But in salad is still good,
Thistle can be nice with greens,
And the roots can be cooked and eaten.
Around the farm and fields throughout,
There’s plenty greens for taking,
But I’ve saved the best for last,
The dandelions that we savor.
To clean them mama holds the leaves
And cuts the bottom root away;
The very inner growth is shook
And gently thrown away;
The tender stems and leaves are put
In mama’s biggest cooking pot,
Then she takes them to the well
And washes them a lot;
She cooks up strips of bacon
In a skillet ‘til its crisp,
Then adds vinegar to the drippings,
Making sure it doesn’t drip.
Some hard boiled eggs will be sliced up,
And laid upon the greens,
The dressing is poured over all, and
It’s the finest thing I’ve seen.
Mama tosses the greens lightly
And puts bacon on my plate,
We think that Dandelions are
The best thing we ever ate.
–Sandra Lee Smith
UPDATED JULY 3, 2019
I LOVE A BOOKSTORE
I love a bookstore any day or any time.
It can be a plush and fancy upscale store in Beverly Hills
where you can order coffee, tea or muffins and sit and sip
while you look through your books,
or an out of the way dusty cubbyhole bookstore in West Los Angeles
—new or used, I don’t mind.
Let me visit a town in Oregon or San Diego or Cincinnati
I’ll find a bookstore (usually in the yellow pages)
and once inside, I aim first for the cookbook section.
Once my arms are laden with books
I ask someone at the desk to hold them for me.
They always say yes; then I check biographies and fiction,
then the bargain books and reduced prices;
you never know what might turn up in remainders.
I have been to bookstores everywhere I’ve traveled;
it’s the first place I want to visit.
No used bookstores? I look up the Barnes & Noble,
Border’s, Dutton’s, anything anywhere. I’m not particular.
The biggest problem I have encountered over the years
has been getting them home.
Packing the books into duffle bags or shipping them back to California.
I lost a box of books this way one year.
Enroute from Ohio to California,
my books were lost in Bell, California.
Somewhere, I know, someone has my box of cookbooks.
Next time I’ll carry them on the airplane with me.
Sandra Lee Smith, April 2008, updated July 1 2019
*The next time I visited Ohio Book Store in Cincinnati
and told them my plight of the lost books,
they said “Oh, we can ship your books home to you!”
and ever since, that’s how my new purchases
have made it back to California.
My most recent trip to Cincy was May, 2019, which included a trip to Ohio Book Store!
Sandra Lee Smith updated 5-14-18
*Another post script – of all the bookstores referenced in the poem, only Barnes & Noble and Ohio Book Store are still in business.
A little piece of paradise
Was mine for just a while;
I recognized the spirits there,
And they made me smile.
They dwelt inside the olive trees;
They frolicked in the pond—
They leapt along the worn brick paths,
At dusk I heard their song,
As crickets chirped they filled the night,
With charming sprightly airs,
With rush of leaves up in the trees,
They danced with pixie flairs.
We built them fairy houses,
Hung wind chimes in the boughs;
We made a secret garden,
For them to while away their hours.
In return, they blessed the fruit,
That blossomed on the trees,
And never was a place so loved
As it was by all of these.
The house was haunted, this I know,
By former human-dwellers,
By friendly ghosts who graced the rooms
And cast enchanting spells.
I’ve sheltered warm and safe beneath
The wings of fairy powers,
But now I’ve found my lease is lost;
I’m counting down the hours.
I’d take them with me, if I could
But earth has locked them fast;
I sense the doom that lurks beyond
And know they’d never last.
But for now, oh magic sprites,
Cast on me fairy dust,
But do not look at me that way
Or ask what comes of us.
–Sandra Lee Smith, October, 2008
Updated July 1, 2019
Oh for a spot, a nice little spot,
That I can call all my own,
Where I can sit and read my book,
Eating blackberry jelly on scones–
And if jam should spill,
And fall on the floor,
No one will scold me or cry–
I’ll just go on reading
My dear little book,
And clean up the rug by-and-by.
Oh for a spot, a dear little spot
Just roomy enough for us all,
Where kitties and pups can roam as they like,
When dinner is ready, I’ll call.
A place large enough for plenty of books,
And various collections of things—
Old cookie jars and recipe boxes,
And pretty blue glassware and rings.
Then there are photographs–
Thousands of them
And paintings to go on the walls,
With plenty of windows where violets will grow,
And Christmas trinkets and little glass balls.
Did I say cookie cutters? And old rolling pins?
(There are only six of the latter)
And oh, don’t forget a collection of bowls
In which I can whip up cake batter.
And in the back, a small patch of earth,
Where lavender and violets can grow,
Enclosed by a cunning white picket fence,
It will be most charming, I know.
It needn’t be much,
My dear little spot,
The one I can call all my own,
But once you unpack, and bring it all in,
Well, would you just take a look!
How much my small spot has grown!
Sandra Lee Smith
May 1 2009/Updated July 1, 2019
THE OLD TREE
Along a trail we found a tree
Gnarly bent and dried,
A relic of what used to be,
No life was left inside.
And yet it stood, and regally,
As if, that it might say,
Do not grieve, I am not gone,
I’ve simply gone astray.
It was a thing of beauty,
Leafless, thorny, stark;
It reached towards the heavens
Bewitching in the dark,
While buried deep in fallen leaves
A tiny acorn grew,
Descendant of the ancient oak,
With DNA that’s true.
–Sandra Lee Smith
Updated July 1, 2019
AN OLD NEWSPAPER CLIPPING
At the bottom of a cedar chest
That had been my mother’s,
An old newspaper clipping,
Yellowed with age and so fragile
That bits of it disintegrated
When I picked up the piece of paper,
Which had been folded over twice,
But when I opened it up to lay flat
I could see that
It had been folded and refolded many
Times, over a long period of time.
On one side of the newspaper,
There were ads for patterns
To make ladies dresses and aprons,
And when I turned the paper over
I found birth announcements;
Baffled, I read through the list
Of babies born at St. Mary’s Hospital
During the third week of
And noticed one circled faintly with
Pencil – a baby girl,
Born on the very same date I was born!
But the name of the mother,
One Genevieve Phillips—
Was not the name of my mother.
How curious, I thought –
Someone named Genevieve Phillips
Had a baby girl the very same date
I was born,
Why did my mother keep this clipping?
Why had I never heard the name
And why wasn’t a Mr. Phillips
Listed in the announcement the
Way the rest of the announcements
In the back of my mind, a dark suspicion—
But no, it couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be.
My mother would have told me.
Then the nagging thought –
Was the woman I knew as my mother—
Really my mother?
Who was Genevieve Phillips?
I crushed the newspaper clipping
And set fire to it in the kitchen sink,
But even as the old newspaper clipping
Blackened and turned to dust,
I knew I would be forever haunted
By questions—questions for which
There were no answers.
Sandra Lee Smith
Originally written May 12, 2009
Updated June 26, 2018 and
June 12, 2019