It’s one thing to grow up poor

And know that you are poor

But it’s quite another to

Grow up poor

Without realizing it.

I didn’t realize it until many years later.

We didn’t have much

But we had breakfast every morning,

Sometimes cereal and sometimes pancakes

Sometimes cream of wheat,

Which I did not like


Oatmeal which I did.

We didn’t go to school hungry

Although I often got sick in church

(Services held before school started)

Because having eaten anything sweet,

Like pancakes

Made me nauseous.

We often went to my grandmother’s

For lunch and she fed us well,

And my mother usually made

Some kind of one-dish meals

for supper,

Such as beef stew or

A vegetable soup

Or a favorite of

Green beans with bits of ham

Cooked with carrots and potatoes.

We rarely had dessert

And to this day

I seldom want dessert

After dinner,

Nor have I ever gotten in the habit

Of drinking milk with a meal

Because we were not allowed to eat it

With dinner

Because Billy always spilled his.

We invariably had holes in our shoes

Which were patched with cardboard

Or a piece of linoleum;

You had to make do

Until it was time to get new shoes,

For Easter or Christmas.

I wore a lot of hand-me-downs

But didn’t think anything of it

Because the dresses that were given to me

Were so nice, and when I outgrew them

A younger child would inherit them,

Sometimes my friend Patti

Or my mother may have given to someone else.

I don’t know.

She was in charge of things.

If something disappeared, it was generally

Because she had done something with it.

I mourned the loss of my dollhouse

For years after

My mother gave it away

Without my knowledge.

But my mother was like

The Lord who giveth and

The Lord who taketh away.

Nothing was really your own,

I suppose.

I think I was often hungry

As I think back on it,

And I sometimes stole candy

Or potato chips

From local grocery stores

If we could not find

Enough soda pop bottles

To cash in for 2 cents each.

One time I found a dollar

On the floor in church

As I was waiting for the confessional.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

I spent it all on candy.

Surely it was a sign from God?

He wanted me to have that dollar!

Now when I return to Fairmount

I see it as a poverty-stricken neighborhood,

Much poorer than it was when I was

Growing up.

Many buildings are closed down

And the windows boarded over.

Perhaps it never was much more

Than a poor neighborhood

With many poor residents.

Those who escaped live in better

Neighborhoods or perhaps

They, like myself,

Moved far, far away.


One afternoon recently, I began going through some of the bookshelves in the garage library, and realized that some of the very old books I had stored out there were getting – not just dusty – but some kind of dust mites are attacking the bindings and covers.

So, I am in the process of re-packing some of these books and as I went along, I couldn’t resist looking inside some of these cookbooks. One thing that enchants me is the lengthy titles some of these books have. The cover of THE EVERY DAY COOKBOOK/Illustrated is proclaimed on the inside EVERY-DAY COOK-BOOK and ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PRACTICAL RECIPES  by Miss E. Neil and in smaller print below the author is the following “Economical, Reliable and Excellent”  and below THAT Chicago, Ill REGAN PRINTING HOUSE, 1892.

The collection of recipes are mostly short and to the point. I am bemused by one for Rich Bride Cake—is the cake rich or is the bride who is rich?  Another for White Lady Cake has me wondering—is this a “White Lady” or a cake that is white or … you get my point.  There are recipes under Miscellaneous for “an excellent hard soap” include directions for washing woolens, lamp wicks, a cement for stoves (in case your stove is cracked) and directions “ TO MAKE OLD CRAPE LOOK NEARLY EQUAL TO NEW which I couldn’t begin to explain. Does she mean “Crepe” as in a fabric? Someone who sews and is familiar with different kinds of fabrics might know the answer to this. Or does it have to do with the economy in 1892, requiring the lady of the house to make it look nearly equal to new?

Miscellaneous covers such topics as removing ink from carpets, how to make hens lay in winter, moths in carpets, making your own furniture polish, papering whitewashed walls (I can remember my grandmother brushing whitewash onto the lower parts of her fruit trees), renewing old kid gloves, and a wide range of other how to in the medical department—including (I couldn’t resist) a Quinine Cure for Drunkenness.

Another cookbook titled “GOOD COOKING Made Easy and Economical” that is literally falling apart opens to the Inscription “From Mother  to Loyal, April 25th 1944 West Best Wishes on 40th Birthday” and might have been directed towards economic restrictions  imposed during WW2. Good Cooking was compiled by Marjorie Heseltine and Ula M. Dow, in which the co-authors explain the purpose of this second edition and direct the homemaker to the addition of home-canned foods, preserves and jellies and pickles. The USA was in the third year of a World War in 1944, with no end yet in sight. And virtually every thing was rationed, including sugar. (I remember my mother, aunts and grandmother canning apple sauce back in those wartime years, without the addition of sugar.)  The apples were sour apples, and so the applesauce was very tart.  When the war was over—and we still had many quarts of unsweetened apple sauce in the cellar, my mother allowed us to put a small amount of sugar on our serving of applesauce. It is my most distinct memory of  rationing in WW2.

My section on home canning is well-worn from use. Covering equipment and choosing a method for canning.. Maybe Mother gave GOOD COOKING to Loyal to become acquainted with home cooking – then again,  the handwritten recipe for strawberry shortcake is in Mother’s handwriting and is dated May 30th, 1944. There is also a worn out page for Potato Fritters, also in Mother’s handwriting. I like to think that GOOD COOKING is so worn out from Loyal frequently using her mother’s birthday present.

Another cookbook with a lengthy title is A COLLECTION OF COPPER COUNTRY RE CIPES COMPILED BY THE FACULTY WOMEN’S CLUB of the MICHIGAN COLLEGE OF MINING AND TECHNOLOGY Houghton, Michigan, December, 1929. Printing on the cover is illegible—at some time in this cookbook’s past, it appears to have been covered with something that was pasted on.

However, that being said, Copper Country Recipes offers a surprising chapter on Foreign Menus and Recipes, in which I found recipes for Enchiladas and Tamales, Frijoles and Tortillas—recipes I would easily found in a Southern California cookbook—but in one from the Women’s Club of Michigan College of Mining and Technology? That was a surprise. Mind you, this was published in 1929!

Also in Foreign Recipes are Chinese recipes that together make up a Chinese Dinner (Chinese Noodle Soup, Chop Suey, Hundred Year Old Eggs in Spinach (which I have seen  featured on the TV show “Chopped” but will pass on that one), Rice—Chinese Style— and Eight Precious Pudding. For a Chinese Luncheon you will find Egg Foo-Young,  Chicken Chow-Mein, Fried Bean Sprouts and Chinese Almond Cakes. This is just a sampling of the recipes and menus to be found in the section Foreign Recipes. 

Is this a cookbook you would be likely to find on or  I’ll have to check!

Meantime, I want to share an 1897 cookbook, simply titled COOK BOOK on the cover but on an inside page is another lengthy title called THE PRACTICAL RECEIPT BOOK by Experienced House-Keepers published by THE YOUNG LADIES’ AID SOCIETY at the Methodist Episcopal Church, Sewickley, PA.  and beneath that “Good cooking means economy and enjoyment, Bad cooking means waste of money, time and temper.” And under THAT is the date, 1897. On a blank page is the name, signed by Mrs. H.S. Jackson, 1897.  The cookbook  is in remarkably good condition, given that it is over one hundred years old.

Friends, I did a cursory check on for a couple of these titles—I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for – that being said—there are dozens of other titles to lure you in. I’ll try to provide you with some other titles for old cookbooks as I go through the ones I am packing into boxes.

–Sandy @ sandyscookbookchatter


It was one of my favorite places to visit,

A dusty and crowded used book store,

Where stacks and stacks of books littered

The aisles in absolute disarray,

And bending down to check out the titles

On the lower shelves,

You never knew

What treasures you might find;

One especially favorite such place

Was in Burbank for many years,

Owned by an older man named Pete,

Who counted my children

Every time we visited his store,

And admonished me to make sure

I left with the same number I came in with;

The children were free to explore

And Chris would always seek out the wash room

Because every place that mama went,

Chris was sure to have to go,

(with me admonishing “don’t touch anything

Except your penis and the sink to wash your hands”)

Along some high shelves in the book store

Were an assortment of very old cameras

That Pete collected,

But this was long before I took up photography

And I paid little attention to those cameras,

Much to my regret, later on.

It was also long before I began collecting  cookbooks;

At Magnolia Park Books,

The children found comic books

Or children’s stories

While I explored,

Looking for books of fiction

And authors I was interested in

Way back when.

One day I told Pete I had a small set of books

A collection of the world’s best fiction,

To which there were, perhaps 20 books in the

entire set of one hundred stories,

But I was missing just one of the books—

It may have been #15 in the set.

You’ll never find it”, Pete warned me,

It would be too hard to find just one book

In the set

And yet as I explored the shelves,

I found exactly that –#15 to the set (and no others!,

Even though it had a different colored binding.

Pete was as amazed as I but

Thinking back on this particular book store,

I think it had a kind of magic about it;

I don’t recall most of the titles in the set,

Except that Crime and Punishment was one

And I waded determinedly through Dostoyevsky.

And then after I had been gone a while –

Perhaps when we moved to Florida in 1979

And back to California in 1982,

I went to visit Pete,

But he was no longer there;

He had passed away, I was told.

The store was being run by relatives

Of his wife.

I never knew there was a wife.

The store continued and I discovered

A huge cache of club and church cookbooks,

Which I began buying–

And then one day when I went to visit

Magnolia Park Books, it wasn’t there.]

Where it had stood was now part of

A furniture store.

I had to find a place to park on busy Magnolia Boulevard

So I could cry.

That was only one of the many used book stores

In Southern California, in particularly the

San Fernando valley,

That no longer exist;

There was a time when I knew where

 all of them were located.

The internet has replaced them

And the used book dealer is becoming one

Of a dying breed.

Oh, Pete, I hope there is a place

In heaven for used book store dealers.

  –Sandra Lee Smith

cc: Ohio Book Store, Cincinnati



When the world around you is falling down,

And it’s disaster all around,

Do as I do, for heaven’s sake,

Have a little bite to eat,

And make it cake!

We like cake of every kind,

But chocolate is the best,

All my sons love Angel Food—

Me too, I must confess.

Whenever company comes to call,

Invited or otherwise,

Bring out a cake that’s freshly frosted,

Watch it light up their eyes.

No matter what the time of year,

No matter what the weather,

Slice up some freshly homemade cake,

It’ll make you feel much better!

Sandra Lee Smith

*Let us eat cake is actually a book title by author Sharon Bootstin

And is really a food memoir although it does contain some recipes.


“It’s never too late to live your own dream” – Oprah Winfrey

On the date of her 30th birthday, my niece, Alexa* won her first race in Phoenix, while a short month before, she was seriously injured from a fall from a horse she was racing at the time.

Alexa struggled fiercely to reconsider her decision to give up racing, and had to deal with an emotional breakup with a boyfriend. Additionally, she dealt with a barrage of conflict from a parent, who, perhaps, resented the daughter who had the dream career she herself never had– and frequent attempts to thwart her daughter’s ambitions were couched in false motherly concern.

Alexa moved to Phoenix for that winter and began, again, working with horses, placing 2nd on a Tuesday and 1st the following Saturday.

She is, perhaps, a fine example of pursuing a dream, despite all obstacles. We tell her how proud we are of her many achievements. However, high praise is seldom forthcoming from the one person with whom it would mean the most.

Grandma Moses was an American folk artist;  She began painting in earnest at the age of 78** and is often cited as an example of an individual who successfully began a career in the arts at an advanced age. “Sugaring Off” was sold for US $1.2 million in 2006. 

In my family, we have all had our dreams; sometimes one of us succeeds–when one succeeds, we all share that elusive “win” no matter what it is. Our Aunt Dolly reached fame as  an artist after her children were grown and on their own.  She is our best example  of achieving your goals no matter what your age may be.

And so, I write.  My niece, Alexa, rides.

*Not my niece’s real name.  

** if grandma Moses could do it at age 78…maybe there is hope for me yet!


Sandra Lee Smith



You may wonder, if you are the kind of person who wonders about these things, how come I have the blog name of sandyscookbookchatter….well, the answer is fairly simple although with most things I tend to explain too much and the response gets convoluted.

Some time ago, I spent ten years writing for a newsletter called Cookbook Collectors Exchange—and for the most part, I would review cookbooks that the editor of the CCE would send to me. Her husband passed away from an untimely death in 2001 or 2002 and the newsletter folded.

Then someone suggested to me that I might like writing for Inky Trails, another newsletter that focused primarily on penpals and penpal related matters. The problem with this was, I don’t do “brief” very well – give me a topic and I’ll run it to the ground for you. Wendy, this newsletter editor, suggested to me that I needed a BLOG.

“a BLOG?” I asked. “What on earth is a blog?” – So to prove her point she set up the blog for me and once I began to understand how it worked, I was off and running. When I began posting on that blog, my first one, I still wrote a lot about cookbooks. It was a wonderful experience but somewhere between here and the lamppost, I “lost” that blog and have never been savvy enough to understand how to retrieve it.

So, about a year ago, I managed to create a new blog and continued to use the name of sandyscookbookchatter, even though – about a year ago, I began writing and posting my own poetry. I began finding writing poetry again (never very far from pen & ink) and have found it enormously rewarding – and the responses from readers was equally rewarding. I would find their comments on my earthlink page (although I had no idea what the connection was).

About six months ago, I “lost” my wordpress connection and again, had no idea how or why or what to do about fixing it. These sites always ask me questions about things for which I have no understanding. Domain mapping? There’s a whole new vocabulary out there that I understand about as well as I understand how to change ink cartridges (thankfully, my grandson changed my last black ink cartridge). Three year olds know more about computers and printers than I do.
What can I say? I just want to WRITE. I enjoy writing As a young housewife and mother, my free time was spent writing letters to penpals all over the USA; I still have some of those penpals – one penpal in Michigan, and I connected in 1965 (over a love for cookbooks) and another, in Oregon, since 1971, who shares my birthday with me and back in the day we did a lot of cake baking and exchanging recipes.

Still another penpal, in Oklahoma–we met when my husband and children drove to Ohio that summer and stopped off in Tulsa to meet Penny and her husband Charles and their three sons who met my husband Jim and our four sons. I think that was the summer when, as my father was unloading our car for us, kept asking “Now WHERE did you say you know these people in Oklahoma from?”
(Daddy would have been more nonplussed to learn about my two Canadian penpals for the last thirteen years!)

(Trying explaining penpals to your parents in 1971!—it’s probably on a par with teaching someone like me how a computer and printer work)

So, that’s how sandyscookbookchatter was born.
Still curious? I have JUST discovered that the original is still available—I just brought it up and checked out “Before Email” which was posted on June 4, 2016. And all of my cookbook reviews are still online.

Sandra Lee Smith


Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.

~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

In my 78th year of life, I am still discovering that I really don’t know who I am or where I belong. Oh, yes, I have some inklings of myself—like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is yet to be put together.

As a child my singular ambition was to become a writer. When I was in the third grade (and barely literate) I sent a story to My Weekly Reader. It was my first rejection slip; my father opened the piece of mail addressed to me—my father opened all the mail—and put the story, which had been returned, back into the envelope. He never said a word about it. To this day, I have no idea if either one of my parents thought (or suspected) that I might have some writing talent.

I think I was about ten or eleven when my father bought an upright (non-electric) Royal or Underwood typewriter saying it was for my brother Jim and me to use doing our homework. I don’t remember Jim ever using the typewriter. It quickly became “mine” and I mastered two-finger typing which served me well until I took typing classes in high school and had to unlearn two-finger typing. I became very proficient using the electric typewriters we had in class and my teacher, a woman who was also a lawyer and worked in downtown Cincinnati—encouraged my writing and sometimes read the stories.

AnotherMercy classmate, named Carol, and I could do what we pleased in class as long as we turned in all of the typing assignments on Friday. We DID all of our typing assignments on Fridays.

My American History teacher, Esther Schwach, also read some of my stories and encouraged me to write. By now, one supposes, if I had enough talent I would have written a book by now. Instead my 3-ring binders are packed with poetry and essays, and most of my writing is on a blog. I could use the excuse that I was married to a man (for 26 years!) who thought I had no talent to write (even though he never read any of it) and constantly discouraged and disparaged my efforts. When we divorced, I bought a computer and said NOW I AM GOING TO WRITE.

And write I did, even though none of what I envisioned for myself as a writer. I was “discovered” by a woman who published a newsletter for cookbook/recipe people and I was given carte blanche to write whatever I felt like writing. And I took to heart that saying “write what you know best” – I knew cookbooks and recipes and I found myself apt at producing articles about things such as White House recipes, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (who gained her most success writing what SHE knew best – a place in Cross Creek Florida – for which she became famous writing The Yearling, Cross Creek, and Cross Creek Cookery. I wish I could have known her.

I wrote about American pioneers crossing the wilderness of our country and what they cooked and ate—and called it Kitchens West. I wrote about the religious groups that formed in the 1800s and how their growing crops and making furniture and what they cooked –made an impact on this young country. I began writing about the cookbook authors I admired the most. I wrote cookbook reviews. I did this kind of writing for ten years and when it folded, I was discovered by someone who wrote a newsletter for seniors and women—and began writing pieces about the kitchen. Then my editor of Inky Trail News, the newsletter for seniors—set up a blog for me so that all I needed to go was go to it and write. So, that is what I am doing to this day. I am writing.

What thrills me most is that gradually, over time, I have received messages on my blog from people who were related to or friends of the cookbook authors I have been writing about. There is a wonderful validation in this.
So, is this how I am finding my place in the world? Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe I have not yet found my real place in the world. How old was Grandma Moses when she became famous for her paintings? 78!) How old was my aunt when she began to paint? How old was my other aunt when she found a career in midlife on the subject of graphology? Might I not say – I am only 78. I have only just begun.

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. “But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates”. ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973. (I love this quote!–Italics mine!)

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself”. ~Alan Alda

– Sandra Lee Smith

Originally composed 2012,
Updated May 18, 2019


He called me “Babe”,

a name that no one

had ever used before,

and on his lips,

I really was a Babe,

hot lips at forty-four,

feeling desired–and


and when he tired

of saying “Babe”,

then he called me “Shorty”

while I gave him several

different names–

“Babe” was certainly one of them,

but mostly I called him”Cowboy”

Sandra Lee Smith/undated


Where would you like to go? he asked,

Opening brochures, booklets and maps,

“Perhaps to Paris? to London? to Perth?

New York or Miami, or Dallas Fort Worth?”

“The world is your oysters” he said with a smile,

“I can book you a flight in just a short while!”

I thought about Scotland, New Zealand, and Spain–

And then I thought “why not travel by train ?”

I could fly to Alaska and then ride a train,

Five hundred miles and then back once again–

Perhaps I would go on the Orient Express–

Or wait! I always wanted to see Bangladesh!

I thought about Berlin, Zurich and Rome!

I’d see everything and never come home!

And what about countries like Finland and Greece?

Holland, Argentina, and at the very least,

Sweden and Norway, Finland and then–

Canada, before coming back home again.

The agent’s eyes had dollar signs shining,

The trips he would book, it was just like gold-mining,

but his face was crestfallen when he heard what I said;

I think I’ll stay home and just read my atlas in bed!”

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally written in June, 2009


My entire life has been centered on the kitchen. As a very young child, about eight or nine years old,, my mother turned me loose in the kitchen – this would have been our house on Sutter Street where my parents bought their first home of their own.

I really didn’t appreciate the enormity of this gesture until I was in high school at Mother of Mercy and I discovered that most of my girlfriends had mothers who never allowed them free reign in the kitchen.

The first thing I attempted to make were muffins. I didn’t listen to my mother’s admonition to leave the bowl on the kitchen table. No, I wanted to hold the bowl in the crook of my arm–I think I saw that in a magazine ad–while I mixed the batter. Well, I dropped the yellow Pyrex bowl on the kitchen floor, shattering the bowl and the batter. I think it took me about a year to buy my mother another set of Pyrex bowls (You couldn’t buy just one bowl–you had to buy the entire set at a 5 & 10 cent store which I think might have cost $2.98.

Undaunted, I would go through my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen cookbook–the only cookbook she owned at the time, and I would search through recipes looking for a recipe that happened to contain the same ingredients we had in the pantry. This was in the 1940s and you didn’t go to the grocery store for ingredients–the list of ingredients had to match whatever was in our pantry.

I still have that batter-stained cookbook with some of the pages coming loose from the binding. I’ve since found a nice pristine copy of Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook but it doesn’t evoke the same emotions that I get from my mother’s Service cookbook.

I had two childhood girlfriends, Patty and Carol Sue, but my mother always worked so the three of us used my mother’s kitchen to experiment in. I had two younger brothers who would sit on the back steps and eat up any of our mistakes–burnt cookies, whatever. I got into more than one heated discussion about the merits of cooked frosting versus “raw”–since it was my mother’s kitchen I won most of those arguments–besides, it was my younger brothers who were eating up our mistakes.

I was about the same age when I discovered you could send away for a lot of free recipe booklets. Postcards were a penny each–if you had ten cents you could buy ten penny post cards.

Free recipe booklets were advertised on the backs of boxes and cans, such as Hershey’s cocoa. I began sending away for free recipe booklets and soon had a shoebox full of recipe booklets from Calumet and Quaker Oats